Tag Archives: Curtiss R3C-1

12 October 1925

Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis and his Curtiss R3C-1 cross the finish line at the 1925 Pulitzer Trophy Race. (NASM)
The Pulitzer Trophy

12 October 1925: At Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, Air Service, United States Army, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 kilometers (62.14 miles), flying a Curtiss R3C-1 racing plane, #43. His average speed was 401.28 kilometers per hour (249.34 miles per hour).¹ Lieutenant Bettis was awarded the Pulitzer Trophy.

Bettis also won the Mackay Trophy for 1925.

Cyrus Bettis had previously won the 1924 Mitchell Trophy Race, sponsored by Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in honor of his brother, John L. Mitchell, who was killed during World War I.

Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-1 racer at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, 12 October 1925. The surface radiators on the wings can be seen. (Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.)
Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-1 racer at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, 12 October 1925. The surface radiators on the wings can be seen. (Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.)

The Curtiss R3C-1 was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay  biplane built for especially for air racing.  Two were built for the United States Navy and one for the Army. (The Army aircraft is identified by a Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) A-7054. It does not seem to have been assigned an Air Service serial number.) The airplane and its V-1400 engine were built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, which had been founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. It was converted to a seaplane configuration with two single-step pontoons, the R3C-2, for the Schneider Trophy Race, two weeks later, 25 October.

The R3C is 19 feet, 8½ inches (6.007 meters) long. The upper wing span is 22 feet (6.706 meters), with a chord of 4 feet, 8¼ inches (1.429 meters). The lower wing span is 20 feet (6.096 meters) with a chord of 3 feet, 3¾ inches (1.010 meters). The R3C-1 had an empty of 2,135 pounds (968 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 2,738 pounds (1,242 kilograms).

Curtiss R3C-1 (FAI)
Lieutenant Bettis’ record-setting Curtiss R3C-1 biplane. (FAI)

Constructed of wood, the fuselage had four ash longerons and seven birch vertical bulkheads. The framework was covered with two layers of 2-inch (51 millimeter) wide, 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeter) thick spruce strips. These were placed on a 45° diagonal from the fuselage horizontal centerline, with the second layer at 90° to the first. These veneer strips were glued and tacked to the frame. The fuselage was then covered with doped fabric. The wings and tail surfaces were also of wood, with spruce ribs and a covering of spruce strips.

The single-bay wings were wire braced and contained surface radiators made of thin brass sheeting. The radiators contained 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of water, circulating at a rate of 75 gallons (283.9 liters) per minute. By using surface radiators to cool the engine, aerodynamic drag was reduced.

The Curtiss V-1400 engine was developed from the earlier Curtiss D-12. It was a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,399.91-cubic-inch-displacement (22.940 liter), dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12, with a compression ratio of 5.5:1. The V-1400 was rated at 510 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and could produce 619 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. It was a direct-drive engine and turned a two-bladed duralumin fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters). The propeller was designed by Sylvanus Albert Reed, Ph.D. The V-1400 engine weighed 660 pounds (299 kilograms).

The R3C-1 had a fuel capacity of 27 gallons (102 liters). Its range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

After the Pullitzer race, the R3C-1 was reconfigured as a seaplane for the Schneider Trophy Race. The fixed landing gear was replaced by two single-step pontoons and the airplane was redesignated R3C-2. Additional fuel was carried in the pontoons. On 26 October 1925, 1st Lieutenant James H. Doolittle flew the airplane to win the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider at Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

The R3C-2 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lt. James H. Doolittle and Lt. Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C-2 (NARA 31758AC)
Lt. James H. Doolittle (left) and Lt. Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C-2 (NARA 31758AC)

Cyrus Bettis was born 2 January 1893, at Carsonville, Michigan, the first of three children of John Bettis, a farm worker, and Mattie McCrory Bettis.

Bettis enlisted as a private, first class, in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps, at Detroit, Michigan, 23 January 1918. The Bell Telephone News reported:

     Cyrus Bettis has gone to Detroit and enlisted in the Aviation Corps of Uncle Sam’s service.

     He expects to be called to service at any time and will probably go East for training. Cyrus has been the efficient and genial manager of the Michigan State Telephone exchange in Fenton for several years. He has made an excellent manager and entrenched himself in the good graces of his patrons and Fenton People in General. —Fenton Independent.

Bell Telephone News, Volume 7, Number 6, January 1918, at Page 4, Column 1

On 11 September 1918, Cyrus Bettis was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army. This commission was vacated 16 September 1920 and he was appointed a second lieutenant, Air Service, with date of rank to 1 July 1920. On 21 March 1921, Bettis was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

On 23 August 1926, flying from Philadelphia to Selfridge Field in Michigan, Bettis flew into terrain in fog in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania. With a fractured skull and broken left leg, Bettis crawled several miles to a roadway where he was found, 43 hours after the crash.

