Lieutenant Chandler's Fatal Accident
Early in March 1913, three new officers arrived at San Diego to begin their training, Lieutenants Joseph E. Carberry, Rex E. Chandler and Walter R. Taliaferro. It had been found much easier to start beginners on seaplanes, since the landing was not as critical and the machine could be brought down anywhere in the water without having to worry about problems from obstructions or rough ground.
On April 8, 1913 Lieutenant Brereton took Lieutenant Chandler up for his first flight using S.C. No. 15. It was to be Lieutenant Chandler's baptism of the air and the objective was training, not merely a "joy ride." The day was blustery and windy, so bad that even sail-boating was difficult. After six practice landings, Lieutenant Brereton flew down the sweeping entrance to San Diego harbor along mountainous Point Loma that projected into the Pacific Ocean. Flying with the wind, he then began a right turn when suddenly a gust struck the airplane, raising the left wing even higher and causing it to go out of control. With only 100 feet of altitude, the pilot was unable to right the machine before it smashed into the water. Lieutenant Brereton was catapulted clear of the wreck and uninjured, but Lieutenant Chandler was hit on the head by the engine and entangled in the wreckage which settled in about 30 feet of water. He drowned before help could reach him, the first casualty at the North Island school.
As in all accidents, a board of officers was appointed to investigate the crash. No one was held responsible, but Lieutenant Geiger believed the sluggishness of the automatic controls contributed to the mishap and he brought further testing of the lateral controls of the Sperry Automatic Pilot to a halt. In a letter Lieutenant Geiger wrote to the CSO he concluded:
"The instrument as yet is not correctly adjusted and the results as obtained are not such as to enable me to form any definite opinion of the ultimate value.
"In case the CSO desires to continue the tests with the gyroscope, a new machine of the flying boat type will have to be provided.
"In this connection, Mr. Sperry seems to have the impression that the government intends to devote a machine and an aviator to this work exclusively. As I have received no official information regarding this matter, I have regarded the experiments as subordinate to instruction and informed Mr. Sperry to that effect.
"The stabilizer at present is in such a state that it will have to be developed rather than tested. This will undoubtedly take a great deal of time and patience."
Following receipt of the information from Lieutenant Geiger, on April 21, 1913 the CSO wrote the Sperry Gyroscope Company that their gyroscope needed further developing prior to any more testing by the Army and "In view of the above and the limited number of aeroplanes at San Diego, this office desires to discontinue the trials with the stabilizer, at least until some future time, when conditions are more propitious."
The death of Lieutenant Chandler and the loss of S.C. No. 15 precipitated another crisis in the training program and left the North Island school with only three