|INTERNATIONAL AIR RACES
DAYTON, OHIO, OCT., 1924
RETROSPECTIVE IN 1954
|Walter E. Lees won first place in Event No. Two
the National Cash Register Company Trophy
in this Hartzell FC-2
AIR THRILLS GALORE IN '24
Prohibition was in effect and there were complaints getting a red nose watching an air show wasn't as desirable as other methods. Women were decked out in clothes that looked like a tent maker's bad dream, and aviation, in the light of today's standards, was a toddler. But there were thrills aplenty Oct. 2, 3 and 4, 30 years ago when Dayton first played host to the National Air Races.
There were aerial heroes and dignitaries galore at the Dayton airshow. Among the outstanding were the round-the-world flyers who travelled 26,345 miles, leaving Seattle on April 6 and returning there Sept. 28 after 371 hours in the air.
The reception here was to be a climax to the acclaim they had received in countries all over the world--- except for Russia---and quietly standing among the dignitaries welcoming the flyers was Orville Wright, whose flight a scant 20 years before had started the age of aviation.
Scene of the 1924 races was Wilbur Wright Field, now the site of Patterson Field at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Show officials recall that there was much apprehension because the show was being held on a government installation and caution was being preached so loudly they feared the races would be a dud. As it turned out, there was only one mishap and that to an Army pilot, but it was one of the most spectacular crashes in aircraft history.
Capt. Burt Skeel of Selfridge Field had boasted he intended to win the Pulitzer event---fastest of the 1924 races---or else. He and the other Army contestants dived their planes for a fast start in the 200-kilometer (124.27-mile) event.
Captain Skeel started his dive at about 8,000 feet and his plane collapsed when he was still about 2,000 feet high, but he was not wearing a parachute.
An estimated 50,000 persons saw Skeel's Curtiss plane fly apart in the air as he started to pull out of his dive. Lt. Harry Mills of WIlbur Wright Field went on to capture the trophy and $5,000 prize money with a speed of 216.72 miles an hour, considerably under the speed of Lt. Al J. Williams, who had flown the event at 243.68 miles an hour a year earlier at St. Louis.
Although thousands saw Skeel's plane go down, it was as though the earth had swallowed him and his plane. Some 40 locked arms and searched the crash area ato no avail. Then late at night, debris was found in an area of churned earth in a creek off Government Rd. Searchers began digging. They found plane parts four feet down. Because of quicksand, they had to shore up and pump out the hole. Finally at 10 feet, Skeel's body was found under a brick foundation, which had been an abutment for a traction bridge over the creek.
A similar accident had befallen Lt. Alexander Pearson of McCook Field here while practicing for the same race a few days earlier.
There were 12 events listed on the program, aside from stunts and other eyecatchers. Among Dayton sponsors were the National Cash Register Co., the Detroit chapter of the National Aeronautic Association, the Central Labor Union of Dayton, the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, The Dayton Daily News, the Dayton Bicycle Club and Engineers Club of Dayton.
Each of the local-sponsored events carried prizes of from $3000 to $5000, and there were chances for the slower plane owners to come into the money.
The Daily News event was hailed as a boon to commercial aviation development. It featured light planes with engines usually about the size of motorcycle engines and developing from five to 20 horsepower. Pilots flew a triagular five-mile course rounding the first pylon at 60 feet and climbing to 500 to round an anchored balloon at the end of a two-mile stretch, then descending to 60 feet for the next pylon.
Pilots unable to make the straight climb could circle to gain altitude before rounding the balloon. Total distance was 25 miles.
One of the planes entered was "the flying bathtub" built by Etienne Dormoy, a technical engineer at McCook. His plane was built of duralumin and weighed 380 pounds loaded. The tail surfaces of the craft were hooked to the bathtub-like cockpit by rods. The plane flew 50 miles to a gallon and held two gallons.
Winner of the event was James Johnson, who flew the 25 miles at an average speed of 64.01 miles an hour on less than a gallon of gas. Dormoy was the only other to finish (speed 41.3 miles an hour). The three other entrants were forced down.
In a subsequent event for the flivver planes, all pilots were forced down before the third lap. One plane was forced down five times and the winner, who romped home at 22.3 miles an hour, was forced down twice. Dormoy fared pretty well in the Rickenbacker race to Columbus and back, however, making the 70-mile distance in one hour each way.
There were some cancellations and mixups in the 1924 extraganza. It had been planned to have the Barling bomber, (the world's largest, which was assembled in Dayton) make a night flight over town with its wings and tail "brilliantly illumined" and with a large flag suspended from it, which was to be spotlighted from another plane.
Instead, caution pulled out use of the Barling, but three DeHavilland planes with lights and a Martin bomber were up, and a Vought plane did loops with flares and dropped star shells.
The fabulous Barling, with its 120-foot wingspread did set a weight-lifting record, however, when Lt. Harold Harris of McCook, carried aloft 8,979 pounds to 4,000 feet. He stayed up an hour and 47 minutes, ran out of gas and the Barling landed in a three-foot ditch.