from Socked In!
Instrument Flying in a Century of U.S. Aviation
by Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
A few of those events are unforgettable. Citizens around the world, including young people just learning to read and write, joined in the triumph of Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris. That flight spanned two calendar days, leaving Roosevelt Field on Long Island in the early daylight of May 20, 1927 and landing in the early evening at Le Bourget Field, Paris on May 21, 1927
Two flights, known now to almost no living persons, come frequently to the author's mind. One was recorded in two small-town newspapers. The other was recorded only in human memory. These occurred within two months, and within two years, respectively, after Lindgergh and his Spirit of St. Louis made it to Paris.
In differing sectors of the aviator spectrum in the 1920s were barnstormers, mail pilots, military pilots and very late in that decade a few airline pilots. The diversity in human interests is reflected in the fact that pilots in these very different flying professions had almost all come to aviation as the result of the impetus given to aviation by World War I.
RAY HYLAN, BARNSTORMERIn July 1927, one barnstormer came to my town, Brockport, New York, in his biplane. He landed on Gifford Morgan's farm, just east of the town. Morgan was a leading citizen in Brockport. After pilot Ray Hylan made his peace with owner Morgan for temporarly landing rights, he solicited "ride" business from the "locals."
The Peters family lived just down and across the street from our home on South Avenue. Their eigthe en-year old son, Stephen, had graduated from high school and was working in Ed Simmon's drug store for the summer. Steve was greatly admired by the small fry on our street. Stephen and his mother and father had just returned from a trip to New York City where Stephen had taken two local flights over the harbor on seaplanes. Upon his return, Steve was quite excited to discover a Curtiss Jenny in a field right next to his hometown, complete with pilot ready to take up passengers.
Steve took two flights in the afternoon of July 19. 1927, in the front passenger seat of the Jenny, with Hylan, the pilot, at the controls in the rear seat. Then, after attending a twilight baseball game, Steve drove back to the "airfield" and made a deal with Hylan to go up once more. It was now dusk. New reports from the July 21, 1927 editions of the Brockport Republic Democrat and nearby Holley, New York's Holley Standard provided details on what happened next.
A SAD ACCIDENTFrom the lead lines in the Republic Democrat: "A very sad accident occurred at 10 minutes after nine Tuesday evening when Stephen Peters Jr., 18 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Peters of South Avenue, was instantly killed when the plane in which he was riding crashed into the roof of Dr. Morris Mann's house on State Street. Steve, as he is better known to his many friends, had two previous rides in the plane and was very much enthused about flying."
The Holley Standard began its story with these lines. "In order to gratify a desire for 'some extra thrills' expressed by Stephen Peters of Brockport at the beginning of a flight Tuesday night, the pilot of the plane, Roy Hylan of Rochester, attempted a tail spin which ended in a crash in which Peters lost his life and Hylan was severely injured. After leaving his landing field a half-mile east of Brockport, Hylan took his plane up gradually until he was six hundred feet above Main Street where he decided to satisfy Peters' flare for thrills by going into a tail spin."
Steve Peters was dead at the scene while Hylan was taken to the Brockport Sanitarium. When Hylan regained consciousness, he stated, according to the Holley Standard, that he "made a tailspin which he could not control."
The Brockport paper closed its coverage with these lines. "Many people have remarked about the plane flying very low and the pilot was questioned about it the afternoon of the accident. Mr. Hylan claimed he always flew 500 feet or more above the ground and that that height was considered safe."
Both news sources referred to the pilot as Roy Hylan but he later became well known in aviation circles as Ray Hylan. He operated the Hylan Flying School in Rochester for many years. In 1959, he was in the news for the donation of his Boeing F4B-4 Navy figthe r to the Smithsonian Institution. Hylan died in 1983. When the Jenny crashed in Brockport, Ray Hylan was just three years older than his 18-year old passenger. The Brockport paper had noted, "He (Hylan) has piloted aeroplanes for the past year and was considered one of the best drivers in this section."
That accident was not an isolated experience in U.S. aviation in the 1920s. For this writer, then a six-year old boy, it was a first connection with aviation and a first connection with death.
