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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Automotive … Planes and Trains Too

article number 480
article date 08-27-2015
copyright 2015 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Boeing Aircraft Survives the Lean 1920’s ... Part 2: Low Bidder on Building Other’s Designs
by Harold Mansfield
   

From the book, Vision, A Saga of the Sky.

* * *

The Pursuit

The cold word from Dayton in January was that there wasn’t enough money to keep even a small part of the airplane industry alive. It was going to be a case of survival of the fittest. The L.W.F. Company was in the hands of receivers already.

Billy Mitchell’s campaign wasn’t doing well. The only new planes the Army could buy were two-hundred MB-3 type pursuits designed by the Thomas Morse Company, Egtvedt learned on a Dayton visit.

“Everybody is going to be scrapping for that order,” said Major Fleet.

“Will you give all two hundred to one company?” asked Egtvedt.

“We’re getting bids on quantities of fifty to two hundred.”

In Seattle the challenge was taken up. They’d have to bid low, or there was no use bidding. Phil Johnson unrolled the drawings and called in the shop foremen, one by one, to get their ideas as to the amount of work on the various parts. Then they met in Gott’s office. When the estimates were added, the price came to $10,175 per plane for fifty; $6,617 for two hundred.

Ed Gott went to Dayton for the bid opening. Major Fleet began reading the bids: “Aero Marine, $1,832,000; Boeing, $1,448,000; Curtiss, $1,982,000; Dayton-Wright, $2,201,000.”

Gott was concerned. “We must be off,” he thought.

“L.W.F., $2,133,000; Thomas Morse, $1,926,000.”

Gott was now thoroughly alarmed. Thomas Morse had built the airplane. Morse’s figure was $478,000 higher than Boeing’s. A $400,000 loss would mean disaster.

“Boeing is low at $1,448,000.”

A silence followed. Gott looked around. Some of the men were glaring at him. When the meeting broke up, none of them came over to congratulate him. They gathered in small groups. “He’ll lose his shirt,” someone was saying. A Curtiss man came up with a friendly air. “You can withdraw,” he counseled.

Gott went to the Miami Hotel and called Phil Johnson. “Everyone says we’ll go broke at these figures. Think we should withdraw?”

“We’re in business,” boomed Phil. “Let’s stick to our guns. We can build ‘em for that, easy.”

Boeing backed Phil up. But there was still a question about the bid being accepted. The whole thing was now in the hands of Washington. The pressure was on General Menoher, chief of the Air Service, to split the business. There were reports that it was up to Secretary of War Weeks, that it was up to President Harding, that the whole project might be dropped for another year while the Secretary of War and Secretary of Navy resurveyed the arms program.

Five weeks had elapsed when Ed Gott, beetled and drawn, went to Secretary Weeks.

“I will have made my decision by next Saturday,” the Secretary said. “The question is whether it is worth an extra $800,000 for us to split the business up. I don’t think it is. I don’t think the President will favor it. But I must look into it thoroughly.”

The following Saturday there was celebration on the Duwamish. Boeing had been awarded the government’s biggest plane order since the war: two hundred Thomas Morse type MB-3A pursuits. The news spread to the shops, and the day soon gathered the full proportions of a Roman holiday.

Work got under way fast. The remaining stocks of furniture were sold out. Old employees were rehired. Tools and materials were ordered in quantities that seemed astronomical.

But the breeze of production enthusiasm didn’t bring cheer to the engineering loft. It wasn’t because of lack of things to do. The engineers were hopping busy getting drawings to the shops.

Yet Claire Egtvedt felt swept with the tide, no mainsail, no rudder. He threw listless looks at the paper they were pushing out.

Airplanes, but not one of them a Boeing design.

They did have some research studies coming along. These kept the spirit alive.

Two new engineers, Fred Laudan and Herman Haase, were experimenting with joints between metal and wood. If they put too many small holes through the wood, it chawed the wood to pieces, they found. If they used a couple of big ones, the bolts would pull out of the wood. “There is no good answer.

You need metal to fasten to metal.” Claire recalled the welded steel structures used in Germany. But torch welding was difficult work.

