Rhode Island Division Of Aeronautics

Vintage Rhode Island Division of Airports Insignia 

1960-1970s

Rocker Patch

Old Rhode Island Div. of Aeronautics metal insignia with leather backing.

Cloth Patch

Forgotten Tales of North Central Airport

FORGOTTEN TALES OF NORTH CENTRAL AIRPORT

By Jim Ignasher

               Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – March, 2012                 

Chester M. Spooner Memorial Building, North Central State Airport, Smithfield, R.I. (Photo taken 2007)

Chester M. Spooner Memorial Building, North Central State Airport, Smithfield, R.I. (Photo taken 2007)

     North Central Airport opened in 1951, but how many know it was actually re-named Peters-Fournier Airport in 1953?  And who, by the way, were Peters and Fournier?  Theirs is but one of the forgotten tales connected to Smithfield’s state-owned airport which lies tucked away in the northeast corner of town.   

    Just as the invention of the automobile led to the necessity of the parking lot, the airplane created the need for airports.  The earliest “airports” were nothing more than grass fields, but the first airplanes didn’t require much space for take-offs and landings. 

     The advent of World War II led to the rapid advancement of aviation technology, for in just five short years the United States went from propeller driven planes to high-powered jets.  By wars end it was clear that small grassy airfields would no longer be adequate to handle modern post-war aircraft.   This led to the genesis of what later became Smithfield’s North Central Airport.

     Even before the end of the war, there were those in northern Rhode Island who were preparing for peacetime commerce, and those plans included the construction of a modern state-owned airport that could service the Blackstone Valley region.  In March of 1945, members of the Woonsocket and Pawtucket Chambers of Commerce met to discuss the feasibility of such an undertaking.  At that time, northern Rhode Island already had four airports. There was Smithfield Airport, located where Bryant University stands today; Montgomery Field in North Smithfield; What Cheer Airport in Pawtucket; and Woonsocket Airport.  All were considered for possible expansion, and each was rejected for different reasons.

     The proposed airport had to be located within easy access to Providence, Woonsocket, and Pawtucket, with room for future expansion.  A large area of mostly undeveloped land on the Smithfield-Lincoln town line seemed to fit the requirements, and by the summer of 1945 it was officially announced that the site for the present-day airport had been selected.  Understandably, not everyone supported the decision; especially those who stood to have their land taken under eminent domain by the state.  Despite any protests, within a year, 862 acres had been condemned, and the project was set to move forward.  However, due to political infighting, rising cost estimates, and problems with funding, actual clearing of the land didn’t begin until February of 1950.  Construction took another twenty-two months as costs ran higher than original estimates.  An interesting bit of trivia relates to the fact that twelve miles of electrical wire was installed during construction.     

     Dedication ceremonies took place on December 15, 1951.  Part of the celebration included a helicopter owned by New England Helicopter Service that carried 1,700 pieces of mail out of the airport to the Saylesville post office in Lincoln.  The mail contained souvenir cachets that received a special cancellation stamp before being mailed out.  Today, due to their rarity, these cachets are sought after by collectors.

North Central Airport (R.I.) Dedication  postal cover - December 15, 1951

North Central Airport (R.I.) Dedication postal cover – December 15, 1951

    North Central Airport gets its name for being in the northern-central portion of the state.  It couldn’t be called Smithfield Airport because that name was already in use.  Many are probably unaware that the airport actually has another name, although it is seldom if ever used.  In 1953, the airport was re-dedicated as the Peters-Fournier Airport in honor of Cranston native Private First Class George J. Peters, U.S. Army, and Connecticut native, Sergeant William G. Fournier, United States Marine Corps, both World War II Medal of Honor recipients.  (Sergeant Fournier was born in Connecticut, but lived a good portion of his life in Rhode Island.)

     Pfc. Peters was part of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment that landed in an open field near Fluren, Germany, on March 25, 1945.  Almost immediately an enemy machine gun opened fire on them killing several men.  The rest found themselves pinned down in the open with no place to hide as the gunner methodically swept the field with bullets.  With disregard for his own safety, Peters single-handedly attacked and silenced the machine gun, but was mortally wounded in the process.  His actions undoubtedly saved the lives of others in his unit.  Besides the airport, a school in Cranston is also named for him.  

