Monday, July 20, 2020

Dad's Random Aeronautics - Texas Aviation History

My dad was a genuine aviation history buff.  In addition to the airplane restorations he spent hours on, he collected a fair amount of rare historical photographs.  Several of the earliest photo prints he had in his collection came from a friend Charles "Uncle Charley" Dawson. I enjoy trying to research each photograph to see what stories may lie within.  We have discovered that almost all of them were somehow related to early Aviation in Texas.

Recently I was doing some scanning and here are a few of Dad's Random Photos..

Captain Vernon William Blythe Castle

With a little digging around on the internet, I was able to identify this WW1 pilot as Vernon Castle and his pet monkey named Jeffrey.  He was a celebrity in Euorpe with his wife, Irene.  His military time was also somewhat colorful according to this link, which tells of Vernon's Texas connection.  Vernon served as a British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot before being reassigned to Camp Taliaferro in Fort Worth TX in 1917.  Vernon met his maker in a training crash at Benbrook field, on the south side of Fort Worth in 1918. Jeffrey survived the crash.  At first, I had no idea about the funeral photo until I saw some reference to Vernon's procession through Fort worth.  So I realized this photo is his funeral procession through downtown Fort Worth.  The links above are worth the read.

"Another of the Byrd Planes"

 Here's an interesting photo.  Maybe someone can identify this man and small daughter named "Linda".  Signage on the entry door says "BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION (illegible) ESCORT PLANE".  I dug around some on the internet and have not found any links between the Byrd Antarctic Expedition and a Stinson Model U.  What a grand ol' airplane!

Martin Model T and TT Biplanes

This very nice photo must have been snapped around 1915 or so.  I am not sure where it originated, but it is clearly one of the Glen Martin aircraft model T or TT.  These were used by the US Army Signal Corps in Texas.

From Wikipedia... "The first Martin T acquired, Signal Corps Number 31, was deployed to Texas in April 1915 as the Army massed around Brownsville in response to civil war in Mexico involving forces under Pancho Villa. On April 20, S.C. 31 became the first American military aircraft to be fired on by a hostile force. Although not hit by a machine gun firing at it from the Mexican side of the border, the returning pilot taxied it into a ditch and damaged it beyond repair."

Could this be the one?    Not likely.  In fact the airplane shown is a model TT,  The T was a bit more basic with respect to the radiator and cowling installation.  But the TT was also used in Texas.  If you know anything more about this airplane ans Signal Corps aviation history in Texas, please comment!

WW1 Lieutenant Pat O'Brien

This photo was labeled on the back side as "Pat O'Brien".  Maybe there is not Texas connection, but this photo was certainly intriguing.  And the story of this man is also quite amazing.

Hailed as a WW1 hero, O'Brien was a POW for a time, but escaped from the German prison camp where he was held.  According to HumanitiesTexas web page, "Lieutenant Pat O'Brien was one of the first Americans to fight in World War I and the first American-born pilot to escape as a prisoner of war during that conflict." 

Another webpage from the Daily Journal in Kankakee IL contains this... 
"O’Brien learned to fly in 1912 at a field in West Pullman at the south edge of Chicago. Four years later, while living in California, he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Since the United States was not yet involved in World War I, O’Brien and his fellow Army pilots flew a seemingly-endless series of training flights.  Determined to fly in combat, O’Brien resigned his Army commission after eight months and crossed the Canadian border to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. In May 1917, Second Lieutenant Patrick Alva O’Brien arrived in England for additional training. By early August, he was in France with the RFC’s 66 Squadron."

Perhaps ironically, it is presumed that some of his training may have occurred in Fort Worth Texas at the Royal Flying Corps training facility at Tallafero Airfield.  The Texas facility was leased to the Canadians for this purpose due to the preferred climate, more conducive to daily flying.

The photo above was apparently taken after his prison escape.  It is known that O'Brien spent time touring around the united states for speaking engagements until his death in 1920.  This account in the December 1920 Mariposa Gazette explains his tragic end of life... "Los Angela* Lieutenant Pat O'Brien, famous world war aviator, was found dead In a room In a downtown hotel here last week. There waa a bullet wound In the forehead and a revolver nearby. The police said O'Brien had triad to effect a reconciliation with hit wife from whom, tt was said, he had been separated." 

Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Skipper

The back of this wonderful photo reads "Ta__?__ August 16, 1921, at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas.  (Staff Sergeant Joseph L. Skipper Pilot)

I was unable to turn up any concrete information on Sgt. Skipper or his plane. Can YOU help provide information?