Louis Marsh helped him run some strength tests on different kinds of welds. The results went to Ed Gott.

“We can get nearly twice the strength if we use an electric arc welder,” they told Gott. “It takes only half as long as with a torch. But we’d have to build a special machine to do it.”

Gott thumbed the report, then nodded. “Make a drawing of what you want, and I’ll okay it.”

   
Billy Mitchell with Thomas-Morse MB-3.

The GAX tri-plane was ready to fly, down at Fort Lewis, Washington, where it had been trucked piece by piece and assembled in a big tent hangar the Army had erected. Everyone went down to see the maiden flight.

It was a cool gray day in May 1921. The 125-foot canvas front of the hangar was rolled up and out came the behemoth, wing upon wing upon wing, with rows of struts like fence-posts.

Harold Harris had come from Dayton to fly it. Ready as a Canadian Mountie, he stuffed cotton in his ears, scrambled up the high armored side, and started the Liberty engines. When he revved them up, the engines bellowed out of their iron closets and the sides of the ship brayed back the clamor. The multi-wings buzzed with vibration.

Lieutenant Harris taxied for a while, then clattered down the runway and lifted the black monster over the fence. He swung about overhead for fifteen minutes and returned. When he had turned off the din, they asked, “How does she fly?”

Harris pulled out his ear plugs and pounded his head. “Don’t hear.” The question was repeated in his ear. The lieutenant just stared for a minute, lips tight. Then he slapped down his flying helmet. “What is this airplane supposed to be for?”

“Ground attack.”

“How can you attack the ground with an airplane you can’t see out of, and that’s too unwieldy to maneuver close to the ground? If you ever design anything for military use, think first what it’s going to be used for, and then design it.”

The GAXs were delivered to Kelly Field where the officers found a new way to enforce discipline. “Watch your step,” they’d say, “or you’ll be ordered to fly the GAX.”

Next time he was in Dayton, Claire Egtvedt discussed philosophy of design with Lieutenant Monteith in the engineering division.

“The trouble here,” said Monteith, “is that there are too many cooks. The equipment branch has the last word on equipment, the power plant branch has the last word on power plants, and so on. They all have their own goals. They don’t have a common goal, like a company that has to meet competition.”

“Does the Army intend to stay in the design business?”

“It’s falling apart. All our best engineers are leaving to go to work for industry.”

Egtvedt talked with the people in the flight section. “How do you like the Thomas Moore MB-3?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s O.K.,” they said at first.

“What don’t you like about it?”

“Too touchy. She’ll spin at the drop of a hat.”

“That so? How does it fly otherwise?”

“Not bad, but too slow.”

At Selfridge Field, Egtvedt watched while the young pilots went through mock combat in the pursuits, one winging over and diving with motors, props and wires screaming, the other whipping down onto his tail and dog-fighting across the sky.

Hangar talk was vivid. Egtvedt heard the men blame their airplane when they came out on the short end of a duel.

   
MB-3 in flight.

“If you were designing a pursuit, what things would you consider most important?” he asked them.

“Think about what we have to do,” one man answered. “We have to pursue the other fellow, out-dodge him, turn inside. Speed and maneuverability are everything. The boys at McCook hang on a lot of equipment that doesn’t mean a thing. Just loads the airplane down. We want ‘em stripped for action.”

Think first what it’s going to be used for, and then design it. . . . Pursuit.... We have to pursue the other fellow. . . . Stripped for action. Claire Egtvedt sat in a Pullman car, watching landscape go by.

What interfered with speed on the pursuit? The wires between the wings. Their shrill whistle showed how badly they wanted to be out of the way.

How about a thicker wing? Fokker was using one. Strong enough to cantilever—hold itself up, partly at least. Get rid of the wires. Make the lower wing short and just use it to brace the upper wings at the middle.

Maneuverability they wanted. How fast could an airplane turn? As fast as the pilot dared turn it. How fast did he dare? It would pull apart. Look how Laudan’s bolts pulled out of the wood, all sizes, if you pulled hard enough.

Metal tubing was the answer. Electric arc welding, with the welding machine they’d worked out. They could build a real pursuit. If they only had the chance.

