The Douglas incubator

Shown in a 1921 advertisement, the Douglas “Cloudster” was the first plane to be built under the Douglas name. It was sold to Ryan Airlines and converted to a passenger plane used on the San Diego-Los Angeles route.
Shown in a 1921 advertisement, the Douglas “Cloudster” was the first plane to be built under the Douglas name. It was sold to Ryan Airlines and converted to a passenger plane used on the San Diego-Los Angeles route.

Shown in a 1921 advertisement, the Douglas “Cloudster” was the first plane to be built under the Douglas name.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the stream of government money dried up and the manufacturing of aircraft declined drastically. In this period, when the market for new aircraft was almost nonexistent, it hardly seemed time for a new enterprise to start manufacturing aircraft. But there were those with the desire to design and build airplanes.

One such person to form a new company during this period was Donald Douglas. The establishment of Douglas Co. (later Douglas Aircraft Co.) in southern California was historically important, as it had a long-term impact on the industry.

Also important was the company’s role in producing future leaders of the aircraft industry. They were designers who would achieve fame while with Douglas or form their own companies after working with Douglas.

The first Douglas aircraft was the “Cloudster,” designed as a long-range plane for a trans-continental non-stop flight. It was the first aircraft to carry a load greater than its empty weight. The Cloudster became the basis for Douglas’s first Navy contract, the DT-1 Torpedo Bomber. That order was what really got Douglas established in the aircraft manufacturing business, as 90 of the DT series would be built.

When the Army was looking for a design to fly around the world in 1923, the DT series was chosen as the basis for what became the DWC — Douglas World Cruiser.

Among the famous designers working for Douglas at that time were Jack Northrop, later of flying wing fame, and Donald Hall, later the designer of Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”

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Six miles up: Pioneering pilots risked life and limb to reach new heights

Roland Rohlfs looking like a cocoon in his specially designed suit for high altitude work. This photo was taken July 30, 1919, when he broke the U.S. record. Photo from the American Legion Weekly, Aug. 29, 1919.

Suppose you are cruising along in an airliner at 34,000 feet, nestled comfortably in your seat in a heated, pressurized environment. Now image turning to look out of your window and, to your amazement, you catch a glimpse of a cloth-covered triplane with the pilot sitting in the open, wearing heavy coveralls, goggles, a leather helmet, and sucking on an oxygen tube. Such was the case in 1919 when Roland Rohlfs reached six miles high in a Curtiss Triplane.

Roland Rohlfs looking like a cocoon in his specially designed suit for high altitude work. This photo was taken July 30, 1919, when he broke the U.S. record. Photo from the American Legion Weekly, Aug. 29, 1919.

Roland Rohlfs looking like a cocoon in his specially designed suit for high altitude work. This photo was taken July 30, 1919, when he broke the U.S. record. Photo from the American Legion Weekly, Aug. 29, 1919.

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How do I control this thing?

Figure 1

“Wright’s new control” was the heading of a 1914 report in the “New York Times.” It stated that Orville Wright had introduced a new system that would make it “easier and safer to fly.” In the new controls the usual lever was replaced by an automobile-type steering wheel in combination with a lever that made the control stronger and simpler.

Even though three-axis control has been with us since the Wright brothers, the methods of actuating the control surfaces took a long time to standardize to the current system.

In December 1913, the magazine, “The Aero,” from Great Britain had a two-part article on control systems as seen on aircraft at the Paris Airplane Show of that year. Of the seven systems discussed, five used control wheels and two used control sticks — none of which was close to what are used today.

The article began: “If there be one part of an aeroplane which of all others each designer makes a thoroughly distinctive and individual manner, it is the arrangement of the controls. This state of affairs is, of course, exactly the reverse of what it should be, for controls should be standardized.”

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Neither rain nor sleet could stop Air Mail fleet

Six Standard JR-1M mail planes accepted in August 1918 by the Post Office was the first commercial aircraft purchase by the U.S. government. Note the mailbag and Post Office Number 1 painted on the side of the first aircraft.
Six Standard JR-1M mail planes accepted in August 1918 by the Post Office was the first commercial aircraft purchase by the U.S. government. Note the mailbag and Post Office Number 1 painted on the side of the first aircraft.

Six Standard JR-1M mail planes accepted in August 1918 by the Post Office was the first commercial aircraft purchase by the U.S. government. Note the mailbag and Post Office Number 1 painted on the side of the first aircraft.

A 1961 British book on the development of air transportation includes a chart on early scheduled air services, which includes the operations of the U.S. Air Mail Service from 1918 till 1927. It may seem unusual to see the Air Mail Service listed here, but as it operated more than 200 aircraft, you realize it was probably the largest civil operator of aircraft in the world at the time.

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International Aerial Derby 1919

This Jenny, seen landing at Mineola Airport in Long Island, was flown by Richard Depew, who finished 22nd in the speed race and fifth in the handicap race. Seen on the ground is a new three-engined Eagle intended by Curtiss as a post-war airliner.
This Jenny, seen landing at Mineola Airport in Long Island, was flown by Richard Depew, who finished 22nd in the speed race and fifth in the handicap race. Seen on the ground is a new three-engined Eagle intended by Curtiss as a post-war airliner.

This Jenny, seen landing at Mineola Airport in Long Island, was flown by Richard Depew, who finished 22nd in the speed race and fifth in the handicap race. Seen on the ground is a new three-engined Eagle intended by Curtiss as a post-war airliner.

