Quonset Point, R. I. – May 6, 1948

Quonset Point, Rhode Island – May 6, 1948

     On May 6, 1948, a flight of U. S. Navy Phantom fighter-jets left the Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a training flight to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saipan operating fifty miles off the coast of New England.  All aircraft were part of Fighter Squadron 17, (VF-17), stationed at Quonset Point. 

     Later in the day the aircraft took off from the Saipan and returned to Quonset.  As the aircraft were passing over Narragansett Bay approaching Quonset Point, one of the jets, (Bu. No. 111787), was seen to suddenly turn upside down as its tail section broke away.  The aircraft then dove into the water about 500 feet off the Quonset runway.   The pilot, Commander Ralph A. Fuoss, (33), did not survive. 

     When the tail section to Commander Fuoss’ aircraft broke away, it struck the wing of another jet, Bu. No. 111796.  That aircraft landed safely.        

     Commander Fuoss was a combat veteran of World War II, and had been stationed at Quonset Point since September of 1947.  He’s buried in Logan Valley Cemetery in Bellwood, Penn.  To view a photo of Commander Fuoss click here:  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/9911747/ralph-albert-fuoss 


     The Nashua Telegraph, “Jet Plane Pilot Loses Life When Plane Hits Water”, May 7, 1948, page 10. 


Narragansett Bay – November 17, 1955

Narragansett Bay – November 17, 1955


Douglas Skyraider
U. S. Navy Photo

     On November 17, 1955, an AD-5W Skyraider, (Bu. No. 132729), was approaching runway 23 at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station when it crashed into Narragansett Bay 900 feet short of the runway.  The pilot was reportedly uninjured. 

     The pilot was assigned to VC-12 Squadron. 


     Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.), “Naval Pilot Rescued From Crash In Bay”, November 18, 1955, page A-22. 

Narragansett Bay – November 15, 1951

Narragansett Bay – November 15, 1951


Douglas Skyraider
U. S. Navy Photo

   On November 15, 1951, a navy AD-4 Skyraider, (Bu. No. 124077), took off from Runway 23 at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a routine training flight.  Shortly after becoming airborne the engine lost power and the aircraft went down in the waters of Narragansett Bay about a mile from the end of the runway.  The pilot was rescued and the aircraft recovered. 

     The aircraft was assigned to VC-12 stationed at Quonset Point. 

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report dated November 15, 1951    

Narragansett Bay – December 29, 1951

Narragansett Bay, R. I. – December 29, 1951


Douglas Skyraider
U. S. Navy Photo

     Just before 6 p.m. on the evening of December 29, 1951, Ensign Roy C. Pickler took off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in an AD-3 Skyraider aircraft, (Bu. No. 122844), for a night training flight that would involve night touch-and-go landings at the Quonset airfield.   Once airborne, Pickler was directed to join three other aircraft already in the air, and all four aircraft were put in a holding pattern to await further instructions.   About fifteen minutes later the aircraft were directed to a lower altitude, and shortly afterward it was noted that one aircraft had disappeared. 

     A red emergency flare was then spotted in the water and two crash-rescue boats were dispatched.  Ensign Pickler was recovered from the water unconscious, about a half-mile southeast of the Quonset pier.  All efforts to revive him failed.   

     Ensign Pickler was assigned to VC-12 stationed at Quonset Point. 

     Source: U. S. Navy Accident Report dated December 29, 1951. 

Narragansett Bay – November 15, 1948

Narragansett Bay – November 15, 1948


TBM-3E Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On November 15, 1948, a navy TBM-3E, (Bu. No. 86282), was making practice touch-and-go landings at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  After making a successful landing the pilot took off again, but as the aircraft was gaining altitude the engine lost power and the plane went down in Narragansett Bay.   The pilot was rescued, but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.   

     The aircraft was assigned to VC-12.

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report dated November 15, 1948.  

Narragansett Bay – August 12, 1948

Narragansett Bay – August 12, 1948


TBM-3E Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On August 12, 1948, a pilot was to take part in a practice take-offs and landings training exercise at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  The pilot took of in a TBM-3E Avenger, (Bu. No. 53502), and went out over Narragansett Bay.  At an altitude of 600 feet he began a slow right turn and as he was doing so lost visibility and went to instruments.  Before corrections could be made the aircraft crashed into the bay.  The pilot was rescued, but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.  

     The aircraft was assigned to VA-75.

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report dated August 12, 1948.


Narragansett Bay – August 9, 1948

Narragansett Bay – August 9, 1948


TBM-3E Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

      On August 9, 1948, a navy TBM-3E, (Bu. No. 63795), was engaged in making practice touch-and-go landings at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station, when the aircraft lost power and went down in Narragansett Bay.  The aircraft sank and was later determined to be damaged beyond repair.  The pilot escaped, and was rescued by a Quonset crash boat.  Nobody else was aboard the aircraft at the time of the accident.   

     The aircraft was assigned to VA-75.

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report dated August 9, 1948.  

Narragansett Bay – January 10, 1946

Narragansett Bay – January 10, 1946


U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger
U.S. Navy Photo

    On January 10, 1946, Ensign John F. Grady took off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in a TBM-3E Avenger, (Bu. No. 53798), for a test flight of the aircraft.  The flight was normal and without incident until Ensign Grady was making his final approach to land.  As he was approaching the runway from the direction of Narragansett Bay the aircraft suddenly lost all power.  Grady attempted to restore power by using the primer and emergency fuel pump, but was unsuccessful, and was forced to make an emergency water landing in Narragansett Bay.  The plane sank within two minutes, but Grady was uninjured, and was quickly rescued by a crash boat. 

     The aircraft was later recovered.   

     The cause of the accident was determined to be mechanical, with no blame assessed to the pilot.   


     U. S. Navy Accident report dated January 10, 1946. 

Quonset Point, R. I. – February 2, 1951

Quonset Point, R. I. – February 2, 1951


F4U Corsair
US Navy Photo

     On February 2, 1951, a navy  F4U-4 Corsair, (Bu. No. 97163), took off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a test flight after having received a major overhaul.  Fifty-four minutes into the flight, while at 4,000 feet over Newport, R.I., the engine began to run erratically, and the pilot radioed that he had and emergency and requested clearance back to Quonset.  The aircraft then began losing altitude.  The pilot had hoped to make an emergency landing on Runway 34, but was forced down into the waters of Narragansett Bay 300 yards short of the runway.  The pilot escaped without injury and was rescued a short time later.  The aircraft was recovered, but was not put back into service.

