Friday, March 29, 2013

The Incredible Saga of Igor's Gotha

Sometimes, the process of researching these photos takes me on an amazing journey. When I was offered the snapshot below, it was described as an "unknown" aircraft. As soon as I received it though, I realized that this was an early view of a remarkable plane that was represented, later in its life, in our Glendale negative collection. I had already started researching the latter photo, and now to have two images acting as bookends made the story even more compelling to me. As the research uncovered the details, though, the tale seemed more like an improbable Hollywood saga rather than a real part of aviation history...but then again, it's these fantastic stories that make aviation history so much fun to be a part of! 

Within 24 hours of hearing about the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers, young Igor Sikorsky was convinced that aviation was the future and he wanted to be a part of it, and thus changed his entire life's plans to become an aeronautical engineer. However, in post-WWI Europe, with its cities decimated by war, and especially in his native Russia, the prospects for such engineers looked grim. So, he emigrated to America and began looking for opportunities, and raising funds from fellow Russian emigres to start building planes.

Was there something in the grass that day? Kids on both the extreme left
and right of the photo are lifting their legs in odd ways...
Igor's first design under the auspices of the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation was a twin-engined sixteen-passenger airliner, which he designated S-29-A (the "A" to celebrate that this was his first design in America). Construction was started with meager resources.

According to an article from the November 2002 issue of Air & Spacearchived at the Sikorsky corporate web site, Igor set up shop on a "chicken farm owned by his friend Victor Utgoff, a former lieutenant in the Russian navy. The work had to be done by hand, since the farm did not have appropriate machinery. Sikorsky and his workers, mostly Russian immigrants, were raiding junkyards for parts for the airplane, which had to be constantly redesigned depending on the equipment and materials they found. The main structure of the fuselage was built with angle irons from discarded bedsteads. Turnbuckles, which were used to adjust wire tension, were found in a Woolworth’s five-and-dime. The landing gear was installed with the help of Sikorsky’s nephew, Dmitry (Jimmy) Viner, who was a ditch digger. 'Since there was no jack to raise the fuselage,' Frank Delear wrote in Igor Sikorsky: His Three Careers in Aviation, 'Jimmy dug under it to make space for the wheels and landing struts. With the gear installed, the plane was then pulled out of the ditch.'"

The Air & Space article also describes what saved the project: "One Sunday, a chauffeur-driven limousine drove up to the chicken house. A tall, slender figure in a long black coat stepped out of the car and walked up to the airplane. In total silence, he inspected the aircraft. 'Everyone on the farm got greatly excited,' says Sergei Sikorsky, Igor’s son and the retired vice president of Sikorsky Aircraft, who remembers well how his father described the event. 'They all immediately recognized Sergei Rachmaninoff as their guest. My father went up to him and they began to talk. After about a half-hour visit, Rachmaninoff said, "I believe in you and your plane and I want to help you.”' The composer sat down and wrote a check for $5,000. With a smile, he gave the check to the stunned Sikorsky and said, 'Pay me back whenever you can.'" As a return favor, Sikorsky offered Rachmaninoff a VP position in the fledgling company, and the two remained close there after.

The S-29-A had two first flights. The first first took place on May 4, 1924, with the plane equipped with two 220hp Hisso engines, which left it underpowered. Igor himself was at the controls, and after lifting from Roosevelt field, he coaxed the floundering plane to Mitchel Field, where it crash landed. The plane was was not too badly damaged, and was rebuilt, with the engines being replaced by a pair of 400hp Liberty 12s. The second "real" first flight (as recognized today by the Sikorsky company) took place on September 25, 1924. With the larger engines, the S-29-A was the first twin engined aircraft in history that could safely continue flying on only one engine. It was too soon, though...the airline industry was still in its infancy, and America wasn't ready for an airliner of that size yet. While the airplane drew many an onlooker wherever it landed (as can be seen in our first photo of it, above), no customers stepped up and ordered the type.