Illustration 1 shows a Curtiss Jenny. It is one of the carefully restored vintage airplanes at the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York, locateed int eh southern par of the state at the foot fo Keuka Lake. This type aircraft saw considerable service as a training plane for U.S. World War I pilots. The plane was used to carry mail in the early U.S. airmail service, and was a favorite of barnstorming pilots in the 1920s. The Jenny at the Curtiss Museum is equipped with a Curtiss ninety-horsepower OX-5 liquid cooled aircraft engine.
LEROY AIRPORT - 1929Barnstorming is a segment of flying that has no counterpart today. Unless one considers Russia's space program's selling seat space to Tito for $20,000,000 for his rocket flight to the space station, as just a later form of barnstorming.
Pilots, especially, hearken back to their own first flight. The authors' occurred, as a passenger, at Leroy, New York in the summer of 1929. The airport, way ahead of its time and a prototype for airport design, was the Donald Woodward Airport. It was named after a local aviation enthusiast who put up the money to build a complete air facility in 1928, with four paved runways, hangar with corner tower, passenger ramp and space for parked aircraft.
The Leroy airport was an early general aviation airport that few small cities, let alone small towns, would ever match.
Before the airport took shape, the western New York village of Leroy was known mostly for being the home of the Jell-O manufacturing plant. The airport added to the town's preeminence. Leroy was also the site of one of those early light beacon links in the visual flight navigation path spanning the United States.
My hometown, Brockport, New York, was not far from Leroy. Young boys had no difficulty claiming some of the prominence of a nearby town. Especially, when that town had the excitement of aviation.
At Leroy Airport, a World War I aviator, Lieutenant Commander Russell Holderman, USNR, piloted a Stinson Detroiter aircraft on a summer Sunday in 1929 in which my father, mother, sister and I were the passengers. Pilots like Holderman were the civil aviation instructors of the era, the pilots of Sunday rubberneck flights, and the contract pilots flying the U.S. mail.
Eddie Stinson, and the Stinson family, located in Detroit, Michigan, designed and produced a number of fine aircraft. The Detroiter was one of them.
I did not know it at the time but Holderman was also the Donald Woodward Airport's Manager and had a hand in its design.
Illustration 2 is a reproduction of a photo that includes the Detroiter. It is the little single engine high wing monoplane in the mid-background of the photo.
Permission to reproduce the photo was granted by Paul Larcom, Aviation Curator of the Beverly (MA) Historical Society. The original photo is in the Walker Transportation Collection of the Society.
The plane in the forground is a Boston and Maine Airways' Lockheed 10A Electra, whose instrument panel this story will come to later.
These aircraft are on the ramp of the Boston airport, the "home port" of Boston and Maine Airways. That airline became Northeast Airlines.
The Stinson at Leroy in 1929 had a glass panel in the bottom of its small cabin through which the three
passengers in the rear could look straight down. This was an opportunity they exercised just once during that flight, pleading later that
they did not like the "feeling" it gave them
The right front seat of the Stinson was mine for this, my first, flight. It did not permit the downward vertical look. Through the window on the right side forward, one could see Niagara Falls. As flights go, it was just a 20 minute tour of western New York State. My father paid 30 dollars to a ticket agent near the plane My younger sister and I went for $5 each and the adults had to pay $10 each.
Russell Holderman later became the Gannett Newspapers chief pilot, in command of a coveted Lockheed Lodestar. About 30 years after that 1929 flight, I had left active duty as a Navy pilot and transferred to the Naval Air Reserve. My father invited me for lunch at the Rochester Club on East Avenue in Rochester, New York. Dad was a stockbroker and occasionally took clients to the club. This day, Dad had an ulterior motive. He introduced me to Lieutenant Commander Holderman, who, I learned, was a regular at the Club, with his own accustomed luncheon table.
It takes no stretch of reasoning to figure out that the Gannett Newspaper's Lodestar, with its experienced, instrument qualified pilot, was a major help in newspaper owner Frank Gannett's effort to build a national newpaper empire from a two-newspaper base in Rochester, New York. The flagship publication of that new organization is USA Today.