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report dated February 2, 1951  

Narragansett Bay – August 23, 1944

Narragansett Bay – August 23, 1944


F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On the night of August 23, 1944, a flight of navy F6F Hellcats were engaged in “night flying carrier landing practice” at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  The flight circle extended out over the waters of Narragansett Bay.  During the training exercise, one aircraft, (Bu. No. 58915), went down in the water and sank.  The pilot escaped with no injuries and was rescued about an hour later. The aircraft was later recovered.  


     U. S. Navy accident report dated August 23, 1944,

Narragansett Bay – April 24, 1943

Narragansett Bay – April 24, 1943

     On April 24, 1942, a U. S. Navy  SNJ-4 Texan trainer aircraft, (Bu. No. 27278), was returning to the Quonset Point Naval Air Station after a one hour training flight with a pilot and instructor aboard.  While five miles from the air base, and at an altitude of 1,000 feet, the fuel tank ran dry.  The pilot switched tanks, but the engine failed to re-start.  The pilot made an emergency landing in Narragansett Bay and the plane sank almost immediately.  The pilot and instructor were able to escape and were rescued.  The aircraft was recovered and required a major overhaul. 

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report #43-6638, dated April 24, 1943.  

Narragansett Bay – December 5, 1945

Narragansett Bay – December 5, 1943


U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless
U.S. Navy Photo.

     On December 5, 1943, a Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless aircraft, (Bu. No. 10543), took off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a training flight.  Shortly after take off, while at an altitude of 1,000 feet,  the engine suddenly caught fire and lost power.  The pilot was forced to make an emergency water landing in the frigid waters of Narragansett Bay in the vicinity of Conimicut Point.  The aircraft sank but the pilot and gunner were able to escape with minor injuries.


     U. S. Navy accident report #44-10109, dated December 5, 1943.

Narragansett Bay – February 3, 1949

Narragansett Bay – February 3, 1949


F8F Bearcat
U. S. Navy Photo

     At 4:15 p.m., on the evening of February 3, 1949, a pilot took off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in an F8F-1B Bearcat, (Bu. No. 121506), as part of a seven aircraft night tactical training flight.  Shortly after taking off, the pilot heard a loud whirring noise followed by grey smoke coming from under the instrument panel which began to fill the cockpit.  The pilot turned back toward the air station and requested clearance for an emergency landing.  As this was taking place another pilot in the flight reported seeing flames coming from the underside of the smoking aircraft.  The flight leader advised the pilot to bail out, which he did, and landed safely in the icy waters of Narragansett Bay.   His aircraft also crashed into the water not far from where he’d landed, and sank immediately without exploding.  The pilot was rescued by a crash boat thirteen minutes later suffering from shock and exposure but otherwise unhurt.

     The aircraft was assigned to VF-31.


     U.S. Navy accident report dated February 3, 1949.    



U.S.S. Kearsarge CV-33 – 1949

U.S.S. Kearsarge, CV-33 – Summer, 1949


Douglas Skyraider
U. S. Navy Photo

     On June 28, 1949, The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kearsarge, (CV-33), was operating in the Narragansett Bay area of Rhode Island, conducting practice take-offs and landings of aircraft.  One aircraft, an AD-1 Skyraider, (Bu. No. 09366), landed on the deck of the ship but missed the arresting wire with its tail-hook and crashed into two safety barriers causing damage to the aircraft but no injuries to the pilot. 

     On July 12, 1949, another Skyraider, (Bu. No. 122342), missed the arresting wire and drifted into the safety barriers.   The pilot was not injured.

     Later that same day, another Skyraider, (Bu. No. 122336), had a similar accident.  The pilot was not injured.


     U.S. Navy accident reports dated June 28, 1949, and July 12, 1949

Narragansett Bay – March 19, 1947

Narraganset Bay, Rhode Island – March 19, 1947


F8F Bearcat
U. S. Navy Photo

     On March 19, 1947, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Philippine Sea, (CV-47), was in Narragansett Bay conducting training exercises.  At one point, an F8F-1 Bearcat, (Bu. No. 95046), was set to launch.  However, when the catapult fired to launch the aircraft, there was a malfunction with the launch mechanism, and the aircraft went over the side and into the water.  The aircraft sank, but the pilot managed to escape and was rescued.

     The aircraft was assigned to VF-104 at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.


     U. S. Navy accident report dated March 19, 1947         

Quonset Point, R. I. – April 25, 1947

Quonset Point, Rhode Island – April 25, 1947 


F8F Bearcat
U. S. Navy Photo

     On April 25, 1947, an F8F-1 Bearcat, (Bu. No. 94797), was taking off from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  Just after becoming airborne and while still over the runway, the engine suddenly lost all power.   The pilot made an emergency water landing in Narragansett Bay just off the end of the runway.  The aircraft sank, but the pilot was able to escape and was rescued by a crash-rescue boat from Quonset.  

     The aircraft was assigned to VF-17 at Quonset Point.

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report dated April 25, 1947

Gould Island, R. I. – October 25, 1941

Gould Island, Rhode Island – October 25, 1941

     On the morning of October 25, 1941, a U. S. Navy, Grumman JF-1 Duck, (Bu. No. 9448), with two men aboard, was due to take off from the Gould Island Navy Torpedo Station for an observation flight.  Gould Island is  located in Narragansett Bay off the eastern side of Jamestown.  The aircraft was taking off from the water, and as it was making its take-off run the lower left wing struck a marker buoy of the Magnetic Survey Range.  The impact tore the wing in half and caused the upper wing to buckle.  The aircraft then nosed over, skidded to the right and capsized.  

     The pilot managed to free himself, but the passenger, Petty Officer Alexander C. MacClellan, could not, and drowned.    

     The aircraft was assigned to VX Squadron 2D1.

     Source: U. S. Navy accident report #3428, dated October 25, 1941


Narragansett Bay, R. I. – August 13, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – August 13, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On the afternoon of August 13, 1943, a TBF-1 Avenger, (Bu. No. 24031) , was returning to Quonset Point Naval Air Station after a training flight when the engine suddenly lost all power.  At the time this occurred, the aircraft was at an altitude of 900 feet over Narragansett Bay. The pilot turned into the wind and made an emergency water landing with wheels and flaps down.  None of the crew were injured.

     The aircraft was assigned to VT-2.


     U. S. Navy crash report #44-8098

Narragansett Bay, R. I. – August 3, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – August 3, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On the afternoon of August 3, 1943, a TBF-1 Avenger, (Bu. No. 24028), with a crew of three aboard, left Quonset Point Naval Air Station on a navigational training flight.  When the aircraft was about fifty miles southeast of Quonset Point, and over the Atlantic Ocean, an oil line broke causing the pilot to turn back towards the air station. When the aircraft was about two miles from the base, and at an altitude of 1,000 feet, the engine suddenly stopped running.  The pilot made an emergency water landing, but the impact with the water tore away the bomb bay doors causing the plane to rapidly fill with water and sink within 45 seconds.  The pilot and turret gunner escaped, but the radioman, P. E. McCarthy, went down with the plane and was drowned.

     The aircraft was assigned to VT-2.


     U. S. Navy crash report #44-7931       

Narragansett Bay, R. I. – December 22, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – December 22, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of December 22, 1943, a TBF-1 Avenger, (Bu. No. 05900), with three men aboard, was making practice carrier landings on a platform off the shore of Point Judith when the plane went off the platform and into the water and sank.  The crew escaped without injury.  The accident occurred due to faulty brakes.


     U. S. Navy crash report #44-10432  

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – May 23, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – May 23, 1943


TBF-1 Avenger
U. S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of May 23, 1943, a flight of six TBF-1 Avengers took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a formation-practice bombing flight.  One of those aircraft was Bu. No. 06123, piloted by Ensign Leon T. Gerhart, (22), of Pennsylvania. 

     Ensign Gerhart’s aircraft had a crew of three aboard:

     ARM3c Donald J. Cross, (20-21) of Wisconsin.

     AMM2c Morrison C. Dobson

     AMM3c William Richard Walker

     Once airborne, the TBF’s rendezvoused with Ensign Gerhart flying in the No. 2 position.  The bombing mission was carried out, with each aircraft making their run individually at an anchored target boat.   At about 9:25 a.m., with the exercise completed,  the signal was given to re-form.  As this was taking place, Ensign Gerhart’s aircraft was involved in a collision with another TBF, (Bu. No. 47528).  During the collision, the tail section of Gerhart’s aircraft was completely broken off, and his plane fell out of control and crashed in Narragansett Bay.   All aboard were killed.

     The other aircraft (Bu. No. 47528) suffered damage to its right wing, but was able to successfully make an emergency landing at Quonset Point.  Nobody aboard that aircraft was injured.

     To see a photograph of Ensign Gerhart, go to www.findagrave.com, see memorial #86945634


     U. S. Navy Crash Report #43-6986 


Narragansett Bay – October 26, 1984

Narragansett Bay – October 26, 1984

     At 6:40 p.m. on the evening of October 26, 1984, a Cessna Skyhawk with a husband and wife aboard left T. F. Green State Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, bound for a small private airport on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay, a distance of only six miles.  The weather was overcast and raining at the time, with a cloud ceiling of about 300 feet and 1 mile visibility.  By 8:25 p.m. the aircraft was reported as overdue and a search was instituted. 

     The following day the aircraft was located upside-down in about eight feet of water in the channel that runs between Prudence and Patience Islands.  The woman’s body was still inside, however the husband was missing.  Divers who made the recovery reported that the pilot’s door was missing, and that the tail section had been torn away.  

     On November 11, 1984, the body of the missing husband was located along the southern shoreline of Prudence Island.  


     Providence Journal Bulletin, “Search Under Way For Overdue Plane”, October 27, 1984, page A-8

     Providence Sunday Journal, “Missing Airplane Found Off Prudence Island”, October 28, 1984, Page A-2

     The Sun, (Westerly, R.I.), “One dead, One Missing After Plane Crash In Bay”, October 28, 1984, page 33

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Bay Searches For Pilot, Fisherman Are Suspended”, October 29, 1984, page A-2.  (Searchers were also looking for a missing fisherman near the Mt. Hope Bridge.)

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Local Flyers Puzzled By Crash Of Couple On 6-Mile Hop Home”, October 30, 1984, page C-4

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Body Washed Up At Prudence Island Identified By Family As Lost Pilot”, November 13, 1984, page A-4 



Narragansett Bay – June 20, 1982

Narragansett Bay – June 20, 1982

     On June 20, 1982, a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, (#N20303), with three men aboard was flying about six miles south of Jamestown Island when there was a malfunction with the tail rotor and the craft crashed into the water and immediately flipped over.   All three men aboard managed to escape, and were rescued by nearby pleasure boats. 

     At the time of the accident the men were filming the start of the 635 mile Newport-to-Bermuda yacht race for a national television station.  

     The helicopter sank in 105 feet of water, and was recovered in mid-July of 1982.      


     The Sun, (Westerly, RI), “Helicopter Crashes, Crew Saved”, June 21, 1982, page 16. (With photo)

     The Providence Evening Bulletin, “TV Crew, Pilot Saved As Copter Crashes”, June 21, 1982, page A-6 (With Photo)

     Providence Evening Bulletin, Photo with caption of recovered helicopter, July 15, 1982, page A-6 



Narragansett Bay – September 28, 1980

Narragansett Bay – September 28, 1980 

     On September 28, 1980, a single engine Cessna 210, with a lone pilot aboard, left Georgia bound for Newport, Rhode Island.  The 56-year-old pilot was coming to Newport to attend his daughter’s graduation from Naval Officer Candidate School.   

     Shortly after 8:00 p.m. that evening, the aircraft landed at Quonset Point, and the pilot reported he was low on fuel.   The aircraft took off about ten minutes later without refueling, bound for Newport Airport.  At about 8:20 p.m. the pilot radioed that he was now out of gas and would be ditching in the water.   Several witnesses reported seeing  the Cessna crash into the East Passage of Narragansett Bay between Short Point and Hull Cove off Jamestown, and Butterball Rock in Newport.

     Despite an intensive search conducted by the Coast Guard, the missing aircraft could not be located, and the search was eventually called off.  The missing plane and its pilot were found on October 21, 1980 when the fishing trawler Rose Jarvis accidentally snagged the wreckage in its nets near Hull Cove.  The aircraft was badly damaged but still intact.  It was brought to Middletown, Rhode Island, for examination. 


