by Bernard L. Whelan
Courtesy of Mary Anne Whelan
In 1915, Orville Wright, practically sole owner of the Wright Company, (Wilbur having died in 1912),
sold the patents and some of its physical assets to a company adopting the name of The Wright-Martin Company. He felt
overburdened in trying to operate the manufacturing side of the business in addition to pursuing the task of trying to collect the royalties
due under their original patents. The dishonest claims of Smithsonian Institute falsely trying to credit Prof. Langley, then head of
Smithsonian, with the invention of the airplane, posed another problem for Orville Wright.
Dayton was a city of progressive industrialization, and there were certain men of prominence who wished to continue in the airplane business. E.A. Deeds and Charles F. Kettering owned a tract of land not far from downtown Dayton, called "McCook Field", named after one of the eaarly settlers of Dayton. There they started a flying school with Howard Rinehart as Chief Pilot and Archie Freeman, also Simms Station Trainee with F.A.I. (Federation Aeronautic International), license number 84, as his assistant. In downtown offices the design of a training plane was started. It was called Model F.S., standing for "First Shot". There were others in the organization, possibly Mr. H.E. Talbot, Sr., and his son Harold Talbot who later was elected President. Orville Wright agreed to act as the Company's consultant on all things aerodynamic. All this happened prior to this country entering WWI.
McCook Field was sold or leased to the Signal Corps of the War Department and Dayton-Wright operated at what became known as South Field at Moraine, south of Dayton. Almost before one knew it we were in the war with "all four feet" and became a General motors unit; had accepted military orders for furnishing 400 J-1 standard training planes, 100 h.p. Hull Scott powered, and an unlimited number of British D.H.-4 light bomber and reconnaissance planes powered by the American built 410 h.p Liberty Power Plants. Having these important orders on their books Dayton-Wright required hangar facilities for certain design and manufacture of the two types. Colonel Deeds, one of the organizers of the newly formed company was called by the War Department to serve in an important procurement post and was prominently involved throughout the course of the war.
Whiile building 400 standard trainer's planes under military contract, the Dayton-Wright plant was rapidly tooled and staffed to build the British D.H.-4 around the Liberty engine. This provided a reconnaissance and light bomber type for our Air Forces. The design and production of the Liberty engine was little short of a miracle. A small group of engineers with some aviation engine experience, and some draftsmen to assist, a thoroughly successful engine was turned out in about six weeks time. Their design workshnop was the Biltmore Hotel in New York, according to conversation. Colonel Deeds, at that time being head of the Aircraft Production, fully realized the necessity of grouping the small work force in the interest of saving time. It was also important that they eat and sleep where they worked to save as much time as possible. The nucleus of the design group included such men besides Colonel Deeds, as C.F. Kettering, F.J. Hall of Los Angeles, Mr William Chryst, General Motors, Mr. Packard of Detroit and several other leaders.
The plane itself, the D.H.-4 and succeeding models wre being produced in the Dayton-Wright plant. I received letters both from Harold Talbot, elected President of the new Dayton-Wright Company, and from Howard Rinehart, Howard's just offered me a job test flying. Harold Talbot had offered me a job flying also. If i wanted it i should let him know right away. I wrote both of them that night. Naturally it was very appealing to me being engage to one that turned out to be your mother. Then I hurried down to the C.O.'s office to request permission for a leave of absence. At first I was turned down. Then fortunately the Commanding Officer was changed and when I approached the new Major presenting a wire from Anna, which I had asked her to send to me, he readily assented.
I was busy as could be saying goodbye to the few friends I had made - "Colonel" Poole; Colonel Rice of the draft camp and a number of pilots, civilian and otherwise. My one worry was about the car which I finally left in the care of Earl Southey. He was on night flying duty and had the misfortune to be involved in a plane crash about two nights later. To his dying day, just about one year ago, (this is 1976), his right eyebrow was missing; he was otherwise injured as well but eventually recovered. Also, the car arrived at the Dayton-Wright factory, charges prepaid, but minus two tires. So I guess some G.I.'s had some use out of it, and some kind officer sent it prepaid. Here was the war time program of Dayton-Wright as I shortly learned.
