MAGAZINE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION OF 17TH PURSUIT SQUADRON CURTISS P-6E
WITH ATTACHED TYPE WRITTEN DESCRIPTION AND AUTOGRAPH SIGNED BY 1920'S AIR CORPS RECORD PILOT BRIG. GEN. ROSS G. HOYT (1893 - 1983)
HISTORIC CONTENT REGARDING HIS EXPERIENCES COMMANDING THE 17TH PURSUIT SQUADRON AND FLYING THE P-6E DURING THE 1930'S AT SELFRIDGE FIELD.
UNDATED MAGAZINE ARTICLE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
AUTOGRAPH DATED: NOVEMBER 4, 1976
SIZE: AUTOGRAPH NOTE 4 X 5 INCHES - 8 x 1 inch PAGE REMOVED FROM BOOK
VINTAGE ITEM - NOT A REPRINT!
CONDITION: Very good, clear signature.
HOYT TYPED: "Twenty-five of the 46 P-6E procured were assigned to the17th Pursuit Squadron which I commanded as a Captain. I designed the motif of painting in the photo which was applied to all planes of the 17th (the owl clutching the wheel fairing). The diving snow owl was the insignia of the 17th Squadron. I led the 17th Squadron with 22 P6E's to the 1932 National Air Races At Cleveland, Ohio flying demonstration flights daily. The small picture of nine P6Es in line was led by me over Selfridge Field prior to the Cleveland Races. [SIGNED] ROSS G. HOYT (USAF B/G RET.) NOVEMBER 4, 1976"
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BRIGADIER GENERAL ROSS G. HOYT (1893-1983)
Official U. S. Air Force Biography:
Ross G. Hoyt was born in Travers City, Mich., on March 12, 1893. He attended Olivet College, Mich., and enlisted in the Coast Artillery Corps, Regular Army, on Sept. 9, 1914. He served as private and radio sergeant, completing the course at the Radio School and the Electrical School at Fort Monroe, Va. On Aug. 7, 1917, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps, Regular Army.
His first commissioned service was at Fort Monroe, Va., where he was an instructor at the Coast Artillery School until April 1918. He was then detailed with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and assigned to the Army Balloon School, Fort Omaha, Neb., where he graduated as an Aerial Observer in June 1918. He then was assigned to the Balloon School detachment of Coast Artillery target practice. He remained at Fort Monroe as Commanding Officer of the 29th Balloon Company until May 1919, becoming Commanding Officer of the 22nd Balloon Company, Fort Hancock, N.J. In July 1919 he again was named Commanding Officer of the 29th Balloon Company at Fort Story, Va., accompanying this unit to Lee Hall, Va., where he also served as Commanding Officer of the Balloon School.
He was in command of the 30th Balloon Company, Lee Hall, Va., from September until November 1920. He then transferred to the Hawaiian Department, serving with the 21st and 4th Balloon Companies, and the 4th Observation Company at Fort Ruger. He served as Airplane Observer at Wheeler Field, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, from August until September 1922.
He became Professor for Military Science and Tactics, Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii, from September 1922 until February 1923, when he moved to Luke Field, Hawaii. The following April he became Commanding Officer of the 76th Bombardment Squadron at Luke Field.
In March 1924 he returned to the United States and went to Brooks Field, Texas, where he took Ground School and flying instruction. In September 1924 he moved to Kelly Field, Texas, for advanced flying, which he completed in March 1925. He was then assigned to the Office of the Chief of Air Service, Washington, D.C.
In January 1929 he was refueling pilot for the Air Corps record-breaking plane, 'Question Mark,' in southern California. He performed 27 refueling contacts of the total 43 made, ten of which were made during hours of darkness and often in the face of adverse flying conditions. All contacts were successfully accomplished without accident.
In May 1929 he was transferred to Langley Field, Va., and during this tour of duty established a record solo flight, flying night and day with a lapsed time of 48 hours from New York City to Nome, Alaska, in July 1929. In this period he also established a night-flight record of 1,100 miles from Minneapolis, Minn., to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with a pursuit-type airplane.
He graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School, Langley Field, Va., in June 1920, and then was transferred to Selfridge Field, Mich., commanding the 17th Pursuit Squadron at that post. In February 1931 he led the 17th Pursuit Squadron of 18 planes in a formation night flight from Selfridge Field, Mich., to Washington, D.C., and return: the first time this had ever been attempted. The time from Selfridge Field to Washington, D.C., was two hours. He also led the 17th Pursuit Squadron during the East Coast maneuvers from May to June 1931.
He retained command of the 17th Pursuit Squadron until November 1932, and then served as Operations Officer of Selfridge Field until June 1933. He transferred to the Office of the Chief of Air Corps, Washington, D.C., for duty in the Training and Operations Division.
