Tag Archives: Glenn H. Curtiss

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.

Doolittle’s 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);¹  World Record for Speed Over 200 Kilometers, 377.16 kilometers per hour (234.36 miles per hour).²  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).³

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 triangular Schneider race course stretched from Bay Shore Park to Gibson Island to the south and across Chesapeake Bay to Huntingfield Point. Contestants had to fly the 50-kilometer (31-mile) course seven times.” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
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, single-bay biplane, equipped with pontoons for taking off and landing on water. It was built especially for air racing. Two R3Cs 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 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 replacement of the fixed wheeled landing gear with the single-step 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, 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 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. General Doolittle is the only person to have been awarded both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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

¹ FAI Record File Number 11866

² FAI Record File Number 11867

³ FAI Record File Number 11868

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

10 May 1911

Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, United States Army. (SDASM)

10 May 1911: Second Lieutenant George Edward Maurice Kelly, 30th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, was killed during his primary pilot qualification flight at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Kelly had been sent to San Diego, California, in January 1911 as one of three U.S. Army officers to attend Glenn H. Curtiss’ Curtiss School of Aviation, newly established on North Island. After three months of training he was sent to Texas where the Army had set up its own training field.

Lieutenant Kelly was flying the Army’s second airplane, S.C. No. 2, a Curtiss Model D Type IV. The airplane had been accepted just two weeks earlier.

Curtiss Type IV Model D, S.C. No. 2, 1911. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss Model D Type IV, S.C. No. 2, 1911. (U.S. Air Force)

The New York Times reported in its 11 May 1911 issue:


Army Airman Suffers Fractured Skull in Fall at San Antonio and Dies and Hour Later.


Only Up Five Minutes When Mishap in Control Equipment prevented His Shutting Off Power.

Special to The New York Times

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, May 10.—Second Lieut. George E.M. Kelly of the United States Signal Corps, one of four army aviators on duty with the division of regulars mobilized here, was killed this morning when a Curtiss aeroplane he was flying got beyond control, after which it ran through the air for over a hundred yards, and crashed to the ground, burying Lieut. Kelly in its wreckage.

The machine was reduced to splinters, the only parts of it left intact being the engine and the rear plane work. Lieut. Kelly suffered a fractured skull and died in the Fort Sam Houston Hospital an hour later. He never regained consciousness. The accident happened about 7:30 this morning, in full view of Gen. Carter and his staff and hundreds of soldiers.

The exact cause of the accident will probably never be known, although a board of officers from the Signal Corps who investigated the accident are of the opinion that it was due to a break in some part of the controlling mechanism, making it impossible for Kelly to shut off the power when he realized his peril.

The accident happened about one hundred yards from Gen. Carter’s headquarters. The young officer had been in the air about five minutes, and Major Squier, Chief Signal Corps officer, had commented on the fine flight he was making, when the aviator pointed his machine downward for the purpose of making a landing. The machine was going at a speed estimated at between forty and fifty miles an hour. It shot down, apparently under perfect control, and landed a few feet away from one of the main driveways that intersect the mobilization camp. Kelly could be seen working frantically at the steering wheel as the machine descended, and when it struck the ground everybody breathed a sigh of relief, believing the officer was safe.

But the unexpected happened. The machine ran along the ground for ten or fifteen yards and then the fork into which is fitted the front wheel struck some obstruction and a moment later the propeller began to revolve at a wild speed. It could be seen that the left part of the machine was absolutely beyond the control of the aviator. It suddenly shot forward several yards, and then ascended to an altitude of between fifteen and twenty feet. It darted through the air in the direction of the Eleventh Infantry camp, tumbling and rolling like a wounded bird. The officer could be seen working the broken controller, but those who witnessed the sight say that at no time did he have a chance to escape with his life.

The machine gave a last tumble in the air and fell with a crash to the ground. Kelly was pitched out just as it started downward. The aviator and the machine struck the ground at the same instant.

Photograph o fteh accident scene at Fort San Antonio, published in the San Antonio Express, 11 May 1911.
Photograph of the accident scene at Fort San Antonio, published by the San Antonio Express, 11 May 1911.

Major Squier, Lieut. Foulois, Frank Coffyn, the Wright aviator, and a trooper were the first to reach the side of the dying aviator, whose skull was crushed. He lay under the wreckage of one of the planes, his face to the ground. The ambulance came up a moment later. Lieut. Foucar of the Medical Corps, in charge of the ambulance, examined Lieut. Kelly and informed Major Squier that he was mortally hurt.

