Tag Archives: Liberty L12

27 February 1920

Major Rudolph William Schroeder, Air Service, United States Army

27 February 1920: Major Rudolph William Schroeder, Chief Test Pilot of the Engineering Division, McCook Field, Ohio, flew a Packard Lepère L USA C.II biplane to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Altitude of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet).¹ The biplane was powered by a turbosupercharged Liberty L-12 aircraft engine producing 443 horsepower.

There are differing accounts of what occurred during the flight. One report is that the L USA C.II created the very first contrail as it flew at altitudes and temperatures never before reached. Also, there are differences in explanations of some type of problem with Major Schroeder’s oxygen supply. A valve may have frozen, the regulator did not operate correctly, or one of his tanks was empty. Another source says that he ran out of fuel. But he apparently suffered hypoxia and began to lose consciousness. He may have lost control, or intentionally dived for lower altitude. The airplane dived nearly 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) before Schroeder pulled out and safely landed. He was in immediate need of medical attention, however.

Recording instruments indicated that he had been exposed to a temperature of -67 °F. (-55 °C.). His goggles had iced over, and when he raised them, his eyes were injured by the severe cold.

Schroeder’s barograph recorded a peak altitude of 37,000 feet (11,277.6 meters). When the device was calibrated after landing, it indicated that his actual maximum altitude was 36,020 feet (10,979 meters).

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) delegated responsibility for certifying the record to the Aero Club of America, whose representatives apparently felt that procedures for setting the record had not been correctly followed, and declined to accept the altitude record.

The National Bureau of Standards next evaluated the data and credited Rudolph Schroeder with having reached 33,180 feet (10,113 meters). Regardless, the current official record altitude, according to FAI, remains 10,093 meters (33,114 feet).

Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, USAAC, flying a Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 over McCook Filed, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Rudolph W. Schroeder flying a Packard Lepère L USA C.II, A.S. 40015,  over McCook Field, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère L USA C.II was a single-engine, two-place biplane fighter which was designed by the French aeronautical engineer, Capitaine Georges Lepère, who had previously designed the Section Technique de l’Aeronautique Dorand AR.1 reconnaissance airplane for France’s military air service. The new airplane was built in the United States by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was a two-place fighter, or chasseur, light bomber, and observation aircraft, and was armed with four machine guns.

The L USA C.II 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, 1/8-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).

Packard Lepère L USA C.II P53, A.S. 40015, left profile. The turbocharger is mounted above the propeller driveshaft. (U.S.. Air Force)

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.

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 Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Packard-built Liberty 12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine, which produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 9 feet, 10 inches (2.997 meters). 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).

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

Packard-Lèpere L USA C.II P53, A.S. 40015. (U.S. Air Force)

The L USA C.II 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 LUSAC 11 had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

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

Armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber 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.

The only Packard Lepère L USA C.II 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 LUSAC 11, S.C. 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Packard Lepère L USA C.II, A.S 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8229: 10 093 m (33,114 feet)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 September 1921

Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant John A. Macready, Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air force)
Captain John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

28 September 1921: At McCook Field, Ohio, First Lieutenant John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, flew a turbo-supercharged Packard Lepère L USA C. II biplane, serial number S.C. 40015, to a world record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). He won his first of three Mackay Trophies for this flight.

John A. Macready graduated from Stanford University in 1913 with a degree in economics. He enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, U.S. Army, as a Private 1st Class, 16 July 1917. On 27 December 1917, he was commissioned as a 1st lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. Lieutenant Macready became a flight instructor at Brooks Field, Texas, where he wrote the standard instructional text. On 11 October 1918, Lieutenant Macready was promoted to the rank of captain. After World War I, he became an engineering test pilot at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio. He reverted to his permanent rank of first lieutenant, 18 September 1920. In 1923, Macready graduated from the Aeronautical Engineer Course, Air Service Engineering School.

For six years John Macready was responsible for testing turbosuperchargers, which enabled aircraft engines to produce continuous power at increasing altitudes. It was while testing these that he established his altitude record.