From February to June 1934, he acted as Assistant Chief of the Air Corps in charge of Plans and Training for Mail Operations. He then served as Chief of the Operations Section in the Office of the Chief of Air Corps until July 1936, becoming Chief of the Public Relations Section of the Air Corps. In June 1937 he was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 20th Pursuit Group at Barksdale Field, La.
He was detailed to take the special Naval Operations Course at Maxwell Field, Ala., in January 1939, then returned to Barksdale Field, La. In December 1939 he accompanied the 20th Pursuit Group to Moffett Field, Calif., and in January 1941 he was assigned to the 10th Pursuit Wing at Hamilton Field, Calif. The following April he became Commanding Officer of the Air Base at Oklahoma City, Okla. He was assigned to Headquarters Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C., in September 1941, and the following June became the Commanding Officer of the Army Air Base, Luke Field, Ariz.
He was designated Commanding Officer of the Fighter Wing in the European Theater of Operations in February 1943, and the following May assumed command of an Air Defense Wing (redesignated Fighter Wing).
He was rated a command pilot, combat observer, balloon observer and technical observer.
Question Mark was a modified Atlantic-Fokker C-2A airplane, modified and flown by aviators from the United States Army Air Corps to experiment with aerial refueling. The flight took place from January 1 to January 7, 1929.
The first complete inflight refueling between two aircraft took place on June 27, 1923, when two Boeing-built de Havilland DH-4Bs of the United States Army Air Service accomplished the feat over San Diego's Rockwell Field. Subsequently the same group of airmen established an endurance record of remaining aloft for more than 37 hours in August 1923, using nine aerial refuelings. In June 1928, a new endurance record of more than 61 hours was established in Belgium by Adjutant Louis Crooy and Sgt. Victor Groenen, also using aerial refueling.
2nd Lt. Elwood R. Quesada, an engineer of the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C., developed a plan with a U.S. Marine Corps aviator from Anacostia Naval Air Station to break the Belgians' record.The plan was reviewed by Capt. Ira C. Eaker, an aide to Assistant Secretary of War for Air F. Trubee Davison. Eaker took it to Maj. Gen. James E. Fechet, Chief of the United States Army Air Corps. Both Fechet and Davison approved the project on the condition that it demonstrate a military application and not just as a publicity stunt. Overall command of the project was given to Major Carl A. Spaatz (who then spelled his named "Spatz"), the Assistant G-3 for Training and Operations in Fechet's office.
Preparations and planning
A new Atlantic-Fokker C-2A transport, serial number 28-120, assigned to the 14th Bombardment Squadron at Bolling Field, was flown to Middletown Air Depot, Pennsylvania, and modified for the project. The C-2A was an American-built military version of the Fokker F.VIIa-3m trimotor, a high-wing monoplane with a gross weight of 10,395 pounds, re-engined with three Wright R-790 motors producing 220 HP (174 kW) each. The C-2A had an internal fuel capacity of 192 gallons in a pair of wing tanks, and for the project two 150-gallon tanks were installed in the cargo cabin. A hatch was cut in the roof of the C-2 behind the wing for transfer of the fuel hose and passage of supplies from the tanker to the receiver. 72-octane aviation gasoline would be received in 100-gallon increments of approximately 90-seconds duration.
A 45-gallon tank was used to provide engine oil to the three motors, replenished by inflight deliveries of 5-gallon cans of Pennzoil triple-extra-heavy lowered on slings. A copper tubing system was installed in an attempt to adequately lubricate the rocker arms of the engines inflight. Doorways were cut on each side of the cockpit and catwalks built on the wings to enable Hooe to access the engines for emergency maintenance. To reduce propeller noise, the two wing engines were mounted with Westinghouse twin-blade Micarta propellers, while the nose engine used a Standard three-blade steel propeller.
As word of the project spread, its members were continually being asked how long they expected to remain aloft. Their responses were generally to the effect: "That is the question." A large question mark was painted on each side of the fuselage to provoke interest in the endurance flight.
To deliver the fuel, two Douglas C-1 single-engine transports were modified, s/n 25-428 as Refueling Airplane No. 1 and s/n 25-432 as Refueling Airplane No. 2. The bi-plane C-1s were evolved from the Douglas World Cruiser's design, with the pilots side-by-side in an open cockpit forward of the wing. Each was modified by installing two 150-gallon tanks in its cargo compartment attached to a lead-weighted 50-foot (15 m) length of 2.5-inch (64 mm) fire hose. The nozzle of the hose had a quick-closing valve on the tanker's end and was tightly wrapped with copper wire, one end of which could be attached to a corresponding copper plate mounted in Question Mark to ground the hose. The C-1's would each carry a third crewman in the cargo compartment to reel out the hose or lower a supply rope, and to work the shutoff valve.