Instead, it found a number of short-term uses. Sikorsky's first profit with the plane came, ironically, on April 23, 1925 when it was chartered to carry two grand pianos, one of which was delivered to the wife of the President. (Here, by the way, is an interesting conflict in the historical narrative: The official history of Sikorsky Aircraft says that the piano was delivered to President Herbert Hoover's wife, whereas contemporary newspaper accounts at the time said that it was delivered to Mrs. Calvin Coolidge. I'm inclinded to believe the accounts of the day!).  The Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register web site has an extensive article on the details of the plane's life, which includes some photos from the Library of Congress showing the pianos being unloaded.

A few weeks later, on May 8th, 1925, the airplane received a name, Yorktown, and a christening (with a bottle of water, since it was the era of Prohibition), and then the next day it started airline service between New York and Yorktown, VA, as reported by the Washington Post. What isn't clear, though, is who operated the service, how long it lasted, and how it was received.

The plane is next seen being used as a flying billboard for Curlee Clothing in a business arrangement orchestrated by the flamboyant barnstormer Roscoe Turner. Eventually, when the Department of Commerce began registering aircraft in 1927, the S-29-A was assigned registration number NC-2756. Also in 1927, Turner bought the aircraft and contracted with United Cigar Stores to turn the large plane into, as was emplazoned on the side, the "First Flying United Cigar Store". The plane would fly from town to town, attracting large crowds, who then (everyone involved hoped) would buy cigars from the salesmen onboard.

Anyone recognize the gent standing in front of the plane?
Finally, Roscoe Turner sold the S-29-A on April 3, 1928 to the Caddo Company, of which Howard Hughes was president. He added it to the private air force he was assemblying to be used in filming the epic Hell's Angels. In preparation, the aircraft was heavily modified in order to play the part of a German Gotha bomber. Our second photo is one that comes from the unique collection of Glendale-related negatives which the Archive owns, and shows the modified aircraft on the production set at Glendale.

In the plane's intended final scene, shot above Pacoima, CA on March 22, 1929, it was supposed to appear to have been shot up, giving off fake smoke, and then spin and crash - Hughes himself insisted on the spin, for visual effect. Most of the stunt pilots working the production refused to fly the plane, as they believed that the modifications compromised its safety. Famed stunt pilot Al Wilson volunteered to do the flight - for the handsome sum of $10,000 - but he also recognized the dangers involved, and insisted on flying alone. The scene called for "lamp black" to be released during flight to simulate the smoke, and mechanic Phil Jones convinced the director to overrule Wilson and permit him to fly along to release the smoke.

The fears about the aircraft's safety proved to be true, and as soon as Wilson entered the spin, the plane began to come apart. Wilson yelled to Jones twice to bail out, and then he himself "hit the silk". However, for some unknown reason, Jones failed to exit the plane, and was found dead in the wreckage, still at his station. The impact of the tragedy hit Wilson hard. Although he was eventually exonerated of any culpability, many blamed him for Jones' death, and he gave up movie flying, instead taking a position as an airline pilot with Maddux Airlines.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ryan's Brougham

Back in early 2012, when we looked at T. Claude Ryan's airline, we noted that before Claude had sold out his interest in the company to his business partner B. F. "Frank" Mahoney in November, 1926, he had helped design the M-1 mail plane, which was well received by the blossoming airmail industry. That design, and the improved M-2, had helped attract a young airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh, who was looking for a plane that would be capable of crossing the Atlantic and winning the Orteig prize. Lindbergh had initially wanted to modify a stock M-2, but eventually the modifications resulted in the Spirit of St. Louis having little in common with the M-2, other than its basic lines.

The last B-3, which became the prototype B-5
Shortly before the contract to build Linbergh's plane was signed, Mahoney and the Ryan engineers started building the prototype of their next, follow-on aircraft, the B-1 Brougham. Designed to carry four passengers plus the pilot, the Brougham was intended to be the next-generation of small airliner. Although the lines were similar, there was very little in common between the M-2 and B-1 (except for the tail feathers on the earliest B-1s). While the M-1/M-2 design sold a combined total of 34 airframes, the Brougham (in all its variants) sold over 220 copies, making it wildly successful for its time.