At Leroy on that summer Sunday in 1929, there were other aircraft parked at the airport. Most were the single engine biplanes of early aviation. A few of the aircraft parked at Leroy that summer were single engine, high wing monoplanes. I was told these were Curtiss Robins.All were painted orange.
Pilots and mechanics based at Leroy were themselves recognized, by their nationally better known aviation peers, as key contributors in aviation's early years. For that reason, when Donald Woodward's airport at Leroy held "fly-in" events, it attracted many well-known national and international figures, all pioneer in early aviation.
With the entrepreneurial investment of Woodward, and the pioneering pilots that his foresight attracted, the town of Leroy was early on aviation's map. In just a few years after 1929, larger U.S. cities became the essential airline embarking and debarking points for the growing number of paying passengers. As the pilot proficiency base grew, and radio aids were installed across the United States, the introduction of radio receiving instruments became a requirement for commercial aircraft. The tools for instrument flying were falling into place. Scheduled flights with passengers multiplied. Paying passengers increased in number. Towns like Leroy drifted into history. California, Texas and Illinois became leaders in the number of aviation early adopters. Distance was a spur to flying.
Many pilots, like Russell Holderman, moved on to salary-producing aviation careers. The barnstorming pilots elected to make their living in more of a free form that perhaps identified them more as lovers of flight for the sake of flight and not as just an alternate means of transportation. Even famed Charles Lindbergh did time as a barnstormer.
Every time an airplane went overhead in the early years of flight, persons of all ages turned their eyes skyward. most vivid is my memory of the giant navy dirigible, the USS Akron, passing over my home in western New York in 1931 on November 11, Armistice Day. She was creeping along under a very low overcast in restricted visibility, trying to stay in visual contact with ground reference points on the south side of Lake Ontario as she made her way back from a western trip to her home port of Lakehurst, New Jersey.
That dim gray wraith that took up so much space in the moisture laden sky was a discussion topic for folks in our town for months afterward. I can make a pretty good conjecture now that the Akron's Commanding Officer that day did not feel that his dirigible, and his flight instrumentation, and he, were capable of simply plunging into the clouds and heading directly for Lakehurst. Visible checkpoints like nearby Roshester on the south shore of Lake Ontario were the navigation aids he trusted.
A man-made connection existed between the dirigible and heavier than air flight. The Akron and her sister ship, the Macon, were both rigged with a hangar and suspension for a small aircraft. A number of aircraft flights from, and recoveries to, were made successfully, before both dirigibles met their ends in crashes that involved fatalities.
Today, I see giant C-5 jet transport planes taking off from or approaching Westover Air Force Reserve Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. I hear sleek Boeing and Douglas jet transports shushing overhead towared Bradley International Airport at Hartford, Connecticut, as they pass down the insturment runway approach path directly over my home. When I am outside in my neighborhood, I always turn my head skyward on the chance that one will "break contact" as it emerges from clouds.
TIMELY DEATH IN AIRPLANE
A very sad accident occurred at 10 minutes after nine Tuesday evening when Stephen Peter, Jr. 18 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Peters of South Avenue was instantly killed when the plane in which he was riding crashed into the roof of Dr. Morris Mann's house on State street.
Steve, as he is better known to his many friends in Brockport, had two previous rides in the plane and was very much enthused about flying. He had spent quite some time at the field which was on the Gifford Morgan farm, East Ave.
He was a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church and the Capen Hose Company.
The funeral services will be held from the church at 10 o'clock, Friday morning with burial at Lake View cemetery, Rev. Henry Purcell Veazie officiating.
Peters was thought a great deal of by all who knew him. He was employed at the Simmons drug store.
Deceased leaves to mourn his loss besides his father and mother, two sisters, Miss Hilda Peters and Miss Marguerite Peters both of Rochester.
Bearers will be members of the Capen Hose Company.
The plane in which he was riding was a Curtiss Bi-plane and was owned by Haight & Bussey of Rochester and was from the Rouse-Pottridge Flying Field of that city.