The operation was planned to begin January 1, 1929, at Los Angeles, California, both to take advantage of weather conditions and to generate publicity by overflying the 1929 Rose Bowl football game played that day in Pasadena. The refueling planes would be situated at each end of a 110-mile (180 km) long racetrack oval, one at Rockwell Field in San Diego and the other at the Metropolitan Airport, now Van Nuys Airport. The flight would originate and terminate there in order for any endurance record to be officially recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Van Nuys was chosen over an existing dirt strip airfield, Mines Field, located at El Segundo, because the weather in Van Nuys was considered more reliable, particularly in regard to temperature inversions and smog. Metropolitan was also an operational facility while Mines Field had just been procured by the City of Los Angeles for use as a commercial airport. The project arrived there in December 1928 to begin preparations for the flight, with Capt. Hugh M. Elmendorf in charge of logistics and maintenance.
Because of weight considerations and the unreliability of radios, none was installed in the Question Mark. All communications between the aircraft or between Question Mark and the ground had to be accomplished using flags, flares, flashlights, weighted message bags, notes tied to the supply lines, or messages written in chalk on the fuselages of PW-9D fighters, painted black and nicknamed "blackboard planes". (One such message written on the side of a 95th Pursuit Squadron is externally linked below.)
Six days in the air
The crew of Question Mark consisted of Maj. Spaatz, Capt. Eaker, 1st Lt. Harry A. Halverson, 2nd Lt. Quesada, and Sgt. Roy W. Hooe. Refueling Airplane No. 1 (at Rockwell) was crewed by pilots Capt. Ross G. Hoyt and 1st Lt. Auby C. Strickland, with 2nd Lt. Irwin A. Woodring reeling the hose. Refueling Airplane No. 2 (at Van Nuys) was crewed by pilots 1st Lt. Odas Moon and 2nd Lt. Joseph G. Hopkins, and hose handler 2nd Lt. Andrew F. Salter.
Four pilots of the 95th Pursuit Squadron, based at Rockwell Field, flew the PW-9 "blackboard planes": 1st Lt. Archie F. Roth, and 2nd Lts. Homer W. Kiefer, Norman H. Ives, and Roger V. Williams.
Takeoff and refueling
Question Mark took off from Van Nuys at 7:26 a.m. on New Years Day 1929 with Capt. Eaker at the controls, carrying only 100 gallons of fuel to save takeoff weight. Aboard the Question Mark, either Halverson and Quesada did most of the piloting during cruising flight while Eaker monitored the throttles for smoothest engine performance. A log was kept by the flight officer (co-pilot) and dropped to the ground daily, and Eaker was responsible for winding the barograph, an instrument that continuously recorded altitude and time as documentary evidence for the records.
Less than an hour later Lt. Moon completed the first refueling over Van Nuys. During refuelings, Eaker and Halverson manned the controls, Spaatz and Quesada supervised the fuel exchange, and Hooe operated a "wobble" pump. The C-1 approached the Question Mark from above and behind, maintaining 20 to 30 feet (9.1 m) of vertical separation, until in a position slightly ahead of the C-2. Both aircraft stabilized in level flight at 80 mph (130 km/h) and the hose was reeled out. Maj. Spaatz climbed on a platform below the open hatch, and wearing rain gear and goggles for protection against fuel spills, grounded the hose and then placed it in a receptacle mounted in the upper fuselage.
Made from a bucket with a sloped floor, the receptacle had connections to the two extra fuel tanks, and at Spaatz's signal Lt. Salter opened the valve. Fuel flowed by gravity into the bucket at 75 gallons per minute and then into the tanks, where it was then pumped by hand into the wing tanks by Sgt. Hooe. Food, mail, tools, spare parts and other supplies were also passed by rope in the same fashion.
The five men aboard Question Mark underwent medical examinations before the flight, and their flight surgeon planned a special diet. However an electric stove to heat food was eliminated to save weight, and hot meals were sent aloft by the refuelers, including a turkey dinner on New Years Day prepared by a church in Van Nuys. The crew warded off boredom by reading, playing cards, sleeping in bunks mounted over the fuel tanks, and writing letters.
During the first night-time refueling, Spaatz was drenched with fuel when turbulence caused the hose to pull out of the receptacle. Fearing that chemical burns from the gasoline might force him to parachute from the airplane to seek medical treatment, Spaatz ordered Eaker to continue the flight regardless. However Spaatz shed all his clothing and was wiped off with oil-soaked rags. Although he directed at least one refueling without his clothing, replacements were soon delivered. Quesada was briefly overcome by the same accident but quickly revived. Spaatz experienced two other fuel spills without injury, using oil to wipe his skin and zinc oxide to protect his eyes.
