Connecticut Airplane Contest – 1912

Connecticut Airplane Contest – 1912

     On July 28, 1912, an aerial contest between two well known aviators, Charles K. Hamilton, and Nels J. Nelson, took place in the town of Berlin, Connecticut.  The well advertised event was attended by over 5,000 people.

     The first contest was the “testing of winds”.  Hamilton was in the air for three minutes and four seconds, while Nelson remained aloft for seven minutes and ten seconds. 

     The “quick starting” contest was held next.  Hamilton got off the ground in 311 feet, 9 inches, while Nelson’s airplane only required 172 feet, 9 inches to get airborne. 

     For the “bomb dropping” event, a target was placed on the ground and each aviator was to make a “bombing runs” at it using oranges.   On his first run, Nelson’s orange hit the ground 51 feet, 1 inch, from the target’s center, and 9 feet, 10 inches on his second.  His third orange hit 17 feet from the center.

     Meanwhile, Charles Hamilton’s oranges struck the ground 27 feet, 18 feet, and 47 feet, 8 inches, respectively.     

     The final contest involved flying a figure-eight in the air.  As Hamilton was starting to take off, an intoxicated man stepped in front of his aircraft and was struck in the head by one of the wings.  He was knocked to the ground and received a bad cut.  Once the man had received treatment, Hamilton took off, but only circled the airfield once due to wing damage from the accident.  After making some repairs, he completed his figure-eight over the judges in just 55 seconds.  Nelson completed his figure-eight in two minutes.       

     When all the scores were tallied, it was determined that the contest had resulted in a tie. 


     Hartford Courant, (Conn.), “Aeroplane Duel Results In Tie”, July 29, 1912  



Aero Club Of Vermont -1916

Aero Club Of Vermont – 1916 

     The Aero Club of Vermont was formally established in Burlington, Vt., on July, 6, 1916.  It should be noted that there was another club with a similar name known as the “Vermont Aero Club”, which had been established in Rutland, Vt., in either 1908 or 1909.  Neither club is still active today, and it’s unclear if there was any link between the two, or if the former club merged with the latter.    

     While both clubs were open to those with an interest in aviation, it appears that the Rutland club (Vermont Aero Club) was established primarily for balloon ascensions, and the Burlington organization (Aero Club of Vermont) focused more on airplanes and state defense, and later on the establishment of airports. 

     The following Vermont newspaper articles relate to both organizations.  It has been noted that after July of 1916, the newspapers sometimes referred to the Aero Club of Vermont as the Vermont Aero Club.   


     The following article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner, April 14, 1908.    

Taken Up Ballooning

Rutland is the First Vermont Town to Form Aero Club 

     Rutland, April 12, – There is an indication that ballooning may supplant league base ball in Rutland this summer.  A meeting will be held tomorrow evening to discuss a movement to form an aero club, the idea of the business men who are at the bottom of the project being that the novelty of balloon ascensions would do more to advertise the city than base ball.  Rutland is the first Vermont town to spring an aero club, the incentive having been by the success of the North Adams and Pittsfield clubs.  


     The following article appeared in The Barre Daily Times, June 23, 1909, page 1.  (The “aero club” referred to in this article is the Aero Club of America.)

Rutland To Be A Station

Notice Received That Aero Club Has Added Vermont City To Its List.

     Rutland, June 23, – That Rutland is to be added to the list of Aero club stations in New England, is announced in a letter just received by sec. H. W. Allen of the Rutland Improvement League from Charles J. Glidden, whose balloon, the Massachusetts, made a trip from this city to Gilmanton, N. H., last Friday.

     The letter states that the committee on balloons and ascensions has recommended this station to the Aero Club, and that official notice of the fact will be sent to all the clubs of the United States.     


     The following article appeared in the New York Tribune, July 21, 1909, page 7. 

     Aeronauts In Quick Descent

Pilot of Balloon Ascending From Pittsfield Says He Never Came Down Faster

     Winsted, Conn., July 20, – Winsted today witnessed a thrilling descent by three aeronauts.  William Van Sleet, pilot; C. T. Fairfield, of Rutland, Vt., publisher and editor of “The Rutland Evening News” and president of the Vermont Aero Club, and Professor Oswald Tower, of North Adams, teacher of science in Wesleyan Academy, Wilbraham, Mass.  The men ascended from Pittsfield, Mass., at 8:40 a.m.  When at an altitude of 8,900 feet the balloon started across the town and then suddenly began to drop.  So rapid was its descent that all three men were rendered deaf for half an hour.

     The party finally landed without accident on the farm of Daniel O’Neil, in Mooreville. All ballast in the car had been dumped to avert a landing in the heart of Winsted’s business district.  It was van Sleet’s thirty-sixth flight, and he said he never experienced a quicker ride to earth.


     The following article appeared in the Burlington Weekly Press, July 29, 1909.

An Ascension In Rutland

Wm. Van Sleet Takes Four Rutland People Up In Balloon Massachusetts

     Rutland, July 27,  – Pilot William Van Sleet of the Pittsfield Aero Club made an ascension here at four o’clock this afternoon in the balloon Massachusetts with four Rutland people, H. Clayton Carpenter, Frank M. Wilson, Charles H. West, and Harry A. Mattison.  The start was made in the presence of 1,000 people with the most favorable weather conditions, a light breeze driving the big bag slowly out of sight over the mountains east of the city.   

     Pilot Van Sleet will make another ascension here next Thursday, the first under the direction of the new Vermont Aero Club.

    ( The balloon landed in Barnard, Vermont, at 6:30 p.m., 18 miles northeast of Rutland.)


     By 1916 the airplane had progressed to the point where it was being used as a weapon of war in Europe.  At the same time the United States was facing the possibility of becoming involved in World War I, and there were those here in America taking proactive action.  Some military leaders began looking to the nations aero clubs for possible recruits.     


     The following article appeared in The Barre Daily Times, May 31, 1916.

Lieut. Peary In Northfield

North Pole Man To Assist In Forming Aero Club Of Vermont

     Admiral Robert E. Peary, the discoverer of the North Pole, who is now devoting his entire time to aeronautics and aviation, is to be the guest of major Wallace Batchelder, of the Aero Club of America, at Norwich University, Northfield, July 6, and will help perfect the organization of the Aero Club of Vermont, at that time and place.  Other distinguished officers and civilians will be present to help launch what promises to be one of the largest aero clubs in America.  All persons who desire to become charter members of the Aero Club of Vermont should make application before July 6 by letter addressed to Major Batchelder, Aero Club of America, 297 Madison Avenue, New York. 


     The following article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner on July 8, 1916.

Vermont Aero Club

John Hartness of Springfield Elected President

     Burlington, July 6. – The exercises attending the formation of the Aero Club of Vermont and the prominence of the speakers attracted a large crowd to Camp Governor Gates today.  The event presided over by James Hartness of Springfield.

     Gov. Charles W. Gates welcomed the distinguished visitors and commended the excellent showing made by the 1st Vermont regiment now on the Texas border.

     The principal speaker of the day was Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, who discussed the advisability of every state preparing an adequate aero service in connection with its national guard.

     Augustus C. Post, manager of the approaching military transcontinental aeroplane flight gave an interesting history of aviation in America.

     Those present had the opportunity to inspect the 1st Vermont Cavalry now being recruited at the state camp to war strength. 

     The following officers of the Aero Club of Vermont were elected:   

     President, James Hartness of Springfield; vice president, Adjt. Gen. Lee S. Tillotson; secretary, James P. Taylor of Burlington; treasurer H. R. Roberts, dean of Norwich University; governing board, Gov. Charles W. Gates of franklin, Col. Ira L. Reeves, commander of 1st Vermont Infantry, Maj. Wallace Batchelder, commanding 1st Vermont Cavalry, Clark C. Fitts of Brattleboro, Horace F. Graham of Craftsbury, Redfield Proctor of Proctor, W. A. Scofield and James P. Taylor of Burlington and James Hartness.    

     The crowd was somewhat disappointed that no aeroplanes or demonstrations were present.


     The following excerpt is from The Barre Daily Times, July 6, 1916.

     “The Aero Club of Vermont filed articles with headquarters at Burlington, and with the names of 147 signers attached, the leading name being James Hartness of Springfield.”


     The following article appeared in the Essex County Herald, November 17, 1916.

Annual Meeting Of Vermont Aero Club

     The first annual meeting of the Aero Club of Vermont will be held on the 27th at the Hotel Vermont.  The annual dinner of the Club will be at seven o’clock to be followed by addresses and the annual business meeting.  All citizens of Vermont interested in aeronautics are urged to be present.  Tickets for the dinner may be secured by application to James P. Taylor, Secretary, Stannard Memorial building, Burlington, Vermont.

Aero Club

     The Aero Club of Vermont came into existence to meet the peculiar needs of Vermont, both in respect to its economic development in times of peace and its complete military preparedness to meet any conditions arising out of disturbance of our peace.  The membership of the Club is made up of those who are interested in promoting Vermont’s aeronautical interests, and is not restricted to air pilots or those who, as passengers, make occasional trips in air craft.  There is a distinctive service which everyone can render to Vermont, either by becoming a member of the Club or by co-operating with Club members.

