Flying on wings of Mercury

Though Hammondsport, N.Y., is synonymous with the name Glenn Curtiss and well known as the home of the Curtiss Aeroplane Co., after World War I Hammondsport also became the home of another aircraft manufacturer — Aerial Service Corp.

Aerial Service Corp. was conceived and formed in early 1920 by former members of the Curtiss company. The officers were Henry Kleckler, president, William Chadeayne, vice president, and Alden Ainkat, secretary and treasurer. Kleckler had been an assistant to Glenn Curtiss in the early days of the company and later chief engineer for the Curtiss Aeroplane Co., responsible for several of the patents filed for the Curtiss company.

The May 13, 1920, issue of the New York Times announced the formation of the company with assets of $9,000. Set up in the former Curtiss woodworking shops in Hammondsport, the company was formed to sell surplus World War I aircraft and aircraft parts.

In 1922, the first complete aircraft were built by the new company, the “Bee Line” Racers, after two former Curtiss employees from the Garden City plant moved to Hammondsport and established the Aerial Engineering Corp. Arthur Thurston and Harry Booth had been associated with the design of the 1921 Curtiss Navy Racer. The company built the BR-1 and BR-2 after receiving an order for two racers for the 1922 Pulitzer Trophy Race, but neither one was successful in the race.

In 1924 the US Post Office issued a general invitation to the aircraft industry to design and build a new type of mail plane to replace the old de Havilland DH-4s. When the company received its first airmail airplane contract, it became necessary to expand the engineering and production departments. It was at this time that two more ex-Curtiss employees joined the company: Joseph Meade, Curtiss engineering sales representative, and former Curtiss engineer Harvey Mummert, who had been responsible for the design of the Curtiss Eagle, MF Boat, and PW-7 fighter.

The Aerial Mercury Senior was the company's entry in the Post Office mail plane competition.

The mail plane was a large Liberty-engined biplane of 1,000 pounds payload. After testing, the single aircraft was purchased by the Post Office. In 1928 the plane went to National Air Transport and was used on the Chicago to Cleveland route.

The next products of the company were conversions of war surplus Standard J-1 training planes. New wings with a single-bay bracing systems were installed on the Standard fuselage. The plane had a five-place capacity with four passengers forward and a pilot aft. Five of the two-place training version were sold to the Argentine government. A Curtiss C-6 engine was used as the powerplant.

The Mercury Standard was a war-surplus Standard J-1 converted to carry four passengers.

Also appearing in 1925 was an aircraft of all new design, the Mercury Jr. This was a multi-purpose design that could be used as a mail plane with 500-pound payload, a two-place trainer, or a three-place passenger aircraft. With its steel tubing fuselage, the design broke new ground for the company. The plane could be powered by either a Curtiss C-6 engine or the newer Wright J-4 200 hp radial.

A Mercury Jr. was entered in the 1925, 1926, and 1927 Ford Air Tours. Flown by Harvey Mummert, the plane did well, finishing third in 1927. During 1926 the plane was marketed as a “Mercury Arrow.”

In 1929 the company was reorganized when additional financing was brought in from a Chicago group known as Schroeder-Wentworth and Associates. At this time the name of the corporation was changed from Aerial Service Corp. to Mercury Aircraft, Inc., with John Wentworth listed as president and Harvey Mummert listed as chief engineer.

The Mercury Kitten was a three-place, high-wing cabin monoplane featuring a welded steel fuselage.

While production of the Mercury Jr. continued, development began on a new design, the Mercury Kitten. This was a three-place, high-wing cabin monoplane constructed of steel tubing with fabric covering. The original powerplant was a four-cylinder, two-cycle engine designed by Mummert. The Kitten was later displayed with a Warner Scarab radial engine. No orders were received for the design and only one was built.

The company’s next project was its most successful. This was the Mercury Chic T-2. This parasol design was intended as a primary trainer with good cross-country and small field operating characteristics. Construction was of steel tube throughout and fabric covered.

To promote sales, a Chic was entered in the 1930 National Air Tour. Mummert, as pilot, placed 17th with an average speed of 95.6 mph. Given the Chic was powered by a 90-hp LeBlond radial, this was an outstanding performance.

The US Registry listed 14 Chics with four of them owned by the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service in Glenview, Illinois. World War II saw the end of aircraft production for Mercury. During the war the company produced aluminum fuel and oil tanks.

Even though Mercury doesn’t exist anymore as an aircraft manufacturer, it does still exist as a company, making it one of the oldest existing companies that made aircraft in the early days. The company now provides design and engineering support for new products, with plants in four states and its headquarters still in Hammondsport.

It’s interesting to note that the company’s website lists its formation as 1921 instead of 1920, even though there is ample documentation for the 1920 date.

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight. He can be reached at dennis@generalaviationnews.com.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this article on the history of Mercury Aircraft. I was born and raised in Steuben County NY, growing up in Avoca, and lived in Bath NY for several years. I always heard of the history of Glenn Curtiss and visited the museum many times, hung around Hammondsport & Kueka Lake fishing often and visiting friends, and even have friends buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery near the famous grass airstrip along route 54. I have many many friends who have worked at Mercury Aircraft there, and even the president, Bud Mead is a close friend of the family, but after thousands of trip to and through Hammondsport, It took getting older to realize the gravity and history just a few miles from my home! It really makes me appreciate where I grew up, even more! I spent many many vacations in Virginia Beach, and seen numerous statues and Navy accomplishments at the Navy base there, and that has sparked my interest in both Curtiss and Mercury… It is just awesome to read an article like this one, to see the history and understand just how huge these companies and men behind them were! Thank you!!!! ~AL Beasley of Bath, New York

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