Wills’s Aviation Card #81–Farman Hydro-Aeroplane.

Wills Aviation 81F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Farman Hydro Aeroplane.

Card #81 of 85, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1912, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Henri (Henry) Farman, May 26, 1874 in Paris, France — July 17, 1958, Paris, France;
  • Maurice (Morris) Alain Farman, March 21, 1877 in Paris, France — February 25, 1964 in Paris, France;
  • Richard (Dick) Farman, XX, 1872 (Can’t confirm specific date – HELP?), in Paris, France — January 31, 1940, Paris, France.

Just look at  the death dates for all three Farman brothers… they all seemed to have have lived beyond the danger zone of early pioneer flight!

The brothers Richard, Henri, and Maurice Farman were involved in the design and constructed of aeroplanes and engines, and at the beginning of the pioneer age were one of the biggest names in the fledgling industry.

Richard Farman was more involved in the business-side of the company, while younger brothers Henri and Maurice were the real hands at the design and manufacture of the aircraft.

Henri Farman, circa 1907.jpg

Henri Farman, circa 1907.

The Avions Farman (Farman Aviation Works) were in operation from 1908 until 1936 when France decided to nationalize its aeronautical industry, taking the Farman company and renaming it the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre (SNCAC).

In 1941 the Farman brothers reestablished a company as Société Anonyme des Usines Farman (SAUF), but only three years later it was absorbed by Sud-Ouest. Maurice’s son, Marcel Farman, reestablished the SAUF in 1952, but his effort proved unsuccessful and the firm was dissolved in 1956.

Operating during their initial phase, the Farman brothers designed and built over 200 types of aircraft. They also built automobiles until 1931, but that’s for someone else to write about.

Maurice Farman, circa 1908

Maurice Farman in a car, circa 1908.

Because I have written extensively on the life of the Farman family—HERE and HERE, and if you search this blog, you will find the Farman name dotted in almost every aeroplane article I have written—let’s skip ahead and see just what is so special about the aeroplane depicted on this card—the Farman Hydro Aeroplane.

My problems arose in trying to determine just which aeroplane was the one on the card. The main problem was this, however: I do not have this card and, while I was able to find the front of the card, finding an image showing the reverse was very difficult… and I didn’t find it until many hours of me writing the original draft of this.

I’d finished it, in fact… and then after finding out I had to do more research, I pretty much had to rewrite this. Originally, the Wikipedia entries on this aeroplane, while correct, are incorrect when it comes to detailing the correct Farman biplane to be made into a hydro plane (sea plane).

Wills Aviation 81R.jpg

The trick was to find out more about this Monaco air meet in 1912 as it pertains to the Farman’s.

I could not find any information online regarding the Farman hydroplane, until I came across a French-language PDF written by Gérard Hartmann, who obviously put in a lot of work on his Farman Hydros creation. You can see his original French article HERE.

While I can understand a fair bit of the written French language, I decided I would copy and paste the French PDF into Google Translate, a few paragraphs at a time, to get something I could more easily understand.

I’m not going to reprint that here—that’s not my place to do such a thing, but I will extract notes from the document to better fill in the blanks.

Nice job, Gérard. I appreciate the work you put into this. Now it’s my turn…

By the way… photographic images of these aeroplanes suffer from a lack of hydro photos, and mislabeling… so I might have things wrong. Many a time, people just label the planes as a Farman hydro… without designation.

It’s 1912, and while the Farman brothers are busy building their flying machines, a new global challenge has been put forth to create a seaplane… one that can take off and land in the water.

These early aircraft are called hydroplanes, and there was, as of 1912, considerable interest in creating a feasible aircraft of this type. Being one of the most respected aircraft manufacturers of the day, the Farman brothers took up the challenge.

Back on March 28, 1910, French aviator Henri Fabre (November 29, 1882 – June 30, 1984) was the inventor of the first successful seaplane, the Fabre Hydravion. I really should do a write-up on him, too!

In August of 1910, a hydro plane built by the Dufaux brothers flew over Lake Geneva, and even the famous Glen Curtiss managed to fly his Curtis Canoe up and down safely in the water. And while the U.S. Navy shows interest in the Curtiss Canoe, he knew it still has a ways to go before he could confidently give it over to the military.

By November 14, 1910, a Curtiss hydro plane flown by a student of his takes off from an inclined platform aboard the deck of a US Navy cruiser, flies and lands off the coast. He does it again a couple of months later, proving the viability of the hydroplane (sea plane).

The Wright brothers add floats to their Flyer, Franck T. Coffyn flies around the East River in New York harbor, and around the station of Liberty .

Avro and the Short Brothers sell their prototype hydroplanes to the British Admiralty… in France Gabriel Voisin adds floats to his Canard (duck) aeroplane at the behest of the French Navy…

But, when Maurice Colliex is able to fly his aeroplane from the ground in Issy-les-Moulineaux, land on the Seine River, and then fly back, to land at Issy-les-Moulineaux, people begin to plan special meets for hydroplanes.

Monaco 1912
The first meet is held in March of 1912 in Monaco, with six events:
a) A departure in calm water from the port of Monaco is worth 1 point;
b) A landing in calm water after a buoy turn is worth 1 point;
c) To rest in rough water coming from the sea is worth 2 points;
d) A start in rough water is worth 3 points;
e) A start from the water and a flight between buoys with landing on the ground, is worth 4 points awarded only once during the competition, while the tests a, b, c and d can be tried several time, though only one result per day is recorded;
f) A take-off from the beach, overflight of the circuit and landing at the port brings 4 points.

All the planes entered are biplane floats, some also have wheels, such as the Henry  Farman designed hydroplane, the HF.11, piloted by Jules Fischer, wearing No. 8.

HF-11 hydro plane

The Henri Farman HF-11 hydro plane at Monaco. Photo from Flight magazine. This is the aeroplane in the Wills’s card.

Specifications of the HF-11 seen in Monaco 1912, hydro version of the type HF-11 vs the standard non-water version involved in 1911 competitions, are below:

 HF.11 Land Water
Width 13.15 meters 16 meters
Length 7.9 meters 8.3 meters
Surface Area 58 square meters 72 square meters
Height Between Wings 1.75 meters 1.75 meters
Height 3.43 meters 3.65 meters
Weight (No Motor) 245 kilograms 275 kilograms
Motor Gnome Gamma 70 HP Gnome Gamma 70 HP
Propeller Chauviere 2.5 meters Chauviere 2.5 meters
Motor Weight + Accessories 95 kilograms 95 kilograms
Weight of Floats 150 kilograms 150 kilograms
Take-off Weight 360 kilograms 680 kilograms
Consumables Weight 100 kilograms 100 kilograms

Other pilots in the event are Louis Paulhan with two Curtiss Triad mono floats made in the U.S. and assembled in France in 1911: the No. 1 using a Curtiss 75 hp motor flown by Paulhan; the No. 2 with a Curtiss 50 hp motor flown by the American Hugh Robinson.

Gabriel and Charles Voisin have two 1910 canard biplanes with Fabre-type triple floats, with the the No. 3 driven by Colliex using a Salmson fixed-star prototype motor (Canton-Unné license) with 110 horsepower; and the No. 4 aeroplane piloted by Rugère, using an older 1911 Anzani 60 horsepower motor.

Maurice Farman MF.3 hydro.jpg

Maurice Farman MF.3 in Monaco, 1912. From Flight magazine. Notice that along with the floats, it also has wheels.

There’s also a MF-3 (Maurice Farman) flown by Eugène Renaux, with a 70 horsepower Renault V8, featuring three squat floats, made by the Farman’s. He’s wearing No. 5.

No. 6 is flown by José Sanchez-Besa, a metal-structure craft piloted by Jean Benoist. It is powered by a 110 horsepower Salmson prototype engine.

No. 7 is a René Caudron aeroplane, using a 70 horsepower rotary Gnome Gamma motor.

Anyhow… the Farman hydroplane actually does pretty well at the events.

On the evening of March 24, three hydros managed to pass the tests a-d: Fischer, Paulhan and Robinson.

Fischer, as noted, was flying in the HF.11, allowing him to fly and carry two passengers. While the Maurice Farman MF-3 flown by Renaux was simply a heavier machine, and while it performed tests a-c, it could not perform test d.

At the end of the first day, the ranking is as follows:
1. Fischer – 9.1 points (Henri Farman)
2. Paulhan – 7 points
3. Robinson – 7 points
4. Renaux – 5.1 points (Maurice Farman)
5. Caudron – 4 points

On March 25, the hunt for points in the races continues until the e and f races begin. The weather is perfect and the sea is calm. After two days, the score becomes:

1. Fischer – 35.2 points (Henri Farman)
2. Paulhan – 31.7 points
3. Robinson – 26 points
4. Caudron – 23 points
5. Renaux – 5.2 points (Maurice Farman)
6. Colliex – 1.5 points

Third day results – with multiple flights carrying passengers, the totals are:

1. Fischer – 46.6 points (Henri Farman)
2. Paulhan – 40.8 points
3. Robinson – 33.9 points
4. Renaux – 33.7 (Maurice Farman)
5. Caudron – 30.3 points

On March 27, planes take off from the ground or from the water. The best is Renaux in his MF-3, flying three then four passengers: the aviator Alfred Leblanc, Emile Dubonnet (pilot at Tellier), Lieutenant Lucca and a mechanic for Maurice Farman, with a total take-off weight of 1,234 kg, breaking down into 681 kg (aircraft and its floats), 352 kg load (the pilot and his four passengers) plus 101 kg of fuel, water and oil.

1. Fischer – 57.7 points (Henri Farman)
2. Paulhan – 49.9 points
3. Renaux – 46.7 points (Maurice Farman)
4. Robinson – 43 points
5. Rugère – 41.75 points
6. Caudron – 37 points
7. Benedict – 12.5 points
8. Colliex – 1.5 points

On the HF-11, Fischer can carry only three passengers, two of whom must stand on the floats at the front, with the third sitting on the wing behind the pilot

On the evening of March 28th, the Farman brother aeroplanes are 1-2:

1. Fischer – 87.6 points (Henri Farman)
2. Renaux – 74.2 points (Maurice Farman)
3. Paulhan – 68.1 points
4. Robinson – 57.9 points
5. Caudron – 51 points
6. Benoît – 42.4 points

On March 30, Renaux managed to fly with six people aboard the nacelle of his hydro – flying and turning. Fischer flies with four passengers hanging on to the floats. Benoît’s Sanchez-Besa hits a floating stump capsizing his plane.

1. Fischer – 99.85 points (Henri Farman)
2. Renaux – 88.2 points (Maurice Farman)
3. Paulhan – 77.2 points
4. Robinson – 64.9 points
5. Caudron – 58 points
6. Benoît – 50.3 points

The meeting in Monaco ends with the double victory for the Farman brothers and their two aeroplanes.

The flat floats (Fabre 1910 type) of the MF-3 work just as well as the long Tellier floats under the HF-11.

With 112 points, Fischer won the event; Renaux earned 98 points.

One thing the manufacturers and pilots learned was that by the end of the event, their propellers became damaged by the water and spray splashed up by their floats–all except for the Curtiss aeroplanes, as those planes had propellers protected by metal sheathing, a brilliant idea that was copied by competitors in the next contest at St. Malo.

Another problem manufacturers saw, was the carburetor getting wet from the spray of water lifted up by the floats, which caused the motors to burp and sometimes cause the old heart to come up into the mouth.

For all Gnome motors, the carburetor is placed within the protective cockpit, while Renault mounts it in the back and covers the carburetor with aluminum covers.

Specifications of the MF-3‘s hydro plane vs the MF-2 military plane of 1911:

Land (MF-2)
Water (MF-3)
Width 12.75 meters 15.52 meters
Length 12 meters 12 meters
Surface Area 50 square meters 60 square meters
Height 3.35 meters 3.5 meters
Weight (No Motor) 675 kilograms 675 kilograms
Motor V8 Renault 8B 70 HP V8 Renault 8B 70 HP
Propeller Chauviere 2.9 meters Chauviere 2.9 meters
Weight of Floats 180 kilograms 180 kilograms
Take-off Weight 825 kilograms 1125 kilograms

St-Malo August 1912
Organized from August 24-26, 1912 by the Aviation Committee of the Automobile-Club de France, it offers total prizes of 38,000 francs.

In this one, whomever has the lowest score, wins.

Henri Farman and his team do not participate… but Maurice Farman does, facing the problem of whether or not he should stick with the Renault V8 and its 70 horsepower, or go to a V12 pushing 100 horsepower… but because engine mounts and alter the fuselage, they decide to keep the atatus quo.

For the first time, a hydroplane with hull makes its appearance – but does not compete, because it’s not ready in time. It’s a Donnet-Lévêque monplane (also a first) using a Gnome Rototo 50 horsepower motor.

Competitors (except for Maurice Farman, have opted for stronger (and heavier motors), such as: the Gnome Lamda 7-cylinder, 80-horsepower motor; the Gnome 14-cylinder 100 horsepower rotary motor (on the Nieuport’s); and a Renault V12 air-cooled engine pushing 100 horsepower.

An Astra biplane piloted by René Labouret uses the Renault motor, with a carburetor that has filters to prevent water from entering the cylinders – a trick that everyone will eventually copy.

Anyhow, thanks to the weak motor, our man Renaux finishes last in the Maurice Farman MF-3.

It’s bad luck, as the French Navy placed orders for each type of hydro that won events within the St. Malo competition. Farman was shut out.

However, Belgium (in September) organizes an international hydro competition on the Thames River.

Still using the same hydroplane as at St. Malo, Renaux and the MF-3 are the only ones to complete the 300 kilometer circuit, because of the way the contest rules were structured, only manged to come in third.

Thanks to these hydro contests, and the successes of the pilots and manufacturers, governments around the world are thinking about the viability of having such craft as part of the military.

On March 20, 1912, France creates the Marine Aeronautical Service, whereby it needs to get pilots, planes, buildings – everything built from the ground up, with centers at Toulon and Saint-Raphaël.

It’s led by Lieutenant Hautefeuille, who sets up temporary headquarters at Montpellier, taking the service’s only plane–his own Farman HF-11 hydro–with him.

By 1913, the service has created five centers for naval aviation, with 40 pilots, and 30 aeroplanes.

As such, with France very much interested in hydro planes, the service takes particular interest in the second Monaco meet in 1913.

Monaco 1913

Number Pilot Plane Motor
1 Renaux Maurice Farman I Renault 120 hp
2 Fischer Henri Farman I Gnome 160 hp
3 Chevillard Henri Farman II Gnome 80 hp
4 Gaubert Maurice Farman II Renault 120 hp
5  X Nieuport I Gnome 100 hp
6  X Nieuport II Gnome 100 hp
7 Gaudart D’Artois I Gnome 100 hp
8 Beaumont D’Artois II Gnome 100 hp
9 Chemet Borel I Gnome 160 hp
10 Daucourt Borel II Gnome 100 hp
11 X Borel III Gnome 100 hp
12 Giraud Blériot Gnome 80 hp
13 Gilbert Morane-Saulnier Le Rhône 80 hp
14 De Montalent Breguet I Salmson 160 hp
15 X Breguet II Salmson 120 hp
16 X Breguet III Salmson 120 ch
17 X Bossi Gnome
18 X De Marçay Anzani 100 hp
19 Védrines Deperdussin I Gnome 160 hp
20 Janoir Deperdussin II Gnome 100 hp
21 Prévost Deperdussin III Gnome 100 hp
22 Laurens Deperdussin IV Gnome 100 hp
23 Vivienne Deperdussin V Gnome 100 hp
24 X Astra I Renault 120 hp
25 X Astra II Renault 120 ch
26 Fokker Fokker X

Source: L’Aérophile

The Farman brothers, for the most part seem confident in the new regulations imposed for the 2013 event, but are concerned that their heavy floats will severally constrain their efforts on one of the races, a 500km race without refueling, as they also have bigger fuel tanks, but that just makes the planes heavier and thus quicker at consuming fuel, not to mention the strain on the motor.

