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Louisville's Seaplanes: History of a landlocked city and its naval aircraft (part 2)

The following is by Louisville historian R. David Schooling. Images are used with implied permission. Read Part 1 here.

 
The Grumman Widgeon was a large, generously appointed, six-place amphibian that Thompson also owned and kept in the Kentucky Flying Service hanger at Bowman Field (LOU), but he frequently flew it into and out of his personal  seaport on the wharf at 2nd & River.

This plane, along with the Piper J-3 and the two Seabees, presented an unusual visual impact attracting curiosity seekers crossing the bridge or entering Louisville from U.S. 41-River Road or arriving or departing train passengers along the elevated track of the Illinois Central atop the wharf  glancing out of their train windows down at the activities on the riverfront. This was an era preceding modern freeways, newer Ohio River bridges and one in which trains still ran.

 
The largest amphibian ever to splash into Louisville's wharf was the
massive Curtiss NC-4 four engine plane. This record setter was the
world's first aircraft to cross the Atlantic. The Nov. 11 & 12  Louisville
visit was 
part of the 1919 goodwill tour.
Photo courtesy the Bowman Eagles Flying Club.

There is some historic record of an earlier attempt to start up seaplane operations in Louisville, perhaps as early as the 1920s. Take for instance the intriguingly named firm dating from July 5, 1920 called the "Ohio River Aero Transport Company."

This company likely was directly connected to a short-lived airmail service using small flying boats operating between Cincinnati and Louisville, mentioned in archived newspaper clips. Further detail about  these  operations  are  unavailable. Thompson’s Seaplane Base operated for a number of years during the mid-to-late 1940s and early 1950s. Details of its closure are uncertain, but Louisville's Seaport and Mr. W.C.Thompson were both widely known and fondly remembered.

 

Without doubt, the largest and most historically notable amphibian aircraft to ever slice her keel through the waters of the Ohio River and pull up to the Louisville wharf was the gigantic, four-engine NC-4 flying boat, which made the first ever Trans-Atlantic crossing.  

Here are some of the impressive statistics for this craft: Wingspan 168 ft.- Power plant- Four 400 h.p. V-12 engines, Fueling Systems Nine 200 gallon fuel tanks with 1,800 gallons of fuel aboard, Operational weight 28,000 lbs. Crew of Six, Dual open-air pilot and navigator cockpits, bow and aft machine gun ports and hatches.

The NC aircraft originally was designed for anti-submarine patrol duties. After its record setting achievement, the NC-4 aircraft was dismantled and shipped back to the States on the USS Aroostook. The crew returned to the United States via the transport USS Zeppelin to the Navy port at Hoboken.

After much pomp and celebratory receptions for the crew’s  achievement, the NC-4 was reassembled and assigned to a schedule of goodwill tours throughout eastern and southern ports. It was flown up the Mississippi to St. Louis, where it officially was transferred by the US Navy to the Smithsonian Institution. After St. Louis, the aircraft made its way to Louisville’s Ohio Riverfront wharf only five months after its achievement at Lisbon, Portugal for viewing by appreciative Louisville citizens at the Ohio River on Nov. 11 and 12, 1919.

Numerous Louisville pilots received water ratings and seaplane training in one of the various Thompson aircraft, flying in and out of the Louisville seaport with W.C."Tommy" Thompson instructing at their side. The wonderful color photo taken under the bridge would have been nothing short of spectacular had all of Thompson’s seaplanes been in a single picture. This story is but one tiny portal into Louisville's long-vanished waterfront, which still holds many similar historic gems.

For posterity sake the research alone has been quiet an adventurous trip.

 

 


W.C.Thompson and friends at the  2nd & River Louisville Seaport

R. David Schooling is a freelance author and historian based near Louisville, Ky., with deep interests in little-known aspects of the area's history. He has written numerous articles and has been published widely, in local and regional publications, especially urban-affairs issues.
An Air Force veteran who served in Japan and Europe, he eventually was assigned and detached to the Royal Air Forces in Germany. Now retired and living just across the Ohio River in Clarksville, Ind., he is working on his latest endeavor, historic electric railways. Inter-urbans, elevated’s and rapid transit were all abundant in Louisville years ago.

FAA / DOT lays out NextGen plan details

 

The Transportation Department today issued its guidelines to manufacturers for NextGen implementation.

“Today's regulations set clear performance requirements for the electronics that will allow aircraft to be tracked with greater precision and accuracy. And by 2020, all aircraft flying over the United States will be broadcasting an ADS-B signal,” states an announcement on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s departmental blog.  “ADS-B will allow pilots to get the same information as air traffic controllers and see the same things on their screens. Pilots will know where aircraft are located and how close one plane is to another. They'll have a clearer picture of what’s happening in the air or on the ground--even in low visibility.”

