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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vice Regal 77R

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

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

1910: Curtiss Hudson Flyer

Curtiss Hudson Flyer 1910.jpg

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

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

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

1911: Curtiss Hydro-Aeroplane


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

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

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

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

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

1911: Curtiss Tractor Hydro


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

General characteristics of the standard Curtiss Model E:

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

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

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

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

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

1912: Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 1

1912 Curtiss Flyinb Boat.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1912 Curtiss Flying Boat Nr. 2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1913: Curtiss Model F

1913 Curtiss Model F.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

General characteristics – 1917 Version

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

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

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

This aircraft was Curtiss using one plane for multiple uses.

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

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

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

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

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

The biplane wings were slightly staggered and of unequal span.

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

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

General characteristics – Model R-2

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

1916: Curtiss Model L


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

General characteristics

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

1916: Curtiss N-9


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1916: Curtiss Model T Triplane aka Wanamaker Triplane

1916 Curtiss Model T Triplane.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curtiss Wanamaker Triplane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General characteristics

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

1918: Curtiss NC (Navy-Curtiss)

1917 Curtis NC.jpg

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

It makes me think of Rocky Raccoon by The Beatles.

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

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

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

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

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

General characteristics (of the NC-4)

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

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

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

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

1917: Curtiss H.16


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrol-bomber flying-boat

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General characteristics HA-2 prototype

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

The Curtis HA-2 prototype.

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

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

1934 Curtiss Model 71/SOC Seagull


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

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

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

Curtiss passed away on July 23, 1930 …

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

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

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

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

That award is now at the Smithsonian.

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

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

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

Five Years In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for indulging me.

Onwards and upwards.

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

1911 Philadelphia Caramel Company 15-Card Aviation Set

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Always more to collect! And research.














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

114th Anniversary Of The Wright Brother’s Inaugural Flight


December 17, 1903 – Orville Wright flies off this mortal coil in the first heavier-than-air controlled and sustained flight. Image from: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppprs.00626/

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Flyer biplane aeroplane made the first powered, sustained, controlled, heavier-than-air flights at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, U.S of A.

After weeks of delays caused by broken propeller shafts at Kill Devil Hills–two trips back to Dayton, Ohio to get replacements–Wilbur Wright won a coin toss over brother Orville for the right to fly the aircraft.

December 13 was the perfect day weather-wise for flight, but because it was a Sunday, and their Christian beliefs forbade them from working on the Lord’s Day, they waited a day.

Coincidentally, December 14 was the 121st anniversary of the Montgolfier Brothers first test flight of their balloon on December 14, 1782. You can read about that achievement HERE.

On December 14, 1903, the Wright Flyer stalled on takeoff enabling only a three-second flight attempt. The takeoff for the plane, since the bicycle builders failed to include wheels, was via a slingshot mechanism that added oomph to the aircraft’s engine to give it speed to achieve lift… so a stalled engines sucked. What sucked more, was the damage the aircraft sustained.

Wilbur believed that his flight could have easily been a success, but chalked it up to his own inexperience with flying, and with the aircraft in general. Of course, who can blame him… this was all new science.

It took the lads until Thursday, December 17, 1903 for the repairs to be completed, with the brothers making two flights each – for a total of four that day.

This time, Orville Wright took the controls… and at 10:35AM… taking off into a blustery and freezing headwind of 21 miles per hour (33.8 kilometers per hour), the Wright Flyer flew a distance of 120 feet (36.58 meters), covering it in 12 seconds, traveling through the air at a speed of 6.87 miles per hour (11.056 kilometers per hour)!

That’s it in the John T. Daniels photo at the very top, with Wilbur running alongside, as the Wright Flyer is about 3-feet (1-meter above the ground, and only about to clear the starting rail ! Magnificent!

As you can see in the photo, Orville Wright was lying on his stomach atop the biplane’s lower wing. His hips are in a ‘cradle’ device that helped him operate the wing-warping mechanism.

You can also see the starting rail in the sand, a coil box to start the engine, and wooden bench used to rest the right wing on.

What an amazing photograph. What an amazing achievement.

Just think… from being 3-feet (1-meter) above the ground in 1903, to a mere 66 years later when man took its first step onto Luna, our moon… it’s the most impressive leap in the progression of human intellectual evolution ever.

Of course, there were all those world wars, atomic obliteration(s), acts of terrorism and all that… with the wars, in particular, fast-tracking aeroplane evolution to jets, supersonic and of course space flight.

Wilbur flew next, traveling 175 feet (53.34 meters), with Orville going again traveling 200 feet (60.96 meters) – each flying about 10 feet (3 meters) above the unforgiving ground.

Here’s what Orville Wright had to say about the fourth and final flight of the day, this one piloted by Wilbur:

“Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o’clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet (259.69 meters); the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.”

For all four flights that day of December 17, 1903, five people were witness… who the hell would want to leave?

  • W.C. Brinkley, a local lumber merchant from Manteo, NC;
  • John T. Daniels (he used a Gundlach Korona box camera that Orville Wright had pre-positioned) of the  coastal guard Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station (it merged with the US Coast Guard in 1915);
  • Will O. Dough of the coastal guard Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station;
  • Adam D. Etheridge of the coastal guard Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station;
  • Johnny Moore, 16, local teenager from Nag’s Head. NC. who was walking along the beach when he came across the Wright Brothers getting ready to test their flying machine. I’m pretty sure he should have been in school… or working.

After retrieving the aircraft, a just of wind blew the Wright Flyer end over end badly damaging the aircraft resulting in a halt to further attempts.

Below is a photograph at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina honoring the achievement, with a large memorial at the top of the hill.

Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Andrée Balloon Expedition To The North Pole

Hassan Andrees BalloonF

History Behind The Card: Andrée’s Balloon

Card #nn of 30, American Tobacco Company (Hassan brand), Arctic Scenes set from 1910.

  • Salomon August Andrée, born October 18, 1854 in Gränna, Småland, Sweden – dying, it is assumed in October, 1897 on Kvitøya, Arctic Norway;
  • Nils Gustaf Ekholm, born October 9, 1848 in Smedjebacken in Dalarna, Sweden – April 5, 1923 in Stockholm, Sweden;
  • Nils Strindberg, born September 4, 1872 in Stockholm, Sweden – dying, it is assumed in October, 1897 on Kvitøya, Arctic Norway;
  • Knut Frænkel, born on February 14, 1870 in Karlstad, Sweden – dying, it is assumed in October, 1897 on Kvitøya, Arctic Norway.

I found the above Hassan tobacco card on-line at an auction site, and thought that while the art on the card was simply beautiful, that the subject matter was simply sad.

The card depicts a hydrogen balloon over the Arctic ice trying to reach the North Pole in 1897.

That the card was issued in 1914 (some 17 years later) it was also interesting to me, as to why a failed expedition was still garnering enough attention to warrant its own collector’s card.

The basics:
Andrée was a Swedish engineer, physicist, polar explorer and an aeronaut.

May 27_1896_SAAndree

S.A. Andree taken on May 27, 1896 by photographer Gösta Florman (1831–1900).

Born in the small town of Gränna, Sweden, he went to Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology graduating in 1874 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Two years later, he attended the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, U.S. where he worked at the Sweden pavilion as a janitor—proof positive that he was not above doing what it takes to do (or see) what he wanted.

During breaks from sweeping up fallen meatballs, he read a book on trade winds and met John Wise, an American balloonist, both of which fueled his newfound passion with balloons.

After returning to Sweden, he opened up his own machine shop, working at it until poor financial returns forced him to close it in 1880.

From 1880 to 1882 he was an assistant at the Royal Institute of Technology.

Between 1882–1883 Andrée was part of a Swedish scientific expedition to Spitsbergen, Norway led by Nils Ekholm. Andrée’s job was to check on air electricity.


Nils Ekholm circa 1897.

From 1891 to 1894 Andrée was a member of the Stockholm, Sweden city council. From 1885 on, he worked for the Swedish patent office.

Even during such mundane times sitting on city council or within the patent office, Andrée was still a scientist at heart, and wrote and published journals on air electricity, conduction of heat, and on some inventions of his own.

He was all in for science and technology, and was completely unskilled in arts and literature. He did believe, that the emancipation of women would come as a consequence of technical progress.

Balloon To The North Pole
It was 1896, and no one had yet successfully managed to reach the North Pole… or if they had, no one had successfully returned back to boast of the accomplishment… however, physical evidence suggests that no one had made it… and wouldn’t, until either Fred Cook on April 21, 1908 or one year later, the better documented case of Robert Peary and company on April 6, 1909.

Back around 1897, Sweden was in this whole ultra-nationalism kick. Look at us, we’re Sweden. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. I like Sweden. I even had a penpal a few years ago who sent me a Swedish Donald Duck book! I would have married her just for that! Of course, I like Sweden now, but would I have liked them in the early 20th century?

But in the case of Andrée and people like him, he was swept up in it, and seemed willing to do whatever it took to make Sweden great in the eyes of the world.

Andrée’s attempt to reach the North Pole was supported by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and funded by people like King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel the Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist who was known as the inventor of dynamite.

(Ed. Note: Nobel, by the way, bequeathed his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes after reading a premature obituary of himself that showed him as someone who profited from the sales of arms and munitions. In 1888, his brother Ludvig had died, and newspapers mistakenly thought it was Alfred. So, in 1895, afraid he would be remembered in a negative light, Alfred Nobel donated most of his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes. He died—this time for sure—in 1896 of heart disease leading to a stroke.)

As for Andrée, his polar exploration project was seen in Sweden as one of enormous public interest, while also showing him to be brave and patriotic. Gooooo Swe-den!

Neighboring Norway, by the way, was already considered the world player in Arctic exploration.

1896 Andree Arctic Expedition crew

From left: Nils Ekholm, Nils Strindberg and Salomon August Andrée pose for official photos (with the fake background) before the 1896 expedition.

When drumming up backers, Andrée told people that since he was planning on flying a hydrogen balloon over the North Pole during the summer months, the Arctic weather would not be an issue.