The event is a prestigious one for the manufacturing companies, and yet some are notably absent.

While Englishman Claude Grahame-White was simply too late with his entry of a Short Brothers plane, Paulhan-Curtiss, Caudron, Hanriot do not enter a plane.

For this year’s event, the Farman brothers have two new aircraft, the Henri Farman HF-19, and the Maurice Farman MF-7 hydro.

Henry Farman HF-19.jpg

I think this is the Henri Farman HF-19.


HF-19  MF-7 hydro (aka MF-8 ?)
Wing Span 19.7 meters 19 meters
Length 9.85 meters 9.75 meters
Surface Area 66 sq. m 288 sq. m
Steering Ailerons Ailerons
Empty Weight 650 kg 960 kg
Motor 14-clinder 160hp V12 120 hp
Propeller Chauvière 2.70 m Chauvière 2.90 m
Motor weight and accessories 200 kg 235 kg
Weight of Floats 190 kg 230 kg
Take-off Weight 1,250 kg 1,365 kg

For Maurice Farman, two MF-7 hydros are flown by Eugène Renaux and Louis Gaubert.

The span of the wing on the upper plane was raised from 19 to 20 meters; two 3.65 m long Tellier floats made at Farman in Billancourt and damped (springs in the landing gear leg) are mounted on each aircraft.

Five engines arrive from Billancourt: three Renault V12s of 120 hp and two Salmson 110 hp.

For Henri Farman, two new HF-19 two-seater machines are flown by veteran Jules Fischer, and relatively new Maurice Chevillard.

The span of the upper plane is increased to 19.70 meters, for load reasons. For the first time, a Henri Farman hydro uses a nacelle forming fuselage, which protects the rear-placed engine from water spray, with the carburetor at the end of crankshaft in the cockpit.

Five Gnome rotary engines are on the road, two new 1913 14-cyl 160 hp, two 1912 14-cylinder motors, and a new 7-cylinder 80 hp. The machines are mounted on two damped 5.20 m long floats (rubber bungee cord in the floats).

While other pilots have, by April 8 attempted to qualify, the Farman brothers wait until April 10 before Gaubert (Maurice Farman) and Fischer (Henri Farman) pass. Of the 23 pilots allowed to qualify, only seven actually do, as both Chevillard (Henri Farman) and Renaux (Maurice Farman) are eliminated.

The following list is published on the 11th:
1. Fischer (H Farman-Gnome 160 hp),
2. Gaubert (Farman-Salmson M 110 hp),
3. Weymann (Nieuport-Gnome 100 hp),
4. Espanet (Nieuport-Gnome 100 hp),
5. Brégi (Breguet-Salmson 200 hp),
6. Moineau (Breguet-Salmson 110 hp),
7. Prévost (Deperdussin-Gnome 100 hp).

When the start of the Monaco – Beaulieu – San-Remo – Monaco race on April 12, 1913 at 10 am, the winds cause three meter high waves.

But proving that they are all crazy buggers, they decide to try and fly anyways.

Fischer flies away; Gaubert has difficulties; Weymann who follows him tries to take support with his floats on the top of the waves; Espanet, who turns too short on a blade, bends the leg of his left float; Bregi helped by the 200 hp of his engine manages to take off; Moineau struggles; Prévost damages a propeller blade and returns.

With the winds still fierce in the air, Fischer lands his Farman on the water after 88 kilometers, but the wind catches the plane and throws the plane onto its wing while dumping the pilot… the plane sinks.

Weymann, Bregi and Gaubert seek shelter from the wind and stop flying. Moineau flies an astounding 176 kilometers per hour (probably helped by the winds) over a 44 kilometer span, but he lands and is unable to restart the motor thanks to a wet motor. Towed to the coast, his aircraft is capsized and tossed aground.

No competitor finishes the cruising race.

General Hirschauer, who is in charge of acquiring hydro planes for the new French military service, takes heart in the fact that despite being unable to complete the race, the planes (and the pilots) showed guts… and perhaps the real lesson is to not fly suicide missions when the weather is this bad.

Despite not having a winner for the Monaco event, organizers award 50,000 francs to Moineau, Fischer, Gaubert, Weymann and Bregi, with the remaining 25,000 francs offered for the 500km race that is scheduled to be flown on April 15.

However, Fischer, Weymann and Moineau could not get their hydro planes ready in time, meaning that the race is between four competitors: Gaubert (in the Maurice Farman); Bregi (in a Breguet): Espanet (in a Nieuport); and Prévost (in a Deperdussin).

No one is able to complete the race’s full 500 kilometer race.

Still, there are stories:

  • Prévost has engine failure after 30 kilometers;
  • Espanet stops after 190 kilometers in 3 hours and 11 minutes, after a tensioner breaks;
  • Bregi flies 250 kilometers in three hours and 33 minutes, but is forced out after a magneto stops working;
  • Gaubert, in the MF-7 hydro flies 270 kilometers in seven hours and 40 minutes – twice as long as Bregi, but only 10 kilometers farther. His plane suffers a seagull strike in the rear-mounted motor causing the fuel hose to break, and then the oil inlet hose. Setting down on the water, both Gaubert and his mechanic Aach work on the plane, with Aaach forced to use his mouth to suck the oil from the hose to get it where it needs to go. But, they land at 270 kilometers only when they are sure they have beaten Bregi, before giving up.

The same day sees pilot Louis Gaudart in his D’Artois aeroplane tragically hit the masts of boats at anchor in Monaco, dying in the accident.

The French military decides, however to postpone its decision of which hydro aeroplanes it should buy until later, in August of 1913 – but it is impressed.

Shortly after Monaco, the British Admiralty ordered several dozen Farman hydro planes, which are built by the Short Brothers in Great Britain, and are designated as the Short S26.

These planes are for training schools of marine pilots for future regiments of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

As strange as it seems, allowing the Short brothers to build their planes was a negative for the Farman brothers.

By the end of 1913, the Short Brothers created their S80 and S81 aeroplanes that were considered by the British as even better than what the Farman brothers had offered.

Deauville, August 1913
Hunh… apparently the Paris to Deauville air meet for sea planes from August 25-29, 1913 came under criticism from the press and locals as they were aghast that flying machines filled with gas could be allowed to fly over their expensive properties.

Was this a sign that the romantic age of flying was coming to an end?

Fifteen pilots fly in the competition, including Renaux in his Maurice Farman built aeroplane with a Renault motor spewing 120hp and Gaubert in another Maurice Farman with a 110 hp Salmson. These planes are MF-8’s.

Maurice Farman MF.8.jpg

Maurice Farman MF.8… I think.

Two types of hydro planes take part, the standard ones we have seen previously, and ones with folding wings.

The machines are identical to those of Monaco, except for the pontoons, which are now much lighter, with each weighing 50kg apiece.

The double plywood is replaced by plywood panels glued to wall forming pairs so water will not destabilize the plane. Also, new water-based glues (casein) and varnishes (cellulosic) make this lighter construction possible.

But, the aircraft are still heavy at around 1,400 kg, as they have added shock absorbers (rubber bungees on the outside of the float) at the front and rear.Other competitors only use rear shock absorbers.

The Deauville event includes: a 180-mile (360-km) offshore course to be completed in less than eight hours; a series of jumping and splashing in rough seas; a 250-mile sailing race; a speed race of 100 miles, and; an endurance event where the winner must go as far as possible without refueling.

On-board devices must prove that they can be launched in less than half an hour, including full, unfolding wings.

Results of the 100 mile race:

1. Moineau (Breguet) – 1 h 54 min (100 km / h);
2. Chemet (Borel) – 2 h 4 min;
3. Molla (Lévêque) – 5 h 24 min;

The result of the 250 mile race:
1. Molla (Lévêque) 5 h 24 min;
2. Renaux (Farman) 5 h 25 min (83 km / h);
3. Gaubert (Farman) 5 h 34 min.

In the takeoff test, Renaux finishes first tie with Gaubert:
1. Renaux, 7,500 francs;
1 ex Gaubert, 7,500 francs.

In the endurance race, the two Farmans travel more than 500 km and win:
1. Renaux, 27,000 francs;
1 ex Gaubert, 27,000 francs.

The French Navy ends up purchasing two Breguet (added to a squadron of five Nieuport ordered in May), and two Farman, two Nieuport, and others.

In September, the Spanish Ministry of War and Public Works organizes a water competition in San Sebastian. The Maurice Farman plan flown by Renaux wins a duration event (9,000 francs, one for total the number of flights (9,000 francs) and finishes second in a launch competition (1,000 francs). The effort has Spain purchasing  six Maurice Farman biplanes for its land and naval schools.

In October, the Italian Navy looks for hydros, and organizes a competition around its lakes. Henry Farman sends Fischer in a HF-19, and does well enough that the Navy purchases one.

In Germany and Russia, the national builders are asked to present their aeroplanes in competitions that are less about aviation and more about how they can be used in case of war, as each has already begun running its weapons factories at full speed.

By December of 1913, Henry Farman concludes that the hydro market is not for him and his brother, as other manufacturers are pulling ahead in development.

Maurice Farman MF.11

Maurice Farman MF.11

Instead, the company concentrates on its “land” aircraft, as they sell plenty: RFC regiments and R.N.A.S. in England (HF-11 and HF-20); Denmark buys MF-6 biplanes; Australia buys MF-7 and MF-11’s; Sweden (HF-26); Italy; Spain (MF-7); Serbia (HF-11),  Japan (MF-7); China ( HF-11);  and Norway (MF-22).

The HF-26, which debuts in January of 1914 has some 3,300 produced during the Great War (WWI) through 1916.

As for the non-seaplane version… it’s famous in its own right.

The HF.14 was used as a trainer during WWI, but mostly it was a recreational racing plane, with French pilot Maurice R. Chevillard actually becoming the first person to ever loop-de-loop a biplane on November 6, 1913.

Boston Herald, November 10, 1913
Several Loops In Aeroplane
Maurice Chevillard Gives an Astonishing Performance at Juvisy
JUVISY, France. Nov. 9—Maurice Chevillard, the aviator, made several complete aerial loops in a biplane this afternoon before 10,000 spectators. After giving a wonderful aerial acrobatic performance, he flew head downward and made five loops at a height of 3,500 feet, three of the consecutively.

Bismark Daily Tribune (North Dakota, November 19, 1913:
Record Air Acrobatics
Buc, France, Nov. 18—Maurice Chevillard, French aviator, established a new record for turning somersaults in the air carrying a passenger in his machine. He accomplished the aerial loop twice in brilliant fashion, going through the performance apparently with as much ease as if he was alone.

The Sun (New York), November 20, 1913 , a couple of weeks after his feat:
More that 1,000 women pleaded with the aviator Chevillard at Buc on Tuesday to be allowed to loop the loop when he performed that daring feat in his monoplane. Probably no woman would venture to try the trick herself; but to be at a man’s side when he does it, and to trust his skill and courage, that is another thing. It is a theme for psychologists and the “militants.”

That’s about all I could find on the hydro/sea planes manufactured by the Farman brothers Maurice and Henri.

I added in this last segment on the loops just because it was a first, not because it had anything to do with the hydro aircraft.

I tossed The Sun article in just so we could see just how sexist the newspapers were 100 years ago.


Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Races, Races & Contests, Seaplanes, Tobacco Card, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Capt. Oswald Boelcke

Lieutenant Oswald Boelckes.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Capt. Oswald Boelcke

Card #46, 1934 series, National Chicle Co., Sky Bird series

  • Captain Oswald Boelcke (originally Bölcke), May 19, 1891, Giebichenstein; near Halle (Saale), Germany – October 28, 1916, near Douai, France.

Oswald Boelcke was a German flying ace of the Great War (aka WWI), with 40 confirmed victories (you don’t have to kill the enemy pilot to get a “victory”).

While he is also considered to be the father of the German fighter air force, as well as the “Father of Air Fighting Tactics” by formalizing rules of air combat, he was also the combat teacher of the famous Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen (who I will be writing a feature piece on here shortly. No, really.)

The Cards Know Everything
A brief introduction to the National Chicle Co. first.

While tobacco cards were amongst the first product to utilize “trading” cards beginning in the 1880s, it ran out of steam in the 1920s. Just before that, chocolate candy companies had begun to insert collector cards.

The gum card collectable was only something that first came into being in 1933 when the American gum company Goudey Gum Company issued a set of baseball cards, with one card inserted into each package of gum. That company was begun by a Nova Scotia, Canadian businessman Enos Gordon Goudey who had worked for Beemans before starting up his company in 1919.

The 1933 Big League Chewing Gum bubble gum packs from Goudey were the first chewing gum company to issue baseball cards (a 240-card set) – something most of us grew up collecting, I’d bet… with Topps (in the U.S.), or, if you were in Canada, O-Pee-Chee. Us canuckleheads knew it was best to collect Topps baseball cards and O-Pee-Chee hockey cards… though my earliest baseball cards are all O-Pee-Chee… which I bet are a much rarer variant card (it comes with a bilingual English/French reverse) than the Topps version.

In 1933, the National Chicle Company began to issue baseball cards in its packs of gum, and also that year, began to offer a small set of 24 Sky Birds cards of famous aviators of the past and present (1933).

They re-issued the 24 cards in 1934, and then continued the series calling it a 108-card set.

According to www.skytamer.com, here’s what the series looks like:

  • Number of Cards: 108 images;
  • Series 1a – 24 cards marked “1933” cards;
  • Series 1b – 24 cards marked “1934” cards;
  • Series 2a – 108 cards with green ink text;
  • Series 2b – 108 (unconfirmed) cards with ”black or dark green” ink text;
  • Card Dimensions: 2-5/16 × 2-7/8 inches

Who Da Man?
Enough about that (for now), let’s take a look at the relatively short life of Germany’s WWI flying ace Oswald Boelcke.

Speaking of short, despite him being remembered as being somewhat larger-than-life, Boelcke stood only 5’7″. I know… who the heck cares.

The first thing we should know is that Boelcke appears to have been, by all accounts, a brave and honorable man… taking no pleasure in killing the enemy, but realized that in war, it was just part of the job.

It seems like quite the odd thing to say, when many people today still harbor a grudge against Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan of WWII, but during WWI, but the men flying the skies for both sides of WWI had a bit more gallantry about them.

The Early Years
Born the son of a schoolmaster whose first teaching job was in Argentina, Oswald’s three eldest siblings were all born in Buenos Aires. Oswald was the first to be born in Germany… in Giebichenstein.

Why they did this, I couldn’t tell you… but the family name IS spelled “Bölcke” but Oswald and brother Wilhelm decided to spell their name with the Latin spelling rather than the German way, without the umlaut…

Still a young boy, Oswald caught pertussis, better known as whopping cough, which really devastated him, destroying his stamina.

