Brainard Field, CT. – January 31, 1970

Brainard Field, Hartford, Connecticut – January 31, 1970

     On January 31, 1970, two single-engine private aircraft collided in mid-air over Brainard Air Field in Hartford.  Each plane, one a Piper Cherokee, the other a Piper Arrow, carried two people; all four were killed in the accident.  

     The Cherokee, containing a pilot-instructor and his student, fell into the Connecticut River, while the Arrow, containing two men from Ridgefield, Ct., crashed into a wooded section of the neighboring town of East Hartford.  It was not stated who was piloting either aircraft.

     According to witness reports, one aircraft was approaching from the south while the other from the west, each at an altitude of about 2,000 feet.  Then both went into a banking turn at the same time and collided at a 45 degree angle directly over the field.  It was not specified which plane struck the other.    

     Source:

     Providence Journal, “Four Die In Collision Of Two Light Planes”, February 1, 1970. (With photo)

The Aerial Construction Company Of Hartford – 1911

The Aerial Construction Company Of Hartford – 1911

     The Aerial Construction Company of Hartford, Connecticut, was established in September of 1911 for the purpose of building a commercial airship of German design that could carry passengers.  The business office was located at 212 Asylum Street, Room 10, in Hartford.

     The company started with $50,000 in capital.

     The officers of the company were listed as: President, F. W. Dart; Vice-President, F. W. Stickle; Treasurer, F. C. Billings; Secretary, H. Franklin Wells; managing Director, Joseph K. Kopacka, all of Hartford.

     The company’s Chief Engineer was listed as John Twardus of Germany, who was known for his work in aeronautics.   

     The company announced plans to begin construction of its first airship, to be named “The Hartford Flyer”, as soon as possible.  The Hartford Flyer  would have a 135 foot long cigar-shaped gas-bag with a car situated underneath capable of carrying seven passengers and a pilot. The ship would be powered by a 75 h.p. motor capable of driving it through the air at forty to fifty miles per hour.

     It is unknown if this airship was completed.  

     Source:

     Hartford Courant, “A New Commercial Airship”, September 19, 1911

Hartford, CT. – November 12, 1922

Hartford, Connecticut – November 12, 1922

Brainard Field

     On the afternoon of November 12, 1922, U. S. Army First Lieutenant John E. Blaney was piloting a DeHaviland biplane at the Hartford Air Meet, where he was taking part in a three-plane relay race.  At the end of his third lap around the course, he was expected to land at a designated mark on the ground near the finish line where another plane was waiting to take off and continue the race.   Lieutenant Blaney was flying low as he approached the mark at an estimated 140 mph.  Without warning, his aircraft clipped the top of a tree at the southern end of the field.  This caused him to lose control and crash into the ground where the plane exploded into a massive fireball killing him instantly. 

     The accident was witnessed by an estimated 20,000 people, many of whom made a rush towards the site of the crash, but police and other military personnel held them at bay.      

     Lt. Blaney was an experienced pilot who had served overseas during WWI.  At the time of his death he was assigned to the 5th Observation Squadron based at Mitchell Field at Mineola, Long Island, New York. 

     He was survived by his wife.

     Lieutenant Blaney is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Sutton, Nebraska.  To see a photo of his grave, and to read more about him, see www.findagrave.com, memorial #521232387.

     Source:

     Hartford Courant, (Conn.), “20,000 Watch Airman Swoop To His death At Brainard Field.”, November 13, 1922.  

Professor Charles F. Ritchel’s Flying Machine – 1878

Professor Charles F. Ritchel’s Flying Machine – 1878

     Charles Francis Ritchel was born in Portland, Maine, on December 22, 1844, and died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on January 21, 1911.  (At times his last name has been misspelled in the press as “Ritchell”, (two “ls”), and as “Richel”.)

     Professor Ritchel was a talented inventor with many patients to his credit.  Around 1870 he became interested in developing a flying machine that could travel the sky in any direction despite wind currents.  In Ritchel’s day, the only way to “fly” was in a balloon, but balloons were at the mercy of prevailing winds, updrafts, and down drafts, and in places like New England the possibility of being blown out to sea was certainly a concern.

     In November of 1876 Ritchel moved from Corry, Pennsylvania, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to begin development of his flying machine. 

    By March of 1878 his first airship was nearing completion.  (It is said he eventually built five.) The final work was being done in the large hallway of the Riverside Hotel in East Bridgeport, and the project had reportedly caught the attention of famous circus owner and showman, P.T. Barnum. 