The initial B-1 model, which first flew in early 1927, was powered by a Wright J-5 engine, and sold well. Frank Hawks bought the prototype, named it Gold Bug and went barnstorming. After Lindbergh's flight, Hawks renamed the plane Spirit of San Diego and sold rides in the plane "like the one Lindy flew". Mahoney subsequently hired him to be an official company representative. The company built a special one-off version, the B-2, for Lindbergh to use as his personal aircraft, which he took on tour across the U.S. during 1928.

After building about 150 of the B-1s, Mahoney decided it was time to update the design, and the 1928 B-3 included a larger cabin, larger tail surfaces and swiveling tailwheel. The last few were built with 300 hp J-6 engines, but retained the B-3's 1,590 pound useful load. To take advantage of the bigger engine, the last B-3 was built as the prototype B-5 in 1929, which had a 1,749 pound useful load. This prototype, initially NX-8321, is shown in the first of our two photos, which appear to be offical factory prints.

A Parks College B-5 in flight
Also in 1929, the company changed its name to Mahoney-Ryan Aircraft Co. But as production got undeway, Frank Mahoney started having serious health issues, and so in 1930 sold his controlling interest in the company to Detroit Aircraft Corp., a company that was rabidly buying up the shares of numerous aviation-related companies, including the likes of Aircraft Development Corp, Aviation Tool Co., Eastman Aircraft, Blackburn Airplane, Parks Air College, and held almost all of the stock of Lockheed. They dropped the "Mahoney" part of the name and the company became the Ryan Aircraft Division (althought "Corp" was also used), and was moved to St. Louis.

Since Detroit Aircraft owned Parks, it was natural that the college's fleet would include aircraft built by other divisions of the company, and the aircraft shown in our second photo, NC728M, was one of Park's acquisitions.

Compare the tails of our two subject planes: the first B-5 was built by Mahoney-
Ryan in San Diego, the Parks College plane was built by Ryan in St. Louis MO.
The size of Detroit, though, was not able to save the conglomerate from the effects of the Great Depression, and on October 27, 1931, the company went into receivership. Several divisions, such as Lockheed and Parks, were bought out of receivership by other entities, but the Ryan Division was one that did not survive.

In 1934, T. Claude tried again, and it was this later version of Ryan Aeronautical that succeeded in the long term, and today is a part of Northrop Grumman Corp.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Chalk's Loening

When Grover Loening formed his Loening Aeronautical Engineering company in 1917, he was far from being a newcomer to the industry. Grover had been awarded Columbia University's first ever degree in aeronautical engineering, and had managed the Wright Brother's factory for them before WWI. In 1921, his S-1 Flying Yacht set a speed record and captured the Collier Trophy that year. His next big design success was the OL amphibian of 1923, produced first for the Army, and then for the Navy. With passenger aviation taking off, Loening's team, which included a young engineer named Leroy Grumman, was tasked with turning the military aircraft into a commercial one. The result was the C-1 and then the successful C-2 Air Yacht (which came with your choice of engine...the C-2C used the Wright Cyclone and the C-2H was powered by the Pratt & Whitney Hornet).

The C-2C in our photo, NC133H,  was first delivered on June 19, 1929 to New York & Suburban Airlines, one of the Curtiss-Wright subsidiary companies. Sometime shortly after that, the plane was sold to Kohler Aviation, which operated a unique "Air Bridge Across Lake Michigan", offering flights from downtown Milwaukee to Grand Rapids (time was reduced from a 14-hour rail trip to a one hour ten minute plane ride; details and some wonderful photos can be seen here and here as well). The service was popular and successful, but after the air mail contract scandal in the mid-1930s, Kohler was prohibited from re-bidding them, and without that lucrative source of income, the company went down.