Lt. John A. Macready with his Packard Lepère L USA C.II. (San Diego History Center)

During a 35 hour, 18 minute endurance flight at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, 5–6 October 1922, John Macready and Oakley G. Kelly pioneered the use of inflight refueling from another aircraft. Also, he and Kelly made the first non-stop transcontinental flight when they flew a Fokker T-2 across the United States from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York to Rockwell Field in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.6 seconds on 2 May 1923. Macready won his second and third Mackay Trophies for these achievements. He is the only many to have won it three times.

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.

The Packard Lepère was powered by 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).

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.

Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 P53, left profile. The turbocharger is mounted above the propeller driveshaft.
Packard Lepère L USA C.II S.C. 40013, McCook Field project number P53, left profile. The turbocharger’s turbine housing is mounted above the propeller driveshaft. (U.S. Air Force)

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). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. 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).

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.

Lieutenant John A Macready flew this turbosupercharged Packard Lepère L USA C.II, S.C 40013, McCook Field project number P53, to an altitude of 40,800 feet, 28 September 1921. (U.S. Air Force)
Barograph chart showing Lieutenant Macready’s record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,192 meters), 28 September 1921. (Sally Macready Wallace via www.earlyaviators.com)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463

² FAI Record File Number 15671

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 June 1923

Lieutenants Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter, Air Service, U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force)

The first successful aerial refueling took place on June 27, 1923, when a DH-4B, Air Service serial number A.S. 23-462, carrying Lieutenants Virgil S. Hine and Frank W. Seifert passed gasoline through a hose to another DH-4B which was flying beneath them carrying Lieutenants Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter.

Hine and Smith piloted their respective airplanes while Seifert and Richter handled the refueling. A 50 foot (15.24 meter) hose with manually-operated quick-acting valves at each end was used. During the refueling, 75 gallons (284 liters) of gasoline was passed from the tanker to the receiver.

Smith and Richter landed after 6 hours, 38 minutes, when their airplane developed engine trouble. Only one refueling had been completed but that had demonstrated the feasibility of the procedure.

A DH.4B flown by Lieutenant Lowell H. Smith and Lieutenant John P. Richter receives gasoline from another DH.4B, A.S. 23-462, flown by Lieutenants Virgil S. Hine and Frank W. Seifert at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, 27 June 1923. (U.S. Air Force)

For their accomplishment, all four officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was built by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States. The DH-4B was a rebuilt DH.4 with fuel capacity increased to 110 gallons (420 liters). The DH-4B was 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 6 inches (13.259 meters) and height of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). Loaded weight of the standard DH-4B was 3,557 pounds (1,613.4 kilograms).

In place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built version, Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by 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. 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).

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. 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 DH-4B had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

mid air refueling
The first mid air refueling near San Diego, California, 27 June 1923. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 June 1922

Albert William Stevens (Belfast Historical Society and Museum)

12 June 1922: Captain Albert William Stevens, Air Service, United States Army, made a high altitude parachute jump from a twin-engine Martin GMB bomber flying at 24,206 feet (7,378 meters) over McCook Field, Ohio.

A contemporary magazine article described the jump:

The greatest recorded parachute jump made from an airplane was accomplished by Capt. Albert W. Stevens a year or more ago. He fell 24,200 feet—almost five miles—landing 25 miles away from the point above which he jumped and suffering no injury in his descent, beyond a couple of dislocated toes.

Popular Science Monthly, November 1924, Vol. 105, No. 5, at Page 152, Column 2.

The Army and Navy Register published this very informative report:

PARACHUTING FROM 24,206 FEET

     Hurtling four and one-half miles through space was the recent experience of Capt. A. W. Stevens, Air Service, stationed at McCook Field, Dayton Ohio, in a parachute jump on June 12 last from the high altitude of 24,206 feet from a supercharged Martin bomber, piloted by Lieut. Leigh Wade, with Sergeant Roy Lanham as the other passenger. Capt. Stevens’ fall lasted approximately 20 minutes, and the oscillations of the chute, due to the prevailing winds, made him thoroughly seasick by the time half of the descent was over. In his official report to the chief of the Air Service, Capt. Stevens says:

    “The pack-cord was ripped about ten feet below the fuselage of the bomber. The parachute opened instantly and was fully open in less than 100 feet below the plane (estimated). The writer has made several jumps before, viz., from 1,500 feet, at 85 miles per hour; 1,500 feet at 65 miles per hour, and 5,600 feet at 65 miles per hour. Although the plane speed is estimated by the pilot at 110 miles per hour, the shock of opening was less, if anything, than on the previous jumps by the writer at lower altitudes and speed—due very likely to the lower density of the atmosphere.

