Tag Archives: United States Army Air Service

22–24 February 1921

Second Lieutenant William D. Coney, Air Service, United States Army, with an Atlantic Aircraft Corporation DH-4M-2, serial number A.S. 63385. A reproduction of this airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Smithsonian Institution)
First Lieutenant William DeVoe Coney, Air Service, United States Army, with an Atlantic Aircraft Corporation DH-4M-2, serial number A.S. 63385. A reproduction of this airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Smithsonian Institution)

22–24 February 1921: First Lieutenant William DeVoe Coney, Air Service, United States Army, flew across the North American continent with just a single fuel stop. His airplane was an American Aircraft Corporation DH-4M-2, a version of the Airco DH.4 designed in England by Geoffrey de Havilland. The following is a contemporary news account of his flight:

First One-Stop Flight Across the United States

Early in January the Chief of the Army Air Service announced that on Feb. 22 an attempt would be made to cross the United States by airplane in a period of twenty-four hours, thus establishing a new trans-continental speed record.

The original schedule called for a flight of 2,079 miles, from Rockwell Field, San Diego, Calif., to Pablo Beach, Jacksonville, Fla., with a stop at Ellington Field, Houston, Tex. This would have cut the journey into two legs of 1,275 miles and 804 miles, respectively. Lieut. William D. Coney, 91st Aero Squadron was to make the flight from the west, while Lieut. Alexander Pearson was to start from the east, both flying specially rebuilt D.H.-4 army airplanes.

Lieutenant William D. Coney's transcontinental airplane, Atlantic DH-4M-2 A.S. 63385. A reproduction of this airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. ( )
Lieutenant William D. Coney’s transcontinental airplane, Atlantic DH-4M-2 A.S. 63385. A reproduction of this airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Aviation and Aircraft Journal)

Lieutenant Coney’s Flight

Shortly before the flight it was announced that Lieutenant Coney would stop at Love Field, Dallas, Tex., instead of at Ellington Field, because the former affords more complete repair facilities.

Lieutenant Coney took off from at Rockwell Field at 7 p.m. in his attempt to cross the United States within twenty-four hours. He carried, beside a package of official mail from the commander of the San Diego naval air station to the commander of the Pensacola naval air station, two bottles of hot coffee and 4 lb. of chocolate. The use of the hot liquid was particularly advisable in view of the all-night trip, where drowsiness might have fatal results.

The following morning, having outridden heavy snow and rain storms over New Mexico, the pilot was forced to land owing to a shortage of fuel at Bronte, Tex. There he experienced difficulty in re-fueling and the gasoline he finally obtained was of such inferior grade that the Liberty engine refused to start.

Delay in getting high grade gasoline kept Lieutenant Coney on the ground until nightfall, when he again took off, risking a second all-night flight in a dogged attempt to make good his loss of time.

His efforts were rewarded by success when he landed on the morning of Feb. 24 at 7:27 a.m. at Pablo Beach, having spanned the United States in 22 hr. 30 min. flying time. The total elapsed time from coast to coast was, owing to fuel shortage, 36 hr. 27 min.

In discussing the journey Lieut. Coney states that he attained the greatest height when passing over the Mississippi River, when he rose to 17,000 feet to escape a heavy fog. In passing over the Rockies, although believing himself high enough to miss any treacherous mountains, he almost sent his De Haviland against a snow capped peak which he barely saw in time to pass around. He was making 200 m.p.h. at the time.

Lieut. Pearson had less luck in his attempt, for he experienced engine trouble en route and had to land for repairs. This required too much time to make it worth while resuming the flight.

Lt. W. D. Coney’s Career

Sec. Lieut. William D. Coney, Air Service, was born in Atlanta, GA., on Nov. 21, 1893. His education was received at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The month after the United States engaged in the war—in May, 1917—Lieutenant Coney entered the first Officers’ Training Camp at Fort McPherson, Georgia, from which camp he was transferred to the Aviation Ground School at the Georgia Institute of Technology on July 10, 1917. On Sept. 8 of the same year he was sent to Essington, Pennsylvania, where he received flying training. During the latter part of Oct., 1917, he was sent to Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, where after graduating on Jan. 8, 1918, he received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Air Service. At Kelly Field he acted as flying instructor from the date of his graduation until Oct. 1918, when he received orders to proceed to a port of embarkation in New York preparatory to going over seas for active military duty. Due to the signing of the armistice, however, orders covering his sailing were revoked and he was sent to Carlstrom Field, Arcadia, Fla., on Dec. 22, 1918. Here he again acted as flying instructor, and was also a member of the Testing and Engineering Department a this field.

Ordered to Washington on May 15, 1919, Lieutenant Coney served as a member of the Information Group in the office of the Chief of Air Service until Feb 8., 1920. At this time he was sent to Mather Field, Sacramento, Calif., where he was assigned to the 91st Aero Squadron, of which he has been a valuable officer up to the present time.

Lieutenant Coney has rendered efficient service on duty with a detachment of the 91st Squadron in the southern part of the state in connection with the aerial border patrol operating between the United States and mexico. He further proved his value to the Air Service by accomplishing exceptionally fine work during the past season as an aerial forest fire patrol pilot operating out of Medford, Ore.

Aviation and Aircraft Journal, Volume X, No. 11, March 14, 1921 at Pages 332–333.

