|Earl Southee at Princeton University, 1917
Courtesy of Mike O'Neal
Dear Mr. Cooper -
Many thanks for putting together the early aviators web page. Bob Southee (Earl's son) alerted me to it a few weeks ago and mentioned he had forwarded some information about his father's activities during WW I and beyond.
I have attached a photo of Earl Southee for your page. This was taken at Princeton, NJ , sometime between May and June of 1917. The aircraft is a Curtiss JN-4B.
Bob has already told you that his father was a mechanic at Princeton and probably flew a bit while there as well. The flying field was organized beginning in 1916 by a group of wealthy Princeton Alumni who provided four planes, mechanics, instructors and buildings to train Princeton undergrads. They were certain that the coming war would find us short of trained pilots and wanted to have Princeton's young men ready for the task. They did well - of the 35 young men who trained there, three became aces - Lansing "Denny" Holden, George Vaughn and Elliot White Springs. Graduates went on to serve with the air forces of France, Italy, the US and Great Britain. I think the total number of confirmed victories by the group was over 50 total, including several by men who were on two-seat crews.
Charles Hampson Grant who you may have heard of, was also a pilot at Princeton. Grant was the first man to fly in the state of Vermont. He and his younger brother Duncan built a glider modeled after Pilchers successful designs and flew it in the Summer of 1911. Charlie Grant was then 15 years old. He went to Princeton for his engineering degree, but dropped out before graduating to work for Grover Loening. Grant also designed a fighter plane while at Princeton, but only France showed a mild interest in it. He later went on to help design the Gordon Bennett racers in the 30's - helped design the first practical retractable landing gear and slotted flaps. His brother Duncan was killed in a Sopwith Camel while still in training in England. Charlie was denied a flying commission when he failed the physical. He lost an eardrum to the measles and although he had been flying since he was 15, had shown some talent in the Jenny at Princeton, but was still rejected. Between the wars he established an aviation summer camp for boys called Camp Duncan Grant to teach aeronautics to young enthusiasts, primarily though model building.I interviewed Mr. Grant in 1986 at his home in Vermont, just a couple of miles from the meadow where he flew his glider in 1911. He died just six months later.
Others associated with Princeton were Paul Culver who appears on your page and Edward Kenneson. Culver was an instructor for a short time. Lt. Edward Kenneson was the chief instructor. Kenneson trained at Newport News and was a close friend of Victor Carlstrom. When the Princeton airfield shut down Kenneson was posted to France and ended the war as CO of the 9th Aero Squadron, a medium bomber outfit. Unfortunately, he died in the influenza epidemic just after the end of the war.
Frank Stanton, a Australian national, was another instructor there. He was with the BEF at Gallipoli in 1915 and wounded badly enough to be invalided out of the service. He came to the States, learned to fly -possibly at Buffalo, NY and was hired by Curtiss. Curtiss sent Stanton and a couple of mechanics to Princeton in 1917. Stanton stayed on and ran the school as a private business after Princeton U. dropped their support for it. It's unclear if it was a branch of the Curtiss school system or if it was his personal investment. Later, Stanton and Gilbert "Slim" Eckstrom - another Princeton instructor - established the Daytona Beach airport and although the exact date escapes me I think it was in 1918 or 1919.
If you'd like more detailed information on these early fliers, please let me know. I have fairly complete biographies on all of them. I also have photos of them if you are interested.
I hope this has helped. Your bio's on Carlstrom and Culver had added a bit to my personal research - many thanks for that.
Again, thanks for keeping these early fliers close to the public memory. They deserve as much,- if not more - coverage for helping set the table for later accomplishments in aviation.
Best Regards -
Bob Southee may have mentioned it, but I have been compiling a complete history of the Princeton group since around 1980. Over the last few years I have found more of the families and so am glad I waited just a bit longer to start writing the "final" product. As I mentioned, I was fortunate to speak with Charlie Grant before he died, but also interviewed George Vaughn and Carl Erdman of the corps. I've located families for another 8 or 10 pilots and have been fortunate to have access to their photo albums and other papers. One fellow loaned me his father's diary for 1917 which included a nearly day by day account of the activities at the field.
As you might expect, the story is full of great adventures, interesting characters and poignant moments. It really has been interesting to "visit" this time almost to the point of knowing the group personally.With any luck, the text will be through by years end, but will probably run into the new year. I want to finish before the sons and daughters are too old to appreciate the results of what has been essentially their efforts ! Well, enough of that rambling. I'll put together a better description of the corps and forward it with the photos. Feel free to use the one I've already sent in the interim if you like and although I will try to keep the follow on short, if it runs long, please don't be squeamish about editing it for length.
I'd be interested in anything you might run across regarding the instructors - Kenneson, Stanton, Culver of course or Gilbert Eckstrom.
I have added Mike O'Neal's messages to this page for their intrinsic interest and also in the hopes that they may motivate any of my visitors who may have information on any of these early aviators to contact us. As you can see, Mike has been researching the subject with dedication and effectiveness for many years. I hope that some of you may be able to help him in his continuing search for more details on the flyers of that period.
Since I began working on my site some ten months ago, I have received a number of messages from relatives, friends and researchers of various of the early aviators. In each case, the contacts have been exciting and productive. The persons who found a reference to someone they knew on the site were uniformly surprised and pleased. In turn, I have been delighted to hear more about the early history of the individuals. This has been one of the most rewarding consequences of my project. I invite you to participate in helping to keep alive the memory of the pioneers.
Earl was at the Curtiss Flying School at Newport News in 1917, possibly 1916, but I'll have to look it up. He was a young mechanic. Curtiss had gotten a contract from a group in Princeton, NJ, to start a flying school for college boys, but they were short an instructor. Dad told me that Capt. Thomas Baldwin at Newport News called a meeting with the pilots/instructors, asked them if they had any suggestion for getting another instructor for Princeton. One of them mentioned that Earl Southee went up with them after he worked on their planes, had taken the controls and done well. The manager said to give him some lessons and see how he does. Dad did fine. After he soloed they sent him to Princeton as chief mechanic and #4 instructor!
One of the students he taught there was Elliot White Springs, who became a fighter Ace in France. They kept in touch for decades.
Earl Southee's son, 1998
George Vaughn's careers may be found at The Aerodrome website