     Providence  Evening Bulletin, “Plane Crash In Bay Reported; Search Fails”, September 29, 1980, page 1     

     Westerly Sun, (RI), “Search For Airplane Continues”, September 30, 1980, page 15

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Search Ended For Lost Plane, Pilot’s Daughter In OCS Rite”, October 1, 1980, page A-1  

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Body Of Georgia Flyer And Plane Found In Water Off Jamestown”, October 22, 1980, page A-3

     Providence Evening Bulletin, Photo of aircraft with caption, October 23, 1980, page B-1 

     Westerly Sun, “Pilot Said he Was Out Of Gas”, December 7, 1980, page 31

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – November 3, 1945

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – November 3, 1945


U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy photo

     On November 3, 1945, Ensign Henry A. Clark was piloting an F6F-5 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 78639), from Floyd Bennet Naval Air Station in New York, to Squantum Naval Air Station in Massachusetts.  As he was passing over Narragansett Bay the engine began cutting out resulting in loss of power and altitude.  Ensign Clark made an emergency water landing about 3/4 of a mile southwest of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island.  The aircraft sank, but Ensign Clark escaped without injury.  The aircraft was salvaged on November 6. 

      Source: National Archives, TD451103RI, via Larry Webster, Aviation Historian, Charlestown, R.I.

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – December 18, 1944

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – December 18, 1944


U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy photo

     In the early morning hours of December 18, 1944, Ensign Robert I. Lane, piloting an F6F-3N Hellcat, (Bu. No. 42570), took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station for night carrier landing practice on Quonset’s runways.  At 4:30 a.m., he contacted Quonset tower and advised he was over Narragansett Bay and approaching the runway.  This was the last heard from him.  His aircraft crashed into the water, but the accident was not witnessed.  A search was conducted, but nothing was found and he was declared missing.  A handwritten notation in the navy accident report states he was “found later in water 5 mi. SW of Quonset”.     

     Source: U. S. Navy Accident Report dated December 18, 1944

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – August 31, 1963

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – August 31, 1963


Douglas AD-4N Skyraider
Naval History And Heritage Command

      On August 31, 1963, navy Lieutenant (jg.) John L. Grunert, 25, was piloting a Douglas Skyraider aircraft over Narragansett Bay on a routine training flight when the aircraft developed engine trouble.  Grunert was forced to ditch the plane in the water between the Quonset Point Naval Air Station and the southern tip of Jamestown.  He escaped from the plane before it sank, and was rescued by a passing civilian boat.  He suffered only minor injuries.

     Lieutenant (jg.) Grunert, a native of Florida, was attached to Early Warning Squadron 33, aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Essex, which had arrived at Quonset Point the day before.    


     Providence Evening Bulletin, (R.I.),”Navy Pilot On Training Flight Ditches In Narragansett Bay”, August 31, 1963  


Narragansett Bay, R. I. – July 16, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – July 16, 1943


F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of July 16, 1943, Ensign Joseph Paul Staar was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 25848), over southern Narragansett Bay as part of a training flight.  The purpose of the flight was “Fighter Director Practice”, and Staar’s aircraft was part of a large group of aircraft.  

     As the flight of Hellcats was in the vicinity of Newport, Rhode Island, another aircraft made two diving passes at them from out of the sun.  On the second pass Ensign Staar’s aircraft entered a “high speed stall” due to “an abrupt climbing turn”, which led to his crashing into the water about 500 yards off Brenton Point in Newport.  He did not survive. 


     U. S. Navy Accident Report #44-7667 


Narragansett Bay, R.I. – November 27, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – November 27, 1943


F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On November 27, 1943, Ensign Paul M. Churton took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station in an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 65925), for a routine training flight.  Approximately two minutes into the flight the aircraft motor started cutting out and then stopped altogether, forcing Churton to make an emergency landing in Narragansett Bay.  Ensign Churton escaped from the aircraft uninjured. 

     Investigation revealed that the same aircraft had been grounded three times by three different pilots the previous day for the same problem, and each time it had been placed back in service by the mechanics.  After examining the recovered aircraft, a crack was found in the engine which had allowed foreign matter to impede fuel and oil flow.   

     Ensign Churton was assigned to VF-14.


     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-9977

The Zodiac Dirigible Airship Company – 1910

The Zodiac Dirigible Airship Company – 1910 


Early c. 1910 postcard view of a Zodiac airship manufactured in France.

     The Zodiac Dirigible Airship Company was a business venture started by Rhode Island businessman Stuart Davis in 1910.  The idea was to establish an airship ferry service between Hazard’s Beach in Newport and Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, a distance of about eleven miles.  The city of Newport is located on the east side of Narragansett Bay, and the town of Narragansett is on the western shore.  In the early 1900s the only way to cross Narragansett Bay was by boat, for the Jamestown and Newport bridges did not exist.     

     The new airship company was incorporated to serve the needs of wealthy citizens who might wish to travel across Narragansett Bay by air rather than by boat.  The famous Narragansett Pier, located not far from Scarborough Beach, was a very popular resort area for the wealthy at that time, especially during the summer season.  Another popular destination was the now defunct Rocky Point Park, located on Narragansett Bay in Warwick, R.I.  It was also anticipated that excursions could be made to that destination as well.     

     The name Zodiac Dirigible Balloon Company was derived from the Zodiac balloons then being produced in France.  The Rhode Island company was incorporated in New York City.

     Mr. Davis announced his plans for an airship ferry service in June of 1910 which was exciting news for Rhode Island’s summer colonies.   On July 4th, Davis’s first Zodiac balloon arrived in New York from France aboard the steamship George Washington.  From there it was brought to Rhode Island to be assembled.  When completed, the airship would be 100 feet long, contain about 20,000 cubic feet of gas, and capable of carrying up to six passengers.  Being a dirigible meant that the balloon had no interior metal framework like a Zeppelin.  Therefore it would only fly on calm days. 

     The trip between Narragansett and Newport was estimated to take about an hour or less, and it was anticipated that the airship would make three or four trips per day.  While no rate fees had yet been established, it was reported that it would cost about five-hundred dollars to charter the aircraft for an entire afternoon – a great deal of money for the time.       