A brief account of Lieutenant Pearson’s unsuccessful flight, and Lieutenant Coney’s attempted return flight follows:

“. . . In February 1921, an Army flier, Lieutenant Alexander Pearson, Jr., decided to fly across the continent from east to west. But on the flight to Texas from Jacksonville, his official takeoff point, he became lost over the Big bend of the Rio Grande and drifted across the border to land in Mexico. Pearson was listed as missing until he showed up a few days later, riding into the village of Sanderson, Texas, on a mule. In March of the same year another Army airman, Lieutenant William D. Coney, took off from Florida on what he hoped would be a one-stop flight to the West Coast. But his plane crashed in Louisiana, and Coney died of his injuries a few days later.”

Famous First Flights That Changed History: Sixteen Dramatic Adventures, by Lowell Thomas and Lowell Thomas, Jr., Lyons Press, 2004, Chapter IV at Page 51.

An official U.S. Air Force history includes this short description:

“Believing he could fly coast to coast within 24 hours, he tried again, leaving Jacksonville on March 25, 1921. Lost in fog and having motor trouble, he hit a tree while landing. Taken to a hospital at Natchez, Mississippi, he died there 5 days later.”

Aviation in the U.S. Army 1918–1939, by Maurer Maurer, Office of Air Force History, Washington D.C., 1987, Chapter XI at Page 177.

This reproduction of Atlantic Aircraft Corporation DH-4M-2, serial number A.S. 63385, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This reproduction of Atlantic Aircraft Corporation DH-4M-2, serial number A.S. 63385, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

William DeVoe Coney was born at Atlanta, Georgia, 20 November 1893. He was the third child of Edgar Fairchild Coney, a coal dealer, and Martha Ann Dillon Coney.

Lieutenant William DeVoe Coney was buried at Palmetto Cemetery, Brunswick, Georgia.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 1918

U.S. Army Air Service national insignia, 1918–1919.
U.S. Army Air Service national insignia, 1918–1919.

8 February 1918: General Order 299 specified that all U.S. Army Air Service airplanes assigned to the AEF would be marked with a roundel (or cocarde) of three concentric circles. The outer circle was to be painted red and have a diameter approximately equal to the chord of the wing. A blue circle had a diameter two-thirds the length of the chord, and an inner white circle was one-third the chord in diameter. Two roundels were painted on the upper surface of the airplane’s top wing, just inside the aileron. Two more roundels were painted on the lower surface of the bottom wing.

In addition the airplane’s rudder was painted with three red, white and blue vertical stripes, with the red stripe adjacent to the rudder post and the blue stripe on the rudder’s trailing edge.

This national insignia was similar to the roundels used by France and England, though the order of the colors varied.

The red, blue and white roundel replaced the previous national insignia, which was a white 5-pointed star surrounded by a blue circle, with a red circle in the center. The star insignia had also been place in the same position on the wings, and the rudder also had three vertical stripes, but the order had been blue, white and red.

The new roundel was short-lived. It was replaced in 1919.

The 1918 Air Service roundels and vertical stripes on the rudder are visible on this SPAD XIII C.1, serial number 7689, Smith IV, which had just undergone restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Mark Avino, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1918 Air Service roundels and vertical stripes on the rudder are visible on this SPAD XIII C.1, serial number 7689, Smith IV, which had just undergone restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Mark Avino, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 October 1922

Brigadier General William Mitchell, Air Service, United States Army, 1879–1936. (United States Air Force)

18 October 1922: At Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan, Assistant Chief of the Air Service Brigadier General William Mitchell set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Absolute Speed Record flying a Curtiss R-6 biplane, Air Service serial number A.S. 68564, over a 1 kilometer course at a speed of 358.84 kilometers per hour (222.973 miles per hour).¹

This was the same airplane with which Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan had won the Pulitzer Trophy just three days earlier.

Brigadier General William Mitchell stands in the cockpit of a Thomas Morse pursuit.

Sources vary as to the speed General Mitchell attained, e.g., 222.96 m.p.h., 222.97 m.p.h., 224.28 m.p.h., and 224.4 m.p.h. A contemporary news magazine listed the officially recognized speed as 224.58 miles per hour (361.43 kilometers per hour):

American World’s Speed Record Homologated

The speed record made by General Mitchell, of the American Air Service, on October 18 last year, when he attained a speed of 224.58 m.p.h., has now been homologated by the International Aeronautical Federation.

FLIGHT,  The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 733. (No. 2, Vol. XV) January 11, 1923, at Page 26.

Brigadier General Billy Mitchell at Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1922. This airplane may be a Thomas-Morse MB-3 fighter. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Billy Mitchell at Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1922. This airplane may be a Thomas-Morse MB-3 fighter. (U.S. Air Force)

“Billy” Mitchell had been the senior American air officer in France during World War I. He was a determined advocate for the advancement of military air power and encouraged his officers to compete in air races and attempt to set aviation records to raise the Air Service’ public profile. He gained great notoriety when he bombed and sank several captured German warships to demonstrate the effectiveness of airplanes against ships.

His outspoken advocacy resulted in the famous Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, in which a military court consisting of twelve senior Army officers found Mitchell guilty of insubordination. He was reduced in rank and suspended for five years without pay. Major General Douglas MacArthur (later, General of the Army, a five-star rank) said that the order to serve on the court was “one of the most distasteful orders I ever received.” Mitchell resigned from the Army and continued to advocate for air power. He died in 1936.

After his death, President Franklin D. Roosevelt elevated Billy Mitchell to the rank of Major General on the retired officers list. The North American Aviation B-25 twin-engine medium bomber was named “Mitchell” in recognition of General Mitchell’s efforts to build up the military air capabilities of the United States.

The Curtiss R-6 Racers were single-engine, single seat, fully-braced 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.

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 1,145.11-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 678.25 pounds (307.65 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.

Curtiss R-6, serial number A.S. 68564, at Selfridge Field, 14 October 1922. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15252

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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