WILLIAM T. THOMAS
Page 3
 
       But this came too late, and in 1929, the Consolidated Aircraft Corp. purchased the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Company, making it a separate division and moving it to Buffalo. More than 170 O-19 planes were built there. William T. Thomas had left the company in 1922 and became consulting engineer for Cunningham-Hall Aircraft Corp. where he helped to develop the PT-6, a large six passenger biplane. Oliver Thomas also left the company and moved to Argentina where he managed several large cattle ranches that the brothers owned. Consolidated Aircraft moved to California in 1934 and the Thomas-Morse division was abolished. Some of the former workers started a new company called Bell aircraft, headed by Larry Bell.
     When Thomas eventually retired to Daytona Beach, he was not one to remain idle. He bought and leased several business properties in the area. Situated behind his Daytona house was a large garage apartment that he converted into an elaborate workshop where he pursued many interests. His engineering mind was always at work.
     Another of Thomas' passions was astronomy. He was a member of the Stargazers Club, consisting of amateur astronomers. In 1938, Thomas headed up a team to design and construct a large reflector telescope with a 12 1/2 inch mirror, which was one of the largest telescopes in Florida at the time. Located at Bethune Point, the telescope with its positioning assembly was mounted on two concrete pedestals. A tall corrugated metal shed that rolled on tracks, protected the telescope when not in use. The club invited all interested locals to observe the celestial bodies inhabiting the night skies. The big telescope was taken down during WWII when the WAC's took over the area for an encampment, but it was returned to its former location in 1948.
During WWII, the Army Air Force suffered from a shortage of optical prisms. Thomas obtained a military contract and he built a machine to grind a large quantity of these special optical devices in his workshop.
     Thomas was an excellent teacher and he continually passed his vast engineering and technical knowledge onto his son Bill Jr. as the boy matured. The duo went on to become a dynamic father and son team, building all sorts of contraptions in their workshop. Their attempt at building an Ornithopter is worth noting. An Ornithopter is a heavier-than-air craft that flies by flapping its wings. They made a radio-controlled powered model. The first flights were unsuccessful, but after a few modifications the unusual craft flew out of sight. To their dismay, William and Bill Jr. had forgotten to turn on the craft's radio control receiver. On their way home they saw some boys near the side of the road playing with a newfound toy. When they stopped to retrieve the craft, the boys didn't want to part with it, so Thomas said he would give them a reward and have their names printed in the newspaper. The News-Journal ran the story with the title; "Flying Flapper Flabbergasts Fabricators."
     Thomas and his son Bill Jr. continued to design and built all types of control-line and free-flight model airplanes. They also built model midget race cars, powered by large model airplane engines. These engines were connected through a set of gears to drive an axle and ran on a wire tether around a 70-foot diameter flat circular track. In 1948, Thomas was a prime mover in the city's construction of the Daytona Beach Model Midget Raceway, which was located on City Island. Watching the Sunday afternoon model midget car races became a popular pastime
 
 
Page 2back Home NextPage 4