     On June 28, 1943, during heavy fighting on Guadalcanal, Sergeant Fournier’s unit was attacked by overwhelming enemy forces and ordered to withdraw.  Fournier and another Marine, Lewis Hall, sacrificed their lives when they ignored the orders and stuck to their machine gun position to cover the retreat of their comrades.  Their gallantry saved the lives of many Marines who later re-grouped and counter attacked, eventually winning the battle. 

     On October 19, 1963, an air show sponsored by the Pawtucket Rotary Club was held at North Central which began with a skywriting greeting to the crowd of approximately 15,000 attendees.  Among the attractions were aerial stuntmen who performed wing-walks, precision flying, and daring transfers from moving vehicles to low flying airplanes.  One daredevil jumped from an altitude of two miles wearing a special suit that allowed him to perform a series of loops and whirls while trailing smoke before opening his parachute at a mere 1,500 feet.       

A view of North Central Airport in Smithfield, R.I. - 2007

A view of North Central Airport in Smithfield, R.I. – 2007

The airport has an administration building that hasn’t changed much since it was built.  In 1977 it was dedicated as the Chester M. Spooner Memorial Building, the name of which can be seen over the main entrance from the parking lot.  Mr. Spooner was a native of Pawtucket, and former publisher of the (Pawtucket) Evening Times who was very influential in helping to make North Central Airport a reality. 

     As with any airport, North Central has seen its share of accidents; the total number of which may never be known for accurate record keeping did not exist before the 1960s.

     The first known accident occurred several months after the airport opened, on July 19, 1952, when a 29-year-old man was fatally injured when his plane crashed just after take-off in a cow pasture one-hundred feet beyond the runway.      

     Some accidents were the result of pilot error, such as the one which occurred in November of 1966, when the pilot forgot to lower his aircraft’s wheels before landing; or the piggy-back landing – midair collision that occurred in September of 1968 when two planes tried to land on the same runway at the same time.

     Other less notable accidents involved collapsed landing gear, aircraft overshooting the runway and crashing into trees, ground collisions, and the occasional “nose-over”.      

     On September 8, 1997, North Central Airport was the scene of one of Rhode Island’s most horrific civil aviation accidents in terms of loss of life, and the worst to ever occur at the airport, or in the town of Smithfield.   On that day, a Cessna 182E carrying a group of skydivers crashed on take-off killing five of the six people aboard.  One of those aboard was a twenty-one year-old Massachusetts woman who was making her first parachute jump.  Her parents and boyfriend had come to support her, one of whom carried a video camera that captured the crash on film.    

      For some unknown reason there seems to be a bit of confusion, at least for some, as to the exact location of the airport.   It’s hard to believe, but some sources have it listed as being in Pawtucket, while others think it’s in Lincoln, probably due to the Lincoln mailing address of 380 Jenckes Hill Road.  Posters advertising events at the airport in recent years have cited both locations.  To be fair, some of the undeveloped acreage is located in Lincoln, but just to set the record straight, the airport proper is definitely in Smithfield.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Greenwich – March 24, 1943

West Greenwich, Rhode Island – March 24, 1943

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

P-47B Thunderbolt

U.S. Air Force Photo

     On March 24, 1943, two Army P-47B fighter aircraft (41-6002) and (41-6040) were training over southern Rhode Island when both were forced to land for reasons not stated in the press. One plane, piloted by Flight Officer Oscar C. Kline, 22, of Barrington, New Jersey, came down on Nooseneck Hill Road in West Greenwich, barely missing an automobile before cartwheeling into the woods lining the east side of the highway.  The plane caught fire but did not explode.  The flames were quickly extinguished by the driver of the vehicle that was almost hit, and some other passers by, using brush-fire pump cans obtained from the nearby home of Richmond’s Chief of Police, John Potter.  Unfortunately Flight Officer Kline died as he was removed from the plane.  

     The second P-47B landed about a mile-and-a-half farther down Nooseneck Hill Road in the town of Richmond, near Dawley Memorial Park.  