That sounds plausible. Heck, if you look at the photo near the bottom, you’ll see clear blue skies in August…

Andrée said that thanks to a six-month summer offering with six months of midnight sun, the crew would be able to make observations around the clock which would halve the amount of time required to make them.

I’m unsure if that means people would be awake all the time, but I’ll let that go.

He says that the crew would not have to anchor the balloon at night for rest, meaning it could travel 24/7.

Of snow on the balloon, Andrée shrugged it off saying: “precipitation at above-zero temperatures will melt, and precipitation at below-zero temperatures will blow off, for the balloon will be traveling more slowly than the wind.”

The audience ate it up, being unaware of such simple concerns as summer Arctic storms, fog, high humidity, and ice formation… which was always a big concern.

Still… the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences approved Andrée’s budget of 130,800 kronor (about US $10million in today’s moolah).

Of that 130,000 kroner, the balloon itself would cost 36,000 kroner.

Sweden’s King Oscar II donated 30,000 kroner to cover the expedition’s budget.

At this moment in history—up until Cook and Peary—hundreds of people had attempted to reach the magnetic North Pole, but none save Andrée ever attempted to do so by balloon.

There’s probably a reason for this… oh yeah… stupid cold… and being up in a windy environment would be even colder for the crew.

Andrée figured that it would take no more than 43 hours to pass over the North Pole, where he would then land six days after that in Asia or Alaska (depending on the wind, and then walk to civilization if necessary.

His plan was to let his hydrogen-filled balloon be moved across the sky from Svalbard (before 1925, it was known as Spitsbergen), across the Arctic Sea to the Bering Strait, to fetch up in Alaska, Canada, or Russia, passing near or even right over the North Pole on the way.

Spitsbergen is 650 miles from the North Pole. With 30 mile per hour winds, and flying 19 hours a day, it could only take about two days… easy-peasy.

This type of scenario always reminds of Gilligan telling the Skipper (on the 1960s Gilligan’s Island television show): “Well Skipper, from here on it looks like smoooooooth sailing.”

Andrée was Sweden’s first balloonist, and previously he had used his own balloon. the Svea, on nine journeys… using the strong prevailing westerlies (winds) to blow the balloon – even uncontrollably across the Nordic climes, occasionally having the winds slam the balloons basket across rocks or even skim water surfaces such as the Baltic Sea.

For a couple of the treks, He used a drag-rope steering technique he developed… and this was his plan of steering for the North Pole expedition.

1897 Andree drag rope technique

Although this photo is of the later 1897 expedition, it does adequately show the drag rope technique of “steering”.

For a drag-rope steering technique, the drag ropes that hang from the balloon basket and drag part of their length on the ground, are designed to counteract the tendency of lighter-than-air craft to travel at the same speed as the wind… it’s what makes steering by sails impossible.

But Andrée felt that the friction of the ropes would slow the balloon to the point where the sails would have an effect (beyond that of making the balloon rotate on its axis)…. IE, it made the craft more steerable.

Andrée felt that his drag-rope technique provided a 10-degree deviation in either way from actual wind direction.

Uh… yeah. I’m no physicist, but that doesn’t seem like a practical means of achieving steering… especially if the winds involved are very strong, where it could turn a balloon and basket and tip it… not to mention possible rope snags… or ropes snapping in excessive cold…

Team Sweden Takes Off
It’s 1896. The polar exploration balloon was built by Henri Lachambre in Paris—the city was well-respected as being the best at balloon design and manufacturer.

The balloon was a varnished three-layer silk balloon, 20.5 meters (67 feet) in diameter, and was originally named Le Pôle Nord (French for “The North Pole“), but was later renamed Örnen (Swedish for “Eagle”).

Making the balloon for the 1896 Andree Arctic expedition

A crew of female seamstresses in Paris, work sewing the the skin for the Örnen hydrogen balloon for the 1896 Andrée Arctic expedition. Needle holes all over a balloon… what could go wrong?

The balloon manufacturer had to figure out how to create accommodations for a three-man crew aboard, eventually providing sleeping berths at the floor of the basket, along with some of stores and provisions.

Because the balloon would use hydrogen gas, cooking could not be done on the balloon, so a modified primus stove designed by a friend of Andrée’s was created where it could be dangled over the basket’s edge some eight meters (26 feet) below, and then lit from the basket at a safe distance.

An angled mirror attached to the stove would allow the crew to determine if the stove was lit or not.

Along with Andrée, the crew of the 1896 balloon expedition would include Nils Gustaf Ekholm and Nils Strindberg.


Nils Strindberg circa 1897, would document the 1897 trek to the Arctic by camera, as well as with a diary and notes.

Ekholm was an experienced Arctic meteorological researcher, and the former boss of Andrée during the 1882-1883 science expedition to Spitsbergen.

Strindberg was a student involved in chemistry and physics.

The expedition’s purpose was to do an aerial map of the North Pole area by aerial photography, something Strindberg was supposedly good at.

Smart men all, these scientists, but none especially robust… but what the heck… Andrée figured the journey would be an easy one.

Even before the balloon began its trek, strong north winds blew the Örnen straight at the balloon hangar at Danes Island (it’s just off the coast of Spitsbergen), forcing them to give up.

The released hydrogen from the balloon, packed up, and went home.

Perhaps that was a good thing.

After being built in Paris, France, the Örnen was delivered directly to the take-off point on Spitsbergen.

Without ever having been tested.

After inflating the balloon in preparation for lift-off, tests showed that the balloon was leaking hydrogen at a rate far more than expected.

Ekholm has previously monitored the Örnen’s ability to remain aloft, discovering while it was in the hangar, that the balloon was losing about 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of lift force a day owing to all of the leaking hydrogen. He felt that there was no way the balloon would ever be able to make the proposed journey.

There some one million stitching holes in the balloon, and glued silk coverings were still unable to stymie the release of gas.

So why would Ekholm still have gone on the trip?

While his measurements showed such a fast release of hydrogen gas, and he had told Andrée as much, he was always stymied when the process of gas release was never at the same rate from one day to the next…

What Ekholm didn’t know, was the Andrée had ordered workers at the hangar to add hydrogen gas during the night, and to keep it hush-hush.

Apparently a proponent of “no pain, no gain”, Andrée thew caution to the wind, believing instead that technology would win out… failing to realize that the physics of a loss of hydrogen could be disastrous.

Anyhow, it was after the failure to launch when the entire team was heading back to Sweden that Ekholm learned of Andrée’s deception.

Why would Andrée do this? Was Swedish pride that important? Apparently. Go Sweden?

Needless to say, Ekholm wanted no part of a second attempt at journeying past the North Pole if it was with Andrée.

Team Sweden Take II – 1897
The 1897 expedition team consisted of just three individuals, Andrée, returnee Nils Strindberg, and Knut Frænkel who was apparently only 27, but looks 50 in the photo below:

Knut Fraenkel

Old man Frænkel seen here in this circa 1897 photo is only 27 years old at the most! Maybe men just looked more mature 120 years ago.

During the balloon expedition, Frænkel was responsible for writing the detailed protocols of everything done by the participants… something he did longer than the length of the balloon ride.

For this expedition, the team would again use the hydrogen-filled polar balloon the Örnen.

Taking off from Spitsbergen on July 11, 1897, the polar balloon Örnen was
trouble from the get-go.

Again, the balloon had problems in retaining hydrogen gas, but the first problem occurred at lift-off, when the balloon lost two of the three total sliding ropes that were supposed to drag on the ice. Even if the drag-rope technique COULD have worked, it wasn’t going to now with only a single rope.

Steering? Uh-oh… fewer drag ropes, less rudder control—at least according to Andrée’s drag rope technology.

Ten hours after lifting off, the Örnen was struck by heavy winds from a nearby storm, which brought with it rain, turning into ice forming on the balloon skin, with weighed it down—together with the nasty winds, severely impeded the balloon’s flight.

I’m betting it was cold, too.

After 65 hours of flight, and with the Örnen losing hydrogen gas far too quickly, the balloon came down in a semi-controlled descent onto the pack ice. While everyone survived unscathed, it meant a very long trek south over a drifting landscape to be rescued.

Strindberg photo of crashed 1897 Arctic balloon

Strindberg photo of the crashed 1897 Arctic hydrogen balloon, the Örnen.

They had traveled 295 miles (475 kilometers)… and that’s how far they would have to walk back.

But at least they had proper Arctic gear, right?

Sadly… no.

Strindberg photo of crashed 1897 Arctic balloon 2

Another Strindberg photo of the crashed 1897 Arctic expedition balloon. If Strindberg is taking the photo, this must be Frænkel and Andrée wondering just what the hell they are going to do now.

I am unsure just why they were so ill-prepared traveling without proper Arctic clothing and other supplies—perhaps Andrée believed that the power of technology would ensure they would not crash. Whatever the reason, the three expedition members were screwed.

But despite being ill-prepared with the warmest of coats, they survived.

Diet, Diet, Diet
The balloon was carrying three sledges and a boat, and had enough supplies for the three-man crew to last three months.

Also, on their way back south, they could also find supply caches left by other Arctic ground expedition crews: three in northern Svalbard and one in Franz Josef Land.

Franz Josef Land was their best best, as it was closest to where they wanted to end up…

One week into their new journey, they discovered that the shifting ice they were walking on had moved them too far west, so they changed tactics and headed north to one of the cache of supplies in northern Svalbard.


Here’s a photo of Strindberg pulling a sledge across the pack ice. It’s snowing. Because it’s the frickin’ Arctic. How come his mustache still looks waxed? is that what he’s carrying in the sledge?

Okay… moving north… in the Arctic… but understandable if they needed to gather enough supplies to make the long trek back south to the home base.

Even going north proved to be a challenge. If it wasn’t for the huge snow drifts, there were piled mini hills of pack ice—a pain when pulling the sledges.

It wasn’t a lack of food—they supplemented their food reserves by shooting polar bears—it was the physical toll from the travel over the uneven terrain.