     “The writer had complete confidence that the parachute would open fully—sooner or later. The only question with him was whether the passage of the silk fabric through the cold, rarefied upper air might generate enough static electricity to hold the folds of the ‘chute tight together for a time, until when it did open the shock might result in a rupture, either of the operator’s body, or of the shroud lines. This fear was groundless as the ‘chute opened instantly—or practically so. The ‘chute used had the vents sewed right; it had been tested with both 100 and 200-pound weights in the usual manner over McCook Field from about 600 feet altitude.

     “The time of descent was not over 20 minutes, from the writer’s estimate. It may have been less than 20 minutes, but was over 15 minutes. The writer would like to make another jump from still higher altitude, 40,000 feet or more, when he recovers from a few broken foot bones, and if this is done, a recording barograph will be carried as part of the jumper’s equipment. Needless to say, a comparatively windless day is best to choose for a thing of this kind, as the ‘chute may get caught in a down current on a windy day and land twice as hard as usual. Also, the jumper from high altitudes is burdened with heavy flying clothing, which increases his weight considerably.

     “Attention is called to the fact that the parachute averaged a ground speed of one and one-half miles a minute, based on a travel of 30 miles and a time of descent of less than 20 minutes. The ordinary time of descent is about 1,000 feet per minute at ordinary altitudes; for instance, in the 5,600-foot jump previously referred to, the time was six minutes. In the thin upper air the ‘chute undoubtedly falls faster, especially when it is oscillating and spilling air, as was the case all the way down on the recent jump.

     “Ten minutes of such oscillation will upset anything but a cast-iron stomach. In the writer’s case, he was thoroughly seasick by the time half of the descent was over. He could get little relief by closing his eyes, and if his eyes were open the landscape below heaved and tipped in all directions. It is of interest to note that temporary relief was experienced by fixing the eyes for a few seconds on the center of the parachute, this being the only point in space reasonably at rest with respect to the body of the jumper.

     “It is inadvisable to open the second ‘chute for the purpose of checking oscillation, as one then loses control of movement. With a single ‘chute it is possible to change the direction of one’s flight very considerably, even on a windy day. On a calm day one can do much better, even to the extent of picking out a particular field in which to land. On a windy day the air currents carry you irresistibly ahead, and the best that can be done is to side-slip to the right or to the left of the line of flight.

     “About the land: if one imagines that he has just jumped from a twelve-foot wall and crouches in a jumping position, he will be in the best position for landing. Too great a tension of the leg muscles may result in ruptured tendons or broken foot bones. You are sure to collapse in a pile on the ground; it is better to relax with that in view, and thereby get a more even distribution of bruises. The jumper should face the way he is traveling; to accomplish this it is possible to make the ‘chute revolve, earlier in the drop, by taking a few of the shroud lines and pulling diagonally, with the idea of working a “propeller” surface into one point of the ‘chute circumference. The second ‘chute may be pulled about 50 to 75 feet before landing, chiefly to get rid of the extra weight. If pulled earlier, the two ‘chutes will soon stand well apart, at 60 degrees or more, and will spill air between them, so that the jumper will fall nearly as fast as ever, and with practically no control.

     “The bomber carried four recording barographs, as well as indicating altimeters. The result of McCook Field laboratory measurements showed that the elevation was 24,206 feet.

     “It was the intention of Lieut. Wade to take the plane, relieved of 250 pounds of weight, still higher, but one of the superchargers developed trouble and it was necessary to cut the flight short.”

ARMY AND NAVY REGISTER, The U.S. Military Gazette, Vol. LXIII, No. 2195, 12 August 1922 at Page 162

1st Lieutenant Albert William Stevens, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1921. Lieutenant Williams is wearing the badge of an aerial observer. The decoration beneath is the Victory Medal with four campaign stars. (Albert W. Stevens Collection)

Albert William Stevens (née Whitten) was born at Belfast, Maine, 13 March 1886, the third child of Nathan Whitten, a blacksmith and wagon builder, and Alice C. Anderson Whitten. His mother died of “consumption” (tuberculosis) when Albert was five months old. He was adopted by Albert J. Stevens and Nancy M. Trimble Stevens, and his name became Albert William Stevens.

