February 2014 Mystery Plane: Catron and Fisk C.F. 10
“Edwin Fisk of Ocean Park, Cal., is completing a monoplane
which embodies several original ideas. The machine will be
equipped with an engine of his own design and construction
and capable of producing 45 H.P. The craft is to be tested in
the near future.”
In 1917, J.W. Catron, apparently a Los Angeles automobile dealer (Hemmings Classic Car. August 2010. The Sedan Century, p 3), formed Catron and Fisk, a manufacturer of airplanes. While photos can be found on the internet of a biplane dated circa 1918 (Jim Hester Special Collection, San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives), the first mention in the aviation periodicals does not come until 1922, when The Ace, published a photograph of the same aircraft in the July 1922 issue (described in the June issue, and captioned as a “sport plane”).
Indeed, the “Sport Plane” was not the only aircraft built by Catron and Fisk in 1922. An advertisement in the back of the July issue of The Ace, shows a “Tri-plane,” apparently intended to be a racer. But, this was not the only triplane built by Catron in Fisk in 1922. Newspaper articles, unearthed for this author by researcher extordinaire, Ms. Nancy Lynn Mess; describe the beginnings of the passenger triplane saga, built by Catron and Fisk.
According to the Bakersfield Morning Echo (March 1, 1922. Aerial Service to Los Angeles Will Commence Today; Passengers Will Leave Here at 3 P.M., Landing in L.A. at 4:30, p 1), scheduled flights were expected to begindaily shuttle flights between Bakersfiled and Los Angeles; arriving at Rogers Airport. The fare was half the train fare, and it was expected that the $30,000.00, five-passenger plane would eventually make three daily flights. Mr. Clyde Richey, of the Richey Rent Car Service, acted as agent for the airline, and was headquartered at the Bakersfield Southern Hotel. However, things did not go so smoothly…
Only two days later, the Bakerfield Californian (Friday, March 3, 1922. Local Airplane Falls; Passengers Suffer Only Bruise in 400-Ft. Dive, p 1); and the Oakland Tribune (March 4, 1922. Big Plane Falls, Crew Escapes, p 22), describe the harrowing tale. Following take-off from Hollaway Field at 3:10 pm, one of the three engines apparently failed. The pilot, E.L. Remelin was unable to maintain altitude, and the aircraft dove 400 ft. to the ground (The Oakland Tribune article states that it was 300 ft.). Ms. Eva L. Knapp, and Mr. William H. Becker of Los Angeles (formerly of Bakersfield) were among the passengers. Mr. Becker received a cut on his right ear and forehead. It is remarkable that the injuries were not more extensive considering the description of the accident: “…The escape of the trio is considered miraculous. When the plane hit, it tipped on one end, the right triple wings were twisted directly over the seats occupied by the passengers. The fuselage was twisted and broken, and propeller was smashed. The plane hit head-first…” Ms. Knapp and Mr. Becker were able to extricate themselves, with the assistance the pilot. Medical treatment was not required for any of the occupants. Ms. Knapp, a nurse at the San Jouquin Hospital stated: “It was a great experience.” Mr. Becker, was returning home from a business trip. The aircraft crashed two miles northeast of Bakersfield, just missing a house. Mr. Remelin, was uncertain as to why one of the engines failed. At that time, the large aircraft was apparently fitted with three 65 h.p. Ford Model “T” engines (www.aerofiles.com), making the aircraft a triplane trimotor. The Oakland Tribune article indicated that the fuselage roll onto its right side after the crash.
Nothing more was heard of the Catron and Fisk until January of 1925 (Bakerfield Californian. Monday, January 12, 1925. This city to be Port of Big Passenger Airplanes, p 5), when it was announced that Catron and Fisk would begin making passenger flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco. By this time, Catron and Fisk had relocated to Venice, Calif., from Santa Monica. While not confirmed, it is clear that a new triplane, similar to the first was to be used (along with two others in reserve), a total of six passenger triplanes making daily flights between the two cities. One flight was to leave at 8 am, while the other left at noon. The route was to include stops at Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto; the fare being estimated at $30.00 to $40.00. The article noted that the new triplane was now fitted with two engines (Curtiss OX-5s), and was to carry 8 passengers. Service was set to begin on February 1, 1925, but nothing further has been unearthed until June of 1925, when a photo of the new passenger triplane graced to cover of The Ace (V.6 N.1).
A solitary photo of the original Catron and Fisk passenger triplane was recently located on the internet, courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. It was considerably different from the 1925 version. The cockpit, located near the rear of the wings, may have been relocated. Cabin windows, now graced the sides of the fuselage for a considerable distance. Like the earlier version, the wing-mounted engines were mounted below the center wing. Radiators were mounted on the upper interplane struts, directly above the wing, instead of in front of the outboard engines, as they were on the 1922 triplane. A biplane tail was evident, and the machine was apparently painted in a two-tone scheme of unknown colors. Fortunately, a highly detailed technical description of what was now called the Catron and Fisk C.F. 10 is recorded in The Ace (V.6 N.1. June 1925. 8-Place Triplane Makes Test Flight: Double Engined Ship Given Maiden Tryout by “Pat” Patterson at Clover Field, Santa Monica, p 12).