Read the blog entry here.

Or check out the entire implementation plan in PDF form here.

Michigan company unveils engine for UAVs

Michigan company Ricardo recently announced it will launch a new engine for unmanned aircraft that will have military and private uses.

A press release says the Wolverine 3 engine will be tested this summer.

According to the release:

The first engine in the family – the Ricardo Wolverine 3 – is designed to power lightweight aircraft and use military-spec heavy fuels. It is a 3.1-horsepower, two-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled engine with spark ignition, direct fuel injection and 500 watts of on-board power, thanks to an integrated starter-generator. Ricardo is studying plans to develop Wolverine engines to power UAVs with heavier payload and greater range and endurance requirements.

Read more here.

 

The tightrope of security and spending


Courtesy of the Defense Department

Certainly, a large part of aviation innovation, and of the aviation industry itself, derives from the American military. Anyone enjoy that GPS stuff lately?

An editorial in the USA Today last week echoes what has become a growing sentiment of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration largely credited for righting the ship in Iraq, to limit military spending and to cut into rank-and-file bureaucracy.

Gates has pushed in recent years for cuts in parts of the Defense budget, something rarely seen from a Pentagon leader during active conflict.  His reasoning is often this: The military strength held by the United States overshadows that any other nation, and in the case of the next-largest armies, many belong to allies.

Fighting the global war on terror does not always necessitate billion-dollar machinery, his logic says.

Gates has railed to trim fat from various branches that squabble for slices of the hundreds of billions of dollars available each year in the Defense budget, the second largest expenditure behind Social Security.

Often, a general of one military branch lobbies for the same money as another. For instance, when the Army insisted upon up-armored Humvees so more soldiers could survive IED blasts in Afghanistan and Iraq, similar requests came from the Air Force for UAVs and expanding fighter jet programs.

The Pentagon, at Gates’ urging, capped production of the F-22 last year. However, another recent request of his to curtail a similar program went unheard by lawmakers.

The House Armed Services Committee passed legislation to award GE a contract to compete with Pratt & Whitney building engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (pictured above), which is expected to cost $113 million per plane.

The USA Today notes that the most ardent in Congress who backed the plan without approval from the Defense Secretary came from districts home to GE facilities. At home, such a vote for a Congress member means creating or saving jobs, regardless of the true defense needs.

"Does the number of warships we have and are building really put America at risk when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined, 11 of which belong to allies and partners? Gates asked in a recent speech. "Is it a dire threat that by 2020, the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?"

In today’s times, there is a difficult balance for politicians and the non-partisan civil service workers who carry out the laws they pass. That balance spans between creating jobs, leashing government spending and defending our country. Each is important, but drawing lines is hard.

Many times, the simple solution is not the smart solution, but one can just as easily say that the other way around, too.  Weigh in below and let us know what you think.

Thanks to our friends at CFM Jet for tweeting the editorial.

 

Aviation News Rundown: India crash update, near-miss incidents scrutinized further

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The Associated Press reports this morning that Saturday’s Air India crash at an airport in Mangalore may have been caused by pilot error. A Boeing 737 overran a runway and slid into a ravine, killing 158 of 166 crewmembers and passengers.

The NTSB sent a team of investigators to cooperate in determining the cause of the India crash, deadliest in that country in more than a decade. A report from an Indian news agency says ‘nothing was wrong’ with the airport, which has a tabletop runway. Airport officials said pilots certified to fly into Mangalore are well aware of its conditions. Weather reportedly was clear and calm.

The Wall Street Journal reports that federal regulators are stepping up investigation efforts following a recent spike of near misses. The FAA has looked into more than a half-dozen incidents in the past half year, according to the WSJ article.

Could this become the Hyundai or Kia of the sky?  Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) expects to complete its first KC-100 light piston aircraft by the end of the year with deliveries beginning in 2013. The company hopes to receive certification in the U.S. and Europe for the four-seater.

Finally, it was a rough weekend for two pilots in two parts of the country in separate incidents.

Police arrested an Arkansas pilot after landing on a beach near Savanna, Ga. What began as a pleasure trip for Mark Jensen and his mother ended with his arrest. He now faces charges of reckless conduct and operating a motorized craft on the beach.

In Centennial, Colo., pilot Richard Steinmeir could not get the engine on his Cessna 182 started, so he attempted to start the prop manually. It fired up sure enough. The Skylane became a runaway plane on the airfield. Steinmeir suffered minor injuries attempting to stop it. The Cessna flipped over after traveling about 1,000 feet. The aircraft was a total loss.    

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