Tag Archives: Selfridge Field

14 October 1922

Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan with his record-setting Curtiss R-6 racer, A.S. 68564, 1922. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1922: Air races were an 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, Selfridge Air National Guard Base) near Mount Clemens, Michigan from 8 to 14 October.

The Pulitzer Trophy Race was Event No. 5 on the afternoon of Saturday, 14 October. It was a “Free-for-All Race for High-Speed Airplanes.” The course consisted of five laps around an approximate 50 kilometer course, starting at Selfridge Field, then south to Gaulkler Point on Lake St. Clair. From there, the course was eastward for ten miles, keeping to the right of a moored observation balloon. The airplanes would then circle an anchored steamship, Dubuque, and return to Selfridge Field.

Russell Maughan’s record-setting Curtiss R-6 at Selfridge Field, Michigan, 14 October 1922. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Lieutenant Russell Lowell Maughan, Air Service, United States Army, flying a Curtiss R-6, Air Service serial number A.S. 68564, finished the race in first place with an average speed of 205.386 miles per hour (330.172 kilometers per hour). He also set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed during the race: 330.41 kilometers per hour (205.31 miles per hour) over a distance of 100 kilometers,¹ and 331.46 kilometers per hour (205.96 miles per hour) over a distance of 200 kilometers).²

In addition to the Pulitzer Trophy, the first place finisher was awarded a $1,200.00 prize. Second place was taken by another U.S. Army pilot, Lieutenant Lester James Maitland, who was also flying a Curtiss R-6, serial number A.S. 68563.

Russell Maughan had been a fighter pilot during World War I. He shot down four enemy airplanes with his Spad S.XIII C.I, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in action. He flew in several air races and set records. He went on to fly the Dawn-to-Dusk transcontinental flight in a Curtiss PW-8, 23 June 1924. In World War II he commanded the 51st Troop Carrier Wing during Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.

Lester Maitland along with Lieutenant Albert F. Hegenberger, made the first trans-Pacific flight from California to Hawaii in 1927. He was the oldest USAAF pilot to fly combat missions in World War II, flying a Martin B-26 Marauder, the Texas Tarantula, as the commanding officer of the 386th Bombardment Group. He was awarded a Silver Star and retired with the rank of brigadier general.

Curtiss R-6, A.S. 68564, P-278. (FAI)

The Curtiss R-6 Racers were single-engine, single seat, fully-braced single-bay biplanes with fixed landing gear, developed from the U.S. Navy Curtiss CR. The airplane and its D-12 Conqueror engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Garden City, New York. The fuselage was a stressed-skin monocoque, built with two layers of wood veneer covered by a layer of doped fabric. The wings were also built of wood, with plywood skins and fabric-covered ailerons. Surface radiators were used for engine cooling.

The two R-6 Racers were built of the U.S. Army at a cost of $71,000, plus $5,000 for spare parts.

The Curtiss R-6 was 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) long with a wing span of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,121 pounds (962 kilograms).

The R-6 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 1,145.111-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss D-12 dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which was developed by  Arthur Nutt, based on the earlier Curtiss K-12 which had been designed by Charles B. Kirkham. The D-12 had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.7:1, and was rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. During testing, it produced a 475 horsepower at 2,320 r.p.m. using a 50/50 mixture of 95-octane gasoline and benzol. The D-12 was a direct-drive engine and it turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, forged aluminum propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The Curtiss D-12 was 56¾ inches (1.441 meters) long, 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide and 34¾ inches (0.882 meters) high. It weighed 680 pounds (308 kilograms).

The R-6 racer had a maximum speed of 240 miles per hour (386 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 22,000 feet (6,706 meters), and it had a maximum range of 281 miles (452 kilometers).

A.S. 68564 disintegrated in flight at the Pulitzer Trophy Race, 4 October 1924, killing its pilot, Captain Burt E. Skeel.

