Major Leland Harp

Madge & Joe
Madge & Joseph L. Cato
Courtesy of Phyllis Cato Ferguson
     While Mr. Cato was not the first man on the Pacific Coast to build a glider, he ranks among our earliest pioneers in Aviation. In 1903 in Stockton, California, Mr. Cato designed and built a glider. He used model wing sections and towed them in the wind to find experimentally where the centers of lift and pressure were located on such surfaces. Despite this crude method, he established that this point was located at one-third the cord from the leading edge. His machine was designed and balanced from this data.
     This glider had a wing span of twenty-eight feet. The wing cord was approximately seven feet. For wings, Cato used umbrella rib sections and three spars. The main spar was located one third back from the leading edge. After first trying string, wire was finally used for both the leading and trailing edges. This structure was then covered with muslin.
     This glider had both horizontal and vertical rudders. These entire surfaces were hinged and no stabilizers, as such, were used. These control surfaces had no camber and were covered with muslin on one side only as were the wings. The rudders were controlled by ropes attached to a rudder bar operated by the hands of the operator. The rudders were inverted on horizontal outriggers originating from the wing and lower frame work. The entire structure was estimated to weigh between 95 and 110 pounds. Douglas fir was used for the wooden parts.
     Mr. Cato made two attempts to glide this machine in winds of about 10-15 mph by jumping off a barn to glide out over a straw pile. The first attempt resulted in no glide and was a failure. The second attempt, early in the following summer was more successful, but due to air turbulence after a glide of about 200 feet, the machine crashed and was wrecked. The whole project was then abandoned.
     The only references used by Mr. Cato were articles and diagrams printed in early volumes of the Scientific American that he obtained from the local public library.
     Mr. Cato worked in a machine shop after school in Stockton. He later moved to San Francisco and attended night school in engineering. During this time he read all he could about gliders and the experiments of the Wright brothers.
     In February 1908 Mr. Cato, in answer to the War Department's requests for bids on a powered aircraft, submitted detailed plans and specifications for a machine that he believed he could produce. These plans were sent to the War Department and were probably one of forty bids received at that time. Mr. Augustus Herring was awarded the contract for the first Army airplane. It will be recalled that the Wright plane was not purchased with Army funds, but from the President's Emergency Fund, as the Army was compelled to accept the lowest bid.
     Mr. Cato recalls that he spent many hours composing the letter to Major General James Allen that accompanied his plans and specifications. The only reply that Mr. Cato received for his efforts was a form letter from the Signal Corps stating that the Signal Corps would procure its aircraft through regular channels.
     In January 1909 Mr. Cato became actively engaged in aeronautical work. He did miscellaneous aircraft and engine mechanical work for other private builders at the Sunset Aviation Field, Alameda, California. At this same time he designed and started construction of his first airplane, a Curtiss-type, single surface biplane. On October 15, 1909 he made his first solo hop with a 35 HP Curtiss single surface biplane which was owned the the Ames Tricycle Company of San Francisco, who operated the flying school at the Alameda marshes (Sunset Field). Mr. Cato paid for his tuition by working as a mechanic during all his spare time for the Ames people. Mr. Harold Blakley was instructor and manager of the Ames Flying School.
     In 1910 Mr. Cato built a Bleriot-type monoplane and powered it with an old Wineberg air-cooled engine; this was a two-cylinder opposed-type that had to have modifications made on the cylinder head and valve arrangement. This engine developed approximately 35 HP at 1250 rpm. This machine took approximately six months to build and its weight was 750 pounds. Mr. Cato states that he made several hops with this plane, but that it was too heavy, so he gave it up as a bad job.
     He next started to design and build his third machine, another Curtiss-type single surface biplane.
     During 1910 Mr. Cato was working in San Francisco as a gasoline engine mechanic for Woodin & Little Pump House, a firm that handled pumps and related equipment. He did his aircraft work after his regular hours and on the week-ends.
     Mr. Cato, together with Harold Blakley, bought from Ivy Baldwin an old Curtiss-type biplane. Mr. Baldwin was the brother of T. S. Baldwin, who was a famous balloon aereonaut, who built and sold the first dirigible to the United States Army.
     This Baldwin plane came equipped with a partially-completed 9-cylinder rotary engine. Mr. Cato re-designed this plane engine and completed it of installation in this Curtiss-type plane. They used this engine until it blew off one of its cylinders. Mr. Cato states that they flew this plane for nearly two years and installed several engines. With this plane powered with a three-cylinder two-cycle water-cooled Elbridge engine, he and Mr. Blakley held the endurance record at the field for two months with a flight of twenty minutes.
          Some of the other engines installed in this same plane were;
          a. A Maximotor four-cylinder 50 HP water-cooled engine;
          b. Elbridge three-cylinder two-cycle water-cooled engine;
          (This same make and type of engine was used by Glenn L. Martin
          in his later version of his first historic plane.)
          c. Robert's engine built in Sandusky, Ohio. This engine was a
          water-cooled four-cylinder enlined two-cycle engine.
     In February 1911 Mr. Cato completed and sold his third airplane and started designs for a 60 HP four-cylinder water-cooled engine.
     In 1912 Mr. Cato took a job with S. C. Cornet in Gustine, California. This job was in a machine shop for Mr. Cornet's plumbing business. It was Mr. Cato's duty to repair gasoline engines used on pumps owned by Mr. Cornet's customers. While on this job Mr. Cato built his first double surface biplane. (The wings were covered on both the top and bottom of the structure.) This plane had a Farnum-type landing gear and ailerons; it also utilized a three-in-one control. The engine for this plane was a modified automobile engine of four cylinders taken from an old Pope-Toledo car owned by a farmer, one of Mr. Cornet's customers. Mr Cato converted this engine in the Cornet machine shop and designed a radiator to cool the engine while in flight. In the process of converting the engine, he found that the camshaft would have to turn backward due to the use of a silent chain drive instead of the external camshaft gears that were formerly used. This, however, was very satisfactory as the engine had automatic intake valves. A magneto was installed, as well as a water pump mounted directly on the rear end of the crankshaft. The crankcase was aluminum, cylinders were individual with copper jackets. The total weight was about 195 pounds and developed approximately 60 HP. In 1916 this engine was sold to a person in Seattle, Washington and installed in a speedboat with excellent results for two seasons of speedboat competition. The total cost of both the 1912 plane and rebuilt engine was $350.00.
     During the same period Mr. Cato rebuilt a Curtiss-type plane and did some aeronautical work for other aircraft builders. He also did some exhibition flying. Mr. Harold Blakley was with Mr. Cato during most of his exhibition flying. Mr. Blakley later joined the Tom Baldwin "Red Devils" flying team. When Blakley joined the Sloane Aeroplane Company as a test pilot, he wired Mr. Cato to join him as an experimental test engineer.
     Prior to this time and from 1912 to November 1915, Mr. Cato completed three aircraft that were powered with the same 60 HP Pope-Toledo engine that powered the first Gustine plane. Two of these planes were sold without engines and the third was salvaged after being wrecked.
     In December 1915 Joe Cato joined the Sloane Aeroplane Company, Bound Brook, N. J. This company was owned by John Eyre Sloane, who was Thomas Edison's son-in-law. The Sloane Company was financed by Thomas A. Edison. This company consolidated with the Standard Aircraft Company. While working with Standard, Mr. Charles Day was Chief Engineer, who was responsible for the basic design work. Mr. Day, Jimmie Stoensen and Mr. Cato completed the design work on the Standard J.I. Training Plane. Mr Cato said that the government specifications required that they install a four-cylinder Hall-Scott engine in this ship. He recalled that they were sick about this as they felt that the plane should have been equipped with a six-cylinder 150 HP Hall-Scott engine. This same plane was ordered by the U. S. Government during World War I and four hundred were produced by Col. Deed's company, the Dayton Wright Aircraft Company.
lwf factory
     The building where the LWF airplanes were built is still standing. It just went through a major renovation and the main structure was kept intact.
Photo & caption courtesy of Larry Dwyer
Aviation History On-line Museum
       In April 1916 both Mr. Cato and Mr. Blakley went to work for the LWF Engineering Company of New York City. Mr. Blakley was again the test pilot. Mr. Cato was the Aeronautical Experimental Engineer and assistant to the General Managere, Mr. Albert H. Flint. Mr. Cato was the works manager and directly in charge of all new develpment and experimental work as well as all flight testing.
     Mr Charles Willard, Edmond Lowe, Jr., and Robert G. Fowler formed the LWF Company. The had an office in New York City and a small factory in Long Island City where their first airplane, Model V. was produced. Mr. Willard was the Chief Engineer and was responsible for the original design of the Model V which was the most efficient airplane of its day and set a basic standard for all future LWF airplanes designed.
by Larry Dwyer
Aviation History On-line Museum
     The first plane that LWF manufactured was the Model V, but it did not have the Liberty 400 hp engine. The next LWF version ,called the Model F, was the first airplane built to accommodate the Liberty 400. My information shows that the Model V had a Thomas, eight cylinder 135 hp engine.
       During this time, they designed and built the LWF Model V biplane. The factory was then moved to College Point, Long Island. This plane was later re-designed for the new eight-cylinder Liberty Engine in 1917. On the re-design work Mr. Cato states that a wooden model of the original eight-cylinder Liberty engine was used until a production model could be obtained. To supervise the installation, Mr. J. A. Vincent, Mr. Hall of Hall-Scott Motors and a mechanic named Mr. Buzzane came from Detroit. This engine, he claims, was installed and flying in ten hours.
     Mr. Cato tells a very interesting story regarding the original test of the first 12-cylinder Liberty engine installed in a Model V plane in January 1918. It seems that a man became very friendly with Mr. Blakley. This man became well known around the plant and was called "Frenchy." He used to hand Mr. Blakley a cigarette and light it for him before each test flight. On the morning of the first official test flight scheduled for the first 12-cylinder Liberty engine "Frenchy" repeated this performance. MR. Cato states that Blakley took the plane up and immediately started erratic maneuvers. As this happened, "Frenchy" got into Blakley's car and drove away. When Blakley crashed and was killed, Cato and others rushed to the scene of the crash. Mr. Cato had the engine picked up and placed under guard in one of the hangars. About an hour later, newspapers had the story out in Washington, D. C. that the new Liberty engine crankshaft had disintegrated and asked that the entire program be scrapped. Mr. Cato had seen the bent crankshaft and knew that this report was false. He notified Mr. Flint when he called from Washington.
     Mr. Cato was told to come to Washington and bring the crankshaft with him. He testified before an investigation committee that the Liberty engine was not at fault. Due to this accident the entire Libery engine program was nearly cancelled. later investigations proved that "Frenchy" was a German agent and probably had given Mr. Blakley a doped cigarette. The investigations also proved that the Germans had access to our war plans from the very highest levels.
     Another test plane was re-designed and built by Mr. Cato and was known as the LWF Model "G" for the Liberty 12-cylinder engine. Some of the modifications are interesting to note. The plane had a true monocoque fulelage covered with armor plate. It had balanced ailerons on the upper wing and tail controls. It had improved fuel and oil systems, carried seven machine guns and four bombs. It could climb to 15,000 feet in 12 1/2 minutes and had a top speed of 136 mph. Mr. Cato says that is could fly rings around the DH-4 powered by the same engine. Due to the sudden ending of the war this plane never got into production.
     From December 1918 to June 1919, Mr. Cato was employed by the Marlin-Rockwell Company to design a small light plane with a plastic fuselage to be powered by a 72 HP Cato air-cooled two-cylinder horizontal opposed engine. This plane and engine was completed in 150 days and had several hundred hours of flight testing without any modification from the original design of the plane or engine.
     In June 1919 Mr. Cato was called back to LWF Company as an Aeronautical Mechanical Engineer to assist in some re-design work on the "Owl" mail plane that had crashed and to design a light sport plane. Pictures of these planes can be seen in the Aircraft Yearbook for 1920. This light plane was equipped with a special 60 HP Cato air-cooled engine. The LWF "Owl" was then the largest plane in the world and was used by the Army for two years for heavy bomb test work.
     In May 1921 Mr. Cato became project engineer on air-cooled cylinders and radial engines for the Army Air Service at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Cato worked directly under Major George E. A. Hallett who was in charge of the Power Plant Section. During this time Mr. Cato prepared six books on the development history of six different aircraft engines that were designed and built for the Air Service Engineering Division up to that date.
     In December 1926 Mr. Cato was employed by G. Elias and Brother, Inc., Aircraft Department, Buffalo, New York, as chief engineer and factory manager. He was hired to develop an 80 HP horizontal opposed air-cooled engine and light plane for this engine. He also had charge of all military orders produced by this firm. On this job Mr. Cato designed the "Aircoupe," "Airsport" and "Trainair" light sport monoplanes. The "Aircoupe" and "Airsport" were built and flown for two years at the Buffalo Airport. The preliminary design for the engine was also developed.
     From May 1930 until September 9, 1941 Mr. Cato was employed by the Emsco Aircraft Corporation of Downey, California as superintendent and production manager. During this period he re-designed three of their aircraft for ATC licenses. When the company suspended their aircraft division, Mr. Cato stayed with them as production engineer and assistant to the president, Mr. D. W. Fether. In his spare time Mr. Cato did outside aeronautical consulting work. he also designed another light plane and engine which was to have been produced by the Cato Aircraft and Engine Corporation, which was incorporated under the laws of Nevada. Mr. Cato retired from Emsco to run this Corporation.
     From June 1942 until May 1953 when Mr. Cato retired, with the exception of six-months leave to set up a new plant and production line for Mr. D. W. Fether and Company, Santa Clara, California. Mr. Cato has been Chief Aircraft maintenance Inspector and General Superintendent of the Aircraft Shops at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, California. During this period Mr. Cato has designed and supervised the construction of many special tools, fixtures, jigs, hangar and field equipment. For this outstanding work Mr. Cato has received quite a few cash awards and commendation from the United States Air Force.
Some corrections made January 29, 1962 by Joseph L. Cato.
Courtesy of Phyllis Cato Ferguson

Editor's Note:
If you have any more information on this early flyer
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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