Claire’s pencil made eye-satisfying, free-hand ellipses, wings, bodies as he moved with his thoughts across Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, homeward. The rocking of the rails only nudged at a consciousness that was being directed along a higher course.

“We’ve got to design our own pursuit,” Claire told Marsh when he got home. “I have some ideas.”

They got started with new ideas, just between times, just between themselves, calculating loads, arrangements, structures. There was no new design competition. Besides, Gott didn’t favor these contracts. They were doing better just bidding on existing designs. Was there no break-through?

Something told Egtvedt to look at the other fellow’s point of view. Gott had backed him lots of times when he needed it. Gott was pitching hard all the time. Look what he’d done to land the MB-3A contract in Washington. “Maybe it’s myself that’s been standing in my way,” he thought. Just this seemed to make him feel less constricted.

There must be a way to move ahead. Was designing to the specifications of government engineers the only way to build a military airplane? Why not design and build it your own way, then take it to the Army? Mr. Boeing would go for that. But would the Army?

The plane would simply have to be good enough to sell itself. That was the challenge. The more he thought about it, the more right it seemed. How could the Army refuse it if it were best?

A meeting with Boeing was set for January 3, 1922. It was a new year; new outlook. Conditions were improving. Financial writers said business courage was replacing business depression, that the two couldn’t exist together. Boeing’s timber was beginning to sell. The zest and teamwork of the men at the plant, given a big job to do, were an inspiration.

With hope in his heart, Egtvedt went with Ed Gott to Boeing’s uptown office in the Hoge Building to make his proposal.

“We are in the pursuit plane business now. The pursuit is different from anything we’ve built before. When you see the young fellows in the Air Service up there, rolling and diving and dog-fighting, you realize that they have to have a superb airplane.

"The MB-3A is far from being what they need. It’s based on the old French Spad. We know how to build a much better airplane than that.” Boeing’s eyes were kindling. Gott was thoughtful.

“When the MBs are finished,” Claire continued, “we should have a better plane to offer.”

No disagreement there.

   
GA-1 (GAX), above and MB-3A production would be done. Boeing would keep trying to develop their own designs.

“Gott has often pointed out that the rules governing military design competitions are unsound. You bid for the design, make an experimental model and someone else may build it. Even if it’s a successful design, you can’t look forward to anything.” Gott was nodding.

“You don’t get out the best design because you don’t have the incentive and you can’t stray very far from the specifications.

“What I’d like to do is go out on our own to build the best pursuit we can. The Boeing pursuit. The design will belong to us—at least till we sell it to the Army. It will be entirely up to us to make it the last word in performance, efficiency and general utility for the purpose—a pursuit airplane.”

Boeing was on his feet now, looking out over Elliott Bay. The Olympic skyline, spectacular in winter, was in full view but his eyes narrowed as though focusing on a point out beyond, seeing what he had planned and wanted and expected to see all the time.

“We would go to all the sources available,” said Claire, “here and abroad, to get information and data. We wouldn’t have to put in all the contrivances and devices that the Air Service thinks up. It would be designed for one purpose only—combat work.”

Boeing didn’t even ask how much the project would cost. He turned about. “That’s exactly what we should do,” he said. “Do it on our own. Keep it a secret. Develop the best pursuit that can be built. Then, we’ll take it back to Dayton and enter it in competition with the others.”

Egtvedt didn’t remember getting back to the plant. Somehow he was back there. Working, delving in details, sighting past details at a fix, delving in details again. In the days and weeks that followed, he’d often work through the dinner hour, go out for a bite, then come back to light up the drafting room again.

So did Marsh. So did Laudan and Herman Haase, and Bob Minshall, an energetic youth doing part-time work while finishing aeronautical engineering at the university.

All of them were enjoying it, but Egtvedt was embarrassed over the extra time the men were putting in without pay. “Better go on home. I’ll see you in the morning,” he kept telling them, late at night.

“Claire, we’re having the time of our life down here,” said Marsh.

