Tag Archives: Liberty L12

15 May 1918

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II in flight.

15 May 1918: The prototype Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II made its first flight.

The Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane chasseur which was designed by a French aeronautical engineer, Capitaine Georges Lepère, who had previously designed the Section Technique de l’Aeronautique Dorand AR.1 reconnaissance airplane for the Aéronautique Militaire, the military air service of France. 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.

A contemporary aviation publication reported:

Flying Qualities—The machine exhibits excellent flying qualities, with ready response of all controls. Longitudinal, lateral and directional stability of the machine is good. In taxying, starting and landing it is entirely satisfactory, and on landing it does not roll more than 300 or 400 ft. [91.4–121.9 meters] All stunt maneuvers can readily be performed, and in general, from a pilot’s point of view, the machine is excellent.

The range of vision is very good, the controls well placed, and instruments so arranged that the pilot need only move his eyes.

AVIATION AND AERONAUTICAL ENGINEERING, Vol. VI, No. 8, 15 May 1919, at Page 426, Column 1.

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, P 54, S.C. 42138 (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3⅛ 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, ⅝-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).

Packard fuselages under construction. (NARA)

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.

Major Rudolph W. Schroeder flying P 53, a Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II,  A.S. 40015, over McCook Field, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (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.

The third Packard Lepère, S.C. 42130, under construction at the Packard Motor Car Co., Detroit, Michigan. (NARA)

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.

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

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 15463 and 15671

² FAI Record File Numbers 15464 and 15675

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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2–3 May 1923

Lieutenants John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly with their Fokker T-2. (NASM)
Captain John A. Macready, Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air force)

2–3 May 1923: Air Service, United States Army, pilots Lieutenant John Arthur Macready and Lieutenant Oakley George Kelly made the first non-stop transcontinental flight. Their airplane was a Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker T-2 single-engine monoplane, U.S. Army serial number A.S. 64233.

The two aviators took off from Roosevelt-Hazelhurst Field, Long Island, New York, at 12:30 p.m., Eastern Time, and landed at Rockwell Field (now, NAS North Island), San Diego, California, the next day at 12:26 p.m., Pacific Time. They had flown 2,470 miles (3,975 kilometers) in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.8 seconds, for an average speed of 91.996 miles per hour (148.053 kilometers per hour).

Macready and Kelly had made two previous attempts, flying West-to-East to take advantage of prevailing winds and the higher octane gasoline available in California. The first flight was terminated by weather, and the second by engine failure.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64233 (FAI)
Fokker T-2 A.S. 64233 (FAI)

The Fokker F.IV was built by Anthony Fokker’s Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek at Veere, Netherlands, in 1921. The Air Service purchased two and designated the type T-2, with serial numbers A.S. 64233 and A.S. 64234.

Several modifications were made to prepare the T-2 for the transcontinental flight. Normally flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit, a second set of controls was installed so that the airplane could be controlled from inside while the two pilots changed positions. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the wing and cabin.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64223. (Sally M. Macready Foundation Collection/NASM)

The Fokker F.IV was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit which was offset to the left of the airplane’s centerline. The airplane was designed to carry 8–10 passengers in an enclosed cabin. The F.IV was a scaled-up version of the preceding F.III. It was built of a welded tubular steel fuselage, covered with three-ply plywood. The wing structure had plywood box spars and ribs, and was also covered with three-ply plywood.

For its time, the Fokker was a large airplane. Measurements from the Fokker T-2 at the Smithsonian Institution are: 49 feet, 10 inches (15.189 meters) long, with a wing span of 80 feet, 5 inches (24.511 meters), and height 12 feet, 2 inches (3.708 meters). On this flight, it carried 735 gallons (2,782 liters) of gasoline in three fuel tanks. When it took off from Long Island, the gross weight of the T-2 was 10,850 pounds (4,922 kilograms), only a few pounds short of its maximum design weight.

Fokker T-2, A.S. 64223. (The biplane is a Verville-Sperry M-1.) (Harris & Ewing)

The Fokker F.IV was offered with a choice of engines: A Rolls-Royce Eagle IX V-12, Napier Lion II “broad arrow” W-12, or Liberty L-12 V-12. The T-2 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Ford-built Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. (Serial number A.S. No. 5142) The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. Installed on A.S. 64233, the engine turned turned a two-bladed Curtiss fixed-pitch walnut propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 5 inches (3.175 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).

Lieutenant Oakley G. Kelly, U.S. Army Air Service (FAI)
First Lieutenant Oakley G. Kelly, U.S. Army Air Service (FAI)

John Macready and Oakley Kelley won the 1923 Mackay Trophy for this flight. Macready had previously won the award in 1921 and 1922. He is the only pilot to have won it three times.

