OX-5

I had a couple of days off in Oklahoma recently,  and visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium)   which has changed considerably since I visited in 2000.  A lot of things change in seventeen years.   The museum has moved to a new building and has a lot of interesting exhibits.    I’ve  learned a couple of interesting snippets about Oklahoma’s aviation heritage which may not be new to my reader, but to which I hadn’t given much thought.  More of this will follow in other articles.

Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum

I wonder what stories this could tell.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Tulsa, OK – July 2017 (Robert Smith)

I love looking at the stories detailing the early years of aviation.  Tucked away in a quiet corner were the stories of people like Wiley Post and Duncan McIntyre. Also tucked away but neatly displayed was a Curtiss OX-5 engine.  I wasn’t going to write about it, but it’s occurred to me just to what extent the OX-5 made a considerable mark on the early years (some would say the golden age) of American aviation.  The OX-5  was an eight liter (500 Cubic Inch) V8 which first saw the light of day in 1910.  Its ancestors were V-twin motorcycle engines, but Curtiss moved into aircraft engines, and  the OX-5 was the first American aircraft engine put into mass production.  I was surprised to read that more than twelve thousand OX-5s were built.  One of its major uses at the outset was  powering Curtiss’ own  JN-4 “Jenny” trainer.

At the end of the First World War there was a considerable surplus of OX-5 engines,  and this made the OX-5 virtually the default choice for nascent American commercial aviation industry.  The Swallow of 1924 and the Travel Air 2000 (the gloriously nicknamed “Wichita Fokker” because of its perceived resemblance to the Fokker D.VII)  both used the OX-5 and both have surprisingly similar nose designs.    Douglas Corrigan’s 1929 Curtiss Robin  (see previous article) had an OX-5 engine when he bought it, and which he swapped for a more powerful Wright radial. One may speculate if he’d have succeeded crossing the Atlantic with an OX-5 powered Robin.

Then I wondered if I had any other OX-5 pictures, and yes, it seems I do.  When I went to visit the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita on a blistering June afternoon in 2015,  they had a shiny OX-5 in their exhibition.  Interestingly this one seems to have a little more of the ignition wiring in place, but not the exhaust pipe.

I’m sure there’s a story here too.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, June 2015

While we’re talking about nose shapes here’s the KAM’s Swallow looking lovely in June 2015 – complete with a rather lovely streamlined cowling covering the Curtiss powerplant inside.  Notice the slab-like radiator underneath.

Swallow Aircraft "Swallow"

The rather gorgeous OX-5-powered Swallow Aircraft “Swallow” at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, KS, photographed in in June 2015 (Robert Smith – Own Work)

And finally,  a picture (not mine) of the “Wichita Fokker”   – the Travel Air 2000,  also with an OX-5 engine. You can see why Howard Hughes wanted at least one example of the Travel Air when he was making Hell’s Angels.   Those balanced ailerons, and the fin/rudder shape are strongly reminiscent of the Fokker design.  With a Ranger engine installed,  the similarity was amazing, but that’s another story.   The nose lines of the Travel Air here are remarkably similar to the Swallow and the OX-powered Waco 9 of the same vintage.  Consider Buck Weaver (founder of Waco) and his Wichita connection with “Matty” Laird and Swallow,  and the coincidence is taken further still.  This is hardly surprising.  There are only a certain number of things you can do to make a streamlined cover for an OX-5.

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine at the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, Dauster Field, Creve Coeur, Missouri, 2006.  By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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79 Years Going The Wrong Way

douglas_groce_corrigan_28afdotmil29

Douglas Corrigan beside his Curtiss Robin aircraft – (Public Domain)

On July 17th 1938,  Douglas Corrigan took off in an easterly direction from Floyd Bennett field and kept on going.   Just over 28 hours later he landed at Baldonnel field near Dublin,  and until the end of his life he maintained he’d been trying to get back to Long Beach, California.  His aircraft was a nine-year old Curtiss OX-5 Robin,  partially re-engined with the best parts from two J-6-5 Wright Whirlwinds, (making it a J-1 Robin, technically)  and otherwise modified for long-distance flight.

Corrigan was a aircraft mechanic and a devotee of Charles Lindbergh.  Corrigan assisted in the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis and it was Corrigan who pulled the chocks away from the Ryan NYP at the start of Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927.  It’s a sad irony that Lindbergh never did acknowledge Corrigan’s Atlantic crossing eleven years later. Other notable Americans from Howard Hughes to Henry Ford congratulated him.

Corrigan retired from aviation in 1950, but apparently on the 50th anniversary of his flight in 1988 allowed a group of enthusiasts to retrieve the Robin from its hangar and start it up.  There is humorous comment on the Wikipedia page that Corrigan himself, by then aged 81, may have wanted to take the aircraft up for a spin.

Douglas Corrigan

“As I looked over it at the Dublin airdrome I really marveled that anyone should have been rash enough even to go in the air with it, much less try to fly the Atlantic. He built it, or rebuilt it, practically as a boy would build a scooter out of a soapbox and a pair of old roller skates. It looked it. The nose of the engine hood was a mass of patches soldered by Corrigan himself into a crazy-quilt design.”
Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941) quoted in Wikipedia.
Corrigan and his modified Curtiss Robin “Sunshine”

Rumours persist that,  later in life,  Corrigan dispersed the parts of the Robin to prevent it from being stolen.  I haven’t managed to track down any references to dispersed Robin parts in the Santa Ana area of California although I have no doubt a few such articles exist.