By this time the Third Cavalry galloped up and formed a cordon around the place where Kelly lay dying. Lieut. Foucar, aided by troopers, picked him up and hurried him to the hospital, where Major Hutton, the Chief Surgeon, after examining him said there was no chance to save his life. An hour and ten minutes later he died.

Others new when Kelly was killed, besides Gen Carter, were Col. Stephen Mills, Chief of Staff; Lieut. Col. Ladd, the Adjutant General, and Col. Birmingham, Col. Straub, Capt. Leonard and Capt. Craig, all of the division staff. The whole camp knew of the accident within a few minutes after it had happened, and on all sides the deepest feelings of regret were expressed for the unfortunate aviator, who was one of the most popular members of the army corps.

Major General George Owen Squier, Signal Corps, United States Army.
Major General George Owen Squier, Signal Corps, United States Army.

As soon as order was restored Major Squier appointed a board of three signal officers to investigate the accident. Lieut. Paul W. Beck, chief of the corps, was President of the board, the other members being Lieut. Fulois and Lieut. Walker. After a hearing that lasted several hours they reported that atmospheric conditions were good at the time of the accident, that Kelly’s first landing was a good one, and that the cause of the accident was due to a break in some part of the control equipment which made impossible the management of the engine and planes. The report has been forwarded to Gen. Allen, Chief of the Signal Corps, in Washington.

The accident to Lieut. Kelly is the third within the last ten days. All of them befell the same Curtiss aeroplane in which Kelly was flying. Lieut. Walker figured in the first accident. On that occasion, in making a turn, the machine got out of his control and fell 150 feet before it righted itself. Lieut. Beck was the victim of the next accident.  He fell over 200 feet and landed in a mesquite tree. The machine was badly wrecked. When Lieut. Kelly went up this morning it was the first time the machine had been in the air since its mishap with Lieut. Beck.

Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, U.S. Army, at Curtiss School of Aviation, North Island, San Diego, California, ca. April 1911. (George Hammond Curtiss Historical Society)
Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, U.S. Army, at Curtiss School of Aviation, North Island, San Diego, California, ca. April 1911. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Lieut. Kelly came to San Antonio about six weeks ago with Lieuts. Beck and Walker. All had been receiving instruction from Glenn H. Curtiss at San Diego, Cal., and had certificates from Mr. Curtiss testifying that they were capable aviators. When the Curtiss machine arrived several weeks ago Eugene Ely, one of the Curtiss aviators, was sent here to look after the instruction of Lieuts. Beck, Kelly, and Walker, who had been assigned to fly the machine. Ely left ten days ago to fulfill some exhibition engagements, and is not due back until May 14.

Speaking of the accident this afternoon, Major Squier said that, in his opinion, it was unavoidable.

“Lieut. Kelly,” he added, “was one of the best men in the Signal Corps. He was a quiet, unassuming fellow, devoted to his work, and gave every promise of becoming one of the army’s most valuable aviators. However, we must all remember that an aviator’s life is one in which the danger phase must be considered. Orders have been issued forbidding further flying for the next few days.”

Lieut. Kelly was a native of England and joined the army in 1904 as a private in the Coast Artillery. He held every non-commissioned rank from Corporal to Sergeant, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Thirtieth Infantry in 1907. He was unmarried and is said to have a sister living in New York City. His parents are believed to be in England.

Lieut. Kelly was the second army officer to be killed in an aeroplane. The other was Lieut. Thomas B. Selfridge, who fell with Orville Wright at Fort Myer, Va., in September, 1908.

The New York Times, 11 May 1911, Page 2. (The photographs are from other sources and were not part of the original New York Times article.)

Second Lieutenant George Edward Maurice Kelly was the second U.S. Army aviator killed in an airplane accident, however he was the first pilot killed while flying the airplane. His remains were interred at the San Antonio National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.

In 1916, the Army replaced the air field at Fort San Antonio with a new field on the opposite side of the city. The new airfield was initially named Camp Kelly, then Kelly Field. In 1948, it was renamed Kelly Air Force Base.

Main Gate, Kelly Field, circa 1916. (U.S. Air Force)
Main Gate, Kelly Field, circa 1916. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes