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.    

     Source:

     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. 

     Source:

     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.

     Source:

     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.   

     Sources:

      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.    

     Sources

    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.   

     Sources:

     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

 

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