Douglas B. Netherwood, Autobiography

     Born in B. (Birmingham) Eng. was brought to the U.S. at age of 2 yrs. Spent boyhood on father's farm & ranch 16 mi. N.W. of Brady, Texas. Once when looking at young hawks in their nest in the top of a tree was struck on the head by the mother hawk and hastily retired to a lower position. Herded sheep when a boy in order to protect the flock against the coyotes which were numerous in Texas in the "gay nineties." At about the age of 14, received a 22 caliber rifle and earned pocket money by shooting prairie dogs, rabbits and rattle snakes, upon which his father paid a bounty of one cent each. Got Jack rabbits raised to two cents each because of their large appetite. Best record was 87 prairie dogs out of 100 shots.
     Raised cotton as a "share cropper" on his father's farm and thereby earned most of the money subsequently used to put him through college.
     Was interested in mechanical devices from an early age and had the boyhood ambition to become a locomotive engineer. Studied mechanical engineering at home on the farm and made a working model of a steam engine with slide valve and Stephenson built motion reversing gear. One evening, the family showed the model to Mr. Tom Bell, an overnight visitor, whereupon Mr. Bell said "that boy should go to the Agricultural and Mech. College."
     Was first taught at home by his father and later attended country schools with one teacher for the entire school. In 1904, when the model was shown to Mr. Bell, had had a total of about 24 months in the country schools.
     Armed with a letter of introduction from Mr. Bell, reported at the A. & M. College of Texas in Sept, 1904. Was unable to qualify mentally for entrance but, being over 19 years of age, was admitted probationally as a freshman upon "special approval." The President of the college, David F. Houston, (late Secty of Agr. under Pres. Wilson) & the head of the Mechanical Engr. dept. were understood to have made a bet - one that farmer Netherwood would not last until after Christmas 1904 and the other htat he would graduate. Never learned who won the bet, but graduated with degree of BS in Mech. Engr. in June, 1908. During college career, worked in the power plant at 15 cents per hour, thereby gaining valuable experience and also earning money needed to put him through school. Was senior at the time of the famous A. & M. "strike" when the students rose in opposition to the policies of Dr. H. H. Harrington then pres. of the college. The strike was settled after about a week of negotiating between the Board of Directors, the students and their legal representative the Hon. Hatton W. Summers, now Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Nat'l House of Rep.
     Became interested in a military career in the spring of 1908 when Maj. Peure (?) of War Dept. Gen'l Staff inspected the college and gave the students a talk on the advantages of an Army life. Applied for authority to take exam for commission in the Army and ran afoul of the naturalization laws. His father had taken out "first papers," but never had completed his citizenship therefore he, at the age of 23, learned that he was an alien and must become a United States citizen by his own action. Took out his "first papers" and enlisted in the Army on July 1908, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Served in the 20th Company C.A.C. at Ft. Barameas, Fla., as private, corporal and sgt. until Aug. 1911, when he became a 2nd Lt. C.A.C.
     Ordered to Ft. Monroe, Va. for course of training. In Oct. 1911, saw Lts. Ellyson & Towers USN fly Curtiss Hydroplane & became interested in aviation. After 6 mos. training at Ft. Monroe, Va., went to Ft. Stevens, Ore., for duty in Mar. 1912. Had the good fortune to command the 160th Company and "Battery Russell," a 10" seacoast battery, for more than a year as a 2nd Lt.
     Applied for aviation duty in the Signal Corps in 1913 and was among the first applicants to be given the "spring chair" test prior to detail for flying duty. The doctor at Ft. Stevens used an ordinary swivel chair for the test. Detailed in the Signal Corps in Dec. 1913 & had first flight on Dec. 18th of that year with Walter R. Talliaferro, (later killed at North Island) in a Curtiss Tractor No. 22. That was the newest plane at North Island at that time and had four wheel landing gear, the only one of its kind ever built. At that time, the Signal Corps Aviation School was in two camps, the "Curtiss Camp" & the "Wright Camp" on North Island at San Diego, Cal. The first flight was at the "Curtiss Camp" and the pilots on duty there urged him to ask for training at that camp instead of in the "Death Trap" at the "Wright Camp." Ellington & Kelly had just recently been killed in a Wright plane. Was ordered to take training at the "Wright Camp" under Mr. Oscar A. Brindley, (killed at Dayton, Ohio, in May, 1920) who was the first civilian flying instructor in the Army. The tricycle gear is coming back into vogue over a quarter of a century later). Made first solo flight in No. 3 on Feb. 7, 1914. Was detailed as officer in charge of shops and engine overhaul. Qualified for & was issued Aviators Certificate No. 312, by the Aero Club of America & dated Oct. 21, 1914. Rated as a JMA in Aug. 1914.
     On Sept. 1, 1914, while flying a Martin Training Tractor, lost control in a turn and side-slipped to the ground crashing the plane. Rec'd only a slight cut on the nose and walking back toward the camp met a stretcher crew who asked who was in the wreck. When told "I was," they didn't believe me and continued on the run to the wreckage. On Sept. 24, 1914, while testing a Curtiss Ox engine on a test block, walked into the propeller which was turning 902 r.p.m. Struck on head, left arm and left hand. Had 3 bones broken in left hand.
     In 1915, the Army aviators, emulating the well known Lincoln Beachey (killed at San Francisco in 1915), began doing acrobatic maneuvers. looped the loop for the first time on Oct. 11, 1915 in a Curtiss Tractor Model J and fore runner of the well known J N Series fo "Jennies" used for training during the World War.