During testing to determine the feasibility of the flight, on 16–17 April 1923, Lieutenant Kelly and Lieutenant Macready set six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for speed, distance and duration, flying the Fokker T-2. At Wilbur Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, they flew 2,500 kilometers (1,553.428 miles) at an average speed of 115.60 kilometers per hour (51.83 miles per hour); 3,000 kilometers (1,864.114 miles) at 115.27 kilometers per hour (71.63 miles per hour); 3,500 kilometers (2,174.799 miles) at 114.82 kilometers per hour (71.35 miles per hour); 4,000 kilometers (2,485.485 miles) at 113.93 kilometers per hour (70.79 miles per hour); flew a total distance of 4,050 kilometers (2,517 miles); and stayed aloft for 36 hours, 4 minutes, 34 seconds. Their overall average speed was 112.26 kilometers per hour (69.76 miles per hour) seconds.

The United States Army transferred Fokker T-2 A.S. 64223, to the Smithsonian Institution in January 1924. It is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

U.S. Army Air Service Fokker T-2, A.S. 64223, on display at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 May 1925

Douglas C-1 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas C-1 A.S. 25-433 in flight, 28 April 1926. (U.S. Air Force)

2 May 1925: At Santa Monica, California, the Douglas Aircraft Company C-1, A.S. 25-425, made its first flight. The new aircraft was requested by the U.S. Army Air Service to fill the role of a cargo transport. The single-engine, two-bay biplane had a crew of two in an open cockpit and could carry 6–8 passengers in an enclosed compartment, or 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) of cargo. A trapdoor in the floor allowed heavy cargo to be lifted directly into the airplane.

Douglas C-1 No. 79 (S/N 25-433) in flight, on April 28, 1926. (u.S. Air Force photo)
Right profile of Douglas C-1 No. 79, A.S. 25-433, in flight, 28 April 1926. In this image, the passenger compartment windows are visible. (U.S. Air Force)

The Douglas C-1 was 35 feet, 4 inches (10.770 meters) long with a wingspan of 56 feet, 7 inches (17.247 meters) and height of 14 feet (4.267 meters). The transport’s empty weight was 3,836 pounds (1,740 kilograms) and its loaded weight was 6,443 pounds (2,922 kilograms).

The C-1 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. 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).

Douglas C-1 A.S. 25-423 at McCook Field as P394. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas C-1 A.S. 25-425 at McCook Field Dayton, Ohio, as P394. (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. 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.

Douglas C-1 A.S. 25-425, the first C-1. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas C-1 A.S. 25-425, the first C-1. (U.S. Air Force)

The C-1 had a maximum speed of 116 miles per hour (187 kilometers per hour), though its cruising speed was 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 14,850 feet (4,526 meters) and its range was 385 miles (620 kilometers)

In addition to a passenger and cargo transport, the Douglas C-1 was used experimentally as a medical evacuation aircraft and as an aerial refueling tanker. Nine C-1 and C-1A transports were built, and seventeen slightly larger C-1Cs.

The C-1 was the first U.S. Air Force airplane to use the designation “C-” to indicate a cargo transport. That designator is still in use today.

Douglas C-1 transport, serial number A.S. 25-431, 1 October 1925. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas C-1 transport, serial number A.S. 25-431, 1 October 1925. This airplane crashed on takeoff 150 yards (137 meters) west of Selfridge Field, Michigan, 16 April 1926. It was damaged beyond repair and written off. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1919

Dayton-Wright DH-4, A.S. 30130, at South Field, Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, 1918. (Dayton-Wright Airplane Company/Wright State University Libraries)
Dayton-Wright DH-4, A.S. 30130, at South Field, Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, 1918. (Wright State University Libraries)

19 April 1919: Captain Earl French White, Air Service, United States Army, and H.M. Schaffer, “his mechanician,” took off from Ashburn Aviation Field, Chicago, Illinois, at 9:50 a.m, Central Standard Time, in the Dayton-Wright DH-4, Air Service serial number A.S. 30130. At 5:40 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, the airplane and its two-man crew landed at Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York. They flew 738.6 miles (1,188.7 kilometers) in 6 hours, 50 minutes at an average speed of approximately 106 miles per hour (170.6 kilometers per hour).

The New York Times reported the event on its front page on the following day:

. . . Captain White had great difficulty in taking to the air in the soft ground of Ashburn Field, the take-off grounds approved by the Aero Club of Illinois. The ground there was soft and the heavy army plane, with her load of more than 190 gallons [719.2 liters] of gasoline, cut into it deeply, but after the aviator had had his plane dragged to a drier and harder spot in the field he managed to take to the air.

Circling over Chicago, Captain White ascended to a height of more than 10,000 feet [3,048 meters] and throughout his flight he did not go below this level until he was ready to land, and at intervals he flew as high as 12,000 feet [3,658 meters] He followed the route of the New York Central Railroad for the greater part of the distance, and cities along the route reported seeing him flying at great height and at high speed.