To build it up he played lots of sports, but asthma would hit him from time to time. Still, he loved swimming, tennis, rowing, and gymnastics. While he was good at athletics, he was even better at math and physics.

When he was 13, Oswald wrote a letter to the Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany’s Emperor), asking to grant him entrance to a military school.

The Kaiser said sure – but when informed, Oswald’s parents thought otherwise. Instead of Cadet School, Boelcke went to Herzog Friedrichs-Gymnasium, graduating in spring of 1911.

After leaving school Boelcke joined Telegraphen-Bataillon Nr. 3 in Koblenz as a Fahnenjunker (cadet officer) on March 15, 1911.

Captain Oswald Boelckess reverse.jpg

Baby Steps
In January 1912, he began attending Kriegsschule (Military School) in Metz, and as soon as school was over for the day, he would race out to watch the aeroplanes fly at a nearby field.

Graduating, his grades were generally pretty average… probably because he didn’t study owing to his constant observation of aeroplanes after school. Still, his leadership skills were considered “excellent”.

In July 1912, he graduated and was commissioned as an ensign. But, while at that school he had also taken his lieutenant’s exam, and received an officer commission in the Prussian Army a year later.

Since Boelcke had abitur (a qualification granted by a university-preparatory school), his commission was back-dated to August 23, 1910, making him senior to the other new lieutenants in his battalion.

He settled into a daily routine of training recruit telegraphers.

During 1913, he took advantage of a temporary posting to Metz to catch some flights with the 3rd Air Battalion.

In February 1914, he competed in the officer’s pentathlon, taking third place and qualifying for the 1916 Olympics that were scheduled to be held in Berlin, Germany, but the Olympics were canceled after The Great War (aka WWI broke out).


Oswald Boelcke signed fan card. On Wikipedia, photographed by Willi Sankehttp://www.hermann-historica.de/auktion/hhm64.pl?f=NR_LOT&c=5072&t=temartic_M_D&db=kat64_M.txt (direct link)

This War Was Great
I’m unsure why some men (sexist, but in this case, true) used to be anxious to go to war to prove their manliness… always ready to volunteer, even lying about their age just for the opportunity to get away from the humdrum of normal human life, but Boelcke appears to have been one of those people.

Perhaps because he was adept at taking the world’s temperature—to be fair, most of the globe was aware that a large, European war was brewing—Boelcke applied for a transfer to the Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (aka the Flying Troops of the German Empire).

On May 29, 1914, Boelcke was accepted for pilot’s training, and starting his actual training a few days later on June 2 at the Halberstädter Fliegerschule (Halberstadt Flying School) for a six-week course.

He passed with flying colors (ha-ha) on August 15, 1914, and was then assigned to train 50 new pilots on an Aviatik B.I, a German two-seat reconnaissance biplane designed and built by the Automobil und Aviatik AG company.

Teaching others to fly must have been killing Boelcke, what with the war having started two weeks earlier, but by August 31, he sweet-talked his way onto the Feldflieger Abteilung 13 (Field Flyer Detachment 13), joining his older brother, Wilhelm, who was already stationed there.

As such, the next day on—September 1, 1914, Boelcke and Boelcke flew the first of many missions together… an uneventful one, this time.

By the end of 1914, Oswald Boelcke—the last to join the Field Flyer Detachment 13—had flown 42 missions, brother Wilhelm had flown 61, and the next man had 27… quite the drop off, which did cause some resentment toward the brothers.

If you were a flier in the early parts of 1915, it was a boring time, as the troops on both sides hunkered down… not too much actual ground combat, little recon needed, and no air support, as things became mired.

Oswald Boelcke even spent some time in the hospital with asthma, and after that, he and his brother were even allowed to go home for a short spell.

During this time, because the Boelcke brothers were considered to be so good, a new commanding officer wanted to split them up in order to share the wealth of their experience, but both refused to fly separately, and complained to the officer’s superior officer.

It doesn’t pay to buck command, as April of 1915 saw the brothers separated: Wilhelm went to Germany, while Oswald was posted to Feldflieger Abteilung 62 (Field Flyer Detachment 62, or FA 62) in Douai, France.

He was then sent to Kampfeinsitzerkommando Douai (Combat Single-Seater Command Douai, or KEK Douai) for May 19, 1915, immediately becoming the most experienced pilot in the unit.

It is also where he met and befriended Max Immelmann, the ace with 15 victories and the one they named the flying tactic, the Immelmann turn, after.

Immelmann is cool enough that I will write an article on him later. And Manfred von Richthofen. Really… but considering THIS article took 30 hours, it’ll be a while.

Push It Real Good
While the U.S. military had banned the use of pusher aeroplanes (motor mounted behind the pilot, with the propeller behind the motor) in 1912 after six American pilots died in separate flights, France continued to embrace the concept, figuring the pilot skills also played into things. The Wright Brothers first and subsequent aeroplanes were all pusher aircraft.

French firms Voisin, Nieuport, Farman and Weymann continued to build pusher aircraft… even conceiving of the single-seat fighter… a curious thing that made the German pilots… wary.

French pilot Roland Georges Garros placed deflector wedges on his propeller in an attempt to successfully fire a machine gun as a pilot, and when he and fellow pilots Eugène Gilbert, and Adolphe Pégoud scored their first aerial victories,a new type of aerial combat was initiated. Prior to this, pilots could have shot the crap out of their own propellers.

The French public ate up the romance of the lone pilot on flights taking down the enemy, with Germany following suit with its propaganda machine supplying press releases to newspapers and magazines, and even encourage printing of postcards and filming of popular aviators.

Fokker E.I Eindecker.jpg

Max Immelmann in his Fokker E.I Eindecker.

He’s Got One, I’ve Got One, Shouldn’t You Have One?
Now that the French had figured out how (crudely) to create a machine gun that fired between the aircraft’s propellers, Germany countered with the Fokker E.I Eindecker, a monoplane that had a forward-firing, air-cooled Parabellum machine gun slaved to a synchronizer that prevented bullets from accidentally hitting the Fokker’s propeller.

It was much better than what the enemy had—a British Lewis machine gun that needed to be reloaded after a total of 47 shots.

On May 20, 1915, German pilot Otto Parschau received the original Eindecker from Fokker, demonstrating it, and then training the best pilots in its use, such as: Boelcke, Immelmann, and Kurt Wintgens.

Apparently the wing warping technique for turning made it a difficult plane to fly.

Every Germany flying unit was assigned two Fokker E.I aircraft… but their use was restricted meaning they could only be flown when pilots were not flying reconnaissance missions in their two-seaters.

Basically, these aircraft were ahead of the game, and the Germans wanted to make sure the enemy didn’t get their hands on the technology to copy them. As such, they were only used in defensive flights over their own lines. If they went down, they would go down over German territory.

And then there was Boelcke.

Air-To-Air Combat

LVG_C1_trainer.jpgOn June 15 and 16, 1915, Boelcke (and his observer) flew a LVG C.I two-seater (trainer pictured above) that only had the rear gun (for the observer) to battle against British and French fliers.

It wasn’t until one month later in July of 1915 that Boelcke, Immelmann, Parschau and Wintgens actually began to fly the Fokker Eindecker in combat.

Because actual combat with a machine gun on the front was all new, the attack strategy was lacking, meaning they would all just fly headlong into the enemy and begin shooting.

Wintgens apparently shot down an enemy aircraft on July 1 with his Fokker, but since it fell behind French lines, it wasn’t verified (until after the war). The same thing happened on July 4. But he did claim two victories by month’s end.

But, in his LVG C.I, Boelcke and his observer shot down a similar reconnaissance aircraft… a prolonged shootout on July 4.

It was his only victory in a two-seater, as he flew the Eindecker from then on.

Immelmann had his first victory on August 1. He and Boelcke would often fly together.

On August 9, as Immelmann flew behind a French plane going for the kill, another French plane swooped in behind him, unaware that Boelcke was sweeping down behind him. Boelcke took care of that plane allowing Immelmann to battle his opponent mano-a-mano…. or is that planeo-a-pleano? I should learn Spanish.

After six victories, Pegoud was shot down and killed. Brit Lanoe Hawker also had six victories, but the press wasn’t playing it up. But Germany’s propaganda machine proudly noted that Wintgens = 5; Boelcke = 2; and Immelmann = 1.

Wer Ist Dein Papa? (Who’s Your Daddy?)
As the year progressed, the Fokker Eindecker was improved by its manufacturer, with an increase in horsepower, and even additional (second) machine gun mounted to the aircraft’s nose. Boelcke and Immelmann had two more victories each.

On September 22, 1915, Boelcke was transferred to Metz in northeast France where he joined the secretive Brieftauben-Abteilung-Metz (Pigeons department Metz) where it battled the French in an offensive strategy.

By November 1, after rolling up his sixth victory, Boelcke was the first German pilot to be awarded the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern (a dynastic order of knighthood of the House of Hohenzollern awarded to military commissioned officers and civilians of comparable status. Immelmann followed in his steps days later.

By mid-December, Boelcke was transferred back to FA 62 unit on December 12, where he was awarded the Prussian Lifesaving Medal for an act of heroism: in August he was watching some French locals fish from a high pier over a canal when he saw a teen boy fall into the water and sink Boelcke dove in and saved him.

When 1915 ended, Immelmann = 7 victories; Boelcke = 6; Wintgens = five, but this includes the two that would not be considered confirmed until after the war.
Hans-Joachim Buddecke = four (one unconfirmed).

On January 5, Boelcke shot down a British Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2 aeroplane… and after landing his own plane nearby, Boelcke went to check on the enemy pilot.

To his surprise, the pilot spoke some German, and both the pilot and his observer had heard of Boelcke.

After both were taken to a nearby hospital, Boelcke visited the observer bringing him some reading material… a simple thing that became a huge news item in Germany. Boelcke… to him, war didn’t mean having to hate your enemy.

After Boelcke and Immelman achieved their eight victories on January 12, 1916, they were awarded the Pour le Merit (aka the Blue Max), one of the highest honors in the Prussian state, now part of the German empire. See image below.

Blue Max medal.jpg

Winning this award got mention by American and British press, along with the German… they were famous nationally and internationally.

On March 11, Boelcke was given command of the newly formed Fliegerabteilung Sivry (Flying Detachment at Sivry, France), a squadron consisting of six fighters.

After placing a front line observation post to the Sivry airfield, Boelcke created the first-ever tactical air direction center.

On March 12, Boelcke became the first pilot to achieve 10 victories, and had another the next day… but Immelmann scored what might have been the first double-victory of the war, and tied up the count at 11.

When Boelcke shot down two enemy planes on May 21, 1918, the emperor disregarded army regulations prohibiting promotion to Hauptmann (Captain) until age 30, allowing Boelcke to be promoted as such a few days past his 26th birthday.

End Of The Battle
On June 18, 1916, after scoring his 17th victory, Immelmann was killed in battle by a British pilot… but because the German propaganda machine liked to believe that no enemy could kill their hero, they claimed Immelmann had been accidentally shot down by friendly fire.

After Immelmann’s funeral, and now at 18 victories, Kaiser Wilhelm II (the leader of the German Empire), grounded Boelcke to prevent anything bad from happening to him so soon after the country had just lost another icon.

Just before reporting the HQ on June 27, he shot down another enemy plane. 19.

While at HQ, Boelcke had nothing to do but talk… so he did… to the head of German military aviation, Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen, who was planning a reorganization of the German air service from the Fliegertruppe into the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Forces).

He, like Boelcke believed in having set military aviation tactics, and as such Boelcke wrote down his own tactics turning it into eight simple rules for aviation warfare… his Dicta Boelcke.

While the rules appear to be self-evident, Boelcke was the first to have compiled it and written it down.

The Dicta Boelcke was published as a pamphlet and given to all German pilots as a training manual on fighting tactics… the first of its kind.

Dicta Boelcke

  1. Secure the benefits of aerial combat (speed, altitude, numerical superiority, position) before attacking. Always attack from the sun;
  2. If you start the attack, bring it to an end;
  3. Fire the machine gun up close and only if you are sure to target your opponent;
  4. Do not lose sight of the enemy;
  5. In any form of attack, an approach to the opponent from behind is required;
  6. If the enemy attacks you in a dive, do not try to dodge the attack, but turn to the attacker;
  7. If you are above the enemy lines, always keep your own retreat in mind;
  8. For squadrons: In principle attack only in groups of four to six. If the fight breaks up in noisy single battles, make sure that not many comrades pounce on an opponent.

The rules stressed a team effort rather than how to win in single contact… rules that would allow the pilot to achieve single combat.

I can think of a 9th rule that should be added: Do not lose sight of your own squadron’s aircraft. But we’ll come to that later.

If You Want Something Done Right…
Still on the Kaiser’s protection list, Boelcke was asked to tour the states friendly to Germany/Prussia, visiting the Balkans, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey… but in the 20 days since he began, by July 30 he discovered that Germany no longer had air superiority… it had been taken away by the French and British.

During his trip back to HQ, Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen sent him a telegram: “Return to west front as quickly as possible to organize and lead Jagdstaffel 2 on the Somme front.”

Creation of Jasta Boelcke
At this time, there were six squadrons of six pilots… but the planned seventh one was created by orders on August 10, 1916, to be built from the ground up.

This squadron, Jagdstaffel 2 (Fighter Squadron 2, or Jasta 2), was Oswald Boelcke’s to command and he was allowed to handpick any pilots he wanted for his new squadron, eventually having eight (including himself)

Among his new squad, he brought in Erwin Böhme and Otto Höhne, and Manfred von Richthofen, a young cavalry officer he had previously met.

There in Vélu Woods of France, they used four empty buildings vacated by a French group.

By August 27 had three officers and 64 other ranks on strength, but no aircraft.

Although the Jasta 2 had four aircraft by September 8, 1916, Böhme wanted to use his old castoff 1912 Halberstadt… just to get in the air.

While his squadron struggled into existence, Boelcke flew solo combat missions.

On September 2, 1916 when flying a Fokker D.III, Boelcke shot down British Captain R. E. Wilson for his 20th victory.

Wilson was unhurt, but was now a POW (prisoner of War), and yet on September 3, Boelcke had Wilson join him in the mess hall for a coffee… oh, and perhaps a photo-op:

Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke on the right shot down Robert Wilson (left), of the 32 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, and then invited him to sit down and have a coffee with him in September of 1916. Wilson was Boelckle’s 20th “kill”… it’s why they call them “victories”.

As new personnel continued to check in, facilities were built, and the squadron’s pilots trained, Boelcke drilled them in his tactics as they flew.

He taught the Jasta 2:

  • to pair as leader and wingman, spaced 60 meters (~197 feet) side-by-side to allow enough room for a safe  U-turn;
  • how to fly in formation to gain more power for attacks;
  • how to then split into pairs when attacking, even while his Dicta 8 differed;


On September 16, 1916 six new planes arrived for the Jasta 2: five Albatros D.I (Roman numeral I), and a prototype Albatros D.II (as in D.2), manufactured by German firm Albatros Flugzeugwerke.

Boelcke took the D.II, his squad shared the D.I.’s.

D.I or D.II, these Albatros aeroplanes were considered to be better fighter planes than anything anyone had ever flown, regardless of the side. Both were faster and climbed quicker to a higher ceiling.