     Ritchel’s flying machine was of a dirigible type, with propellers that controlled upward and downward motion, and allowed for steering in the air.  The machine had no motors, and motion of the propellers was achieved by the pilot operating a series of cranks and levers utilizing his own muscle power.  The gas cylinder or envelope was described as being made of black silk, 24 feet long, and 12 feet in diameter, holding 3,000 square feet of gas.     

     By the spring of 1878 he’d completed construction, and on May 8th, gave a successful indoor exhibition of his new invention in one of the Centennial Exposition buildings in Philadelphia.    

      On May 25, 1878, a Maryland newspaper, The Democratic Advocate, had this to say: “After Edison’s speaking phonograph, what then?  Why Professor Ritchel’s wonderful flying machine, in Philadelphia, which sails gracefully through the Exhibition building, up, down, or whichever way you will, applauded by a large crowd of visitors.  A little while and the air ship will glide gracefully through the atmosphere at the rate of sixty miles an hour. We may then strike a bee line over mountains, rivers and oceans, for any desirable point, leaving such lumbering things as railroads and steamers, with the “slow coach” of the period before steam and railroads put them out of use.”       

     After Philadelphia, Ritchel exhibited his flying machine at a hall in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Among those invited to attend were members of the Franklin Institute, and others of the scientific community.   

     The following newspaper account relating to the Bridgeport exhibition is from The Charlotte Democrat, dated June 14, 1878.

   New Flying Machine 

      “Unlike many aerial machines, this one is not shaped like a bird, nor has it any wings.  It consists of a large bag of cylindrical form inflated with hydrogen, and a car provided with attachment designed to control the elevation and descent of the bag and to direct its course.  The bag is 24 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, and requires 3,000 feet of gas for its inflation. The rising and steering apparatus underneath has a framework made of brass tubing, and is provided with a seat for the passenger.  Directly in front of the seat is a crank which he turns to produce the power that puts in motion two small fans that can be operated singly or together.  The elevating fan has five blades, set spirally, and can be made to rotate at the rate of 3,000 revolutions per minute.  This fan furnishes, or is intended to furnish, the lifting power which constitutes the novelty and value of the invention, and by reversing the motion depresses the air ship on the same principle as it raises it.  At the end of the framework of the car, some 10 or 12 feet distant from the passenger, is another similar fan, which works at an angle with the air ship, and is designed to turn it any direction desired.  It may be stated that both fans work in the air on the same principle that the Fowler steering and propelling apparatus works in the water.  The exhibition was given in a large hall, a boy operating the cranks.  The boy commenced to turn the crank, the fan whizzed fiercely, and the bag rose three or four feet from the floor.  It refused to go any higher, however, but after ascending slightly sank back toward the floor at each trial.  Then the steering fan was set in motion, with about the same degree of success. The attendants ascribing the partial failure of the experiments to the boy who engineered the machine, another boy was substituted. He succeeded considerably better than the first, elevating the bag to the ceiling several times, and had turned it about half way around with the steering fan when two of the blades broke.  The experiment led to the opinion that, with some changes in the fan, the machine might be made to perform as intended.  As is well known, one great difficulty in balloon navigation is that the aeronaut is dependent for his elevation on the buoyancy of the balloon alone; another is that its course is dependent on the direction of the wind.  Mr. Ritchell thinks that his apparatus can be made to overcome both these difficulties. – Iron Age.”       

     It’s likely that the Bridgeport exhibition described above occurred early in the month of June, or even late May, given the publication date of  June 14, 1878 in a southern newspaper.   

     Apparently any problems with the propellers were corrected, for on June 29, 1878, the Scientific American reported that Ritchel’s invention had made a successful open-air trail flight in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 12th.  The Scientific American reported in part: “The first open air exhibition of Professor C. F. Ritchel’s flying machine was conducted at Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday afternoon, June 12.” (1878)    

     A large crowd had watched as the air ship ascended from a ball field near the Colt Armory and attain an altitude of 250 feet before sailing off over the Connecticut River.  It was reported that the pilot demonstrated that he could control the height and direction of the aircraft at will.   

     One account of the historic flight was recounted in the Marshall County Republican, on July 18, 1878.  

     The article stated in part:

     “When he ascended there was but little wind blowing, and the machine appeared under perfect control, but gradually a breeze sprang up, and it was deemed safest to make a speedy return, as there were indications in the sky of a gathering storm.  The machine turned and made its way back in the teeth of the wind until it was directly over the ball ground it had ascended from and there alighted only a few feet from the place of its departure.”

     As a point of fact, Professor Ritchel’s flying machine made two flights at Hartford – the second on the following day, June 13th.  

     The Marshall County Republican article continued:

     “On the second trial, some time was spent in getting the weight and lifting power so neatly balanced as to show that the machine had a lifting power of its own.  When this had been effected to Prof. Ritchel’s satisfaction, the apparatus rested quietly upon the grass, but could be lifted or set back with a light pressure of a finger.  When the word was given to “Go!” the operator, Quinlan, weighing 96 pounds, began turning the wheel, the horizontal fan revolved with a noise like a buzz saw, and the machine darted up almost vertically to a height of about two hundred feet.  There a strong, steady wind setting toward the southwest was encountered, and the machine was swept broadside on to the spectators. Then the operator was seen throwing his vertical fan into gear, and by it said the aerial ship turned around, pointing its head in whatever direction he chose to have it.  All this was the work of a few seconds.  Although Quinlan could move the apparatus about, he could not make any headway against the strong wind. “

     (“The operator, Quinlan”, referred to in the above passage was Mark Quinlan, who reportedly weighed less than 100 pounds.)  

     The wind pushed the machine towards the town of New Haven and observers lost sight of it after it went over a hill.  After struggling in the wind for about an hour, Quinlan landed in Newington, Connecticut, and waited until the winds died down before taking off again and returning to Hartford at 10 p.m. 

     From Hartford, the professor brought his machine to Boston where on July 4, 1878, he flew it for one hour and twenty minutes in a wind that was blowing 18 to 20 miles per hour.  A few days later on July 13th, an illustration of Ritchel in his flying machine appeared on the cover of Harpers Weekly magazine. 

    In September of 1878 Ritchell again brought his invention to Boston, and this time exhibited it inside the Tremont Temple.  A reporter wrote the following as he described the scene: “A strong light in front of a large reflector in the gallery made the hall lighter that I had ever seen it, and threw upon the wall the shadow of the machine, making a most uncanny picture.” 

      The flying machine was described in the newspapers as being “a frame of brass tubes and nickel plated pipes and rods, shaped something like a boat, and is hung to a tube which is supported beneath a huge cylindrical bag, twenty-five feet long, and some ten or twelve (feet) in diameter.”  It also contained a series of gears, shifts, and clutches, which made it “as pretty as a watch.” 

     “The machine is certainly a success,” the article stated, “but if it were not it would still be worth looking at and admiring for its beauty, and for the singular ingenuity displayed in planning and building it.”

     The gas bag was said to be made of rubber coated “zephyr cloth” capable of holding 2,200 square feet of hydrogen gas.  This contradicted earlier reports that the dirigible held 3,000 square feet of gas, but this may have been a different, or improved gas bag. 

     The machine could navigate the air by two sets of multi-blade fans, one positioned under the pilot’s seat to raise or lower the craft, and the second at the front of the aircraft to propel it forward or backwards or steer in one direction or another. 

     The fans were reportedly made of white Holly, each blade having about 50 square inches of surface, and capable of making 2,000 to 2,800 revolutions per minute.  The fans were powered by the operator manually turning hand-cranks and steering with his feet, without the aid of any mechanical engine. 

     As to speed performance, the article stated, “The best speed yet attained is ten miles in thirty minutes with the wind, but in a calm, seven miles an hour is as much as can be doe comfortable. Direct progress cannot be made against a wind more than seven miles an hour, but by tacking he had made four miles in less than two hours.” 

     The total weight of the machine, not counting the operator, was said to be 115 pounds.         

     The following year Professor Ritchell apparently constructed another flying machine as evidenced by the following newspaper article that appeared in the Helena Weekly Herald, on July 24, 1879. (Originally published in the New Haven Paladium)

     A New Flying Machine

     “Professor C. F. Ritchell of Bridgeport is constructing a flying machine which he is to use at Coney Island.  The India-rubber gas cylinder is being made at the Naugatuck glove shop.  This is slightly elliptical in shape, is forty-five feet three inches length, and about forty-three feet in circumference.  The cylinder is to be inflated with hydrogen gas and will have a sustaining capacity adequate to support the machinery necessary to operate the car, and two med additional , lacking about one pound weight.  The whole structure is thus almost upon a poise.  Still it will not rise except by operating the paddles or “rings” necessary for that purpose.  Its propelling agencies are so nicely constructed that the car may be raised or lowered, moved forward or backward, propelled in a circle, at the will of the operator. It is a very ingenious affair throughout and throws other machines of the sort into the background.”

