Tag Archives: Rockwell Field

5–6 October 1922

Lieutenants John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly with their Fokker T-2. (NASM)

5–6 October 1922: Lieutenants John Arthur Macready and Oakley George Kelly, Air Service, United States Army, set an unofficial world endurance record for an unrefueled airplane when they flew a Fokker T-2, Air Service serial number A.S. 64233, for 35 hours, 18 minutes, 30 seconds at San Diego, California.

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. The standard airplane had a 130 gallon (492 liter) fuel tank in the wing. The Army added a 410 gallon (1,552 liter) tank to the wing center section, and a 185 gallon (700 liter) tank in the passenger cabin.

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.

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).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 93 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour), a range of 2,550 miles (4,104 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 10,500 feet (3,200 meters).

Several modifications were made to prepare the T-2 for a 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. The standard airplane had a 130 gallon (492 liter) fuel tank in the wing. The Army added a 410 gallon (1,552 liter) tank to the wing center section, and a 185 gallon (700 liter) tank in the passenger cabin.

Lieutenants John Macready and Oakley Kelly with Fokker T-2, A.S. 64233. The fuel barrels and containers represent the fuel required for the airplane to cross the content non-stop. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lieutenants John Macready and Oakley Kelly with Fokker T-2, A.S. 64233. The fuel barrels and containers represent the fuel required for the airplane to cross the continent non-stop. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Macready and Oakley planned to fly the T-2 across the North American continent, non-stop, from San Diego, California to New York. The starting point at Rockwell Field was chosen to take advantage of favorable westerly winds, and to use the higher-octane gasoline which was available in California.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64223 in flight over Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. (This is now NAS North Island.) (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Fokker T-2 A.S. 64233 in flight over Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

When they encountered fog in the mountains east of San Diego, the two fliers were forced to turn back. They remained airborne over San Diego to measure the airplane’s performance and fuel consumption for another attempt. Because the airplane was not equipped with a barograph to record air pressure on a paper chart, the record endurance flight could not be officially recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). They were awarded the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year. This was Macready’s second Mackay. He and Kelly would win it again the following year.

Macready and Oakley made a second unsuccessful attempt to cross the continent from west-to-east, and were finally successful on an east-to-west flight in 1923.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64233 is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Fokker T-2, A.S. 64233, in flight, from above, left front quarter view, circa 1922–23. (Dutch Aviation)
Fokker T-2, A.S. 64233, in flight, from above, left front quarter view, circa 1922–23. (Dutch Aviation)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 September 1912

Lieutenant Lewis Cassidy Rockwell, 10th Infantry, United States Army. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

28 September 1912: Second Lieutenant Lewis Cassidy Rockwell was flying a Wright Model B, Signal Corps Aeroplane No. 4, at the United States Army training field at College Park, Maryland, where he was being trained as a military aviator. Corporal Frank S. Scott, U.S. Army Signal Corps, a mechanic on these airplanes, rode as a passenger aboard Lieutenant Rockwell’s airplane.

A contemporary newspaper article describes what happened next:

Washington, Sept 28. – Two more lives were sacrificed to aviation at the United States army aviation field, College Park, Md., today when an army aeroplane fell thirty-five feet to the ground instantly killing Corporal Frank S. Scott and so seriously injuring Second Lieutenant Lewis C. Rockwell that he died a few hours later. Hundreds of people, including fellow army officers, breathlessly witnessed the accident.

“Lieutenant Rockwell had started up with Corporal Scott as a passenger to make a test flight in his trial for a military aviator’s license. They had been in the air about eight minutes, ascending to a height of five hundred feet, then gliding down, had gotten within thirty-five of the ground. At this point the aviator turned the machine upward again and something went wrong. Instantly the aeroplane buckled and crashed to the ground.

Corporal Frank S. Scott, Signal Corps, U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force)

“Scott was hurled several hundred feet from the machine while Rockwell lay a few feet away from him. Brother officers found Scott lifeless. Rockwell, his head buried partly in the earth, still showed signs of life but was unconscious. He was rushed to a hospital. He never regained consciousness. Brother officers who witnessed the accident were at a loss to account for it.”

The Daily Journal and Tribune, Knoxville, Tennessee, 29 September 1912.

According to an article published by the Scott Air Force Base History Office,

“The flight started out in routine fashion of Sept. 28, 1912. Lieutenant Rockwell did a solo. The clumsy aircraft banged and coughed its way into the air, fluttering over College Park at the remarkable speed of 40 miles per hour. Assured that everything was in proper working order, the lieutenant landed and picked up Corporal Scott. The two men took off in the open biplane; and, after reaching an altitude of 150 feet, leveled off and soared for about 10 minutes. Coming in for a landing, the frail craft developed trouble and nosed downward. For tragic seconds, its 30 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine popped at full power, but the biplane continued its long dive, hurtling to earth with a crushing impact.

