Planes That Didn't Make It
March 1937 Flying Aces

May 1934 Flying Aces

Flying Aces May 1934 - Airplanes and Rockets3 Table of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.


Planes That Didn't Make It

Our American aero designers "had the stuff" during the Great War - and don't let anyone tell you different. Yes, the Yank experts had many smart craft besides the Jennies to show for the $1,500,000,000 that was spent. And if the Big Scrap had only lasted a few more months ...

The British had their hard luck, too. This is the great Bristol Braemer triplane bomber designed for long-distance raids on important German cities. It had four Rolls Royce engines. The first of these was completed, and test-flown a few days after the Armistice was signed. (Puglisi photo.)

By David Martin

Author of "Sky Gun Practice Today," "Modern M. G. Marvels," etc.

In a recent report before a Senate Investigating Committee in Washington, General Johnson Hagood testified that during the Great War the sum of $1,500,000,000 was spent by the United States on military aviation. He went on to explain that no true American planes ever flew on the front to justify this expenditure, except a few "flying coffins." He was referring, of course, to the D.H.4, a machine that was obsolete by the time America had entered the War.

Why this stigma was ever attached to the good old D.H.4 is something of a mystery; for it compared favorably with every two-seat type of its time. The D.H.4, properly built and fitted with a good engine, had a top speed of 120 m.p.h., landed at 52, and climbed to 6,500 feet in eight minutes. It proved its worth on more than one occasion.

The main fault with the D.H.4. was that the pilot and observer, with a massive gas tank between them, were placed too far apart thereby cutting off all chance of cooperation during action. This trouble was corrected later in the D.H.9 models, hence the D.H. became one of the standard two-seaters of the war.

The trouble that followed with the American version of the D.H.4 was the insane idea of putting the Liberty engine in the ship in place of the Rolls. It was the Liberty engine with its unsuitable fuel feed that won for the D.H.4 that macabre title, "the flaming coffin."

One of the Liberty-powered, American-made D.H.'s. This particular ship was built for the U.S. Government by the Boeing company. A few such D.H. jobs reached France and actually went over the lines.

It's easy to set up a howl about how much money was spent for aviation during the War and to point out how much we didn't get for it. But it is quite another story to bring to light what we did get. General Johnson Hagood had a particular idea in mind when he pointed out how little the $1,500,000,000 purchased in the way of planes and engines. He was trying to disclose the complete lack of system in purchasing and the failure to place the wisest heads in the positions of responsibility.

But what did this money purchase? What actually was gained by its expenditure? Few know today; for the average war-time memory seems to become hazy when an attempt is made to spotlight the obscure details that were so abruptly drowned out by ringing bells and blowing whistles on that cold, cheerless day, November 11, 1918. Many people figure that in the final analysis that $1,500,000,000 represented simply a lot of men and materials-and let it go at that.

But that is by no means the full story-for if you look carefully in the right places, you will find drawings, blueprints, and photographs of aircraft that would amaze you even today-single seaters of tremendous speed and fighting power, two-seaters that were far ahead of the famed Bristol Fighter, attack planes of a type never known before, armored ships bristling with guns and yet hurling their unusual weight through the air at racing speed, giant bombers, trim seaplanes, and powerful flying boats.

In other words, the War ended a few months too soon for the American designers. Had the war lasted until the late spring of 1919, America would have been able to place fleets of high speed single-seaters of real American type on the front. They could have replaced the D.H.4s with fighting two-seaters the like of which had never been seen. They could have bombed Berlin from Nancy. They could have out-armored the much-advertised Junkers attack plane and they could have chased the Brandenburg seaplanes all the way back to the Baltic.

Today, hidden away in great files or in the pages of war-time technical books, we find the evidence of the real answer to the $1,500,000,000 riddle.

Here's Five That the War Forgot

$1,500,000,000 for U.S. Wartime Aviation was not all wasted. it provided planes like these which turned out to be the basic designs on which to-day's great service types have been built. But had the Great War lasted but a few more months - Whew!

Another Curtiss Fighter of 1918 - the 18-B, a two-seater using the 400 HP K-12 engine - This was a far better machine than the famed Bristol Fighter!