The Pulitzer Trophy on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15195

² FAI Record File Number 15196

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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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 1945–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

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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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18 January 1911

Eugene Burton Ely, 1886–1911. (Portrait by J. Ellsworth Gross, Chicago, Illinois, 1910)
Eugene Burton Ely, 1886–1911. (Portrait by J. Ellsworth Gross, Chicago, Illinois, 1910)

17 January 1911: Taking off from the U.S. Army’s Selfridge Field (the closed Tanforan race track at San Bruno, California) at approximately 10:45 a.m., Eugene Burton Ely flew his Curtiss-Ely pusher to San Francisco Bay where he landed aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) as it lay at anchor.

A temporary wooden deck had been erected aboard the ship at the Mare Island shipyard. Built of wood, it was 133 feet, 7 inches (40.7 meters) long and 31 feet, 6 inches (9.6 meters) wide. Twenty-two manila hemp cables were stretched across the deck at 3-foot (0.9-meter) intervals. These were to catch hooks mounted beneath Ely’s airplane and drag it to a stop. Each cable had a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) sand bag at each end. The bags were precisely weighed so that the Curtiss would not slew to one side.  A guideway was laid out on the deck with 2-inch × 4-inch (5 × 10 centimeter) planks, and 2-foot (0.6-meter) high barriers were at each edge of the flight deck.

Captain C.F. Pond, U.S. Navy
Captain C.F. Pond, U.S. Navy

Captain Charles Fremont Pond, commanding Pennsylvania, offered to take the ship to sea in order that Ely would have the advantage of a head wind down the flight deck, but as winds in the bay were 10 to 15 miles per hour (4.5–6.7 meters per second), Ely elected to have the cruiser remain anchored.

About ten minutes after Ely took off, he was overhead the anchored ship. He set up his approach and when he was approximately 75 feet (23 meters) astern of Pennsylvania, he cut his engine and glided to a landing. The airplane was flying at about 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) when the hooks engaged the cables, which quickly slowed it to a stop. Eugene B. Ely landed aboard USS Pennsylvania at 11:01 a.m.

Eugene B. Ely lands aboard USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), at anchor in San Francisco Bay, 18 January 1911. (U.S. Navy)
Eugene B. Ely lands aboard USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), at anchor in San Francisco Bay, 18 January 1911. (U.S. Navy)
Eugene B. Ely landing his Curtiss pusher aboard USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) at anchor in San Francisco Bay, 18 January 1911. (U.S. Navy)
Eugene B. Ely landing his Curtiss pusher aboard USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) at anchor in San Francisco Bay, 18 January 1911. (U.S. Navy)

This was the very first time that an airplane had landed aboard a ship. The use of arresting wires would become common with aircraft carrier operations.

Ely and his wife, Mabel, were guests of Captain Pond for lunch. Photographs were taken and 57 minutes after his landing, he took off for the return flight to Selfridge Field.

Eugene Ely with his Curtiss pusher aboard USS Pennsylvania, shortly before taking off, 18 January 1911. (U.S. Navy)
Eugene Ely with his Curtiss pusher aboard USS Pennsylvania, shortly before taking off, 18 January 1911. (U.S. Navy)
Eugene B. Ely with his Curtiss pusher. He is wearing an improvised life vest made of bicycle tire inner tubes. (U.S. Navy
Eugene B. Ely with his Curtiss pusher. He is wearing an improvised life vest made of bicycle tire inner tubes. (U.S. Navy)

Ely unsuccessfully tried to interest the Navy in employing him as an aviator. He and Mabel traveled the country, “barnstorming,” making flight demonstrations and entering aviation meets. He was killed at Macon, Georgia, 19 October 1911, when he was unable to pull out of a dive.

Eugene Burton Ely was born 21 October 1886 at Williamsburg, Iowa. He was the first of three children of Nathan Dana Ely, an attorney, and Emma Lewis Harrington Ely.

In 1907, Ely married Miss Mabel Hall at San Rafael, California.

Ely taught himself to fly using an airplane that he had repaired after it had crashed. He quickly became an recognized expert in aviation.

Soon after the formation of the California National Guard, Eugene Ely enlisted. Then in 1911, he was appointed Aviation Aide to Governor Hiram Warren Johnson of California. Eugene Ely was commissioned a second lieutenant, California, National Guard, 27 July 1911.