If you enlarge the photo, you can see an eagle on the rudder.  The lettering on the side of the fuselage says "AEOLUS" which is an apparent reference to the Greek God known as the "divine keeper of the winds".  The engine on this airplane is interesting. It appears to be a small in-line, maybe 4 cylinder.  This seems to be a pretty small biplane, similar to a Curtiss J, but smaller. 

Miscellaneous Aviation Photos - Texas or not?

Here are some more that were mixed in with the above.  I don't know if these were taken in Texas or not, but my hunch is yes. 

Spad S.XIII number on tail may be 65?
 I found another copy of this same photograph on this webpage.  They're showing 1918 at Hicks Field (which is near Ft. Worth Texas.  It was likely part of the Royal Flying Corps activities in the area.

Observation Balloon around 1916.
These observation balloons were known to be used by the Army Air Service in Texas - Many were  tethered at the US-Mexican border to watch for border crossings during the Spanish Civil War time.

Dayton-Wright DH 4 around 1919 - in Texas ?

This webpage names several Texas Airfields where US Border Patrol operations were being conducted.  Some of the aircraft they show are DH 4's around 1919.

to be continued ....

Stanford B. Roper

In the early 1990's, I attempted correspondence with various people from the early days at Parks Air College.  One who responded was Mr. Stan Roper.  Stan is pictured below in the 1928 lineup of Parks instructors.  Stan is in the middle with 4 men on either side.  Stan instructed for a few years at Parks before moving on.

Earlier in his aviation career, Stan flew as a civilian pilot a few times delivering airplanes from here to there.  He sent me the following prints he had saved from a 1927 adventure he participated in to deliver 4 Consolidated PT-1 airplanes from San Antonio Texas to California (destination undisclosed).  These are obviously Army Air Service airplanes.  The photos here are labeled with the location "PHX South Central Airport".  Although the original prints were somewhat faded, I was able to scan them at a high resolution and enhance the photos to bring out some detail.

Stan spent a number of years as a civilian instructor at Thunderbird Field in Glendale Arizona.  This facility trained over 5000 cadets at the onset of American involvement in WWII.  Here is Stan buckled in to a Stearman PT-13.

 After WWII, Stan spent time with the airlines.  More on this in a future posting.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Lane Tuft's Curtiss Robin NC395K

Lane Tufts, Moorpark, California  

Lane Tufts acquired his Curtiss Robin project a long time ago.  I am not sure exactly when but it seems like I first learned about him having a Robin from my dad at least 40 years ago.  I do know that Lane has been restoring this airplane with a meticulous and steady pace for several decades.  I think he has enjoyed the journey so much that he has been content, making sure that each and every part has had his care and scrutiny before being blessed to his high standard.  And now, he is almost completely done.  Lane sent the following pictures to show his airplane as it is now.  (Actually it was back in the summer of 2019 and I am just now getting time to publish them).

New Fischer Wheels

220 hp Continental W670 Motor Lane intends for his Robin

As can be seen in these photos, there is not a whole lot of work remaining to finish up. Going into 2020, Lane tells me he is beginning to realize he's unlikely to see this project to full completion and is really looking to find the right home and the right person to bring all of his fine workmanship to a final flying configuration.  All along the intent has been for this to become a flying antique and not a museum piece.  If you are the person he is looking for to carry on his project and interested in paying a reasonable price, Lane would love to hear from you.  Send him an email...

Some other items of interest regarding Lane's Robin...

Here it is back in the 1950's and 1960's when it was last flying ore the skies of Southern California.

For as long as I can remember, (and likely much longer) Lane has been close friends with another Robin owner in the southern California region.  Dick Fischer and Lane always mention each other and their Robins whenever I have spoken with either of them.   Both have shared their engineering and fabrication resources in restoring their Robins over the years.  Many know of Dick for his contribution to old airplane restorers everywhere by reproducing Bendix wheels.. the 30 x 5 and 28 x 4 sizes.  He also has provided restorers of Robins and Curtiss-Wright Travel Airs with tailwheel kits. 

Lane had some of the rare castings used on Curtiss Robins made.  And Lane's biggest contribution has been the creation of his wooden Wing Rib substitution STC for Curtiss Robins.

My family and I got to visit Lane and his brideback in 2013 and got a tour of his project.  I took the following photos at that time.

What a fine flying airplane this Curtiss Robin will be, once again, hopefully soon!

Barnstmr's Random Slideshow

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