Recreating an Aviation Milestone
EAAer seeks assistance in rebuild of first naval airplane
November 25, 2009 — On January 11, 1911, an important aviation milestone occurred when Eugene B. Ely successfully landed an airplane, a Curtiss Pusher, on the deck of the United States Navy’s USS Pennsylvania in the San Francisco Bay.
Not only was this the first arrested landing of an aircraft on a floating vessel, the US Navy also considers it the birth of naval aviation. Plans are currently being made to celebrate the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CONA) with a series of special events throughout 2011, including EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
Bob Coolbaugh, EAA 307903/Vintage 15150, of New Market, Virginia, is using that milestone as his major motivation to build a flying replica Curtiss Pusher Model D-IV just like the one that landed on the Pennsylvania. He not only plans to fly the airplane, but he’s received preliminary confirmation to participate at official CONA events. We learned of Coolbaugh’s fascinating project through a messageboard thread he started on Oshkosh365 looking for feedback and input.
Coolbaugh, who served as a naval aviator for 10 years and 11 more in the reserves, is aiming for a first flight in the summer/fall of 2010 then, after flying off the required test hours, significant participation in CONA events and air shows the following year.
“I also intend to fly it to and from” the events, he said, rather than haul it from place to place. He also wants to do some “barnstorming”.
Describing his project, Coolbaugh said that it’s a faithful replica, created from the Charles Schultz drawings that were purportedly taken from the factory blueprints. It will not be exactly like the plane that made the first landing, however, which Coolbaugh described as a transitionary design between Curtiss’ D-III and D-IV models. It will also be powered by a certified engine - a six cylinder Continental-125 - turning an experimental prop, and be equipped with Cleveland disc brakes from a Cessna 150. While his creation may not be fully embraced by purists - he’s also installing a transponder and radio - Coolbaugh feels that the modifications are essential for safety and are absolutely necessary to do what he wants to do with the airplane.
“A purist will faint, but I feel these (modifications) are necessary for what I want to do with the airplane,” he said.
Coolbaugh, who is a former head of the Monocoupe Type Club, has generated some significant discussion on Oshkosh365 regarding his project, which he says is on schedule. “The wing panels are all made, I’m putting together the elevators and stabilizers once they’re all drilled and fitted,” he said. “I’m fitting the fittings to the uncovered but finished wings.” All the work is being done at his “big brown hangar” at the New Market Airport (8W2).
But will the Navy allow Coolbaugh to really commemorate the CONA by making a landing on a current carrier? Not very likely he said, although he may be able to persuade officials to do a take-off, which would commemorate Ely’s earlier (November 14, 1910) take-off in a Curtiss Pusher III off the USS Birmingham.
“Ely’s platform (on the Pennsylvania) was 130 feet, and he missed the first half, so he stopped in 60 feet,” Coolbaugh said. “Modern carriers are about 600 feet, so I could probably do a touch and go and still stop.”
Coolbaugh’s request for assistance quickly revealed a number of other interesting EAA Member projects related to the pioneering days of aviation:
- Al Todd in Asheville, NC is building a Graham Lee Morane Saulnier Model “N”
- Jim Otey in Lewiston, ID is working with Dean Wilson to build a 1909 Curtiss Model D Pusher
- Ed Lubitz in Bright, ON has built a replica of the 1909 AEA Silver Dart
- Tom Weiss and EAA Chapter 478 in Lexington Park, MD are building a non-flying replica of the 1911 Curtiss A-1 Triad
- EAA staff and volunteers in Oshkosh, WI are building a replica 1909 Bleriot XI
You can learn more, see some project photos, and join the discussion at Oshkosh365.