D.I. Specifications

Fokker Albatross D.I.jpg

  • Crew: one pilot;
  • Length: 24 feet 3 inches (7.4 meters);
  • Wingspan: 27 feet 11 inches (8.5 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet 8 inches (2.95 meters);
  • Wing area: 246 square feet feet (22.9 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,426 pounds (647 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Benz Bz.III six-cylinder water-cooled in-line piston engine, creating 150 horsepower;
  • Propellers: two-bladed wooden, fixed pitch;
  • Maximum speed: 109 miles per hour (175 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 1.5 hours;
  • Service ceiling: 16,000 feet (5,000 meters;);
  • Rate of climb: 550 feet/minute (2.8 meters/second);
  • Guns: 1 × forward-firing synchronized 7.92 mm (0.312 in) lMG 08 machine gun.

D.II Specifications


  • Crew: one pilot;
  • Length: 23 feet 3.5 inches (7.40 meters);
  • Wingspan: 27 feet 11 inches (8.50 meters);
  • Height: 8 feet s inches (2.59 meters);
  • Wing area: 264 square feet (24.5 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,404 pounds (37 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,958 pounds (888 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Mercedes D.III six-cylinder inline engine, pushing out 160 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 110 miles per hour (175 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 1.5 hours;
  • Service ceiling: 16,990 feet (5,180 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 596 feet/minute (3 meters/second);
  • Guns: 2 × forward-firing synchronized 7.92 mm (0.312 in) lMG 08 (early) or LMG 08/15 (later) machine guns.

These aircraft flew their first mission with the Jasta 2 on September 17, shooting down a total of five enemy aircraft, including Boelcke gaining his 27th victory.

Boelcke continued to train his squadron, now talking about how they would fly upcoming missions, and like a great leader, listened to his team’s input. He would then issue the mission orders before the flight and debrief each post flight. It’s how they all learned to be better pilots.

Boelcke had asthma… and the weather seemed to affect him when it was rainy… he had asthma since he was a child… but on September 22, it hit him hard enough where he couldn’t fly, wouldn’t go to the hospital, and handed temporary command to Oberleutnant ( highest lieutenant officer rank) Gunther Viehweger. He remained earth-bound until September 27.

How good was the Jasta 2?

For the month of September alone, it flew 186 sorties; 69 saw combat. The squadron had 25 total victories, with Boelcke himself achieving 10… even sitting out six days with asthma. The Jasta 2 only suffered four casualties that month.

Boelcke got his 30th victory on October 1, but rainy weather prevented flying until October 7.

On October 8, 1916,Lieutenant General Ernst von Hoeppner as new Chief of Field Aviation, distributed the Dicta Boelcke to the Germany Air Force.

For the month of October, Boelcke scored 11 victories, achieving number 40 on October 26. The Jasta 2‘s total for the month, including Boelcke’s was 26, with six casualties.

But Boelcke’s hot streak did not last.

All Good Things…
October 28, 1916, it was misty with a cloud layer.

Jasta 2 flew four missions in the morning, and two more later that afternoon.

It was on the sixth mission that a squadron of six Jasta 2, including Boelcke, spotted and attacked two British aeroplanes from  as well as another later in the day. On the sixth mission of the day, Boelcke and five of his pilots attacked a pair of British airplanes from No. XXIV Squadron of the British Royal Air Force.

Both Boelcke and Erwin Böhme chased the Airco DH.2 aeroplane flown by Captain Arthur Gerald Knight, while von Richthofen chased the other DH.2, piloted by Captain Alfred Edwin McKay.

With Richthofen firing at him from behind, McKay tried to get out of the way by crossing behind Knight, which cut off Boelcke and Böhme.

To avoid colliding with McKay, Boelcke and Böhme had to quickly pull their aircraft up, and because neither was aware where their fellow pilot was, Boelcke’s upper left wing hit the underframe of Böhme’s Albatross, causing the fabric on Boelcke’s wing to tear.

This caused the wing to lost lift and to spiral downward to crash into a German artillery battery near Bapaume, Northern France.

No one wore parachutes back then, and Boelcke for whatever reason was not wearing a crash helmet or his seatbelt… with the resulting crash fracturing his skull, killing him.

Böhme, upon flying home crashed his plane, and could not recall what had happened… but an inquiry into the fatality says he was not at fault.

At his funeral on October 31, 1916, many of his fellow pilots and German citizens sent wreathes–including one from British Captain Wilson and three POWs.

The ribbon on the wreathe stated: “The opponent we admired and esteemed so highly”.

Another wreath of British origin had been air dropped at the authorization of the Royal Flying Corps–it said: “To the memory of Captain Boelcke, our brave and chivalrous opponent.”

Oswald Boelcke is buried in the Ehrenfriedhof (Cemetery of Honor) in Dessau, Germany.

By order of the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Jagdstaffel 2 (Jasta 2) was renamed as Jagdstaffel Boelcke (Jasta Boelcke) on December 17, 1916.

At the time of his death, he had 40 victories, a total eventual surpassed by others, including his protege, von Richthofen, who led the way with 80 victories but still considered Boelcke to be the best pilot.

Posted in Fighters, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Miscellaneous Food, Motors and Engines, Pilots, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #80–”Short” Biplane.

Wills Aviation 80F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Short” Biplane.

Card #80 of 85, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1912, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Horace Leonard Short on July 2, 1872 in Chilton Colliery, Durham, England, Great Britain – April 6, 1917 at Parsonage Farm, Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey, Great Britain;
  • Albert Eustace Short on June XX, 1875 in Chilton Colliery, Durham, England, Great Britain – April 8, in 1932 at Medway, Rochester, Kent, England, Great Britain;
  • Hugh Oswald Short in January 16, 1883  in Stanton by Dale, England, Great Britain – in December 4, 1969 at Gillham’s Farm, Lynchmere, West Sussex, England, Great Britain;
  • John Theodore Cuthbert (J.T.C.) Moore-Brabazon, 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara, born February 8, 1884 in London, England, Great Britain – May 17, 1964 in Longcross, Surrey, Great Britain;
  • Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls, born August 27, 1877 in London, England, Great Britain – July 12, 1910 in Southbourne, Bournemouth, England, Great Britain;
  • Sir Frederick Henry Royce, 1st Baronet of Seaton in the County of Rutland, born March 27, 1863 in Alwalton, Huntingdonshire, England, Great Britain – April 22, 1933 in West Wittering, Sussex, England, Great Britain.

I’m not sure what to do here. I pretty much covered the entire career of the Short Brothers very recently HERE. I even went back and fixed all the errors… a bad habit I sometimes get into when I feel I have to meet a deadline rather than ensuring the material is correct. Sorry.

From what I can tell, this Short Biplane is actually Short No. 2., and therefore the material for this tobacco card may as well relate to pilot J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon… the guy who owned it and flew it.

Moore-Brabazon Short No. 2.jpg

I’ll provide more of a biography of Moore-Brabazon here, however… and  a bit on Henry Royce and Charles Rolls… names which sound familiar for good reason.

Called “Brabs” by his friends, Moore-Brabazon was born in London England on February 8, 1884 to dad Lieutenant-Colonel John Arthur Henry Moore-Brabazon (1828–1908) and mom Emma Sophia Richards (died 1937).

Wills Aviation 80R.jpg

From the Wikipedia notes that I used regarding his mother, not much is known about her… the implications are: she’s not worth a write-up, and the lack of information on her is due to the fact that women were a second-class citizen in that era.

How stupid. I get that it was a man’s world… but still, thank goodness some things have evolved.

Moore-Brabazon was a smart guy – he got into Trinity College at Cambridge, but did not feel the need to graduate at sometime around 1902-1906. I’m guessing he was bored, and wanted to see all of the new technologies being ushered into the world at this time of the early 20th century…. such as the automobile.

While at Cambridge, he enjoyed tinkering with car motors after acquiring a Panhard two-cylinder, seven horsepower motor… as automobiles were becoming the latest big thing.

During the summer vacations while at Cambridge, he gleaned plenty  of knowledge by working as an unpaid mechanic for Charles Rolls.

When he finally dropped out (sorry, rich kids don’t drop out, they leave school to pursue other options), Moore-Brabazon became an apprentice mechanic the Darracq and Company Limited in Paris, a high-class automobile manufacturer at that time.

However, thanks to his summer employment with Charles Rolls, our boy eventually came back to London and worked with him as both mechanic and driver… but Moore-Brabazon soon became a hired driver thanks to his skills.

Rolls, of course, is one half of Rolls-Royce, the famed luxury automobile builder of the day, and today, I suppose.

In 1907 Moore-Brabazon won the Circuit des Ardennes in a Minerva, winning by 27 seconds. The Minerva was a classy Belgian automobile manufactured by Société Anonyme Minerva Motors.

As for the race itself, the Circuit des Ardennes was an auto race held annually at the Circuit de Bastogne, Bastogne, Belgium from 1902 to 1907. It was the first major auto race to run on a closed course instead of from one city to another. The race is basically the precursor to German Grand Prix.

It was around this time… late 1908, actually, that Moore-Brabazon took up flying, learning to do so while in France. He flew solo for the first time in a French Voisin biplane at Issy-les-Montineaux, Paris, France, in November, 1908.

At this time, the Voisin biplane he used was supposed to have been made and sold to Henri Farman… which got Farman ticked off at the Voisin brothers.

That snub caused Farman to go it alone, if you will, now designing and constructing his own planes… something he turned out to be quite good at… better than everyone else mentioned in this article… .

Anyhow, because Moore-Brabazon loved that Voisin, he brought it back with him to England. He named it The Bird of Passage.


The Bird of Passage Voisin biplane in 1909 as flown by Moore-Brabazon.

Moore-Brabazon, he became the first resident Englishman to make an officially recognized aeroplane flight in England on May 2, 1909, at Shellbeach on the Isle of Sheppey with flights of 450 feet, 600 feet, and 1,500 feet.

The key phrase there was “resident” Englishman.

Later in 1909, Moore-Brabazon sold his Bird of Passage Voisin biplane to Arthur Edward George, who had learned to fly in it at the Royal Aero Club‘s flying-ground at Shellbeach.

Needing a plane, Moore-Brabazon purchased a Short Brothers-built biplane based on a design by the Wright Brothers… this was the Short Biplane No. 2.

On October 30, 1909, he flew that biplane in a circular mile, and being the first ever to do so, won a 1,000 pound prize offered by the British Daily Mail newspaper.

A few days later on November 4, 1909, Moore-Brabazon in a joke, decided to prove that pigs could indeed fly.

He placed a piglet in a wasterpaper basket, and then tied the basket to a wing strut of the Short biplane No. 2, and then took it up for a flight.

This, it is believed to have been the very first heavier-than-air live cargo flight.


It seems to me that Moore-Brabazon should have a grin on his face for makin’ bacon fly. I have no idea what happened to the piglet after the flight, but surely it should have a name… gone on tour and made some farmer a very rich man.

On March 8, 1910, Moore-Brabazon became the first person to qualify as a pilot in the United Kingdom and was awarded Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No. 1.


Wanna guess who was No. 2? Why his buddy Charles Rolls, who did it the same day as Morre-Brabzon.

Moore-Brabazon may have had the first vanity license plate, FLY 1.

As for Rolls… I can hardly say that his fame at being No. 2 was fleeting.

In 1903, Rolls helped create the (British) Royal Aero Club, and that same year he won the Gordon Bennett Gold Medal for carrying out the longest single flight in a balloon.

In May of 1904 Rolls met Henry Royce. Rolls was importing and selling Peugeot and Minerva cars via his C. S. Rolls & Co.

Royce and his company Royce Ltd. was making two-cylinder vehicles… and while Rolls preferred the bigger three- and four-cylinder cars, he really liked Royce’s car, and by December of 1904 the two agreed to a partnership called Rolls-Royce.

However, before the production of Rolls-Royce auto was even properly started, Rolls became increasingly interested in aviation and tried to persuade Royce to develop a design for an aeroplane engine – but Royce refused.

Rolls purchased a Wright Flyer in 1909, making over 200 flights.

In 1910, Rolls became the first person to make a non-stop double flight across the English Channel (and back again) for which he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club.

Unfortunately, Rolls died in an air crash at Bornemouth’s Hengistbury Airfield on July 12, 1912 – just four months after becoming certified.

The accident occurred during a flying display when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off in flight – he died on impact.

He was the first Briton to die in an aircraft accident.

After the death of his friend Rolls, Moore-Brabazon’s wife persuaded him to give up flying.

However, when the Great War broke out in 1914, Moore-Brabazon returned to flying, joining the Royal Flying Corps receiving a special-reserve commission as a second lieutenant (on probation) in the RFC.

Promoted to lieutenant on February 19, 191, he was appointed equipment officer on March 31, with the temporary rank of captain. On September 1, 1915 he was promoted to captain and then given a special temporary promotion to major on May 18, 1916.

Moore-Brabazon served on the Western Front (Belgium/France/Germany) where he played a key role in the development of aerial photography and reconnaissance.

On April 1, 1918, when the Royal Flying Corps merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force, Moore-Brabazon was appointed as a staff officer (first class) and made a temporary lieutenant-colonel, promoted to the rank on January 1, 1919 in recognition of his wartime services, relinquishing his commission that year.

Moore-Brabazon finished the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

He was decorated with the Military Cross on January 1, 1917, and decorated as a Knight of the Légion d’honneur (National Order of the Legion of Honor) from France in February 1916. It is the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.

No more flying for Moore-Brabazon, so… he became a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Chatham (1918–1929) and Wallasey (1931–1942) and served as a junior minister in the 1920s. In 1931 and 1932 he served as a member of the London County Council.

Since he couldn’t aviate any longer, and one can only politic for so long, Moore-Brabazon took up yachting. I had no idea that was a verb.

He was strongly opposed to war with Nazi Germany… and wanted Britain to avoid war.

Still, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew a smart man when he saw one, and appointed Moore-Brabzaon as Minister of Transport in October 1940. He then joined the Privy Council, becoming Minister of Aircraft Production in May 1941.

As the Minister of Transport he proposed the use of Airgraphs to reduce the weight and bulk of mails travelling between troops fighting in the Middle East and their families in the UK. The airgraph was invented in the 1930s by the Eastman Kodak Company in conjunction with Imperial Airways (now British Airways) and Pan-American Airways as a means of reducing the weight and bulk of mail carried by air. The airgraph forms, upon which the letter was written, were photographed and then sent as negatives on rolls of microfilm.

Moore-Brabzaon was forced to resign his wartime positions in early 1942 after stating he hoped that Germany and British ally USSR would destroy each other during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Now out of a job, Moore-Brabazon was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Brabazon of Tara, of Sandwich in the County of Kent, in April 1942.

In 1943 he chaired the Brabazon Committee which planned to develop the post-war British aircraft industry.

NPG x165436; John Moore-Brabazon, 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara by Walter Stoneman

Lord Brabazon of Tara in 1944.

He was involved in the production of the Bristol Brabazon, a giant airliner that first flew on September 4, 1949. It was then and still is the largest aeroplane built entirely in Britain.

A keen golfer, Moore-Brabazon was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the governing body of golf, from 1952 to 1953.

Moore-Brabazon was president of the Royal Aero Club, president of the Royal Institution, chairman of the Air Registration Board, as well as the president of the Middlesex County Automobile Club from 1946 until his death in 1964. He was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1953.