Having been appointed in charge of Aircraft Production with the military title of Colonel; Colonel Deeds and our military reresentatives arranged with England and decided for Dayton-Wright to build the British D.H.-4, but around the 12 cylinder 400 h.p. Liberty engine. England agreed to send Dayton-Wright an experienced inspection team which turned out to be a Mr. and Mrs. Chapman who had worked at the De Havilland Plant in England as Inspeftors since the war startedl England agreed to send over a Captain of the British Flying Service with America agreeing to furnish a D.H.-4 for him to fly but this to be around the British Rolls-Royce, England to furnish the engine and propeller. It turned out that they sent a Captain Hannay who had been shot down and seriously wounded at the front. He didn't have much stomach for flying. His mechanic was a Mr. Hancock, about 5' 4" tall but happy to be away from the war front.
The ship they donated to him was painted a bright red and the name "The HUMDINGER" painted in bold letters on both sides of the fuselage. The Captain shortly over from England inquired, "Oh, I say, and what is a "Humdinger"? To which mechanic (George Mot) answered, "Well now, sir, a humdinger is a guy who can take a deaf and dumb girl out and make her say "atta boy". To which the Captain said, "Oh, now I say. I think you're pulling my leg."
My first evening home I spent with Blanche, a happy reunion, and the following day saw Harold Talbot, (later to be president of Dayton-Wright;", was hired, and went to work. Howard gave me a ride sitting in the Gunner's Cockpit of the D.H. This gave some feeling of the difference in performance compared to the 90 h.p. Curtiss Jennie, I had been flying. The 410 h.p. Liberty powered D.H. was an entirely different airplane. They led me to another one that had already been tested. Bill Conover explained the fuel system. One of the mechanics showed his confidence by asking to ride with me in the gunner's cockpit, and away we went on my first flight in a D.H.-4 to 5,000 feet and some maneuvers. The Liberty motored D.H.-4 and I were more than acquainted. The American built D.H.-4 powered with the 410 h.p. Liberty engine was a good airplane, but required pilots and ground crewman of much more experience prior to war time use. The plane and its engine served the government air mail until 1929 when the air cooled type and advanced types of air frames displaced the D.H. and Liberty.
Two separate areas with flight fields and hangars about 1/4 mile apart represented the experimental and production areas of Dayton-Wright. The first, originally Colonel Deeds' property, used for the experimental work, and the production plant designed for quantity production across the way. There the planes were built, military equipment such as the machine guns along with the engine installed and what they call "bore-sighted" in a target area in the rear of the plant. There they were flight tested, that is about 8 out of 20. That number was sufficient to insure good workmanship since those flight tested were selected by the contracting officer, and they all had to be disassembled by the contracting officer, and they all had to be disassemmbled for shipment to France, and then reassembled again for flight over there.
Howard and a small crew of emchanics took care of the experimental work, and Archie Freeman and I took care of the production testing. We were to report mechanical defects and poor workmanship - in which case the ship had to be rebuilt, or at least the defective part corrected.
The production program was only well under way when we heard two pilots from the Signal Corps were coming to fly official tests on the D.H.-4. A ship was prepared for them with meticulous care, and we learned with surprise the pilots were Major Oscar Brindley and Colonel Dam. Brindley had trained Howard, Freeman and myself at Wright Brothers Field at Simms Station and we had looked forward to some happy times with him. In turn we felt Brindley had confidence in a ship tested by one or two of us.
Brindley and Colonel Dam first flew it with much of the military equipment left out, taking it up about 5,000 feet, then came down to have the tanks levelled full and military equjipment installed. Then he was ready to go to full altitude. He borrowed the gauntlet gloves I wore.