There are a few nice pictures of Corrigan and the Robin at Baldonnel in the collections of the National Library of Ireland, and Bryan Swopes on This Day in Aviation has a picture of Corrigan and the Robin in 1988 at the 50th Anniversary celebrations. The the card model site Fiddlers Green has a different signed photo of Corrigan and the Robin taken at around that time.

If you’d like to see the man himself explain things,  try this public domain clip from YouTube.

I wonder if some parts of the Robin will emerge in 2018 when we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the flight?

The Sign of the Black Horse

The Sign of the Black Horse

Last month Susan and I were getting a few things at the Overland Park, Kansas branch of Whole Foods (a moderately trendy grocery store recently purchased by Amazon.com).    As we piled our stuff in the back of Susan’s car,  I quietly pointed out to her that a white roadster idling to our right in the parking lot was a Ferrari.    This is no surprise in Whole Foods,  and certainly no surprise in Johnson County, Kansas.  Susan paused to take a quick picture with her cellphone, and we pulled away.

Being the aviation geek that I am, I can never resist pointing out to anyone who’s around at the time,  that the prancing horse symbol was presented to Enzo Ferrari by the mother of an Italian flying ace after the First World War.   I first read that in a LION annual sometime in the 1960s, I’m sure.

I could not remember the name of the flyer involved. However, once I looked him up,  I thought a blog post might be in order,  since the story is quite interesting.

Count Francesco Baracca

Count Francesco Baracca, standing by his SPAD XIII fighter marked with the symbol of the the prancing horse. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The flyer in question was Count Francesco Baracca.   He was born into a wealthy family in 1888 in Lugo di Romagna,  in the province of Ravenna. He entered the military academy of Modena in 1907,  and took up equestrianism as a release from academic study.  He was commissioned into a cavalry regiment, and like several cavalry officers in many armies of the period,  got the aviation bug. He went to Reims (France) to learn to fly in 1912.  With his newly-acquired pilot’s license  he returned to Italy and joined the Battaglione Aviatori.

Baracca converted to Nieuport 10s and was a member of the 8a Squadriglia Nieuport when Italy entered the First World War.  He subsequently  switched to the lighter single-seat Nieuport 11 Bébé  and scored Italy’s first aerial victory,  on April 7, 1916

Baracca also flew the Nieuport 17,  SPAD VII and SPAD XIII in combat. The emblem of the prancing black horse (part of his family’s coat of arms) was first seen on his Nieuport 17 in 1917.  He adopted the Griffin emblem for the 91st Squadriglia,  although several pilots used both emblems in deference to their commander.

In early 1918 Baracca was one of a number of pilots, including two other aces, ordered to carry out trials of  the Ansaldo A.1. The A.1 (later named Balilla after an Italian folk hero)  was Italy’s only contemporary fighter aircraft of domestic design and manufacture.  Baracca found his time away from the front extremely frustrating and  after some lobbying managed to return to combat.

His score had risen to 34 enemy aircraft destroyed when he failed to return from a ground attack sortie on 19th June,  1918.  There are a few conflicting stories, some of which were no doubt written for propaganda purposes on both sides,  but following research in Austro-Hungarian archives it seems likely that he was killed by the rear-gunner of an Austrian two-seater Phönix which he was attacking.

After the war, the Francesco Baracca Museum was opened in his former home.  Among other mementos such as uniforms, medals and aerial trophies (including the rudders and guns taken from shot down aircraft)  was a SPAD VII, once flown by Baracca himself.  The SPAD was removed from the Baracca museum and restored several years ago by members of  the GAVS  (Gruppo Amici Velivoli Storici – the Italian aeronautical preservation society).  The Baracca museum has a fascinating website at  www.museobaracca.it  and the GAVS at http://gavs.it/

GAVS volunteers from Turin dismantle the SPAD VII in the Baracca museum for cleaning and restoration (GAVS)

Baracca’s SPAD VII following restoration by GAVS Turin (GAVS)

A young racing driver named Enzo Ferrari had allegedly (according to a couple of websites) met Baracca during the First World War. He certainly met Count Enrico and  Countess Paolina (Francesco’s parents) in 1923.  Baracca’s mother presented the Cavallino Rampante emblem to Ferrari, telling him it would bring him good luck.   Ferrari added the yellow background of Modena, and thus another legend was born.

Since I am a product of that era I find the early 60s Ferrari 250 series racing cars to be things of great beauty, and thus feel no other excuse is necessary to include a picture or two.

I think I still have my old Corgi die-cast model of the 250LM.

Ferrari 250LM 1964

Ferrari 250LM 1964 at the Musée National de l’Automobil (Mulhouse, France)
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Anfd finally, Willy Mairesse charging round the Nürburgring in a 250P in 1963. You can see a certain emblem quite clearly.

Willy Mairesse at the Nürburgring in a Ferrari 250P, May 1963

Willy Mairesse at the Nürburgring in a Ferrari 250P, May 1963
(Lothar Spurzem -CC-by-sa/2.0/de via Wikimedia Commons)