Curtiss Single Seater Fighter built late in 1918 - Used 400 HP Curtiss K-12 Engine - believed to do 160 MPH with full military load

The Packard-LePere Fighter Speed 13G with 400 HP Liberty carried four guns

The Loening Fighter Monoplane - 1918 The fastest two-seater Fighter built during the war - Top Speed 146 MPH with four guns, camera, oxygen tank, wireless and other military equipment - It climed to 24,000 feet in 43 min. with a full load - This was a Real Fighter

Many Years Before Its Time - The L.W. F Figther Biplane G2

This was an armored two-seater carrying seven machine guns. At a speed of 138 MPH it used the 350 HP Liberty Engine and could be quickly converted into a high-speed Bomber carrying 600 lbs of bombs

The armor proecting the crew weighted 66 lbs. This model was built and test flown late in the summer of 1918, but none got forward, the observer, three - The drawing shows the two positions assumed by the observer.

For instance, did you know that there was an aviation firm at College Point, New York, known as the L.W.F. Engineering Company? Well, sir, that outfit turned out one of the most remarkable military machines in the history of the War. Known as the L.W.F.G.2., it had a top speed of 130 m.p.h. fully loaded and carried seven guns. It had a tail tunnel for firing under the body and to clear out the old two-seater blind spot. The pilot had four guns all firing forward, and in addition the machine could be used for bombing or reconnaissance work.

Outside of higher power engines and perhaps wing-flaps, what do the first line machines of 1937 have over that?

The plane carried 66 lbs, of armor plate around the pilot and observer, a point which even our 1937 designers have not been interested enough to consider. We do have parachutes, but consideration for the "odd slug" might be worth considering. A chute doesn't do you much good after you're dead.

This machine, of course, was not built overnight. In fact, they turned out three before they got what they wanted. First, there was the L.W.F. "G" type, which looked more or less like other ships of that date. Then they designed the G-1 which to our mind was distressingly worse. But they really went to work on her then, cutting out the overhang on the top wing and taking the old Jenny effect away. They balanced all the control surfaces and slapped in a wing-curve radiator. Mr. Whitehouse offers you an idea of what she looked like in his accompanying cut-away illustration.

Then there was a Loening monoplane, perhaps the true forefather of American military aviation - a craft to which many present day machines can trace their ancestry.

From a military standpoint this bus was probably the finest fighter of its type. It had everything: speed, gun-power, and maneuverability. From the point of view of gunner and pilot, her vision was tops. In performance she exceeded the speeds of all two-seaters in the War. Her total weight was 2,368 lbs., and with the 300 h.p. Hispano Suiza engine she could do 146 m.p.h.

The pilot could see above and below the wings on both sides, and because of the narrowness of the nose his forward vision was not materially hindered. The observer could see all around and his two Lewis guns could be trained to fire forward as well as all around him to the rear. He had only the arc of the prop to worry about. The sides of the pilot's seat were covered with a transparent material enabling both pilot and observer to see forward and downward. Broadly speaking, then, this machine had no blind spots.

It is interesting to note that the Loening design of making the tail of the body very narrow to give the gunner a better range of fire, is being touted today as a modern idea in military design. The deep section forward enabled this ship to carry a wide range of military equipment, including oxygen apparatus, cameras, and two-way wireless equipment. The machine had a ceiling of 24,000 feet, so we can understand why oxygen was considered.

The mystery to us is that no one today has considered taking this high-wing design, putting in a 1,000 h.p. motor, adding slots and flaps, and showing the aviation world where it gets off.

The Loening firm, which was located at 351 West 52nd Street, New York, in those days, was also working on a small ship-plane. That was in 1918, remember.

Then there were the Curtiss products of that great year. Machines that, according to photographs, compare very favorably with anything today.

Let's look at the deep-bodied single-seater fighter shown on the accompanying drawing page. There was a real bus! It did about 160 using the K-12 Curtiss engine. Yes, we agree it looks much like the Spad-Herbemont or the British Austin-Ball, but it far out-performed them. It had clean lines and was well equipped for air fighting of that day. We understand that it carried four synchronized guns and could stay in the air well over three hours.

Another Curtiss machine that certainly out-performed the famed Bristol Fighter was the Curtiss 18-B, a two-seater fighter in biplane form powered with the same Curtiss engine. It did well over 140 and carried four guns and plenty of useful military equipment. We can see the early trend in Curtiss fighters in these two models - a trend which has carried through to many of the present day Curtiss military machines. That's where some of the $1,500,000,000 went; and looking back we can consider it money well spent!

An out-and-out American fighter that would have seen actionn had not the Armistice nosed it out of the play. This 300-h.p. Thomas Morse Scout M.B.3 was so good that it was kept on as standard equipment with our service until as late as 1918!