Fog, turbulence, and darkness altered the refueling schedule, shortening some contacts and delaying others. On six occasions the Question mark was forced away from its flight track to refuel, once over Oceanside and five times over El Centro. Maintaining contact formation became more difficult as the weight of the planes changed during transfer, especially since the refueling pilot could not observe the Question Mark. Capt. Hoyt developed a system whereby Lt. Woodring tugged on a string tied to the pilot's arm if the C-1's speed was excessive. Early in the flight a window blew out of the C-2's cabin, but a replacement was eventually hauled up and installed by Sgt. Hooe.
End of the flight
Although the crew flew the plane at slow cruising speeds to nurse the engines, they eventually overstressed from extended use. The left engine began losing power as early as the third day. Sgt. Hooe, taping down his trouser cuffs, wearing a parachute, and connected by a lifeline, attempted to service them from the makeshift catwalks but the inflight lubricating systems only delayed and could not prevent engine wear. After the cylinders began missing, the Question Mark shortened its loops to remain within gliding distance of Van Nuys. Eaker was able to clear fouled spark plugs by completely opening the throttles.
On the afternoon of January 7, the left wing engine quit. Hooe went out on the catwalk to attempt repairs, immobilizing the windmilling propeller with a rubber hook. Eaker increased throttle on the remaining two engines to maintain flight while repairs were attempted, and they too began to strain. The plane lost altitude from 5,000 to 2,550 feet (780 m) before Hooe was called back inside and the decision made to land.
The Question Mark landed under power at Metropolitan Airport at 2:06 p.m., 150 hours, 40 minutes, and 14 seconds after takeoff. The left engine had seized because of a pushrod failure, and the others all suffered severe rocker arm wear.
Refueled 37 times and resupplied six others, with 12 of the 43 replenishments taking place at night, the Question Mark took on 5660 gallons of fuel, 245 gallons of oil, and supplies of food and water for its five-man crew. Hoyt and Refueling Airplane No. 1, flying from Rockwell and a backup airport at Imperial, California, resupplied Question Mark 27 times (ten at night), while Lt. Moon's crew at Van Nuys flew 16 sorties, two at night. In all, the flight broke existing world records for sustained flight (heavier-than-air), refueled flight, sustained flight (lighter-than-air), and distance.
All five crew members were decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross at a ceremony held at Bolling Field on January 29. The crews of the tankers, on the other hand, went unrecognized. Eventually all six received letters of commendation for their participation, but it was 47 years before their vital role in the operation was recognized with decorations. By then only Hoyt and Hopkins remained living, but both personally received Distinguished Flying Crosses on May 26, 1976.
The flight inspired a rash of projects to break the endurance record. In 1929 alone 40 flights were attempted, all by civilians, and nine succeeded in surpassing Question Mark's record. At the end of 1929 the record stood at over 420 hours, established by Dale "Red" Jackson and Forest E. "Obie" O'Brine in the Curtiss Robin Greater St. Louis.
The Air Corps followed up the flight of the Question Mark with a mission to demonstrate its applicability in combat. On May 21, 1929, during annual maneuvers, a Keystone LB-7 piloted by Lt. Moon took off from Fairfield Air Depot in Dayton, Ohio, on a simulated mission to New York City via Washington, D.C. Plans were for the bomber to be refueled in flight several times, drop a flash bomb over New York harbor, then return to Dayton non-stop, again by way of Washington. Moon had as a member of his five-man crew 1st Lt. John Paul Richter, who had been a hose handler on the first-ever refueling aerial refueling mission on May 28, 1923. The C-1 tanker employed to refuel the LB-7 was flown by Capt. Hoyt and two enlisted men. While it performed a premature air refueling enroute from Dayton to Washington, icing forced the tanker to land in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where it got stuck in mud. After flying to New York, the LB-7 was forced to land at Bolling Field. The next day the tanker joined the bomber and both flew to New York, where they made a public demonstration of air refueling and four dry runs.
Of the 15 Army aviators involved in the project, six later became general officers. Spaatz, Eaker and Quesada played important roles in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Spaatz rose to commanding general of the Army Air Forces and became the first Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. Eaker commanded the Eighth and Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. Quesada commanded the IX Tactical Air Command in France. Strickland, Hoyt and Hopkins all became brigadier generals in the United States Air Force, and the Brigadier General Ross G. Hoyt Award is issued annually for the best air refueling crew in the Air Force. Halverson, though he rose only to colonel, led the HAL-PRO ("Halverson Project") detachment, 12 B-24 Liberators that bombed the Ploieåââti oil refineries in 1942, and was the first commander of the Tenth Air Force. Moon, a bomber pilot, became an influential member of the "Bomber Mafia" at the Air Corps Tactical School from 1933 to 1936, but was killed in an air crash in 1937.
The Question Mark was re-engined with 300 horsepower (220 kW) Wright R-975 engines in 1931, and redesignated as a "C-7". It served out its service life as the transport airplane for the 22nd Observation Squadron at Pope Field, North Carolina.