     Witnesses told investigators that the two P-47s had circled the area several times with their wheels down before attempting to land. 

Sources:

Pawtucket Times, “Plane Crashes Kill 2 Pilots – Officials Of Army, Navy Probe Accidents In South County”, March 25, 1943   (This headline is in error.  Only one pilot was killed.)   

Woonsocket Call, “Pilot Identified In State Crackup”, March 25, 1943, Pg. 1 

Springfield Union, (Mass.), “Westover Fighter Pilot Killed, Another Escapes In Two-Plane R.I. Crash”, March 25, 1943

Rhode Island Pilots Association Patch

Rhode Island Pilots Association patch

Rhode Island Pilots Association patch

Off Charlestown, R.I. – July 13, 1944

Off Charlestown, Rhode Island – July 13, 1944

 

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

     On the night of July 13, 1944, a flight of U.S. Navy F6F Hellcats were practicing night field landings at the Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air Field.  The night was relatively dark with no moon, and low cloud overcast obstructed the horizon line.  The aircraft were flying a in wide circle pattern at an altitude of only 200 feet.

     At approximately 11:45 p.m., two observers at the signal platform thought they heard an aircraft engine cutting-out followed by a possible crash into the water.  The control tower was notified, and a roll call of the aircraft was begun.  One of the pilots to acknowledge the roll call was an Ensign who was piloting (Bu. No. 41478).  However, just as he was replacing the microphone he struck the water.  He managed to escape before the plane sank and was rescued shortly afterwards.

     When the roll call was completed, it was discovered that Ensign Gerald V. Brostkaux, piloting F6F-3N, (Bu. No. 42954) was missing.  An oil slick was later found in the water where it was believed his plane went down.   

     Both pilots were assigned to Night Fighter Squadron 102, (VF(N)-102)

     Source: U.S. Navy Accident Report, dated July 13, 1944

Photos OF The Former Quonset Air Museum

Photos Of The Former Quonset Air Museum

 

     The Quonset Air Museum was formally established in 1992 by a group of dedicated aviation enthusiasts and for many years it was a popular Rhode Island tourist destination. The museum was located in a WWII era airplane hangar at 483 Eccleston Avenue, North Kingstown, Rhode Island, in the Quonset Business Park, on land that was formerly part of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.      

     The winter of 2013-14 produced above average snowfall amounts for Rhode Island.   In March of 2014, a portion of the museum’s roof caved in due to the weight of heavy snow that had accumulated there.  The collapse occurred in a portion of the building that was not open to visitors, and it didn’t affect any part of the museum’s collection of airplanes or artifacts, however, the building was declared unsafe and ordered closed to the public. 

     For more than two years the museum’s  board of directors worked with local and state politicians hoping to raise funds to have the building repaired and reopened, but they were unsuccessful.  The board also looked into the possibility of obtaining a site for a new building, but those plans were also unsuccessful.  

     In December of 2016 it was officially announced that the museum would remain permanently closed, and plans were begun to disperse    the museum’s collection of 28 aircraft to other organizations.

     As of this posting, the future of the former WWII aircraft hangar which housed the museum is uncertain.  

      Click on the images to enlarge.

Northeast side of the Quonset Air Museum – 2004

Quonset Air Museum
Interior View – 2008

Quonset Air Museum – 2008

Quonset Air Museum – 2008

Quonset Air Museum – 2008

Southeast lot of the Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Southeast lot Quonset Air Museum 2009

TBM-3E Avenger
Recovered from the woods of Maine in 1991.
Restored by the Quonset Air Museum.
Photo taken in 2009.

     This TBM-3E Avenger, (Bu. No. 53914), was built by General Motors in 1944.  In 1963 it was sold as surplus to a private company and converted to a crop duster.  In 1972 it crashed in the woods of northern Maine where it remained until 1991 when it was recovered by members of the Quonset Air Museum.  It was brought to Quonset where volunteers painstakingly restored it to original condition.

The TBM-3E Avenger modified for crop spraying as it looked in 1991. Note the engine is missing, and the cowl ring lies in the foreground.
Photo courtesy Larry Webster,
Quonset Air Museum.