     Davis hoped that flight operations would begin by August, but in the meantime  preparations for housing the airship were being made at Scarborough where the company’s Rhode Island headquarters would be located.  The San Francisco Call reported on July 6th that the structure presently under construction would be 112 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 50 feet high.  When completed, it would reportedly be the first (commercial) airship station in America.  If successful, Davis’s venture would also be the first commercial airline in the country.  Plans for a second station in Newport were also underway.

     On July 31st, Davis’s airship, the Zodiac IV,  as it was now named, arrived in Narragansett to begin making test flights.  It was further reported that a second airship, the Zodiac III, was expected to arrive within the next seven to ten days and it too would begin test flights. Once the test flights were completed the airship(s) would begin passenger service. 

     Unfortunately, the test flights did not go well, and the whole venture was scrapped.   


      The Tacoma Times, (Wash.), “Airship Line Planned”, June 17, 1910 

     Daily capital Journal, (Salem, Ore.) “Flying Machine Service”, June 17, 1910

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Conn.), “Dirigible For Newport Class”, July 6, 1910 

     San Francisco Call, “Newport To Have Aerial Ferry Line”, July 6, 1910 

     Alexandria Gazette, (Alexandria, D.C.), “Dirigible Airship Line”, July 7, 1910 

     New York Tribune, “Newport’s Airship On Hand”, July 25, 1910

     The Times Dispatch, (Richmond, Va.) “Narragansett Has Airship”, August 1, 1910

     History Bytes: Airships In Newport, Newport Historical Society, R.I.


Four P-47 Thunderbolts Lost February 11, 1943

Four P-47 Thunderbolts Lost February 11, 1943

Cranston, R.I., Narragansett Bay, & Atlantic Ocean


P-47B Thunderbolt
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On the morning of February 11, 1943, a flight of four P-47B Thunderbolts took off from Hillsgrove Army Air Field in Warwick, Rhode Island, for what was to be a routine half-hour flight to Trumbull Field in Groton, Connecticut. None of them ever arrived at their destination.

     Conditions were foggy that morning, with a cloud ceiling of only 900 feet. Once airborne the pilots would have to rely on their instruments to get them where they were going.

     The flight leader was 1st Lieutenant Gene F. Drake. The other three pilots, all second lieutenants, were Raymond D. Burke, Robert F. Meyer, and John Pavlovic. All were assigned to the 21st Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group. The 352nd was a newly formed unit then based at Trumbull Field.

   The flight took off at 10:15 a.m. with Lieutenant Drake flying aircraft #41-5922, Lieutenant Burke, #41-5943, Lieutenant Mayer, #41-5940, and Lieutenant Pavlovic, #41-5944.

     Witnesses later reported that the formation circled the airfield three times, but by the third pass one of the planes had disappeared. The remaining three P-47s were last seen headed in a southerly direction.   

“X” marks the approximate location in Cranston, R.I., where Lt. Meyer crashed Feb. 11, 1943

     The missing plane was piloted by Lieutenant Mayer. How he became separated for the group is unclear, but just minutes after take-off he crashed on some railroad tracks in the city of Cranston, Rhode Island, which borders Warwick to the north. Witnesses stated the right wing of Lt. Mayer’s aircraft struck a boxcar parked on a siding which caused it to crash and burn. Lt. Mayer was likely killed instantly. The site of the crash was located just south of Park Avenue, about four miles from Hillsgrove Field.

     Meanwhile, the other three P-47 pilots were heading southeast in zero visibility towards Jamestown and Newport instead of southwest towards Connecticut.  Shortly before 11:00 a.m. Lieutenant Raymond Burke crashed in the waters of Narragansett Bay between Jamestown and Newport on the eastern side of the island.  (For those unaware, the town of Jamestown is located on Conanicut Island, situated in the middle of Narragansett Bay.)  A short time later, one of the other P-47s crashed on the western side of the island, just off shore from Fort Getty, where the 243rd Coast Artillery was stationed.

     One serviceman who was stationed at Fort Getty was 2nd Lieutenant Roland D. Appleton who reported hearing a low flying aircraft pass over his duty station and then a loud crash out over the water a short distance from shore. Several enlisted men also reported hearing the same, but due to heavy fog nothing had been observed. However, within a few minutes the scent of gasoline wafted to shore confirming what they all suspected.

     In his official statement to investigators, Lieutenant Appleton later wrote, “I immediately called for a boat from the Fort Getty dock to go out searching. I called the Fort Wetherill dock to send a boat out and was informed that the USAMP Hunt would be sent at once to the area. In addition a Coast Guard boat was sent to assist in the search. Seaward Defense Station and the Adjutant, 243d Coast Artillery (HD), were notified.”

     By this point, the military was dealing with two downed aircraft, one on either side of the island.  

     Lieutenant Appleton’s statement continued, “Within 10 or 15 minutes the fog lifted and I searched the area with field glasses but did not discover any signs of the plane. A report was received that an oil or gas slick was sighted about 500 yards off shore and that the gas odor was still strong. The shore patrol continued searching.

     It is believed by the undersigned that the plane crashed and sank within a very few minutes. Approximately an hour and a half after the crash a black canvas bag about 15 inches long filled with cotton was picked up on shore. The center of the cotton was dry which indicated to me that it had been in the water but a short time. Other articles picked up on shore included a piece of leather possibly from an earphone, four rubber pieces of peculiar design, a handkerchief with numbers on it.

     The circumstances of the crash and the sounds heard at the time would indicate that the plane exploded just prior to or at the instant of crash.”

     Unfortunately, the numbers on the handkerchief were not recorded in the investigation report.  

     One of the officers in charge of the search detail along the shoreline at Fort Getty was Captain Stanley W. Smith. In his official statement to investigators he wrote; “At 1700 I went down to the beach again to investigate a stick-like object projecting out of the water approximately 50 yards off-shore. The visibility was poor. It was projecting about two feet above the surface of the water and appeared to be a stick.   It was impossible to distinguish any color on it or to tell just what it was without going out in a boat to see the object.”  

     Another officer who assisted in the Fort Getty search was Captain George E. Blicker. In his official statement he wrote, “Captain Smith immediately contacted me and together with a corporal and six men went down to investigate the accident. There was a dense fog that was beginning to lift about this time. Visibility was poor, but noticeable about 500 yards off shore was a slick approximately 50 yards in diameter with vapor fumes rising. The slick spread quickly and then disintegrated, giving off a strong gas odor in the air.”

