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 are 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.

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 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 hasn’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 to be 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 had some of the exhaust gases leaking out, Challenger should still have been able to reach space safely, more than likely 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 I-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

Wills’s Aviation Card #79–”Ponche & Primard” Monoplane.

Vice Regal 79.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Ponche & Primard” Monoplane.

Card #79 of 85, W.D.& H.O WillsAviation series 1911, Vice Regal – Black-back issue

  • Marie Joseph Louis Charles Ponche, born in Amiens, France, May 23, in 1884 – February 10, 1916, Dugny, France;
  • Maurice Emile Primard, born in XXX, France – XXXX XX, 19XX in XXXX, France.

The Ponche & Primard Monoplane is best known by its French moniker of Tubevion, the first all-metal aircraft ever made, and that actually flew. Tube avion translates to tube airplane – which is, stylistically, what modern passenger jets look like.

That’s not to say that the Tubavion resembles are modern commercial passenger planes – no… it’s just that they look like tubes.

While highly regarded in its era – enough to get its own trading card in the Wills‘s 85-card overseas series of late 1911, the Tubavion is virtually a ghost on the Internet, likewise its two creators, Charles Ponche and Maurice Primard.

It’s on the Internet… but only in French, and I have taken virtually all the information contained here, translated it and re-written it in English, from the website:

I didn’t take everything from this particular site dedicated to the Tubavion, but I took a fair bit. So let’s give credit where credit is due. Cheers to

First off… our two co-creators: Charles Ponche and Maurice Primard… we know a fair bit about Ponche, but next to nothing about the more private Primard. I could not even find a solo photo of him… and can only confirm his presence in a photo below.


An advanced version of the Tubavion monoplane with (from left) the mechanic Mr. Maire, Maurice Primard and Charles Ponche. I think.

Ponche was born to Jean Marie Joseph Emile Ponche and his wife Adèle Augustine Marie Charlotte Denise Leroy who operated Long’s, an iron wire factory.

While he studied at Providence in Amiens, France Ponche remained passionate about aviation. When he came home from school, workers at the factory were amused to see him sometimes climb into a “strange craft” that was pulled by horses… as he was forever trying to construct his own aircraft, even as a kid.

Charles Ponche.jpg

Charles Ponche

It was in 1909, that Ponche came up with his Tubavion design, and built this strange craft from steel at the Long plant.

During the Heliopolis-Cairo aviation meet (the very first such meet in Africa. Heliopolis is a suburb of Cairo, Egypt about 10 kilometers away), held August 6-13, 1910, Ponche met Maurice Primard, who was even then a renowned mechanic who was already considered a specialist in aeroplane engines.

Ponche was just visiting, and if Primard was working for a pilot at the event, I can’t find evidence to confirm that. As such, I have to assume both were there to see the event.

He had joined a Louis Levavasseur company in 1904 that was associated with Gastamibide that founded the firm Antoinette. In fact… Antoinette would later manufacture the Tubavion aeroplane later on.

Primard saw some of the aviation sketches of Ponche at the show, and the two of them hit it off, deciding to work together to improve Ponche’s initial Tubeavion design.

By 1911, working with pilot and engineers Mr. (unidentified first name) Maire, the Tubeavion became more… reliable.


During the summer of 1911, Maire piloted the Tubavion through many test at Paris-Plage, and participated in the air show at the Grand Palais in Paris and was a great success.


In 1912, he made a sensation at the various meetings in which he participates with his new pilot Mr. (who the hell knows his first name) Goffin  – in particular at Issy-les-Moulineaux, Reims.

The Tubavion aeroplane is constructed of steel tubes joined without soldering or welding, assembled by special cast aluminum forged sleeves that are pinned together making any changes to the aircraft a quick and easy process.

The wing consists of two steel tubes (or spars) covered with aluminum sheet. A single steel lever controls the device of the warping of the wings and the rudder.

While steering is performed via old school wing warping, the wing is considered to be innovative for its time, as the canvas usually used as a skin is actually replaced by aluminum sheets.

The team of Ponche and Primard believed that the aluminum sheeting would avoid pockets and would allow the air to better slide on the wings.

The pilot is installed below the front edge of the wings with the passenger next to him just in front of the engine. The aeroplane is a two-seater, with the passenger sitting in tandem (one behind the other), replacing the usual manner (of the day) of sitting beside each other.

The pusher monoplane has, as the name suggests, its Chauviere brand propeller at the rear of the aircraft, along with the Labor engine, which some pilots believed would provide the aviator with a much better eyeline – sight. As well, there’s less disturbing airflow being blown back into the face of the pilot.

But, even by 1912, people who saw the Tubavion were not yet convinced of it being able to achieve a proper stable flight.

Tubeavion 3.jpg
Here’s a write-up from the January 13, 1912 issue of Flight Magazine, from a description at the Paris Aero Show.

Ponche and Primard.
ALL-METAL construction is the chief feature of the interesting monoplane exhibited on Stand No. 10. A single steel tube, about 3 ins. in diameter, extends from the nose to the tail, and forms the backbone of the machine. Coupled to this tube, to form a structure of triangular section by means of shorter steel tubes, are long ash skids, which run from end to end.
These skids as can be seen from the accompanying sketch, extend for a considerable distance in front, thus eliminating any possibility of turning over on landing.
Both pilot and engine are located beneath the wings in a little body, which has all the appearance of a small runabout without wheels.
The wings are essentially novel, being constructed throughout of metal. Both front and rear booms are of steel tubing and on these are struDg formers of 1 mm. steel  aluminium. These are surfaced on the underneath wkh aluminium sheet J-inch thick.
No surfacing has as yet been applied to the top surface for the reason that it is thought that the gain in the efficiency of the wings would not be sufficient to compensate for the extra weight involved. The rear wing booms are assembled in an aluminium casting which pivots about the main longitudinal tube of the fuselage. The propeller, too, revolves about this tube, being driven from the engine at reduced speed by means of chain transmission.
The tail comprises a rectangular lifting plane with two semi-circular elevators hinged to its back edge and a semi-circular unbalanced directional rudder, the whole unit being constructed from aluminium sheeting.


Tubavion Specs

  • Crew: 2;
  • Wingspan:  8.5 meters (27.89 feet);
  • Length: 8.4 meters (27.5 feet);
  • Empty weight: 420 kilograms (926 pounds);
  • Powerplant: a Labour engine with 35 horsepower. There was also a 70 horsepower  version;
  • Propeller: Chauviere capable of 800 rpm (revolutions per minute);
  • Speed: 48 miles per hour (77.25 kilometers per hour);
  • Price: £640.

Tubeavion 6.jpg

The aeroplane looks like it would have suffered from being under-powered, and I believe there is evidence that suggest the engine was replaced by a 70 horsepower version after further trials.

On July 15, 1912 at the rally organized by the city of Amiens, France, despite a strong wind, the pilot Goffin made a series of figure-eights in the Tubavion that left the admirers on the ground amazed.


While development of the Tubavion continued, it never really took off as far as success goes.

Ponche and Primard continued to work on their aeroplane, tweaking things here and there, but the aircraft never really achieved much success… and by that I mean in any attempts to win major money and thus fame at the various aviation meets springing up all over Europe at that time.

Also springing up at that time – 1914 – was The Great War, aka WWI.

The boys tried to get the French military interested in it, but despite the plane having a somewhat favorable review (see immediately below), it failed to catch on. I’ve tidied up the translations a bit.

From the meeting of the Examination Committee
The year 1915, Dec. 23 at 14 h 30 (2:30PM), the Commission of Review of Planes and Engines, composed of MM.:

  • Commander Dorand of the Technical Section of Aero.
  • Squadron Leader Marie, from the School Inspectorate
  • Captain Etévé of the SFA
  • GHQ Shepherd
  • Cottret of the RGA
  • Lieutenant Toussaint of the SFA

Plane Ponche motor The Rhone 110 HP
Reading is given by Lt Toussaint of his report on the tests of the Ponche plane.
The Commission adopts the general content of this report which is attached to this PV
The Commander Dorand draws the attention of the Commission on the big differences of the results obtained with the Plane PONCHE and with the plane NIEUPORT with engines Rhone 110.
With the same load of 300 kgs, The Nieuport Plane rises to 2000 m. in 19’20”, and its speed at 2000 m is 153
The Ponche Plane rises to 2000 m in 19’20” and its speed to 2000 m is 113
It can be said that the Ponche aircraft has a lower power utilization than the Nieuport aircraft.
This defect is due in part to the provision of the nacelle, but this provision gives however advantages in terms of armament, visibility and landing.
For these reasons it can be proposed that the aircraft is experienced on the front.
After discussion the Commission expresses the following wish:
“Because of the efforts made by Sergeant Ponche and his collaborators over the past several years to develop his aircraft, and quite exceptionally, the Commission believes that it would be appropriate to ask the GHQ for permission to experiment on the front in a squadron of CA Sergeant Ponche’s plane.


As can be seen in these reports, the performance of this airplane now weighing 300 kilograms (661.34 pounds) allowing it to climb to 2,000 meters (6,561.7 feet) altitude in 19 minutes and 20 seconds with a speed of 113 kilometers per hour (70.2 miles per hour) was of interest to the French state.

And a few months later, indeed, the headquarters gave permission to conduct tests on the front in a squadron.

Unfortunately, on February 10, 1916, at 11AM, Sergeant Charles Ponche, 2nd aviation group of the DUGNY general aviation reserve (Seine) and his pilot Sergeant Coffin, while they were carrying out tests on the Dugny field, near Le Bourget, experienced during a flight the failure of the engine and the aircraft crashed that resulted in the death of both men instantly.

They were buried in the Military Square 12 of Pantin (93), and awarded posthumously the Knight of the Legion of Honor – Croix de Guerre.

Below is their patent application for the Tubavion aeroplane, complete with drawings:

Date of application (patent), January 29, 1912

Complete patent description filed July 5, 1912, accepted December 5, 1912


Aircraft and Aircraft Improvements

We, Charles PONCHE and Maurice Emile PRIMARD, builders in Long, (Somme), France, hereby declare that the nature of this invention is as follows:

The invention relates to monoplane type aircraft, its object being to provide an apparatus of this type improved in which the construction of the support structure and the relative facilities of the various elements are simplified and improved; the other features of the invention include improvements to the arrangements of the steering controls and depth of the aircraft during the flight and also measures to prevent damage to the machine at the time of contact with the ground after the descent.

According to this invention, the fuselage which extends normally over the entire length of the aircraft, and on which the wings and the horizontal and vertical rudders are mounted, is removed and replaced by a hollow metal rod which constitutes the main longitudinal element of the frame of the apparatus. The anterior part of the rod is connected to a light metal chassis that supports the engine and its accessories, the pilot’s seat and the control levers for engine operation and flight direction; the so-called rod also serves as support for the wings of the aircraft and its propeller, which is mounted behind the wings; the end of the stem supports the tail and the rudders horizontal and vertical.