How the Avenger looked upon arrival at the
Quonset Air Museum – 1991
Courtesy Larry Webster, Quonset Air Museum

Interior of TBM-3E
Quonset Air Museum

 

F6F-5 Hellcat undergoing restoration.
Quonset Air Museum – 2009

     On April 3, 1945, Ensign Vincent A. Frankwitz was piloting an F6F-5 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 70185), on a training mission off the island Nantucket, Massachusetts, when he was forced to ditch in the 42 degree water due to engine trouble.  He got out of the plane safely before it sank, but died before rescue boats could arrive.  In late 1993 the Hellcat was recovered by members of the Quonset Air Museum and eventually brought to Quonset for restoration.  It was planned to make the aircraft a memorial to Ensign Frankwitz.  While much work was done on the plane, as of the museum’s closing, the restoration had not yet been completed.      

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

U.S. Navy P2V Neptune
Before Restoration
Quonset Air Museum – 2009

P2V Neptune during restoration – 2009
Quonset Air Museum

P2V Neptune
Quonset Air Museum

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Wicker seat from an early airplane.
Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Joseph Zino Human Powered Aircraft Display
Quonset Air Museum – 2009

     The display pictured above depicted memorabilia relating to Joseph Zino and his human powered aircraft, The Olympian.  (The tail section of The Olympian can be seen in the display case.)  The airplane made its first flight on April 16, 1976.  It was the first human powered airplane to ever fly in in New England.   

 

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

     The above two photographs show the restored Blue Angel aircraft honoring Lt. Cmdr. Mike Gershon who was killed at Niagara Falls, New York, on July 13, 1985, while preforming with the navy’s Blue Angels team.

Quonset Air Museum – 2009

U. S. Navy Banshee
under restoration
Quonset Air Museum – 2012

U.S. Navy F2H Banshee
Under restoration
Quonset Air Museum – 2012

 

Granite sign located near the entrance of the north east side of the building.

 

 

Charlestown, R. I. – May 16, 1944

Charlestown, Rhode Island – May 16, 1944 

Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air Station

 

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

    On May 16, 1944, Ensign Marion F. DeMasters took off from Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air Station in an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 42550), for a rocket gunnery practice flight over Matunuck  Beach, about five miles from the airfield.  This training consisted of diving from an altitude of 6,000 feet towards a simulated target on the beach while maintaining a constant 40 degree glide angle. 

     While making his seventh training dive for the day, a large portion of the rear stabilizer suddenly tore away.  Ensign DeMasters was able to bring his aircraft in for an emergency landing at the air station, but just as he was about to touch down a gust of wind forced the right wing to strike the runway.  The aircraft suffered severe damage, but the pilot was not hurt.

     Ensign DeMasters was assigned to VF-74.  

      Source:

     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-14219

Lincoln, R.I. – May 26, 1966

Lincoln, Rhode Island – May 26, 1966

     On May 26, 1966, a twin-engine Piper Apache aircraft, (N218P), with three people aboard, was approaching North Central State Airport in Smithfield, Rhode Island, when both engines suddenly lost all power.  The pilot, Raymond J. Morissette, the (then) Mayor of Central Falls, R.I., radioed a “May-Day” before the plane crashed into a thickly wooded section of Lincoln.  The plane came down  about one mile from the end of runway 33, to the southwest of Jenckes Hill Road in Lincoln, and to the northeast of Clark Road in Smithfield.  Although the aircraft was completely wrecked, with the wings being torn off from hitting trees, Mr. Morissette and his two passengers, a mother and her son, were able to extricate themselves and walk out of the woods to seek help.   

     Source:

     Providence Journal, “Mayors Mayday Heeded”, May 27, 1966 

South Kingstown, R.I. – April 10, 1944

South Kingstown, Rhode Island – April 10, 1944

 

     On April 10, 1944, a U.S. Navy, North American SNJ-4 Texan, (Bu. No. 26988), with two men aboard, left the Lakehurst (N.J.) Naval Air Station bound for the South Weymouth, (Mass.) Naval Air Station.  The pilot was Herman Walter Smith, age 38, a pilot for the navy, and with him was Daniel Layton Humm, age 34, a civilian.  While passing over southern Rhode Island the men found themselves surrounded by heavy fog.  It was while flying in fog that the aircraft clipped the top of a 60 foot tree, causing the plane to crash and burn about 300 feet beyond, killing both men. 