At some point, some of the Kohler Loenings, including 33H, were then sold to Chalk's Flying Service, where they were operated from a small seaplane base on Biscayne Blvd in Miami (a wonderful old photo of the base and our plane can be seen here). Arthur "Pappy" Chalk, a WWI veteran, started the air service in February, 1919 and kept it going until he sold it in 1966! At some point, Chalk's moved their operations to Miami's Watson Island. Given the differences in the background between our photo and the one linked above, I'm guessing that our location is Watson. If anyone can confirm that, please comment below.

Another photo of 33H at Chalks can be seen here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

T&WA Fokker at Glendale

Note the lack of "Grand Central Air Terminal" lettering above the arches.
The history of Glendale, California's Grand Central Air Terminal to the Golden Age of Aviation is a particular passion of mine, and thus whenever I have an opportunity to add a Glendale photo to the archive, I jump at the chance. Such was the case with today's photo, an official 8x10 glossy stamped on the back "Courtesy of Transcontinental & Western Airlines".

The Fokker F.10, a 12-passenger outgrowth of the successful eight-passenger F.VII, was the first Fokker to be built in the US (from components imported from Holland by Fokker subsidiary Atlantic Aircraft Corporation).

It was the airplane of choice of Western Air Express for its new first-class service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and WAE had ordered sixteen of them; NC4458, the plane shown here, was the first of these to be delivered, on April 24, 1928. The type stayed in service after WAE merged with Transcontinental Air Transport-Maddux Airlines to become Transcontinental & Western Air (and later Transworld Airlines) on July 24, 1930. Interestingly, the plane carries the company's titles in three different ways...TWA (instead of T&WA) under the wing, "Transcontinental / Western Air Inc" under the Indian head logo, and "Transcontinental Air Transport - Maddux Airlines And Western Air Lines" under the passenger windows (below).

Evidently, ownership of this plane was transferred to T&WA on March 24, 1931. Only a week later, the usefulness of the F.10 as an airliner was cut short by the tragic crash of sister ship NC999E, flying as TWA Flight 599 on March 31, 1931. Unlike the Ford Trimotor, which was all-metal in construction, the Fokker used wood as the main material in the F.10 wings, and delamination of crucial components was identified as the cause of the crash. All the F.10s were temporarily grounded, and only allowed to fly after significant inspections and preventative maintenance had been accomplished. Even this didn't last long, as one of the key results of the crash was regulation that prohibited airliners from using wooden construction. NC4458 was reportedly retired on April 30, 1931.

A detailed technical article from 1928 describing the F.10 can be found here.

The Ed Coates Collection includes a similar photo of the same plane, possibly taken just a few seconds later as the Fokker taxied past.

A big tip o' the hat to Luc Winance for some of the dates and details!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Lure of Airshows

The largest event of these three mystery shots is this one...I've seen some photos
of the National Air Races that appear similar to this venue.
During the Golden Age of aviation, airshows were the thing...much more of a hoopla-filled civic event than the are today, which is truly a shame, in my book. The three photos featured today are mysteries...there is no information accompanying them to indicate when or where. If you recognize any of these venues, please comment!

Curious crowds gather behind these planes. The line-abreast formation is remniscent of a race

This gathering has less of a formal feel to it, and seems more like a gathering of barnstormers.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tales from the Flying Circus, Part Deux

Usually, the archive only acquires actual photos, not printed material, but the
connection with our Inman photos made this postcard-sized advertising card
hard to pass up. Cards like this would be mass-mailed to addresses in the towns
that the Circus would be visiting. The card was published sometime between
1935 (when Donald was killed) and 1937 (when Melvin Hart went to Alaska).
One of the first major posts on Vintage Air featured a couple of trimotors flown during the Great Depression by the Inman Brothers Flying Circus, a barnstorming act that toured the Midwest during the 1930s.

