Tag Archives: Harold Ross Harris

17 April 1923

Lieutenant Harold R. Harris, United States Army Air Service, 1922.
First Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service, United States Army, 1922.

17 April 1923: At Wilbur Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, First Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Records, flying a modified de Havilland XDH-4L powered by a Hall-Scott Liberty 375 engine. Lieutenant Harris averaged 184.03 kilometers per hour (114.35 miles per hour) over a 1,500 kilometer (932.1 miles) closed circuit,¹ and 183.82 kilometers per hour (114.22 miles per hour) over a 2,000 kilometer (1,242.7 mile) course. ²

Harold R. Harris was an important figure in the development of aircraft following World War I. He served as Engineering Officer for the U.S. Army at McCook Field and flew many experimental aircraft, setting records for speed and altitude, and worked on the development of airplanes, engines and other equipment. Harris was the first man to use a parachute to escape an airplane during an actual in-flight emergency.

In civil aviation, Harris was an executive with the company that would become Pan American World Airways. During World War II, he was chief of staff of the Air Transport Command, retiring with the rank of brigadier general, and then returning to commercial aviation as a vice president of Pan Am and later president of Northwest Airlines.

de Havilland XDH-4L A.S. 64593, FAI World Speed record holder. (FAI)

The XDH-4L was a variant of the Airco DH.4, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was a two-place, single-engine biplane intended as a bomber, but the type served in virtually every capacity during World War I and the years following. At McCook Field, American-built DH-4s were commonly used as test beds for engines and other aeronautical equipment.

The standard Airco DH.4 had a crew of two. It was 30 feet, 8 inches (9.347 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 4 inches (13.208 meters) and height of 11 feet (3.353 meters). Empty weight was 2,387 pounds (1,085 kilograms) and loaded weight was 3,472 pounds (1,578 kilograms). British-built DH.4s were powered by a 1,240.54-cubic-inch-displacement (20.33 liter) liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Eagle overhead cam 60° V-12 engine which produced 375 horsepower. A gear-reduction system kept propeller r.p.m. below engine speed for greater efficiency.

American-built DH.4 airplanes were produced by the Boeing Airplane Company, Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, Fisher Body Corporation, and Standard Aircraft Corporation. Most were powered by the Liberty L12 engine.

Major Henry H. Arnold standing beside the first Liberty 12 aircraft engine turned out for war use. “Hap” Arnold would later hold the 5-star rank of General of the Army and General of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

The Liberty L12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. It was a  water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms). This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and Packard. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

Following World War I, many DH-4s were rebuilt by Boeing and Atlantic Aircraft. An improved version, the DH-4M, used a tubular steel framework instead of the usual wood construction. DH-4s remained in service with the United States Army as late as 1932.

De Havilland XDH-4L, U.S. Army Air Service  serial number A.S. 64593, was used for engineering tests at McCook Field. It carried project number P193 painted on its rudder. At the time of the world speed records, it was powered by a Hall-Scott Liberty 375, a 375 horsepower version of the Liberty V-12 engine. The rear cockpit was faired over and a 185 gallon (700.3 liter) fuel tank installed for long range flights.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9318

² FAI Record File Number 9319

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1922

1st Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service United States Army. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

20 October 1922: 1st Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service, United States Army, the Chief, Flight Test Branch, Engineering Division, at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, was test flying a Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A monoplane, a single-engine, single-seat fighter. The PW-2A, serial number A.S. 64388, had experimental balance-type ailerons. During this flight, Lieutenant Harris engaged in simulated air combat with Lieutenant Muir Fairchild (future Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force) who was flying a Thomas-Morse MB-3.

While banking the PW-2A into a right turn, Harris’ control stick began to vibrate violently from side to side and the airplane’s wings were “torn apart.” With the Loening diving uncontrollably, Harris jumped from the cockpit at approximately 2,500 feet (762 meters). After free-falling about 2,000 feet (610 meters), he pulled the lanyard on his parachute which immediately deployed. Harris then descended with his parachute providing aerodynamic deceleration, coming safely to earth in the back yard of a home at 335 Troy Street. He suffered minor bruises when he landed on a trellis in the garden.

Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A, A.S. 64388. This is the airplane from which Lieutenant Harold R. Harris “bailed out” over Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Harris’ PW-2A crashed into a yard at 403 Valley Street, three blocks away. It was completely destroyed.

This was the very first time a free-fall parachute had been used in an actual inflight emergency. Lieutenant Harris became the first member of the Irvin Air Chute Company’s “Caterpillar Club.”

Crash scene at 403 Valley Street, Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (U.S. Air Force)

The Pittsburgh Post reported:

Flyer Quits Plane in Parachute, Saves Life; Unique Case

     Dayton, O., Oct. 20.—Leaping from his Loenig [sic] monoplace in a parachute when the plane became uncontrollable over North Dayton today, Lieutenant Harold R. Harris, chief of the flying section of McCook Field, escaped death when his plane crashed to earth.

     Technical data, officials at McCook Field said, show that Lieutenant Harris’ escape is the first time an air pilot has ever actually saved himself by use of a parachute. A mail plane flyer leaped in a parachute over Chicago several years ago, but the necessity of his leaving the plane was questioned.

     Harris won the commercial plane event in the Pulitzer races in Detroit last week, flying the “Honeymoon Express” plane.

The Pittsburgh Post, Saturday, 21 October 1922, Vol. 80, No. 303, Page 1, Column 1

Harold R. Harris was born at Chicago, Illinois, 20 December 1895, the first of four children of Ross Allen Harris, M.D., and Mae Ermine Plumb Harris. He enlisted as a private in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps (E.R.C.), 2 May 1917. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps (O.R.C.) on 15 December 1917. Harris was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant on 19 January 1918. His commission was vacated 18 September 1920 and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920.

Married Grace C. Harris, circa 1920. They had two children.

Ross attended the Air Service Engineering School, graduating in 1922. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (“Caltech”).

Harris left the Air Service in 1926. He founded the world’s first aerial crop dusting business, the Huff Daland Company. Next he became a vice president and chief of operations for Grace Airways, a joint venture of Grace Shipping and Pan American World Airways, providing passenger service between South America and the West Coast of the United States.

During World War II, Harris, using his airline experience, helped to establish the Air Transport Command. In 1942, he was commissioned as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By 1945, he was Chief, Air Transport Command, with the rank of Brigadier General.

Following World War II, Harris joined American Overseas Airlines, which soon was absorbed by Pan American. Harris was once again a vice president for Pan Am.

In 1955, Harris became president of Northwest Airlines.

Brigadier General Harold Ross Harris, United States Army Air Corps (Retired) died 28 July 1988 at the age of 92 years.

Harold Ross Harris, circa 1950. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Harold Ross Harris, circa 1950. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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