Mrs. Ely admires a medal which had been awarded to her husband, Eugene Burton Ely, circa 1911. (U.S. Navy)

Eugene Burton Ely was killed in an airplane accident at the Georgia State Fairgrounds, Macon, Georgia, on 19 October 1911, two days before his 25th birthday. His airplane failed to pull out of a dive. He had recently altered its configuration from a forward elevator to aft, and conjecture is that the ‘plane did not respond as Ely expected.

His remains are buried at his birthpace, Williamsburg, Iowa..

In 1933, the United States Congress passed Senate Bill 5514, authorizing the posthumous award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Eugene Ely for his contributions to aviation.

Wreckage of Eugene Ely’s airplane at Macon, Georgia, 19 October 1911. (California Center for Military History)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 November 1934

Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, 2 February 1935.
Captain Frederick Cyrus Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, 2 February 1935.

17 November 1934: More than 50,000 spectators were present at Selfridge Field to see Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, win the Mitchell Trophy Race. Captain Nelson flew his Boeing P-26A over an 89-mile (143.2 kilometer) course at an average speed of 216.832 miles per hour (348.957 kilometers per hour).

Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, with the Mitchell Trophy and the race-winning Boeing P-26, at Selfridge Field, 17 November 1934. (Selfridge Military Air Museum)

The Boeing P-26A was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane. It was the first all-metal U.S. Army pursuit, but retained an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and its wings were braced with wire.

The P-26A was 23 feet, 7.25 inches (7.195 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11.6 inches (8.524 meters), and height of 10 feet, 0.38 inches (3.058 meters). Its empty weight was 2,197 pounds (997 kilograms) and gross weight was 2,955 pounds (1,340 kilograms).

A Boeing P-26 at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing P-26 at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-26A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-27 (Wasp SE) single-row 9-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. This engine had a Normal Power rating of 570 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and Takeoff Power rating of 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard adjustable-pitch propeller. The R-1340-27 was 43.25 inches (1.099 meters) long, 51.50 inches (1.308 meters) in diameter, and weighed 715 pounds (324 kilograms).

The P-26A had a maximum speed of 234 miles per hour (377 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 27,400 feet (8,352 meters), and its maximum range was 635 miles (1,022 kilometers)

The pursuit (an early term for a fighter) was armed with two fixed, forward-firing .30-caliber M1919 Browning machine guns. Boeing built 136 production P-26s for the Air Corps and another 12 for export. Nine P-26s remained in service with the Air Corps at the beginning of World War II.

A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in a NACA wind tunnel, 1934. This "Peashooter", while assigned to teh 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)
A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel (Building 643), 1934. This “Peashooter”, while assigned to the 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)

Frederick Cyrus Nelson was born at St. Paul, Minnesota, 17 March 1894. He was the third of four children of Frederick Carl Nelson, a compositor, and Hulda Josephine Holm Nelson. Both of his parents had immigrated to the United States from Scandinavia. Fred Nelson enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, 18 April 1917. He was trained as a pilot and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 28 January 1918. On 9 September 1920, this commission was vacated and Nelson was appointed a First Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

Lieutenant Nelson married Miss Jewell I. Moody at Pierce City, Missouri, 23 October 1921. They would have two children. His son, James Richard Nelson, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force.

Lieutenant Nelson was promoted to Captain, 1 January 1931, and to Major, 16 June 1936.

On 2 July 1938, while landing a Curtiss YC-30, 33-321, at Maxwell Field, Alabama, Major Nelson, 91SS, was involved in a collision with another aircraft. The YC-30 was damaged beyond repair.

Major Nelson graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School in 1939. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Army of the United States, 16 November 1940, and was assigned as Commanding Officer of the Advanced Flying School, Moody Field, Georgia. Nelson was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 15 October 1942. He was assigned as the first Commanding Officer of the newly-established 29th Flying Training Wing, 26 December 1942.

From 9 December 1943 to 14 August 1946, Colonel Nelson was assigned to the Inspector General’s Department.

Following World War II, Colonel Nelson served as the first Commanding Officer of the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Washington.

Colonel Frederick Cyrus Nelson served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. He retired from the Air Force 3 September 1951 after 34 years of service, and died 11 April 1991 at the age of 97 years. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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