     The crash occurred just to the north of Walsh Pond, about a half-mile north of Post Road, (aka Route 1), almost in line with Matunuck Beach Road.      

     Source:

     U. S. Navy Accident Report #44-13 053

     Lawrence Webster, Aviation Historian, Charlestown, R.I.     

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – June 28, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – June 28, 1943

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On the afternoon of June 28, 1943, Ensign Sven Rolfsen, Jr., was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 80908), at 30,000 feet over Narragansett Bay when the engine suddenly lost all power.  He put the plane into a glide and tried to restart the engine, but without success.  He was forced to make an emergency water landing on Narragansett Bay in an area just off shore from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.   Rolfsen was able to climb out of the plane before it sank.   He was not injured.

     Source:

     U. S. Navy Accident Report #43-7446

Richmond, R.I. – March 9, 1943

Richmond, Rhode Island – March 9, 1943

 

North American Texan Military Trainer

     Shortly before noon on March 9, 1943, a North American SNJ-4 Texan, (Bu. No. 26615), was flying over southern Rhode Island on a routine training flight.  There were two men aboard; Ensign Robert Foster Crader, age 21, of Gardena, California, and Ensign Robert Francis Wolfe, age 21, of Clinton, Iowa. 

     While over the town of Richmond, Rhode Island, the left wing of the aircraft suddenly folded and broke away which sent the plane into a violent spin.  Neither Crader or Wolfe were able to bail out before the plane crashed and burned in the apple orchard of the former Holly Farm, about 400 feet south of the junction of R.I. Route 2 and Heaton Orchard Road. 

     The left wing landed about a mile west of Route 2.

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Crash Report #43-6177   

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

Atlantic Ocean – December 23, 1943

Atlantic Ocean – December 23, 1943

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On December 23, 1943, Ensign Curtis L. Johnson was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft, (#65933), off the coast of Westerly, Rhode Island, on a night training flight when his airplane developed engine trouble.  After reporting his situation, he was ordered to return to shore, and was following another aircraft in that direction when he evidently crashed into the sea and was killed.   The crash was not observed by the pilot of the other plane, but according to the navy accident report, a “civilian reported seeing a plane crash into (the) water but wreckage (was) never found.”  

     According to the navy accident report, Ensign Johnson was assigned to VF-51. 

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-10170

 

Off Block Island, R.I. – December 30, 1943

Off Block Island, Rhode Island – December 30, 1943

 

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

     On the night of December 30, 1943, a flight of F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft assigned to VF(n)-76, took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a night training flight.  The night was clear, but there was no moon.

     One of the aircraft, (Bu. No. 65930), piloted by Ensign Waldo E. Neuburg, was assigned to orbit the northern end of Block Island, which lies three miles off shore from Rhode Island.  About thirty minutes into the flight, Neuburg’s aircraft began having engine trouble.  He notified the flight leader, who advised him to return to Quonset Point.  Neuburg  put the plane into a climb and headed for shore, but a short time later radioed that he wasn’t going to make it and that he was bailing out.  Fifteen seconds later his aircraft disappeared from the Jamestown (R.I.) radar station’s tracking scope somewhere NNE of Block Island.   A search and rescue operation was instituted, but no trace of Ensign Neuburg or his airplane was ever found. 

     Source:

      U.S. Navy Accident report #44-10567

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

 

    

        

    

       

Quonset Point NAS – December 5, 1943

Quonset Point Naval Air Station – December 5, 1943

    

Lockheed PV-1 Ventura U.S. Navy Photo

Lockheed PV-1 Ventura
U.S. Navy Photo

     One of the worst aviation accidents to occur in Rhode Island happened on December 5, 1943 at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  Early that morning a U. S. Navy PV-1 Ventura, (#33413), took off from Quonset Point to practice bombing techniques off Block Island.  The aircraft was assigned to bomber squadron VB-134. 

     The plane returned to Quonset Point at 11:38 a.m. and the pilot attempted to land on runway 34.  While doing so the aircraft went out of control and crashed into Hangar #2 and burst into flames.  

