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


“The Man Who Owns the Sky”

The Man Who Owns the Sky, the Master Birdman, the World’s Greatest Aviator.   How many times in the golden age of aviation were sobriquets such as these applied to the adventurers who took to the skies and burned so brightly, but for so short a time?   One such was Lincoln Beachey (1887-1915).   A pilot who, according to his Wikipedia page, was the first pilot to recover an aircraft from a spin by turning into it. Beachey started flying for Glenn Curtis.     105 years ago today in 1911 he was the first man to fly over the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.  The Smithsonian’s Facebook page  commemorated the event.

Suzy said to me “Is that the same airplane I photographed in Albuquerque?”  and I had no idea.  On closer inspection, no it isn’t, but it’s a fairly close relative.  The Ingram/Foster was a copy of a Curtiss.  Beachey flew a genuine Curtiss.  There are some similarities.


Lincoln Beachey

Lincoln Beachey was the first to fly over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls on June 27, 1911. Pictured here about to fly under the Niagara Fall Bridge. (Library of Congress Picture)


Another Library of Congress picture shows Beachey in his trademark business suit at the controls of his Curtiss

Lincoln Beachey

Lincoln Beachey at the controls of his Curtiss (Library of Congress)


And without doubt a favorite image even though I discovered it a few minutes before writing this article – Lincoln Beachey loops the loop over his home town of San Francisco  at the Exposition of 1913

Lincoln_Beachey Loops

Lincoln Beachey flying a loop over the San Francisco Exposition, 1913. (Popular Mechanics)


I know it has to be a composite of two pictures, but given the pilot’s position at the very front of a Curtiss pusher, I would have crowned him King of the Sky myself after this.

Beachey made his final flight at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition on March 14, 1915 in the Beachey-Eaton Monoplane. He took the plane up in front of a large crowd, made a loop, and turned the plane inverted. He may have failed to notice his altitude had dropped to 2,000 feet.  He pulled on the controls to pull the plane out of its inverted position, where it was slowly sinking. The strain caused the rear spars in wings to break, and the crumpled plane plunged into San Francisco bay between two ships. Navy men jumped into action, but it took almost two hours to recover Beachey’s body. Even then, rescuers spent three hours trying to revive him. An autopsy found he had survived the crash and had died from drowning.

His funeral in San Francisco was allegedly the largest in the city’s history until then. A Wikipedia writer estimated 30 million people saw him in his career, 17 million in 1914 alone