The Inman Brothers, Rolley, Arthur and Donald, developed one of the most successful aerial stunt acts during the inter-war period. Various other pilots (including Tex Johnston, as we mentioned in that original post) also flew with the Circus. Since that original post, my fascination with the Circus has grown, and the archive has been able to acquire a few more pieces. Personally, though, I don't feel that the exploits of the Inman Brothers have yet been adequately covered on the web. Someone should write a book....

Donald, the youngest of the three brothers, was killed at the age of 22 during a flight in Ellenton, Florida, on February 10, 1935, as reported in an article in the Southeast Missourian (the article is slightly confusing, and it's not clear if this was a Flying Circus flight, or whether Donald had set off barnstorming on his own). While the newspaper doesn't identify the type of aircraft, Donald was flying with another pilot, Charles Hoanes, when the aircraft suffered an engine failure on takeoff and dove into some trees. While Donald was killed, the newspaper credits him with saving a 17-year-old woman, Miss Corrine Edwards, as he "threw himself across Miss Edwards, to prevent her from being more seriously hurt." Though soaked with gasoline, fortunately the plane did not burn.

The caption taped to the back of this glossy reads, "QUEEN
OF THE FLYING TIN GOOSE -- Mrs. Leona Pemberton of Sun
City was one of the first women to achieve serial noteriety as
she worked with the Inman Bros. Flying Circus out of Coffeyville,
One of the "other" pilots, Merle Smith, on the far right in the adverstising card photo above, was also a Kansas native. Smith taught himself how to fly as a teenager, and after flying with the Inmans for a few years, he felt the "call of the wild" and headed for Alaska, where he hired on with the Cordova Air Service. After a mishap on a soggy, muddy bush field that caused him to nose over his Stearman (he reportedly got the plane running and flying again using nothing more than a screwdriver, putty knife and an old rag), he picked up the nickname "Mudhole". Smith eventually became the president of Cordova, and led it into a merger with Alaska Airlines in 1968. From then until his retirement in 1979, "Mudhole" served on the Board of Directors and as a VP at Alaska. A more detailed bio of his adventures in that state can be found at this Alaska Airlines page.

Recently, the Archive acquired two 8x10 glossy publicity photos featuring one of the Inman wives, Leona, who was married to Art (she's the second from the left in the ad card picture). Leona had served as Stewardess on the Ford Trimotor that the Circus used for giving passenger "thrill rides".

The caption provided by the PR firm and taped to the back
reads, "RETIRED NOW -- In her garden at Sun City, Mrs.
Leona Pemberton recalls her early days as "Queen of the
Barnstormers," when each flight was full of adventure,
excitement and danger."
Both photos appear to have been printed in the 1960s or 1970s by the Dewey W. Linze Company, a Hollywood PR firm (I can't find any trace of them these days), and the one on the left bills Leona as once the "Queen of the Barnstormers", although I have yet to find a period reference to her as this. I'm not sure why these photos were produced (was she trying to build a career as a speaker, trading on her old days of glory?), but interestingly, the photos don't note that she was an Inman at the time!

The last item that I've found on the Flying Circus was this 1987 obituary from the New York Times for Margie Inman (far left on the ad card). The wife of Rolley, she performed in the act as a wing-walker, among other duties. The article notes that Rolley died "in a crash" in 1944, though it doesn't say whether this was in the War or stateside.

Sadly, her end seems like a sad one, in failing health and living in a lean-to with numerous pets in Fort Lauderdale. The same 1935 newspaper article that talked about Donald's death also gives some insight into her love of animals...evidently for a while, the Circus included a pet lion - named "Kitty" - who lived with Rolley and Margie, and accompanied the couple both in the air and "on motor car journeys as well. Often the animal may be seen occupying the rumble seat of Rolley Inman's automobile."

