|Lionel Woolson, 1929
(Smithsonian photo A48645A.).
Dear Mr. Cooper:
I had a phone call from Mr. Ed Moore this evening (6/20/02) and obtained a bit of information.
Lionel Woolson was born in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of London (England) in 1904. His father was born in Germany and was an importer in LA. When Lionel graduated his name was spelt Wolffshon or Wolffson - I found it hard to hear everything Mr. Moore said and asked him twice and still was not sure of the spelling. So somewhere along the family changed their name to Woolson....Mr. Moore thought maybe because of the First World War.
I do have a Woolson contact in LA and maybe she can check some LA directories to see how and when the spellings changed. At this point I do not see any connection to my own geneological work and I guess Lionel will become a footnote. Will keep in touch if anything more shows up..
Ed Moore is married to Lionels' daughter Helene.
Back in Detroit at Packard, Walter (Walter Lees) became involved in a very special Project. Captain Lionel Woolson the Chief Aeronautical Engineer and Dipl.Ing. Hermann I.A. Dorner, a diesel engine inventor from Hanover, Germany, designed the Packard diesel with the help of Packard engineers and Dorner's assistant, Adolph Widmann. Walter worked with Woolson and Marvin Steele, the assistant engineer.
On September 19, the historic first flight of the Packard diesel engine took place at the Packard proving grounds, Utica, Michigan. But the unofficial test was made the night before. Walter was given the distinction of flying the world's first diesel powered airplane flight.
--I made the first test in a Stinson, a cabin job, the SM-IDX "Detroiter". The official test flight was to be in the morning, but Captain Woolson and I took the plane up the evening before just to be sure.
I made many experimental flights with Cap Woolson and the mechanics. Once I even made an altitude flight up to 17,000 feet without oxygen. Cap Woolson had a theory that the diesel would not lose power at higher altitudes, as the gas engine did.
On April 23, Captain Woolson started to fly from Detroit to New York City with a couple of pilots in a Verville "Air Sedan" with a Packard Diesel engine. Walter tried to talk him out of it because they were scheduled to fly to Boston the next day in a Stinson Diesel. About 1:00 p.m., a phone call came in saying that the plane had crashed and all three were killed. Mr. Cudlip, a Packard executive and Walter went by train to arrange to ship Captain Woolson's body back to Detroit, and to inspect the wreck.
The pilot had run into a snow squall after passing Buffalo and decided to turn back. He hooked the right wing on the side of a hill, the plane skidded into a ditch about 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep and rolled the plane into a ball. All were killed instantly.
CAPTAIN WOOLSON contributed more to the safety of aviation than any other person in his generation. The accident in which he met his death was in no sense the fault of his creation. He encountered something that no one yet has found a means of overcoming, namely, a snow or sleet storm. He died in the midst of one of these which deprived him of his ability to see.
In no manner was the accident a reflection on his work, a work that will go on. Captain Woolson was one of the great men of recent history. He was daring but only in the best sense, for he was far from reckless. His death occurred in what he considered the performance of his duty, the delivery of one of the engines which he had created.
I considered Captain Woolson as one of the great mechanical geniuses of this generation. He carefully calculated everything necessary out of his ideas on paper and then working them into being in wood and metals.
He died with the knowledge that he had finished what he had started out to accomplish, the developement of an oil-burning airplane engine with all of the many features of safety flying which such a motor inherently possesses.
Editor's Note: The following newsclipping from the Detroit Free Press was enclosed in a letter to Jo Cooper from Edith Dodd (Aunt Teed) Culver written on 7-17-88.
-----Free Press Staff Photo.
MUSSOLINI'S GOVERNMENT BOUGHT this Verville airplane made in Detroit, and Commander Paolo Sbernadori, of the Italian embassy in Washington, accepted the plane at the Ford airport Wednesday. It has a Packard Diesel engine. From the left, W. E. Lees, of Packard, Sbernadori and L. Meister, of Verville.
The clipping obviously contained a photo of the plane and the group, but it was lost. It probably is the same model plane in which Captain Woolson crashed and was killed.