They walked, and walked and walked, and at some point in October, the weather in the Arctic became more winter like… at which point in time the three were on Kvitøya (White Island).


From the 1910 T30 Hassan Cigarettes ARCTIC SCENES -Andree’s Farewell Message offers some neat information.

The place (Kvitøya) has an area of 682 square kilometers (263 square miles), and is considered to be the easternmost part of Norway. It’s called White Island because it is almost completely covered with a dome of white ice, and what isn’t covered by ice is barren and rocky.

Needless to say, Andrée, Strindberg and Frænkel perished there.


Photo by Richard Neill in 2011, showing the Andrée, Strindberg and Frænkel Memorial on the island of Kvitoya in the Norwegian Arctic. The photographer says, that as part of the modern expedition, he feels fortunate to have visited it, as it is usually quite inaccessible.

Strindberg died first, as evidenced by him buried under rocks in a grave. Andrée and Frænkel… they were found many years later inside a tent.

When the camp was rediscovered in 1930, the diary notes and observation books were found, too, both kept up-to-date until just a few days after landing on Kvitøya.

There are no notes on why Strindberg died. However, the diary says that all three men had suffered, at some time, digestive issues, illness and exhaustion.

Modern researchers believe it is possible that they may have died from eating polar bear meat containing Trichinella parasites. An examination of a dead polar bear found at the site and likely killed by the three men showed it to contain the parasites.

Knut Frænkel - left and Nils Strindberg

Knut Frænkel (left) and Nils Strindberg taking a look at a polar bear they had shot… unaware that even in death, it may have killed them all. Photo obviously by Andrée.

Of course, it could also have been issues with the provisions they were carrying around with them.

Whatever the reason… they died.

When the remains of the last camp were found in 1930 by the Norwegian Bratvaag Expedition, they brought back with them two bodies—I’ll assume they didn’t initially find Strindberg.

A month later the ship M/K Isbjørn, hired by a newspaper, made additional finds, including the third body.

They found notebooks, diaries, photographic negatives, the boat and many utensils and other objects.

The return of bodies of Andrée, Strindberg and Frænkel was a big deal for Sweden, with King Gustaf V speaking at the funeral.

1930 newspaper image showing the funeral procession for Andree and company in Stockholm Sweden.jpg

A 1930 newspaper image showing the funeral procession for Andree and company in Stockholm Sweden, showing the people still cared, despite the expedition occurring 33 years previous.

Each body was cremated, and had their ashes interred (mixed together) at the Norra begravningsplatsen cemetery in Stockholm.

To others, I’ll leave the hand-wringing and questioning of the fool’s folly of undertaking such an expedition.

Say what you will, the members of this expedition were at the very least brave, brave people.

Andrée Land in Greenland was named after him by Swedish Arctic explorer A.G. Nathorst. I’m guessing there’s not the same amount of love (or hate) for Strindbery or Frænkel.

Hassan Andrees BalloonR

The reverse of the Hassan tobacco card pictured at the very top of this blog article. There is interesting material here that I did not see in any of the sites I plundered seeking information to write this piece. Keep in mind, that this card was issued in 1914 for the American Tobacco Company‘s 25-card set “The World’s Greatest Explorers.”


Posted in Balloons, Failures, Firsts, Lighter-Than-Air, People, Photography, Research, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wills’s Aviation Card #76 – Italian War Monoplane.

76F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Italian War Monoplane.

Card #76 of 85, W.D.& H.O WillsAviation series 1911, Vice Regal  – Black-back issue

  • Captain Carlo Maria Piazza on March 17, 1881 in Busto Arsizio, Italy – June 24, 1917, Milan, Italy.

This Wills’s Aviation card is about an Italian War Monoplane, but actually depicts a French designed and manufactured aircraft. And I already wrote about it a while back.

That’s no fun… but since this card clearly depicts an aeroplane used by Italy in a war, we should discuss the war it flew in… and considering this card was issued in 1911, it sure wasn’t flown in WWI…

More than anything, this tobacco card represents military history—it also gives us a better time-line as to when this 85-card set of Aviation cards was released.

It is representative of Sunday, October 23, 1911,when Italian Captain Carlo Piazza took off at 6:19AM and flew his French-designed and -manufactured Blériot XI monoplane aircraft over the lands of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire to spy on its ground troops.

We know that the 75- and 85-card Wills’s related tobacco cards were released in 1911.

But, since the reverse of this card denotes that information (sort of), we know that the 85-series of card was released at least after October 23, 1911… but before 1912 began.

Since there are 10 additional cards (from the previously released 75) in the 85-card series, and this was first (as card No. 76), it was hardly a late news-arriving after-thought. Regardless… it implies that the card series was released in late October 1911 through December of 1911.

No histories of this card series have ever given a 1912 issue date.

Let’s look at the actually aviation history now.

The October 23, 1911 flight of Captain Piazza as depicted on the card’s reverse, was the first time an aeroplane was actually used in a war—in this case in the Italo-Turkish War fought between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire of September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912—for reconnaissance.

Before we get into the interesting details of the war, let’s first take a look at the man named Maria, Captain Carlo Maria Piazza.

Carlo Piazza.jpg

Born March 21, 1871 in Busto Arsizio, Italy, Piazza was a person who loved his athletics, taking part in fencing, gun shooting, horse riding, even winning a gold medal at a horse racing contest in Pesaro in 1899.

He obtained his pilot’s license on June 30, 1911 in Somma Lombardo (in Lombardo, Italy), and then added a military pilot’s license on August 1 of the same year.

It was at this time, that Piazza, when learning to fly and actually flying, he became friendly with aeroplane manufacturers and their pilots across Italy, especially in Malpensa.

I only bring that up, because the town where Piazza was born—Busto Arsizio–is now known as Milan–Malpensa. I know, nothing earth-shattering. Gimme a break, I’m trying to translate an Italian Wikipedia page on Piazza…

Italy, in September 1911, carried out military maneuvers in Monferrato—and thus became the first to have an aeroplane deployment. The while idea was to fly over enemy lines for the Red Team, and spy on what the Blue team was doing or what its full compliment was.

Despite a fog, the reconnaissance went well… paving the eventual way for aviation to be needed, should a war arise.

The war began over Tripoli, Libya.


Italy’s claims for Libya go back to Turkey’s defeat by Russia The claims of Italy over Libya dated back to Turkey’s defeat by Russia in the Turkish-Russia war of 1877-1878. At that time, there were discussions whereby France and Great Britain agreed to the occupation of Tunisia and Cyprus, respectively, which were both a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

After the French took over Tunisia in 1881, the Ottoman Turks loaded up the city of Tripoli in Libya to protect it from possible invasion by the French.

Italy, however, felt differently about Tripoli—and Libya in general. The Italians felt that it should belong to them.

The feelings continued to fester until March 1911 when Italy’s newspapers staged a large-scale lobbying campaign in favor of an invasion of Libya.

The newspapers claimed that Libya was rich in minerals, had plenty of water, and most importantly, was only defended by about 4,000 Ottoman soldiers. The population was described by the Italian media as being hostile to the Turkish troops, and thus could use with a bit of liberating… besides, claimed the Italian newspapers, any war over the land could simply be considered a ‘walk-in-the-park’.

I’m not sure if Libya was rich in minerals, or even packed with large amounts of water… anyone reading such claims would think it would make a wonderful addition to the Italian territories. How could they know, except from what they were told.

So… since Italy felt that Tripoli was within its own territories in Africa, Italy decided it needed (in 1911) to protect its Italian citizens who were living there from “the evil Ottoman” people trying to over run it (since 1881).


When the war began, Italy’s Royal Army Air Services took all of its aeroplanes—every single one the country had… all French-made, except for the Austrian-made Taube’s—to Tripoli, Libya, and all under the command of Piazza and the 1st Flottilla Aeroplani (the 1st Aerplane Squadron).

You can read more about the Etrich aeroplane HERE.

Its aeroplane inventory consisted of:

  • two Blériot XI;
  • three Nieuport monoplanes;
  • two Farman biplanes, and;
  • two Etrich Taube monoplanes.

Nine aircraft. It’s actually quite a large number considering we are talking about 1911.

Carlo Piazza and Bleriot monoplane 1912 Tripoli.jpg

This photo shows Captain Piazza in the center with crew, with his Bleriot XI monoplane in Tripoli in 1912.

Piazza’s inaugural recon flight on October 23, 1911 was aboard a Blériot XI that only had a 25-horsepower, three-cylinder engine, no instruments of any kind, and used Wright brothers’-style wing-warping.

How could they send a man up in a crate like that? It was like a small lawnmower with wings.

On November 1, Second Lieutenant Giolio Gavotti, in an Etrich Taube, would carry out the first aerial bombardment.

After a shipment of  of bombs were sent to the pilot’s base, the pilots weren’t exactly sure what to do with them.

These bombs weren’t like the bombs we know today, rather these were actually two crates of WW1 hand grenades. A Gallaher’s Cigarettes The Great War Series I card issued in 1915 below will give you a decent idea of what they looked like, and how they worked.

While these cards show the hand-made version, regular military hand grenades weren’t much different, essentially looking like classic cartoon TNT sticks, but with a a longer fuse.

Keep in mind that the image below depicts a typical trench scene from 1915… but what we are talking about was four years earlier still in 1911.

Please note, that a version of the hand grenade had been invented and used commonly some 150 years earlier… but was reinvented again in the early 1910s..

WWI Grenade F.jpg

WWI Grenade R.jpg

WWI hand grenades. That’s looks safe…

By the way, you can also click HERE to see how pilots dropped bombs during WWI. Please note, however, that our story here is pre-WWI.

Anyhow, because no one told the pilots how to use them, the pilots were quite nervous, and yet Second Lieutenant Giolio Gavotti volunteered to go on a flight with a few grenades to try them out.

Flying an Etrich Taube monoplane, Gavotti tied a padded leather pouch to the inside of his open cockpit, and then added three grenades, with a fourth tucked in his jacket pocket.