     The following day, February 12th, The Newport Daily News reported that the body of Lieutenant Raymond Burke had been recovered from the bay between Jamestown and Newport by a navy picket boat and taken to Newport Hospital.

     On February 13th, a small news item appeared in The Woonsocket Call concerning the other plane that had crashed off Fort Getty. It reported that the unidentified P-47 had been located in 58 feet of water, but that the pilot was still unaccounted for.  

      The unidentified plane was marked with a buoy and a salvage boat was sent to attempt a recovery, however, bad weather and floating ice prevented this from happening. Unfortunately, the aircraft and its pilot were never identified in either newspaper accounts, or the official investigation report, nor does it appear that the pilot or the aircraft were ever recovered. Therefore, it has never been determined if this aircraft was the one flown by Lt. Pavlovic, or Lt. Burke.

   The fate of the fourth P-47 of this flight has never been determined, for the pilot and his aircraft were never seen or head from again. Presumably, the pilot continued on a southeasterly course and flew out to sea.

     1st Lieutenant Gene Frederick Drake, (Ser. # O-430925), was from Wilmette, Illinois,  born August 3, 1920.  He enlisted in the Air Corps in March 17, 1941, (Some sources state February, 1941), about ten months before the United States entered World War II. 

     From January to November of 1942, he served in Australia flying combat missions against the Japanese.  On his 22nd birthday, (Aug. 3, 1942), he was  flying a patrol mission when he and his fellow fighter pilots spotted 27 enemy bombers flying in formation approximately 2,00o feet below.  

      One newspaper described what took place in Lt. Drakes own words. “We flew into them and I shot up the first bomber.  I saw him stagger, burst into flames, and then go down.  I headed for another bomber but heard bullets going through my own crate.  Suddenly a solid sheet of oil came over my windshield and the cockpit was full of fumes.  I saw two little zeroes (Japanese fighting planes) sitting on my tail and it looked like time for me to leave.”   

     Lt. Drake was forced to bail but he landed safely. 

     Lt. drake was credited with shooting down the enemy bomber, as well as two more Japanese aircraft later that same month.  For his outstanding service he was awarded the Oak Leaf Cluster for gallantry in action under heavy fire, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star.

     In late 1942 he returned to the states and became a flight instructor, training new pilots for overseas duty.  

     He was survived by his wife Shirley, and his son, Gene Jr..   

     He was officially declared dead on January 31, 1944.  

     Lt. Drake also had a brother serving in the Marine Corps, 1st Lt. Stafford W. Drake Jr.    

    2nd Lieutenant Robert Frederick Meyer was born January 29, 1920, in Shepherd, Michigan, making him just barely 23 at the time of his death. He was survived by his parents, and is buried in Deepdale Memorial Park, Lansing, Michigan.

     2nd Lieutenant Raymond D. Burke was just 15 days shy of his 22nd birthday when he died. He was born in Wilton, New Hampshire, February 26, 1921, the son of James R. and Margaret E. Burke. He’s buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Wilton.

    2nd Lieutenant John Pavlovic, (Ser. # O-732341), was from the town of River Forrest, Illinois, and was 23-years-old at the time of his death.   He entered the Air Corps in March, 1942, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in October of 1942 at Luke Field in Arizona.  He was officially declared dead one year after his disappearance.    


    United States Army Air Force crash investigation reports for all four aircraft, Report numbers:

     43-2-11-3, dated March 29, 1943

     43-2-11-4, dated March 29, 1943

     43-2-11-5, dated March 25, 1943

     43-2-11-6, dated March 25, 1943

     Death Certificates obtained from the Rhode Island State Archives for Lt. Robert F. Meyer & Lt. Raymond D. Burke

     The Providence Journal, “Two Army Pilots Lose Lives In Crashes In R.I., Two Other Planes In Unit Believed Lost”, February 12, 1943, page 1

     The Newport Daily News, “Body of Army Pilot Recovered From Bay”,February 12, 1943

     The Woonsocket Call, “Searchers Locate Airplane In Bay”, February 13, 1943, page 1

     University of Illinois Veterans Memorial Project

     Chicago Sunday Tribune, “Wilmette Flyer Gets 2nd Award In Pacific Fight”, November 15, 1942, part 1, page 13 

     www.cieldegloire.com – 49th Fighter group – USAAF – Ciel de Gloire

     Wilmette Life, (Wilmette, Il.),”Flier Celebrates Birthday”, August 13, 1942

     Wilmette Life, (Wilmette, Il.),”Lieut. Gene Drake Reported Missing On Airplane Flight”, February 18, 1943

     Falling Leaves, (Oak Park, Il. newspaper), “River Forest Teacher Leaves For Navy,; Service Men’s News”, September 24, 1942  

     Falling Leaves, (Oak Park, Il. newspaper), “Lost Flyer Is Assumed Dead”, February 22, 1944 







Narragansett Bay – July 19, 1918

Narragansett Bay – July 19, 1918


     On July 19, 1918, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Arthur F. Souther, 22, was test flying a new aircraft over the west passage of Narragansett Bay when the plane abruptly dove into the water from an altitude of 100 feet.  Lt. Souther was conducting a speed test at the time of the accident, and the plane struck with such force that it broke apart on impact and Lt. Souther was killed instantly. 

     The new aircraft was a Gallaudet D-4, (Ser. # A-2653), an experimental sea plane, one of two produced by Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation which once had a factory on Chepiwanoxet Island on Cowesett Bay, on the Warwick-East Greenwich line.   

     Witnesses reported the aircraft began to sway back and forth and the elevators were seen to flutter moments before the crash.  Lt. Souther had flown the same airplane without incident three times prior to the fatal crash.

     Lt. Souther had begun his duties as a test pilot for Gallaudet only a few days prior to his death.  He succeeded the previous test pilot, famous aviator Jack McGee, who was killed in another aircraft he was testing for Gallaudet on June 11, 1918. 

     Lt. Souther had enlisted in the air service in 1917, and was designated Navy Aviator #239 on January 2, 1918.  He’s buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.  His father was the late Major Souther of the United States Signal Corps.

     To learn more about Gallaudet Aircraft and the D-4 sea plane(s), see www.earlyaviators.com,  Gallaudet D-1.  Site also has photographs.   


