The Aero Club pays a visit.

Students at the Curtiss school pose with the Speed Scout

I accidentally tore one of these photos with the EPES mark off a page today, and discovered it was a post card!  I'm not going to peel anymore off to verify, but it might be interesting for further study.  Anyway, here is a group of students with the Speed Scout.

This next photo is a group from the Aero Club that visited the school/station on April 8, 1916, according to a book entitled "Flyboys over Hampton Roads", by Amy Yarshinke.  Her book also contains quite a few photos by Mr. Conway.  A few of these men may be familiar by name.  Admiral Peary was widely credited with leading the first expedition to the North Pole.  Professor Todd was an astronomer.  Henry Woodhouse was on the board of governors of The Aero Club, who turned out to have a very interesting life story!  This may be the only photo of Glenn Curtiss in Ivan's scrapbook, and you can see Curtiss Jr. over to the right.  The Aero Club founded a flight school in Philadelphia at the Lazaretto Station, and it appears that Clarke Thompson was connected with the station, and was a member of the club.  I found a photo and caption of Thompson and D. S. Norton in Aerial Age, which mentions that Norton was purchasing a flying boat.  I have nothing on the other two gentlemen, but I'm guessing that they also were Aero Club members.

Glenn Curtiss and representatives from the Aero Club, 1916

Finally, a larger group of students and instructors at the station.  I won't get into any details but I did find something interesting about the names.  Most of them were not written by Ivan, whose handwriting was... distinct, shall we say?  They were actually written in by my father, Ivan P. Wheaton, Jr.  (I have heard stories that my grandmother put quite a bit of pressure on my mother to name me Ivan Pangburn Wheaton, III.  Thanks, Mom!!  Although I did inherit the "Pangburn", I have no idea who Pangburn was in our lineage that was so blasted important.  In return for all the grief I got for that name, it would be nice to know who the heck it was.)  In case I haven't mentioned it recently, a star over a person's head indicated that he had died sometime while Ivan was still living.  Possibly a Model R-4 and notice the group by the prop grinning for the camera.

Student Pilots at the Curtiss School, pose with a model R-4

Many, many more photos from the Curtiss School yet to come...



Curtiss & Newport News aerial photos

An Early Curtiss JN makes a low pass at the Curtiss School, 1916

I know, I promised aerial photos, and they're here, but I like to start off with a nice photo to kind of "set the hook", so to speak.  The Jenny guys here will notice this right off, but this appears to be a really early JN, to me.  If I'm correctly reading a great article sent to me by Brian Karli, it combines the undercarriage of the J and the vertical stabilizer of the N.  It doesn't have equal span wings as a JN-2 is described, so could this be a JN-1?  In any case, I love this photo.  I always loved the looks of the Avro 501, and this retains just enough of that look.

I believe I own the camera that this photo was taken with, and I have to say it's amazing that any of these photos came out in focus.  This is not your basic image-stabilizing, auto-focus camera!  You figure way ahead of time what your exposure needs to be, and about how far away you think the plane will be at the moment you decide to trip the shutter.  I don't think you could physically focus while shooting. When your subject is coming at you at fifty mph, or whatever the approach speed is in a Jenny, you have a very short window of opportunity to get it right.

So, Ivan or someone at the school took a few aerial shots of the school and of Newport News and I noticed a few interesting things in them.  First, the school.  I know it's difficult to tell by this photo, but if you look at this photo at the Smugmug.com site, you should be able to see that the building is smaller in this photo than in the next one. (you can view the photos there in a higher resolution)  You can also see in this photo that they are in the middle of construction on the expansion.  There's another fun airplane in that photo.  A model N!  The Jenny came from two distinct lines, the J and the N, and I've never ever seen a photo of the N.  Look to the right of the hangar, and you'll see what looks like a JN, but with inter-plane ailerons.  Fun, huh?

Aerial photo of the Curtiss School, 1916

Aerial photo of the Curtiss School, 1916

So, in the span of time that Ivan was here (three or four months) they've expanded the hangar by about double, or maybe more.  I noticed a couple of other things while examining these photos.  In the first photo, follow the road that parallels the body of water, and look at the field directly in the center of the photo.  You can make out the runway!  You pilots probably noticed that right off the bat - it dawned on me much later.  They obviously would taxi along the beach to (or from) the hangar.

I also got a kick out of the ferry, heading in to nose into that structure behind the hangar.  The square-rigger at the pier was a real bonus.  A scene right out of another time.

These next photos give us a little more modern perspective.  In Newport News at the time, the big industry was shipbuilding at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company.  Some very impressive ships were constructed here, including some which were later instrumental in the Pacific Theater during WW2.  Another large operation was the coal port, and while I don't have any real bearings on where everything was located, I assume that the coal port came first, then the shipyards.  The first photo was marked #2, and the coal cars can be seen on a series of sidings at the very bottom right of the photo, to the right of the coal pier.

Aerial photo of Newport News, Virginia, 1916

This photo of the shipyards will wrap up the post.  There's a lot going on down there!  The thing that impressed me most about this photo is how everything inside the shipyards is black!  Can you imagine working on those greasy docks?  At first, I thought the photo was underexposed, but seriously, look at everything around the buildings in the yards, even the ships... they are grey or white.  The place is all black!

Aerial photo of Newport News, Virginia, 1916

Before I finish, I just keep finding all this interesting stuff, tonight!  The "FJC", that you see on many of these photographs were the initials of a photographer that Glenn Curtiss hired to photograph all the goings on at the school.  His name was Frank J. Conway, and he took some great photos!  We have him to thank for what looks like about 30-40% of the photos in Ivan's collection at Newport News.  I'm guessing Ivan bought them from Frank.  Frank did a portrait of Ivan in the Model F which is classic.

More people and airplanes in the next few posts.  May I ask you to do me a favor, and +1 this site on Google, or share it on your Facebook page?  'Like' is nice, but a 'Share' is the best way to reach a wider audience for the collection.  Thanks very much!



Scenes from the Curtiss School

Curtiss School aka Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station, 1916

I think I've been misstating the name of this place.  I've been seeing it referred to as the Curtiss School, and the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station, but not as a factory.  Ivan referred to it as the Curtiss Company.  I think the two that fit most closely are school and station.  According to the Aero Club's publication in 1915, (Flying vol 4) they explained that the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station already set up a base to expand aviation in the area, and Curtiss partnered with them.

According to the article, Curtiss planned to send Bert Acosta and Victor Carlstrom to teach students on "land machines", while Walter Lees and Victor Vernon would instruct on "water machines".  Curtiss planned to send four Model F flying boats, three JN's, and one Model 3.  In the photos I've seen, there is at least one J.N., at least two Model Fs, an at least 2 variants of Model Rs.  Curtiss also used the station as a test facility, where the Speed Scout  (as you can see in the above photo) and twin J.N. were flown.

So, Ivan flew with Walter Lees exclusively in the Model F, and I count just shy of 30 lessons with Lees and close to 120 landings from his logbook.  He was at the school from early April, 1916 to at least June 28th, which is his last logbook entry there.  He wrote there that he "flew alone for Curtiss Diploma.  Lees let me do all flying.  Take off, 5 figure 8s and one landing".  His logbook shows a tad over seven hours instruction with Lees.  Total time of instruction to the point his earned the diploma was 14 hours, 24 minutes.  Note that he didn't solo in the plane, he really just got a checkride.  His logs don't show a truly solo flight until September of 1916.  I'll post his diploma at the end of the section on Newport News.

Here are a couple of photos of Model Fs, and JNs.  The first JNs that appear in his books are 4b models, but not at the Curtiss school.

A pair of Curtiss Model F flying boats at Newport News, 1916

A Curtiss Model F lands at Newport News, Virginia in 1916

Just a little question on this JN.  Actually two: What model is this, and is there something interesting going on with the ailerons?  Leave me a comment, I'm really curious here.  Actually the same thing applies to the Model F in the second photo, but I never noticed it in the Palm Beach photos.

A Curtiss JN 4 at Newport News, Virginia in 1916

I'm not seeing the same thing on this JN's ailerons.  Strange.  This is one of my favorite photos of a Jenny in Ivan's collection.

A Curtiss JN 4 at Newport News, Virginia in 1916

Next post, I'll put up a number of aerial photos of the Curtiss School.



Line up with the Speed Scout

Pioneer aviators in front of the Curtiss S-1 Speed Scout, 1916

Here's an all-star line up at Newport News, Virginia.  They're lined up in front of a Curtiss Baby Scout, or Speed Scout, depending on who's telling the story.  I'm sure they'll put ailerons on it before we get to see it flying, in a future post.

Here's a little blurb on each of these gents, except 'Hewitt', whom I came up empty on.

Bert Acosta: Flew across the Atlantic just three days after Lindberg's crossing along with Admiral Byrd, Bernt Balchen and George Otto Noville in the Fokker tri-motor, 'America'.  He was notorious for stunt flying and was fined numerous times.

Vic Vernon: Had his hand in aviation for many years.  An excellent page in his memory can be found here.

Victor Carlstrom:  Set a number of world records in Curtiss aircraft until he was killed in a horrible crash in 1917. I have a letter to Ivan from another aviator who was on the scene, which I'll publish later.  I also have photos of the wreck itself. Carlstrom Field was named in Victor's honor.

Captain Thomas Scott Baldwin: Was the first American to parachute from a balloon, and built a motorized balloon using a Curtiss motorcycle engine in 1900  Baldwin is credited by some as introducing Curtiss to aviation.  Captain Baldwin designed his own airplane in 1910 which was built by Glenn Curtiss.  In 1914 he designed and built the U.S. Navy's first dirigible, and during WWI he was appointed Chief of Balloon Inspection and Production.  He earned the rank of Major before his death in 1923.  He apparently was as gruff as he looks in almost every photo I have of him.

Steve Mac-Gordon: Died due to burns sustained at a crash at Newport News.  There are a number of photos in one of the scrapbooks of a burned aircraft which may have been Mac-Gordon's.  Steve was friends with Blair Thaw (brother of William Thaw of the Lafayette Escadrille), and distinguished himself in a flight with Blair in 1913.  They stunted under a series of bridges following a flight from Newport, RI to Staten Island, NY.

Theodore Macaulay: Was a test pilot for Glenn Curtiss from 1915-1916 and went on to become a civilian flying instructor for the U.S. Signal Corps at San Diego and Fort Worth.  He served in the Air Service and acheived the rank of Colonel.

Hewitt:  I found no references for this man.

Stewart Cogswell:  Was also a test pilot and instructor for Glenn Curtiss, first at Hammondsport, then at Newport News.  He taught General Billy Mitchell to fly at Newport News the same year my grandfather was here at the school.



Meet your new flight instructor.

Walter Lees at Newport News, April 1916

Meet Ivan's instructor at Newport News, Virginia - Mr Walter Lees.  Ralph Cooper has dedicated a site to this man, who happens to have been Ralph's father-in-law, and was also an Early Bird.  I hope he was less intimidating than this photo of him!  I think this photo also contains the world's smallest prop spinner.

This photo seems a fitting way to open up the blog on Ivan's time spent in Newport News, Virginia: The instructor, and the flying field.  If you're able to see them in the photo, there are some very interesting planes outside of the factory.  The one outside the main opening has interplane ailerons similar to a Model F.  I make out a Model F at the end of the ramp at the water's edge, and another closer to the factory.  The tail of on JN has the number 2 with a circle around it.  Anyone have info on these planes? (edit: I discovered that one of them is probably a Model R with a single cockpit, and behind it I can make out the fuselage of a S-1.  An R-2 is to the far right)

The Curtiss Aircraft Factory at Newport News, Virginia - April 1916

By the way, I don't mention this very often, but all of these photos are available in my galleries at Smugmug.com. You can view the photos at full resolution there.  I'll put a link up somewhere more conspicuous before too long...

Ralph Cooper also created the site dedicated to the Early Birds, and I found this snippet on one of Ralph's pages that my grandfather wrote in the publication they called "Chirps".  Unfortunately, the page dedicated to Ivan on the Early Bird site has been blank for some time now, and it contained some great info.  I'm not sure if Ralph is still maintaining the site.
As I had very little experience on landings, I decided to go to the Curtiss School of Newport News, Virginia. Capt. Thomas Scott Baldwin, manager and friend of Glenn Curtiss, made me a proposition. --- be Walter Lee's mechanic and give him $150 and they would make me into a real pilot. So from early April until early June 1, I did hundreds of landings to a buoy and figure eights galore in another F boat with Glenn Curtiss' original control wheel to rudder, and shoulder yoke for ailerons. Also the boat had a foot throttle. They gave me a letter of recommendation as a careful pilot and a mechanic who could take care of his plane as well, signed by Walter Lees and Capt. Baldwin; also a beautiful diploma from the Curtiss School of Aviation.
If you look closely at the photo of the factory, you'll see the buoy that Ivan mentions just offshore.  I also have the letter he mentions and the proof that they made him into a real pilot - the diploma, signed by Walter.

We have a plethora of photos of JNs and various Curtiss models in the coming posts!



Celebrities and Sun Dances

Frederick C. G. Eden and a passenger

Okay, this guy just looks like he should be famous, right?  Unfortunately there are quite a few photos that I just have no clue regarding the identity of the people.  Of course, if you've been following along, Frederick C. G. Eden is on the right, but until some internet magic happens (someone sees the photo and tells me), he'll have to remain anonymous.

Now, in the next photo we have Ivan, and a group containing one gentleman marked, 'Gannett'.  I couldn't get out to research this one as much as I'd like, but I'm betting it's the newspaper mogul, Frank Gannett.  He would be around 40 in 1916, and this guy looks like he could be 40. Why would Ivan write in, 'Gannett', if it wasn't significant in some way?  Any Gannett experts out there?  My apologies to the lady on the right, I couldn't fix her nose.

Ivan P. Wheaton, Frank Gannett, and others with a Curtiss Flying Boat

Finally, these next few photos will wrap up Ivan's flying lessons in Palm Beach.  Beginning in 1916, some area businessmen came up with the idea to hire "real live Indians" to come to Palm Beach and perform "The Sun Dance".  Apparently it was a week long festival with dances, parades and floats.  The first photo shows a few of the dancers gathered, but I posted it since you can see fragments of the words "Seminole" and "Dance" over the woman's shoulder in the upper right.  That ties the event firmly in the history book.  I have my doubts about the last photo.  I looked at some actual photos of "war bonnets" and this one comes up a bit lacking.  Perhaps they just made a simple one for the show.

Seminoles in Palm Beach, Florida, 1916

Seminoles in Palm Beach, Florida, 1916

In my next post, Ivan heads out for the Curtiss factory in Newport News, Virginia.  This is pretty exciting stuff for me, since there are so many famous aviators in the coming photos!



Sunset flight and a low pass

A Curtiss Flying Boat against a Palm Beach Sunset

It's been a little while since I've been able to post, but here is another batch of photos from Ivan's short time in Palm Beach.

It's hard for us to imagine a world without flight.  Try to imagine that you very rarely see an airplane, or imagine that a B17 is going to be flying by at low altitude.  I don't know if you feel the same way I do, but I'm going to grab my camera, and get as many shots as I can.  I just can't get enough of airplanes flying by, low.  I love the feeling in these two photos, especially the cloudy sunset above.  You can practically feel the light, warm, evening breeze.

A Curtiss Flying Boat makes a low pass in Palm Beach

These next two feature Ivan with the Flying Boat, and they show a bit of detail, which is fun.  I'm looking primarily at the make shift extension of the hull down low on the side of the fuselage.  Interesting.

Ivan P. Wheaton standing by a Curtiss Flying Boat

Ivan P. Wheaton standing by a Curtiss Flying Boat

There are a bunch of photos of people around this plane, and a few more of local events which are historically interesting still to come.  After his stay in Palm Beach, Ivan moved on to another instructor, which we'll see in future posts.