On November 1, 1911, Gavotto took off on his mission, flying to Ain Zara, an oasis east of Tripoli, where he spied a large camp of Arab warriors who were working with the Ottoman Turks.

After circling the oasis twice at a height of about 100 meters, he attacked.

He held the aeroplane controls in his left hand and using his right, took out a single grenade, armed it and then tossed it over the side of the plane, taking care not to hit his own wing.

Landing in the middle of the camp, the grenade exploded, tossing up a cloud of smoke and dust.

Encouraged, he threw the other three grenades, but does not appear to have hit anything else in the world’s first air raid.

Here’s what Gavotti had to say about the event in a letter home to his father:

“Today I have decided to throw bombs from the aeroplane. It is the first time that we will try this and if I succeed, I will be really pleased to be the first person to do it.”

“After a while, I notice the dark shape of the oasis. With one hand, I hold the steering wheel, with the other I take out one of the bombs and put it on my lap… I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw the bomb out, avoiding the wing. I can see it falling through the sky for couple of seconds and then it disappears. And after a little while, I can see a small dark cloud in the middle of the encampment. I am lucky. I have struck the target.”

If Gavotti killed anyone with his aerial assault, no one knows… not even if anyone was hurt., and yet the Italian press called him a hero after hearing about the attack.

Because the aviation term “bomber” had not yet been invented, newspaper reports of the day called Gavotti the “flying artilleryman” who invented “the art of winged death.” Nice.

Back to Piazza… in 1912 he was the first ever person to be captured behind enemy lines as an aeroplane pilot. His aeroplane had developed engine problems, and was forced to land.

Captured, the Turks did not release him until November of 1913.

During the course of the war the Italian pilots would go on to fly 712 sorties, drop several hundred bombs, and according to intelligence estimates kill a total of 26 people. Their effect on morale, however, was far greater than the low number of casualties might suggest. Having bombs dropped down on them, the enemy felt shock and awe, and yes, fear.

Of course, at some point in time, the Turks became the first to shoot down an enemy aeroplane via a rifle.

What’s interesting to me, however, is that the Italian Wikipedia entry claims that while Piazza’s initial adventures in Tripoli were interesting, it suggests in stead that his flight on October 20, 1913 was one more worth remembering.

In an afternoon flight, Piazz flew his aeroplane up from Mirafiori to the valley of Susa, and then flew towards Moncenisio high up in the mountains… He flew to height of 3,200 meters (1.99 miles), and made his landing at an altitude of about 2,000 meters (1.242 miles)… it was the first landing in the high mountains… and was done without much incident to Piazza, except for perhaps that time he fainted from the thin air…

While there seems little doubt that French aviation Alfonso Pègoud was the first pilot to perform a loop in an aircraft back on September 3, 1913, Piazza became the first Italian pilot (and fourth all-time) to perform the feat in March of 1914.

During 1914, Piazza spent a long period of time as a pilot trainer in Malpensa, and was a proponent for stating just how important an aeroplane could be used during WWI.

He gained a promotion to Colonel, earned a silver medal from Italy and war cross from France for his war time contributions.

Unfortunately, it was in 1917 that Piazza contracted an illness, eventually succumbing to it on June 24, 1917, dying in Milan, Italy. He was buried with full military honors in the cemetery of Viggiù, in Italy.

Bleriot XI Specifications:
  • Crew: 1;
  • Wingspan: 34 feet – 10 inches (10.62 meters).
  • Length: 38 feet (11.58 meters);
  • Weight: 816 pounds (370.13 kilograms);
  • Powerplant:Gnome air-cooled 7-cylinder radial, 50 horsepower engine;
  • Armament: none.

Should you wish to read more about the Bleriot XI aeroplane, check out my article HERE.

Posted in Bombers, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Scouts, Tobacco Card, Weapons, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 75-Card Series

checklist 2.jpgThe Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911  – 75-Card Series features 79 different cards, owing to different brands/backs opting for different aircraft/people to be featured on four cards: Cards No. 63. (2x); No. 69 (2x); No. 73 (2x); and No. 74 (2x).

Note that there are multiple issues of the 1911-75 card series – noted on the reverse of the cards, with different color ink used on complete series of the cards.

The series available in the 1911 issued 75-cards vary per the tobacco company advertised on the reverse: Capstan Black; Capstan Green; Vice Regal Black; Vice Regal Green; Havelock Black; Havelock Green. There’s even a no name/Anonymous issue black back version identical in design (front and back) to the Capstan Black, Havelock Black and Vice Regal Black issues.

The Capstan Green and the Vice Regal Green series each come with two special backs: a matte version; and a glazed version. There really is quite an obvious difference. I am unsure if one is more difficult to find than the other, suffice to say that I have more glazed cards than matte – but I have too few of these green cards en masse to make an adequate judgement.

The Capstan Green, Havelock Green and Vice Regal Green each have their own individual green back stylings.

Below… I have created only one listing per card or color, UNLESS a card number shows a different aircraft from another series, in which case you will see multiple numbers for a card on the checklist below.

Under the “Title of Card”, is a click-thru link to a full feature article written by yours truly, researched heavily, featuring as much information on the subject I dared investigate. There are errors on the cards, errors in many of the sites proclaiming to have information, and there are cards where little to no information is provided. I do my best to clarify the truth to present historical accuracy… yeah, I’m blowing my own air horn, but I am proud of the work I have put into the Pioneers Of Aviation blog.

As a former newspaper reporter with the Toronto Star, and a personal curiosity of all things, every article tries to answer every question THIS curious mind could ask… ensuring every story is as complete as a blog can bring, without having to write a book.

Should you be intrigued, I also write a daily blog on Japan, featuring what my life was like living as a foreigner in Japan for three years. The blog is now my own Encyclopedia Japonica featuring everything I didn’t know about Japan at the time, but have found interesting enough to write about. It’s called Japan – It’s a Wonderful Rife.

1911 Wills’s Aviation 75-Card Series – see HERE for more details on each possible type of series

Card # Company Brands Title of Card Back Color
1.1.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Flying Ship” of Francesco de Lana. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

2.2.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Montgolfier, 1783. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

3.3.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Balloon Flight in England, 1784. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

4.4.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Successful Crossing the Channel, 1785. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

5.5.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Parachute Display, 1837. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

6.6.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First “dirigible,” 1852. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

7.7.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Successful Dirigible, 1883. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

8.8.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Rounding the Eiffel Tower, Santos Dumont. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

9.9.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First British War Balloon, “Nulli Secondus,” 1905. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

10.10.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name United States Military Dirigible No. 1. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

11.111.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The Wellman Airship “America,” 1907. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

12.12.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Dirigibles Lebaudy Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

13.13.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Modern British Army Dirigible “Baby.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

14.14.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Ville de Paris” (French.) Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

15.15.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Parseval Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

16.16.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Italian Dirigible “Italia.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

17.willss-tobacco-card-1910-aviation-card-17.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Spanish “Torres Quevedo.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

18.18.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Military Dirigibles Gross Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

19.19.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Zodiac type.


Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

20.reverse-of-1910-wills-card-20-italian-military-dirigible-no-1.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Italian Military Dirigible No. 1. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

21.21.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Dirigible “Clouth.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

22.22.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Military Dirigible “Colonel Renard.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

23.23.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Zeppelin Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

24.24.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Dirigible “Capazza.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

25.25.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name British Dirigible “Clement Bayard.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

26.26.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name An Early Idea of Aviation. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

27.27.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Besnier. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

28.28.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Henson’s Idea. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

29.29.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Lilenthal Gliding Machine. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

30.30.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Maxim, 1890. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

31.31.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The “Ader” Flying Machine. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

32.32.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Chanute, 1895. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

33.33.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Santos Dumont’s First Monoplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

34.34.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Gastamabide & Mengin” Monoplane, 1908. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

35.35.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Wright Bros.’ Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

36.361.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Professor Langley’s Aerodrome. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

37.willss1910_37.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Voisin” Type Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

38.willss1910_38.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Bleriot XI.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

39.39f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The “Antoniette” Monoplane, 1909. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

40.40f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The “Windham” Monoplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

41.41f-32.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Farman” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

42.42f-001-2.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The R.E.P. Monoplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

43.43-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Silver Dart.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

44.44.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Cody” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

45.card-45.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Santos Dumont’s Monoplane, No. XIX. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

46.card-46.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Herring-Curtiss.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

47.card-47.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Jerme” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

48.card-48.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Kimball.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

49.card-49.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Rickman” Helicopter. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

50.card-50.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The First Lady Aviator. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

51.card-51.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Bristol” Military Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

52.card-52.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Maxim” Biplane, 1910. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

53.card-53.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Vedovelli” Multiplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

54.card-54.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Piquerez” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

55.card-55.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Paulhan’s New Aeroplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

56.card-56.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Howard-Wright” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

57.card-571.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Givaudin II.” Triplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

58.card-58.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

59.card-59.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Vanniman” Triplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

60.60f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Dunne V.” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

61.61f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Roe II.” Triplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

62.44f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Goupy III.” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

63a.63f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name  “Tellier” Monoplane. Black version
63b.etrich-f-001.jpg Capstan, Vice Regal The Etrich Monoplane  Green version: matte and glazed
64.claude-grahame-white-f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Mr. Claude Grahame-White. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

65.65f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Henri Farman. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

66.66f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Louis Paulhan. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

67.louis-bleriot-1911-wills-aviation-f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Louis Bleriot. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

68.captain-bertram-dickson-1911-wills-aviation-f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Capt. Bertram Dickson. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

69a.morning-post-dirigible-1911-capstan-navy-cut-69-of-75-series.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Morning Post” Airship, 1910. Black version
69b.69f.jpg Capstan, Vice Regal The Morane-Borel Monoplane. Green version: matte and glazed
70.70f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Mr. J. Armstrong Drexel Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

71.71f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The late Mr. John B. Moisant. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

72.72f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Hubert Latham. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

73a.73f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Willows II.” Dirigible. Black version
73b.73gf 001 Capstan, Vice Regal Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont) Green version: matte and glazed
74a.74f 001 Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Army Dirigible “Beta.” Black version
74b.74gf 001 Capstan, Vice Regal M. Jules Vedrines Green version: matte and glazed
75.75f 001 Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Mr. Tom Sopwith. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed



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Wills’s Aviation Card #75 – Mr. Tom Sopwith.

