Thursday, September 29, 2011

Centennial of Naval Aviation #2

Historic U.S. Navy PN-9 Seaplane, Circa 1925
Bumped: Find a new comment from a Grandson of the designer.

Here are some crops of another never-before-seen (or published) photograph that are presented in honor of the Centennial of Naval Aviation (Copyright Mine 2011)

The photo was taken by my Grandfather in 1925 in Hawaii while in port with his ship, the USS Langley. It had the simple caption “Navy Seaplane PN-9” in his Langley ‘Memories’ album. Note the evidence of repair on the upper wing

The ‘tail’ number was clearly visible, so I performed a quick search on the internet, and was surprised to find it was quite a famous AND one-of-a-kind seaplane.

BuNo A6878

From a '' PDF file (p 681) :

The last PN-8 was converted by the Naval Aircraft Factory to the PN-9, a one-of-a-kind aircraft. It had redesigned tail surfaces and revised engine nacelles with large nose radiators. This aircraft set a world distance record for seaplanes in September 1925 when it flew from San Francisco to Hawaii under the command of Commander John Rogers. While it had to sail the last 559 miles after running out of fuel, the 1,841 miles covered by air was recognized as a new world seaplane distance record.

Crew: 4
Range: 2,550 miles
Power Plant: Two geared 475 hp Packard 1A-2500
  Empty - 8,995 lbs
  Gross - 18,125 lbs
  Wing area - 1,217 sq ft
  Wing span - 72 ft 10 in
  Length - 49 ft 2 in
  Height - 16 ft 6 in
BuNo: PN-9 A6878
From a photo taken after the aircraft had been towed into port, we can tell that my Granddad’s photo was obviously taken after many repairs have already been made. This is what the plane looked like when it reached Hawaii:

Rodgers' PN-9 After Ordeal, Source: State of Hawaii

The crew had been given up as lost after an extensive search. Rodgers and the rest of the PN-9 crew were able to monitor the radio without being able to transmit their location the entire time. They listened in as the searchers first coordinated their efforts and then decided to call off the search. They were ‘frustrated’ to say the least as they listened as the search unfolded. The Langley and the crew were part of the search effort. When Rodgers and his crew overheard that it was the opinion of the Langley’s aviators that the PN-9 and crew were ‘lost’… I imagine that made Rodgers and crew a little bit ‘more’ than just frustrated.

Rodgers’ navigation skills and the ability to ‘sail’ the seaplane using the fabric removed from the lower wings as sails brought them within a few miles of landfall when they were finally seen by a US submarine. They were towed past treacherous shoals and received a hero’s welcome both in Hawaii and eventually back on the mainland.

This same plane was apparently used to make another long distance flight attempt, and again forced to set down in the water (Caribbean) with its crew adrift. Again, it was found and the crew rescued but this time, it was seen as too risky to tow to safety and was sunk in place as a hazard to navigation. An unlucky, yet weirdly lucky bird if there ever was one.

Further Reading:

A 1925 ‘Flight’ article here.

Much more about the flight and the crew’s epic journey here, including many photographs and links to news articles of the day.


Unknown said...

I'm curious as to why you believe demographics, culture, organization, and geography are elements of national power.

SMSgt Mac said...

Thanks for the question. It's not a 'belief' as much as an established and well-used organization of the body of thought on what 'National Power' truly means. I discussed the Elements in some detail in the opening posts of the blog, but as the original posts are now WAY back in antiquity using 'blog years', I've added a helpful link to them under the 'Major Themes' title of this blog for easy access.
Again, Thanks!

Unknown said...

Came across your post doing a google search on my grandfather. I'd only known him a little (he died when I was six) but apparently my grandpa Henry Shelley Cocklin designed this plane (or at least was the person in charge of the design). Thanks for posting; after reading the story of this airplane, I have to wonder what my grandfather's thoughts were when he would have heard that all hands were 'believed lost' with the plane that he designed, as well as how happy he must have been to find out that the plane made it to Hawaii after all!

SMSgt Mac said...

Glad you found the post! I can imagine the roller coaster of emotions that your grandfather rode during that time. I think I'll bump the story so more people will find your comment.
To most people, this kind of stuff is just something that happpened in the past, and what happens today too often gets couched in terms of hardware and dollars when it is really about the people that make it happen and the flesh and blood that is almost always on the line.