Stevens attended the University of Maine at Orono, Maine. He graduated in 1907 with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. He earned a Masters degree in electrical engineering  from the university in 1909. He then worked as a mining engineer in Alaska, California, Idaho and Montana.

Stevens enlisted in the U.S. Air Service in Idaho, January 1918. Because of his experience in photography, which began while he was in college, Stevens was assigned to the Aerial Photography School at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 18 February 1918. Sent to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces, Stevens commanded the 6th Photo Section, 88th Aero Squadron. He flew in the major campaigns of the final months of the War.

In this photograph of officers of the 88th Aero Squadron in France, 1918, Lieutenant Stevens is in the front row, fifth from right. The airplane is an Avion Salmson Type 2 A.2. (United States Air Force)

He was an acknowledged expert in the field of aerial photography. Lieutenant Stevens was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. Following the War, he was promoted to Captain, Air Service, 21 February 1919. His commission was vacated 18 September 1920, and he was appointed a Captain, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920. On 18 November 1922, Stevens was discharged as a Captain, then re-appointed a First Lieutenant. He returned to the rank of Captain, Air Service, 10 February 1925. On 16 June 1936, he was promoted to the temporary rank of Major, United States Army Air Corps. This rank became permanent 12 June 1939. In 1940, Major Stevens took command of the Photographer’s School, Air Corps Technical School, Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado. He advanced to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 30 December 1940. This rank became permanent 15 October 1941. He was retired from the Air Corps for medical reasons, 30 April 1942.

Stevens married Ruth E. Fischer at Rockville, Maryland, 8 August 1938.

Captain Stevens was a pioneering aviator, balloonist and aerial photographer. Using infrared film, he made the first photograph that showed the curvature of the Earth. He also took the first photograph of the Moon’s shadow on the surface of the Earth during an eclipse.

Stevens made a series of high-altitude balloon flights, and on 11 November 1935 he and Captain Orvil A. Anderson ascended to 22,066 meters (72,395 feet) aboard Explorer II, establishing a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record. ¹

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew William Stevens, United States Army Air Forces (Retired), died at Redwood City, California, 26 March 1949, at the age of 63 years. He is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

Major Albert W. Stevens, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1936. Major Stevens is wearing the wings of an aerial observer. The ribbons beneath represent the Purple Heart, the World War I Victory Medal with four campaign stars, and the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award).
1st Lieutenant Leigh Wade, Air Service, U.S. Army

1st Lieutenant Leigh Wade, Captain Stevens’ pilot, flew the Douglas World Cruiser Boston in the U.S. Army’s around the world flight, April–September 1924, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He reached the rank of Major General and remained in the United States Air Force until retiring, 1 November 1955.

The Martin GMB (also referred to as the Martin MB-1) was a twin-engine biplane designed as a reconnaissance airplane with a secondary role as a bomber. It had a crew of three. The bomber entered service in 1918 and was the first U.S.-built bomber to enter production.

The GMB was 44 feet, 10 inches (13.665 meters) long with a wingspan of 71 feet, 5 inches (21.768 meters) and height of 14 feet, 7 inches (4.445 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 6,702 pounds (3,040 kilograms) and a gross weight of 10,225 pounds (4,638 kilograms).

A Martin MB-1 bomber, A.S. 39059, (P-104) at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
A Martin GMB bomber, A.S. 39059 (P-104). (U.S. Air Force)

The bomber was powered by two 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. 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). The engines on Stevens’ airplane were supercharged to increase its altitude capability.

The GMB had a cruise speed of 92 miles per hour (148 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its service ceiling was 10,300 feet (3,140 meters). Range for the standard airplane was 390 miles (628 kilometers).

Twenty-two GMBs were built by the Glenn L. Martin Company.