75f 001History Behind The Card: Mr. Tom Sopwith.

Card #75 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith on January 18, 1888 in Kensington, London, England, Great Britain – January 27, 1989 in Hampshire, England, Great Britain.

Sadly, I admit that it took nearly 40 more years for me to learn about Tom Sopwith and his famous flying machines… but that’s what this blog is all about… learning.

To be perfectly frank (and earnest… another old comic strip reference), I am kind of glad that my last blog entry on the 75-card series is on Tom Sopwith, as I have quite fond memories of Snoopy et al… having played him in Grade 4 for a rendition of a Charlie Brown Christmas. Snoopy, of course was ever hunting down the Red Baron while flying around in his doghouse/Sopwith Camel aircraft.

Good grief, that actually occurred at Our Lady of Airways school. When it was still open, it was located a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian AVRO facilities in what was then Malton, Ontario, Canada, but since absorbed into Mississauga, one of the largest cities in Canada most people out side the country have never heard of. It’s immediately west of Toronto, and is the home of Pearson International Airport… the aviation gateway to Toronto.

My dad, as one of the early computer programmers, was involved in creating the computer program for the previously named Malton Airport (later Toronto Airport, Toronto International and now Pearson International Airport), that provided the take-off and arrival times for the whole place.

Anyhow… Sopwith, and Card No. 75. Don’t worry… there’s also an 85-card set, with 10 different cards taking off from where the 75-card set ended. Both the 75-card and 85-card sets were published in 1911.

By the way… I’m missing one of the 76-85 cards… so hopefully I’ll resolve that issue before too long. Ka-ching.

Not just an aeroplane manufacturer, Tom Sopwith was first an aviator of some renown long before Snoopy came into the picture, and was 23-years-old at the time this Wills’s Aviation card was published… and only about three months after he first flew an aeroplane.

While the first thing that you should know about Sopwith is that he lived to be 101-years old, long before that, however, Sopwith had a tragic childhood.

Born in Kensington, London on January 18, 1888, he was the only son of eight children of Thomas Sopwith and Lydia Gertrude nee Messiter. Eight children… he was number eight – which is probably a nod to one of his middle names: Octave. Ha!

Dad was a a civil engineer and managing director of the Spanish Lead Mines Company in Spain.

Sopwith had excellent schooling and eventually studied the Seafield Park engineering college in Hill Head.

And now you are wondering just what my definition of “tragic childhood” I could possibly have…

When Sopwith was just 10-years-old, on July 30, 1898, the family was a holiday on the Isle of Lismore off Scotland, when a gun that was lying on young Tom’s lap went off, with the bullet striking and killing his father.

This accident haunted Sopwith for the rest of his life.

Of course, he was now heir to a decent enough fortune…

At the age of 16, in 1904, Sopwith took part in the 100-mile Tricar motorcycle trial, being one of four medal winners.

In 1906 as an 18-year-old, Sopwith began being interested in hot air ballooning, and because there’s nothing this blog loves doing more than perform name-dropping, Sopwith’s first ascent in a hot-air balloon was in one owned by C.S. Rolls.

C.S. Rolls is Charles Stewart Rolls (August 27, 1877 – July 12, 1910), a Welshman born in England, who was, believe it or not, an aviation pioneer as well as the automation pioneers you supposed him to be.

Rolls, along with Henry Royce, they formed Rolls-Royce.

Rolls, unfortunately, achieved less fame but more infamy for being the first Brit to be killed in an aviation accident featuring a powered aircraft when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying demonstration in the Southbourne district of Bournemouth, England.

Whatever. The experience with Rolls in his hot air balloon must have been something spectacular, because Sopwith soon joined up with mate Phil Paddon to purchase a balloon of their own from the Short Brothers plc of London.

The Short Brothers consisted of brothers Eustace, Oswald, and to a zero extent, Horace.

The business started when Eustace Short bought a used coal gas filled balloon to fly and study in 1897. Joined by Oswald, they tried their hand at designing and manufacturing their own similar balloons.

In 1900 the two Short brothers attended the 1900 Paris Exposition and checked out the exhibit space of Édouard Surcouf working for Société Astra des Constructions Aeronatiques, who had developed a method of constructing truly spherical balloons, which inspired them to do the same, eventually coming up with a proper design by 1902.

At that time, the Short Brothers worked at manufacturing their balloons at Hove Sussex, in the space above an acoustic lab operated by their brother Horace.

Horace had invented an acoustic amplifier, and was working to perfect it with an European agent for Thomas Edison.But when Horace left in 1903 to try and better develop a steam turbine with Charles Parson, Eustace and Oswald Short moved their business to London before eventually settling in a spot in Battersea next to the Battersea gas works.

As for Sopwith, he and Phil Paddon were selling cars as Paddon & Sopwith in London before going whole hog in to the balloon manufacturing business. The balloon business was okay, but not spectacular.

Sopwith, for example, still sought thrills and played hockey – yes… ice hockey. He was actually considered a pretty good player with great skating ability and played in net as the goalie in 1908-1910 for the Princes Ice Hockey Club.

He also was part of the Great Britain national team that won the first ever European championship in 1910.


Tom Sopwith circa 1910, wearing the clothes the Wills’s card captured.

The Story Takes Flight – Finally
When that was all done, he saw pilot John Moisant on August 17, 1910 fly the first ever flight across the English Channel with a passenger–mechanic Albert Fileux, and Moisant’s cat Mademoiselle Fifi. You can read my write up on Moisant HERE.

That fueled Sopwith’s desire to now fly an aeroplane.

Now 22-years-old, Sopwith took a flight as a passenger with pilot Gustave Blondeau in a Farman aircraft at Brooklands.

Gustav Jules Eugene Blondeau formed Hewlett & Blondeau Limited, an aircraft manufacturer in Great Britain.After working at Farman Aircraft and the Gnome motor company, he started up his own flying school at Brooklands where he met Hilda Hewlett.

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was an early aviator and aviation entrepreneur, and once married to a chauvinist.

After separating from his wife Hilda, ex-husband Maurice had this to say: “Women will never be as successful in aviation as men. They have not the right kind of nerve.”

Well… no wonder they separated.

Nonplussed, Hewlett became the first British woman to earn a pilot’s license, founded and ran the first flying school in Great Britain, and with Blondeau formed the Hewlett & Blondeau Limited aircraft company producing over 800 aeroplanes and employing up to 700 people building Farman, Caudron, Avro and Hanriot aircraft under license.

Curses, Foiled Again
Back to Sopwith…

Sopwith then taught himself to fly, and by October 22, 1910 Sopwith lifted his Howard Wright Avis monoplane into the air for the first time… and after flying for about 300 yards (275 meters), he crash landed.

Because you can’t keep a good pilot down, Sopwith got the hang of things and earned the British Royal Aero Club Aviation Certificate No. 31 on November 22, 1910 (one month later), while flying a Howard Wright 1910 biplane.

75r 001.jpg

Glancing at the cigarette card’s reverse (above), you’ll notice that a mere four days after getting licensed, he set a British distance record traveling 10.75 miles – in what I assume was his Howard Wright aircraft.

On December 18, 1910, Sopwith won a £4000 prize for the longest flight from England to the Continent in a British-built aeroplane, flying 169 miles (272 km) in three hours and 40 minutes. He used the winnings to set up the Sopwith School of Flying at Brooklands.

In June 1912 Sopwith with Fred Sigrist and others set up the Sopwith Aviation Company, initially at Brooklands.

Initially, the aircraft designs took what Sopwith considered to be the best parts of other planes and recombined them into his own vision.

For example, in July of 1912, the company took the wings from a Wright Model B biplane, the tail and fuselage from a COW (Coventry Ordnance Works) biplane (it was a plane unsuccessfully designed for the 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition) and then added a 70 horsepower Gnome Gamma rotary motor.

Not surprisingly, the Sopwith Aviation company called the plane the Hybrid, first flying it on July 4, 1912.

Using the rebuilt plane, primary test pilot at Sopwith Harry Hawker took the British Michelin Endurance prize with a flight of 8 hours and 23 minutes.

The Australian Hawker, (22 January 1889 – 12 July 1921) after WWI, co-founded Hawker Aircraft which built some of Britain’s most famous aircraft.

Using the Hybrid, but replacing it with an an ABC Motors Limited (All British (Engine) Company) of Hersham, England 40 horsepower engine, the repackaged aeroplane was first tested on October 24, 1912, and sold delivered to the British Navy in November of that year – its first military aircraft order.

Because of that sale–and the hope of greater things to come, the Sopwith Aviation Company moved to a larger premises in December of 1912 to a recently closed roller skating rink in Canbury Park Road near Kingston Railway Station in South West London.

The British Admiralty then placed an order for a better tractor biplane based on the Hybrid design for the just-formed British Royal Flying Corp.

Sopwith Three-Seater
The plane was known as the Sopwith Three-Seat Tractor Biplane, aka the Sopwith 80 hp Biplane, aka the Sopwith D1, aka the Sopwith Tractor Biplane.

They really needed to work on their branding.

Sopwith Aviation Company 1912 Three-Seater.jpg

The Sopwith Three-Seater (another name) was first flown on February 7, 1913… and then put on display at the 1914 International Aero Show at Olympia, London, starting February 14, 1913.

Wikipedia describes it as: It had two-bay wings, with lateral control by wing warping, and was powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome Lambda rotary engine. It had two cockpits, the pilot sitting aft one and passengers sitting side by side in the forward one. Three transparent celluloid windows were placed in each side of the fuselage to give a good downwards view.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 pilot;
  • Capacity: 3 people;
  • Length: 29 feet 6 inches (8.99 meter);
  • Wingspan: 40 feet 0 inches (12.19 meter);
  • Wing area: 397 square feet (36.9 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,060 pounds (482 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,810 pounds (823 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome rotary engine, 80 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 73.6 miles per hour (118 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 2½ hours;
  • Service ceiling: 12,900 feet ( 3,932 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 400 feet/minute (5.1 meters/second).