To understand the nature of the invention, particularly with regard to its auxiliary features, a model of construction will be illustrated as an example: it comprises a main structure composed of two or more triangular reinforcements made of steel tubes, joined to their bases by a tubular steel frame which forms the aforesaid frame. The different vertices of the triangular reinforcements are fixedly connected to a tubular steel rod whose end extends beyond the front frame and is connected to the frame by wooden pads. The above-mentioned steel rod, which constitutes the main element of the support structure, is fixed to the triangular shoes and frames by an ordinary sleeve (rings, sleeves, sleeves), the aforementioned pads forming a cradle which serves to ensure a landing. secured. The longitudinal section of the main stem has a conical surface which is wider in the anterior part of the structure. The rod may be constituted by a continuous steel tube or manufactured by sections of graduated diameter. The triangular frames, placed a short distance above their bases, serve as a support for a horizontal platform, formed of steel pipes, on which are installed the engine, the pilot’s seat, the levers and other control organs. The wings of the aircraft are rectangular and have rounded or suitably curved outer ends, both wings forming a continuation of the same curved surface of proper arch.

Instead of making the wings with a frame covered with canvas, as we usually do, we prefer to build entirely metal, for example with thin aluminum foil, the wings being provided with transverse ribs also aluminum and suitable cross section. Two parallel support spars are mounted on each wing; they consist of steel tubes which pass through holes in the ribs so that they can rotate, this assembly allowing the quick and easy arrow wing edges. The front longitudinal members of each wing are rigidly connected to the rod by a common base, which carries above and below a vertical mast; the ends of these masts are attached by steel stays, or other suitable material, at several intermediate points or ribs placed along the longitudinal members. The front longitudinal members are then rigidly secured to the main stem of the structure and are supported by the aforementioned stays. The rear spar of each wing is likewise connected to a pivotable common base which is mounted on the main frame rod and supports an identical vertical mast above and below, these spars being connected to the mast at intervals at the same time. using stay cables by the same system pre-illustrated for the front rails. It should be noted that, since the base mounted on the main stem of the aircraft, and to which the rear longitudinal members are connected, is movable, the rear edges of the wings may be warped by its rotation on the main rod to which the rear longitudinal members are related. Only a slight rotation of the base is necessary to achieve the desired control of the aircraft during the flight; this is achieved by means of a pinion mounted on a horizontal shaft, which is installed on the aforesaid platform of the engine, parallel to the main rod, this pinion being adapted to engage in a rack placed at the end of the lower mast which is attached to the base of the rear rails.

To warp the rear longitudinal members, the pinion is rotated by means of a control lever, which is mounted on the same shaft as the pinion; the lever pivots on the shaft and is attached to the operating rudders of the rudder; it is formed by two almost semi-circular aluminum plates that pivot on a horizontal shaft that passes through them and is connected to the main stem of the aircraft. The plates operate using cranks, which are attached to the stays of the control lever in the usual way. A rudder is mounted on a vertical mast which passes through; it is formed of a single plate of the same shape as those of the rudder. It is operated using cranks and stays installed on the chassis of the aircraft in a suitable manner. The tail of the apparatus consists of a rectangle of aluminum foil with ribs or suitable reinforcing elements, and is carried by suitable type of rails which are rigidly attached to the main stem of the frame in a manner similar to the one already illustrated for the wings. The propeller is mounted on a bearing on the main stem and is preferably constructed to be driven by a roller-mounted pinion which is connected by a chain to a pinion of the same type mounted on a horizontal shaft, which extends the shaft. motor shaft fixed to the chassis.

The engine and pilot seat are installed along the center line of the frame and the tank is preferably mounted on the frame rod above the wings and between the upper poles of the wing spars.

The action of the pads, which serve to ensure the safe landing of the aircraft, is assisted by four wheels mounted in pairs on a common transverse axis below the engine; the axis is connected to the frame by solid elastic bands which allow the wheels to give an elastic support to the frame; the wheels may be equipped with standard tires or made of other resilient material.

As the previous illustration shows, the frame of the aircraft is extremely rigid and simple, all elements being supported by the main stem. Note that the depth and the wings of the wings during the flight are controlled by a single control lever, which is mounted on the shaft of the aforementioned pinion, since by operating the lever to the left or right, which will produce the rotation corresponding to the pinion shaft, the rear edges of the wings are warped in one or the other direction, while the movement of the lever forwards or backwards will produce, with the aid of the above-mentioned stays and cranks, a arrow up or down the plates of the rudders of depth (and direction?). The guys used for this purpose will spend a certain length inside the main rod to avoid blocking the propeller.

The pre-illustrated manufacturing features may of course be modified within certain limits but without exceeding the scope of the invention, which should not be limited thereto except with respect to the essential features.

Dated the 29th day of January, 1912


Chartered Patent Agent,

3, London Wall Buildings, London Wall, EC

This invention relates to a mounting system of a rotary engine on an airplane. This rotary engine which bears on its housing the propeller propeller being disposed between the wings of the airplane and the tail. This mounting system that can be adapted to all airplanes with a central rod supporting the wings, tail and rudders is particularly applicable to the aircraft of Mr. PRIMARD, patent of October 6, 1910, issued under the number 421.136.

This mounting system will be understood from the following description with reference to the accompanying drawing in which it is shown in longitudinal section.

The central rod which constitutes the frame of the airplane is in two parts, one anterior A is intended to support the wings and the other posterior B supports the tail and the rudders of direction and depth. These two sections A and B are connected by means of several pairs of tie rods to the frame supporting the control members and seats for the pilot and the passengers.

In the accompanying drawings, two of these tie rods are shown, one “a” integral with a long-reach ring C in which the front section A of the central rod is force-fitted, the other “b” secured to another ring D also force-fitted at the end of the rear section B of this central rod. It is between these two long-range rings C and D that is arranged the rotary motor M carrying the propulsion propeller.

This rotary engine M which is keyed on its housing in “c” the propeller, which is not shown in the drawing, has its crankshaft E which is fixed. The crankshaft E is forced into the hub “d” of a plate “e” screwed into the long-range ring C; a nut “f” ensures its fixation. It is also secured at its front end of a bearing “g” with clamping nut “h”; this range mounted to friction in the front tube A ensures the perfect centering of the crankshaft, extends its fulcrum inside A, and at the same time prevents fatigue.

The fuel supply to the engine M is through the tube “i” attached to a jacket “j” mounted on the tube A and the crankshaft E which is hollow; holes “k” drilled in the tube A and in the liner “j” pass through the air intended to mix with the fuel gas called by the suction.

On a bearing “m” integral with the rotating housing of the motor M is mounted the inner path “n” of a bearing with two rings of balls “o”; the outer path “p” of the bearing is spherical and is forced into the long-range ring D with the interposition of a nut “q”. The rear tube B supporting the tail and the rudders is force-fitted inside the sleeve D; this tube B can thus during work or even at rest take the appropriate arrow without the balls of the bearing are stuck in their outer path because of the spherical conformation of the outer path “p”.

The force fitting, firstly of the fixed crankshaft E of the engine at the end of the front section A of the hollow central rod, and secondly of the rotating end “m” of the housing on the fixed ball bearing in the rear section B of the central rod ensures between the two sections a perfect connection in combination with the tie rods connecting these two sections to the frame supporting the control members and the seats of the pilot and passengers.

Summary :

This invention comprises a system for mounting a rotary engine on a central rod airplane supporting the wings, the tail and the rudders, which has as essential features:

1 The constitution of the hollow central rod in two parts, the one supporting the wings and in which is forced by force the fixed crankshaft of the engine, the other rear supporting the tail and the rudders in which is mounted the end rear of the rotating casing of the engine by means of a ball bearing, this assembly providing a perfect connection between the two sections of the central rod in combination with the tie rods integral with these rods and which are connected to the chassis carrying the organs of control and the seats of the pilot and passengers.

2nd The formation of the ball bearing mounted on the rear end of the housing by two rings of balls rolling on a spherical outer path to allow the rear section of the central rod supporting the tail to undergo the displacements caused by bending, both at rest that during the work, without fearing the jamming of the balls in their said raceway.

3rd The assembly on the outer end of the crankshaft of a bearing engaged with a soft friction inside the anterior section supporting the wings, which ensures a perfect centering of the crankshaft, increases its reach in the front rod and reduces its fatigue .


By proxy Ch.MARDELET.


With the death of Ponche, further development on the Tubavion was halted. As well, prejudice towards monoplanes was further increased during WWI, with countries seemingly finding greater success with the biplane and tri-plane types of aircraft.

As for the Tubavion, I can only find one example ever being built – but assume that the same body was constantly being retrofitted to make it a better plane.

It obviously flew, but the advances performed by it were, relative to other aircraft from other designers and manufacturers simply not enough to keep it in the forefront of aviation.

As such, despite the promise it showed in 1911 when Wills’s thought it had enough potential to warrant its own trading card in the 85-card set, the Tubavion failed to live up to the hype.

As usual, if anyone has more information on this or other aircraft I have written about, please share.

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Failures, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Races, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Zealand Is In The Space Race


That’s one effin’ big disco ball, mate.

Or, for you nerds, and I suppose I was/am one… it’s the world’s coolest looking 65-sided D&D die.

Back on January 21, 2018, New Zealand officially joined the space race (which isn’t as crowded as you might suspect – and I’ll prove that below) when Rocket Lab launched its  Electron rocket from a launch pad at its launch complex… and it turns out it was carrying a special secret payload.

At 1:43 GMT on January 21, the composite-bodied, two-stage rocket powered by its nine Rutherford engines that provided 34,500 lb of thrust.

It blasted off from the  Launch Complex 1 located on the Māhia Peninsula on the north island of New Zealand.

Rocket Lab was being paid to launch three commercial satellites, but hiding behind its Dungeon Master’s screen, the company also launched its own… heck, it’s a giant disco mirror ball… it calls the Humanity Star.

The Humanity Star serves no purpose, save that its 65 mirrored surfaces will reflect the sun’s rays and be visible to everyone on Earth as a means to providing the peoples of Earth a “shared experience.”

At first I was concerned that this shared experience for humanity would simply be a permanent distraction that could affect generations of future spaceflight, but d’uh, I should have realized that Rocket Lab is smarter than me. I hate admitting it, but (melancholy sigh) it’s true. It all further shows how I’m not even close to being as smart as a rocket scientist.

The Humanity Star orbits Earth every 90 minutes, and is visible everywhere around the planet.

According to Rocket Lab founder and chief executive officer Peter Beck, the Humanity Star is meant to be a symbol of inspiration to the people of the world.

While the space flight is indeed New Zealand’s welcome, it was also the very first time a commercial space mission had blasted off from the Southern Hemisphere.

Riding up in the second stage of the Electron rocket, the Humanity Star was all folded up, but unravels and forms a carbon-fiber geodesic sphere  upon deployment.

And, because I was worried about the Humanity Star being akin to space junk for future space flight, Rocket Lab assures all us worrywarts that the Humanity Star will only stay in space for approximately nine months before its orbit decays and it burns up in the atmosphere.


Despite the success of the spaceflight, Rocket Lab is still calling the launch “It’s Still a Test” —perhaps because there were a few aborted launches over the past month… with the last occurring on January 19, 2018 when two sea vessels entered the launch exclusion area off the coast.

Obviously when random craft weren’t entering the “danger zone” around the rocket, the Electron had a perfect flight:

  • 1st stage shutdown at two minutes and 30 seconds;
  • 2nd stage separation at two minutes 36 seconds;
  • Second stage reaches a 300 x 500 km (186 x 310 mi), 83º injection orbit in eight minutes.

The Electron then delivered its payload of: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet; and two Lemur-2 satellites from Spire for weather and ship tracking…

… and the its secret Humanity Star. The little rocket company that could had not broadcast its intent to deliver the Humanity Star to… er, humanity… so it was a bit of a shock when the news was revealed, with glass half fullers applauding the effort, with glass half emptyers calling the whole exercise stupid.

Stupid? We’re talking about the Kiwis in space, aren’t we? A flightless bird no more!

Electron lift off.jpg

Below is the “live feed” from the launch… be warned that it has not been translated from Kiwi into English.

Kidding. I love the Kiwis and Aussies – made many good friends from those two countries when I lived in Japan… and to be fair, the New Zealanders were much easier to understand than the Aussies, but both seemed to become less understandable with each successive alcoholic drink. Be-ah. Beer.

And, just to show you how impressive the Rocket Lab flight was, here’s a list of all the countries that have put a satellite into space… keeping in mind that Ukraine was part of the Russia space program, and Russia was the main force behind the Soviet Union’s efforts.

 Country  Satellite  Rocket  Date
 Soviet Union  Sputnik 1  Sputnik-PS  October 4, 1957
 United States of America  Explorer 1  Juno I  February 1, 1958
 France  Astérix  Diamant A  November 26, 1965
 Japan  Ōsumi  Lamda-4S  February 11, 1970
 China  Dong Fang Hong I  Long March 1  April 24, 1970
 United Kingdom  Prospero  Black Arrow  October 28, 1971
 European Space Agency  CAT-1  Ariane 1 December 24, 1979
 India  Rohini D1  SLV  July 18, 1980
 Israel  Ofeq 1  Shavit September 19, 1988
 Ukraine  Strela-3 Tsyklon-3  September 28, 1991
 Russia  Kosmos 2175  Soyuz-U  January 21, 1992
 Iran  Omid  Safir-1A  February 2, 2009
 North Korea  Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2  Unha-3  December 12 2012
 New Zealand  Dove Pioneer, Lemur-2 Electron  January 21, 2018

In a related subject, on January 24, 2018, Elon Musk’s SpaceX fired up their Falcon Heavy rocket ahead of maiden launch hopefully in early February of this year.

The static firing of the Falcon Heavy rocket is just one step closer to it becoming the most powerful rocket to take flight since the Saturn V rocket lifted off as part of the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 60s and 70s.

Yup… it’s been about 40 years since the last Saturn V flew…

The Falcon Heavy consists of three cores from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket strapped together to give it 9 x 3 = 27 engines which when fired will provide a maximum thrust of 5.1 million pounds, which is the same as what 18 of those Boeing 747 jumbo jets can push.

The static fire test involves the firing of the engine while the rocket is tethered to the launch pad. SpaceX had lost a rocket and multi-million dollar satellite after a launchpad explosion during a static fire test of a Falcon 9 rocket back in September of 2016.

But this time, everything went perfectly.

It’s been a great month for two privately-owned rocket companies!



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Not Quite The First Black Woman On ISS

Astronaut Jeanette Epps.jpgWhile writing a couple of posts for February’s upcoming Black History Month, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced it was making a crew switch of astronauts slated to stay aboard the International Space Station.

Astronaut Jeanette Epps was slated to become the first African American crew member to live on the ISS, but was suddenly replaced on her upcoming June 20187 flight—Expedition 56/57—by Serena Auñón-Chancellor.

Auñón-Chancellor had trained with Epp in astronaut school.

Epps has returned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, United States of America. What sucks for her, is that she had already begun specific training for that mission.

While NASA did not cite a reason, Henry Epps, Jeanette’s brother has accused the space agency of out-right racism.

“My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place!” Henry Epps wrote in a Facebook post Saturday (the post has since been removed). He linked to a petition asking NASA to reinstate Epps.

I don’t know why NASA removed Epps from active duty—perhaps it’s a private medical issue—whatever, but I’m giving NASA the benefit of the doubt here. There’s no racism involved.

Now Henry Epps alleges that his sister has been fighting “oppressive racism and misogynist” in NASA… well, if he can back that up, we’ll have a story… if not, let’s get the full story.

Maybe someone should just ask astronaut Epps… and if she refuses to answer with “why”, then drop it. It’s between her and NASA.

Now, as to Henry Epps claims of NASA-based racism, astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor will actually be the first Hispanic woman in space. Racism? It all depends on perspective.





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Tobacco Card Artist: Albert Operti

Hassan Andrees BalloonF

This story has virtually nothing to do with a pioneer of aviation than a pioneer of art.

I recently completed and posted a feature article on Salomon August Andrée and his two attempts to reach the North Pole by balloon. You can read that article HERE.

It is a fascinating but horrible look at man’s folly at underestimating good ol’ Mother Nature.

But, what drew me to this story, was the art on the card… simply beautiful.

It was the first tobacco card I had seen with the artist’s name on it, implying that he or she must have been an artist of some renown… and that maybe, just maybe, this artwork was commissioned by the tobacco company for this card.

In my searches for tobacco cards, I have also searched for the original artwork… I figure it’s out there somewhere. But I’ve never seen any.

I’ve often wondered who did the art for these wonderful tobacco cards and baseball cards et al from the past 100+ years… perhaps names lost in the mists of time.

But then I realized that the card above for Andrée’s balloon was signed… signed by the artist, Albert Operti.

There’s not a whole lot of information on Operti, save that he was born in 1852, dying in 1927.

He was born in Italy, schooled in Great Britain… and developed his skills doing theatrical background painting usually for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. I’ve heard of it, and know it’s still around today… though I admit that I have never seen an opera save whatever Bugs Bunny was running around with alongside Elmer Fudd. What a barber shop.

Operti’s painting are very difficult to find, as most seem to have been commissioned by the Explorer’s Club in New York, and are still in their possession nowadays. Operti even spent the last few years of his life living at the Club headquarters – on their dime – eventually dying there.

A lot of Operti’s work dealt with the natural beauty of the Arctic, ships and plain old exploration scenes… and no wonder, he was with Robert Peary in 1896, when he explored Greenland.

Of course, many of his paintings are just pure imagination, but based on his knowledge of the natural environment. For example, he painted of the search for the Franklin expedition, showed the ships Erebus and Terror sailing – events that happened around 1845, seven years before Operti was born.

The Museum of Natural History in New York also asked him to create plaster casts of natives from Greenland, and he also painted many of the diorama backdrops and other arts for them.

I have not seen any other work of Operti’s aside from that done and printed on various tobacco cards, but all of those are of a high quality like the card example above.

Operti is still the first and only artist I have found to have done work to appear on a tobacco card. If you know of any other artists who have done such work, I would appreciate it if you could let me know who they are and what they have done.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to see if I can find some real artwork for sale out on the auction sites. And then scream as I realize I can’t afford them.


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Wills’s Aviation Card #78–”Short” Hydro-Aeroplane.

Vice Regal 78.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Short” Hydro-Aeroplane.

Card #78 of 85, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, 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;
  • Air Commodore Charles Rumney Samson, July 8, 1883 in Crumpsall, Manchester, England, Great Britain – February 5, 1931 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, 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.

We are at the point where I do not own the cards pretty much from this point on through #85… as such, there won’t be a reverse image of the cards forthcoming.

First off, let me just say that information on the internet on the Short Brothers is crap, filled with half information and half misinformation. It’s so frustrating, that it makes me not want to do this.

So much information from different sources, and little of it fills in enough blanks to get a complete story… the first time I have come across this in 78 Wills’s cards. Bah.

For example, sites talk about the Short Brothers becoming the first airplane production company because of an order for six aircraft they were building based on a legal license from the Wright Brothers. Great. Were they built? Did they fly? What the heck was their designation?

I’ve looked and looked… and it’s all crap. It’s very frustrating. People who do have the information on the family simply aren’t very good in telling the whole story. Which makes my non-paying job here… what’s the word… nigh-on impossible.

Hells… even trying to determine the aircraft on the front of this card… heck… it’s a determination/guess.

This card depicts the Short Hydro-Aeroplane, designed and built by the Short Brothers… and while Wills’s card calls the aeroplane by a generic name, I believe it actually depicts the Short S.27 or the Short Improved S.27, which sometimes goes by the name of the Short-Sommer biplane.

The aircraft were used by the Admiralty and Naval Wing of the British Royal Flying Corps for training the Royal Navy’s first pilots, as well as for early naval aviation experiments.

An improved S.27 was used by Charles Rumney Samson to make the first successful take-off from a moving ship on May 9, 1912… which is why he gets a mention at the top of this blog.

The Short Brothers were a threesome featuring Horace, Eustace and Oswald – who were Britain’s first aircraft manufacturers, designing and building the first British-powered aircraft to complete a circular flight of one mile.

They also created Britain’s first-ever purpose-built aircraft factory on an aerodrome on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England.

While not on everyone’s lips when it comes to aviation pioneers, the company Short Brothers plc, (aka Shorts or Short) was founded in London in 1908 and is considered to be the first company in the world to manufacture production aircraft.

The company still exists, but as part of other aviation companies, purchased in 1989 by Bombardier in Belfast, Norther Ireland, producing aircraft components, engine nacelles and aircraft flight control systems for Bombardier Aerospace, as well as for Boeing, Rolls-Royce Deutschland, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.


From left: Oswald, Horace and Eustace Short

Let’s take a look at just who the Short Brothers were.

Of the three, Horace was the eldest. When he was an infant, he suffered a head injury, with it leading to a bacterial infection and then full on meningitis.

This in turn led to an abnormal brain development that gave him an differently-shaped head, and for whatever reason, he also seemed to have a genius intellect. The oddly shaped head made him look ferocious according to some media. But that’s all conjecture. He looked like he looked, as far as I am concerned.

On leaving school at the age of 16, Horace was employed at the Stanton Ironworks, but in 1890 after two years there, he set off to see the world and visit his uncle William, who had moved to Australia and was responsible for sinking the first of two shafts at Newcastle, New South Wales.

Arriving in Australia, Horace wrote home and told the family of his global adventures, but was unaware that his father had died in 1891 leaving the family broke.

A local Chesterfield newspaper published the letter from Horace in 1893 to establish a fund to allow brother Eustace the opportunity to find Horace.

They finally managed to meet in Mexico in 1894 where Horace was now managing a silver mine.

In 1895, Eustace returned to England with £500 and a promise from Horace that he would follow as soon as he could wind up his affairs.

With that money given to him by Horace, brothers Eustace and Oswald, along with their mother moved to London and bought a coal merchant business.

In 1896 Horace traveled back to England bringing with him a sound-amplifying device that he had invented and wished to patent.

Brothers Oswald and Eustace  started up the Short Brothers company in 1897 when they purchased a used coal gas-filled balloon, with the intention to develop and construct other such balloons.

But, in 1900 after they visited the 1900 Paris Exposition World’s Fair, they saw the balloons of Édouard Surcouf who was working with Société Astra, taking note of his truly spherical balloons, a method that had been, up until then, a pipe dream.

The Short Brothers then began to determine how to manufacture spherical hot air balloons themselves, offering up their version in 1902.

These balloons were manufactured in a building where brother Horace was working in Sussex. On the main floor, Horace worked in an acoustic lab and was trying to perfect his acoustic amplifier with a European agent of Thomas Edison, while Oswald and Eustace built balloons on the second floor.

By 1903, Horace was onto a new project involving the development of a steam turbine, and left the building, which caused Eustace and Oswald to move the Short Brothers company first to a rented place in London and then to the railway arches in Battersea, which was situated next to the Battersea gas-works…. making it easier to get gas for their balloons.

The Short Brothers made a few balloons here and there, but got their big break i n1905 when they were awarded a contract from the British Indian Army who wanted three balloons.

The balloons impressed Royal Balloon Factory superintendent Colonel James Templer, who introduced the Short Brothers (sans Horace) to Charles Rolls.

Yup… the guy who later co-founded the Rolls-Royce automobile company.

Rolls asked the Short Brothers to build a large balloon so he could take part in the 1906 Gordon Bennett balloon race. The race (aka Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett), was  started from Paris, France, on September 30, 1906, and is still run today. It is considered to be the oldest and most prestigious balloon race.

The race was sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper. The contest rules to fly the furthest distance from the launch site without landing.

The contest ran from 1906 to 1938, interrupted by World War I and in 1931, but was suspended in 1939 when the hosts, Poland, were invaded at the start of World War II.

The event was only started up again in 1979 American Tom Heinsheimer, an atmospheric physicist, gained permission from the holders to host the trophy. The competition was not officially reinstated by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) until 1983.

Rolls, along with wine merchant Frank Hedges Buttler, were the founding fathers of the Aero Club of Great Britain (now the Royal Aero Club).

Thanks to Rolls, other members of the Aero Club of Great Britain soon placed orders with the Short Brothers.

Rolls, by the way, was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display on July 12, 1910.

But what of super genius Horace?

Horace felt that ballooning was dangerous because one couldn’t steer it properly, so he continued to work with the Hon. Charles Pearson on steam turbine development.

By 1907, and with evidence that aeroplanes were now the new girl on the block, the Short Brothers tried their hand at building them for the Aero Club of Great Britain members, but always without success.

Background: While the Wright Brothers (and witnesses) say they first flew in December of 1903, they kept their success a secret. But when Alberto Santos-Dumont flew his independently built aeroplane on October 23, 1906, the cat was out of the Wright Brothers’ bag.

Everyone wanted an aeroplane.

While the Wright Brothers had tried to sell their invention the the U.S. military, rather than the general public, until Santos-Dunont’s flight the Wright Brothers had been fairly secretive. They had a contract for the sale of airplanes to a French syndicate as well as to the U.S. Army.

Wilbur Wright took their revised Wright Flyer which now had a second seat for a passenger, to Europe to try and garner interest and sales.

Still, aviation was not being shared, so the technology had to independently gleaned by designers.

On January 13, 1908, Henry Farman flew his Voisin Farman I in a one-kilometer circle to win the 50,000-franc Deutsche-Archdeacon prize.

The Canadian company the Aerial Experiment Association–founded by Canadians Alexander Graham Bell (yes, the telephone inventor), Casey Baldwin and J.A.D. McCurdy, along with two Americans, Lt. Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Army and Glenn Curtiss–flew three different aeroplanes during the summer of 1908: You should read my article on that HERE. Suffice to say, their June Bug flew one mile in one minute and 42.5 seconds on July 4, 1908, giving the AEA the Scientific American Trophy.

The Wright Brothers, I can tell you, were jealous.

So… when Wilbur Wright arrived in France in 1908 with his aircraft and gave demonstration and passenger flights from a site near Le Mans.

Upon hearing about these successful flights, Eustace and Oswald Short decided to give up ballooning and to start building aircraft, but they realized that they would need Horace in the new venture.

When Horace was released from his contract Pearson, the Short Brothers in December of 1908 became a true Short Brothers aviation company with each investing 200 pounds Sterling to get the new aeroplane company off the ground.

Horace, perhaps because of his brains, was immediately becoming the chief aeroplane designer for the company, and with that, the Short Brothers became the world’s first commercial aviation company to design and manufacture aeroplanes.

Their first aeroplane was to be the Short No. 1


The Short No. 1

As mentioned… everyone wanted an aeroplane. After seeing the Wright Brother’s demonstration at Le Mans, France, Brit Francis McClean asked Horace Short to build him a plane.

So, in November of 1908, Horace began to design his Short No. 1, a three-bay biplane with a biplane elevator and central fin mounted on two pairs of converging booms in front.

The undercarriage used skids, rather than wheels, made from ash, that extended forward almost as far as the elevators. Since no wheels were included – just the skids – the aircraft was expected to launch using a launching rail the same way the Wright Brothers did with their first flying machine.

Excluding the skids, everything else was made of spruce and covered with a rubberized fabric made by German company Continental AG.

The engine was to be a version of the Wright Bros.’s engine made by Bariquand et Marre, that drove a pair of pusher propellers, mounted slightly above mid-gap using a chain drive. This was arranged so that both propellers revolved in the same direction, since crossing them to make them revolve in opposite directions might have infringed patents held by the Wright brothers.

But, while the plane was ready at the Short Brothers’ factory on the Isle of Sheppey, when McClean arrived back in town after visiting China, the engine they wanted from Bariquand et Marre was not yet built.


Francis McClean in a caricature done by Flight Magazine December 1909.

Not wanting to delay the aircraft for McClean, the Short Brothers took a 30 horsepower engine from a Nordenfelt car, and installed it in their aeroplane.

Nordenfelt  1907.jpg

This is a 1907 Nordenfelt auto – the only one left in the world.

But, being a car engine, it was a heavy engine at 270 kilograms (600 pounds), and led to the aircraft failing its initial test flight in September of 1909. It was so heavy, that it couldn’t even move the aircraft to the end of the launching rail.

Nordenfelt, was a British auto manufacturer from 1906-1909… and while physical evidence still exists of a 1907 model, I can’t find an image of one from 1908 (but data shows it was built) or a 1909. By this time, it is possible they were no longer building cars – just motors.

Soon enough, the proper Bariquand et Marre engine arrived in October of 1909.

With McClean as the pilot, three test flights were made on November 2, 3, and 6 of 1909.

The last attempt almost had the aircraft become airborne, but as McClean applied the full up-elevator, the bird stalled and fell back onto the launching rail and broke its undercarriage and propellers.

Although McClean was not hurt, all involved agreed to not continue with the development of the Short No. 1.

Specifications of Short No. 1

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 24 feet 7 inches (7.49 meters);
  • Wingspan: 40 feet (12 meters);
  • Wing area: 576 square feet (53.5 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Bariquand et Marre 4-cylinder inline water-cooled, 30 horsepower
  • Propellers: 2-bladed laminated spruce made by Short Brothers at 10 feet (3.0 meters) diameter

When You’re Right, You’re Wright
As for the Wright Brothers… after they met Charles Rolls who had traveled to the U.S. to sell his automobiles, the Wright’s were also looking for someone to build their Wright Model A for them in the Great Britain.

Rolls knew the Short Brothers, and so… the Short Brothers, because of the nice balloon work they had done for Rolls, were recommended (and accepted) to build the Wright aeroplanes in Great Britain.

Now… while Wilbur Wright had no drawings of his aircraft to supply to the Short Brothers, Eustace Short had a look at the Wright Model A, and created his own drawings.

Horace Short drawing of the Wright Brothers Wright Flyer.png

A drawing by Eustace Short of the Wright Brother’s Wright Model A aeroplane from which the licensed Wright aeroplanes were built.

Great… so was there any special designation given to the aircraft? How come the Wright Brothers couldn’t be bothered to provide drawings of their own aircraft to the Short Brothers?

Who at the Aero Club bought the aircraft? Did they fly well? If so, these would have been the first successful aeroplanes built by the Short Brothers – something of great import… but no… there’s nothing celebrating this achievement… this factory order that put the company in the history books…

Short No. 2

Moore-Brabazon Short No. 2.jpg

So… with the failure of the Short No. 1, and having the order to build the Wright Model A licensed aircraft for six members of the Aero Club, we know that the Short Brothers have an order for another airplane of its own design… the Short No. 2, requested in April of 1909 before they realized that Short No. 1 was a failure.

The Short No. 2 aircraft was requested by J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon, who wanted to use this unproven flying machine to win a £1,000 prize offered by the British Daily Mail newspaper for the first closed-circuit flight of over a mile (1.6 kilometers) to be made in a British aircraft.

Moore-Brabazon had previously learned to fly in 1908 in France in a Voisin biplane.

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 (137.2 meters), 600 feet (182.9 meters), and 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) using the Voisin biplane named the Bird of Passage.

Below, there’s a very cool photograph taken on May 4, 1909 outside the Aero Club clubhouse known as Muswell Manor – take a look and see some of the early greats of aviation…


May 4, 1909 at Muswell Manor is a veritable who’s who of aviation pioneer greatness! Back Row (L-R): JDF Andrews owner of Muswell Manor, Oswald Short, Horace Short, Eustace Short, Francis McClean, Griffith Brewer, Frank Butler, WJS Lockyer, Warwick Wright. Front Row (L-R): JTC Moore-Brabazon, Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright, Charles Rolls.

After taking delivery of one of the Short Brother’s built Wright Model A aircraft, Moore-Brabazon sold his famous Bird of Passage aircraft to Arthur Edward George in 1909.

He waited a while longer before the Short Brothers completed their Short No. 2, but on October 30, 1909, he flew that aeroplane in a circular mile to win the Daily Mail prize of £1,000.

Despite the high pedigree of Moore-Brabazon, he was a man with a sense of humor.

To prove once and for all that a pig could fly, he placed a piglet in a waster-paper basket and tied it to a wing-strut on the Short No. 2, and flew it up into the air on November 4, 1909… which, quite possibly, was the first-ever live cargo air flight.

On January 7, 1910, Short No. 2 was flown by Moore-Brabazon a distance of 4.5 miles from Shellbeach to the Royal Aero Club’s new flying field at Eastchurch, by which time a revised tail consisting of elongated fixed horizontal and vertical surfaces carried on four booms had been fitted to improve stability.

It was now Moore-Brabazon’s intention to make an attempt to win the British Empire Michelin Cup, and on March 1, 1910 he made a flight covering 19 miles (31 kilometers) in 31 minutes – but he was forced to land after the crankshaft broke.

A new engine was fitted, but he did not fly the plane for a while, as the Short No. 2 was to be exhibited at the Aero Exhibition at Olympia…

He didn’t fly it again until March 25, 1910… even so, no one else came close to besting his flight’s distance and so was awarded the Michelin Cup.

On March 8, 1910, Moore-Brabazon became the first person to qualify as a pilot in Great Britain, earning the Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No. 1.

aeroclublicence No 1 Moore-Brabazor.jpg

The very first Aero Club license awarded to J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon on March 8, 1910.

So why… why was there never a singular Wills’s aviation tobacco card devoted to the accomplishments of Moore-Brabazon – a Brit, after all?

By the time the Aero Exhibition was taking place in March of 1910, Moore-Brabazon had ordered another aircraft from the Short Brothers – the Short S.27.

As for our man Charles Rolls… we know he purchased one of the six Wright Brothers’ Model A’s built by the Short Brothers, liking it enough to have used it in over 200 flights.

On June 2, 1910, Rolls became the first person to fly a non-stop double crossing of the English Channel, doing so in 95 minutes. It was also the first East-bound crossing of the Channel – but big whoop.

While the Rolls name lives on famously in automobile history, it lives on in rather dubious fashion in aviation.

Flying his Wright Model A, on July 12, 1910, Charles Rolls became the first British person to be killed in aeroplane – 11th in the world, if you are keeping track. Lt. Thomas Selfridge (an American) had died while a passenger aboard a Wright Flyer piloted by Orville Wright on September 17, 1908 to become the first aeroplane casualty.


Charles Rolls

For Rolls, while flying, the tail of the aeroplane broke off in the Southbourne district of Bournemouth at Hengistbury Airfield. He was 32.

With the death of Rolls, the wife of his friend Moore-Brabazon convinced her husband to stop flying – and so he did.

I have searched and searched, but ca not find a photo of the Short No. 2 aeroplane.

Specifications of Short No. 2

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 32 feet (9.75 meters);
  • Wingspan: 48 feet 8 inches (14.83 meters);
  • Wing area: 450 square feet (42 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,485 pounds (674 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green D.4 in-line 4-cylinder water-cooled, 60 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

Short S.27

In May of 1910, the Short Brothers began to build four aircraft known as S.26, S.27, S.28 and S.29.

These four aircraft were designed by Eustace Short and were based on the Farman III, a pusher biplane.

Short S.26 was built for Francis McClean and utilized a Green engine capable of 40 horsepower.

The very same engine type was also in S.28, an aeroplane built for JTC Moore-Brabazon.

Short S.27 used an ENV type F engine with 60 horsepower for Cecil Grace.

The Short S.29 was built by the company as a reserve.

All four of these aircraft became known as the S.27 design because owner Cecil Grace flew it at many aviation events.

The main difference between the aircraft beside the motor, involve the Green engines having a single rudder under the tailplane, while the ENV engine on the S.27 (proper) had an additional rudder mounted above it.

The standard undercarriage of this design had two wheels attached to an axle that was attached to the skids.

How good were the aircraft – which is what I believe is the basis for the Wills’s card at the very top?

Well, on June 20, 1910, Cecil Grace flew his S.27 (proper) to a height of 1,180 feet (360 meters) which was a new British altitude record.

At the Midland Aero Club meeting at Wolverhampton – June 27 – July 2, 1910 – Grace stayed in the air for close to 30 minutes reaching a height of 500 feet (150 meters) – both respectable times and altitudes for the era.

So successful was this S.27 design, that the Short Brothers improved on the basic design almost immediately, creating the S.27 Improved version, which had strut-braced extensions on the top wings which made for a greater wingspan (now 12 feet 3 inches (3.73 meters), as well as a stronger wing structure, and a reduced span front elevator without the sections outboard of the booms.

These improved aircraft used a Gnome rotary engine at either 50 or 70 horsepower, and were numbered all the way up to S.44.

Short S.27 Improved Specifications

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 42 feet 1 inches (12.83 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 feet 5 inches (14.15 meters);
  • Wing area: 517 square feet (48.0 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,100 pounds (499 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,540 pounds (699 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega 7-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine, 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 48 miles per hour (77 kilometers per hour).

I’m going to shorten up the history lesson here. In 1919, the Short partnership was incorporated as Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Limited  – coach builders – with Eustace Short as joint managing director until his death in 1932, and Oswald Short its chairman and joint managing director.

In 1919, nationalization ended the Short Brothers’ involvement with the airship company, which became the Royal Airship Works.

In 1933, the company once again became involved in aviation with construction of aeroplanes, seaplanes and flying boats for civil and military purposes.

In 1936 Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) and Harland and Wolff agreed to form a new company to build aircraft in Belfast, Ireland, with the Short Brothers being the majority stakeholder. The company was called Short and Harland.

In 1938 they built their Short-Mayo composite aircraft, which took part on July 20 as the first heavier-than-air commercial crossing of the North Atlantic as Imperial AirwaysShort S20 floatplane G-ADHJ. It covered 2,930 miles in 20 hours and 20 minutes.

1947 Decided to concentrate its activities at Belfast. Short and Harland Ltd changed their name to Short Brothers and Harland and decide to acquire parts of Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) which was then liquidated. Oswald Short became President fro life of the new company.

Its construction of aircraft continued.

In the 1960s, the company produced turboprop airlines and components for aerospace primary manufacturers, and missiles for the British Armed Forces.

In 1989, the company was purchased by Bombardier. The owner was: HM Government, 69.5% (majority share); Rolls-Royce Ltd, 15.25%; Harland & Wolff Ltd, 15.25%.

Rolls-Royce? It goes around.

Nowadays, as a subsidiary of Bombardier Aerospace, what was once the Short Brothers continues to construct aircraft components, engine nacelles and aircraft flight control systems for Bombardier, as well as Boeing, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and… yes, Rolls-Royce Deutshland.

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Balloons, Failures, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Jets, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Seaplanes, Weapons, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1930s French Trading Cards

Chocolat Pupier Jolies.jpgWhat we have here are aviation cards offered by Chocolat Pupier Jolies in 1930 and 1937.

The plain cards denoting: Avion (flying), Un Monoplane (A monoplane), and Un Hydravion (a sea plane) are from 1930, and are part of a larger set of 40 cards that are about modern wonders. I believe.

The other cards are from 1937, I think, are part of Series 19, and show off some of the earlier versions of flight, with specific myths, legends and real accomplishments. I don’t know how many cars there are in this series, but considering it offers specifics, I would suspect there are at least 40, probably 50 cards within the series.

Certainly the 1937 cards have a reverse with a brief account of the card’s aviation moment:

Chocolat Pupier Jolies Reverse.jpg

All of these are punched cards (left of card’s image), sized 5.2 cm x 6.87 cm each, and were giveaways with a French chocolate manufacturer’s chocolate product.

I am unable to find out any information on the company as my French language abilities are slim and void.

If anyone can provide some background on the manufacturer Chocolat Pupier Jolies, and just what type of chocolate they produced and how these cards were presented (inside, outside, stapled, I assume?) it would be greatly appreciated.

In the meantime, enjoy a look at these cards.

Chromo-CHOCOLAT 1.jpg

I have a nice biography of Benier in this blog, HERE. This card is from the 1937 series (19).

Chromo-CHOCOLAT 2.jpg

Flying in 1930 was a huge deal as far as transporting passengers was concerned. While mono-winged aircraft were only just beginning to make a comeback in the field of aviation, earliest passenger planes were still considered safer as a biplane wing configuration.


A card representing a modern 1930 transport airplane… a monoplane… at a time when most manufacturers still believed the biplane was the best wing configuration for an airplane.

Chromo-CHOCOLAT 4.jpg

Along with the American Wright Brothers, Bleriot’s aviation success signaled air dominance for France for the next 15 years. A rarity, Bleriot pioneered the use of monoplanes… which were, for some reason, decided to be inferior to the biplane.

Chromo-CHOCOLAT 5.jpg

While this looks like a horrible aviation accident, it is in fact a representation of Langley’s aircraft that was supposed to slingshot off a boat in 1896.

Chromo-CHOCOLAT 6.jpg

A card commemorating the Wright Brothers coming out of the proverbial scientific closet in 1905 with news that their Wright Flyer had flown first in 1903.

Chocolat Pupier Jolies 7.jpg

A Hydro-aeroplane example – a flying boat/seaplane. From the 1930 series.










Posted in Concepts, Failures, Gliders, Heavier-Than-Air, Miscellaneous Food, Seaplanes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #77 – “Curtiss” Hydro-Aeroplane.

Vice Regal 77F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Curtiss” Hydro-Aeroplane.

Card #77 of 85, W.D.& H.O WillsAviation series 1911, Vice Regal – Black-back issue

  • Glenn Hammond Curtiss, in Hammondsport, New York, United States of America, May 21, 1878 – July 23, 1930, Buffalo, New York, United States of America.

Glenn Curtiss is one of the more famous pioneers of aviation. In Canada, he earned his aviation fame by helping the AEA (which includes Alexander Graham Bell of the telephone) develop the Silver Dart aircraft – the nation’s first. It adorns the top banner of this blog. For more on the AEA and the first Canadian aeroplane, the Silver Dart, click HERE.

But, what this card is discussing here, is a sea plane… an aircraft that can take-off and land on water, but fly in the sky like a typical aircraft.  It’s also called a flying boat. And a floatplane.

The Curtiss Hydro-Aeroplane… but which one? The image we see on the card depicts two propellers, but in every single actual photography I have seen of a 1911 Curtis Hydro-Aeroplane… even ones as late as 1917, they are all single engine, single-propeller pusher aircraft.

The Wills’s card shows… dammit, I don’t know what it shows… two props, but no drawn image of an engine.

The photos I have seen of all the 1911 versions show the float below the lower biplane wing… with separation. The single pilot sits on a seat just in front and even with the lower wing, with the steering column placed between the pilots legs, with the legs exposed to the air and still not touching the float/pontoon.

The image on the Wills’s card shows the pilot sitting in a cabin within the pontoon, with the lower biplane wings not a single wing, but rather two lower wings attached to the fuselage that IS the pontoon.

You’ll have to forgive me. I’m using non-technical terms, because I am not an aviation expert. I am more of a historical detective (amateur, to be sure), who simply fell into this aviation blogging hobby.

What I did find, regardless, is that there IS a similar-looking Curtis Hydro-Aeroplane called the Curtiss Flying Boat Nr.1, which first flew on January 10, 1912… it has a single 60 horsepower engine mounted on the hull/pontoon at the front of the craft, which via chains drove two propellers. This, was also a two-seater.

IF this Curtiss Flying Boat Nr.1 IS the aeroplane featured on the Wills’s card, then it also means that the 85-card Aviation series (produced for the Australian cigarette market), came out in 1912… and yet, other evidence suggests the series was released in late 1911.

It doesn’t mean anything, because the depiction of the aircraft on the Aviation card is still not a match to the Curtiss Flying Boat Nr.1. It’s the closest I’ve seen, however.

For the record, the Nr.1 aircraft was unable to take-off.

Vice Regal 77R

What I am going to do here, is present a few photos various Curtis Hydro-Aeroplanes in as near a chronological order as I can determine. I am taking all photographs below  from… a pretty damn good site for information on all things aviation!

Readers are very much welcome to correct me on their order, as well as correct me on anything within this blog.

1910: Curtiss Hudson Flyer

Curtiss Hudson Flyer 1910.jpg

Completed in 1910, the Hudson Flyer was a standard model Curtiss aircraft modified with an emergency flotation device added and a hydrovane installed in front of the nose wheel.

It never actually took off or landed on the water, but it’s certainly a hydro-aeroplane prototype.

It first flew on May 29, 1910 at Albany, NY, refueling at Poughkeepsie, NY, landed in northern New York City, and completed the 251 kilometers trip on Governor’s Island, winning a $10,000 prize offered by the New York World newspaper for the first flight between New York State’s capital of Albany and New York City.

1911: Curtiss Hydro-Aeroplane


On January 26, 1911, the Hydro-Aeroplane first flew.

The photo above shows pilot and plane designer Glenn Curtiss taking off on January 26, 1911 from the waters off San Diego, California.

The plane, oft called the Curtis Hydro-Aeroplane, but officially designated as the Curtiss Model-A, was a biplane with two floats and a six-foot long (1.83 meter) hydrofoil.

One month later in February of 1911, Curtiss and this aeroplane became the first to carry a passenger in a seaplane.

He later added wheels to the aircraft to turn it into the Triad (see two spots below).

1911: Curtiss Tractor Hydro


The second Curtiss hydro was a notable exception to the standard pusher design. The un-named machine that Curtiss used for his flight from North Island to the cruiser Pennsylvania was an otherwise standard Type III pusher air-frame with the engine installed ahead of the wing as a tractor to keep the propeller out of the spray.

The pilot was seated behind the wings and the forward elevator was eliminated.

Curtiss didn’t like the arrangement mainly because of the discomfort of sitting in the propeller blast and engine exhaust; the problem of spray on the propeller on subsequent pusher seaplanes was reduced somewhat by the addition of horizontal spray deflectors to the top of the main float ahead of the propeller.

1911: Curtiss A-1 Triad/Model E/A-1


Originally called the “Triad” because it was supposed to be a land, air, and sea vehicle, Curtiss later just called it Model E.

This Model E airplane was a larger version of the Model D standard Curtiss land/air aeroplane, but he used it as the basis for his development of the seaplane.

The Model E achieved fame through examples purchased by the United States Navy. A Model E-8-75 floatplane became the Navy’s first aircraft when purchased in June 1911 and received the designation A-1, as well as the nickname “Triad” since it could operate from the land and sea and in the air.

General characteristics of the standard Curtiss Model E:

  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Capacity: 1 passenger;
  • Length: 27 feet 8 inches (8.43 meters);
  • Wingspan: 37 feet 0 inches (11.28 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet 4 inches (2.84 meters);
  • Wing area: 331 square feet (30.8 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 975 pounds (442 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,575 pounds (714 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss V-8, 75 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour).

Of course, then there’s data for the same plane, but one called the Curtiss A-1

  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Capacity: 1 passenger;
  • Length: 29 feet 7inches (8.71 meters);
  • Wingspan: 37 feet 0 inches (11.28 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet 10 inches (2.69 meters);
  • Wing area: 286 square feet (26.57 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 926 pounds (420 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,576 pounds (715 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss V-8, 75 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour).

Two versions of the same plane with different specifications and vastly different speeds.

Other flying boats/hydro-aeroplanes built by Curtiss are:

1912: Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 1

1912 Curtiss Flyinb Boat.jpg

A closer visual look at the Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 1 shows it to be very close in design to the one pictured on the Wills’s card at the very top.

It might be the same plane… with the card taking a more fanciful approach seeing as how the plane had not yet been completed or flown at the time of the Wills’s card’s issue at the end of 1911.

Called a flying boat, owing to the back that it’s “pontoon” was actually more like a boat’s hull, it had its first tests on January 10, 1912 at San Diego.

It had a wide hull, a bit longer than the pontoon’s Curtiss used in his previous aircraft.

It was attached under the lower wing, with one 60 horsepower motor driving two propellers located in front and between the biplane’s wings.

For the pilot, there were two side-by-side seats in the cockpit located behind the wing in the fuselage.

Although the Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 1 was capable on the water, it did not have the capacity to fly, ultimately being deemed a failure. Figures… of all the successful seaplanes, the Wills’s card has a failure on it.

1912: Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 2 Flying Fish/C-1 Flying Boat

1912 Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 2.jpg

Sigh… this Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 2 is also known as the Flying Fish, the C-1 Flying Boat, and the Curtiss Model E – I think Curtiss was a wonderful designer and aviator, but lousy at marketing.

Curtiss would refer to the earliest designs of the Model F, as the Model E. Regardless, let’s just call this Flying Boat Number 2 (that’s what the Nr designation means), and or the Flying Fish.

This is generally recognized as being the very first successfully-built flying boat.

It had a full-length, flat bottomed hull and held the biplane wings and tail upon it.

The aircraft used a Curtiss Model O powerplant capable of 75 horsepower, and was placed between the wings and behind the cockpit–a pusher-type.

Initially, the Flying Fish used a 1910-style set of surface wings, and used forward elevators affixed to the bow… which is noteworthy only because “modern” aircraft of the day were not using this set up during production.

Curtiss updated the original versions with double surface E-75 wings and no forward elevators, and it was with this set-up that Curtiss began to publicize the aircraft as the Flying Fish – so I guess he was learning how to market his aircraft.

His initial style of naming his aeroplane within his own company was vastly different from when he was with the AEA building such wonderful aircraft as the June Bug and Silver Dart – one-off aircraft names that stand-out.

While the earliest tests of the Flying Fish made it seem more like a fish—unable to fly—he used a hydrostep behind the center of the plane’s gravity, which took almost 50 percent of the aircraft’s hull from contact with the water at near-contact speeds, and it also gave a degree of rotation at take off speed to allow the wings to reach the higher angle of attack needed for take off.

The Flying Fish was able to make its initial flight in July of 1912.

1913: Curtiss Model F

1913 Curtiss Model F.jpg

A beautiful aircraft, the Curtiss Model F was used by the US Navy, Italian Navy and Russian Navy during WWI, starting in 1916.

However, as the date states above, it was a 1913 design.

A biplane with the engine mounted between the wings, but behind the side-by-side dual pilot/passenger cockpit, it was a pusher-type aircraft.

The wings of the earliest version consisted of a two-bay, unstaggered, equal-span construction with large ailerons mounted on the interplane struts and extending past the span of the wings themselves.

In the revised 1918 version of the Model F, it used an unequal-span wing that incorporated the ailerons into the upper wing and sponsons (short wings) on the sides of the hull to improve the aircraft’s handling in water. These were known as the Model MF (for Modernized-F), and years later as the Seagull in the postwar civil market. Marketing!

General characteristics – 1917 Version

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 27 feet 9¾ inches (8.47 meters);
  • Wingspan: 45 feet 1⅜ inches (13.75 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet 2⅞ inches (3.42 meters);
  • Wing area: 387 square feet (36.0 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,860 pounds (844 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 2,460 pounds (1,116 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss OXX-3 V-8, 100 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 69 miles per hour (111 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 5 hours, 30 minutes;
  • Service ceiling: 4,500 feet (1,370 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 230 feet/minute (1.2 meters/second).

1915: Curtiss Model 2 / R-2 / R-3

1915 Curtiss Model 2  R-2  R-3.jpg

This aircraft was Curtiss using one plane for multiple uses.

Built originally as a standard land-air aeroplane, the Curtiss Model R-2 was used as such for the US Army, and outfitted (instead of wheels) with twin floats for the US Navy.

Consider, however, that the Army only ordered 12 aircraft, while the Navy ordered 100.

The Model R was the designation given to the prototype, by the way.

The Curtiss Model R-2 (the actual production version of the Model R) was a two-bay biplane (two cockpits, if you will – one each for pilot and passenger) set in open, tandem formation.

It had a fixed tailskid under carriage, and, either wheels or twin floats.

The biplane wings were slightly staggered and of unequal span.

The aircraft was used by the U.S. Army and Navy for general liaison and communication duties, observation, training, and as air ambulances.

The later Model R-3 built for the U.S. Navy had a longer wingspan, three-bay wings, and was intended for use as a torpedo bomber.

General characteristics – Model R-2

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 14 feet 4⅜ in (7.43 meters);
  • Wingspan: 45 feet 11½ in (14.01 meters);
  • Wing area: 505 square feet (46.9 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,822 pounds (826 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 3,092 pounds (1,402 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss V-X, 160 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 86 miles per hour (138 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 6 hours, 42 minutes.

1916: Curtiss Model L


If you are like me, you are wondering why the Model L aircraft was thusly named AFTER the Model R. I don’t know why it was done this way.

The original concept for the Model L was as a civil trainer, but was turned into a military version as the Model L-2 as a land/air aeroplane for the US Army, and as the Model L-3 by adding pontoons in place of the wheels to make it usable on water/air for the US Navy.

The photo above makes the aircraft look pretty slick, but you have to see it out of the water:


The Curtiss Model L-2 on a single float. She ain’t pretty, she just looks that way.

Notice that in the L-2 version, there are also tiny floats at the bottom of the lowest wing of the triplane.

The upper two wings were of equal span, but the lowest was much shorter in span.

The cockpit was wide, and sat two people, gaining it the nickname: “Sociable Trainer“.

Only two of these aircraft were sold to the U.S. Navy.

General characteristics

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 18 feet 0 inches (5.49 meters)
  • Wingspan: 25 feet 0 inches (7.62 meters)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss OX-2 – a V8 piston engine, 90 horsepower.

1916: Curtiss N-9


A popular aircraft with the US Navy, with 560 built, the Curtiss N-9 was a floatplane variant of the Curtiss JN-4—the famous “Jenny” military trainer used during WWI, also by the US Navy.

The N-9 biplane used a single central-positioned pontoon mounted under the fuselage. A float was fitted under each lower wingtip.

With the additional weight of the pontoon to the JN-4 to turn it into a N-9, Curtiss made structural and aerodynamic changes, and he used wind tunnel data from the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

The N-9 became the very first American naval aircraft to use wind tunnel data directly into its design.

The wingspan of the N-9 was increased by 10 feet (3.05 meters), the fuselage was lengthened, the tail surfaces were enlarged, and stabilizing fins were added on top of the upper wing.

When first flow for the initial order of 30 aircraft, the N-9 used a Curtiss OXX-6 powerplant capable of 100 horsepower.

Considered slightly under-powered, Curtiss used, on the next order, a Hispano-Suiza powerplant with 150 horsepower, manufactured in the U.S. under license by Wright-Martin‘s Simplex division (later Wright Aeronautical). These aircraft were re-designated Curtiss N-9H.

1916: Curtiss Model T Triplane aka Wanamaker Triplane

1916 Curtiss Model T Triplane.jpg

This baby has three names: The Wanamaker Triplane, the Curtiss Model T, and the Curtiss Model 3… a whole lot of names considering its lack of success, and the fact that there was only ever one built. Yup… three names… one aeroplane.

Officially, the company called it the Curtiss Model T. Unofficially, it was known as the Wanamaker Triplane after the person who commissioned it. After Curtiss created a new official naming system, the plane was retroactively known as the Curtiss Model 3. No big mystery here.

If you glance at the photo above, and see ants atop the wings, you can get a taste of just how large the aircraft was.

It was a four-engine triplane patrol flying boat—in concept—and was the largest seaplane in the world, and the first ever U.S.-built four-engine aircraft.

In 1913, Rodman Wanamaker—an American businessman—contracted with Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company to construct a flying boat (called America) for him so he could try and win a £10,000 prize from the Daily Mail newspaper of Great Britain awarded for the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Lewis Rodman Wanamaker (born February 13, 1863 – March 9, 1928) was a department store magnate, owning stores all over the Philadelphia area, New York City, and Paris, France.

Curtiss Wanamaker Triplane

The Curtiss Wanamaker flying atop Lake Keuka in New York in 1914.

Anyhow, because of the outbreak of The Great War (aka WWI), the America never did fly across the Atlantic ocean.

In fact, Wanamaker’s American Trans-Oceanic Company he continued to fun efforts to increase aircraft range through the next decade.

Using newer and stronger Fokker engines on his old America aircraft, and flown by Commander Richard E. Byrd, the aircraft flew across the Atlantic Ocean… just a few days after Charles Lindbergh did his solo crossing on May 21-22, 1927, winning that old Daily Mail cash prize.

In 1915, Wanamaker asked Curtiss to build an even bigger aircraft for him… a flying boat that could perform multiple transatlantic flights, as one could correctly assume that Wanamaker wanna make some money by ferrying passengers across the waters—certainly faster than any dirigible or zeppelin currently on the market. I would assume it was for use AFTER the war.

This is the aircraft that was called the Curtiss Model T, but nicknamed the Wanamaker Triplane.

The aircraft’s initial design showed it to be a triplane 68 feet (17.9 meters) long with equal-span six bay wings that were 133 feet (40.5 meters) in span.

Weighing (with expected armaments) at 21,450 pounds (9,750 kilograms), that initial design had it powered by six 140 horsepower motors turning three propellers: two on the front wings in a tractor configuration in the middle, and one pusher engine behind the wings.

It intrigued the British Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) enough that they place an order for 20 of the aircraft.

The first was built at a Curtiss factory in Buffalo, NY completed in July of 1916. It was the first four-engine aircraft to be built in the U.S.

As you can tell, the finished aircraft had four engines, relative to the prototype design of three.

While the aircraft was still about the same size and weight as the original discussion, its equal wing spans were now unequal wing spans, with the upper wing having a span of 134 feet (40.84 meters).

The aircraft had a closed cabin for two pilots and a flight engineer—similar to what the America had.

The four engines that were supposed to now be on the aircraft—four tractor 250 horsepower Curtiss V-4 engines placed on across the middle wing—were not available at that time.

So… the aircraft was transported to England by ship, reassembled at the Felixstowe naval air station and fitted with four French-made Renault 240 horsepower engines.

It was again retrofitted with four 250 horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle engines.

Even still… on the aircraft’s maiden flight, the Curtiss Model T Triplane was irreparably damaged, causing the Navy to scuttle the order for the remaining 19 aircraft.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 6
  • Length: 58 feet 10 inches (17.93 meters);
  • Upper wingspan: 134 feet (41 meters);
  • Mid wingspan: 100 feet (30 meters)
  • Lower wingspan: 78 feet 3 inches (23.85 meters);
  • Height: 31 feet 4 inches (9.55 meters);
  • Wing area: 2,815 square feet (261.5 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 15,645 pounds (7,096 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 4 × Renault 12F V-12 water-cooled piston engines, 240 horsepower each, or four 250 horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle engines;
  • Maximum speed: 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour);
  • Range: 675 miles (1,086 kilometers) at cruise speed of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 7 hours;
  • Time to altitude: 10 minutes to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters).

1918: Curtiss NC (Navy-Curtiss)

1917 Curtis NC.jpg

This is actually quite a famous aeroplane. The Curtiss NC, which actually stands for Curtiss Navy-Curtiss – one of those great naming concepts from the department of redundancy department of the Curtiss Aviation company, was also nicknamed Nancy or the Nancy boat… I suppose because NC sounds like Nancy.

It makes me think of Rocky Raccoon by The Beatles.

There were 10 of the planes built and flown by the US Navy, but it was the NC-4 which made headlines when it became the first aircraft to make a transatlantic flight on May 8-31, 1919. It made six stops… to refuel.

This biplane was one of the largest yet designed, and within her fuselage it contained sleeping quarters and a wireless transmitter and receiver.

At first, the aircraft used three V12 Liberty engines capable of producing 400 horsepower each. During testing a fourth engine was added to give it enough power to lift off the water, added in a pusher configuration behind the wings.

The engines were built by all of the Lincoln, Ford, Packard, Marmon, and Buick automobile companies, but was designed by the Aircraft Production Board task force led by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Co. in Berkeley, California.

At least it flew. The NC was able to achieve a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour), and able to fly as far as 1,470 miles (2,366 kilometers).

General characteristics (of the NC-4)

  • Crew: 5;
  • Length: 68 feet 3 inches (20.80 meters);
  • Wingspan: 126 feet (38 meters);
  • Height: 24 feet 5 inches (7.44 meters);
  • Wing area: 2,441 square feet (226.8 meters squared);
  • Empty weight: 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms);
  • Max takeoff weight: 27,386 pounds (12,422 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 4 × Liberty L-12A, American 27-liter (1,649 cubic inch) water-cooled 45° V-12V water-cooled piston engines, producing 400 horsepower each;
  • Maximum speed: 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour);
  • Stall speed: 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour);
  • Range: 1,470 miles (2,366 kilometers);
  • Endurance: 14.8 hours;
  • Service ceiling: 4,500 feet (1,400 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 220 feet/minute (1.1 meters/second);
  • Armament: Guns: Machine guns in bow and rear cockpits.

On October 4, 1918, the NC-1 made its first test flight using the original three-engine set-up. On November 25, 1918, it flew again, with a world record 51 people on board.

I’m guess it didn’t soar into the air like an eagle.

The NC-4 is preserved in the National Museum of Naval Aviation, at NAS Pensacola, Florida.

1917: Curtiss H.16


Although the title of this section indicates it should only be about the H.16, there are other aeroplanes built by Curtiss that are part of its evolution.

I’m being lazy here, and am taking the following information on the H-class from To be honest, this is a great website with photos of aeroplanes I’ve never seen before.

H-12 (Model 6A) – The H-12 of late 1916 was a considerably enlarged version of earlier H-boats and was powered initially with two 160 horsepower Curtiss V-X-X engines. Eighty-four went to the RNAS, which named them Large Americas. Again, Britain was dissatisfied with the under-powered Curtiss engines and substituted 275 horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle I engines in their H-12‘s, later replaced by 375 horsepower Eagle VIII‘s.
With US participation in the war becoming imminent, funds for the expansion of Naval aviation became available and the Navy was at last able to buy twin-engined flying-boats. The first of 20 H-12‘s was delivered in March 1917. Engines were the 200 horsepower Curtiss V-2-3, later replaced with Liberties. US Navy serial numbers: A152, A765/783

H-12A (Model 6B) – Original H-12‘s re-engined in Britain with 275 horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle I engines and later Curtiss versions altered at the factory for engines to be installed in Great Britain. For the H-12A model at least, some hulls were built by the Niagara Motor Boat Company of Tonawanda, NY. RNAS serial numbers: 8650/8699 (50), N1160/l179 cancelled (20), N1510/1519 (10).

Crew: Four;
Powerplant: Two 275 horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle I engines.
Wing span: 92 feet 8 1/2 inches (28.25 meters);
Length: 46 feet 6 inches (14.17 meters);
Height: 16 feet 6 inches (5.02 meters);
Wing area: 1,216 square feet (112.96 square meters);
Empty weight: 7,293 pounds (3,308 kilograms);
Gross weight: 10,650 pounds (4,830,75 kilograms);
Maximum speed: 85 miles per hour (136,79 kilometers per hour) at 2,000 feet (610 meters);
Climb rate: to 2,000 feet (610 meters) 3.3 minutes; to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) 29.8 minutes;
Service ceiling: 10,800 feet (3,292 meters);
Endurance: 6 hours at cruising speed;
Armament: 4x flexible .303-in Lewis machine-guns, four 100 pound (45 kilogram) or two 230 pound (104 kilogram) bombs.

H-12B (Model 6D) – Believed to be H-12‘s and H-12A‘s re-engined with 375 horsepower  Rolls-Royce Eagle VIIIs. RNAS serial numbers: 4330/4353 (24).

H-12L – The U.S. Navy followed the British lead in refilling its H-12‘s with more powerful engines. When the 360 horsepower low-compression Liberty became available late in 1917, the H-12‘s on hand were fitted with these new V12 engines and were redesignated H-12L. The last H-12L‘s were withdrawn from squadron service in July of 1920.

H-16 (Model 6C) – The H-16 was the final model in the Curtiss H-boat line and was built in greater quantities than any or the other twin-engined Curtiss flying-boats.
It was a logical development of the H-12 and was originally intended to use the 200 horsepower Curtiss V-X-X engine. However, the Liberty engine became available before the first H-16 was completed so all 124 H-16 deliveries to the US Navy were made with the 360 horsepower low-compressionV-12 Liberty engines. These were, in turn, replaced by 400 horsepower Liberty 12A‘s in postwar years. The 60 British versions were shipped without engines and were fitted with 345 horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagles after arriving in Britain.
In addition to the 184 aircraft built by Curtiss, 150 of the H-16‘s were built at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. Originally, the Navy-built models were to be identified as Navy Model C, but all were operated as H-16‘s. The first Curtiss-built H-16 was launched on June 22, 1918, while the first Navy-built model had come out of the factory on March 27. The H-16‘s were shipped overseas to U.S. bases in Britain in 1918; H-16‘s remained in postwar service with the F-5L‘s until May 1930. Prices for Navy-built H-16‘s ranged from US$55,547 (minus the engines) for the first example down to US$21,680 apiece for the last 30 aircraft built.
Because of their great similarity, identification problems between the H-16 and the F-5L were inevitable. The distinctive features of the H-16 were originally the unbalanced ailerons with significant sweep back toward the tips as on the America and H-12, and the enclosed pilots’ cockpit. The rudder was unbalanced, but could not be distinguished from early F-5L outlines because the balance area of the F-5L rudder was below the horizontal tail at that time. In postwar years, some H-16‘s were fitted with F-5L ailerons, had the pilots’ enclosure removed, and were given added balanced area to the top or the rudder, further complicating the identity problem.
US Navy serial numbers: (Curtiss) A784/799 (16), A818/867 (50), A1030/1048 (19), A4039/4078 (40). (NAF) A1049/1098 (50), A3459/3558 (100).
RAF serial numbers: N4890/4949 (60) (4950/4999 cancelled).