Despite his limited aviation career as a pilot, Moore-Brabazon had quite the aviation career.

Moore-Brabazon is buried in Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.


Posted in Airfields, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Pilots, Races, Races & Contests, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commander Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.

Earl Winfield Spencer Jr..jpg

  • Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. was born on September 20, 1888 in Kinsley, Kansas, United States of America, and died on May 29, 1950 in Coronada, California, United States of America.

Unlike other famous early aviation pioneers, there is no trading/collector card for Commander Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.

When I came across the name… all I could wonder is… I wonder if he’s related to… naw, couldn’t be… let’s find out.

Turns out he was related… but wait… you have no idea what I am talking about.

Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. was the first husband of Wallis…

Wallis Spenser was perhaps better known by her second husband’s name… Wallis Simpson…

She was the American divorcee who later married the man who was in line to become Great Britain’s King Edward VIII, who abdicated his throne to marry her, which, of course, changed the whole British royal line of succession, as his unprepared brother Bertie  (Albert Frederick Arthur George) became King George VI upon their father’s death in 1936.

King George VI was the father to current monarch Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch… in the world, I believe. Ever. As a Canadian born in England, I learned about succession via coin collecting.

But we aren’t here to talk about royals, though that is the exact reason why I am talking about Win, as Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. was known.

Like King George VI, he was born during the reign of Queen Victoria. Unlike George VI, who went by the name Albert amongst family and friends and was named after Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, Win was named after Earl Winfield Spencer Sr.

Okay… that’s the last of the royal name dropping. I think.

He attended Racine College in Racine, Wisconsin, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1910, and in 1917 was sent to San Diego with instructions to set up a permanent naval air station, which was to be used for training exercises, and he became its first Commanding Officer.

This was the Naval Air Station – really… that’s its name. It is located at the north end of the Coronado peninsula on San Diego Bay, and is currently the home port of several aircraft carriers of the United States Navy. It is part of the largest aerospace-industrial complex in the United States Navy—Naval Base Coronado.

Aside from starting the Naval Air Station, Spencer Jr. was pretty much defined by the company he kept, notably his wives… and who those wives knew.

Spencer was married four times:

  1. Bessie Wallis Warfield (1896–1986), only child of Teackle Wallis Warfield, member of a prominent Maryland family; they married in Baltimore on November 8 (my birthday!), 1916. The marriage wasn’t the best, as Spencer was alleged to have been abusive and an alcoholic. After several trial separations, they divorced in December of 1927. After a SECOND marriage, to Ernest Aldrich Simpson, and a subsequent divorce, Wallis married the former King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and became the Duchess of Windsor, but without the styling of being called “Her Royal Highness”.
  2. Mariam J. Ham (1895–1997) was from Portland, Oregon.  Mariam and Spencer married in September of 1928 and were divorced in 1936, the same year Spencer was made a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy by Benito Mussolini. Yup… apparently our American flyboy had a thing for Fascists. Mariam’s FIRST husband was Albert Cressey Maze who brought along a stepson, Robert Claude Maze Sr., a  Major in the US Marine Corp., who was KIA (killed in action) in 1945. Mariam married a THIRD time in 1939 to Arthur William Radford, who was the Vice Admiral of the United States Navy, and later the second Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Radford was also an aviator. After the U.S. entered World War II, he was the architect of the development and expansion of the Navy’s aviator training programs in the first years of the war.
  3. Norma Reese (1891–1944) was the widow of Homer Sturdevant Johnson, a Detroit manufacturer who died in 1928. Norma married Spencer in Los Angeles, California on July 4, 1937. Spencer now gained two stepdaughters: Betty L. Johnson, an actress and songwriter (married Balie Peyton Legare Jr. (1908–1984), a jazz musician, whom she divorced in 1942) and Kathryne Johnson (born circa 1912, married Dell Myron Wade Jr). Because what woman doesn’t mind sharing their special day, the Spencers’ wedding was a double wedding with Betty and Peyton Legare, whose previous wedding in Tijuana, Mexico, was not considered valid by California law. Spencer and Norma separated on February 9, 1940, and were divorced later that year. Each claimed cruelty as the ground for the divorce.
  4. Lillian Margaret Phillips (1892–1981), daughter of Robert A. and Ella Burgess Phillips, whom he married October 2, 1941.

Believe it or not, for Spencer, the fourth time was the charm. His marriage to Lillian lasted until his death do they part in May 29, 1950, with Lillian herself lasting until 1981.

Both are buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.

As for another connection to the British monarchy, with the last name of Spencer, surely there must be some relation to Princess Diana Spencer (Prince Charles late and ex-wife).
Charles is next in line to inherit the British throne when his mother Queen Elizabeth II passes, with Charles (1st) and Diana’s son William (2nd) next in line after that, with William’s son George (3rd) and sister Charlotte next (4th), with William’s younger brother Harry after them (5th).  Harry is marrying American actress Meghan Markle… I haven’t received my wedding invite, though I am sure it is in the mail.
Here’s what I could dig up on Diana Spencer’s royal lineage (I’m sorry, I don’t recall where I took this from – if you know, let me know and I’ll provide credit. I was working on too many stories at once and lost track):

She has more English royal blood in her veins than does Prince Charles, her 16th cousin once removed. All of it flowing from illegitimate unions. Four of her ancestors were mistresses to English Kings. Three dallied with Charles II (1630-85), a compulsive philanderer whose amorous activities produced more than a quarter of the 26 dukedoms in Great Britain and Ireland. The fourth royal paramour, Arabella, daughter of the first Sir Winston Churchill, was a favorite of James II (1633-1701) and bore him a daughter. In short, while Diana’s blood may run blue, even purple, scarlet women and black sheep have added to its color…

Others of Diana’s kinsmen made their mark in worldly affairs, many as great statesmen. George Washington is an eighth cousin seven times removed, and through the wife of an eccentric American great-great-grandfather, Diana is related to Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, Millard Fillmore, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sir Winston Churchill (middle name: Spencer) is a cousin, as is former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Scholarly limbs include Historian Henry Adams, Philosopher Bertrand Russell and Lexicographer Noah Webster. Theatrical boughs: Humphrey Bogart and Lillian Gish.

But, despite this, I can not find a true link that our aviator and Princess Diana are related… though I suspect they are, only because of the family name.


This photo taken on December 31, 1919 perhaps shows better why Spencer was able to draw in so many wives, including Wallace Simpson who helped through the entire British Empire for a loop.

That’s all folks… Spencer’s claim to fame was helping to start up a naval base, and for being the first husband of a woman who would on HER third try at marriage take down a lineage of the British monarchy… or, if you prefer, made the British monarchy what it is today.


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That Old Sew-And-Sew Sir Adam Mortimer Singer

Sir Adam Mortimer Singer.png

  • Sir Adam Mortimer Singer KBE (Knight of the order of the British Empire) was born July 25, 1863 in Yonkers, New York, United States of America – June 24, 1929 in Middlesex, England, Great Britain.

Sometimes, while surfing down the rabbit hole that is the Internet, my eye catches a word or a name… and in this case, it was “Singer“.

The only Singer I’ve ever heard of was the sewing machine – could this be the founder of the sewing machine empire?

No… but it is his son, who thanks to his dad’s success, was able to live a life of luxury.

Singer was an Anglo-American landowner, philanthropist, and sportsman, who was one of the earliest pilots in both France and Great Britain. Singer preferred to be called Mortimer… or maybe it was Mort, or maybe even Mo.

There is no trading card for Singer, nor did he do anything overly fantastic during his career as an aviator – this is just me filling in that one particular rabbit hole.

Singer’s father was Isaac Merritt Singer, who was the founder of the modern Singer Sewing Machine Company. He married Isabella Eugénie Boyer, a French model, who was 22 years of age to his 52.

Nice work if you can get it.

Singer was their first child, but his father had – by then – at least 18 children from previous wives and mistresses. After his birth, perhaps to remove the family from all the other women and kids, the new family moved from New York to Paris, France, leaving there in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War began, moving to Oldway Mansion in Devon, England.

When his dad died in 1875 at the age of 63, Singer (and all the mother’s, girlfriends, and siblings) inherited some money… not as much as you would think because he did have far too much family.

But it still wasn’t anything to sniff at.

Singer would eventually attend Downing College, Cambridge, in October 1881, but left before attaining a degree.

Singer loved the ponies – and not necessarily betting on them, rather he loved to breed and race thoroughbreds, starting in 1881.

He became a naturalized British citizen in 1900.

He was also involved in the development of cycling, driving and flying in Europe.

In fact, by January of 1910, at the age of 46, Singer earned the 24th ever pilot license from the Aéro-Club de France.

On May 31, 1910, he received his aviator’s certificate from the Great Britain Royal Aero Club – the eight person to do so here- when he flew his Farman biplane to success. You can read all about the Farman Biplane HERE.


Farman III aeroplane, similar to the one flown by Singer.

Farman III Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Capacity: 1;
  • Length: 12 meters (39 feet 4½ inches);
  • Wingspan: 10 meters (33 feet 9¾ inches);
  • Height: 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches);
  • Wing Area: 40 square meters (430.56 square feet);
  • Gross Weight: 550 kilograms (1213 pounds);
  • Engine: 1x Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine @ 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour)

When I first saw Singer’s name on the Internet, it was for what happened to him at the Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte held at Heliopolis, Egypt, February 6th – 13th, 1910.


Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte poster.

Organized by the Aéro-Club de France, it formed the Egyptian Aero Club. The program of the Meet was only printed in French, and thanks to sponsors, prizes totaling 212,000 francs was offered, making it on par with the biggest of the 1909 events.

Heliopolis_Cairo airfield 1910.jpg

Layout of the course at the 1910 Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte.

It featured a rectangular five-kilometer course laid out in the desert, with two grandstands  – all built new for the event.

According to http://www.thefirstairraces.net/meetings/he1002/events.php – one of THE best sites for information on the early days of aviation races. Period. Go there, and you’ll get lost in all of the fantastic information and where I took a lot of the images from there – the Meet’s competitors had to pay a 2,000 francs fee for entering, which would be refunded if they crossed the starting line at least once.

On-site practice was allowed from December 15, 1909, and all participants were required to arrive by February 1, 1910. A total of 12 pilots and 18 planes were officially entered:

  • Jacques Balsan (Blériot)
  • Hubert Le Blon (Blériot)
  • Élise Deroche / “Raymonde de Laroche” (Voisin)
  • Arthur Duray (Farman)
  • Jean Gobron (Voisin)
  • Hans Grade (Grade)
  • Gabriel Hauvette / “Hauvette-Michelin” (Antoinette)
  • Hubert Latham (Antoinette)
  • René Métrot (Voisin)
  • Adam Mortimer Singer (Farman)
  • Frederick van Riemsdijk (Curtiss)
  • Henri Rougier (Voisin)

As you can see, Singer was one of the participants.While he had flown the Farman for his British license, he had flown a Voisin for his French.

While unfamiliarity with the Farman could have been the reason for what happened at the Egyptian event, it’s not necessarily 100% true.

During test flights with the Farman, Singer experienced engine problems, and upon a forced landing on a rough spot the plane broke a propeller.

That doesn’t sound like pilot error, rather it sounds more of a mechanical issue with his aircraft.

Getting the propeller fixed, he went up again for more testing on February 1, 1910.

During a turn, the engine stalled and the plane began to side-slip down at a steep angle from about 35 meters up (115 feet) crashing to the ground.


The crashed Farman III aeroplane flown by Singer on February 1, 1910 at the Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte.

While the wings of the Farman III absorbed most of the force, Singer still broke his right thigh in three places and jarring his back quite hard.


Singer being attended to immediately after his crash in Egypt.

While he recovered from his injuries well enough, Singer never flew (as pilot) again, but still loved aviation.

He began to offer aviation awards for Britian aeroplane development, such as £500 for whomever developed the first practical British-built amphibious aircraft, eventually won by Thomas Sopwith’s Bat Boat in 1913. With a name like that, I have to write about it soon enough.

He purchased a country estate at Milton Hill, near Steventon, Berkshire, and an apartment in central Mayfair, and when WWI broke out, two days later he offered his MIlton Hill home to be used as a military hospital for soldiers and NCOs, housing up to 220 beds making it the largest privately-run wartime hospitals attending to more than 4,500 people.

Singer with his brother Washington paid for the hospitals operating costs from their own pocket, with Singer working there through the war as its chief administrator, his wife worked there as well as matron-in-chief.

When the war ended, Singer became a Justice of the Peace and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

In 1921, he served as the High Sheriff of Berkshire, dying in June of 1929 – still a very rich man.

Posted in Air Shows, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, WWII | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Louis Freeman – A Whole Lot Of Firsts

Louis Freeman 2.jpgLouis Lawrence Freeman: born June 12, 1952 in Austin, Texas, United States of America.

What could be so special about a man who was born nearly 50 years after the Wright Brothers first flew, here in this Pioneers of Aviation blog?

Again, in honor of Black History Month, let me introduce you to Louis Freeman, who in 1992 became the first Black chief pilot of a major U.S. airline. Yeah… 1992. It took that long.

Sometimes I forget that within my own lifetime, such things as integration were a major social issue in North America – and while I don’t believe that racial prejudice played a part in Freeman finally being the first chief pilot of a major US airline, I’m afraid I can’t discount it either.

According to Wikipedia, Freeman attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Texas.

At that time, 1967, Freeman and his brother, and eight other students were the first Black students to integrate the previously all-White school—which I’m sure was a trying time for them, but hopefully not too bad.

Freeman was also part of the first Black assistant drum majors for the high school, with Freeman himself becoming the first Black cadet corps commander at the school’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), prior to graduating in 1970.

Upon graduation, Freeman attended East Texas State University, and was again the first Black ROTC cadet corps commander. He also passed the Air Force Officers’ Qualifying Test in his sophomore year. He graduated from the university with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology in 1974.

Continuing with his string of “firsts”, Freeman was the first Black trainee to join the  United States Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training program at Reese Air Force Base near Lubbock, Texas. The Base’s primary purpose has always been pilot training.

After the training, Freeman was assigned to the 454th Flying Training Squadron at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento County, California (but since closed as of 1993), flying Boeing T-43 Bobcat‘s, a modified Boeing 737-200.

While not the first, he was one of the first Lieutenants to become a flight instructor and supervisor of flying, staying there until he resigned his commission in 1980 to embark on a career in commercial aviation.


A Boeing T-43. A U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Fernando Serna.

After this, the information on Freeman is brief, at best – which is both good, and bad.

Good because it implies his career didn’t involve anything bad, and bad because I just wish there was more information on the man.

So… upon leaving the military, Freeman joined Southwest Airlines in 1980, and became their first Black pilot.

In 1992, he became the first Black chief pilot of a major US airline, and while Wikipedia does not state which airline specifically, I have to assume that it was Southwest Airlines.

Freeman says that one of his more memorable experiences flying was when the plane he was piloting carried the body of Civil Rights legend Rosa Parks, as the NAACP asked for and received an all-Black crew.

Freeman retired from flying for Southwest Airlines on June 8, 2017 as he approached the mandatory retirement age of 65—and never missed a day of work!!!—and is hopefully enjoying his time on the ground.

Louis Freeman 1.jpg

While Freeman did indeed break the color barrier for commercial pilots, whether its due to simply not wanting to become a pilot, or because of racial barriers (I can’t pretend to know), only about 3% of all commercial pilots are Black.

