Tag Archives: Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race

13 October 1922

1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig, Air Service, U.S.  Army, 1924.

13 October 1922: Air races were a extremely popular event in the early days of aviation. An estimated 200,000 spectators watched the opening race at the National Air Races, held at Selfridge Field (now, the Selfridge Air National Guard Base) near Mount Clemens, Michigan, from 8 to 14 October.

First Lieutenant Theodore Joseph Koenig, Air Service, United States Army, won the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race, a race for observation-type aircraft powered by the Liberty 12 engine. This race was Event No. 4, on Friday, October 13.

Flying a Packard Lepère L USA C.II, Air Service serial number A.S. 40015, Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

In addition to a trophy, cash prizes were awarded to the competitors for first, second and third place finishes. First place received $1,200.00 (about $16,747 in 2017); second place, $600.00; third place, $200.00.

The Packard-Lèpere L USA C.II flown by Lieutenant J. T. Koenig to win the Liberty Engine Builders Trophy Race, 13 October 1922. It was also flown by Lieutenant John Macready to set an altitude record of 40,800 feet, 28 September 1921. (U.S. Air Force)

The race course was designated as:

“2. Distance

“Approximately 240 miles [386.2 kilometers]—ten times around a closed course of approximately 24 miles [38.6 kilometers], starting at Selfridge Field, thence to Packard Field, from there to Gaukler Point on Lake St. Charles, and thence back to Selfridge Field.”

Aviation, 9 October 1922, Vol XIII, No. 15, at page 449.

Koenig flew the same Packard Lepère L USA C.II biplane, A.S. 40015, that had been flown by Lieutenant John A. Macready to set altitude record of 40,800 feet (12,192 meters), 28 September 1921.

Lieutenant Koenig varied not more than two miles an hour in any lap from his average speed for the ten laps. The first three laps he made at 130 miles an hour, the next five at 129 miles, the next five at 128 miles and the last lap at 129 miles an hour. On the last leg of his last lap, while he was over Lake St. Clair, his air pressure feed, which forces gasoline to the carburetor from the tanks went wrong and he was compelled to resort to an emergency gas tank for fuel.

Aerial Age, Vol. 15, No. 20, November 1922, at Page 535.

Of the nine racers, six completed the race. Major Follet Bradley placed second in his DH.4B with an average speed of 126.4 miles per hour (203.4 kilometers per hour). Third place went to Lt. William L. Boyd, who also flew a DH-4B. “He flew a perfect race, averaging 122 miles an hour in every one of the ten laps. Army men said this was a remarkable achievement.

Lieutenant Theodore Joseph Koening, Air Corps, United States Army, 1926. (Unattributed)

Theodore Joseph Koenig was born at Elmira, New York, 24 July 1892, the first of two children of John B. Koenig, a blacksmith, and Caroline Linberger Koenig. He attended the University of Michigan, 1913–14. He was a member of the Scalp and Blade club, the members of which were from Buffalo, New York.

Koenig was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry (Officers Reserve Corps), 27 November 1917, and trained at Fort Niagara, New York. In January 1918, Lieutenant Koenig was assigned to Kelly Field, Texas for flight training, and then to the 652nd Aero Squadron (Supply). He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, Air Service, 1 July 1920. On 20 September 1920, Lieutenant Koenig was discharged from the Officers Reserve Corps and received a commission as a second lieutenant, Air Service. He was advanced to first lieutenant, effective the same date.

On 14 December 1920,  Lieutenant Koenig married Miss Laura Helen Smith at Galveston, Texas.

Koening attended the Air Service Bombardment School in 1921.

1st Lieutenant Koenig was was the Air Service officer in charge at NAS Sand Point, Seattle, Washington, 1924. He was promoted to the rank of captain, 4 September 1929.

On 28 September 1931, Captain Koenig was involved in an aircraft accident.

Koening attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama, 1931– 1932.

Koening was promoted to the rank of major, 16 June 1936. He was assigned as Assistant Military Attaché to the American Embassy in Berlin, Germany, under Colonel Truman Smith. He was sent to gather information about Germany’s increasing military air power and its technical progress. Colonel Smith had invited Charles A. Lindbergh to visit in Germany, and often sent Major Koenig along with Lindbergh as they toured German airfields and aircraft factories. (Lindbergh was performing a similar function for Colonel Smith.)

Major and Mrs. Koenig returned to the United States aboard the passenger liner, S.S. President Harding, arriving at New York, 27 February 1937.


Curtiss Y1A-8A 32-356 (U.S. Air Force)

On 5 September 1937, a Curtiss A-8A, serial number 32-356, crashed on takeoff at Holman Field, St. Paul, Minnesota, with Major Koenig on board. The airplane was written off.

Major Koening then attended the Command and General Staff School, graduating in 1938,

Major Koenig was the first commander of the newly-formed 25th Bombardment Group (Heavy), consisting of the 10th, 12th and 35th Bombardment Squadrons, and based at Langley Field, Virginia, from 1 February 1940 to 1941. The group flew the Northrop A-17A and Douglas B-18A. On 1 March 1941, Koenig was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

From 2 June to 15 October 1941, Lieutenant Colonel Koening was assigned to the General Staff Corps. He was promoted to the rank of colonel, 15 November 1941. He was again assigned to the General Staff, 10 March 1942 until 17 September 1943.

Colonel Koenig remained in the Air Force following World War II. During his military career he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States, July 1944–February 1945 (awarded posthumously). He died while on active duty, 18 September 1949, at the age of 57 years, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 P53, left profile. The turbocharger is mounted above the propeller driveshaft.
Packard Lepère L USA C.II A.S. 40015, Wright Field project number P 53, left profile. The turbocharger’s turbine housing is mounted above the propeller driveshaft. The markings on the rudder, above the project number, P 53, are “LEPERE U.S.—” (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère L USA C.II was a World War I biplane designed by French aeronautical engineer Captain Georges Lepère and built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was to have been a two-place fighter, light bomber and observation aircraft armed with four machine guns.

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3-1/8 inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 5/8-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

P 53 in its original configuration and camouflage. The fuselage is clearly marked A.S. 40015. (U.S. Air Force)
P 53 in its original configuration and camouflage. The fuselage is clearly marked A.S. 40015. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère was powered by a Liberty L-12 engine. The Liberty L-12 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) single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with two valves per cylinder and 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. 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).

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)

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.

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Packard Lepère L USA C.II, S.C. 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)


Packard Lepère L USA C.II, P54, S.C. 42138 (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463

² FAI Record File Number 15671

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes