Commander Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.

Earl Winfield Spencer Jr..jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer was married four times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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That Old Sew-And-Sew Sir Adam Mortimer Singer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nice work if you can get it.

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

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

But it still wasn’t anything to sniff at.

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

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

He became a naturalized British citizen in 1900.

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

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

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


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

Farman III Specifications:

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

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


Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte poster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Singer being attended to immediately after his crash in Egypt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis Freeman – A Whole Lot Of Firsts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Clark – The Daring Bird Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The truth, as always, falls in between.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curtiss Flying School 1912

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1911 Curtiss Model D

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications of Curtis Model D (Type IV)

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

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

I should point out that one newspaper article

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

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

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

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

When The Bough Breaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mohan Singh – The Flying Hindu


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curtiss Flying School 1912.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Mohan Singh AJ.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wearing orange robes, he became the Yogi Hari Rama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… whatever happened to Singh?

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

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

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


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



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

Bessie Coleman – First Black Female Licensed Pilot

Bessie Coleman.jpg

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

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

Much of the personal history of Coleman was taken from:, the official Bessie Coleman website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bessie Coleman stamp.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bessie Coleman license.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again… where the heck did the money come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bessie Coleman military-like uniform.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Defender Bessie Coleman.jpg

And it gets worse, if you can believe it.

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


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

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

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


Lieutenant William J. Powell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bessie Coleman grave.jpg


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

Weather A Strong Factor Behind Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

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

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

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

How cool are humans?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

So… on January 28, 1986 when seven astronauts:

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Temperature map of Florida.jpg

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

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

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

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

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


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

The same thing happened to the Challenger.

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

I know… holy crap, right?

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

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

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

Challenger Ice on launch tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The exhaust gases ignited from the rocket’s booster.

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

Challenger 2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger 3.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oh… there it is. Where can I buy one?

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

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

Wills Aviation 79F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Ponche & Primard” Monoplane.

Card #79 of 85, W.D.& H.O WillsAviation series 1912, 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.

Wills Aviation 79R.jpg

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 , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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