The Mystery Airplane Returns… The Williams Model 2
Thanks to so many of you for your submissions. Although we received a number of responses, no one correctly identified our first Mystery Plane that appeared in April 2013 Vintage Airmail and here on the website. Wesley Smith who furnished the photo also provided a wealth of information on the development and history of this early pusher that dates back to 1912. Here’s what Wesley’s research has uncovered:
Scroll down for a detailed description of the Williams Model 2 and it’s creator.
In early 1912, Osbert Edwin Williams (not to be confused with pioneer aviator/builders C.W. Williams, or A.M. Williams), created his second aircraft, the Williams Model 2. Williams, was a highly skilled engineer, responsible for the power plant that provided the electricity for the Laurel and Wyoming Valley Railroad (L. & W.V. RR) near Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1902. In 1907, he resigned his position as Chief Engineer and Electrician, to accept a new position as Superintendent of the power plant for the Delaware, Lakawanna and Western Railroads (D.L. & W. RR) at Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 1911, Calbraith Perry Rodgers made his transcontinental flight. This epic event was the beginning of Williams’ interest in aviation. Williams’ initial aviation involvement, was with Albert S. Beavers of Scranton, who constructed a monoplane in 1910, and later, a biplane in 1911 (described in; Aeronautics, NY. V.8 N.1. January 1911. Scragg, George H. The Beaver Biplane, p 20. His name is stated as: Albert G. Beaver, of the Standard Motor Car Co., Scranton, PA. Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1910-11, p 386, incidentally, incorrectly states that the 1910 monoplane was an ornithopter).
The Williams Model 1 is somewhat murky. It appears to have been a biplane, purchased from Beavers (more, below). Whatever the case, the Model 1 had been abandoned sometime during the winter of 1912; as the pioneer aviator, Elling O. Weeks, was making test-flights of the new Williams Model 2 Pusher Biplane, at Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, by 22 May 1912.
Initially, the Model 2 had a central front skid, and single vertical fin/rudder, hinged at the leading edge of the elevator, similar in concept to the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle (but, not quite. The Demoiselle had its empennage hinged about a central “universal joint-type” device). The seat for the pilot was offset to the port, and the engine was centrally mounted. A full length “side curtain” running the entire length of the interplane struts just to the starboard of the engine, was shortened to fill only the upper portion of the interplane gap, by July of 1912. Ailerons were fitted on all wingtips, and a large central radiator was mounted directly in front of the Curtiss engine. By the summer, the four-wheel main undercarriage had been revised to two larger main wheels fitted to a central axle. Earlier photos, apparently taken in the winter of 1912, and in May, show two sets of twin wheels, attached to skids, similar in fashion to a Wright Model B. The wings were cut back to the trailing edge spar, to allow clearance for the “pusher” propeller. It was necessary to do this, owing to the location of the engine, and in order to obtain a proper center-of-gravity.
On 15 September 1912, the Model 2 suffered a serious accident and much damage; necessitating a reconstruction of the airframe. By November, the Model 2 was back in action, making aerial deliveries of newspapers. As rebuilt, the biplane sported a twin-wheel main undercarriage, a nosewheel, and twin, rectangular vertical rudders, now mounted at opposite ends of the elevator, replacing the earlier curved, centrally-mounted vertical rudder. In order to allow the rudders to move “in”, the elevator’s trailing edge span was reduced to allow inward motion. The offset pilot seat, and wheel-type controls, were retained, and the number “7” was prominently displayed on the vertical rudders, in a photo taken on 20 November 1912. The ailerons were also increased in chord, and the interconnecting strut between upper and lower ailerons, was retained.
Of great historical significance, is the fact that the Model 2 was the first aeroplane to be fitted with a pitot tube-type airspeed indicator. Williams’ invention, described in the November 1912 issue of Aeronautics (p 151) shows that it was a basically manometer, coupled with a ram-air tube, forcing a fluid up a vertical tube to indicate airspeed. Indeed, Williams held several U.S. patents, and his application for an aircraft windscreen, is accompanied by a 6 January 1912 photo of what is almost certainly the second (or third) incarnation of the Model 1. In this form, the span is probably much longer than the Model 2. The rear vertical rudder is rectangular, and a monoplane canard is fitted. Additionally, the undercarriage consists of twin main skis, a rear ski, and a single front wheel; the overall aircraft appearing to be a Curtiss-type. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that a photo in the Scranton Times (Tuesday, December 5, 1911, cover) appears to show the same aircraft, clearly a Curtiss-type, fitted with an all-wheel undercarriage. Thus, we can conclude that Williams’ first aircraft was not a monoplane, but was a Curtiss-type biplane. In fact, the January 1911 description of the Beavers Biplane in Aeronautics, does appear to describe a Curtiss-type, and does match-up with the Scranton Times photo; the exception being the addition of the monoplane canard, revised flight controls, and elimination of the rear biplane elevator; long after the January 1911 Aeronautics article was published.