Martin MB-1 A.S. , P=106. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin GMB bomber A.S. 62950 (P-106). (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10654

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 May 1923

Lieutenant H.G. Crocker, Air Service, United States Army, with the DH-4B. (Bain News Service)
1st Lieutenant Harrison Gage Crocker, Air Service, United States Army, with the DH-4B-1-S, A.S. 22-353. (Bain News Service, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

26 May 1923: 1st Lieutenant Harrison Gage Crocker, Air Service, United States Army, made the first South-to-North non-stop flight across the United States when he flew from the Gulf of Mexico to the U.S./Canada border near Gordon, Ontario.

Lieutenant Crocker’s airplane was a modified DH-4B-1-S, serial number A.S. 22-353. This was the same airplane flown by Lieutenant James H. Doolittle on an East-to-West Transcontinental flight, 4 September 1922. The DH-4B-1-S had a 240 gallon (908.5 liter) main fuel tank and a 28 gallon (105.9 liter) reserve tank. It carried 24 gallons (90.9 liters) of lubricating oil for the engine.

Due to the heavy load, a long smooth airfield was necessary for the takeoff. Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, was selected, though it was farther south than other locations near the Gulf coastline.

Lieutenant Crocker took off from Ellington Field at 5:20 a.m., Central Time (0920 UTC) and turned toward the Gulf of Mexico. On reaching the Gulf, Crocker turned to the North, climbed to 1,800 feet (550 meters) at a speed of 97 miles per hour (156.1 kilometers per hour). Throughout the flight, he encountered low clouds and fog and rainstorms. He flew over, under, or through the clouds, depending on the circumstances. The storms forced him to deviate from his planned course several times.

According to Lieutenant Crocker’s report of the flight,

“The Canadian Border was touched about one mile from Gordon, Ontario, across from Trenton, Mich. at 4:49 p.m. central time, taking 11 hours and 29 minutes from Gulf to Border. The main tank supply gave out at 4:55 central time and the reserve was used for 20 minutes. Both mentally and physically fatigued, a landing at Selfridge Field was made at 5:15 p.m., making 11 hours and 55 minutes in the air.”

AIR SERVICE NEWS LETTER, Vol. VII, No. 13, 10 July 1923, at Page 2.

Harrison Gage Crocker was born at Wahpeton, Dakota Territory, 4 July 1988. He was the third of six children of William Goss Crocker, a county school superintendent, and Sarah Baird Purdon Crocker. He worked for his father as a printer at Lisbon, North Dakota.

After the United States had entered World War I, Harrison Crocker enlisted as a private in the Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, 19 December 1917. He served as a private, first class, in the Aviation Section from 22 January to 18 October 1918, when he was discharged to accept a commission as a second lieutenant. This commission was vacated and Crocker was appointed a first lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, 21 September 1920.

1st Lieutenant Crocker married Miss Ethel Toye at Northwood, Iowa, 1 December 1920. They had one son, Gage Houston Crocker, who would also serve as an officer in the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force. Mrs. Crocker died 14 September 1955. The following year, 20 October 1956, Colonel Crocker married Marjorie Bindley Johnston.

In 1926, Lieutenant Crocker was stationed in the Territory of the Canal Zone, Panama. He and Mrs. Crocker arrived there 10 April 1926, aboard the U.S. Army transport ship, USAT Cambrai.

On 1 October 1934, Lieutenant Crocker was promoted to the rank of captain, and a year later, 20 October 1935, to the temporary rank of major. This temporary rank became permanent 1 July 1940.

Major Crocker was promoted to lieutenant colonel (temporary), 15 July 1941 (permanent as of 11 December 1942).

Colonel Harrison Gage Crocker died at Los Gatos, California, 3 December 1964. He was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

U.S. Army Air Service de Havilland DH-4B, A.S. 64008 (McCook Field Project Number P 174). (U. S. Air Force)

DH-4B-1-S A.S. 22-353 was a modified DH-4B. The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane. Originally intended as a bomber, it served in virtually every capacity during World War I and the years following. It was built by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

The DH-4B was a rebuilt DH.4 with fuel capacity increased to 110 gallons (420 liters). The DH-4B was 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 6 inches (13.259 meters) and height of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). Loaded weight of the standard DH-4B was 3,557 pounds (1,613.4 kilograms).

In place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built version, Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by 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. 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).

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. 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 DH-4B had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Reproduction of DH-4-S-1, A.S. 22-353, in teh collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Reproduction of a DH-4B in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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