As he took off over the small maples that bordered South Field, the ship either stalled or the engine lost power. The engine had performed faultlessly before. There before our eyes both Brindley and Dam were killed, Brindley instantly and Dam died on the way to the hospital.
The relationship between instructor and student is something more than friendly provided their personalities don't clash, and Brindley was universally liked and admired. The recurring thought of his great loss never seemed to leave our minds while were around airplanes.
The testing continued without interruption until the failure of a D.H. at neaby Wilbur Wright Field. However this one was put under a stress, coming out of a dive it could not stand and lost its wings. Frank Stuart Patterson, a nephew of the virtual owner of the N.C.R., John H. Patterson, was the pilot. In recognition of the fact that he lost his life in the course of the war, the name of the field was changed from "Wilbur Wright" to "Patterson" field. Of more substance was the fact that production was held up at Dayton-Wright until a number of changes could be made. However, none of these had any bearing on the enigne stoppage a few seconds after takeoff. That still remained a mystery in the Brindley case. We had already made changes that would make the D.H. much stronger under load coming out of a dive. I never heard of none losing its wings since that time, but those that had the sudden engine stoppage failure conitinued to account for some loss of lives.
The test program went along at Dayton-Wright for some time without a hitch, then came another fatal day. I had taken a certain ship over to South Field, while Archie was testing one of the production models. It had that disease, whatever it was, which caused the engine to lose power suddenly - just like Brindley's test hop. It wold stop when about fifty feet high, but skillful Archie would do a one hundred and eighty degree turn and land back in the flight field. The mechanics would go over the fuel system, especially the carborator, and then try another takeoff. The third time it quit again; the wind had come up and Archie tried to make a full 360 degree turn but coldn't do it. The shop pivoted on one wing in a turn and struck the ground with great force, his head hitting the instrument panel and the Liberty ignition switches temporarily burying themselves in his forehead. They were in the closed position. I guess it was Archie's last-second gesture, but a futile one.
Running over, three of us piled into Monty Wilbur's car and headed for the nearest hospital. I held Archie in my arms but could see he was dying. The doctor in emergency held a stethescope near his heart region. Mike Eversole (not a mamber of Dayton-Wright, of whom I shall tell you more later) spoke out brusquely to the doctor - "For Christ Sake! Do something; don't stand there like a wooden Jesus!" The doctor looked at him and said, "This man is dead!"
I called Monty Williams, General manager, and he said, "you better tell Helen, Archie's wife", so I had to do so. She met me so cheerfully, it was hard to do. She headed for the hospital. Helen danced to the orchestra music at the Miami Hotel and she and Archie had recently been married. After Archie's death Howard and I remained the only test pilots on the War Time Dayton-Wright payroll.
While Archie lived he was a most able pilot, the type of accident that led to his death being, like Brindley's, almost certain to be fatal. In life from day to day he carreid a jovial spirit and was missed all the more for it. Frequently at the end of the day Archie, Howard and I would stop at the Miami Hotel for a drink, with Archie having more than was good for him, and providing the fun for the others. He always bought a newspaper, but I never saw him read one. One night he chose a girl's coat to wear home, but it would be back the next morning! He is not easily forgotten.
In addition to Howard and I there were three or four other pilots on the Signal Corps pay roll. They were presumed to go to work testing for Glen Martin (then in Cleveland), and/or Fisher Body Company, firms that did not get into production by the end of the war. Dayton-Wright was turning out twenty planes a daly long before the end of the war. I can remember the names of three of these pilots, - Eversole, Doolittle and Phil Rader. At that time the British were beginning to send over other planes that were considered successful in the war zone such as the British "Bristol" and the French "Nieuport", for American valuation and possible manufacture over here. Of the three pilots mentioned Phil Rader was the best, and when in Dayton would always join our Dayton-Wright group for the evening fun. He had been a cartoonist on the Frisco "Call" and could always demonstrate his art!