While the history of the Model 2 is much too lengthy to discuss here, it is certain that the design continued to evolve for several years into several different variants. In 1913, the earliest Model 2 was used in the October 1913 New York Times “Aerial Derby.” In 1913, Williams also constructed the Model 3 (1913), which appears to have used the same engine, wings and Curtiss engine as the Model 2; however, the aircraft is a conventional tractor biplane. The following year (1914) Williams had constructed a Curtiss-type flying boat (Model 4) in Michigan, which was used by Robert T. Armstrong. Drawings and photos of the Model 5 still exist, and this aircraft may have been built for pioneer aviator, Don McGee. Still, it was the Model 2 that was continually revised.
By 1915, Williams was operating a flying school at Long Lake, Fenton, Michigan; having relocated from Flint, Michigan. A solitary photo exists, taken there, which shows three incarnations of the Model 2. There was a two-place variant, with dual controls mounted on either side of the engine, and horn-balanced ailerons. A long-span variant used at the 1915 Michigan State Fair, and a variant with an extended upper span, and no lower wing ailerons. The last, apparently built in 1915, and known as; “The Banner.” It had thicker tires, and ailerons fitted to the upper wing, only. The “mystery plane” photo, shows this aircraft adorned with American flags at the August 1915 St. Clair County Fair at Port Huron, Michigan. But, while this machine was flown on throughout the country, the school machine, fitted with distinctive horn-balanced ailerons on the upper wingtips, was used into 1916.
Unfortunately, the only surviving, verifiable dimensions of the Model 2, are the dimensions of the Rome Turney radiator (30″ high, without the filler neck, and 3″ thick, at the core), and the diameter of the propeller (7′, curiously, almost the same as the 7′ 7″ diameter of the Beavers 1911 Biplane/Williams Model 1). But, there is also the curious story of W.P.A. Straith to contend with.
W.P.A. Straith of Norwood (outside Winnipeg, Canada), is said to have dismantled his 1911 Wright Model B, and built a new aircraft from it in 1912. Examining photos in; Canadian Aircraft Since 1909 (pp 437-438), it is clear that this aircraft was either a Williams Model 2, or was built along the lines of the Model 2. A different four-wheel Wright-type undercarriage is fitted (possibly taken from the Model B), as is a different engine, but the airframe is distinctly quite similar to the Model 2, including the radiator type, which was fitted to one Model 2. The engine bearers have been lengthened, apparently due to the use of a smaller (but heavy), 100 hp six-cylinder, two-stroke inline Emerson engine. Straith, used the aircraft until 1915, when it was destroyed in a crash. While it is dubious that the dimensions of the Straith were the same as those of the Williams Model 2, the span is given as 42′, the length is listed as 22′, and the height was 9′ (the figures may have been rounded-off, according to the aforementioned book).
In additon to the aircraft he built, O.E. Williams also built a 125 hp eight-cylinder, water-cooled vee-type engine, similar to a 100 hp Curtiss Model O, the engine he apparently used throughout the career of the Model 2 (the Model 1 may have retained to 40 hp Rutenberger auto engine from its days as the 1911 Beavers Biplane). There were many notable graduates of the Williams School of Aviation. Among them; Clayton J. Brukner and Elwood Junkin of Waco fame. Lt. J. Thad Johnson, Lt. Cyrus Bettis, and Capt. E.G. Knapp, to name a few others.
Following a business dispute, and a change of the company name from the O.E. Williams Aeroplane Company to the Flint Aircraft Co., Inc.; Williams loaded his family into his 1916 Saxon touring car (which had fallen through the ice of Long Lake earlier that year), and relocated to Mobile, Alabama in 1917. At Mobile, Williams apparently constructed another Model 2, with an extended upper wing, fitted with horn-balanced, ailerons. Notably, the engine bearers were extended, as they were in the Straith Biplane. It was there, on 25 October 1917, that O.E. Williams was killed during an exhibition flight; flying at dusk in heavy winds.
Anyone who wants to know more of O.E. Williams, his family, his aircraft and those pioneer aviators he is associated with; are referred to: Men, Wind and Courage: A Pioneer Aviation Story of O.E. Williams and His Associates, by his grand niece, Ms. Nancy Lynn Mess (William Martin Press. PO Box 3984 Ithaca, NY 14852-3984, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-615-30901-9). For her efforts, Ms. Mess was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame for writing this award-winning book.
Wesley R. Smith