McCook Airfield

McCook Field

QUESTION:  The location of McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio is now home to Kettering Park, named after local innovator Charles Kettering.  Which of the following is NOT something Charles Kettering developed?
A)  Internal Combustion Engines
B)  Leaded Gas
C)  Electric Automotive Starters
D)  Freon for Refrigeration
ANSWER BELOW

All week long, the blog has been dedicated to telling the story of four men - Al Johnson, Orville Wright, Luzern Custer and John Macready. Of the four, posterity has only really been kind to Mr. Wright, although the accomplishments of the other three men deserve at very least a nod of appreciation. Of course, there is one obvious connection between all four men:  they were together on September 24th, 1924, when the photograph was taken. Of course, questions arise as to where they actually stood when an anonymous photographer captured the moment we look at today.  Clearly, John Macready is talking to someone out of frame. We don't know who they were, nor do we know many things: what time of day was it, who took the picture, and what sort of camera did they use.  Was it an American Kodak Brownie?  A British-made Hewit-Beaufort? A German Kinar? Another question we might ask is where the photograph was taken - this one we do feel confident we can answer.  It is highly likely these men were all at the McCook Field Aviation Experimentation Station in Dayton, Ohio. The field was opened in 1917, the same year (not coincidentally) that the United States became involved in World War I.  

Innovations in flying technology were needed to ensure victory in the Great War, and McCook became a vital site for them.  Airplanes were constructed nearby, and tested on the macadam runways of McCook. At this time, most airports more closely resembled mowed farms than modern airfields, so paved landing strips were quite a novelty.  After the war, improvements in air travel continued to be made at McCook, with men like John Macready risking their lives to ensure safe flights for future aviators. As airplanes became larger, McCook seemed to get smaller. Eventually, the Air Service threatened to move to Langley, Virginia to larger accommodations.  Dayton's leaders feared the loss of revenue and prestige the move would cause, so they acquired 4,520 acres of land not far from McCook, then donated it to the federal government.  President Calvin Coolidge accepted the gift and, in 1927, McCook Airfield shut down.  A new, larger airstrip opened called Wright Field, where the  future Wright-Patterson Air Force Base exists today. Wright-Patterson is still in service today, while McCook has become a site for leisure activities.  It would be unrecognizable to the men who flew into and out of the site one hundred years ago.

ANSWER:  A)  Internal Combustion Engines. He definitely worked to improve engines though.

John Macready

QUESTION:  John Macready is the only man to ever win the Mackay Trophy three times.  Who was the trophy named after?
A)  Hal Mackay
B)  Clarence Mackay
C)  Allan Mackay
D)  Amelia Earnhardt
ANSWER BELOW

This week, the American Treasure Tour blog has been dedicated to honoring a photograph.  From left to right, we have already discussed the lives and careers of Al Johnson, Orville Wright, and Luzern Custer.  We dedicate today's entry to the man on the far right - John Macready. It is sometimes strange how some pioneers are celebrated long after their accomplishments while others are lost to time. Charles Lindburgh lives on in our memory as the first man to fly solo and nonstop from the United States to Europe; however, few people remember John Macready today despite his daring acts in the early days of aviation. His life started on a 'normal' course.  Born in 1887, the San Diego native graduated from Stanford in 1912 with a degree in economics. He likely would have had a desk job if it hadn't been for World War I.  He enlisted in the army in 1917, and quickly received his pilot's wings (the Air Force would not become an independent branch of the military until after the second world war). He was so adept at flying that he became an important flight instructor.  He wrote a manual used to train pilots that would stay in print for many years (this was a full decade before the development of the Link Trainer flight simulator).

Macready moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1918 to fly at McCook Field. It was there where he conducted history-making flights. While there, he became the first pilot to spray pesticides from an airplane, becoming the first 'crop duster.' He also earned three of the highly prestigious Mackay Trophies, which were given out for "the most meritorious flight of the year." Modern recipients receive the coveted award from the U.S. Air Force and the National Aeronautic Association, while it has always come with high honors.  Macready won in 1921 for setting the altitude record - flying 34,508 feet in an open-cockpit biplane. In 1922 he won for setting an endurance record - he traveled 35 hours, 18 minutes and 30 seconds straight. And he won again in 1923 for making the first non-stop, coast-to-coast flight from Long Island, New York to San Diego, California in just under twenty-seven hours. The next year he also became an unwitting first. He became the first pilot to bail from a crashing plane in the dark of the night. His parachute got tangled in a tree during his descent and he needed to be cut down, but he was unharmed. That last event happened just a few months before our photo was taken. Macready served in Africa during World War II prior to retiring from the military, a highly distinguished flyer who would, in 1968, be inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

ANSWER:  B)  Clarence Mackay.  A hugely wealthy entrepreneur in his day, he must have given substantial funds to the aviation industry in his day.

Al Johnson

QUESTION:  The Ohio license plate reads "Birthplace of Aviation" thanks to the contributions of Dayton natives Orville and Wilbur Wright.  Until recently, North Carolina's plate read "First in Flight," thanks to the very same innovators.  What did they change their plates to?
A)  Second in Flight
B)  First in Freedom
C)  Ninth in Secession
D)  First in English Colonization
ANSWER BELOW

The American Treasure Tour blog has been looking at a pretty marvelous photograph this week. It is the one in the top right corner. Yesterday, we talked about the career of the most famous of the four men posing - Orville Wright, who created the first heavier-than-air vehicle to ever successfully fly with his brother Wilbur. He is the second man to the left. Today, we are going to talk about the man on the far left. Although he is barely remembered to history today, Al Johnson's contributions to the American aviation industry are substantial. Edward Albert Johnson was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1885. He moved to California with his family, where he attended public school. He was 26 when he became president/owner of the Motor Express & Drayage Company of Oakland (for those not in the know, drayage is short-distance transport). We conjecture that the reason he got out of the drayage business after only four years was because he was bitten by a bug from which there was no cure.

The year was 1915, and Johnson, like countless other young men and women, fell in love with the thrill of flying. He trained in California, New York, and London, England before he became a civilian flight instructor and test pilot for the Curtiss School and the U.S. Army.  He was 32 in 1917 when he settled in Dayton, Ohio and took a position at McCook Field.  While at McCook, Johnson joined the U.S. Postal Service and initiated Air Mail routes that created quick delivery of mail at a time when the options for speed were few. He was also an airplane designer, charter pilot, and aerial surveyor.  This all happened before the above photograph was taken, likely at McCook.  

Al Johnson Flying Field, Vandalia, OH

Al Johnson Flying Field, Vandalia, OH

Johnson's life after the photograph went pretty well - Johnson continued to operate numerous business relating to the air travel industry. He developed his own model of plane, created the Johnson Air Speed Indicator and the AVIGO Compass, and built his own airfield in Vandalia, Ohio.  Two major setbacks occurred in the late-20's, when one of his hangers burned down and destroyed four airplanes, and when the U.S. government took overall Air Mail transportation. But he stayed afloat and did well, until he died in, of all things, an automobile accident, in 1948. Speculation has it that he had a heart attack while driving, which caused him to lose control and crash. The American Treasure Tour blog is happy to be able to honor this accomplished aviator and help remember his life.

ANSWER:  B)  First in Freedom.  The Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775 and the Halifax Resolves of April 12, 1776 both pre-date the declaration signed in Philadelphia later in 1776.