     Sailed for the Philippines in Jan. 1916 & was stationed on Corregidor Island at the entrance to Manila Bay. On duty with 2nd Co. 1st Aero Sqdrn equipped with Martin Model S, single engine seaplanes.
     On Apr. 1, 1916, while driving on "Manila South Road" near Lucena, in the late afternoon started to cross a river on a bamboo raft ferry. The river banks were steep and the raft slippery. When attempting to drive off the raft, the moorings gave way with the front wheels of the car on the river bank & the front end of the car went into the river completely submerging the engine and battery . Took the raft loose from the messenger cable & pulled the far onto a gravel island in the river, dried it out & put it in running order the next morning. Laid parts on the gravel to dry in the sunshine & they got so hot that they had to be handled with gloves.
     In Nov. 1916, while on a trip to the "Southern Islands," used a motorcycle for shore excursions at various ports of call. While riding up a mountain road from Camp Overton to Lake Lanao on the Island of Mindanao, the edge of the road gave way and spilled me directly in front of a model T Ford. The Ford came to a stop with the right front wheel on my legs and the axle against my neck. Mounting the motorcycle, I continued my trip, but was too lame for any motorcycling the next day.
     The seaplanes we had on Corregidor Island were directionally unstable and under powered. They could not be gotten off the water with only the pilot and 20 gallons of gasoline unless the wind was at least 7 mph. A take-off with pilot and observer & full fuel tanks required a wind of at least 11 mph.
     While on an observation flight over Corregidor on Apr. 10, 1917, with Lt. Scanlon (now Col. Scanlon, Air Attache, London Eng.) as observer, the plane went into a spin during a turn at 2300' altitude. Trying various control combinations, none did any good. Finally, set ailerons & elevators neutral and applied full right rudder & waited. After a drop of 1000 feet, I concluded that we probalby would crash in the water, As we went into what appeared would be the last turn, the controls took effect and I straightened the plane out 100 feet from the water. We were so close to the 500 foot cliff of Corregidor Island that I could not have turned soon enough to avoid a crash into the cliff had the plane been headed toward it. Fortunately, we were headed parallel to the shore. The plane had the Curtiss control system, with a large wheel for the rudder control. Making sure I had on full right rudder, I had the steering column over to the right about 2". Later, when I prepared to land, I could not throttle the engine because the throttle spring had become detached and I had to land with the ignition turned off. The bent steering column was the only damage to the plane.
     Had first learned to fly with the Wright control system & later the Army standardized on the Curtiss system and I changed over to that before going to the Philippines. Returning to the "States" in the summer of 1917, I found the standard had again been changed, this time to the "Dep" (Deperdussin) system with the wheel for the lateral control & a foot bar for the rudder. The planes I flew with Wright & Curtiss controls all had foot controls for the engine. On the Wright Type B, the engine speed was controlled by advancing & retarding the magneto. Other early planes had foot "throttle" controls.
     Went to Haszlehurst Field, Mineola, L.I., N.Y., in Nov. 1917 to learn the "Dep" control. While practicing steep turns, I used the wheel to apply rudder instead of aileron and dropped into my second spin. The "Jenny" answered the controls readily & I straightened out with a loss of only a few hundred feet in altitude.
     Was on duty in Wash., D.C., from Aug. to Nov. 1917 & then went to Dallas, Texas to command Love Field. Fell in love at Love Field & in 1919 married the girl who still is my wife.
     Commanded the ARD at Dallas form Nov. 17 until Mar. 21 when it was moved to San Antonio, Texas, & became Duncan Field. After a few months at San Antonio, moved to Americus, Ga., in command of Souths Field. Was on Organized Reserve duty in NYC from 1922 to 1925 & graduated from the AIC in 1925, the Harvard Grad. Sch. of Bus. Adm. in 1927, (degree MBA); the Air Corps Tactical School, Maxwell Field in 1932; and the AWC, Washington, D.C., in 1936
     Served a second tour in the Philippines, 1932 to 1934, "thrill" flying a bomber through a mouontain pass, (for details, see data previously furnished).
     Was Chief of the Finance Div. in the office of the Chief of the AC, 1927 to 1931, where my prin. duty was the preparation of "Budget Estimates" for the Air Corps.
     Had a number of "forced landings" while engaged in Test flying at Dallas, Texas. On Aug. 12, 1938, had my first forced landing in 18 years. Flying a B-6 bomber (which would not maintain its alt. on one engine) from Maxwell to Eglin Field, the left engine failed near Andalusia, Ala., and I attempted to reach the landing field there. When about a mile from the field at low altitude and only 70 m;h air speed, the left engine quit altogether. I "cut" the right engine and landed in the nearest open space ahead. It was rough ground & the plane turned over on its back. That was my second "nose-over,' the first being in a French Spad at Dallas, Texas, in 1920 when the engine quit cold and I landed in a soft field and turned over.
     Have never been seriously injured in an aircraft accident in 27 years of continuous duty on flying status.
     Have never made any spectacular or record flights & have never jumped with a parachute. Have no claim to fame except flying solo (Feb 7, 1914) more than a year before first driving an automobile (Mar., '15).
Faithfully transcribed May 24, 1998, by Douglas B. Netherwood III, from 24 pages of handwritten notes of Douglas B. Netherwood written with pencil in his own hand, in draft, approximately early 1940. The notes were presumably the basis for his preparing a final draft for submission to official military records
This autobiography was kindly supplied by Patricia Netherwood, 3-14-02

BackBack Home