H-16-1 – One H-16 had its engines turned around and was completed as a pusher. No advantage accrued; the adaptation proved to be excessively tail-heavy.

H-16-2 – A second pusher H-16 (A839) was produced by Curtiss with more consideration for the change of balance. Wings of slightly increased span were swept back 5-1/2 degrees. Straight-chord ailerons used with F-5L-type horn balance brought the revised span to 109 feet 7 inches (33.27 meters). The increased wing area required additional rudder area in the form of two auxiliary rudders mounted on the tailplane.

Patrol-bomber flying-boat

Crew: 4;
Powerplant: Two 400 horsepower Liberty 12A engines;
Wing span:  95 feet 0.3/4 inches (28.97 meters);
Length: 46 feet 1 and 1/2 inches (14.05 meters);
Height:  17 feet 8 inches (5.4 meters);
Wing area:  1,164 square feet (108.13 square meters);
Empty weight: 7,400 pounds (3,356.58 kilograms);
Gross weight: 10,900 pounds (4,944.15 kilograms);
Maximum speed: 95 miles per hour (152.88 kilometers per hour);
Rate of climb: 4,700 feet (1,432 meters) in 10 minutes;
Service ceiling: 9,950 feet (3,032.76 meters);
Range: 378 miles (608 kilometers);
Armament: 5-6 flexible 0.30-inch Lewis machine-guns, four 230 pound (104 kilograms) bombs.

1918: Curtiss HA/HA-1 prototype and HA-2 prototype


The Curtiss HA biplane, was a prototype seaplane… designed independently by Captain B.L. Smith of the United States Marine Corps, and built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company.

The HA was a two-seat biplane with a central float and balancing floats on the wingtips. The fuselage was wood with a fabric covering. The plane was powered by a Liberty V-12 engine in the nose.

The HA prototype was ordered in December of 1917, making its first flight on March 21, 1918.

However, the aircraft was unstable with a heavy tail, and was destroyed later in a crash.

Two more prototypes were built–the HA-1 and HA-2.

The HA-1 was built using salvaged parts from the original HA prototype, but this time it had a differently-designed tailplane and radiator, while the wings were moved farther back. It caught fire during a test flight.

The HA-2 had a wider wingspan, and performed better, but as the war was almost over, no production order was forthcoming.

General characteristics HA-2 prototype

  • Crew: 2;
  • Length: 30 feet 9 inches (9.37 meters);
  • Wingspan: 42 feet 0 inches (12.80 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet 5 inches (3.47 meters);
  • Wing area: 490 square feet (45.52 meters squared);
  • Empty weight: 2,946 pounds (1,336 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 3,907 pounds (1,772 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Liberty V-12 engine providing 360 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 118 miles per hour (190 kilometers per hour);
  • Rate of climb: 790 feet per minute (4 meters per second);
  • Armament: 4 × .30 inches (7.62 mm) Lewis machine guns.

The Curtis HA-2 prototype.

A total of three prototypes and three air/land versions were made for mail delivery.

There is one other Curtiss seaplane built, but it was built after Curtiss’ death in 1930…

1934 Curtiss Model 71/SOC Seagull


No… I am not bothering with a write-up because it was designed and built after the passing of company founder Curtiss.

Since Curtiss was already four years deceased, I’m reasonably sure he had very little to do with this aircraft, though the overall design bears a similarity to his previous machines.

The Wright Aeronautical Corporation, a successor to the original Wright (Brothers) Company, ultimately merged with the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company on July 5, 1929, forming the Curtiss-Wright company, shortly before Curtiss’s death.

Curtiss passed away on July 23, 1930 …

He was in Rochester, NY to argue against a lawsuit brought against him by his former business partner August Herring, when he suffered an appendicitis attack in court, passing away from complications during an appendectomy.You can read about that partnership HERE.

His funeral service was held at St. James Episcopal Church in his home town, Hammondsport, NY,  with interment in the family plot at Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Hammondsport.

Curtiss goes down as one of the all-time pioneer greats of aviation.

On Match 1, 1933, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (a military decoration awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the U.S. armed forced  who distinguishes themself in support of operations by “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918.).

That award is now at the Smithsonian.

Further, Curtiss was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1964, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990, the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2003. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has a collection of Curtiss’s original documents as well as a collection of airplanes, motorcycles and motors.

New York’s Laguardia Airport was originally called the Glenn H. Curtiss Airport when it began operation in 1929.

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Airfields, Concepts, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Seaplanes, Tobacco Card, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Years In

Christmas Day, 2017 marks the five-year anniversary of Pioneers of Aviation.

It was a blog I started because I was bored… and, because I knew next to nothing about aviation let alone early aviation, it seemed like a great idea to write about this subject.

What… you think you are the only one who likes to learn about new things?

I love learning about new things. I write about Japan every day in my Japan–It’s A Wonderful Rife blog… and after writing about my own three-year adventure… spending five years to write about those three years, I began to research things I had seemingly missed while there.

To me, any day where I don’t learn something new is a wasted day. I haven’t wasted a day since 2010, to be sure, as I spend hours doing my best to research every article… and with Pioneers of Aviation, I often spend anywhere between 20 and 40 hours on each article.

Well… at least I do on the articles specific to collector cards.

This past November, I completed writing about the 75-card Wills‘s series, completing the 50-card series in December of 2016.

I should complete the 85-card series a few months in to 2018… except there’s a problem. I had always figured that by the time I got around to writing about it, I would have all of the cards from No. 76-85… but I don’t.

I have an idea about what card is in what order, so I will soldier on… but you’d think that after five years I would have been able to collect all the cards I need.

Trouble is… when I started writing about this 50-card series from 1910, I thought that was all there was. Then I discovered the 75-card series… and the multitude of various series within that 75-card series… the Black and Green back versions… the No-name, Capstan, Havelock and Vice Regal versions… and then recently discovering that the green backed cards come in matte and glazed/glossy… holy crap.

And who knew it would be so difficult to find reasonably priced Havelock green back cards? I only have one of the 75 cards!

As tough as that series is, finding the 85 card series has proven equally elusive…

Of course, for me, like most collectors, money IS an object.

Being a writer, I’m not a rich guy. Married with kid, too. Paying for medical, along with paying for all the sports… ugh… and then I began volunteering my free-time as an assistant coach  – first in soccer, then baseball, and now hockey… the latter two I do now as a coach and assistant coach respectively.

Heck… I played semi-pro soccer, but aside from hacking around with friends, I never played organized baseball (been watching since 1971, though), and I can’t skate (but have been watching since 1970). That’s me… doing stuff I don’t know how to do.

I guess I just love a challenge. Too bad the pay sucks. (I don’t get paid.)

So… what will I do when I complete the 85-card series early in 2018?

I guess I don’t really have to have cigarette/tobacco cards in my collection in order to research and write about them. I’d say where’s the fun in that, but sometimes reality wins out – even in my head.

There are plenty of other tobacco card company sets to write about that were issued like Wills’s from 1919 and earlier… and yes, I know there are lots of sets from other companies issued afterwards, so maybe I can do card sets outside of tobacco – such as bread, candies or chewing gum…  but I would prefer to keep things in the same era, if possible.

There are plenty of pioneers of aviation, after all. Lots of research to research… and lots of things for me to learn.

Thanks for indulging me.

Onwards and upwards.

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

1911 Philadelphia Caramel Company 15-Card Aviation Set

s-l1600-1AJ1.jpgHaving had my head stuck researching cards in the Wills’s Aviation card series’, I have been blind to many other period card sets involving aviation.

This time, let’s take a look at the 1911 set of 15 Airships cards from Philadelphia Caramel Company – apparently of Camden, New Jersey, United States of America.

The card set is designated in the collector volumes as E40.


A very cool business card for a Mr. W.H. Good of the Philadelphia Caramel Company circa 1910. Dig the horse-and-buggies in the two images.

As the cards’ reverse states, it is the largest packers of candies with picture gifts (cards) in the United States. It also mentions what other collector cards were issued by them before this… and I know that they issued baseball cards in 1909 and 1910.

Designated by the collector’s guides as series E40, the 15-card set is handsome enough, reminiscent of the Wills’s cards artwork on the front, but lacking any aviation information on the reverse.

The cards lack a specific number, and do not state how many cards there are in a series, but at 15, it would appear to be an easy enough series to collect, if you were collecting back in 1911.

It appears to be a tough set to find nowadays, however. Available, but pricey.

I guess fewer people ate caramels than smoked tobacco, implying that fewer cards were issued.


Here’s an advertisement card depicting the manufacturing facility of the Philadelphia Carmel Company of Camden, NJ, circa 1906.

On a brief glance at the cars, however, I did notice a spelling gaffe on one of them: the Langler aeroplane… I’m pretty sure they mean Langley.

It’s not a typo. It’s a flat-out error. Langley had been quite well-known in the field of aviation before the issue of these cards in 1911. The error was never corrected during the print run—to the best of my limited knowledge.

You can read about Langley HERE, in an article I wrote for this blog.

Be aware, despite evidence to the contrary, the cards were issue with square corners – NOT rounded ones. The card dimensions are: 1½ × 2⅝ inches.

Above is the complete set of 15, less the Wright Brother’s card, below.


The whole 15 card set (image at top plus the Wright card sealed) was selling for US$180 on E-Bay, plus $17.85 in shipping and $28.82 in import charges if you are outside the U.S…. meaning, if you were a Canadian collector like myself, the mostly Good/Very Good cards are selling for US$226.67. It’s not a bad collection to purchase, condition-wise, I just feel the price is a little steep.

Consider also that the set price dropped by about 50 dollars from the precious time the same set was put up for sale.

I think that’s a little high… but obviously, any buyer supports the theory of “what the market will support.”

The unnumbered 15 cards in the series are, in alphabetical order. I have provided live links to some of the articles I have created previously for the topic, but not for these cards – still… the information will be correct. At some point, I will create articles for all of these cards here:

  1. BALDWIN, Dirigible;
  2. BATES, Biplane;
  3. BLERIOT, Monoplane;
  4. CHINESE, Dirigible;
  5. CURTISS, Biplane;
  6. FARMAN, Biplane;
  8. KNABENSCHUE, Dirigible;
  9. LANGLER (sic Langley), Monoplane;
  10. LATHAM, Monoplane;
  11. LEFEBVRE, Biplane;
  12. REPULBLIQUE, Dirigible;
  13. SANTOS DUMONT, Dirigible;
  14. ZEPPELIN, Dirigible;
  15. WRIGHT, Biplane.

Below, are close-up examples of some of the cards in the set – from another seller, who was selling individual cards:


Really, this is the Langley Monoplane… a success as a gas-powered mini model, but a tremendous failure as a real aircraft in 1903. In 1914, Glenn Curtiss successfully flew a modified version of this aircraft. So it had potential in 1903. It just needed Curtiss to find it.




Always more to collect! And research.














Posted in Aviation Art, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , | Leave a comment