And lastly, this tidbit...while I've not been able to find any references to the post-Flying Circus career of Carl Hall (second from the right on the ad card), it's interesting to note that the Canadian Air & Space Museum is located at 65 Carl Hall Road in Toronto. Coincidence?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wooden Seagull

The Curtiss MF Seagull (not to be confused with the later Curtiss SOC Seagull) was the culmination of Glenn Curtiss' early work in developing the seaplane concept. Curtiss had hit success with his Model E seaplane, which was bought by the U.S. Navy as the A-1 Triad (see our 31 Dec 2011 blog entry). He then improved on the design with the Model F in 1912, which replaced the main pontoon with a boat-like hull. The Navy selected the Model F as its standard flying boat training aircraft in April 1917, and ordered the type in large numbers. Our first photo shows a Model F leaving the beach for a water takeoff. The person I obtained the small print from said that the location was San Diego Harbor, but I can't confirm.

Any guesses to what the writing on the building says?
In 1918, the design was tweaked, with the upper wing now incorporating ailerons and having a different span than the lower wing; these aircraft were known as Model MF, or Modernized F. In addition, the MFs had bigger 100-hp OXX6 engines and sported sponsons on the sides of the hull to improve water handling. The Navy took delivery of 22 MFs from Curtiss and another 80 from the Naval Air Factory (which was established to license-build aircraft during WWI in quantities that the original manufacturers couldn't handle).

With the end of the war, many of the aircraft had never seen operation and were surplused to the civilian market. In addition, Curtiss built around 16 civilian versions which they called both the Model 18 and the Seagull.Many of the surplused Navy MFs were also rebuilt but Curtiss and others to the Seagull configuration. It is likely, though, that the aircraft in our second photograph is one of the original factory-built Seagulls.

Charlie Chaplin's brother Sid became a Curtiss dealer in Southern California, and bought one of the first Seagulls for use in a charter operation to Catalina Island (NASM has this great photo of a Chaplin Seagull).

Only five have survived into the 21st Century, and one of these was recently put up for auction at Bonhams in New York. The Hemmings Daily Blog carried a wonderful post on this spectacular aircraft, with a number of photos and some detailed background information. Gizmag also did a great piece on the auctioning of this MF. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum also owns a Seagull, and the restoration process of that aircraft is documented on their website.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fury Three

Today's photo is an official 8x10 glossy from North American Aviation showing one of their FJ-3 Furies. The aircraft pictured isn't the first of the type, rather it comes in the middle of a production block. Although the BuNo is partially obscured in this photo, it appears that this is the same aircraft, on the same photo mission, as shown in this November, 1956 issue of Naval Aviation News (you'll have to scroll down to page 18), which would make it BuNo 136135.

The lack of tail markings suggests either a pre-delivery photo, or else this aircraft was used by NAA for flight test operations. The only reference I could find of this particular airframe was in FJ-3 Flight Operations Manual, an obscure reference that there was a change in the markings of the oil pressure indicator starting with this particular aircraft (it appears as a footnote in the above link).

Friday, March 1, 2013

Burnelli's Better Idea (That Went Nowhere)

Vincent Burnelli may not be quite as well known as Jack Northrop, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t just as passionate and dedicated to his vision of how aircraft design could be improved. While Northrop pursued the idea of a pure flying wing, Burnelli sought the aerodynamic benefits from the lifting body concept, where the fuselage of an aircraft is shaped to provide a significant portion of the plane’s lift.

Burnelli was one of those brilliant designers whose ideas were always just ahead of the curve enough so that they never met with commercial success. During WWI, his design for a night fighter was rejected by the Army, but was bought by the NYPD who wanted to set up the nation’s first police aerial unit. In the early 1920s, he built two different biplanes that had airfoil-shaped fuselages, and in 1928 he came out with his first monoplane, the CB-16, which was the first twin-engine aircraft in history to be able to maintain altitude with one engine inoperative.