Great aerial adventures followed in the wake of World War I as aviation tried to find its post-war role.

It was a period of conquest of the oceans and continents — the NC-4 across the Atlantic via the Azores; Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop flight from Canada to Ireland; the R-34 airship’s first round-trip flight from Europe to America; and the start of large scale aerial competition.

June 25, 1919, saw the announcement of an International Aerial Derby, which would start simultaneously from Toronto and New York’s Mineola Field Aug. 25.

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Edward Bellande: Pioneering pilot

Bellande in 1916
Bellande in 1916

Bellande in 1916

“Air speed record to Los Angeles broken” was a headline in the Oakland (California) Tribune on Jan. 28, 1932. The story reported that a new coastal speed record for tri-motored planes was made on the Oakland-Los Angeles airway when a Transcontinental and Western airplane made the 360-mile hop in 1 hour and 52 minutes.

The craft, a Ford Tri-Motor, piloted by Eddie Bellande and Erwin Lewis, left the Bay Airdrome in Alameda at 10 a.m. and arrived at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale at 11:52 am. Nine passengers were carried on the record-setting flight.

That was just one of the many highlights of Edward A. (Eddie) Bellande’s career in aviation, which spanned nearly 60 years. His career was as diversified and active as the industry itself during those years.

He participated, with other contemporary pilots like Charles Lindbergh, in some of the benchmark flights and activities of this dynamic era. He flew as a test pilot for Lockheed, piloting the first Lockheed Vega. He checked out Wiley Post in the famed “Winnie Mae” and co-piloted Charles Lindbergh on the first TWA transcontinental run in 1929. In addition, he either organized or directed some of the aviation industry’s largest business organizations.

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Jenny’s siblings

RECORD-SETTER: A single example of the R-7 was built for the New York Times. Flown by Curtiss pilot Victor Carlstrom, it attempted a non-stop flight from Chicago to New York City. The flight ended just short of the half-way point, but still set a new U.S. distance record of 425 miles.
RECORD-SETTER: A single example of the R-7 was built for the New York Times. Flown by Curtiss pilot Victor Carlstrom, it attempted a non-stop flight from Chicago to New York City. The flight ended just short of the half-way point, but still set a new U.S. distance record of 425 miles.

RECORD-SETTER: A single example of the R-7 was built for the New York Times. Flown by Curtiss pilot Victor Carlstrom, it attempted a non-stop flight from Chicago to New York City. The flight ended just short of the half-way point, but still set a new U.S. distance record of 425 miles.

The Curtiss Jenny, particularly the JN-4, is one of America’s most famous airplanes.

Jenny was ubiquitous — everybody had a Jenny, along with bailing wire, a five-gallon gas can and the grease gun needed to keep her going.

The Jenny, with all its struts, wires and fittings, was referred to as “a bunch of parts flying in formation.” Given all its foibles, more than 8,000 were built and Jenny had a long, versatile career — it was used to train almost all of our pilots in World War I, flew the first air mail and became synonymous with the barnstorming era.

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A nationwide chain of airports

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: An aerial view of North Beach Airport shows its close proximity to mid-town Manhattan. Service to the city was provided in 15 minutes via speed boat or by motor vehicle over the Queensboro Bridge. Photo from Curtiss-Wright Airports publication, 1930.

Flight & Flyers By DENNIS PARKS

During the two years following Lindbergh’s success across the Atlantic, the United States saw the swift transition of aviation from an experimental posture to a recognized part of the world of transportation and commerce. Air mail had become an accepted fact and passengers could fly coast-to-coast.

The Curtiss Company, realizing that the nation’s flying fields and airports were inadequate, decided that modern airports and facilities were required to meet the future demands of aviation. In 1929, the company came up with a plan to build a nationwide chain of modern airports containing service facilities that would make them the aviation centers of the future. Strategic points were selected on the most heavily traveled lines of transportation to set up the first nationwide chain of airports in the United States. All of the sites selected would be in easy reach of the great business centers of the country.

With this plan in mind, Curtiss formed a new group to build and operate a chain of airports in 15 cities. This was not a small venture as the new endeavor was capitalized to the tune of $35.2 million.

Locations for the airports included Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles and multiple locations in and near New York City. [Read more…]

What’s in a name?

Demoiselle

In the beginning was the word, and the world was Flyer — Wright Flyer, that is.

When one creates a new product and starts to sell it, the product needs a name. Before the Wrights began to build airplanes, they were the manufacturers of bicycles. Among the names of their bicycle products was the “Wright Flyer.”

The Wright brothers would use the name Flyer until 1912, when they advertised their new machines as the “Wright Flyer, 1912 Model.”

In 1913 an ad introduced the Model “E,” a smaller high-performance machine for exhibition work.

WrightE [Read more…]

American aircraft in the Spanish Civil War

Vultee V-1A

The Spanish Civil War, which began in July 1936, was the most significant of the conflicts that foreshadowed World War II.

The war forced the world to take sides. Russia contributed military assistance to the cause of the newly elected Republican government, while Germany and Italy backed the Fascist rebels, followers of Generalissimo Franco, who were known as Nationalists.

Many countries, including the United States, chose to stay neutral, believing that involvement would lead to a further war in Europe. In spite of this, many U.S. aircraft would make their way to Spain.

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