     Providence Journal, “Lieut Arthur F. Souther Killed In Speed Trail With Navy Plane”, July 20, 1918. (Article contributed by Patricia Zacks.)

     Providence Journal, “Naval Officials Start Inquiry Into Death Of lieut. Souther”, July 21, 1918.  (Article contributed by Patricia Zacks.)

    www.findagrave.com, memorial #48882528

     Hartford Courant, (Conn.),”Naval Aviator Souther Killed”, July 20, 1918






Narragansett Bay – June 11, 1942

Narragansett Bay – June 11, 1942


P-40 Warhawk  U.S. Air Force Photo

P-40 Warhawk
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On June 11, 1942, 2nd Lt. William K. Liggett was piloting a P-40E aircraft (Ser. No. 41-25019) as part of a formation training flight with other P-40 aircraft over the Narragansett Bay area.   At about 1:45 p.m. his aircraft developed engine trouble and he was forced to look for a place to set down.  He chose what he thought to be an open area of beach about one mile northeast of the town of Portsmouth, but as he got closer he realized there were civilians on the beach.  Witnesses later told investigators that at the last moment Lt. Liggett abruptly turned towards the water and was killed when the plane crashed into the bay. 

     The crash was blamed on a problem with the aircraft’s fuel system. 

     Lt. Liggett obtained his pilot’s rating on April 29, 1942, and at the time of his death he was assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron based at Hillsgrove Army Air Field, In Warwick, Rhode Island. 

     Source:  Army Air Corps Technical report Of Aircraft Accident, #42-6-11-8    

Off Jamestown, R.I. – December 5, 1943

Off Jamestown, Rhode Island – December 5, 1943

     On December 5, 1943, a Navy plane with two men aboard crashed in the water about a mile to the north of Beavertail Light.  Acting on orders from his commanding officer, Seaman First Class C. A. Wood ran on foot along the shoreline before diving into the icy water and swimming out to the wreck.  Upon reaching the wreck he freed the trapped crewmen and assisted them to shore.  For his efforts he was awarded the Navy-Marine Medal. 

     Today Beavertail Light is automated, and home to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum.

     Source: The Beavertail Lighthouse Museum


Off Jamestown, R.I. – September 4, 1942

Off Jamestown, Rhode Island – September 4, 1942

Updated March 9, 2019.

     On September 4, 1942, a Navy plane with two men aboard crashed in the water about 1,000 yards off Beavertail Light in Jamestown.  At the time, the area known as Beavertail was occupied by a coastal artillery unit to protect Narragansett Bay, and Beavertail Light was occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Today the area is a state park, and the light is automated, and now serves as a museum.

     The crash was witnessed by shore personnel, four of whom entered the water and swam out to rescue the airmen.  They were identified at Privates First Class V.S. Sousa, and F. A. Hamilton, Corporal D. A. Corey, and Seaman Second Class R. F. Kirscher. The men reached the wreck at the same time as a passing Coast Guard boat.

     The plane’s crew consisted of (Pilot) Lieutenant (Jg.) Harry K. Stubbs, 29, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3C Fred Schumm, 20, of New York.  Lt. Stubbs was unconscious from a head  injury, while Schumm was cut and bleeding in several places.  Both were taken to the Fort Getty hospital located at Jamestown.

     The type of aircraft was not stated. It was reportedly recovered. 

     Lt. (Jg.) Stubbs survived the WWII and remained with the navy afterward.  He died on June 24, 1946 when the aircraft he was n crashed on take off from the Chincoteague Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Virginia.  Two others in the plane were also killed.  

     Commander Stubbs was born in Shawmut, Alabama, on August 3, 1913, but the family later moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he grew up on Bridge St.  He graduated Fairhaven High School and Silver Bay Preparatory School, and Columbia University.   He entered the Navy in May of 1937, and began his flying career at the navy base in Squantum, Mass.  He served aboard the aircraft carriers Lexington, Wasp, Enterprise, and Manila Bay.  During the war he commanded Composite Group 80 aboard the Manila Bay, which took part in a six month tour of duty in the Philippines.  During his service he is credited with shooting down two Japanese aircraft.  Among his medals earned are the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross.  He’s buried in Riverside Cemetery in Fairhaven, Mass.


     New York Times, “Plane Dives Into Sea; Crew Of Two Saved”, September 5, 1942

     Fiarhaven Star, (Mass.) “Stubbs Rescued After Plane Crash”, September 10, 1942            

     Fiarhaven Star, “Commander Harry K. Stubbs Dies In Airplane Crash”, June 27, 1946.

     www.findagrave.com, Memorial #10683521

Narragansett Bay – October 11, 1942

Narragansett Bay – October 11, 1942 

Updated March 7, 2019


Vought SB2U Vindicator
U.S. Navy Photo

     The details of this accident have been learned, and this post updated. 

     On the afternoon of October 11, 1942, a Vought SB2U-2 Vindicator, (Bu. No. 1342), with a pilot and radioman aboard, was participating in a dive-bombing exercise over Narragansett Bay.  Other aircraft were also participating.  The aircraft was seen to enter a steep dive on a maneuvering target boat from an altitude of 10,000 feet.   When the pilot attempted to pull out of the dive at 3,000 feet, two small unidentified parts of the aircraft were seen to break loose. The aircraft crashed into the water in an almost vertical dive north of Patience Island.  Both the pilot and radioman perished in the accident.

     The pilot was identified as Lieutenant Commander John Randall Spiers, 31, of Philadelphia, PA.  To see a photo of Lt. Cmdr. Spiers, go to www.findagrave.co,, Memorial #115359760, and 76036118.

     The radioman was identified as Aviation Radioman Stanley D. Overfelt, 25, of Clarence, Missouri.  He’s buried in Maple Hills Cemetery, in Kirksville, Missouri.  Source: www.findagrave.com, memorial #59737610 

     Both men were assigned to VS-42.       


     U. S. Navy accident report #43-5054, dated October 11, 1942

     North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records #42-31



Narragansett Bay – February 25, 1945

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – February 25, 1945 


F6F Hellcat U.S. Navy Photo

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On February 25, 1945, Ensign Thomas William McSteen, 21, was killed when the F6F-5N Hellcat, (Bu. No. 70670) he was piloting crashed near Fox Island in the west passage of Narragansett Bay, between Jamestown and the mainland.  Ensign McSteen and three other Hellcat aircraft were taking part in a carrier landing training exercise at the time.  After examining the recovered aircraft, investigators concluded the accident occurred as a result of engine failure.  

