Aircraft Production in Dayton
Wright Airplane Company - 1910

This article appeared in NCR World September-October, 1970

 

Aircraft production in Dayton

Wright Airplane Company, Dayton—1910

 

     In the early days of aviation, Dayton, Ohio, had a flourishing aircraft production industry.

     And, NCR and its employees played a significant role in this exciting new adventure.

     It was because of men like the Wrights, Col. Deeds, Kettering and hundreds of others who pioneered in Dayton, that the United States emerged as a leader in aeronautics.

     Other parts of the nation drew heavily on talent developed at the Wright Airplane Company, the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, McCook Field, and continuing today at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

 

Wright Airplane Company

 

     In November, 1909, just six years after their first flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers sold their United States patents to a group of New York investors headed by banker August Belmont for $100,000.  Then they organized a factory for the new owners.

     The agreement was for the Wrights to receive 40 percent of the airplane company stock and a 10 per cent royalty guarantee on every machine sold.

     Following Belmont’s lead, these investors put money into the company:  Cornelius Vanderbilt, Morton F. Plant and Howard Gould—railroad magnates; Theodore P. Shonts and Allan Ryan—municipal transportation; Edward J. Berwind—coal mining; Andrew Freedman and Pliny W. Williamson—stock market operators; Russell A. Alger, Packard Motor Car executive, and Robert J. Collier, magazine publisher.  Mr. Alger and Mr. Collier were friends of the Wrights.

 

Motors in Bicycle Shop

 

     Thus, The Wright Airplane Company’s first factory was a wing of the old Speedwell Motor Car Company plant that was later destined to become a part of the Delco-Moraine division of General Motors in Dayton.

     The factory was equipped and in operation the first week of February, 1910.  The motors were still being made by Charley Taylor, an early employee of the Wrights, in the Wrights’  bicycle shop on West Third Street.

     Three months after the factory began operations, the first airplane to roll from a Dayton factory was on the field ready for flight.

     During the summer of 1910, the Wrights selected a site on West Third Street for a permanent factory and by November 7 it was in operation.  At the close of the year, stockholders received a 10 per cent dividend.

     The Wright Airplane Company had three operating divisions—government, civilian and flying.  The flying field was on the Huffman farm at Simms Station, the scene of the Wrights’ early flights in their second plane—the 1905 Wright Flyer, which now is in Dayton’s Carillon Park.   (The Wrights also operated a flying school at Montgomery, Alabama.)

     In 1911, the Wright Model B was introduced.  It was powered by a  35-horsepower four-cylinder engine.  General Benjamin D. Foulois called it “a beautiful little airplane.”  He flew it at San Antonio, Texas, where he was learning to fly by correspondence with the Wrights.

     Robert J. Collier bought the first airplane produced by the new company.  The price was $5,000.

     One of the early planes was purchased  by Calbraith Perry Rodgers, one of the nation’s first pilots, who came to Dayton to accept delivery.  As an advertising stunt, Mr. Rodgers was to fly from Sheepshead Bay, Long Island to Long Beach, Calif.  He was sponsored by the makers of  “Vin Fiz” a soft drink.

 

Made Repairs At Night

 

     Mr. Rodgers offered Charley Taylor $10 a day and expenses as machinist for the project.  Mr. Taylor traveled on a special train that accompanied the flight, and took care of the plane every night, making needed repairs.

     Overall, the trip took 47 days.

     Thus for a short period the Wrights were manufacturers of airplanes, but there’s no evidence they were particularly happy about that accomplishment.  In 1915 they sold their interest in the business.

     The flying school apparently meant more to the Wrights than the production of airplanes.  Orville and his assistants trained 116 young men and three young women during this period.   Among them were H.H. (Hap) Arnold, who headed the Air Force during World War II and T. D. Milling, who later became Air Corps chief of staff in World War I.

     A complete list of names of those taught to fly is on the plaque at the Wright Memorial overlooking Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

     When the United States entered World War I in April, 1917, the U. S. had no aircraft industry to speak of, and the Army Signal Corps had only a few obsolete planes and no pilots with combat experience.

 

A Plane-Hunt

 

     U. S. military leaders did not know the kinds of airplanes needed.  Thus the War Department sent the Bolling Commission to Europe on a plane-hunt.  The commission recommended the British DeHaviland-4 as the best and easiest to build.  The new Aircraft Production Board accepted the idea and asked the British to send a DeHaviland-4 with drawings to match.

