12 August 1908: Test flights begin for Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myers, Virginia, with Thomas Scott Baldwin as pilot and Glenn Hammond Curtiss as flight engineer.
On 1 August 1907, Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer, United States Army, issued a directive establishing the Aeronautical Division within the Signal Corps. Captain Charles Chandler was the officer in charge. Specifications were published in Signal Corps Bulletin No. 5, soliciting bids for both lighter- and heavier-than air vehicles. There were 41 responses. Plans were submitted and a board of officers selected plans for those that seemed most practical.
The lighter-than-air craft was required to be a self-propelled dirigible (a “directable” balloon) able carry two persons and to be able to travel at 20 miles per hour (32.2 kilometers per hour). Thomas Scott Baldwin’s proposal was selected. (The Wright brothers’ Military Flyer was selected as the heavier-than-air winner on 2 August 1909, and designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1.)
On 3 August 1908, Baldwin No. 8 was presented to the Army for trials. Although the the Baldwin No. 8 reached an average speed of just 19.61 miles per hour (31.56 kilometers per hour). It demonstrated the required endurance of two hours, averaging 14 miles per hour (22.5 kilometers per hour). Although the airship’s speed was short of the requirement, on 5 August, the Army purchased it from Baldwin for $5,737.59. The airship was designated Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.
Contemporary sources give the airship’s dimensions as being 96 feet (29.26 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.94 meters). The envelope was made of two layers of silk fabric separated by a layer of vulcanized rubber, and supported by 30 wooden frames. Buoyancy was provided by hydrogen gas. The envelope’s volume was approximately 20,000 cubic feet (566 cubic meters).
An open girder beam gondola (or “car”) built of spruce was suspended beneath the balloon. The gondola was 66 feet (20.12 meters) long with a 2½ feet × 2½ feet (0.76 × 0.76 meters) cross section. A water-cooled Curtiss-built inline four-cylinder gasoline engine was mounted at the front end of the gondola. The engine produced 20 horsepower and drove the tractor propeller through a steel drive shaft at 450 r.p.m. The two-bladed spruce propeller had a diameter of 10 feet, 8 inches (3.25 meters) and pitch of 11 feet (3.35 meters).
A two-plane “box-kite” canard elevator unit behind the engine provided control for pitch. The pilot was located behind the control surfaces. Another crew member was at the rear of the gondola, followed by a fixed cruciform stabilizer unit.
The dirigible had a lifting capacity of 1,350 pounds (612.4 kilograms). The payload was 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms).
The U.S. Army’s first aviators, Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Thomas Etholen Selfridge and Frank P. Lahm were taught to fly the airship. Lahm and Fulois made the first flight of an all-Army crew on 26 August.
Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 was assigned to the Signal Corps Post at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where the Army had a balloon factory. It was operated there until 1912. The airships envelope needed to be replaced, and unwilling to spend money for that, the airship was sold.
8 June 1911: The Aero Club of America, as representative of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, issued Aviator Certificate Number 1 to Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The document was signed by Allan A. Ryan, president of the club, and G. F. Campbell-Wood, secretary.
27 April 1911: At Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps, United States Army, accepted its second airplane, a Curtiss Model D Type IV. The airplane was built by Glenn H. Curtiss’ Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company at Hammondsport, New York. It was known as a “Curtiss Pusher,” as it was propelled by a propeller behind the engine. The aircraft was a canard configuration with elevators mounted in front. It had tricycle landing gear.
The airframe was primarily spruce and ash, with flying surfaces covered with doped fabric. It was easily disassembled for transport on Army wagons.
The Wrights had patented their “wing-warping” system of flight controls and refused to allow Curtiss to use it. The Model D used ailerons instead, which was a superior system.
The Model D Type IV had a length of 29 feet, 3 inches (8.915 meters) with a wingspan of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters) and height of 7 feet, 10 inches (2.388 meters). Its empty weight was 700 pounds (317.5 kilograms) and loaded weight was 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms).
The engine was a “Curtiss Vee,” an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 268.336-cubic-inch displacement (4.397 liter) Curtiss Model B-8 90° V-8 engine, producing 40 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The Model B-8 was 29½ inches (0.75 meters) long, 19 inches (0.48 meters) high and 17 inches (0.43 meters) wide. It weighed approximately 150 pounds (68 kilograms). The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller in pusher configuration.
The airplane’s top speed was 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour). Endurance was 2½ hours.
The Signal Corps assigned serial number S.C. No. 2 to the Curtiss. Intended as a trainer, it was in service until 1914, when it was scrapped.
A reproduction of S.C. No. 2 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
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
A contemporary news article commented on Jimmy Doolittle’s performance:
“. . . 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 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.
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).
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.
16 September 1910: Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar Raiche, M.D., having had no training, made a solo flight in an airplane that she and her husband, François C. Raiche, had built at their home in Mineola, New York.
Two weeks earlier, 2 September 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott had also made a solo flight in an airplane while under instruction of Glenn Hammond Curtiss at his school at Hammondsport, New York. Scott was practicing taxiing to familiarize herself with the airplane and its controls. Curtiss had rigged the throttle to prevent it advancing far enough for the airplane to takeoff. However, possibly because of a wind gust, the airplane did become airborne and Blanche Scott is considered to have been the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane.
The Aeronautical Society of America credits Bessica Raiche with the first intentional solo flight, however. The society awarded her a gold medal, studded with diamonds, and inscribed The First Woman Aviator in America.
Bessica Medlar was a many-talented woman. She received a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) from Tufts University in 1903. She was a practicing dentist, a linguist and an artist. She had traveled to France to study painting, and while there, had seen Orville Wright demonstrate his Wright Flyer.
Later, back at home, she and her husband built an airplane based on the Wrights’ design. Using lighter-weight materials, though—bamboo, silk and piano wire—they assembled the components in their home before taking them outside to put together. The biplane had a length of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters) and a wingspan of 33 feet (10.058 meters). It was powered by an engine built by C.M. Crout which produced approximately 30 horsepower.
Because Dr. Raiche was lighter, it was decided that she would attempt the first flights. The airplane was transported from their home to Hempstead Plains for the attempt. During the day she made five flights. The last one covered approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers). The airplane nosed over in a depression and Dr. Raiche was thrown out. She was uninjured and the airplane was only slightly damaged.
Forming the French-American Aeroplane Company, Mr. and Mrs. Raiche built several more airplanes.
Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar was born in Wisconsin, 23 April 1875, the first of two daughters of James Burch Medlar, a photographer, and Elizabeth Ann Curtis Medlar. She graduated from Rockford High School, Rockford, Illinois, in 1894. She spent the next four years studying art in France. One her return in 1900, she entered Tufts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated in 1903. Dr. Medlar worked at the Staten Island Children’s Hospital, New York, before opening her own medical practice.
Dr. Medlar married François C. Raiche, Esq., an attorney, in 1904. They had one child, Catherine Elizabeth.
Moving to the West Coast of the United States, Dr. Raiche opened her medical practice near Newport Beach, California, in 1912. She was a well-respected physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. She served as chairperson of the Orange County Medical Association.
The Raiches divorced in 1925.
Dr. Raiche died at her home on Balboa Island, 9 April 1932, at the age of 56 years. She was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California.