Landing Places 

     Vermont now needs landing places for the air craft.  In the present state of the art, flying in Vermont is unsafe unless one keeps within a short distance of a landing place.  The aeroplane must descend as soon as the engine fails, and although some engines can make a continuous run of several hours, it is still a matter of common experience to have the engine stop unexpectedly.  The descent under favorable conditions may be made at a downward pitch of one in eight.  hence if one is flying a mile high he can volplane a distance of eight miles.  But he never should be farther from a landing place than eight times his altitude.  This means that in order to make it possible to fly in safety through Vermont there should be a chain of landing places separated by a distance of not more than sixteen miles.  Of course, a wind blowing in any direction would change the matter favorably or otherwise.      

     It is highly desirable to get routes through Vermont in all directions, and the landing places should be even closer together than the sixteen miles.

     It is a very fascinating subject to follow.  The aero papers, such as the monthly publication “Flying” and the weekly “Aerial Age”, contain the latest information.  Both of these papers are published in New York City.  Membership in the Vermont Aero Club gives each one an opportunity to attend the meetings and other functions of the Club and get the pleasure that comes in cooperating in an effective way for the betterment of our state, town, and lives.

     There is no more inspiriting subject and surely very few can compare with it for great potency for future development.

     Joining the club gives us a practical opportunity to express our patriotism.  It may be infinitely small compared with the service rendered by those who enlisted in the National Guard, but nevertheless it is of great value.  If you wish to become a member send a letter to Mr. James P. Taylor, Secretary, Aero Club of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.  


     The following article appeared in The Brattleboro Daily Reformer on July 26, 1919. 

Rutland Men Favor Preparing Airport

James Hartness Of Springfield Addressed Business Men’s Association Previous To Vote

     Rutland, July 26, – There were two meetings of the Rutland Business Men’s Association in their rooms yesterday, a special meeting being called for yesterday afternoon at 3 o’clock to hear a talk by James Hartness, the Springfield manufacturer and inventor, president of the Vermont Aero Club and a licensed aviator, on the importance of towns establishing airports or landing places for aircraft.  Mr. Hartness is the recognized head of air interests in Vermont and has advocated the necessity of all towns having such landing places in consequence of the early establishment of regular air routes for the delivery of mail, small express and passengers.

     The resolution was offered by Dr. J. M. Hamilton placing the association on record in favor of procuring an airport here.


      In the spring 1919, James Hartness, President of the Aero Club of Vermont, purchased two adjoining farms in Springfield, Vermont for the sum of $4,800, and donated the land to the state to become Vermont’s first state airport – Hartness State Airport.  (Source: Brattleboro Daily Reformer, “Airplane Flies Over Town Today”, July 2, 1919.)  

     The following article appeared in The Barre Daily Times on September 15, 1919, page 8.  

Gov. Clement To James Hartness

     Governor P. W. Clement sent the following letter to James Hartness in appreciation to his gift of an aviation field to the village of Springfield.

     “Please accept my heartiest greetings on the occasion of the first commercial flight from one Vermont landing field to Vermont’s first municipal landing field, at Springfield.

     It is an exceptional pleasure that this message is to be borne by my townsman Lieut. John J. Lynch, to the president of the Vermont Aero Club and the state’s foremost advocate of aviation.  This is a pioneer event, and I wish the greatest success to Vermont’s progress in aviation.”

     “Percival W. Clement, Governor”


    James Hartness was elected Governor of Vermont in 1920, and served until 1923.  As Governor, he resigned his position as President of the Aero Club of Vermont. 

     It is unknown when the Aero Club of Vermont disbanded, but it is known to have been operating in the early 1920s.   

Tips For Researching A New England Military Plane Crash

Tips For Researching A New England

Military Plane Crash


New England Mountains

New England Mountains

      The idea for this article came about because from time to time I’ve been  contacted by people looking for information about family members lost in military aviation accidents, or local historians and veteran’s organizations hoping to find more details about WWII era military crashes that occurred in their area.     

     There have been literally thousands of military aviation accidents all across the United States going back to the early days of flight, however this article will focus on researching those that occurred in New England.   

     During World War II, army and naval air fields were established in all six New England states to be utilized for coastal defense, training of new pilots, and way stations for bomber crews arriving cross-country bound for Europe.  With a war on it seemed inevitable that accidents would happen – and they did -almost on a daily basis, which is the reason why the majority of New England’s military aircraft accidents occurred during World War II, (1941-1945).  However, there were also accidents that occurred during the post-war years up to the 1970s.    

     The word “accident” is appropriate, for there are no known combat related air crashes that occurred in New England.  Accidents occurred for various reasons including bad weather, mechanical failure, structural failure, unforeseen ground conditions, or human error.    

This water-filled crater in the woods of Charlestown, R.I., is where a navy Hellcat fighter crashed on May 14, 1944.

This water-filled crater in the woods of Charlestown, R.I., is where a navy Hellcat fighter crashed on May 14, 1944.

     Southern New England in particular has numerous World War II era wreck sites, although most are unrecognizable as such today.  Unlike the mountain-top crash sites of northern New England where remote locations made it necessary to leave the wreckage where it fell, those in the south are generally not as obvious, for once the sites were “cleaned” by the military, Mother Nature began to reclaim the land.  And some sites have been lost all together due to modern development.     


Getting Started

       The first place most people begin their research is with the Internet, but sometimes this leads to a dead end.  Now what?   Now you get to play detective, but where do you begin?  That all depends on how much information you have to start with.

     The following tips are offered as guidelines  to genealogists and historians although they may not apply in all cases.

   A genealogist researching a family member killed in a plane crash will likely have the person’s name and date of death, and probably a general location, such as the name of a town, or at least the state.   However, in other cases, a local historian may hear of a crash, “that happened sometime during World War II“, and is trying to learn more based vague recollections and scant information.  The historian will likely have a general location, but no names or date(s) to work with.  Therefore, each will have to begin their research in different ways.  

       The date of occurrence is necessary if one is looking for newspaper articles and official reports about the accident.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have the date, there’s no centralized government repository where such information is easily found.   

       To the genealogist; if you have a name to work with, but not the exact date or place of occurrence, try contacting the appropriate state agency responsible for keeping vital statistics, i.e. birth and death records.  This might be different for each state, so visiting a state’s government website should help in directing you to the proper office.  (Look under “vital statistics”.)   

     The state office/archives where vital statistics are kept should be able to provide the date and location of death, (city or town), as well as a copy of the death certificate if one is willing to pay for it. 

     Be aware that if the deceased was initially reported as “lost” or “missing”, and was never found, (Such as lost at sea.), the date of death might be listed as one-year-and-a-day after the date of the incident.  This is called a “presumption of death” which was generally issued 366 days after the fatal incident for widow’s benefits and estate settlement purposes.

    If the genealogist knows the name of the town in which the accident occurred, then they can contact the town hall directly, and the name of the deceased can be looked up in town death records, which will contain the date of occurrence and other helpful information.  Phone numbers for the town clerk’s office are usually posted on the town’s government website.   

     To the historian; if you don’t have any name(s) or dates to work with, as is often the case when getting third-hand information about a crash that occurred decades earlier, there are several other options to explore presuming you at least know the municipality in which the crash occurred. 

     The following are some suggestions to guide all researchers.

     1) Contact the local historical society. Even if the town doesn’t have one, a neighboring town might. If such is not the case, many towns have at least one “unofficial” town historian – someone who has taken it upon themselves to learn all they can about local history.  Finding that person could be as easy as calling the town hall, or speaking with the reference librarian at the local library.  

     2) Speak with the reference librarian at the local library.  Sometimes libraries have local history rooms, or at least history files that are available to researchers. These files can contain news clippings, photographs, and other helpful information.

     Ask the librarian about newspaper microfilm collections.  Many libraries have them, and some are quite extensive.  If the library doesn’t have one, ask the librarian if they know of another that might.  If the microfilm collection is indexed, then you can probably get the date of the crash from that, a well as copies of newspaper articles about the crash.  (More about newspaper articles later.)

     If the microfilm collection isn’t indexed, that’s alright.  Just knowing it’s there will be helpful later. 

     I was once using a microfilm viewer at a library when three youths came over to ask what kind of “computer” I was using.  For those too young to know, microfilm was a pre-Internet way of preserving and storing newspapers on small rolls of film.  The newspaper pages would be photographed in high resolution on transparent film to be viewed by researchers using special microfilm viewing machines.  Modern technology is gradually making these machines obsolete as more and more libraries digitize their collections.         

     3) Try contacting local veterans groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the American Legion Post. They may have a record of the incident, or perhaps photos or artifacts.  It’s also possible they held a memorial ceremony at some point.

     4) Speak with long-time residents.  You can try talking with long-time local residents to see what they might know or remember.  A senior center is a good place to start, but be warned, memory can be hazy when it comes to recalling incidents that occurred 50 to 70 years earlier.  

U.S. Army RB-34 U.S. Air Force Photo

U.S. Army RB-34
U.S. Air Force Photo

     In 2003 I researched a military crash that occurred in August of 1943.  Some people I spoke to were “positive” as to the type of aircraft involved.  One said it was a B-17, another, a B-25, still another, a B-26, and one was sure it was a P-38.  The downed plane later turned out to be an RB-34, the army’s version of the navy PV-1 Ventura.  

     As to the date of the crash, I was given several, ranging from 1939 to 1946, all of which were incorrect.      

     I further learned that the crash had taken on some local folklore.  It seems that after the volunteer fire department had extinguished the blaze, military officials arrived and made everyone leave the immediate area.  This was actually standard procedure done to protect the scene from souvenir hunters, as well as the public from any unexploded ordinance, or gruesome sights.  However, the local rumor mill at the time interpreted this to be some type of “cover up”, and as time went on rumor became “fact”.  It was said the plane had crashed because it was overloaded with bombs, and had been carrying top-secret military equipment, neither of which turned out to be true.         

     That’s not to say that those you speak with will provide useless information.  I found a woman who was 12-years-old at the time who saw the plane go into the hill.  She’d ridden her bicycle to the scene, and was able to recall quite vividly what she saw.   

     I also spoke with a former volunteer fireman who was too young for military service, but old enough to ride a fire truck who’d also been at the crash.

     If you’re lucky, you may find someone who happened to have a camera and took photos of the incident. 

     5) Visit the town hall.  Town halls and city halls have death records (under “vital statistics”) pertaining to anyone who has ever died within the municipality.  If you have the name of the pilot, or a crew member, someone in the town clerk’s office can look up the date of death for you.  If you don’t have a name, there are other ways to look up the information.

     Before going to the town hall, it’s advisable to familiarize yourself with the state’s “open records laws” pertaining to death records.  These can usually be downloaded from the state’s Secretary of State website. 

    There’s a difference between a “death certificate” and a “death record”, and you need to be clear about what you’re asking for.  Death certificates are official documents that people request certified copies of for various reasons; the probate of wills for example. (There is a fee for these.) “Death records” are generally kept in large, hard-bound, books with a canvas cover and leather spine.  These books will be marked “Death Records”, and will usually contain records for a designated number of years such as from 1920 – 1945.  I’ve found these books to be more or less universal from one town hall to the next, but in a couple of cases I’ve been to town halls that didn’t use them, and stored old records differently.    

      Researching the town’s death records without a name or date is difficult, but not impossible.  The “death record” books have an alphabetical name index used to look up the name of the deceased.  It tells the clerk which page in the book the record will be found.  However, names aside, in most cases all death records are entered in the book(s) in the sequential order in which they occurred, not by alphabetical order.  Therefore, if you know the year, or a specific time frame, using the book that contains the records from that year or time frame is the place to start.

     Here’s how it can be done.  Each death record entry lists a “cause of death”, i.e. heart attack, drowning, accident, etc.  Those involving a plane crash will state something to the effect of “massive trauma resulting from plane crash”, or “severe burns due to plane crash”.  Under “occupation” should be some reference to military service. Unless you’re dealing with a municipality located near an active or former military air base, chances are there will be very few military plane crash deaths listed. 

     Therefore, if you know the crash took place in a particular time frame, such as the summer of 1944, the clerk can skim through the pages for July and August looking at “cause of death” to find what you’re looking for.

     If you know the exact date of the incident, but don’t have any names, the incident could be looked up by the date alone because the death records are entered in the order of occurrence, and not by alphabetical order.  Therefore, looking up the records only requires opening the death record book to the page(s) that contain the entries for that date.  

     If more than one person was killed in the same plane crash, all names should be listed together in the book, either on the same page or the one following it, regardless of where they fall alphabetically on the name index.  An exception to this could be if one of the victims died days or weeks later due to their injuries. 

     Many New England towns were still “small towns” during the 1940s and 50s.  Therefore, there may not be very many death records to sort through to find what you’re looking for.  Unfortunately this is not true with larger municipalities.

    Some clerks may be under the impression that since it was a military plane crash, the deaths won’t be found in their records, but in the town hall records of the hometowns of where the servicemen came from.  In some cases this may be true as with “presumption of death” entries done for estate settlement purposes.  However, these are general cases where a body was never found.  Under most circumstances, any and all deaths that occur in a municipality are supposed to be recorded in that municipality where the death occurred. 

     Having said that, there could still be other exceptions.  For example, suppose a man is injured in Town A, and is transported to a hospital in Town B, where he dies.  Or he is pronounced “dead on arrival” at the hospital.  In either case, his death record is likely going to be found in Town B.     