Posted in Airfields, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Pilots | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Julia Clark – The Daring Bird Girl

Julia Clark.jpg

  • Julia Clark: December 21, 1880 in London, England, Great Britain – June 17, 1912 in Springfield, Illinois, United States of America.

The one true thing I can state about Julia Clark, is that she was a pioneer pilot.

The second true thing I can say about her, is that she was the third woman to gain a pilot’s license from the Aero Club of America – No. 133, gaining it on May 19, 1912.

If you glance up at Julia’s date of death, you’ll notice she had her pilot’s license for just over one month.

What’s worse, is that Julia Clark was married to a man the newspapers only referred to as Mr. Clark… so we don’t even know what her maiden name was.

Sigh… dead these past 106 years, Julia Clark has become a footnote in the annals of aviation history.

While she was indeed the third American woman to earn her pilot’s license, and subsequently become the third woman in the world to perish in an aviation accident – both good and crappy footnotes, what is galling is that there appears to be some confusion as to just where the poor person was born.


May 19, 1912, Julia Clark is all smiles after receiving her pilot’s license.

Wikipedia boldly states that Julia was born in Bangor, Michigan on December 21, 1880, which would have made her 31 years old when she died. Uh… no.

Everywhere else says she was born in London, England on that date, while some sites calls her a Chicago girl or from Denver.

The truth, as always, falls in between.

Julia Clark was born in London, her family emigrated to the U.S., lived in Bangor Michigan, moved to Denver Colorado where she was a stenographer for an undisclosed aviation company, and where she might have been married. Or, Denver is simply where her parents were living.

From there, she traveled to San Diego, California to take flying lessons, which may have lead to her estrangement from her husband (Mr. Clark).

As stated, Clark appears to be her married name…. so what the heck was her maiden name?

A newspaper seems to verify this, saying she arrived in the U.S. from London, England and shortly thereafter married an American – last name Clark. When and where, however, was not stated. See below:

According to the Webster City freeman newspaper of Webster City, Iowa, June 18, 1912 edition, “Miss Clark was a native of London and was married soon after her arrival in America, friends here made known last night. She had not been living with Mr. Clark for some time, they averred.”

If she was married, why was she called Miss Clark in the above newspaper article. And… don’t they usually give the full male name in a newspaper… or was it because she and her husband had been separated, that decorum suggest they not identify that man?

I understand that she was only flying for one month, but she was the third-ever female pilot in the U.S.! Surely someone knows more about her!

I have looked at over 40 American newspaper articles of the day that mention Julia Clark. Only one newspaper provides information of Julia Clark BEFORE her death, with the remainder providing a write-up on her accident-causing death.

Just Give Me A Chance!
Here’s what we do know about her based on the newspaper data:

She first became interested in aviation after hearing about Harriet Quimby gaining her license on August 1, 1911 becoming the first U.S. woman to earn an Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate.

Then, after attending the 1911 Chicago International Aviation Meet held August 12 to August 20, 1911 at Grant Park in Chicago, Clark wanted to become a pilot.

From her stenographer’s job for an undisclosed aviation company in Denver (I think), she saved her money and traveled to the Curtiss Flying School at North Island in San Diego, California in late 1911, or January 1912. I’d go with the later.

She asked instructor McCaskey to let her join the school, but because owner Glenn Curtiss was a sexist pig (apparently) and was against women learning how to be aviators, Curtiss told McCaskey to refuse.

Clarke wouldn’t give up, however, and befriended the wife of Glenn Curtiss, Lena Pearl Neff (married from 1898-1930), who convinced her husband to stop being a jackass and to let Julia Clark into his flying school.

You can see Julia in the Curtiss Flying School class of 1912 below:

Curtiss Flying School 1912

Curtiss Flying School, Class of 1912 at North Island, San Diego (from left): 1. Floyd E. Barlow; 2. John G. Kaminski; 3. Floyd Smith; 4. W.A. (or W.B) Davis; 5. Roy B. Russell; 6. Mohan M. Singh; 7. John Lansing (Lanny) Callan; 8. Julia Clark; 9. George Milton Dunlap; 10. Kono Takeshi. Photo from the Callan Collection of the Curtiss Museum.

You may have noticed that I have used this photo twice before, in the biographies of Mohan Singh (HERE) and Kono Takeshi (HERE), as Julia Clark was in their class.

The Curtiss school not only taught students how to fly HIS plane, but Curtiss would sell them HIS plane as well. A perfect storm for Glenn Curtiss.

The San Francisco call. newspaper wrote in the Tuesday, February 13, 1912 edition:

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 12.—Mrs. Julia Clarke of Chicago, a pupil at the Curtiss Aviation school, lost control of her machine this afternoon when it was caught in a gust of wind and overturned. She fell 20 feet to the ground. The machine was wrecked and Mrs. Clark was injured. She will recover and says she will not abandon her determination to learn to fly.

Obviously not, as she graduated. Then on May 19, 1912 Clark received her pilot’s license from the Aero Club of America, becoming the third American woman to earn her aviator’s certificate.

She flew her test using a 1911 Curtiss Model D aircraft, flying in a 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour) wind at 800 – 1,000 feet (243.84 – 304.8 meters).

Thankful to Curtiss, or perhaps fulfilling her end of the agreement to let her into his flying school, Clark purchased a Curtiss Model D.

I am unsure just where the heck she got her money from.

She was a stenographer – estranged from her husband – had traveled to San Diego by train, I assume, paid for her lessons and for accommodations and food et al… and THEN purchased an aeroplane?

Perhaps it was purchased with a down-payment, with Clark having to pay Curtiss back quickly… which may have been why she was only too glad to join William Pickens’ Wright-Curtiss (or Curtiss-Wright) flying circus – to earn money… which she earned as long as she was flying… but more on that later.

The 1911 Curtiss Model D

The Curtiss Model D pusher (motor and propeller are behind the pilot) bi-plane was built mostly of spruce, some ash for parts of the engine bearers and undercarriage beams with doped linen over it, and bamboo outrigger beams. The aircraft also used a wheeled tricycle undercarriage.

Depending on who you ask, the origin of the aileron is a sticky subject.

He chose not to use wing-warping per the Wright Brothers and their patents, but used the between-the-wing-panels “inter-plane” ailerons – which is what he used on several earlier aeroplanes of his, such as the Curtiss No. 1 and Curtiss No. 2.

To work the ailerons, the pilot had to “lean-into” the turn to make them work, using a shoulder cradle attached to the pilot and aileron control cabeling.

Historically, the Curtiss Model D was flown by Eugene Ely on November 14, 1910 to take off from the USS Birmingham – the first time an aeroplane had taken off from a ship. On January 18, 1911, Ely landed a Model D aboard the USS Pennsylvania and became the first to land an aeroplane on a ship.

Specifications of Curtis Model D (Type IV)

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 29 feet 3 inches (8.92 meters);
  • Wingspan: 38 feet 3 inches (11.66 meters);
  • Height: 7 feet 10 inches (2.39 meters);
  • Empty weight: 700 pounds (318 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss E-4, with 40 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 2.5 hours.

After purchasing a Curtiss Model D, Clarke joined the Curtiss-Wright Aviators exhibition team, who billed her as “The Daring Bird-Girl” and contracted for several exhibitions in the Midwest of the United States of America.

I should point out that one newspaper article

The Curtiss-Wright grouping was the forerunner to the Curtiss-Wright Corporation  – which is currently an American-based, global diversified product manufacturer and service provider for the commercial, industrial, defense, and energy markets.

Formed in 1929 with the consolidation of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, (founded January 1916 by Glenn Curtiss), Wright Aeronautical (founded by Glenn L. Martin and the Wright brothers as Wright-Martin), and various supplier companies.

By the time WWII ended, it was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States, supplying whole aircraft in large numbers to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Nowadays, it is a component manufacturer specializing in actuators, aircraft controls, valves, and surface treatment services, and also supplies to commercial nuclear power, nuclear navy systems, industrial vehicles and to the oil and gas industries.

When The Bough Breaks

After one month of flying, we now come to the tragic death of Julia Clark on June 17, 1912.

Four weeks earlier in Milwaukee, Clark was not allowed to fly because someone felt her aircraft was unsafe… but it was overhauled since then and considered sound.

This implies that Clark…. a relatively inexperienced pilot, had been forced to sit for four weeks without flying.

According to the Rock Island Argus newspaper, June 18, 1912 (of Rock Island Illinois), “She had intended to make several flights throughout the week.”

That article also notes that in conversation with friends, she said it was her desire to “master the right-hand turn”, saying that no woman had mastered the feat… and it is believed that while attempting to do a right hand turn, the accident occurred.

Almost every newspaper article says Clark had taken her aeroplane up into the dusk of June 17, 1912, noting that visibility was poor. Heck, Wikipedia says that, too.

Some newspapers say that Clark was trying to enter as many state fairs as possible to earn enough money for a trip to Europe – I assume that was to take her plane there and fly and make more money. Anyhow… that may be why she was anxious to take the aeroplane up to get some practice time in.

According to the Webster City freeman of Webster City, Iowa, June 18, 1912 edition, “Miss Clark was a native of London and was married soon after her arrival in America, friends here made known last night. She had not been living with Mr. Clark for some time, they averred. She was arranging for a two weeks’ course at the Chicago field, having no practice for a month after getting her license, when the engagement at Springfield was made and she felt she would be able to keep it in spite of her little recent flying practice.”

The article below from the June 18, 1912 edition of The Daily News newspaper of Chattanooga, Tennessee, says the accident occurred in the afternoon, every other article says the accident occurred after 6:30PM or as late as 7PM.

“Mrs. Julia Clark, one of the three licensed woman aviators in the United States, was killed in a fall here this afternoon, when a tip of a wing on her biplane struck a tree and the machine crashed to the ground. Admittedly unprepared for exhibition flights, she had contracted to make here Friday and Saturday, the young woman was trying out her machine in the race track enclosure at the fair grounds. But few persons watched her as she guided the machine from the ground and started her spin at low altitude. Whether she lost control or whether it was a case of mistaken judgement which caused the machine to go close to the tree has not been explained. The end of a wing struck the tree, the machine toppled and crashed to the ground. The young woman’s skull was fractured, and she died soon after reaching a hospital, to which she was rushed in an automobile.
Decisions of Milwaukee authorities were partly responsible for Mrs. Clark not having any recent practice. She had intended to make a flight there two weeks ago, but they refused to allow her to go up because it was deemed her machine was unsafe. It had been a month since she had made a flight, but she nevertheless felt confidence in her ability to fill her contract here. She had arranged for a two weeks practice at the Chicago field after her proposed flights here Friday and Saturday.
Mrs. Clark was a native of London, and, it is said, married Mr. Clark soon after arriving in America. It is said she had not been living with her husband for some time. She resided for some time in Chicago, but recently had been making her headquarters in Denver, to which city the body will be shipped.
Mrs. Clark is the second woman to be killed in aeroplane accidents. The other was Miss Susanne Bernard, who lost her life at the Farman school at Pau, France, about two months ago.”

The account is decent enough, but I found errors or inconsistencies.

The newspaper did get a few things incorrect… for one, Miss Deniz Moore in July of 1911 is supposed to be the first woman to die in an aeroplane accident, Susanne Bernard is  the second, making Julia Clark the third.

While it is true that she was refused permission to fly one month earlier in Milwaukee, the above article does NOT make it clear that the aeroplane was overhauled and deemed safe for flight.

Other newspaper accounts say that Clark had been previously warned about the clump of trees within the enclosure of the inner race track where pilots would be flying.

And, when the plane hit the bough of a tree, her aeroplane “turned turtle”. While not stated otherwise, I wanted to clarify that Clark did not fall out of the plane, but the plane did hit the ground upside down.

Whether she fell 40 feet, 50 -feet or 100-feet (depending on the newspaper source), the few eyewitness accounts to the crash were never sure.

Part of that problem, was that it was supposed to be dusk.

However… I question that… it was July  – sometime between 6:30PM and 7PM… it ain’t dusk. That sun is up – especially in Illinois for at least another hour. At least. It could be two more hours… but dusk it ain’t.

Perhaps the skies were overcast… but dusk had nothing to do with it.

Some newspaper reports say the left side of her skull was fractured, she had internal bleeding, and a broken left leg, and was quickly attended to after the crash, but was unconscious then, never regaining consciousness.

While some newspapers state she died en rout to the hospital, others say she died one hour after arriving at Springfield Hospital about one mile away from the fair grounds.

According to a Washington Times June 18, 1912 article: “In a note which she left in anticipation of an accident she asked that her body be sent to Denver for cremation.”

Her body was indeed sent back to Denver, according to Wikipedia, but I can find newspaper evidence of any funeral for Julia Clark in any Colorado newspaper from that time period.

As for historical posterity, Clark was indeed the third female pilot to die in an aeroplane crash, but she was the very first American woman to die, and the very first licensed female pilot to die, as the two French women were unlicensed. Clark predeceased her hero Harriet Quimby by two weeks, who died on July 1, 1912.

If you have data on Julia Clark and can help straighten up any mistakes or guesses I have made here, please share.

In the meantime, the above information is correct based on the multiple newspaper reports I went though. Of course, sometimes it depends on what the subject tells you is true.


Posted in Firsts, Flying Schools, Heavier-Than-Air, Pilots, Stunt Flying | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Mohan Singh – The Flying Hindu


I have been called the “whitest Brown guy” by many a person – recently even… which I am meant to take as a compliment. Yes, even I… a Brown guy …. do love hockey and baseball, and know more about both sports than most (not all) people (part of the plan to try and fit in), so I guess they are correct. Heck, I’m even a Catholic!

My parents were born in India (I’ve never been there), and I was born in London, England, raised and am living in Canada, and spent three years teaching junior high school English in Japan.

To say the least, I don’t fit in anywhere where someone isn’t going to look at me and think me an outsider… and this is 2018.

I can only imagine what it was like in 1912 when a fellow named Mohan M. Singh made his way from India to become known in the U.S. as the Flying Hindu.

Hailing from Himmatputra, a village in the Moga District of Punjab, in northwest India, Singh shipped over to the U.S. in 1906 and worked as a servant in Chicago for a few years until he saw his first flying machine.

We do NOT have a birth date for Singh… nor, it seems a death date. Some websites cite his death date as sometime in 1942, but that is incorrect, as they have him confused with another Indian pilot with a similar name.

Think about it… if he came to the US and worked as a servant, he might have been as young as 14 in 1906. Now add the required number of years for him to have “died as a pilot in 1942 fighting the Japanese.” He would have been 50.

While there’s nothing wrong with a 50-year-old pilot, that would not have been the norm during WWII.

Like many people in the first decade of the 20th century, Singh caught the flying bug.

He saved up his money, and enrolled in the Glenn Curtiss Flying School located at North Island, San Diego in 1912.

His flying class was an odd mix of characters to say the least:

Curtiss Flying School 1912.jpg

Curtiss Flying School, Class of 1912 at North Island, San Diego (from left): 1. Floyd E. Barlow; 2. John G. Kaminski; 3. Floyd Smith; 4. W.A. (or W.B) Davis; 5. Roy B. Russell; 6. Mohan M. Singh; 7. John Lansing (Lanny) Callan; 8. Julia Clark; 9. George Milton Dunlap; 10. Kono Takeshi. Photo from the Callan Collection of the Curtiss Museum.