     The Navy investigation report describes the final moments before the crash. 

     “Aircraft crossed edge of runway 34 at 50-75 ft. at approximately 100 knots.  Plane made “back of  wheel” landing at too great a speed.  Maine wheels hit the ground first and then the tail-wheel, as tail-wheel hit – the plane bounced off the ground and assumed an unusual nose high attitude at which time the pilot pushed his engines full on in an attempt to go around the field again.  The main landing gear seemed to be retracting which would tend to verify that the pilot was attempting to go around again.  The initial bounce plus the use of engines took the plane up to about 100 ft. of altitude in a very nose high attitude.  Nose high tab used in landing probably increased the pilot’s dilemma and ended with the plane in a full-power stall at 100 ft.  The control surfaces in this stalled condition could not counter-act the torque at full power and the plane began a slow steady turn to the left  barely maintaining altitude. When approximately 90 degrees to the original heading of 340 degrees, the plane’s left wing began to slowly drop and at about the same time it struck the hangar and sheared off near the wing tip.  The rest of the airplane crashed into the hangar and was consumed in flames.”            

     All six crewmen aboard the Ventura were killed, as well as three men working in the hangar.  The dead were identified as:

     (Pilot) Lt. Walter Philbrick Craig, Sr., 27, of Jacksonville, Florida. He was survived by his wife and son.  He’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida.  

     (Radioman) ARM2c Max Ivan Colaw, 19, of Yates Center, Kansas.  He was survived y his wife, Marie, and two brothers, Orrie, and Victor, both of whom were also serving in the military.  He’s buried in Long Island national Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York.  

     AOM 3c  Norman Louis Simoneau, 18, of Portland, Maine. He’s buried in Calvary Cemetery, South Portland, Maine.  

     AMM 3c William George Wheeler, 22, of Braintree, Massachusetts.  He’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Woodville, Massachusetts.  

     AMM 3c Hugh Patrick Biddick, 22, of New Hyde Park, New York.  He’s buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Middle Village, New York.   

     AMM 3c William Edward O’Hern, 20, of McKeesport, Penn.  He was survived by his wife Dorothy. He’s buried in McKeesport Versailles Cemetery in McKeesport, Penn.  To see a photograph of AMM 3c O’Hern, and read more information about him, see www.findagrave.com, Memorial #56158727.  

     Those killed in the hangar were identified as:

     AOM 3c Luvern Charles Klinger, 22, of Richville, Minnesota.   He’s buried in St. Lawrence Cemetery, Otto Township, Minnesota.   

     AOM 2c John Stanley Wojcik, 23, of Amsterdam, New York. He’s buried in Amsterdam, N.Y.

     AOM 2c Walter Edward Connelly, 19, of Milford, Nebraska. He’s buried in Dorchester Cemetery, Dorchester, Nebraska.

     The hangar in which the plane crashed was repaired.  It was one of four that stood near the runway.  It was torn down in 2010. 

     Sources:

     U.S. Navy Crash Report, #41-10111

     Town of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records

     New York Times, “Eight Killed In Navy Plane Crash”, December 6, 1943, Pg. 24. 

     Providence Journal, “Eight Men Killed In Bomber Crash At Quonset Base”, December 6, 1943, Pg. 1

     (Providence) Evening Bulletin, “Quonset Death Toll Now Nine”, December 6, 1943, Pg. 1 

     (Providence) Evening Bulletin, Quonset’s Fatal Accident Probed”, December 7, 1943, pg. 4.   

     Amsterdam Evening Recorder, “Amsterdam Boy Meets Death In Plane Crash While Serving At Naval Station In Rhode Island”, (John S. Wojcik), December 6, 1943

     Florida Times-Union, “Navy Aviator Dies In Crash”, (Lt. Craig.) December 8, 1943.    

     Perham Enterprise Bulletin, “Luvern Klinger Fatally Hurt In Airplane Crash”, December 9, 1943.

     Yates Center News, “Max Colaw Killed In Navy Plane Crash”, December 9, 1943.  

 

    

Hillsgrove Airport, RI – December 31, 1934

Hillsgrove Airport, Rhode Island – December 31, 1934

Warwick, Rhode Island

     At 3:30 p.m. on December 31, 1934, an army reserve 2nd Lieutenant took off from Boston Airport bound for Hillsgrove State Airport in Rhode Island.  He arrived at Hillsgrove at 4:10 p.m. and attempted to land.  As he came in over the runway he overshot the landing and crashed through a fence and ended up on the roadway beyond. 

     Although the plane suffered damage, neither the pilot or his passenger were injured. 

     The aircraft involved was an O-1E observation plane, (Ser. No. 29-304) 

Click on image to enlarge.

    

Consolidated PT-3A, Ser. No. 29-121
Damaged at Hillsgrove, R.I.
November 4, 1935

     About ten months later on November 4, 1935, the same pilot was flying a PT-3A trainer aircraft, (Ser. No 29-121) from Mitchel Field, Long Island, N.Y., to Hartford, Connecticut, when he was blown off course by a strong easterly wind and wound up over Rhode Island.  After finding Hillsgrove Airport, he landed to refuel.  At time he landed there was construction going on at the airport involving the installation of runway lights.  Landing in a strong cross wind, the lieutenant’s aircraft drifted over into one of the construction ditches situated along the runway and ground looped.  Damage to the aircraft consisted of left wing crumpling and the left landing gear being torn off.   The pilot was uninjured.

     Sources:

     Technical Report Of Aircraft Accident, (Two reports) dated January 14, 1935, and November 15, 1935.  

     Photo Credit: Louis C. McGowan, R.I.

 

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

 

Richmond, R. I. – March 16, 1944

Richmond, Rhode Island – March 16, 1944

Updated June 28, 2017

    

F6F Hellcat U.S. Navy Photo

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     At approximately 7:40 p.m. on the night of March 16, 1944, Ensign Herbert Leslie Woods, 22, took off from Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air station In Charlestown, Rhode Island, for a night training flight.  The weather that evening was cloudy, with a 500 to 600 foot cloud ceiling, and poor visibility of less than a mile.

     Ensign Woods was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 41008).

     Ensign Woods was last seen entering the clouds by those in the control tower.  At 7:46 p.m., an emergency IFF signal was received by the tower.  The signal lasted approximately three minutes before it stopped.  Afterwards Ensign Woods could not be contacted.

     The following morning the wreckage of Ensign Woods’s Hellcat was found next to a stream in a wooded area of the village of Kenyon, which is located within the town of Richmond, Rhode Island.  The plane hat crashed at high speed and Woods had been killed instantly.

     At the time of his death, Ensign Woods was assigned to Night Fighter Squadron 79, VF(n)-79.  

     Ensign Woods was from Springfield, Illinois.  He’s buried in Camp Butler National Cemetery in Section 3, Site 809.  One can see a photo of his grave at the Camp Butler National Cemetery, site search, www.Findagrave.com, Memorial #2562708     

     Sources:

     U.S. Navy Crash Report #44-12450 

     North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records

     Larry Webster – Aviation Archaeologist and Historian, Charlestown, R.I.

     www.Findagrave.com

East Providence, R.I. – January 12, 1943

East Providence, Rhode Island – January 12, 1943

Updated December 29, 2015

    

U.S. Navy SBD auntless National Archives Photo

U.S. Navy SBD auntless
National Archives Photo

     At 3:00 p.m. on January 12, 1943, two U.S. Navy SBD-4 Dauntless aircraft were returning to Quonset Point Naval Air Station after a patrol/photographic  flight when they encountered snow squalls over the Providence metropolitan area and were forced to make emergency landings. 

     One aircraft (Bu. No. 06925) attempted to land in a field near St. Mary’s Seminary on Pawtucket Avenue in East Providence, and in the process collided with a tree and flipped over.  The pilot, Ensign John Robert Jasper, 22, of St. Louis, Missouri, was killed, and his companion, Photographer 3C, Ollen Amay Stevens, 26, of  Detroit, Michigan, was seriously injured.

     St. Mary’s Seminary is today known as St. Mary’s Bay View Academy located at 3070 Pawtucket Avenue.  