The Sopwith Aviation Company built a second such aeroplane, but kept it for demonstration purposes – flown by test pilot Harry Hawker, the Sopwith Three-Seater set plenty of British altitude records during tests in June and July of 193.

Next two more Sopwith Three-Seaters were built for the Navy, delivered in August and September of 1913.

They also built their original Hybrid to the same specs.

The company then field-tested a plane using ailerons instead of wing warping, which made the Royal Flying Corps. happy enough to order nine more in September of 1913.

A collaboration with the S. E. Saunders boatyard of East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, in 1913, produced the Sopwith Bat Boat–a flying boat with a Consuta laminated hull which could operate on sea or land. Consuta was a type of construction that used four veneers of mahogany planking interleaved with waterproof calico that was then stitched together with copper wire to make it watertight.


The Sopwith Bat Boat at the ice rink premises in 1913.

Success allowed Sopwith to open an additional-but smaller-manufacturing facility in  Woolston, Hampshire in 1914.

And then The Great War happened… which was later amended to World War I.

The Sopwith Aviation Company – which lasted from 1912-1920 – may simply be the most recognizable name from WWI after Herr Red Baron.

The company produced more than 18,000 British World War I aircraft for the allied forces, including 1,770 of the Sopwith Pup, and  5,747 Sopwith Camel single-seat fighter (designed by Herbery Smith) and first flown in WWI in 1917.

Sopwith 1½ Strutter aka Sopwith LCT

In December of 1914, the Sopwith Aviation Company designed a small, two-seat biplane powered by an 80 horsepower Gnome rotary engine, which became known as the “Sigrist Bus” after company’s manager Fred Sigrist. The Sigrist Bus first flew on June 5, 1915, and although it set a new British altitude record on the day of its first flight, only one was ever built, and ended up as the company’s own “taxi” or “bus”, transporting personnel as required.

However, the Sigrist Bus formed the basis for a larger fighter plane dubbed the Sopwith LCT (Land Clerget Tractor). It was designed by Herbert Smith and was powered by a 110 horsepower Clerget engine.

Like the Sigrist Bus, the upper wings of the Sopwith LCT was joined to the fuselage by a pair of short (half) struts and a pair of longer struts, forming a “W” when viewed from the front.

This is what gave the Sopwith LCT its nickname of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter. The first prototype was ready in mid-December 1915, with further tests done through January of 1916.

The 1½ Strutter was built with a wire-braced, wood and fabric construction–pretty standard fare for the era.

The pilot and machine gunner sat in separated tandem cockpits (one behind each other), with the pilot sitting in front, giving the Vickers gunner a view for his targeting. I should mention that the pilot was also given a machine gun…. a Lewis

Special design features of the 1½ Strutter include: the addition of a variable-incidence tailplane that could be adjusted by the pilot during the flight; and airbrakes under the lower wings to helped reduce the required landing distance.

There were, however, different landing gears put into the aircraft, wholly-dependent on the customer.

The Royal Flying Corps. preferred the Vickers-Challenger synchronization gear for the Vickers machine gun, while the RNAS (Royal Navy) wanted the Scarff-Dibovski gear for the Lewis machine gun.

The Vickers-Challenger synchronization gear was designed by George Challenger, then with Vickers. This gear when fitted to planes like the Bristol Scout and the Sopwith 1½ Strutter–both of which used rotary engines–because each had a forward firing machine gun in front of the cockpit, the long push rod linking the gear to the gun had to be mounted at an awkward angle… which meant it could be bent or deform in flight or even be subject to temperature changes. The end result was a gun that might or might not work when needed. D’oh.

As for the Scarff-Dibovski gear, it used a standard push rod and levers, and was geared slow enough that while the rate of fire was reduced, it was more reliable.

After the initial order, aeroplane customers received either  Ross gears or the Sopwith-Kauper gears for the machine guns.

While these synchronized gears helped a shooter NOT to accidentally take out their own propellers, more often than was preferred, they would accidentally take out their own props.

The aeroplane was powerful enough to carry four 25 lb (11 kg) bombs underwing, which could be replaced by two 65 lb (30 kg) bombs for anti-submarine patrols.

Specifications (1½ Strutter – two seater, 130 hp Clerget)

General characteristics

  • Crew: two – one pilot and one observer;
  • Length: 25 feet 3 inches (7.70 meters);
  • Wingspan: 33 feet 6 inches (10.21 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 3 inches (3.12 meters);
  • Wing area: 346 square feet (32.16 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,305 pounds (593 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 2,149 pounds (975 kilograms);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 2,150 pounds (977 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B rotary engine, 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet (1,980 meters);
  • Endurance: 3¾ hours;
  • Service ceiling: 15,500 feet (4,730 meters);
  • Climb to 6,500 ft (1,980 m): 9 minutes and 10 seconds.


  • Guns:
    • 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) forward-firing synchronized Vickers machine gun;
    • 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun in observer’s cockpit;Bombs: 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of bombs.

Sopwith Pup aka Sopwith Scout


Sopwith Pup. Image is public domain, but Wikipedia indicated it was from www.earlyaviator.com – a very, very good resource!

Although known as the Sopwith Pup, this bird’s official name was the Sopwith Scout.

In 1915, the Sopwith company built an aeroplane just for test pilot Harry Hawker… a single-seat biplane that used a 50 horsepower Gnome engine, which everyone simply called Hawker’s Runabout because that’s what he used it for – runabouts.

They built another four planes using the same plan, calling these the Sopwith Sparrows.

Using the same plan, Sopwith built a larger fighter plane that was more powerful and used the progressive ailerons rather than wing-warping for lateral control.

This was the Sopwith Pup, a single seat biplane with fabric covering the frame, and with staggered, equal-span wings.

Wikipedia notes that the Sopwith Pup used a: cross-axle type main landing gear (that) was supported by V-struts attached to the lower fuselage longerons.

Most of the Sopwith Pups used a Le Rhône 9C rotary engine pushing out 80 horsepower. This engine was built on the design of the French company Société des Moteurs Le Rhône.

It featured a single 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun that was synchronized via a Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer – to better avoid shooting off the propeller blades.

The Sopwith Pup first began flying with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the autumn of 1916, and was considered to be a very good plane all around with good maneuverability.

Although the Germans eventually developed planes better than it, the Pup remained in service during WWI through 1917, after which they were used for training and for the Home Defense.

A total of 1,770 Pups were built by and for Sopwith, with 96 built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, and the remainder by sub-contractors: Standard Motor Company – 850; Whitehead Aircraft – 820; and William Beardmore & Co. building 30.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 19 feet 3¾ inches (5.89 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet 6 inches (8.08 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet 5 inches (2.87 meters);
  • Wing area: 254 square feet (23.6 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 787 pounds (358 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,225 lb (557 kg);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône air-cooled rotary engine, 80 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 111.5 miles per hour, 180 kilometers per hour;
  • Service ceiling: 17,500 feet (5,600 meters);
  • Endurance: 3 hours;
  • Climb to 10,000 feet (3,050 meters): 14 minutes;
  • Climb to 16,100 feet (4,910 meters): 35 minutes.


  • Guns: 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine with a Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer.

Sopwith Triplane


An official British Government photograph of Sopwith Triplanes from No. 1 (Naval) Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, in Bailleul, France. The aircraft nearest the camera (N5454) was primarily flown by ace Richard Minifie.

While not the first triplane ever designed and flown successfully, the Sopwith Triplane was a British single seat military aeroplane, and was the first military triplane to see operational service – even before the Germans.

Only 147 such Sopwith Triplanes were ever built – used by the Royal Naval Air Services in the beginning of 1917, and was taken out of service when the famous Sopwith Camels arrived on the scene at the end of 1917. After service, they were used to help train pilots until the end of WWI.

While the fuselage and empennage were similar to the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith chief engineer Herbert Smith provided three narrow-chord wings in an effort to give the pilot a better range of sight.

The plane used ailerons, and with a variable incidence tailplane, the aeroplane could be trimmed to fly hands-off. The Sopwith Triplane also used a smaller eight-foot wide tailplane in February 1917, which gave it improved elevator response.

When it first debuted, the Sopwith Triplane used a Société Clerget-Blin et Cie 9Z nine-cylinder 110 horsepower rotary engine, However, most of the planes built used a Clerget 9B rotary engine pushing 100 horsepower. One was even built with 110 horsepower Le Rhône rotary engine, but this did not provide a significant improvement in performance.

How good was the Sopwith Triplane? Well, it first flew on May 28, 1916 under the control of Hawker who, only a few minutes after take-off, performed a loop – three times in a row.


Sopwith N500 prototype – image from www.earlyaviators.com via Wikipedia

The prototype N500 was sent to Dunkirk for further testing in July of 1916, though the second prototype N504 used a 130 horsepower Clerget 9B motor – serving as a trainer for pilots.

Germany also liked the triplane, and built the Fokker Dr.I (Dreidecker, aka triplane) … oh yeah, which was what the Red Baron enjoyed flying.

Triplanes, despite how well Germany’s pilots like the Red Baron flew them, all the aircraft had a design flaw.

While the aeroplane had a very fast climb rate–the Red Baron von Richtofen once said his plane could “climb like a monkey and maneuver like a devil”–but that had nothing to do with having three wings.

While you might think that more wing area means more lift, climb rate is from weight, power and wingspan. The Fokker was just a well-built plane… for a triplane.