The pilot, Roy Hylan, was probably saved from the fate of his passenger by the headgear which he was wearing. He was badly cut and bruised by the fall and was removed to the Brockport Sanitarium. He has piloted aeroplanes for the past year and was considered one of the best drivers in this section.
Many people have remarked about the plane flying very low and the pilot was questioned about it the afternoon of the accident. Mr Hylan claimed he always flew 500 feet or more above the ground and that that height was considered safe.
At the time of the accident the plane was flying northeast. It may never be known just what caused the plane to take a tailspin and fall.
The home of Dr. Mann was considerably damaged. A large hole was made in the roof and a portion of the dining room was caved in. The building is a brick structure had it been of wood much more damage would have undoubtedly been done.
Contributed by Franklyn E. Dailey, Jr., 12-30-03
THE HOLLEY STANDARD
HOLLEY, N.Y., THURSDAY, JULY 21, 1927
After leaving his landing field a half-mile east of Brockport, Hylan took his plane up gradually until he was six hundred feet above Main Street, where he decided to satisfy Peters' flare for thrills by going into a tail-spin. The plane crashed at 9 P. M.
Scores of pedestrians pausing to watch the stunt fled in panic as Hylan's plane started down at them, failed to right itself, and roared by only forty feet away. They saw Peters grasp the side of the fuselage as the machine went by fluttering a moment almost up-side down, and then crashing through a tree.
One wing riipped throgh a sapling, swinging the plane about. The other wing jammed against the second story of the home of Dr. Morris Mann, State Street dentist, and the engine crashed through the brick of the building into the dining room.
Passenger and pilot remained wedged in the cockpit. Mrs. Mann and two children, passing through the dining room, rushed out in time to avoid injury. Dr. Mann, working on a patient on the other side of the house, hurried to help the injured men.
Stephen Peters, Sr., was one of the first to reach the scene of the accident. He first learned the victim was his son, when he lifted him from the entangled fuselage. He was taken into the Mann home, where several physicians and the community nurse worked without avail. He died a few minutes later. Death was caused by the rupture of the large artery leading to the heart.
Hylan was taken to Brockport Sanitarium, where cuts and bruises were dressed. He regained consciousness and made a statement that he made a tail-spin which he could not control.
Mrs. Peters collapsed when told of the death of her only son. Besides his father and mother, Peters is survived by two sisters, Miss Hilda Peters, a trained nurse, and Miss Margaret Peters, who is in training at the Rochester General Hospital.
Stephen Peters was 17 years of age and was a popular young man. He was crucifer at St. Luke's Episcopal Church and president of the Young People's Fellowship. He had completed his studies at Brockport High School and was serving an apprenticeship in the E. W. Simmons pharmacy. He returned last week from a visit to New York City with his parents. While in the metropolis he made several seaplane filghts. Enamoured with the thrills and new sensations, he made two flights in the plane at Brockport previous to the fatal trip.
After attending the Twilight-League baseball game at the Monroe County fair grounds, he drove to the dirld and requested another flight. Bystanders heard him asking the pilot for extra thrills, with twists and turns.
The biplane, with federal license number 256, was owned by George Haight and Arthur Bussey of Rochester. It was equipped with a Curtiss motor of ninety horsepower and was capable of flying from fifty to seventy-five miles an hour. Shortly after noon on the fatal day it flew over Holley, dropping very low apparently in search of a landing place, but turned a short distance west of the village and rose as it flew back to the east.
According to William P. Miller, mechanician for the flights, Hylan was an expert flier. The plane in good condition, he said. He could explain the tragedy in no other way than that the plane was too near the ground when Hylan attempted the tail spin.
Format: Paperback, 454pp
Pub. Date: July 1999
Publisher: Dailey International
This detailed book is a first hand account of the experiences of a junior officer on a Navy destroyer in WWII. The author provides many details and background information that help set the stage for the events that impact his ship, the USS Edison.
Format: Paperback: 134 pages
(May 1, 2000)
Publisher: Dailey International Publishers; ISBN: 0966625110
A true story of a young boy growing up in a small village in upstate New York. It covers the years 1926-1932 during which he attended a small Parochial School. The Depression is a factor in the story as is the Constitutional experiment known as Prohibition.
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