    The second aircraft made a hard landing in another field about a quarter of a mile away.  The pilot, Ensign William E. McCarthy, 23, of Mansfield, Mass., and his companion, Seaman Apprentice Edward Goumond, 20, of Johnston, R.I., were slightly injured.      

     Ensign Jasper had just celebrated his 22nd birthday twelve days earlier on December 30th.   His body was brought to Quonset Naval Air Station In North Kingstown, Rhode Island in preparation for burial. He’s buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Afton, Missouri.  To see a picture of his grave go to www.findagrave.com and see Memorial # 47782542. 

     Sources:

     North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records, #43-17

     Larry Webster, R. I. Aviation Archaeologist & Historian

     Newport Daily News, “Navy Pilot Killed In Crash Upstate”, January 13, 1943, page 12

    

Hopkinton, R.I. – December 13, 1945

Hopkinton, Rhode Island – December 13, 1945

SB2C Helldiver U.S. Navy Photo

SB2C Helldiver

U.S. Navy Photo

     On December 13, 1945, an SB2C-4E Helldiver (Bu. No. 83080) took off from Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Charlestown, Rhode Island, for a gunnery training flight.  While making a tight turn in the air at 1,400 feet, the plane suddenly spun in and crashed in woodland off Panciera Road in the town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island.  (The area of the crash is approximately eight miles from the airfield.) 

     Both crewmen aboard were killed instantly.  They were:

     (Pilot) Ensign Kenneth Walter Barnes, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio.  He’s buried in St. Joseph’s New Cemetery in Cincinnati. He was survived by his wife Dorothy. 

    Aviation Ordnanceman 3cl Charles Otmar Henninger, 28, of Sumner, Iowa. He’s buried at St. Peter’s Evan. Cemetery in Bremer Co. Iowa.  He was survived by his wife Geneva.  For more information about the life of Charles Henninger see the website “Bremer County Veterans Affairs” at  www.bremercountyva.org/gravesite/charles-otmar-henninger/

     Sources:

     (book) BuNos! Dispostion of World War II USN, USMC, And USCG Aircraft Listed By Bureau Numbers, by Douglas E. Campbell, copyright 2012.

     North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records: 45-118, and 45-119. 

     Findagrave.com- Charles Otmar Henninger, Memorial # 27384806

     Findagrave.com – Kenneth Walter Barnes, Memorial # 129069814

     Bremer County Veterans Affairs website – see above.

     U.S. Navy Crash Brief, 6-45 

Westerly, R.I. – October 24, 1943

Westerly, Rhode Island – October 24, 1943

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger National Archives Photo

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger

National Archives Photo

     On October 24, 1943, a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger (Bu. No. 06096) piloted by Ensign Ralph E. Sethness, 28, was approaching Westerly Auxiliary Air Field (Today known as Westerly State Airport) when the plane developed engine trouble and crashed on the golf course of the Winnapaug Country Club.  (The club was, and still is, located at 180 Shore Road in Westerly.)

     The plane came down near the 7th hole and burst into flames.  Two local men, Robert C. Gentile, and Benjamin B. York, were the first to arrive at the scene where they found the badly injured pilot lying right next to the burning wreck with live ammunition from the plane’s machine guns starting to go off.  With disregard for their own safety, they carried Ensign Sethness fifty feet away and lay him down.  No sooner had they done so, the plane’s fuel tanks exploded spraying flaming gasoline all about the area.  The flames quickly set off a succession of machine gun rounds, and Gentile shielded the injured man with his body.   This lasted for about two minutes until the heat of the flames forced them to move Ensign Sethness another fifty feet away.  There they tended to him as best they could until fire and rescue units arrived.     

     Both men were later awarded the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for their efforts.  

     The Grumman Avenger generally carried a crew of three men however, on this particular flight Ensign Sethness was alone.  The reason for the flight was not stated, nor was the cause of the accident.   Ensign Sethness was assigned to torpedo squadron VT-15.

    Sources:

     The Westerly Sun, “Saw Plane Crash, Shore Road Men Rush To Scene”, October 25, 1943

     U.S. Navy accident report #44-9275

     Carnegie Hero Fund Commission

 

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