On May 20, 1925, the C.F. 10 took-off on its maiden flight. Now known as the Catron and Fisk Airplane and Engine Co. of Venice, Cal., the “well-known” pilot found the triplane a bit tail-heavy, but otherwise satisfactory. The text states that the aircraft had been under construction for over a year, with intermissions for the construction of other aircraft (by that time, the large C.F. 11 biplane was nearing completion). The span of all wings was 48 ft., and the chord was 4 ft. 6 in. The incidence of all wings was 3 degrees, and the dihedral was also 3 degrees. The total wing area was 525 sq. ft., inclusive of the ailerons, which consumed 50 sq. ft. of area. The airfoil used was U.S.A. 27, and the gap was 5 ft. (in both cases). The upper horizontal stabilizer had 30 sq. ft. of area, while the lower was 36 sq. ft. The elevators had 30 sq. ft. of area, while the vertical stabilizers had 10 sq. ft. of area, and the twin rudders had an area 15 sq. ft.
The C.F. 10 weighed 2.500 lbs., empty, and 4,500 lbs, fully loaded. With two 90 h.p. Curtiss OX-5 engines, the Vmax. was 95 mph, and the Vc was 80 mph, with an endurance of 8 hours. The Vmin. was 45 mph, and the landing velocity was 40 mph. The initial climb rate was 700 fpm for the first minute. The service ceiling was 8,000 ft, with an absolute ceiling of 10,000 ft. The fuel capacity was 80 gal., and the total oil was 8 gal. In all, fairly respectable performance figures. The octagonal Haskelite (a form of resin impregnated wood)fuselage, was admitted by Fisk to have been inspired by rigid airship designs. The overall length of the C.F. 10 was 29 ft., but the height is not recorded.
Following the C.F. 10, an aircraft similar to the C.F. 11 was built (The Ace. September 1925, V.6 N.4. Catron and Fisk Plan Production Job: Three-Place Plane Being Designed to Sell at $2,000 – New Ship Patterned After Recently Completed C.F. 11, p 12). The statistics mentioned in the article make it clear that the aircraft was smaller than the C.F. 11, which is described in an advertisement, also in the September 1925 issue of The Ace. What happens next, unfortunately, isn’t clear. The Catron and Fisk passenger triplane isn’t heard from again until 1927. The September 1925 C.F. 11 ad states that the company (office and factory) was now located at 732 Marine St.; Ocean Park, California.
Information published in the first volume of Joseph Juptner’s U.S. Civil Aircraft (ATC # 35, OX-5 International F-17, pp 101-102), states that by 1925 Fisk had designed some 11 aircraft between 1910 and 1925, and in the next two years designed another 6 types. He goes on to state that the first International Aircraft Corporation design had been completed in 1924, when the company was still Catron and Fisk. An article published in The Davenport Democrat and Leader (June 19, 1927. Davenport Wins a Place on the Aircraft Industries Map, p 1) states that the International Aircraft Corp. was located at Long Beach, while Catron and Fisk were located at Venice.
Following Charles Lindbergh’s successful crossing of the Atlantic in May of 1927, James D. Dole (of Dole Pineapple fame), put up a $25,000.00 prize for a transpacific race, known at the Dole Derby. By the time Dole announced the race, the Pacific Ocean had already been flown across by an Atlantic Aircraft Corp. (Fokker) C-2 The Bird of Paradise, piloted by U.S.A.A.C. pilots, Lts. Lester J. Maitland and Albert F. Hegenberger between Oakland, Calif. and Wheeler Field, Hawaii, a distance of 2,400 mi (in 25 hrs. 50 min.). While the Maitland-Hegenberger flight took place on June 1, 1927, a second crossing was made on July 14, 1927, when a Travel Air 5000, flown by Ernie Smith and Emory Bronte (navigator) flew from Oakland to Molokai, crashing in a thorn tree. However, Dole disqualified both flights for the prize, because they had not technically flown between Oakland and Honolulu. This left the prize open for the race which began on 16 August 1927.
Originally, 18 aircraft were entered in the race, but three crashed before the race. Among these, was the Catron and Fisk C.F. 10. One of 11 aircraft certified to fly in the event, the aircraft had been considerably altered for the race. The ailerons were removed from the lower two wings, which reduced their span to 45 ft. The passenger seats were removed and an 800 gal. (one source states it was 600 gal.) fuel tank was installed. The most significant change was the installation of two 220 hp (@ 1,800 rpm) Wright J-5 Whirlwind radial engines, replacing the 90 hp Curtiss OX-5s.