     The information found in death records is helpful, for they not only give the exact date of the crash, they also contain the airman’s date of birth, marital status, and place of burial.  (More on that later.)

      6) Local police and fire departments. You could try seeking official reports or photographs from local fire and police departments, but generally such records no longer exist.  Most fire departments were volunteer organizations until the later half of the 20th century, and many small towns during the 1940s and 50s were policed by part-time officers or constables.  

      In many cases, municipal police and fire departments today are only required to keep records for seven years unless the case is still “active”, such as with an unsolved murder.        

     7) Aviation Museums. One can also contact regional aviation museums to see if they might have any information on the crash you’re investigating.  This is a long shot, but in one instance it paid off for me.   

Not all WWII aviation accidents involved fatalities.

Not all WWII aviation accidents involved fatalities.

     If the incident you’re investigating didn’t involve any fatalities then information about it will be harder to find.  Army and navy aircraft accidents were very common, especially during WWII.  Therefore, an accident that only involved the loss of an airplane may have escaped notice by the local media unless there were some unusual circumstances such as the plane landing on a house.  In cases where there were no fatalities involved, I’d suggest contacting websites that deal with military aviation accident reports.  (More on that later.)  

     Another idea is to try looking up squadron histories if the squadron number or designation is known.



So you have the date and place of occurrence, now what?

   In the woods 3  Once you have the date and location of the accident you can gather more information through sources that are mentioned in Section I.

   1) Newspaper microfilm collections at a library will hopefully provide details about the crash.  Unfortunately, in some cases they give extremely little information depending upon what else was going on with the war and locally at the time.  In other cases they weren’t reported at all.  This is more likely if the paper was a weekly instead of a daily.

     Newspaper articles may provide the type of aircraft involved, but  when the press wasn’t sure, sometimes the aircraft would be described as a “navy fighter plane”, or an “army bomber-type aircraft”, which isn’t much help to the researcher other than to give the branch of service it belonged to.

     Sometimes names of the deceased weren’t mentioned in the press because they were withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.  However, by knowing the date of occurrence, the names can be looked up in municipal death records.  

     In other instances, to save space, the reporter may have only used first and middle initials.  Again, full names can be determined through death records.  

    If you do locate an article about the crash, remember that follow-up articles may have appeared in the same paper over the next few days.  

    If other newspaper microfilm collections exist at other libraries, see if they reported different accounts of the crash.  You might be surprised to see how one newspaper covered the event in far more detail than another.   

     2) Getting back to municipal death records.  One piece of information they contain is the place of burial, which is generally in or near the person’s hometown.  Since many airmen weren’t from New England, the press may not have included much personal information about them, such as where they went to school, what organizations they belonged to, what they did prior to the war, etc. That information will likely be found in their hometown newspapers. 

     3) Getting back to reference librarians – or you could do this next part on your own. 

     The reference librarian can contact a library in the deceased’s home town and ask them to look in their microfilm collection for any articles pertaining to the person, and any follow-up articles about the funeral.  Such articles might contain a photo of the deceased.  



Obtaining A Copy Of The Official Investigation Report   

Wreckage from a navy aircraft in the woods of Connecticut.

Wreckage from a navy aircraft in the woods of Connecticut.

     Newspaper articles might only tell part of the story – the part that the military deemed appropriate due to wartime or military secrecy.  If you want to learn more then you may want to obtain a copy of the official crash investigation report.

     Every WWII military aircraft accident was investigated and a report of the official findings was filed.  Until about twenty years ago, those reports remained classified and unavailable to the press or public.  Today, reports up to the mid 1950s are available through the Freedom of Information Act, and through websites that sell microfilm copies of such reports.  Search under “Military Aviation Archeology”, “Aviation Archeology”, or “Military Aviation Accident Reports”.  (I’m not at liberty to endorse one website over another.)

     The cost of a report depends on the number of pages, and whether or not there are photos that go with it.  I’ve seen reports that have over 100 pages, and others that have as few as 2. 

     Information found in these reports may or may not contain information about the aircraft, copies of maintenance records, witness statements, the investigation committee’s findings as to the cause of the crash, recommendations pertaining to any discipline, and ways to prevent future occurrences.  Each circumstance is different.



Establishing A Memorial

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the service of their country at Charlestown (RI) Aux. Landing Field

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the service of their country at Charlestown (RI) Aux. Landing Field

     After researching the crash, you may want to erect some type of memorial honoring the men who lost their lives so their sacrifice won’t be forgotten.  This is a noble cause, but there’s a lot to consider before getting started. 

     First there are some basic questions you need to ask yourself. 

     1) Would the memorial be placed at the site of the crash where only a few might see it, or in a public park, or other location where everyone can see it?  Be aware that private property owners may not want a memorial on their land for various reasons.  

     2) What permissions or municipal permits would need to be obtained? 

     3) How big should the memorial be, and what materials would be used?

     4) What is the projected cost, and how will the money be raised?

     5) Who will do the work?    

     6) Does the town already have a WWII memorial, and if so, can the names of those killed in the crash be added?

     With a project of this type y0u should solicit the help of people who can get things done on a municipal level. Contacting local veterans groups, civic organizations, and politicians can be a good place to start. 

     Newspapers and magazines can be helpful with publicity by writing stories about the project. 

     Good luck with your research.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact this website. 




West Lynn Flying Club – Lynn, Mass.

The West Lynn Flying Club Inc.

     The West Lynn Flying Club Inc. was a private non-profit organization established in November of 1946 with seven founding members , all of whom worked for General Electric in Lynn, Massachusetts.  The club later formally incorporated in April of 1947.

     The founding members included: Rene Michaud, Preston J. Ultcht, John J. Groncki,  Zereh Martin, Howard Meserve, Ed Philpot, and George Kenny.    Mr. Ultcht was a former B-17 bomber pilot who flew 29 missions during WWII.  Michaud and Philpot were both experienced navy pilots.    

     Other members later included Francis Davenport, and Robert C. Fisher.  Dues were as low as 50 cents per week, and membership was open to anybody with an interest in flying.     

     The club owned its own airplane, a Boeing N2S-4 tw0-seat biplane built in 1944 that was formerly used by the U. S. Navy to train cadet pilots during World War II.  It was purchased as government surplus in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then flown to Massachusetts.  

     The civil registration number for the aircraft was 38015.   

     At some point in time between 1949 and 1952 this aircraft was loaned or rented to an unknown pilot who subsequently wrecked it while attempting to land on a farm to ask directions.  Further details and the location of the accident are unknown.

     Information about this club was sent to New England Aviation History by the daughter of one of the club’s founding members.  She is seeking information relating to the above mentioned accident.  Anyone with any information is asked to contact New England Aviation History.   


     General Electric News Letter, “Local Flying Club Boasts Of Seven West Lynn Members”, January, 1948 

     Lynn Daily Evening Item, “GE Flying Enthusiasts Seek To Expand Club”, July 2, 1948. 

Eastern Aircraft Corporation – Pawtucket, R. I.

Eastern Aircraft Corporation

Pawtucket, Rhode Island 

     The Eastern Aircraft Corporation was located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in a building that is still standing as of this writing, at an address of 1 Campbell Street.  The building is located several blocks from the former site of the What Cheer Airport, which was located between Manton Street, Newport Avenue, and Beverage Hill Avenue.   

     In August of 1929, Eastern Aircraft’s president, Raymond C. Van Arsdale,  announced that the company would begin immediate production of Messerschmidt airplanes in partnership with the Bavarian Aircraft Corporation in Germany. 

     Many aircraft of this era were still being produced with doped-canvas “skins”, but the Messerschmidts were to be all-metal, and would be produced in three models: a three-passenger cabin plane, a seven-passenger aircraft, and a small training airplane.  Each was to be produced under the direct supervision of German engineers who would be sent from the Bavarian plant to oversee production. 

     Although the aircraft were being produced for a German market, they would still have to meet United States Department of Commerce aeronautical specifications. 

    The announcement came less than three months before the U.S. stock market crash of October 29, 1929, which pushed the United States into the Great Depression.  Many businesses went bankrupt as a result, Eastern Aircraft being one of them.  It is therefore unknown if any aircraft were ever completed/built in Pawtucket.


     The Woonsocket Call, (R.I.), “Pawtucket Firm To Manufacture German Planes”, August 5, 1929            

Bourdon Aircraft Company

Bourdon Aircraft Company

Warwick, Rhode Island


    1920s-plane-in-clouds The Bourdon Aircraft Company was incorporated in Rhode Island on February 6, 1928, by Allan P. Bourdon. The company initially began production in the former Gallaudet Aircraft factory in the Chepiwanoxet part of Warwick, but moved shortly afterwards to a former textile mill in the Hillsgrove portion of the city.

     Bourdon Aircraft was known for production of the two-passenger “Kittyhawk” bi-plane, said to “Fly like a hawk, and land like a kitten.” Powered by a 7-cylinder Siemans-Halske motor, it was 22 ft. 6 in. long, and had a 28 ft. wingspan. The aircraft was designed by Bourdon’s engineer, Franklin Kurt.

     The name “Kittyhawk” was bestowed on the aircraft because of the Wright Brothers flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

     The company finished it first airplane in May of 1928.

     On May 18, Allan Bourdon flew his Kittyhawk from Buttonwoods Airport in Warwick to Boston for its first long distance flight, which took a total of 32 minutes to complete.  After being inspected by Assistant Secretary MacCracken of the U.S. Department of Commerce Aviation Division, the plane returned to Buttonwoods.

     By January of 1929, the Bourdon Aircraft Company had produced eight Kittyhawk airplanes.  It was reported that the company intended to begin producing one airplane a week beginning in March of that year, some of which would be equipped with pontoons for water take-offs and landings. Unfortunately the production goal did not materialize, and a total of only thirteen Kittyhawks were built in Rhode Island.    

     On April 3, 1929, it was announced that the U. S. Department of Commerce had granted the Bourdon Aircraft Company certificate number 134, signifying that their aircraft had met the standards of the D.O.C. regarding their ability to perform well in many kinds of flying conditions.  

     On October 16, 1929, it was announced that the Bourdon Aircraft Company would be merging with the Viking Flying Boat Company of New Haven, Connecticut, and by the end of the month production would be moved to New Haven.  The announcement came just thirteen days before the great stock market crash of 1929.

     In 1931, the Viking Flying Boat Company was acquired by Stearman-Varney Inc. which continued aircraft production in New Haven until 1936.


The Providence Journal, “Bourdon Biplane Flies To Boston”, May 19, 1928

The Providence Journal, “Builder Of Planes Hits R. I. Apathy”, January 22, 1929

The Providence Journal, “Kitty Hawk Airplane Wins Official Sanction”, April 4, 1929

The Providence Journal, “Bourdon Aircraft Company Merged; To Leave State”, October 17, 1929.

(Magazine) Aeronautical Industry – Vol. 8, page 58, “Air Transportation”, “Bourdon Kittyhawk Designed For Radial Engine, Standardizes On Siemens Yankee”, by J. E. Bullard, August 3, 1929

(Book) American Flying Boats And Amphibious Aircraft; An Illustrated History, By E. R. Johnson, McFarland & Co. Inc. Publishers, Copyright 2009

Inter-continental Aviation Meet – 1910

Inter-continental Aviation Meet – September 3, 1910


     The following newspaper article, dated September 3, 1910,  appeared in the Arizona Republican (Phoenix, Arizona).  Atlantic, Massachusetts, is a village in the town of Quincy, Massachusetts, near Boston.  Apparently there was at least once crash at the meet. 

An Inter-Continental Aviation Meet


The Initial Performance at Atlantic, Massachusetts

     Atlantic, Mass. Sept. 3 – Daring aviators of two continents met at the new Harvard aviation field at Atlantic today on the opening of the Harvard-Boston aero meet which will be continued through the next ten days.

     In a three-mile breeze, Wright’s new model biplane, with the front control removed and placed at the rear, was taken out by Ralph Johnstone. Walter Brookins, in the standard Wright machine, followed, and then came Charles F. Willard in a Curtiss biplane.  Claude Graham White, in his Farnam biplane, and Clifford B. Harmon also flew.  One of the wheels of Harmon’s biplane sank into the soft dirt on the getaway, making the machine unsteady , and from a height of forty feet it fell into a marsh and was wrecked.  Harmon escaped injury.

     A drizzling rain fell during all of the afternoon, and the crowds were leaving when Graham White came out a second time in his Bleriot for what proved to be a sensational flight.  In a three-lap flight, Mr. White did a five and a quarter miles in six minutes, five seconds, the best speed of the day.

     Curtiss came out at 6:30 p.m. for some practice flights in his own racing machine  closing the day’s events.        


Comment On The Future Of Air Travel – 1906

Comment On The Future Of Air Travel – 1906

     While aviation accidents and fatalities connected to balloon travel had already occurred at the time this was published, the first airplane fatality was still in the future.  The first person to perish in a powered airplane accident was Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge on September 17, 1908. 

Click on image to enlarge.


The Rising Sun Kansas City, Mo. August 30, 1906

The Rising Sun
Kansas City, Mo.
August 30, 1906

Transatlantic Air Traffic Prediction – 1913

Transatlantic Air Traffic Prediction – 1913

The following article appeared in the Essex County Herald, July 18, 1913.

Click on image to enlarge.

Trans Atlantic Air Traffic 

Connecticut’s Airship Service Station – 1920

Connecticut’s Airship Service Station – 1920

The following article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin, March 2, 1920, Pg. 1.

Click on image to enlarge.

Insured airship newspaper


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