Burnelli believed – and was backed up by NACA studies – that the fuselage, instead of being an aerodynamically useless drag-generator, could develop a significant portion of the aircraft’s total lift. His goal was 50%, and wind tunnel studies showed that, depending on the angle of attack, the fuselage could actually generate up to 90% of the total lift. Besides the aerodynamic efficiencies that he believed his designs incorporated, he steadfastly maintained that the lifting body design also had certain inherent safety features. Up to 60% of the aircraft’s total structure surrounded the passenger cabin to prevent it from collapsing in a crash. This was proved, to a degree, when the CB-16 prototype stalled and crashed on takeoff in 1929…the two pilots survived with no injuries what would have normally been a fatal impact. The CB-16 design led to the UB-20 (which made a media splash when a Ford convertible automobile was strapped to its belly and flown over New York’s Floyd Bennett Field in Sun Oil stunt to prove that the car would still run when subjected to freezing temperatures at altitude) and then to the improved UB-14 airliner.

The prototype first flew in late 1934, but crashed on January 13, 1935. Flown by Louis Reichers, a maintenance-related control system problem led to a loss of control. The plane rolled into a steep right bank very near the ground, and impact at almost 90 degrees to level. The wings and twin tails disintegrated and the fuselage “box” cartwheeled, but once again, the structural safety features proved their worth, and the crew survived.

In Reichers’ subsequent report, he wrote "The indicated air speed was 195 m.p.h. at the time it became essential for me to make a crash landing. I flew the ship into the ground from about 200 ft. altitude and estimate the speed of contact at about 130 m.p.h. the right wing being nearly vertical and absorbing the first shock. This impact caused the airplane to cart wheel tearing off the engines and crashing the wings and tail group with the body tumbling, though remained intact and no fuel leaked from the wing tanks. It is my firm belief that the fact that the box-body strength of this type combined with the engines forward and the landing gear retracted saved myself and the engineer crew and had the cabin been fully occupied with passengers with safety belts properly attached, no passengers would have been injured. This crash landing, in my opinion, is an extraordinary example of the crash safety that can be provided by the lifting body type of design." (A small video of the crash can be seen here.)

A second aircraft, UB-14B NR15320 was then built – this is the aircraft shown in today’s photo. At 41 feet long and with a span of 71 feet, this was no small aircraft. The plane’s two-person crew sat high above the main cabin in a cockpit built into the leading edge of the wing/fuselage, between the two 750-horse Pratt Hornet engines. The luxuriously-appointed passenger cabin measured 12 feet long, 11 feet wide and sat 14 passengers. A lavatory with running water was also provided. The UB-14 was the first multi-engine plane to incorporate wing flaps. Despite all the advantages of this design concept, it failed to garner political or commercial support to any great extent in the US. In fact, it was later alleged that Burnelli’s designs were barred from consideration by the US military – despite strong support from General “Hap” Arnold – on orders from Franklin Roosevelt, who was not happy that one of Burnelli’s main financial backers was Sun Oil’s Arthur E. Pew, who had funded the campaign of Roosevelt’s rival Wendell Wilkie. The political issues soon raised all sorts of conspiracy theories about darker forces at work preventing Burnelli’s designs from becoming reality.

Overseas, though, interest continued to grow. The Scottish Aircraft & Engineering Company was initially established to license-build UB-14s, and when this company went into receivership, a company called Cunliffe-Owen stepped up to build them at Southampton. In late 1937, NR15320 was shipped to the UK and flew a series of demonstration flights before returning to the US, where it was then prepared for an around-the-world record flight attempt, to be flown by Clyde Pangborn. WWII got in the way, and the world flight was cancelled. During the war, the plane went into service with TACA, hauling freight between Miami and Honduras. After that, its history becomes murky. It supposedly was shipped to Finland and possibly Russia, although there are no concrete records of this. Its ultimate fate is unknown.

Cunliffe-Owen would eventually build only one very modified version, the OA-1, and Pangborn flew that plane’s maiden flight. It would be pressed into service by the RAF, who handed it over to the Free French Air Force. Ultimately, it languished and was cannibalized at El Kabrit, Egypt. On the night of VJ day, the carcass was reportedly used as the basis for a celebratory victory bonfire.