     “Nothing was left but a heap of splintered wood and torn canvas. Corporal Scott was dead when the running soldiers reached the scene of the crash. Lieutenant Rockwell was rushed to Washington’s Walter Reed hospital, but died on the operating table. More than 300 people witnessed the crash.”

—Air University, NCO and Enlisted Resources, NCO/Enlisted History

Corporal Scott was the first United States enlisted soldier to be killed in an airplane crash. The crash was also the first in which two or more persons were killed.

Both men were buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

When it became customary to name Air Service facilities in honor of military aviation personnel killed during the early experimental days of military aviation, the airfield at Belleville, Illinois, was named Scott Field in honor of Corporal Scott. It is now Scott Air Force Base.

The Air Service training field was later moved from College Park, Maryland, to San Diego, California. The new air field there was named Rockwell Field, after Lt. Lewis Rockwell. It is now NAS North Island.

The Wright Model B, Air Service No. 4, after the crash at College Park, Maryland, 28 September 1912. (U.S. Air Force)

The Wright Model B was a two-place, single-engine biplane. The elevator was at the rear, rather than in canard position as had been the earlier Wright airplanes. (This configuration was known as “headless.”) Roll control was through the Wright Brother’s patented wing-warping system. It was 26 feet (7.925 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet (11.887 meters). It weighed 800 pounds (363 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms).

Lieutenant Lewis C. Rockwell, 10th United States Infantry Regiment, at the controls of a Curtiss Triad,  College Park, Maryland, 1912. (U.S. Air Force)

The Model B was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,325 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8½ foot (2.591 meters) diameter, two-bladed, counter-rotating propellers, driven by a chain drive, are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. They turned 445 r.p.m.

The Wright Model B had a maximum speed of approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) and its range was 110 miles (177 kilometers).

Approximately 100 Model B aeroplanes were built by the Wrights and under license by Burgess from 1910 to 1914. Three are known to exist.

A reproduction of a Wright Model B

© 2018, 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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11 May 1927

Charles A. Lindbergh at Louie’s Lunch Room, Lambert Field, 11 May 1927. (Mario Cavagnaro, St. Louis Star/Missouri Historical Museum)

11 May 1927: At 8:20 a.m., Central time, Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis touched down at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, and taxied to the National Guard hangars where he shut down the Wright J-5C Whirlwind engine. The overnight flight from Rockwell Field on North Island, San Diego, California, took 14 hours, 25 minutes, a new speed record.

It is just eighty days since Lindbergh left St. Louis by train to meet with Ryan Airlines Company to discuss designing and building an airplane that would become the Ryan NYP, N-X-211, the Spirit of St. Louis.

Though the members of the syndicate that is funding his New York-to-Paris flight have planned celebrations, Lindbergh is anxious to continue on to New York City.

Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, Lambert Field, 11 May 1927.
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, Lambert Field, 11 May 1927.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 May 1927

Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, just before departure, at Rockwell Field, 10 May 1927. At left is Donald A. Hall, the airplane’s designer. Second from left is A.J. Edwards, Ryan’s sales manager. Lindbergh is shaking hands with Lieutenant Colonel Harry T. Graham, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanding officer of Rockwell Field. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

10 May 1927: At 3:55 p.m., PST, Charles A. Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis lifted off from Rockwell Field on North Island, San Diego, California, for their record-setting overnight flight to St. Louis, Missouri. The new Ryan NYP, N-X-211, had been ready and all the flight tests complete since 4 May. Lindbergh had completed the navigational planning for both the transcontinental flight to New York City, and then, the transoceanic flight to Paris. He had been in daily consultation with Dean Blake, chief of the Weather Bureau in San Diego. A system over the Rockies had been holding up his departure for days, but now everything was ready.

“At 3:40 I crawl into my flying suit. It’s uncomfortably hot in the California sun. . . It’s a few minutes early, but why wait any longer in this heat? I wave good-by, taxi into position, and ease the throttle open. As I pick up speed, I hold the tail low to put as much load as possible on the wings and reduce strain on the landing gear.

The Spirit of St. Louis is in the air soon after its wheels start clattering over the hummocky portion of the field. The take-off wasn’t as difficult as I expected. It’s 3:55 Pacific. I make a mental note of the time, check instruments, pull the throttle back slightly, and begin a wide climbing turn to the left. Two army observation planes and a Ryan monoplane have taken off with me as an escort. Colonel Graham, the Commanding Officer at Rockwell Field, is in one of the observation planes. Hall, Bowlus, Harrigan, and A.J. Edwards are in the Ryan. We circle North Island, the factory, and the city of San Diego. Then, leaving the ocean and the bay behind, I set my compass heading for St. Louis.”

 The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1953, at Page 134.

Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis over San Diego Bay. Photograph by H.A. Erickson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis over San Diego Bay. Photograph by H.A. Erickson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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