Yup… that’s him showing off his leg bound in a leather boot. You’ll see better in another photo below.

The Curtiss Flying School had attracted students from Poland and Japan, and even had a woman who dared to buck social traditions, too.

According to media of the day, the school was called “the most cosmopolitan gathering of flyers and pupils ever assembled.”

Singh only added to the melting pot, and was often an intriguing target for the media who saw the tall, slim Singh wearing a turban, and became fascinated with him.

For what it’s worth, Singh either played up his role as a mysterious man from India, or that really was his style. I’m guessing more of the former, only because he must have had a more flamboyant streak in him if he was part of the Curtiss Flying School and later part of the Curtiss Aerial Circus.

Singh apparently rarely spoke or smiled, and it was reported he was a vegetarian who only drank water… maybe he was shy, or tried a different tact to get people interested in him.

He told reporters that he was on leave from the British Indian Army (India only gained independence from Great Britain in 1947),which was why he had the time to learn how to fly at the school.

Singh says that the Army wanted him to learn how to be a pilot and to serve in its soon-to-exist aeroplane corps.

That might be true. But I can’t find evidence that it was.

Media called him an Indian Prince, a Major and a Captain, and was either from Delhi (called Delhi or New Delhi interchangeably) or Bombay (now known as Mumbai).

So which was he? How could the media get it so wrong? I’m guessing he was feeding the media different stories in order to maintain an air of mystery (pun intended).

We do know that Singh graduated from Curtiss flying school, earned pilot’s license #123 (in the U.S.), and was the first pilot from India to earn his aviator license.

After securing his license, Singh performed for the Curtiss-Wright Aviators aerial circus, and was billed as the “Only Hindu Flyer in the World.”

At least the circus didn’t have him act as an Indian rubber man, but treated him as an equal in the air.


As you can see in the advertisement above, Singh is listed as a Major with the Army of India… so… why isn’t he back in India doing flying stuff for them? Why does he have all of this free time to be an aerial pilot and performer?

I’m pretty sure the Army – any army – wouldn’t allow someone still under their jurisdiction to work a second job. They kind of frown on that sort of stuff, unless that same work is actually work for the Army.

After traveling to Hammondsport, New York, Singh learned how to fly a Curtiss Hydroplane (an aeroplane that lands and takes-off from the water).

Singh apparently became quite good at flying the hydroplane, and in 1913, Curtiss asked him to help him promote his products in Europe when it seemed that the world would be heading towards some sort of world war.

Mohan Singh AJ.jpg

Wow… Singh is a pretty good pilot, so much so that Curtiss… one of the era’s preeminent aviation gurus wants him to help sell his aviation machines in Europe?  The skies the limit!

Except… one year later when the Great War (aka WWI) broke out on July 28, 1914, our man Singh was not headed back to India to help with the military there… nor did he go to Britain to help train the new flyboys… instead, Singh was in Los Angeles, California working as a butler and chauffeur for some rich family.

Why? Maybe he was a pacifist? Maybe he wasn’t really in the military? Maybe he liked driving cars and delivering martinis by the pool?

Singh wanted to be an American citizen, and tried to be one… the only problem was, that the United States would only let immigrants who were classified as Caucasian try and become citizens… you know, to keep out the riff-raff.

Back then, no one was sure just what the fug sub-continent Indians were! Negroes and Orientals definitely weren’t Caucasian.  Heck… I have a 1930s Canadian encyclopedia set that declares that the Aboriginals from Australia are a class of sub-human. That’s right… not human, but sub-human. No finger pointing… that’s just how things were back then.

After many years of legal battles, Singh gained his American citizenship… but then had did taken away in 1924 after the United States Supreme Court ruled that South Asians could not be considered White, and did not qualify for citizenship.

Back then, Caucasian meant White… regardless of the scientific definition. But pssst… I’ll let you in on a little secret… nowadays, Indians are classified as Caucasian. Singh missed out by a few decades.

Not wanting to go back to India, and still yearning to enjoy life in the United States, Singh decided to change things up.

If he couldn’t be White, he could still hang with them… changing his persona to the stereotype that people back in the 1920s expected of someone of his color.

Wearing orange robes, he became the Yogi Hari Rama.

He figured few people would realize his name was based on the the 15th century poem  (and chant):

Hare Krsna Hare Krysna
Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

Some of you may have heard the poem being chanted by a sect of Hare Krishna’s at the airports, but that’s not anything to do with anything here.

As the new Yogi Hari Rama, Singh created his own Super Yoga Science using real exercises and writings he stole from others.

It must have worked, because he made money as the Yogi, proving he was smarter than the average bear, er guy, as he traveled across the United States teaching his fake religion. I can see the oxymoron there that some of you have identified.

And then… after his tour ended in 1928, Singh simply vanishes… gone… leaving behind 13 Americans he had appointed as teachers of his Super Yoga Science, and a national organization called The Benares League of America, the largest yoga organization in the country.

A con man? Is this what has become of our Flying Hindu? Did he lie to his Super Yoga Science students when he told them he could fly? Did he mean levitation, or was it just a nod to his past as a pioneer of aviation?

So… whatever happened to Singh?

A guess might be that he ticked off the wrong people with his Super Yoga Science and simply went the way of Jimmy Hoffa… or perhaps he made his fortune and traveled back home to… to where indeed? India? A guy who desperately wanted to be American isn’t going to slink back to India.

Did he die soon after his religious tour? Did he simply fade away and live off his dirty money? Did he die in some unknown aviation accident?

No one really knows… and so in life, as in death, Mohan M. Singh aka Yogi Hari Rama is a mystery.


PS… I used the story from the Smithsonian website (HERE), for a fair bit of information on Singh.



Posted in Air Shows, Firsts, Flying Schools, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Seaplanes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bessie Coleman – First Black Female Licensed Pilot

Bessie Coleman.jpg

  • Bessie Coleman, January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, United States of America – April 30, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida, United States of America.

In honor of Black History Month in the U.S., let’s take a look at Bessie Coleman, the first Black female licensed pilot.

Much of the personal history of Coleman was taken from: http://www.bessiecoleman.org/bio-bessie-coleman.php, the official Bessie Coleman website.

There may be some confusion as to who was the first Black/African-American woman to earn her pilot’s license.

Willa Brown Chappell earned was the first African American woman to do so in the United States, earning it in 1938, which you can read about HERE.

However, Chappell was not the first Black American woman to receive a pilot’s license – that honor belongs to Bessie Coleman, who did so in 1921, 17 years earlier, in France.

Because of rampant racism in the United States at that time, Coleman could not prove her worth as a pilot in America, and instead traveled to France where she earned her pilot’s license.

Sadly, I could not find an aviation card depicting her heroic achievement – something that MUST be rectified should any enterprising company decide to issue a new set of historical aviation trading cards.

Urban Intellectuals has produced a card with her image on it, but the 52-card set was created to honor Black history achievement, and is not aviation industry specific.

Still, for those interested, you can purchase a set by clicking HERE.

Bessie Coleman.jpgColeman’s background is interesting, in that she was one of 13 kids, with a Black mother (Susan) and a father (George) who was of American Indian and Black descent.

Pre-1900, the Coleman’s moved to Waxahachie, Texas – but perhaps because of her father’s Indian background, he decided it might be safer for him if he left, and so in 1900 he returned to Oklahoma, which was then Indian Territory. Oklahoma became a State in 1907.

I’m reading a book on General Custer right now, that does not paint a pretty picture about how Native Americans were treated pre-1900 – which we all knew – but if you feel like reading an excellent recount on that era, I heartily recommend the non-fiction book: A Terrible Glory by James Donovan.

Susan Coleman, Bessie’s mom, remained in Waxahachie with the kids – because, I assume, just how safe would it have been for “Black half-breeds” in Indian Territory.

Racism runs both ways. Both in Coleman’s family, perhaps not.

The family picked cotton and helped washing clothes to make extra money.

Now, despite being the stereotypical Black woman picking cotton and taking in laundry, Bessie finished high school (unlike most Americans, regardless of color), and went to Langston Industrial College, which is now Langston University in Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, all that cotton picking and laundry work was only enough for her to attend a single semester, and moved to Chicago to stay with older brother, John.

Bessie Coleman stamp.jpg

Bessie Coleman was honored with the issuance of a 32-cent commemorative stamp on April 27, 1995. You can in the photo above this, where US Mail got the image for the stamp.

In 1915, she went to the Burnham School of Beauty Culture to learn how to be a manicurist, and by 1916 she was renowned for her talent.

She would work at a few places in Chicago, including the White Sox Barber Shop, which  owned by the trainer of Chicago’s American League baseball club.

Reading about WWI and the pilots, Coleman became enthralled by their daring, and thought that becoming a pilot might offer her a way out of “stereotype”.

“You nigger women ain’t never goin’ to fly, Not like those women I saw in France,” brother John Coleman said.

Bessie Coleman replied: “That’s it – You just called it for me.”

That’s when she made up her mind to become a pilot.

She applied to flying school after flying school, but we are talking pretty much turn of the century America, where men didn’t think women capable of anything except birthing babies and cooking a meal – plus, she was Black… or Brown… whatever… she wasn’t White.

While no one in the United States was willing to teach her how to fly, she felt that she might have a better chance in France, considering they did previously give a woman a pilot’s license there – Elise Raymonde Deroche, aka Raymonde de Laroche,  who got her license in March of 1910 from the Aero Club of France. You can read about her HERE.

Eventually, Coleman’s efforts to become a flyer attracted the attention of Robert S. Abbott, the founder, editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily Weekly, a newspaper founded in 1905 for Black readership.

Abbott found out that the French still maintained their mania for aviation, and were less concerned about sex and race as other countries. This inspired Coleman to learn French, as the applications to the Flying schools in France, along with the teaching of it, would be in French. (This was also noted in the story on US hockey legend Hobey Baker, Hockey’s Most Famous Flyer, HERE.)

She was accepted into Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy, France’s then-most famous aviation school, managed by Gaston and Rene Caudron (SEE HERE)

Thanks to savings from her manicurist job and from her recently-acquired second job at a chili parlor (such things existed??!!), Coleman traveled from New York to France aboard the SS Impersonator leaving on November 20, 1920.

I have no idea how Coleman could afford accommodations, food and other expenses while there, but she spent the next 10 months at the Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy. Ten months! I believe that is about 3x more than most responsible aviation schools in the days BEFORE WWI.

As part of her enrollment, Coleman and other students were asked to sign a waiver in case of death, and it turns out that during her stay, she saw more than a few of her fellow students die in plane crashes—but she continued on unphased.

On June 15, 1921, the Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy passed her as a qualified aviator—she had to demonstrate multiple skills, including shutting off the engine and landing—receiving international pilot’s license No. 18,310 from the Federation Aeronitique Internationale in France.

She was the first American of any race or gender to be directly awarded credential’s to pilot an airplane from the Federation Aeronitique Internationale.

Bessie Coleman license.jpg

She returned home without much fanfare, however, but some paid attention.

Aerial Age Weekly, October 17, 1921 writes:
“Miss Bessie Coleman, a colored girl of Chicago, twenty-four years old, who had been studying aviation in France for ten months, arrived in New York recently on the American liner Manchuria. She brought her credentials from the French certifying that she had qualified as an aviatrix.
Miss Coleman, who is having a special Nieuport scout plane built for her in France, said yesterday that she intended to make flights in this country as an inspiration for people of her race to take up aviation.”

While she awaited the construction and delivery of her Nieuport aeroplane, Coleman tried to find work within the aviation industry, but was unable to—she wanted to purchase another aircraft in the U.S. to help her pay for the one she was having made for her in France.

The Bessie Coleman official website notes that Coleman was “disheartened with America’s treatment”, but while prejudice over her sex and race may have had a hand in her inability to find work in the aviation industry, it should be noted that after WWI, the aviation industry took a big dive. Companies that were building aircraft found that their planes were no longer in demand with the war over.

As well, with the war over, returning men who had piloted during the war were considered war heroes and were probably considered for what aviation piloting jobs there were before the “upstart Coleman”.

In May of 1922, Coleman traveled back to France, German, Holland and Switzerland to learn more advanced aviation techniques.

Where did she get the money for this, and her travels through Europe? How could she afford to fly once there?

She studied with the famous WWI German ace pilot, Captain Keller and test piloted airplanes in the Netherland for Anthony Fokker, the “Flying Dutchman”. Fokker, of course, was the designer or the Fokker Tri-plane, used by such famous German fliers as the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen and Oswald Boelcke who had taught the Red Baron.

I could assume that Coleman flew Fokkers while in Germany, or perhaps she was flying the Nieuport scout she was having constructed for her previously.

Again… where the heck did the money come from?

Perhaps she earned money doing barnstorming with Fokker and Keller while in Europe, but I can not find evidence to back that up – but in all honesty, I have not delved into the newspaper archives of Germany to find out… and they’d be in German, which I can’t read. Ich bin so ein dummkopf.

As an aside, I can NOT find a Captain Keller anywhere who was considered to be an ace pilot for Germany during WWI. It would have helped if a first name was offered.

She learned how to perform and perfect: figure eights; loop the loops, trick climbs, and landing the airplane with the engine off.

Back in New York on August 14, 1922, she had credentials from the Aero Club of France, and European newspaper articles that showed foreign royalty entertaining her. She even had an article that exhibited Anthony Fokker praising her at a banquet for being the only American aviator who ever crossed the Kaiser’s palace at Potsdam.

The New York Times said Coleman was known by “leading French and Dutch aviators as one of the best flyers they had seen.”

Coleman still wanted to set up and run a Flying school for Blacks, but needed money, and began looking for flying opportunities.

Perhaps because such a mainstream media as The New York Times lauded her, on September 3, 1922 Coleman flew at an airshow at Curtiss Airfield in Garden City, Long Island, NY, for an integrated (Black and White) crowd.

Wearing a military-like uniform, she flew a Curtiss JN-4 (Jenny) biplane that was loaned to her for this event by the Glenn Curtiss Airplane Company, an event that was dedicated to the segregated 15th regiment of Infantry, the first African American regiment sent to France during WWI.

Bessie Coleman military-like uniform.jpg

Along with passenger Captain McVey, Coleman flew, performing spirals and loops.

During a later flight, Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, an officer of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association of New York, parachuted from the wing of her plane.

Afterwards, she made plenty of money taking folk up in her plane for a ride, charging the $5 each in 1922 dollars.

Coleman flew next on October 12, 1922 at the Tri-State Fair in Memphis, Tennessee, being billed as “the principal thrill” for another integrated crowd.

With the help of the Chicago Defender calling her “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World”, some 2,000+ people came out to the Checkerboard Airdrome (now known as Midway Airport) in Chicago.

Again wearing that military-like uniform, Coleman’s program honored the 8th Regiment, another Black military unit.

During four flights of 10 minutes each, she performed loop-the-loops and a Richthofen glide (I believe it’s a spiral glide).

During one part of the show, Coleman’s sister Georgia, clad in a patriotic red, white & blue outfit, was to parachute from the plane at an altitude of 2,000 feet (609.6 meters), but she refused to perform the stunt.

I wonder just how much practice Georgia had prior to this!?!