Another Curtiss machine of interest was the Curtiss triplane. Yes, even Curtiss had a crack at this type; and when they got through she hit 162, which was about ten miles an hour faster than the famed Sopwith Snipe equipped with the A.B.C. radial engine. Again in this triplane Curtiss used the K-12 engine which was rated at 400 h.p. She climbed to 15,000 feet in 10 minutes. We wonder now, incidentally, how many pilots of that day were capable of handling a machine of this type. They also built a single float seaplane in biplane form which probably topped the performance of the triplane.

Other fine Curtiss types of that unforgetable year were the M.F. Flying Boat, the Curtiss training sea-plane, the Curtiss R-8 bomber (which looked much like an improved version of the D.H.4) and the great H-12 Flying Boat which used two 160 h.p. Curtiss engines.

In those days, they had their eyes on Berlin and a few will remember that even then there was such a thing as the Marlin bomber. This was a twin-engined biplane using, two 400 h.p. Liberty engines. The Martin "Twin," as it was known, was designed for night bombing, slay bombing, long distance photography, or fighting. As a night bomber, it was armed with three movable Lewis guns, one in the front turret, one in the rear, and one set to fire under the concave body of the machine. She was equipped to carry 1,500 pounds of bombs, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, a radio-telephone set, and fuel for four and a half hours of flight. This was sufficient for a 600 mile raid at an altitude of 15,000 feet.

These are actual figures, not just conjecture.

As a day bomber, this job carried two extra Lewis guns, one extra on each upper turret, and the bomb load was cut to half a ton. As a photography machine, the bombs were replaced by two special cameras, one a short-focal length semi-automatic affair and the other a long-focal length hand-operated machine. Later equipment included a 37 m.m. semi-flexible cannon mounted in the front cockpit and firing forward with a fairly wide range in elevation and azimuth.

So you see, aircraft cannons are not new.

A gentleman by the name of Donald Douglas was an aeronautical engineer with the Martin plane in those days. Get it?

Even the most conservative British journals of the day stated that the Martin bomber was far ahead of the field in design and performance. She did about 120 with two engines and the ordinary wooden propeller. It was a biplane with the motors set in nacelles between the wings. It had a span of 71 ft. 5 inches and an overall length of 46 feet.

But they ended the war too soon for this craft, and so after a time they threw off her military equipment and she became a prosaic old aerial transport.

The Packard Automobile Company, having a dabble in aviation in those days, designed a splendid 160 h.p. motor. Then they decided to try building a war. plane, -and they obtained the services of one Captain G. Le Pere, of the French Air Service, who worked with them and produced the Packard-Le Pere fighter powered with the 400 h.p. Liberty engine. This Job was intended as a reconnaissance-fighter and carried two machine guns firing forward and two Lewis guns in the rear cockpit. It had a top speed of 136 and climbed to 6,000 feet in 5 minutes 35 seconds.

It was a biplane with box inter-plane struts and had what might be termed husky design throughout. It looked very strong but not particularly fast. It was no doubt intended for fast production for many of the most important parts seem to be interchangeable.

Thomas Morse, of Ithaca, N. Y., was likewise in the field - with many fine single-seat fighters. The M.B.3, for instance, was still being used in many squadrons as recent as 1928! Built late in 1918 - too late to see action - this craft used the 300 h.p. Hispano Suiza engine, had a top speed of 164, and landed at 55. It was a biplane of keen design and frankly had many of the features of the French Spad.

The grand old name of Vought was in the running even in those days - but then it was Lewis and Vought of Long Island City. They turned out a neat training biplane known as the V.E.7 which used a light Hisso.

There were many others, not forgetting the famous Boeing single-float seaplane built for the Navy which used the 124 h.p. 4-cylinder Liberty and had a speed of 75 m.p.h. and an awful lot of wires. And Aeromarine built a splendid light training biplane float-seaplane. But we could not close without a mention of the great N.C. Navy boats which won the honor of being the first to cross the Atlantic. These were, of course, Navy-Curtiss machines built to government specifications.

In reviewing all this, we can see much evidence of the basic designs now used in American military aviation. The Loening monoplane had much to do with the monoplane trend. The L.W.F. was probably the daddy of our attack ships. The first real effort toward clean streamline design is to be found in practically all. So the $1,500,000,000 was not wholly wasted. We find neatness, compact detail, and snug precision so notable in modern military ships.

Those ships may have failed to get in the War, but they certainly gave America a sound basis from which to build up the three glorious services!