Painted bright orange, and named; The Pride of Los Angeles, the C.F. 10 was flown from Long Beach to Oakland on August 11, 1927. The cockpit, now a two-place affair, was also apparently now relocated well aft, which inhibited visibility. On board were the pilot, James L. Griffen (or Griffin), the navigator, Theodore S. Lundgen and Lawrence Weil, a passenger. An account published in Vintage Airplane (November 1987. V.15 N. 11, Mystery Plane, p 11), states that the runway at Oakland had recently been created, and on landing, the aircraft started to ground-loop. Griffen, applied power for a go-around, but the sluggish aircraft continued into San Francisco Bay, demolishing the aircraft. Another account, states that the aircraft veered to avoid colliding with another aircraft while attempting to land at Bay Farm Island Airport. By this time, J.W. Catron, had apparently left the cmpany, his sole claim to the enterprise being financial, and his exploits being limited to driving a Studebaker Model 35 sedan across the United States (Los Angeles to Rochester) in June of 1914. That said, it is interesting to note that one of the transpacific sponsors of the C.F. 10 was rodeo champion, and early Western film Star (also director and producer), Edmund Richard “Hoot” Gibson (1892-1962).
In any event, the crew of The Pride of Los Angeles were rescued from San Francisco Bay, alive and well. They could count themselves lucky, for the Dole Air Derby was plagued with disaster. Two days after the take-off positions were drawn at the offoce of C.W. Saunders, California Director of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA); USN Lts. George D. Covell and R.S. Waggener, would crash into a cliff in their Tremaine Hummingbird. Arthur V. Rogers, was killed the next day, when his plane dived into the ground at Montebello, California. By the start date of the race, only 8 entries remained. The Goddard Monoplane El Encanto, crashed on take-off.
The Breese-Wild Monoplane Pabco Flyer, lifted off, but crashed after flying some 7,000 ft. past the end of the runway. The modified Travel Air 5000 Oklahoma, would return to the field with an overheated engine. Dallas Spirit, a Swallow Monoplane would also return to Oakland while Buhl CA-5, Miss Doran, returned after 10 mintues. The latter, would make a second attempt, but was lost somewhere in the Pacific, taking Auggy Pedlar and his navigator, Vilas R. Knope to their watery graves. Golden Eagle, the prototype Lockheed Vega 1, would also vanish with Jack Frost and Gordon Scott. Three USN submarines (R-8, S-42 and S-46) searched in vain for the missing planes and their crews. After being repaired, Dallas Spirit, piloted by William Portwood Erwin and navigated by Alvin Eichwaldt, would also disappear into the vast depths of the Pacific, never to be heard of, again. The race was won by the modified Travel Air 5000, Woolaroc, flown by Arthur C. Goebel and William V. Davis. Aloha, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane, would take second place, piloted by Martin Jensen and navigated by Paul Schluter.
By late 1927, Catron and Fisk was reorganized as the International Aircraft Corp., and the corporation was moved to Ancor, Ohio at 507 Pearl St. (near Cincinnati, Ohio). Finally, International, would move to Jackson, Michigan before being purchased by the Crosley Motor Co., sometime around 1930. In its final days, International would continue to develop the F-17, as the F-17-W (Wright J-5) and the F-17-H (“Hisso.” Actually, a number of different engines were used besides the Wright-Martin Hispano-Suiza Models A and E). A cargo version of the F-17-H was known as; The Mailman. Only three F-17-Ws were built, and 11 F-17-Hs were constructed. In its waning days, International’s president was T. P. Funk, D.G. Morrison serving as vice-president and general manager, Charles Hollerith as secretary and treasurer, with Fisk as vice-president of engineering.
The last International design was the F-18 Air Coach, a 5 to 6 place passenger cabin biplane, with one passenger sitting in the open cockpit next to the pilot . Powered by a Wright J-5C, as many as 5 or 6 F-18s were built. One F-18, named; Miss Hollyoke, was to be flown in the Dole Air Derby by Frank Clark. However, the aircraft did not participate.
Correct responses to this “mystery plane,” were received from; Lynn Towns, Juergen Strauch, Wollinger Herbert, Brant Hollensbe, Scott Gifford and Bob Siegfried II.
Juptner, Joseph P. U.S. CIVIL AIRCRAFT, VOLUME 1; ATC NUMBER 1 TO 100. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers, Inc., 1962, pp 101-102.
Juptner, Joseph P. U.S. CIVIL AIRCRAFT, VOLUME 2; ATC NUMBER 101 TO 200. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers, Inc., 1964, pp 154-159.
Juptner, Joseph P. T-HANGAR TALES; STORIES OF THE GOLDEN AGE. Egan, Minnesota: Historic Aviation, 1994, pp 49-50.
Smith, Herschel. A HISTORY OF AIRCRAFT PISTON ENGINES. Manhattan, Kansas: Sunflower University Press, 1981, p 111.
Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. UNITED STATES MILITARY AIRCRAFT SINCE 1909. New York, Putnam, 1963, pp 268-269.
The Ace. Various issues cited in text, 1922-1925.
Hardie, George A. Mystery Plane. Vintage Airplane. November 1987, p 11.
Hemmings Classic Car. August 2010, p 3.
Bakersfield Californian. March 3, 1922, p 1.
Bakersfield, Californian. January 12, 1925, p 5.
Bakersfield Morning Echo. March 1, 1922, p 1.
Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society and Museum website.
Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 19, 1927, p 1.
Mess, Nancy L. Newspaper research.
Oakland Tribune. March 4, 1922, p 22.
San Diego Air and Space Museum. Jim Hester Special Collection.