Boeing came down often. He’d stop in at the drafting room and ask to see “The Pursuit.” It had no name or number. “Keep after the improvements,” he said. “Be sure they’re right and go ahead.”

Egtvedt kept after the facts to work with. From the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics he got data on thicker wing sections, new control and stability studies, but he felt these were still inadequate.

A plan was worked out for a tapered wing, different from the Fokker. They decided to tuck the radiator under the engine. It would get the full sweep of the wind in a climb, but with minimum resistance in level flight. With a short bottom wing, they got rid of much of the drag of the wires between wings.

Ways were sought to minimize the drag of other parts sticking out in the wind. Parasite drag, engineers had come to call it. Everything besides the wing was parasite drag; it stole the gains you made by putting more power in the engines.

With the pursuit design progressing and MB-3A production coming into full flow, Boeing expanded the company’s management structure. He went from president to chairman of the board. Ed Gott was elected president, Johnson vice president and general manager, Egtvedt secretary and chief engineer.

Plant activity reached concert pitch. Planing mills were whining high C on the wing ribs. Metal hammers beat a rhythmless discord. The first MB-3A was delivered in July 1922, and behind it the assembly floor was filled to the doorways. Some of the planes were in skeleton form, others in various states of half dress, their unbleached linen still hanging on the wall.

One day Boeing walked with Egtvedt out through the plant to view the progress. He was wistful. “When we started this business it was kind of an adventure,” Boeing said. “Look what it’s become.” He was silent for a long while. Egtvedt saw him reach up behind his glasses and dry the corners of his eyes.

Everyone had a warm feeling for the two hundred MB-3As. They had lifted the company off shaky legs and given it vigor and strength.

   
Boeing MB-3A being serviced.

When Bill Boeing looked at the cost sheets just before Christmas 1922, he knew that their bid had not been too low. They would end the job with a real profit. The three hundred Boeing employees got a bonus that Christmas.

Now the whole company felt like venturing into new designs. They had sought to get the Army interested in a transport airplane, but failed, then they talked with the Navy and found there was an opportunity in the trainer field.

Boeing promptly authorized the start on a new trainer design. “We can build one new experimental plane each year on our own,” he said. “We have the pursuit under way. This can be next.”

The pursuit design was complete and ready for construction except for one hitch. They needed a Curtiss D-12 motor. Ed Gott arranged to borrow one from the Army, provided they could complete the machine and get it to Dayton for test by July 1923.

The engine arrived in January, simultaneously with word that the new Curtiss pursuit was already in the air and had made a speed of 169 miles an hour. That was a shade faster than the Boeing was expected to go.

Johnson put the best shop crews to work on the pursuit. It went together fast. On April 29, 1923, Frank Tyndall flew it at Camp Lewis and liked the way it handled.

“Only thing I can suggest,” he said, “is a little better longitudinal stability.” This stability thing still seemed to be the principal uncertainty in designing airplanes. The plane went back to the plant for tail surface revision, then performance tests were run at Sand Point.

On June 6 Gott notified McCook Field the plane was ready to send east for trials. Next day, Tyndall ground-looped it in the soft ground at the end of Sand Point Field. Johnson surveyed the damage to wing tips and propeller.

It would take two or three weeks to make repairs. There wouldn’t be time to get a new propeller; they’d have to cut off the tips of the damaged one and reshape it. With time running so short, they decided to ship the plane to Dayton after repair without further test.

Trials

It was late June when the airplane crates arrived in Dayton, Claire Egtvedt watching over them. At McCook, while a crew of Army mechanics was assembling the plane, someone brought word that Egtvedt was wanted in the Engineering office.

“Where’s your design data?” demanded an engineer named Niles.

“Didn’t you get the specifications we sent in?”

“These don’t tell me anything. I can’t release the ship for flight unless I know more than this.”

Egtvedt went over the data with him.

“Well, I’ll release it for performance tests,” Niles finally agreed, “but I’ll have to see your stress analysis and the dimensions of all the members before we’ll stunt it or try it for combat work.”

“You mean all our figures?”

“How do I know you haven’t slipped up on areas or moments of inertia?”

Egtvedt thought of saying that they’d built airplanes before, but didn’t. “I’ll wire the plant,” he said.

They had trouble getting the engine to work properly and there was discussion about the fuel system. It was July 20 before the plane was cleared for performance tests. Harold Harris took it up.

“What speed did you clock?” Egtvedt asked when he got back.

“She’ll do at least 165,” said Lieutenant Harris.

   
Boeing XPW-9. Note small lower wing.

A couple of engineers standing by perked their ears. One of the pilots came over to Egtvedt. “You’ve got a fine little airplane here,” he said. “I like its looks.”

Harris drew Egtvedt aside. “The climb is good, but longitudinal stability is bad,” he said. “You couldn’t possibly hold a gun steady on a target. It hunts up and down all the time.” This, from Harris, hurt.

“We knew the plane was a bit tail-heavy, but didn’t think it was serious. It shouldn’t be too hard to fix.”

“The plane is controllable, all right, but this will be a mark against you,” said Harris.

Egtvedt worked nights on the mathematics of the stability problem. He took it personally, because of the difficulty they had had on the first hop of the B-1 flying boat. At the field, the maintenance men were still having trouble with the engine and this kept him running days.

He wrote Marsh that they’d have to enlarge the stabilizers and move the engine forward to get better balance, but they couldn’t do that while the tests were going on.

Harris was encouraging, though. He said six different pilots had now flown the Boeing and they all thought it was more maneuverable than the Curtiss.

Lieutenant Alec Pearson, considered one of McCook’s headiest pilots, was emphatic about it. “It closed my lower eyelids on the turns,” he said. “If it turned any faster, it would put me out.”

Other sections of the McCook staff were taking increasing interest. “This armament installation is the best I’ve ever seen,” said the head of the armament section.

General opinion was that the Boeing and the Curtiss were close together on speed, the Curtiss better perhaps on stability, the Boeing better for maintenance. The Curtiss wing-skin radiator had to be fixed after almost every flight.

Official high speed and climb tests were yet to be run when Egtvedt was told August 1 that the supply officer had been authorized to buy twenty-five Curtiss pursuits.

“Can’t we get it held up at least till you have comparative performance?” he asked Major L. W. MacIntosh, new head of the engineering division. MacIntosh wired General Patrick, recommending equal consideration be given Boeing. But George Tidmarsh, the Boeing representative in Washington, had learned that the Army had decided to go ahead with the Curtiss order without awaiting results of the Boeing tests.

On August 6 they ran the high-speed test and could get only 159.5 miles an hour. But the McCookites were becoming attached to the little Boeing.

“Let’s try the Curtiss high-speed propeller on it,” someone suggested, recognizing that the propeller rebuilt in Seattle after the ground loop might be handicapping the plane. They installed the new propeller and got 167.6 miles per hour, a shade better than the Curtiss.

They climbed to 20,600 feet—two hundred feet higher than the Curtiss on the first try. On the second they made 21,700 feet but the Curtiss made 22,000. They got the landing speed down to sixty-five miles per hour; two miles lower than the Curtiss.

Egtvedt went to Washington to talk to General Patrick. The General hadn’t yet received the report on the tests. “Boeing does not have the facilities aerodynamically to work out anything of any significance,” Mason Patrick said.

“But we. . ."

“You are a small outfit. Curtiss has research facilities, a big engineering department. You cannot expect to compete with them on a matter of this kind.”

Egtvedt felt a hot flush blurring his planned argument, then it flooded out discretion and took command. It conjured up words ready to leap back. He looked about the room. The mahogany orderliness of the place restored a semi-calm.

He remembered where he was and to whom he was talking. “General,” he said, “I hope the results of the tests out at McCook will convince you we have the ability to provide something that you would want to purchase.” Egtvedt departed as through an escape hatch. The corridors of the Munitions Building offered no solace.

   
Left: Curtis PW-8, Right: Boeing PW-9.

The procurement of the Curtiss was too far along to be stopped, but Dayton would give Boeing an experimental order for the pursuit being tested and for two others under way at Seattle. The planes would be called the PW-9s: pursuit, water-cooled, type number nine. There was no money for any more.

In Washington, disconsolate, Egtvedt completed the deal. When he got an invitation to watch a battleship bombing exercise off the Virginia Capes, he grabbed it. It would be a holiday from worry.

The transport ’St. Mihiel’ turned out to be something less than a pleasure cruiser. The bunk room was steamy hot through the night of September 4. Egtvedt was glad when the sounding of reveille intruded upon the heavy breathing about him at 5:30 A.M.

The trial about to take place was the first since Billy Mitchell’s bombers attacked a group of captured German ships in 1921. The Navy had turned out full force for that exercise, expecting to see the dreadnoughts ride serenely through Mitchell’s fireworks.

Two years later the smoke still hadn’t cleared from the furore that following their sinking. This time the exercise was being played down—simply a means of disposing of the battleships ’Virginia’ and ’New Jersey’ in accordance with the Covenant on Naval Armaments of February 1922.

But it was a deadly serious game. These two ships had cost U. S. taxpayers $12 million in 1904. If they could be wiped out by a few Martin bombers, Mitchell would hold trump cards in his campaign.

When Egtvedt and George Tidmarsh got out on deck after mess, the sea and sky were obscured in heavy fog. “What’s our position?” Tidmarsh asked an officer.

“Off Cape Hatteras. A hundred eighty miles from Langley Field.”

By 8:30 the fog had thinned enough to reveal the battleships on the horizon. In a few minutes more the sun burned hot on the deck. There was a buzz of excitement.

“Great day for Mitchell,” someone was saying. The General was to lead the attack personally. Eyes were watching the sky for him. General Pershing, General Patrick and other high officers were on the bridge. Two blimps carrying photographers approached at low altitude and circled pompously.

At nine o’clock the drone of engines signaled the first attack. Six Martin bombers, big biplanes, were headed for the ’New Jersey’ at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. They were flying single file, spaced a considerable distance apart. The announcer said they carried six-hundred-pound bombs.

Eighteen bombs dropped. Four of them hit the deck with an eruption of smoke. One or two dropped into the water close to the New Jersey’s hull. This was considered the most destructive point of aim because of the effect of the water pressure on the hull.

A boat went over to check the damage, which was minor. Then seven more Martins approached at 6,000 feet altitude, each carrying a 2,000-pound bomb. All sent up fountains of water two hundred yards astern.

“They’d have to do better than that in war,” said Egtvedt. The New Jersey was a sitting duck, yet they’d missed her.

An artillery major said he could easily have shot the bombers down with anti-aircraft.

“Look, though,” said Tidmarsh. “She’s beginning to list.” Now they could see a hole torn in the side amidships, flooding some of the New Jersey’s thirty-three watertight compartments. The bombers went back to refuel and reload.

Egtvedt was thoughtful. “Major McDill told me in Dayton that they’ve cancelled all experimental bomber contracts due to lack of efficient design,” he said. “They want to be able to carry 4,000 pounds, and to have speed enough to offer some protection.”

“Think we should get into that field?” Tidmarsh asked.

“Guess we’d better pull out the irons we already have in the fire,” said Egtvedt. He was thinking of General Patrick and the pursuit, and the new trainer they were building to demonstrate to the Navy. “But I certainly think we should get into it eventually.”

   
Martin MB-2 bomber in flight.

Just before noon the third attack by the string of seven Martins, this time with two 1,100-pound bombs each, approached at 3,000 feet. They passed up the New Jersey and centered on the Virginia, sitting proudly with her massive stacks and bulwarks.

Before the spectators were well set for the new inning, the bombs dropped and a tremendous belch of black smoke enveloped the battleship, pluming upward in a column 1,500 feet high. The thunderous report was echoed by a chorus of exclamations from the St. Mihiel’s decks.

When the smoke cleared, the Virginia looked like a toy ship that had been kicked by a heavy boot. The precise handiwork of its superstructure was swept away. All three stacks and both masts were gone. A lone crane and a turret stood watch over a deck-load of junk.

In the Virginia’s distress another bomb plunged deep alongside, shaking her to the heart. She heeled over, bathing her wounded side, then kept on rolling. In a rush of foam, her keel came out of the water. Yard by yard the Atlantic claimed her.

The spectators watched her go. No one liked to see a ship sink, even an empty one.

Egtvedt felt as never before the deadly possibilities of the airplane.

In the afternoon another flight finished off the New Jersey and sent her hunting the depths for her companion. A Navy Department representative said it was an impressive demonstration of coast defense. “Obviously they wouldn’t have the range to touch a fleet at sea,” he added.

Phil Johnson wrote that the new Navy trainer they were building had been flown.

“Everyone is tickled pink with it. Eddie Hubbard says it’s the best ship he has ever handled.”

They had equipped the trainer with the new Lawrence radial engine, in which the Navy had taken quite an interest. The engine was air-cooled and had the advantage of eliminating the radiator.

Anxious to give it a demonstration, Egtvedt went to Pensacola to meet Hubbard with the new plane.

The Boeing trainer was in competition not only with a Huff-Daland but also with planes submitted by Martin and the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia.

“Yours looks about the best,” one of the instructors confided to Hubbard. “The Martin is too big. The Philadelphia plane is too dangerous—falls into a spin from almost any position. The Huff is your closest competition.”

After several days of flying, Lieutenant G. L. Compo, the engineering officer on the trial board, came to Hubbard. “We can’t get your plane into a tailspin,” he said. “It’s too stable.”

“Isn’t that good?” asked Eddie Hubbard.

“As long as other planes spin, we can’t buy a trainer that you can’t learn to spin in.”

Egtvedt and Hubbard decided they could make the ship spin by adjusting the stabilizer to its maximum up angle.

The technique of getting into a tailspin was to stall a plane by slowing it to less than flying speed, then kick the rudder over which should put it into a spiral dive. The stabilizer adjustment would cause it to stall, or lose flying speed, at a steeper nose-up angle, and should ensure that it would go into a spin when it suddenly nosed down.

Hubbard took Compo along to try it. They went up to 2,600 feet. Hubbard stalled and kicked the rudder hard over. They went into a spin quite normally but after about four turns Hubbard noticed the spin was turning faster and getting flatter. The nose wouldn’t stay down.

He kicked the opposite rudder and pushed over the stick. The controls had no effect. The earth was twisting below like a great wheel. He gunned the motor to put a slipstream on the tail and improve his control. It only spun more rapidly. “Must be turning so fast that the slipstream misses the tail,” he reasoned.

   
Boeing NB-1 trainer.

It occurred to him to readjust the stabilizer, but the spinning had him whipped back in the corner. Drawing up all his strength against the invisible force, he got hold of the handle, but the load on the stabilizer was too great. He couldn’t move it.

Pensacola Bay, gyrating wildly, was coming up fast. All he could do was pull back on the elevators to make the plane flatter, and check the drop as much as possible. They kept whirling flatly, then hit. The pontoon twisted off under them and they sat there on the water.

Hubbard and Compo looked at each other blankly for a moment, then climbed up on top of the upper wing. They were there talking it over when Egtvedt arrived full speed across the bay in a flying boat.

“What did it look like?” Hubbard asked Egtvedt.

“Like a falling maple seed. A flat spin.”

“Who ever heard of a flat spin?” said Hubbard. “There is no such thing.”

Compo began to laugh. “But we did it. Safest way I ever saw to wreck an airplane. You come down so easy.”

Egtvedt wasn’t so sure he was being funny.

“It’s nothing,” said Compo. “I want to be the first to go up again when you get it fixed.”

They hashed and rehashed the accident. While they were having a Curtiss pontoon installed, they lengthened the rudder, moved the engine forward two inches, and put the stabilizer back to zero. “You’d better wait till we try it,” Egtvedt told Compo.

In the new condition, they found they could successfully tailspin it and bring it out without going into the uncontrollable flat spin.

But there was concern now about rust in the steel tube body, around salt water. The Huff-Daland had only a steel engine mount and a stick-and-wire body. That would be easier to maintain, some argued. The conclusion of the competition was delayed.

   
Boeing PW-9 in flight.
   
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