Later while performing a figure-eight, Coleman appeared to lose control of the plane, but recovered well enough for the awestruck spectators to call her “Brave Bessie”, which only made her more in demand.

At her next event in Gary, Indiana, she met David Lewis Behncke, founder and President of the Air Line Pilots Association International who became her manager for a short time until they argued over Coleman’s desire to take her act into the South in May of 1925.

In late February of 1923, Coleman was flying and dropping advertisements for Coast Tire and Rubber Company in Los Angeles, California, earning her enough money to purchase her own Curtiss Jenny biplane – though it was an used military model from WWI.

Just after purchasing her new used aircraft, Coleman took that Jenny up at a show, and just after take-off, the engine stalled at an altitude of 300 feet (91.44 meters), causing the plane to nosedive into the ground.

Coleman survived, but she had several broken ribs, a broken leg, and multiple lacerations.

Now in Houston, Texas in May of 1925 as her base of operations, Coleman went on her Southern States tour.

It was in the spring of 1926, Coleman was asked to perform at the annual celebration of the Negro Welfare League in Jacksonville, Florida.

Edwin Beeman, a rich, young White man, the son and sole heir of Harry Beeman of the Beeman Chewing Gum Company, found Coleman and her flying skills intoxicating, and gave her enough money to complete her final airplane payment on her Jenny, and had the plane flown from Texas to Jacksonville, Florida where an exhibition was scheduled for May 1, 1926.

The plane was being flown by Curtiss Southwestern Airplane and Motor Company pilot and mechanic William D. Wills, a White man from Texas, who flew from Love Field in Texas in her Jenny powered by a 980 horsepower OX-5 engine. It took 21 hours to fly to Jacksonville.

When the plane arrived, she met her friend Robert Abbott of the Chicago Defender newspaper in a Jacksonville restaurant on April 29, 1926, where he he begged her to not continue her plans to have a test flight… but since she had promised a man named John Betsch a ride after her trial, she said she couldn’t back out.

On April 30, 1926, Betsch drove Coleman to Paxon airfield to meet William Wills who had flown the plane to her, and would co-pilot with her for the test flight.

After Wills said the plane was ready, Coleman dropped to her knees for a prayer, and when done asked Wills to take control of the plane while she studied the site from above for a good place to parachute.

With Wills at the control and 10 minutes into the flight at an altitude of 3,000 feet (914.4 meters), the plane suddenly went into a steep nosedive.

At around 2,000 feet (609.6 meters) the airplane flipped over causing Coleman—who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt for some reason—to flip out and plummet to her death.

Normally, Coleman would be wearing both a seatbelt and a parachute, but for whatever reason, on that flight she was not.

Pilot Wills had his seatbelt on, and as the plane smashed into the ground, he died instantly.

Chicago Defender Bessie Coleman.jpg

And it gets worse, if you can believe it.

Just minutes later as the police were trying to remove Wills body from the wreckage, the would-be passenger Betsch lit a cigarette and tossed it on the ground, where it ignited gasoline spilled from the wrecked plane.


Both the airplane and the body of Wills exploded in flames.

It was discovered that a loose wrench had slipped from Wills tool bag and had jammed the plane’s controls.

Altough Coleman never did start that Flying School for Black would-be pilots, in 1929 Lieutenant William J. Powell established the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles.


Lieutenant William J. Powell.

Powell was born in Henderson, Kentucky and moved with his family to Chicago, where he was accepted to the University of Illinois electrical engineering program. He dropped out to volunteer for WWI, for the 370th Illinois Infantry Regiment.

After being wounded in a gas attack, he returned and finished his degree. Like Coleman, he loved aviation, finally getting into a Flying School in 1928 at the Los Angeles School of Flight.

As of 1932, Powell was one of 14 Black aviators in the U.S., and was also a licensed navigator and aeronautical engineer.

On Labor Day, September 7, 1931, the Bessie Coleman Aero Club helped sponsor the first all-Black air show in America, attracting some 15,000 spectators.

Since 1931, each year, on the anniversary of her death, Black pilots fly over her grave at Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago and drop flowers in her honor.

Her gravestone contains a tinted photograph of Coleman in her military-style flying uniform.

Bessie Coleman grave.jpg


Posted in Air Shows, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weather A Strong Factor Behind Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

1200px-Space_Shuttle_Challenger_(04-04-1983).JPEGLike most kids of my generation, I loved watching rocket ships blast off into space.

As a young kid, I sat in mute rapture watching on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11’s Eagle landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong boldly went where no man had gone before and took that one step for man and a giant leap for mankind.

I believed it then, and I believe it now. In 66 short years, we, as human beings had gone from the secretive flights of the Wright Brothers about their Wright Flyer as the first heavier-than-air aircraft to fly to propelling and aiming and actually landing on another planetary body.

How cool are humans?

Of course there were all those wars in between and improper treatment of race, sex and religion, but scientifically speaking, that leap in technology was immense.

I really thought that by the time I was in my 30s we would actually each and every one of us have our own jet-packs or flying cars.

Still… at least with those multiple trips to the Moon by Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, I figured it was only a matter of time before we colonized Mars, traveled to the rings of Saturn and exited beyond the confines of our solar system en route to visit the Andromeda galaxy and meet up with our space cousins who could help take humanity to another level of science and wonderment.

That’s what space flight meant to me. That’s what I saw when arch enemies USSR and the USA said screw politics and lets meet up in a joint Apollo-Soyuz mission. I watched it happen live in 1975 down in the basement of the house I am in right now.


The Apollo-Soyuz spacecrafts joined together in the US National Air And Space Museum. Until this moment, because I watched on a black and white TV, I had no idea the Soyuz craft was green. For the model kit I built in ’75, I painted it a ruby red… probably because that was what it was in my head.

And then when the missions to the Moon were halted, and there was naught else going on for about five years until the space shuttle—Columbia—was launched on April 12, 1981… my dream for that human utopia was kindled once again.

I was in university studying for that useless political science degree I have (the journalism has served me better), visiting a friend’s dorm when I realized that the space shuttle Challenger was about to launch that morning of January 28, 1986… and went to the common room and convinced the guys actually living at the dorm to switch to the TV station showing the launch.

And like when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, when the Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, my dreams of mankind achieving that space utopia within my lifetime died.

I swear that after it happened, I turned to my friend Patrick and said I would still go up on the space shuttle today if they would let me.

I wasn’t afraid of the technology. Those astronauts – every one of them, even the ones who never made it to space – my heroes.

I then went to my car and cried, wondering if I could ever be as brave as those astronauts.

challenger.gifAnyhow… I recently came across an article written by a meteorologist who wrote that the cause of Challenger shuttle disaster back in 1986, while found to have occurred because of faulty O-Ring, less publicized was that the faulty O-Ring was only faulty because of the weather.

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

So… on January 28, 1986 when seven astronauts:

  • Francis R. Scobee, Commander;
  • Michael J. Smith, Pilot;
  • Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist;
  • Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist;
  • Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist;
  • Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist;
  • Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Teacher.

… were aboard Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-99) for orbiter mission STS-51-L , it turns that the O-Ring near the base of the solid rocket boosters that seals the gap between two sections of the booster to stop exhaust gases from being emitted.

The problem is that those O-Rings were not rated for safe operation below 4C (39.2F).

But weren’t the space shuttles being launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida?

Yup… on January 12, 1986 – two weeks before the launch, it was a balmy 13C – but on January 28, it was well below freezing. Nearby Atlanta, GA had dropped to an overnight low -14C, while Montgomery, AL hit -9C.

Challenger Temperature map of Florida.jpg

Cape Canaveral is on the islands to the right. Image by NOAA NCDC.

Melbourne, Fla, located about 35 miles away from the launch site experienced hit -3C (26F ).

No biggie for Canada or those in the northern climes of the U.S., but those lows in the area remain records to this day.

And, even for the launch at Cape Canaveral, it was no biggie, as by the 11:37AM launch time it was no longer below freezing, getting up to about 2C… and if there was ice anywhere, the ground crew addressed any ice build-up on the vehicle.

Now… because you realize that when the sun shines down from one direction onto (say) a building warming up that side quicker, the opposite side of said building has not yet received the benefits of the sun’s heat.


This is a photograph taken of a frozen-over component on the launch tower of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. Photo: NASA.

The same thing happened to the Challenger.

The solid rocket booster where that O-Ring failed… it was still in the shadow as the sun rose. While it did gain some warmth from the sun’s heat, it did not get as much as was required.

I know… holy crap, right?

The investigation into the disaster wrote that: “[a] warm O-ring that has been compressed will return to its original shape much quicker than will a cold O-ring when compression is relieved,” and “[a] compressed O-ring at 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9C) is five times more responsive in returning to its uncompressed shape than a cold O-ring at 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.1C).”

I added in the metric measurements. You know that only the superpowers of the United States, Liberia and Myanmar (Burma) continue to avoid the Metric system. Epic. Come on… though admittedly I understand Imperial far better than I do Metric.

Anyhow… so despite the temperatures moving above freezing, part of the booster rocket containing the so-called faulty O-Ring was still within the cooler embrace of the shadows.
Because the O-Ring still hadn’t warmed up, it is stiffer and thus less capable of providing its sealing duties.

Challenger Ice on launch tower

Cold in Florida? Yup … here you can see icicles on the Challenger’s launch tower. Photo: NASA.

And, when Challenger lifted off the launch pad, that cold and stiffer O-Ring could not respond quickly to the stresses being exerted on the right solid rocket booster.

With the O-Ring unable to provide the perfect seal, gaps opened up between the two parts on the rocket booster allowing hot exhaust gases to vent.

Now you might wonder why the hot gases being vented did not warm up the O-Ring and force a seal after some of it was vented… and it’s true… it could have, and could have prevented the space shuttle from exploding… but again the cold weather caused that O-Ring to be unable to warm up quickly enough, meaning too much of the exhaust gases were released… and in this instance the heat caused the O-Ring to have parts of it become vaporized.

NASA says that even still, with the booster rocket having had one of its O-Rings become partially vaporized and having some of the exhaust gases leaking out, Challenger should still have been able to reach space safely, more than likely could have performed its mission without a problem, and thus returned safely at the scheduled time.

Really, couldn’t those venting gases have caused an explosion anyway?

Well, the rocket fuel when burned during flight creates aluminum-oxide by-products which would actually have re-created a seal between the two parts of the booster rocket ensuring an adequate seal was maintained long enough for the booster rocket to have expelled its fuel and been jettisoned… so what the heck happened?

Like most disasters, it takes more than one confluence of events to happen.

The next contributing factor to the demise of the seven astronauts aboard Challenger was the wind.

I don’t know if it’s weird or not, but the Challenger’s flight ended at the 73-mark, but at the numerically transposed mark of 37 seconds from lift-off, the spacecraft passed through a few wind shear events for 27 seconds (until 64 seconds into the flight) .

Wind shear is always a scary event for airplane pilots whereby the wind’s speed and direction can shift suddenly and dramatically… but surely the space shuttle aboard a firing bunch of rockets would easily overcome any sort of wind shear affect?

Mother Nature, unfortunately, doesn’t kid around. Watch the video below and see why all pilots should wear brown pants.

As the spacecraft thrust upwards through the near half-minute of wind shear, its on-board flight computers continued to adjust to the situation.

NASA, in a report on the disaster says: “[t]he wind shear caused the steering system to be more active than on any previous flight.”

The American Meteorological Society noted in its dispatch after the disaster that the there was some indication that there could be wind shear and clear air turbulence over north-central Florida that morning, there were no direct measurements of it, and therefore they could not have determined beforehand how strong the wind shear would be without prior knowledge of the conditions.

Truth of the matter, determining weather is based on pre-measured facts that change at the drop of a hat, which is why weather reports say it’s going to be sunny, while overhead your hair is being soaked by a sudden rain storm.

At least being a meteorologist is better than being a baseball hitter. In determining weather, you are only wrong 50% of the time, whereas you are a great simply for successfully hitting a ball 30% of the time.

Now all space shuttles are capable of handling wind shear up to a certain level—but how the hell do you determine if you are at that level when you can’t pre-determine how strong it is? You can’t.

With the wind shear and the spacecraft’s flight controls compensating for the wind shear, in combination with the weakened O-Ring seal around a booster rocket, the constant flight alterations by the flight control jostled the newly-formed aluminum-oxide stop-gap seal enough to break it allowing the heated exhaust gas to once again to be vented through the opening.

The exhaust gases ignited from the rocket’s booster.

When the spacecraft was past the wind shear at the 64-second mark, the fiery plume was larger—it’s theorized that at this time the flame had begun to burn a whole in the exterior fuel tank now… causing it to leak the hydrogen rocket fuel, which caused more smoke to appear to come from the craft.

Challenger 2.jpg

That glowing circle on the booster rocket… you can see it venting gaseous exhaust.

The sad part is that no one noticed… not the shuttle crew or the flight controllers down at Cape Canaveral… especially after the shaking and quaking undergone by the crew as the spacecraft maneuvered through the wind shear.

As such, within those next nine seconds, the order was given to throttle up for the rest of the journey into orbit, no one realized the the damaged O-Ring was no longer able to maintain its seal, as the extra throttle thrust caused the solid rocket booster and that fuel tank to fail, igniting the remaining fuel inside the breached fuel tank.

Now… people seem to think that that is what caused the space shuttle et al to explode… but it wasn’t.

That sudden loss of thrust because of the now-burnt rocket fuel threw the spacecraft off kilter… veering away from its safe trajectory into an angle that caused greater amounts of violent air to smash into the craft causing wind stress that was about 4x what the whole space craft was designed to handle.

The space shuttle Challenger essentially tore itself apart into thousands of pieces causing it arc and spiral back down to Earth.

Challenger 3.jpg

So… yes, one of the O-Rings failed on one of the shuttle’s rocket booster engines thanks to it being unable to function optimally at a colder temperature.

Did the manufacturer of the O-Ring know that it would not work optimally at temperatures below 4C (39F)?

Did NASA know pre-installation that the O-Ring works optimally at 4C (39F), but perhaps a higher fail-safe temperature minimum could have and should have been initiated?

We could blame NASA for not being quick enough on the uptick to perhaps measure temperatures where it could be both at its peak and lowest.

As far as weather goes, no one is able to predict it with any certainty, so it’s impossible to blame the weather.

Could anyone have known that the amount of wind shear was going to play so much havoc with the flight controls so as to to put undue stress on the already-compromised rocket to break apart the makeshift aluminum-oxide seal that formed after the O-Ring seal was partially vaporized?

Sadly, despite the cold weather causing the O-Ring to not work optimally, if there was less wind shear, that damaged rocket booster engine wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference to the mission.

Yup… blame the wind shear, because that’s what was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Now… as luck would have it, after I began writing this, I received a press release indicating that “Lockheed Martin begins construction on first Orion spaceship that will take astronauts into deep space”.

The release says that with the construction of the spacecraft, it will “achieve America’s goal of returning astronauts to the Moon.”

That’s the goal? Well, it does continue by saying that this will lay the groundwork for NASA’s lunar Deep Space Gateway, and ultimately for human missions to Mars.

About ‘effing time. But it still won’t be enough. I don’t think we’ll be leaving this solar system anytime soon within my compromised lifetime… and besides… where’s that personalized jet-pack we were all promised?


Oh… there it is. Where can I buy one?

Posted in Commentary, Failures, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, News, Rockets | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments