Every aviator's nightmare.

It wasn't until I was about to publish this that I recalled my own experience in a burning aircraft.  As an employee at what was then Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing, I frequently acted as a flight recorder during certification.  One flight we found the engine particularly rough-running during our preflight checks.  We taxied to a spot not far from the hangar.  I remember being intent on my checklist, but vaguely hearing the word "fire" being yelled.  When I looked up, all I could see in front of me were bright orange flames.  The pilot shut down the engine, yelling "Get out! Get out! Get out!"  He really only needed to say it once.  Even though the fire did minor damage, and was quickly extinguished, it was pretty terrifying.

I want to make it clear that I'm not able to tie these photos directly to the death of Steve Mac Gordon, but I believe they are photos of his crash.  My speculation is based on three items.  1) That Steve was an instructor at the school during my grandfather's instruction there.  2) That the collection contains a series of eight photos of this crash, which is unusual. 3) That historical accounts of Steve Mac Gordon's death all mention a crash involving a fire.

There are no other photos in this scrapbook which involve a burned plane.  There are many, many other crashed JNs in the collection, and if memory serves me, some of them burned.  For Ivan to have pasted so many photos of one event makes it significant.

Wrecked Curtiss JN 4 at the Curtiss School in 1916.

None of the three accounts of Mac Gordon's crash agrees on any point except that they all agree that Steve died as a result of his burns.  Edith Dodd's book "Tailspins" says that there was a crash resulting in a fire.  I was unable to obtain a full transcript, but a portion of the text from Frank Ellis's book "Canada's Flying Heritage", seems to indicate that his plane caught fire first, then crashed.  A fuller account from "Aerial Age Weekly" was the most complete account I was able to find.

Is it possible that they were doing a "touch and go" when they broke the prop?  How else would they nose over enough to strike the prop?  If they applied full throttle, then broke the prop, the engine would certainly shake.  You'll notice in the first photo that there is one blade fairly untouched, while the other is split.  A split like that could happen in a prop strike, taking off only the trailing half of the prop.  If they had struck the prop tip with just enough speed to take off, they would have quickly put the plane on the ground in an attempt to escape the fire, resulting in the broken fuselage.

Right-side view of a burned wreck at the Curtiss School in 1916.

In many of the crash photos I've seen in the collection, students and bystanders are smirking or laughing.  None of that is seen in these photos.  Everyone appears to be quite solemn.

Burned remains of a Curtiss JN 4 at the Curtiss School in 1916.

A pair of aviators discover something of interest in the wreckage of a Curtiss JN 4 at the Curtiss School in 1916.

There are still a large number of photos left to share from this particular scrapbook, and two or three other scrapbooks remain.  We're nearing the end of the first scrapbook, and I'm looking at some photos of an aircraft I've never seen, and can find no references to, which will be interesting, for sure.  I've promised photos of people and some more of the R-4, so look for those photos soon.

Thanks for all the kind comments in various social media!  Please use the Share or  +1 button below, too.  These buttons help the blog reach people who would otherwise never see it, on your lists and hopefully on theirs as well.



This did not end well...

A Curtiss JN lies upside down after a crash, at the Curtiss School, 1916.

I do not enjoy leading off with photos like this.  In fact, this whole post has been rather depressing to put together.  The photos do represent something that was important enough to Ivan to place in his scrapbook, though, so I'll include them.  It does represent a chance to play hangar pilot, or FAA crash scene investigator  if you're feeling really curious, or bored.  The twisty nature of the fuselage in this first wreck seems to suggest a ground loop, but that's just my very mildly educated guess.

The wreckage of a Curtiss JN lies upside down at the Curtiss School, 1916

This next photo is a Conway capture, and if you take the time to look carefully, there are some fun interactions in the various groups of onlookers.  Also, notice the tail number.  We saw this plane in one of the first photos of the Curtiss school, here.  It's sad to see these planes in such a state. (If you'd like to see one being restored, I recommend this site).  I did find it heartening to see the guys laughing in this photo.  It's hard to imagine this was too serious, when they're clowning around with each other.

A crowd of onlookers and men investigate a crashed Curtiss JN.

Here's another water landing that was intended to be a water landing, anyway.  I'll go so far as to wager the gentleman planned a good landing, as well.  It's hard to tell what kind of plane it is, until you find that there are quite a few photos of this accident in the collection.

The wreckage of a Curtiss flying boat floats near the Curtiss School, 1916.

Still a bit difficult to tell...

Retrieving the wreckage of a Curtiss flying boat off Newport News, Virginia, 1916.

This is enough to identify it as a Curtiss flying boat.  Notice the dual wheel yoke.

The wreckage of a Curtiss flying boat, 1916

Now you can see the forward fuselage section, and the interplane aileron tucked into the fuselage.  Hope they reused that gauge right in the middle of the wreckage.

Wreckage of a Curtisss flying boat, 1916.

Plenty more destruction coming in the next post!  See you then.



Curtiss Twin JN Prototype, 1916

When I promised "some" photos of the Curtiss Twin JN in my last post, I honestly thought I had five or six photos to share with you.  I'm sorry to say these three were the only ones I found.  It is possible that there are more in another album, but I haven't had time to dig the next one out.  I have a substantial number of photos yet to publish from the first aviation scrapbook, too.

Anyway, the Curtiss Twin, as Ivan titled it, didn't meet with the success that the rest of the JN models did.  You'll see in the next photo that float models of it were tested as well.  The following photo also seems to be from a parade in which Curtiss displayed some aircraft.  I'll have more photos of that parade in a future post.

Displaying the float version of the Curtiss Twin JN in 1916.

Curtiss Twin JN at the Curtiss School in 1916

I'm afraid that last photo wasn't developed with much care.  Despite that, I find the horizontal strut leading to the aft end of the engine mounts pretty curious.  Your comments are welcome!  I would love to hear from anyone with more knowledge of these old planes.  I think I have the blog settings set so that anyone may comment, but they will be moderated first.

For the next post, I believe I'll post some crash photos. There's no shortage of crashed JNs in the collection! Earlier, I had learned that Steve MacGordon was involved with a crash resulting in a fire, and that he had died in the hospital as a result of his burns.  I believe many of these photos are from that crash.  Jennies don't take well to bad landings, and most of the crash scenes in the collection are just various nose-overs, but others are a bit scarier.

Until then, thanks for viewing; and if you're enjoying the collection, please give a Share or a +1 on Google, if you'd be so kind.



Ivan P Wheaton at the Curtiss School

Ivan P Wheaton at the Curtiss School in 1916.

There aren't a ton of photos of Ivan at the Curtiss School, but here are a couple of the better ones. Once again, I'm afraid there isn't much to add to these photos, textually. You may (if I did this correctly) see a difference in the display mode for photos.  It should take you to the Smugmug gallery, where you'll be able to view the photos in a full screen slideshow.

Ivan stands behind a Curtiss JN at the Curtiss School in 1916.

Ivan P Wheaton, center.  At the Curtiss School in 1916.

And finally, here is a scan of the logbook entry for the first portion of Ivan's instruction at the Curtiss School.  He transcribed this from his original books toward the end of his flying career.  Unfortunately the original is lost.

Ivan's logbook entries during his instruction at the Curtiss School.

Next up will be some photos of the Curtiss Twin JN.  



Curtiss Speed Scout

A set of three early biplanes by the Curtiss School in 1916

This post is focused on the obscure little Curtiss Speed Scout, or Baby Scout, model S-1.  There is very little information floating around the Net on this model, so I don't have a lot of narrative, but I do have a few photographic gems.  This first photo is fairly well-distributed on the Net.  It could be that Ivan shared the photo, or that some other collection kept a print of Frank Conway's photo.  I've theorized before that Mr. Conway not only got paid by Glenn Curtiss for his photographic work, but also made prints on the side for students and others at the school, and I don't think I'm far off.

Speaking of Frank Conway prints, you'll see this next photo at the link I placed above as well.  I think this print is several orders of magnitude better, if I may say so, however.  Victor Carlstrom is at the controls.

Victor Carlstrom at the controls of a Curtiss Baby Scout biplane

I don't think I've ever seen another photo of this little bird in flight, so I was particularly happy to find this photo in the collection!

Victor Carlstrom takes off in the Curtiss Baby Scout biplane

Finally, there is an original photo of some damage to the plane.  I wish I had some information about the nature of the incident, but anything I add would be conjecture beyond noticing that the flying wires are slack,  the prop is broken, and the engine seems to have been shoved to the left.

The propeller and engine have been damaged on this Curtiss Baby Scout biplane

I have a lot more photos from the Curtiss School, and I'll be organizing them around aircraft type, people and events, so stay tuned!  As usual, I'll continue to ask for +1's and Shares in an effort to widen the reach of the collection, with my thanks in advance!



The Soggy end of #3

A Curtiss biplane being disassembled after landing in the water

Not much commentary on these two photos, except to say that judging by the smiles, nobody was seriously hurt.  Perhaps one of the men in the photo was the pilot?

Pilots pose with a wrecked Curtiss Jenny

In the above photo, I see the name Dolly Gray, which is pretty distinctive. I found references to a baseball player from early 1900s by that name, but no aviators.  I'm interested to learn more about Capt. Taylor as well, since he appears in many of Ivan's photos.

Don't forget to Share or +1 if you're finding the photos valuable or interesting!  They go a long way in expanding the reach of the blog.  Thanks!



Grover Loening and a Sturtevant

Grover Loening and Steve Mac Gordon with a Sturtevant biplane in 1916

This post centers on photos from Ivan's collection of an aircraft which I'm unable to identify with an exact model number, but Ivan's writing gave me enough information to discover a little more.

Grover Loening was an amazing figure in the aviation industry in America. He was the first American to earn a master's degree in aeronautical engineering, at Columbia University in 1910. In 1921 he earned the Collier Trophy, an annual award recognizing the greatest achievements in aviation, for his Loening Flying Yacht. He stayed active in aviation his entire life, eventually appointed as a civilian Advisory Board member to the National Air Museum under President Kennedy. A short write-up and photo featuring Steve Mac Gordon can be found here. Does anyone know the exact model of this Sturtevant airplane?

A Sturtevant biplane flown by Steve Mac Gordon takes off

The last photo impressed me in a couple of ways.  First, the amount of aileron travel seems huge to me.  I notice the elevator travel is sometimes in excess of 40 degrees, but I've never noticed the ailerons with this much travel.  Second, I notice in a couple of photos (which are upcoming) that they used a palette or skid of some sort to chock the wheels here at the Curtiss School.  Here, you can see a mechanic or pilot dragging one into place.  I wonder when the actual wheel chock was invented?

A Sturtevant biplane at the Curtiss School in 1916

Thanks in advance for any input on the Sturtevant, and please Share or +1 the blog with the links below.


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