Bettis was taken by air ambulance to Walter Reed Army Hospital, but died of spinal meningitis resulting from his injuries, 1 September. He was buried at the Lakeside Cemetery, Port Huron, Michigan.

1st Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, Air Service, United States Army. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9684

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 October 1925

Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-2 Schneider Trophy winner, 1925. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, with the Curtiss R3C-2 Schneider Trophy winner, 1925. (U.S. Air Force)

26 October 1925: Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (commonly called the Schneider Trophy) when he placed first flying his Curtiss R3C-2 float plane over a 217-mile (349 kilometer) course near Bay Shores on Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

His average speed for the seven laps around the triangular race course was 232.57 miles per hour (374.29 kilometers per hour). The second-place airplane, a Gloster-Napier III flown by Captain Hubert Broad, averaged 199.16 miles per hour (320.52 kilometers per hour).

Doolittle also set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records during the race: World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers, with an average speed of 377.83 kilometers per hour (234.77 miles per hour) (FAI Record File Number 11866); World Record for Speed Over 200 Kilometers, 377.16 kilometers per hour (234.36 miles per hour) (FAI Record File Number 11867). On the following day, Doolittle set a third FAI record: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, 395.5 kilometers per hour (245.75 miles per hour) (FAI Record File Number 11868).

Lt. Jmes H. Doolittle and Lt. Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C (NARA 31758AC)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle (left) and Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C-2. (NARA 31758AC)

A contemporary news article commented on Jimmy Doolittle’s performance:

Gloster III Schneider Cup racer, powered by a 700 horsepower Napier Lion VII “broad arrow” W-12.

“. . . according to reports Lieut. Doolittle’s cornering was superb, and must have been to a great extent responsible for the excellent performance. Reports from America—coming, it is thought, from a reliable source—indicate that one particular engine out of the 12 built for the Pulitzer and Schneider Trophy races proved exceptionally good, as will often happen in a batch of engines, and it is believed that this engine was fitted in Doolittle’s Curtiss-Army Racer. This fact, taken in conjunction with the masterly handling of the machine, would seem to account for the wholly unexpected average speed maintained, which was, of course, far and away ahead of the speeds of the British and Italian competitors.”

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 879 (No. 44, Vol. XVII.) October 29, 1923 at Page 703

The Curtiss R3C-2 Racer on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Curtiss R3C-2 Racer on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

The R3C-2 was a single-engine, single-seat biplane, equipped with pontoons for taking off and landing on water. It was built especially for air racing. The airplane and its V-1400 engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, which had been founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The R3C-2 was converted from the R3C-1, the land plane configuration which had been flown by Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, AS, USA, to win the Pulitzer Trophy Race just two weeks earlier.

The RC3-2 is 22 feet long (6.706 meters), an increase of 2 feet, 3.5 inches (0.698 meters) over the R3C-1 configuration, resulting from the addition of the pontoons. The upper wing span is 22 feet (6.706 meters), with a chord of 4 feet, 8¼ inches (1.429 meters). The lower wing span is 20 feet (6.096 meters) with a chord of 3 feet, 3¾ inches (1.010 meters).  Weight empty was 2,135 pounds (968 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 2,738 pounds (1,242 kilograms).

Constructed of wood, the fuselage has four ash longerons and seven birch vertical bulkheads. The framework is covered with two layers of 2-inch (51 millimeter) wide, 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeter) thick spruce strips. These were placed on a 45° diagonal from the fuselage horizontal centerline, with the second layer at 90° to the first. These veneer strips were glued and tacked to the frame. The fuselage was then covered with doped fabric. The wings and tail surfaces are also of wood, with spruce ribs and a covering of spruce strips.

Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis with the Pulitzer Trophy Race winning Curtiss R3C.
Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis with the Pulitzer Trophy Race winning Curtiss R3C-1. This airplane would be modified to the R3C-2 sea plane configuration. (Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company.

The single-bay wings are wire braced and contain surface radiators made of thin brass sheeting. The radiators contained 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of water, circulating at a rate of 75 gallons (283.9 liters) per minute. By using surface radiators to cool the engine, aerodynamic drag was reduced.

The Curtiss V-1400 engine was developed from the earlier Curtiss D-12. It was a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,399.91-cubic-inch-displacement (22.940 liter), dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12, with a compression ratio of 5.5:1. The V-1400 was rated at 510 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and could produce 619 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. It was a direct-drive engine and turned a two-bladed duralumin fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters). The propeller was designed by Sylvanus Albert Reed, Ph.D. The V-1400 engine weighed 660 pounds (299 kilograms).

The R3C-2 had a fuel capacity of 27 gallons (102 liters). Its range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

The Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider at the Science Museum, London. (Wikipedia, edit by Eric Menneteau)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques.

He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II, Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a brigadier general, he commanded 12th Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater, and commanded 8th Air Force as a lieutenant general, 1943–1945.

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General.

Jimmy Doolittle
First Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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