Tag Archives: Thomas Scott Baldwin

12 August 1908

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1908 (U.S. Army)

12 August 1908: Test flights begin for Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myers, Virginia, with Thomas Scott Baldwin as pilot and Glenn Hammond Curtiss as flight engineer.

Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer, 1906–1913. (U.S. Army)

On 1 August 1907, Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer, United States Army, issued a directive establishing the Aeronautical Division within the Signal Corps. Captain Charles Chandler was the officer in charge. Specifications were published in Signal Corps Bulletin No. 5, soliciting bids for both lighter- and heavier-than air vehicles. There were 41 responses. Plans were submitted and a board of officers selected plans for those that seemed most practical.

The lighter-than-air craft was required to be a self-propelled dirigible (a “directable” balloon) able carry two persons and to be able to travel at 20 miles per hour (32.2 kilometers per hour). Thomas Scott Baldwin’s proposal was selected. (The Wright brothers’ Military Flyer was selected as the heavier-than-air winner on 2 August 1909, and designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1.)

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 (SC-1) emerges from its shed at Fort Myer, Virginia, 3 August 1908. (Carl Harry Claudy/NASM-Claudy-205)

On 3 August 1908, Baldwin No. 8 was presented to the Army for trials. Although the the Baldwin No. 8 reached an average speed of just 19.61 miles per hour (31.56 kilometers per hour). It demonstrated the required endurance of two hours, averaging 14 miles per hour (22.5 kilometers per hour). Although the airship’s speed was short of the requirement, on 5 August, the Army purchased it from Baldwin for $5,737.59. The airship was designated Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.

Contemporary sources give the airship’s dimensions as being 96 feet (29.26 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.94 meters). The envelope was made of two layers of silk fabric separated by a layer of vulcanized rubber, and supported by 30 wooden frames. Buoyancy was provided by hydrogen gas. The envelope’s volume was approximately 20,000 cubic feet (566 cubic meters).

An open girder beam gondola (or “car”) built of spruce was suspended beneath the balloon. The gondola was 66 feet (20.12 meters) long with a  2½ feet × 2½ feet (0.76 × 0.76 meters) cross section. A water-cooled Curtiss-built inline four-cylinder gasoline engine was mounted at the front end of the gondola. The engine produced 20 horsepower and drove the tractor propeller through a steel drive shaft at 450 r.p.m. The two-bladed spruce propeller had a diameter of 10 feet, 8 inches (3.25 meters) and pitch of 11 feet (3.35 meters).

A two-plane “box-kite” canard elevator unit behind the engine provided control for pitch. The pilot was located behind the control surfaces. Another crew member was at the rear of the gondola, followed by a fixed cruciform stabilizer unit.

The dirigible had a lifting capacity of  1,350 pounds (612.4 kilograms). The payload was 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms).

The U.S. Army’s first aviators, Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Thomas Etholen Selfridge and Frank P. Lahm were taught to fly the airship. Lahm and Fulois made the first flight of an all-Army crew on 26 August.

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 was assigned to the Signal Corps Post at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where the Army had a balloon factory. It was operated there until 1912. The airships envelope needed to be replaced, and unwilling to spend money for that, the airship was sold.

Second Lieutenants Lahm and Fulois flying Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 (SC-1) at Fort Myer, Virginia, 28 August 1908. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 August 1907

1 August 1907: The progenitor of the United States Air Force was established.

August 1, 1907
 
OFFICE MEMORANDUM NO. 6
 
Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer 1906–1913. (U.S. Army)

An Aeronautical Division of this office is hereby established, to take effect this date.
This division will have charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines, and all kindred subjects. All data on hand will be carefully classified and plans perfected for future tests and experiments. The operations of this division are strictly confidential, and no information will be given out by any party except through the Chief Signal Officer of the Army or his authorized representative.

 
Captain Charles DeF. Chandler, Signal Corps, is detailed in charge of this division, and Corporal Edward Ward and First-class Private Joseph E. Barrett will report to Captain Chandler for duty in this division under his immediate direction.

 

J. Allen, Brigadier General, Chief Signal Officer of the Army

The United States Army had used stationary balloons for battlefield reconnaissance since the Civil War. The Army’s first self-propelled aircraft, though, was Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1, a rigid airship buoyed by hydrogen, and which could carry two crewmen at just under 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), with a flight duration of 2 hours.

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1908 (U.S. Army)

Dirigible No. 1 had been designed and built by Thomas Scott Baldwin of Hammondsport, New York. On 3 August 1908, the airship, Baldwin No. 8, was presented to the Army for trials. Although the the Baldwin No. 8 reached an average speed of just 19.61 miles per hour (31.56 kilometers per hour). It demonstrated the required endurance of two hours, averaging 14 miles per hour (22.5 kilometers per hour). Although the airship’s speed was short of the requirement, on 5 August, the Army purchased it from Baldwin for $5,737.59.

The U.S. Army’s first aviators, Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Thomas Etholen Selfridge and Frank P. Lahm were taught to fly the airship. Lahm and Fulois made the first flight of an all-Army crew on 26 August.

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 was assigned to the Signal Corps Post at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where the Army had a balloon factory. It was operated there until 1912. The airships envelope needed to be replaced, and unwilling to spend money for that, the airship was sold.

Responding to an Army specification for a heavier than air craft, Orville Wright brought a Wright Model A Flyer to Fort Myer to demonstrate it. On 17 September 1908, The Model A, with Wright as pilot and Lieutenant Selfridge as a passenger, crashed. Wright was seriously injured, but Selfridge died. He was the first person to be killed in an airplane crash.

The following year, an improved airplane, the Wright Military Flyer was shipped to Fort Myer, arriving 18 June 1909. Tests were conducted over the next several weeks. The Military Flyer achieved a two-way average 42.583 miles per hour (68.531 kilometers per hour), over a 5 mile (8.05 kilometers) course, and demonstrated its endurance at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 40 seconds. On 2 August 1909, the United States Army purchased its first airplane, at a cost of $25,000. Because the Military Flyer exceeded the Army’s requirements in both speed and endurance, bonuses were paid totaling $5,000. The Wright biplane was designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1.

The Wright 1909 Military Flyer being fueled at Fort Myer. Orville Wright is to the right side of the photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane was used to train Signal Corps pilots at Fort San Antonio, Texas, and was crashed and rebuilt several times. After just two years’ service, it was retired. The Army gave the airplane to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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