 General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 feet 10 inches (5.73 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet 6 inches (8 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 6 inches (3.2 meters);
  • Wing area: 231 square feet (21.46 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,101 pounds (500 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,541 pounds (700 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B rotary engine, 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 117 miles per hour (187 kilometers per hour;
  • Service ceiling: 20,500 feet (6,250 meters);
  • Climb rate to 6,000 feet (1,830 meters): 5 minutes – 50 seconds;
  • Time to 16,400 feet (5,000 meters): 26 minutes 30 seconds


  • Guns: 1× .303 in Vickers machine gun

And now… the most famous WWI aircraft – arguably – of WWI, the :

Sopwith Camel aka Sopwith F.1


The legendary Sopwith Camel. Image from www.warbirdsnews.com.

The Sopwith Camel was a single-seat biplane fighter aircraft introduced on the Western Front in 1917, designed to take the place of the Sopwith Pup and the Nieuport 17s that had been purchased from the French to take the place of the Pup after it was no longer effective against German fighters like the Albatross D.III.

In order to be competitive against the superior German aircraft, the Sopwith Camel needed to a much faster plane than the Pup and have much stronger armament.

Originally called the Sopwith F.1, with the nickname of Big Pup while in the design stage, it is the brainchild of Herbert Smith, the chief designer at Sopwith.

Actually…. the Sopwith Camel is not the Sopwith Camel.

It’s a nickname. It really IS called the Sopwith F.1.

It was called a Camel by pilots who flew it after seeing a casing over the gun breeches looked like a hump – thus… Camel.

On December 22, 1916, the prototype F.1 (okay, let’s just call it the Camel) was first flown at Brooklands. It was piloted by Harry Hawker, and was powered by a Clerget 9Z powerplant with 110 horsepower.

Five months later in May of 1917, a contract for 250 Sopwith Camels was issued by Great Britain’s War Office.

In just 1917 alone, a total of 1,325 Camels were manufactured, almost all based on the F.1 variant.

By the time that production of the type came to an end, approximately 5,490 Camels of all types had been built, including the Camel 2F.1, a Navy version that was first built in November of 1918.

Snoopy vs the Red Baron.jpg

Here’s a description of the Camel via Wikipedia:

The Camel had a mostly conventional design for its era, featuring a wooden box-like fuselage structure, an aluminum engine cowling, plywood panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. While possessing some clear similarities with the Pup, it was furnished with a noticeably bulkier fuselage. For the first time on an operational British-designed fighter, two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns were mounted directly in front of the cockpit, synchronized to fire forwards through the propeller disc. In addition to the machine guns, a total of four Cooper bombs could be carried for ground attack purposes.

The bottom wing was rigged with 3° dihedral while the top wing lacked any dihedral; this meant that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots; this change had been made at the suggestion of Fred Sigrist, the Sopwith works manager, as a measure to simplify the aircraft’s construction. The upper wing featured a central cutout section for the purpose of providing improved upwards visibility for the pilot.

Production Camels were powered by various rotary engines, most commonly either the Clerget 9B (a nine-cylinder rotary aircraft engine ) or the Bentley BR1 (it was developed from the Clerget 9B, and is also a rotary engine) In order to evade a potential manufacturing bottleneck being imposed upon the overall aircraft in the event of an engine shortage, several other engines were also adopted to power the type as well.

The Camel was considered to be difficult to fly. The type owed both its extreme maneuverability and its difficult handling to the close placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the aircraft’s weight) within the front seven feet of the aircraft, and to the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotating mass of the cylinders common to rotary engines. Aviation author Robert Jackson notes that: “in the hands of a novice it displayed vicious characteristics that could make it a killer; but under the firm touch of a skilled pilot, who knew how to turn its vices to his own advantage, it was one of the most superb fighting machines ever built”.

The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with pilots.[13] Some inexperienced pilots crashed on take-off when the full fuel load pushed the aircraft’s centre of gravity beyond the rearmost safe limits. When in level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the Sopwith Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane, so that the pilot had to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. The aircraft could be rigged so that at higher altitudes it could be flown “hands off”. A stall immediately resulted in a dangerous spin.

A two-seat trainer version of the Camel was later built to ease the transition process:[14] in his Recollections of an Airman Lt Col L.A. Strange, who served with the central flying school, wrote: “In spite of the care we took, Camels continually spun down out of control when flew [sic?] by pupils on their first solos. At length, with the assistance of Lieut Morgan, who managed our workshops, I took the main tank out of several Camels and replaced [them] with a smaller one, which enabled us to fit in dual control.” Such conversions, and dual instruction, went some way to alleviating the previously unacceptable casualties incurred during the critical type-specific solo training stage.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 feet 9 inches (5.72 meters);
  • Wingspan: 28 feet 0 inches (8.53 meters);
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters);
  • Wing area: 231 square feet (21.46 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 930 pounds (420 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,453 pounds (659 kilograms);
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0378;
  • Drag area: 8.73 square feet (0.811 square meters);
  • Aspect ratio: 4.11;
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 130 horsepower or a Bentley BR1, also capable of 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 113 miles per hour (182 kilometers per hour)
  • Stall speed: 48 miles per hour (77 kilometers per hour)
  • Range: 300 miles  (485 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 19,000 feet (5,791 meters)
  • Rate of climb: 1,085 feet/minute (5.5 meters/second)


  • Guns: 2× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns.

Perhaps most famously, while flying a Sopwith Camel on April 21, 1918, Captain Roy Brown of Canada is believed to have shot down and killed 25-year-old Baron Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron.

Or maybe it’s still so well known because of that goofy 1966 rock and roll song by The Royal Guardsmen called Snoopy versus The Red Baron, or better yet because of Charles Schultz and his Peanuts strip. I know that both are where I first came across the might of Red Baron and of Snoopy flying his Sopwith Camel.

Despite Sopwith himself being awarded the CBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1918, he was bankrupt after the war ended thanks to being hit with anti-profiteering taxes.

Broke, but no broken, Sir Thomas Sopwith re-entered the aviation business in 1920 when he joined Harry Hawker’s new firm Hawker Aircraft as its chairman.

Still fighting the Germans, but this time in WWII, Sopwith’s Hawker Hurricane aircraft continued to take out enemy aircraft.

Sir Thomas, a restless, energetic man, made a large fortune and was able to finance two attempts to win the America’s Cup in yachting, although neither succeeded. The Last of Eight Children

Reminiscing in 1988 about his early flying, he said, ”We had a lot of crashes in those days, but, bless you, it was fun.”


Posted in Balloons, Fighters, Flying Schools, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scorchy Smith Comic Strip

Scorchy SmithI must admit that while I have heard of Scorchy Smith, I was not around on this planet to enjoy any of his adventures when they first appeared.

Scorchy Smith was and is an aviation adventure comic strip that appeared in newspapers from 1930 through 1961.

Inspired in part by the heroics of aviator Charles Lindbergh who in 1927 performed the first solo aeroplane crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, Scorchy Smith was created by artist John Terry, who debuted the pilot-for-hire character in 1930.


Scorchy Smith – art by John Terry.

As a pilot-for-hire, Scorchy Smith‘s adventures would take him and the reader all over the world.


A panel of the Scorchy Smith strip from 1931, with art by creator John Terry.

John Terry was stricken by tuberculosis in 1933, and rather than have the popular comic strip fall by the wayside, he was replaced on his own strip by artist Noel Stickles.

Stickles is considered to be a better artist (subjective, of course) that John Terry, but at least at the beginning Stickles maintained Terry’s art style while slowing putting in his own artistic elements.

Stickles, however, was too good to kept down, and soon enough his art style took off in the strip, which helped make Scorchy Smith even more popular. Image at top of this blog is by Stickles.

In fall 1936, Sickles researched Scorchy Smith’s circulation, information that AP Newsfeatures never shared with their artists. Estimating that the strip was running in 250 papers across the country, Sickles determined that the syndicate’s monthly take approximated $2,500 a month, of which he, as both scripter and artist, received only $125. Sickles asked for a raise, and when his request was refused, he quit cartooning to become involved in commercial illustration for magazines.


Three Scorchy Smith dailies from March 11-13, 1935. If you were to compare this art against say… Superman a few years later, it’s easy to state that Noel Stickles artwork is far superior.

Allen “Bert” Christman, who co-created DC’s comics’ The Sandman and kid sidekick Sandy took over on November 23, 1936.

While Christman’s art was decent enough – Milt Caniff-like (he did Steve Canyon and the more famous Terry And The Pirates)… and subjectively, I never much cared for his art – especially when compared to contemporary comic strip creator Hal Foster who did Prince Valiant… Christman’s Scorchy Smith was technically sound.

Christman continued to draw Scorchy Smith until June of 1938, when he joined the US Navy as an aviation cadet… hmmm, I wonder where he got that idea?

I’m, unsure who did the strip between June 1938 and May of 1939.

Scorchy Smith 1938

June 3, 1938 daily strip of Scorchy Smith by Bert Christman.

As for Christman, he resigned his Navy commission three years later to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) who were being recruited to fly for the Chinese Air Force.

China, at this time was besieged by Japan… and as we all know, the US did not enter WWII until December of 1941 after its Pearl Harbor military base was attacked by the Japanese.

Christman only flew for a very short while with the AVG (known as the Flying Tigers), as his airplane was shot at on January 23, 1942. He bailed out, but was strafed by the enemy, killed over Burma.

After Christman and the unknown by me art team, Robert Farrell (writer) and Frank Robbins (artist) took over Scorchy Smith on May 22, 1939.


Frank Robbins art on Scorchy Smith published July 6, 1942.

Robbins left sometime in 1944, and was replaced by Ed Good…

Scorchy Smith 1944-06-11

Ed Good art on Scorchy Smith from June 11, 1944.

… then Rodlow Willard…


A June 4, 1950 Sunday page of Scorchy Smith drawn by Rodlow Willard.

Alvin C Hollingsworth… a Black American… and I only bring up his skin color because for the era, it was still incredibly rare for a Black man to work as a comic book or comic strip creator outside of publishers that catered to Black audiences.

The only other Black creator I can think of working on a “White” audience comic-anything, is Phantom Lady by Matt Baker, whose good-girl art on the book is some of the best the industry has EVER seen.

Hollingsworth was well into aviation-related comic book/comic strip material long before he took on Scorchy Smith.