     What is significant about Professor Ritchel’s invention is that it worked, and his flying machine demonstration in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 12, 1878, was said to be the first successful dirigible flight ever achieved in the state.  However, within a few years Professor Ritchel’s accomplishment was apparently forgotten, for a small news item that appeared in The Sun, (a New York newspaper) in 1909 stated the following: “Capt. Thomas S. Baldwin, an aeronaut, furnished Norwich with a new sensation this afternoon when he flew five miles in his dirigible balloon.  It was the first dirigible that ever flew over the state of Connecticut.” 

     Professor Charles F. Ritchel is buried in Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, Plot 46A, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  

     Sources:

     Scientific American, June 29, 1878, page 405      

     Helena Weekly Herald, (Helena, Mont.) “A New Flying Machine”, July 24, 1879

     The Anderson Intelligencer, (South Carolina), “Navigation In The Air”, March 28, 1878

     The Democratic Advocate, (Westminster, Md.), (No headline) May 25, 1878.  

     The Charlotte Democrat, (Charlotte, N.C.) “New Flying Machine”, June 14, 1878

     The Canton Advocate, ( Canton S.D.) “A Flying Machine”, June 18, 1878

     Marshall County Republican, (Plymouth, Ind.) “A Successful Flying Machine”, July 18, 1878

     The Home Journal, (Winchester, Tenn.) general items, August 1, 1878

     The Vancouver Independent, (Vancouver, Washington) “The New Flying Machine”, September 12, 1878

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Taft On Freedom’s Growth” (His visit to Norwich), July 6, 1909, page 2

     Book- “High Frontier: A History Of Aeronautics In Pennsylvania”, by William F. Trimble, University Of Pittsburgh Press, Copyright 1982  

     Wikipedia – Prof. Charles F. Ritchel

     www.findagrave.com, Memorial # 147446540

Hartford, CT – October 2, 1920

Hartford, Connecticut – October 2, 1920

Updated January 27, 2016

     Hartford-Brainard Airport is a small airport south of downtown Hartford, and should not be confused with Bradley International Airport, which is in Windsor Locks.  

    Brainard Airport was established in 1921 because of a tragic accident which took the lives of two naval officers.  On October 2, 1920, the two officers, (Pilot) Lt. Arthur C. Wagner, and Lt. Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., flew from Mineola, N.Y. and landed in an open area of the Hartford Club golf course because in 1920 airfields were few and far between.  They had come to Connecticut to meet with other military personnel.  

     Late in the afternoon they attempted to take off and return to New York, but as the plane began to rise the engine suddenly lost power and they crashed into a grove of trees.  Almost immediately the plane burst into flame.    Lt. Wagner was pinned in the wreckage, but  Lt. Cmdr. Corry had been thrown clear.  Yet despite his injuries, Corry returned to the flaming wreck and tried to rescue the pilot.  Two civilians who’d witnessed the crash, Walter E. Batterson, and Martin Keane, ran to his assistance, and together they pulled Wagner free and carried him a safe distance away.  

     Lt. Wagner was transported to an area hospital and died of his injuries later that night.  Lt. Cmdr. Corry was also badly burned in the rescue attempt, and died four days later on October 6th.  Both civilians also suffered burns, but they recovered.

     For his efforts, Corry was awarded the Medal of Honor (Posthumously).  Corry Airfield in Florida was later named in his honor in 1923.  Three U.S. Navy destroyers were also named in his honor, one in 1921, the next in 1941, and the third in 1945.

     Due to this horrific accident, Brainard Airport was established to provide aviators with a safe place to land and take off, without having to look for random open spaces to set down.  The airport was named for Mayor Newton C. Brainard.

     Lt. Cmdr. Corry is buried in Eastern Cemetery in Quincy, Florida.  He was born October 5, 1889, and died just one day after his 31st birthday. To see a photo of Lt. Cmdr. Corry and his grave, go to www.findagrave.com and see memorial #7134215. 

     Sources:

     Meriden Morning Record, “One Aviator Killed In Hartford When Airplane Crashed To Earth”, October 4, 1920

     Hartford Courant, “Naval Flier Burned To death, Companion Badly Injured As Plane Crashes At Golf Club”, October 4, 1920

     Hartford Courant, “Airshow To Honor Brainard Airport’s 75 Years”, July 19, 1996 

     Congressional Medal Of Honor Society

     Wikipedia – Lt. Cmdr. William Merrill Cory, Jr.  

     www.findagrave.com

  

 

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