Pages 17 & 18
Probably our most likable instructor, Stephen MacGordon was lost to us when he received fatal burns after his J.N. "prop" tips struck the ground while landing, with a student at the controls, tearing a gash in the gas tank. The student jumped clear from his rear seat, but Steve, in the front seat, was unable to extricate himself in time. We carried him to a car which I drove to the hospital where he died the next day with his attractive fiancee at his bedside.
Bert Acosta was far more fortunate the day he crashed carrying a trolley wire with him near our hangar without any fire resulting and only minor injuries to himself and to the student.
Two of Macauley's crew on a large two motored flying boat were less fortunate while returning from a flight to Washington when a motor threw a "prop" while over the Potomac River and they died in the crash, but "Mac", fortunately, was not seriously injured nor two other members.
As to some of my activities: July 3rd, I flew an "F" Boat to Elizabeth City, N.C., to make an exhibition flight during their 4th of July celebration. Returning on the 5th I understand I was the first to ever fly directly over the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers had made their historic first heavier-than-air flights.
Some days later while making a climb test with an experimental N-9, built for the Navy, the motort suddenly coughed and quit cold while at a low altitude forcing me into a diving down-wind turn to land with a dead stick. When the mechanic with me climbed down onto the pontoon to investigate the motor trouble he looked up a tme with a startled expression exclaiming, "the carburetor's gone, it's just vanished!" Vibration had apparnetly loosened the retaining bolts or broken them allowing the carburetor to fall off. No fire resulted although gasoline had been sprayed and was flowing in all directions. That was our good fortune.
Again, while testing that same newly designed N-9 for slow speed and hovereing close to the water I was partially blinded by the setting sun when suddenly the mast of a fishing boat loomed up directly fronting my left wing. I could see a darky deck hand's alarmed white eye-balls as he dove overboard when I struck the mast breaking it off and veering the N-9 sharply to the left. Upon successfully landing, Lieut. Bronson, U.S. Navy observer pilot who had been making recordings on his knee pad, turned around in his seat and asked, "WHy did you land, Vernon?" The motor's roar had largely voided the impact noise and he did not see the barely torn wing and was blissfully unconscious of what happened. That late Fall, Lt. Bronson was flying that same N-9 over the Potomac River when his teammate in the fron seat dropping a tests bomb was careless as it apparently hit the pontoon. Observers said the plane suddenly disintegrated at about 2000 ft., altitude.
About to take off in testing a flying boat built for Russia, ond day, I noticed water rising up to the floor boards, but managed to return to the ramp and be derricked out before becoming completely waterlogged. Investigation disclosed that mechanics had neglected to replace two drain plugs in the "boat" step.
Another testing job was a new model twin motored plane with OXX motors which Vic Carlstrom had tested with wheels on land, but now two pontoons had replaced the wheels in the expectation it might meet Navy requirements. After several attempts to become airborne after adjustments had been made to the angle of the pontoons in relation to dead center, I finally managed a take-off one very calm day with glassy water. Percy Prikham, well known motor designer, was in the nose cockpit seat between the two motors while I was in the pilot far rear sear with seat belts fastened. Later while gliding close to the water for a landing expecting any moment to settle in there was a terrific crash and all I can remember is seeing Percy flying through the air, spread-eagled, in front of the plane. While I did a mad cartwheel with the plane and plunged into the water. Although stunned I managed to undo my safety belt and work myself above the wreckage to thankfully breathe some air and hang onto a wing spar. I heard a series of gasps behind me and there was Percy, knocked almost breathless, swimming toward me. A boat put out from the Station, we climbed aboard and upon examination found the only injuries were a scratch on one of Percy's eyeballs and two slight bruises inside my legs where I had come up against the control wheel. That complete wreck was caused by what is known as skin friction of the water on the pontoons causing the plane to nose over and cartwheel at about 50 MPH.