About 5 o’clock yesterday persons visiting on the ships of the Atlantic Fleet in the Hudson River and pedestrians on Riverside Drive saw a dark blue airplane come down from the north at high speed, turn sharply to the east when it was about opposite Fiftieth Street and then gradually came to a lower level as it circled about over the city.

All thought it was only one of the many airplanes and seaplanes that take their daily practice flights over the Hudson River and Manhattan Island, but it was Captain White and the first Chicago-New York non-stop airplane, bearing the army number 30,130.

Plane a Standard Army Machine.

After sailing over the city for about ten minutes, Captain White turned his machine toward the army aviation field at Mineola, where he landed at about 5:40 o’clock. Colonel Archibald Miller, Director of Aviation in the Department of the East and one of the commanders of the Hazelhurst Field, was waiting there to meet captain White and his mechanician, H.M. Schaefer, and they were taken to the field headquarters where an informal reception was held.

Officers at the Hazelhurst Field said that the biplane used by Captain White in his flight was one of the standard De Havilland Four machines constructed for the use of the army in France, and that it was equipped with a twelve-cylinder Liberty motor of about 400 horsepower.

The New York Times, 20 April 1919, Page 1, Column 4, and continued on Page 9.

Captain White’s flight was observed by members of the Aero Club of America. The time of White’s departure from Chicago was telegraphed to New York. The flight was certified by the Aero Club, which represented the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) within the United States. This was the first non-stop flight between Chicago and New York, and was the longest non-stop flight that had been made anywhere in the world up to that time.

The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company DH-4 was a variant of the British Airco DH.4, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland (and commonly known as the de Havilland DH.4). It was a two-place, single-engine biplane intended as a bomber, but served in virtually every capacity during World War I and the years following.

The 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 1,239-cubic-inch-displacement (20.32 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.

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.

Dayton-Wright DH-4, U.S. Army Air Service serial number A.S. 30130, was built at the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company factory in 1918. It was used for engineering tests at McCook Field, and carried project number P78 painted on its rudder. What became of the airplane after Captain White left it at Hazelhurst Field is not known.

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. 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. At McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army’s aviation engineering center, DH-4s were commonly used as test beds for engines and other aeronautical equipment.

Hazelhurst Field was renamed Roosevelt Field in 1920, in honor of Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, 95th Aero Squadron, son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was killed in aerial combat during World War I.

Earl French White was born at Minneapolis, Minnesota, 12 July 1888. He was the son of Clarence Otis White, a manufacturing engineer, and Harriet (“Hattie”) Isabel French White. He enlisted in the United States Army, 8 October 1910, and was assigned to the 11th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Myer, Virginia. In 1915 he transferred to the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. He completed flight training 27 March 1917.

Earl French White, U.S. Air Mail pilot. (Smithsonian National Postal Museum)

Earl French White was commissioned as a Captain, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, on 8 November 1917, and qualified as a Reserve Military Aviator in January 1918. In August 1918, Captain White was assigned to Wilbur Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, and later, the Technical Flying Field in Dayton.

On 1 July 1919, Captain White was one of three pilots who flew the inaugural U.S Air Mail Service route from New York City, New York, to Chicago, Illinois. Captain White flew a DH-4 on the route segment from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, Ohio. He carried 6 pouches containing 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of mail, and arrived at Cleveland at 9:30 a.m.

Earl French White married Miss Mary Esther Edmondson at Sarasota, Florida, 26 February 1923. Miss Edmondson had served in France during World War I as a civilian aide with the American Red Cross. They would have a daughter, Patricia.

From 14 April 1923 to 30 June 1925, White flew for the U.S. Air Mail Service at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, North Platte and Omaha, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. He flew scheduled night air mail from July 1924 to July 1925.

From 1928 to 1931, Earl White was a pilot for Pan American Airways in the Caribbean area.

Pilot Earl French White (left) and flight engineer/mechanic Henry Gerstung with Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43, circa 1937. (Vanderbilt Museum)

In 1935, White was employed by William Kissam Vanderbilt II to fly his Sikorsky S-43 amphibian, NC-16825. Vanderbilt described White as “one of the most reliable and resourceful aviators in the game.”

William K. Vanderbilt II’s Sikorsky S-43 amphibian, NC-16925, serial number 4314. This airplane was impressed by the U.S. Army Air Corps 14 September 1941 and designated OA-11, 42-001. It was destroyed in a crash landing at Corcorite Bay, Trinidad, 5 November 1941. All five persons on board were killed.

As of 11 February 1937, White had logged a total of 5,370 hours, 50 minutes, of flight time.

During World War II, White was employed as a delivery pilot for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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