     Meantime, the military arm decided to develop a new all-American engine by automotive engineers J. G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and E. J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company.

     NCR’s Col. Deeds, who had been a member of the Aircraft Production Board,and now was Chief of Signal Corps’ Equipment Division, invited the two engineers to his suite in Washington’s Willard Hotel and spurred them in just five days to design an engine that could produce 400 horsepower, and that could be manufactured in huge quantities by machine process.

     The engineers met Col. Deeds’ challenge for the engine that Rear Admiral David W. Taylor named the “Liberty.”

 

Gov. Cox suggested Deeds

 

     It was one thing to design an engine, but quite something else to find someone to produce it.  Secretary of War Newton D. Baker made two trips to Dayton, and finally after he conferred with Ohio Gov. James M. Cox, a group was found to tackle the project.

     Gov. Cox, also a Daytonian and a newspaper publisher, suggested that Col. Deeds try his hand at forming a company.  Col. Deeds enlisted Harold Talbott, Harold Talbott Jr., Charles Kettering and Orville Wright.  They formed the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company.

     Col. Deeds had no part in ownership or management because of his position in the government.

     While the new company had to start from scratch, it had one big advantage—lease of a plant nearing completion in Moraine City south of Dayton.  (This now is part of the Frigidaire division of General Motors.)

     The plant at that time belonged to the Domestic Engineering Company (not to be confused with Delco), an organization formed by Col. Deeds and Mr. Kettering before the war to manufacture the Delco farm lighting system.  Col. Deeds also placed at the disposal of Dayton-Wright his South Field, a part of his estate close to the new plant. (South Field was a part of the area now occupied by NCR’s Moraine Farm in Kettering which is Col. Deed’s former home and is used now by NCR for marketing division sales programs.  The area actually covered acreage running west of Moraine Farm to near the site of General Motors’ Frigidaire Division plant.)

     South Field became the experimental center for Dayton-Wright.  There, under the direction of Daytonian Jim Jacobs, who learned his aeronautics at the original Wright Airplane Company, the new company built five hangars.

 

Key Role For NCR

 

     Before the government settled it design problem, Dayton-Wright workmen built a training plane which Harold Talbott called the “FS” or “First Shot.”  Later they built the Curtiss JN-1, the “Jenny.”

     Dayton-Wright produced 400 of the “Jennies” before it began production of the DH-4s.

    

     The late Carl Beust was head of NCR’s Patent Department during the life of the Dayton-Wright Company.  Accordingly, he had a lot to do with the making of metal fittings for the “Jennies” and the DH-4s at Dayton-Wright.

     “NCR made every metal fitting on those planes,” Mr. Beust said.  “In addition, it made ailerons, rudders and elevators for the ‘Jennies.’ ”

     Mr. Beust recalled that NCR needed aluminum to make 200 air-speed indicators, but couldn’t get it raw.  Undaunted, NCR bought aluminum pie plates and, on a roller specially designed by NCR for the job, rolled the material to the thickness specified for hands on the indicator dials.

     “The military wanted the instruments right away, “ Mr. Beust noted.  “We scoured the country to find a watchmaker who could make them.  Found him in Hartford, Connecticut, working in his home.”

     On the whole, the airplane that rolled from the Dayton-Wright assembly lines (40 a day at the time of the Armistice) was a good one for its day.

 

Planes Reached France

 

     The first DH-4s made in Dayton reached France in May, 1918, a year after the U. S. entered the war.  It was later said no American-built planes reached the battlefronts.  However, it was established that 3,431 of the planes were delivered to the Air Service, most of them by Dayton-Wright.  Of these, 1,213 reached the A. E. F. in France, 417 of which got into combat.

     Many aircraft experts, including General James H. Doolittle, have called the DH-4 a good plane.  However, some young pilots did have difficulties.  Especially when they went from the “Jenny” which had an engine that generated only 90 horsepower to the DH-4 which had 400 horsepower.

     William (Bill) Conover, top-flight aircraft mechanic, said going from a “Jenny” to a DH-4 was like a passenger car driver entering the Indianapolis 500.

     Famous test pilot Howard Rinehart, who tested planes for Dayton-Wright, liked the DH-4.  He often flew “Boss” Kettering around the country in it, occasionally setting speed records without really trying.

 

(Editor’s note: Some of the material here was taken from an unpublished manuscript, “The Frontier of  Aviation”, which was written by the late William L. Sanders, veteran Dayton newspaper man, at the suggestion of the late Eugene W. Kettering and the Aviation Hall of Fame.)