     Ensign McSteen graduated Mt. Lebanon, Penn. High School in 1941, and enlisted in the navy in February of 1943. He received his Ensign’s commission and his pilot’s wings at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, in July of 1944.

     Ensign McSteen was survived by his wife Margaret Elizabeth, who he married at Pensacola NAS on July 22, 1944.  He’s buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Pennsylvania.    


Image from  "That We Might Have A Better World" by the Mt. Lebanon, Penn. School Dist. 1946 CLICK TO ENLARGE

Image from
“That We Might Have A Better World” by the Mt. Lebanon, Penn. School Dist. 1946


     Larry Webster, Aviation Historian & Archaeologist

     Pittsburgh Post – Gazzette, “Mt. Lebanon Girl Ensign’s Bride”, July 30, 1944 

     Historic Pitsburgh General Text Collection – Pittsburgh Library, “That We Might Have A Better World”, authored by the Mt. Lebanon School District, 1946. www.images.library.pitt.edu 

U.S. Navy Accident Report dated February 25, 1945

Narragansett Bay – September 1, 1944

Narragansett Bay – September 1, 1944

     On September 1, 1944, Lt. Charles W. Turner took off from  Hillsgrove Army Air Field in a P-47D Thunderbolt, (42-8666) for a routine training flight.  At some point the aircraft developed engine trouble and Turner was forced to make a belly landing in the water about 3/4 of a mile off Conimicut Point, between the Conimicut and Pomham light houses.

     As the plane sank, Turner scrambled out and inflated his life vest which kept him afloat in the chilly water.  As luck would have it, he landed near a boat with two teenagers inside, Amy Heddenberg, 15, and William Smythe, 16, who quickly rescued the downed airman.  

     Turner was brought ashore at the foot of Stokes Street in Warwick, where he was met by Warwick police patrolman Albert Izzi who brought the pilot back to Hillsgrove.  Turner was standing before his commanding officer before rescue parties from Hillsgrove had reached the shore. 

     The plane was wrecked, but Turner was unhurt.   


     Providence Journal, “Army Pilot Unhurt In Crash Into Bay”, September 2, 1944, Pg. 3


Narragansett Bay – February 10, 1945

Narragansett Bay – February 10, 1945

One mile northeast off Quonset Point Naval Air Station


U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy photo

     On February 10, 1945, Ensign Pierce Hubert Beach, 22, took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, in an F6F-5N Hellcat (Bu. No. 58058) for a routine training flight where he and other aircraft were to practice carrier landings and takeoffs.  He was killed when his plane crashed into Narragansett Bay.  

     Ensign Beach earned his pilots wings at Pensacola, Florida, in May of 1944, and was married in June, ’44.   


     Lewiston Daily Sun, “Navy Pilot Killed; Another Missing”, February 12, 1945, Pg. 1

     Larry Webster, Aviation Historian & Archeologist

     The (Bunnell Florida) Flagler Tribune, (no headline) February 15, 1945

     U.S. Navy Accident Report dated February 10, 1945

Rocky Point, R.I. – July 4, 1913

Rocky Point, R.I. – July 4, 1913


DFP50096     Nels J. Nelson was sixteen when the Wright Brothers flew at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, in 1903.  Eight years later he was building his own airplanes in New Britain, Connecticut.  His first airplane made its maiden flight over Plainfield, Connecticut, May 1st, 1911. 

      Nelson took to giving flying exhibitions which were well received by a public eager to see what those “new fangled flying machines” could do.  By 1913 he’d developed what he called a “Hydroplane” capable of taking off and landing in water.  On July 1, 1913, Nelson flew his Hydroplane over Providence, Rhode Island, where he circled the area of Exchange Place and City Hall twice before making a turn around the dome of the state capitol.  From there he flew south where he landed in the water just off shore from the famous Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick.  The purpose of the flight was to generate interest in several flying exhibitions he was to give at Rocky Point as part of the 4th of July celebration festivities.  Advertisements of his arrival had been posted in local papers for several days. 

     Mr. Nelson was scheduled to give three exhibitions on July 4th; at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m.  An article that appeared in The Woonsocket Call on July 5th described the first flight; “Shortly before 10 o’clock Nels Nelson sailed his 70 horse-power flying boat out into the bay in front of the Mansion House, watched by thousands of interested spectators.  The motor began to buzz and immediately the huge hydroplane commenced to skim at a rapid rate over the water.  As soon as the maximum speed was attained, the planes were slanted and the boat rose into the air, dripping like a sea gull which had captured its prey.  For a few moments Nelson drove the machine on the level – about 12 feet from the surface of the bay.  Soon, however, he rose higher until it became necessary to tip back one’s head to watch the flight.  Higher and higher went the boat, finally becoming but a speck in the sky sailing towards Prudence Island.”    

      On the second flight of the day Nelson took 21-year-old Irving Tukey aboard as a passenger.  The take-off went smoothly and the flight was uneventful until the aircraft was returning to land.  As Nelson was making his final approach, he cut power to the engine in anticipation of gliding down to the water, but at that instant, a strong gust of wind caught the plane and sent it into a sharp down-turn into the Narragansett Bay from an altitude of 60 feet.  

     Tukey suffered a broken wrist, a laceration to his forehead and numerous bumps and bruises.  Nelson was battered and dazed, but otherwise alright.  Both men were rescued by a private boat that was anchored nearby watching the festivities. 

     What became of Nelson’s hydroplane isn’t recorded, but the accident didn’t deter him from further flying.  The following September he flew another plane that he had built from New Britain, Connecticut to Chicago, Illinois.

      Mr. Nelson died in 1964 at the age of 77.  Many of his fellow aviators never reached middle age. His interest in aviation continued throughout his life.  Between 1903 and 1964, (the span of 61 years), he had witnessed the birth of the airplane, the jet, the rocket, and manned space flight.     


The Woonsocket Call, “Birdman Flies At Rocky Point”, July 3, 1913, Page 10

The Woonsocket Call, “Fourth Big Day At Rocky Point”, July 5, 1913, Page. 2

The Woonsocket Call, “Drop Into Bay”, July 7, 1913, Page 1

Internet website  www.earlyaviators.com Nels J. Nelson, 1887-1964




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