He did a four-page war comic story called Robot Plane in Aviation PressContact Comics #5 (cover-dated March 1945). Throughout the rest of the 1940s, he also drew Holyoke Pubishing‘s Captain Aero Comics, and Fiction House‘s Wings Comics, where he did the feature “Suicide Smith” at least sporadically from 1946 to 1950.

I can’t find confirmation about when Hollingsworth worked on Scorchy Smith, but the page below is definitely credited to him – it’s from May 30, 1954.

AC Hollingsworth Scorchy Smith

May 30, 1954 Sunday strip of Scorchy Smith by AC Hollingsworth.

… then George Tuska …

Scorchy Smith George Tuska

February 21, 1955 daily by George Tuska.

… and finally Milt Morris from June of 1959 until the strip ended in December of 1961.


A Milt Morris strip of Scorchy Smith – date unknown (by me). Taken from https://www.lambiek.net/artists/m/morris_john_milt.htm, where there’s a biography of Milt Morris. I’m looking at the art and wondering when that insult will be hurled that will make a man out of Mac.

For those looking for a collection of Scorchy Smith strips, check out Amazon or e-Bay. There was a book issued back in 2007 called: Scorchy Smith And The Art Of Noel Stickles.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #74 – Army Dirigible “Beta.”

74f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Army Dirigible “Beta.”

Card #74 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • Major-General Sir John Edward Capper born December 7, 1861 in Lucknow, British India (now just India) – May 13, 1955 in Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, Great Britain;
  • Colonel James Lethbridge Brooke Templer born May 27, 1846 in Greenwich, Kent, England, Great Britain – January 2, 1924 in Lewes, Sussex, England, Great Britain.

Before I began writing this Pioneers of Aviation blog, I had no idea that 1) monoplanes were being flown successfully at the same time as biplanes, and 2) that aside from zeppelins, that dirigibles were being built as viable flying machines after the advent of the aeroplane.

I really thought that aeroplanes took the air out of the dirigible industry. While it’s true that they did, in the still early days of 1910/11 (and beyond), aeroplanes were still so much in their infancy that no one was sure if it would truly catch on as a viable flying device.

As such, before I started this blog, I had purchased cards from the Wills’s Aviation series… the first 50 cards were from 1910, with a 75-card and 85-card series published in 1911.

Card No. 74’s Army Dirigible “Beta” surprised me… as I thought the series’ first 25 cards had dealt with the past of aviation (non aeroplanes)… so why was the Beta deemed important enough to be included in a more “modern” series of 1911 cards?

The Beta, aka Beta 1, was a non-rigid dirigible built by Great Britain’s Army Balloon Factory in 1910 for the express purpose of experiments.

Dirigibles were, as of 1910, still a fairly new aviation concept (which I didn’t realize), and were called the “dirigible balloon” or “airship”.

From 1904-1906, Britain’s Army Balloon Factory was part of the Army’s School of Ballooning under the command of Colonel James Templer.

The school was moved from Aldershot to the edge of Farnborough Common in provide it with adequate space to inflate the new dirigible invention.

Although the Wright Brothers first flew in December of 1903, they kept their flight a secret.

By January of 1906, however, when full details of the Wright Brothers’ system of flight control had been published in l’Aerophile, people still hadn’t grasped just how important this discovery of heavier-than-air flight really was.

On September 13, 1906, aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont made a public flight in Paris with the 14-bis aeroplane, becoming the first non-Wright Brother to fly an aeroplane.

As such… the Army Balloon Factory could be excused for moving its balloon/dirigible facility.

While the school’s command changed with the move to Farnborough with Templer out and Colonel John Capper in, the Army Balloon Factory not only kept up with the new trend of dirigibles, it also experimented with Samuel Franklin Cody’s war kites and aeroplanes designed by Cody and J. W. Dunne. In October 1908, Cody made the first aeroplane flight in Britain at Farnborough.

Here’s the interesting stuff: in 1909, Britain’s Army work on aeroplanes was halted, as the Army Balloon Factory was renamed the Balloon Factory as it came under civilian control led by Mervyn O’Gorman.

In 1912, the Balloon Factory was renamed something you might recognize: the Royal Aircraft Factory, aka the RAF.

Interesting stuff… but still nothing about Beta… what happened to Alpha, by the way?

Uh… this is just a guess because there was no Army Dirigible “Alpha”.

The Beta is considered to be a rebuild of “Baby” which was also known as British Army Airship No. 3… featuring a new envelope.

Before that… Nulli Secundus II was a rebuild of 1907’s Nulli Secundus No. 1, which was also designated as British Army Dirigible No. 1.

Ergo, Beta… the second letter of the alphabet, IS the second Army dirigible… with Nulli Secundis being the non-named Alpha.

So… the airships are:

British Army Dirigible No.1

  • Nulli Secundis;

British Army Dirigible No. 2

  • Nulli Secundis II, rebuilt from Nulli Secundis – but still actually the “Alpha” airship.

British Army Dirigible No. 3

  • Baby;
  • Beta, rebuilt from Baby;
  • Beta II, rebuilt from Beta (and Baby);
  • HMA No. 17, simply a rename from Beta II.

If Beta and Beta II were designated as Army Dirigible No. 4 or 5, I don’t know. But they were both rebuilds of Baby, Army Dirigible No. 3.

Holy crap…

So, per above, we know that Beta 1 (at the time of its issue in 1911, Card No. 74 did not know there was going to be a Beta II, and that’s why the dirigible is simply called Beta) had used the gondola of British Army Airship No.3 aka Baby, using a new envelope made of a rubberized fabric.

Per Wikipedia:

It had rectangular horizontal stabilizers fitted on both sides of the tail assembly. It had a fixed fin with a rudder mounted on the trailing edge below the tail.

A long uncovered framework suspended below the envelope held the 35 horsepower Green water-cooled engine, which drove a pair of 5′-9″ (1.75 meter) diameter two-bladed propellers.

An elevator was mounted on the front of this structure to provide pitch control. As first built, the engine drove a pair of propellers which could be swiveled to provide vectored thrust, but this arrangement was later replaced with a more conventional chain drive to fixed propellers.

74r 001.jpg

Beta was first flown in April 1910 at Farnborough, after which the engine was removed to make some handling experiments, during which its gondola was damaged.

So they fixed it up… and took it up for a second test flight on April 8, 1910 staying aloft for about 70 minutes before landing safely.


British Army Dirigible Beta

I’m unsure why they decided to do this at night, but the Beta was taken up again on a flight beginning specifically at 11:39PM on June 3, 1910, flying from Farnborough to London and back to Farnborough returning on June 4, 2910 at dawn.

The next flight was done on June 12, 1910 with Captain W. P. L. Brooke-Smith at the helm, leaving Farnborough at 3:40PM and, flying against a 12 mph (19 km/h) headwind, reaching central London around 6PM. After circling St Paul’s Cathedral, Beta returned to Farnborough, after making a slight flight plan deviation to fly past Aldershot where British King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Under the command of Colonel John Capper, Beta was flown in the British Army maneuvers on Salisbury Plain in September of 1910 where it was used to observe “enemy troop” positions, and even dropped a map of the enemy positions to General Horace Smith-Dorrien.

In 1911 the first trials with radio communication were made after a return flight from Farnborough to Portsmouth.

(Did you know that the sandwich could have been called a portsmouth? The first Earl of Montagu was going to take the title of Earl of Portsmouth, but changed his mind at the last moment to instead honor the town of Sandwich in Kent, England where the fleet he was commanding happened to be offshore from. This Earl’s great-grandson, the 4th Earl of Sandwich John Montagu, did in 1762AD spent 24 hours at a gaming table… at at some point in between requested the establishment’s cook prepare a meal that would allow him to continue playing with one hand, while allowing him to eat with the other. While no one knows the cook’s name, the repast of cold, sliced beef presented between two toasted slices of bread became known as a sandwich rather than a portsmouth.)

Anyhow, while they were able to make contact between Beta and the ground, communication back and forth was less than convenient owing to the very loud noise of the dirigible’s engine… maybe next time they could place the radio further away from the engine?

Beta I specifications:

  • Crew: 3;
  • Length: 104 feet inches (31.7 meters);
  • Diameter: 24 feet 4 inches (7.42 meters);
  • Volume: 33,000 cubic feet ( 934.5 cubic meters);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4, 35 horsepower engine;
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40.23 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 5 hours

Then what happened? Nothing special actually. The Beta continued its experimental flights until 1912, when it was decided to tear it down in a redesign to construct the Beta II.

The airship’s redesign included a new enlarged envelope, had its length increased to 108 feet (33 meters), providing the “balloon” with a capacity to 50,000 cubic feet (1,400 cubic meters).

The gondola was also rebuilt, and new Clerget 50-horsepower engine was added to power the craft’s dual four-bladed propellers.

The Beta II made many successful flights, participated in the 1912 army maneuvers, during which it was fitted experimentally with a machine gun.

On June 20, 1913 the Great Britain’s Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) was taken for a 30-minute flight in the Beta II.


British Army Dirigible Beta II – moored to a mast at Farnsborough.

It was used for the first experiments in mooring airships at a mast at Farnborough, and was also used for experiments with aerial photography.

In fact, it was during a royal inspection of Farnborough in 1913, that a photograph was taken of the royal party from the air (aboard Beta II). The photographic plate was parachuted to the ground where it was developed and printed in a mobile darkroom.

Perhaps in anticipation of the start of WWI, all airships were taken over by the RNAS in January of 1914, with the Beta II officially designated as HMA No.  17.

HMA stands for His Majesty’s Airship… and by 1914, His Majesty was King George V.

During December 1914 and January 1915, HMA No. 17 it was based at Firminy near Dunkirk as part of the Dunkirk Squadron and was used for artillery spotting. It was then used for training at RNAS Kingsnorth.

The dirigible, in all its many incarnations and name changes was finally retired by the RNAS in 1916, with its gondola now part of the collection of the Science Museum in London, Great Britain. And yes, it is on display.

Posted in Airfields, Balloons, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment