First Delivery

by Charles Lester Morris


At the airport, I decided to land on the line with the other parked airplanes, nosing the ship practically against the fence. This was something that no other aircraft would ever consider doing, and everyone rushed from the buildings, expecting me to pile up among the automobiles in the parking lot. But the landing, of course, was without incident, and as I walked toward the hangars someone in the crowd grinned, "What are you trying to do-scare the hell out of us?" Another airline-distance record on this leg-seventy-eight miles.

From Albany to Utica was uneventful except for the pleasure of flying safely up the Mohawk Valley with the hills on either side often higher than the ship. I felt like the Wright brothers, looking down from my transparent perch two or three hundred feet above the housetop's. Dooryards full of chickens and other farm animals would suddenly become uninhabited as hurried shelter was sought from this strange hawk-but the yard would quickly fill again as houses and barns ejected motley groups of human beings gaping skyward.

This trip was marked by constant astonishment, as people saw things happening in front of their eyes that they had never dreamed of before. This chronicle will be, in large measure, a report of their reactions and remarks.Flight Route Map

At Utica I drifted up sideways in front of the hangar and hung there stationary for a minute or so while mouths dropped open wide enough to land in. Then I slid over to the ramp and squatted down. The guard greeted me as I walked up to the office: "I don't believe what I saw just now! Of course, I realize this is a secret ship, but do you mind if I look again when you take off?"

Mr. Sikorsky's World Endurance Record for helicopters was exceeded on this leg: I hour, 55 minutes. Also, another four miles were added to my previous airline-distance record, bringing it up to eighty-two miles.

If it hadn't been for my constant concern over the mounting oil temperature, which now pushed close to 95 degrees centigrade, it would have been a beautiful flight from Utica to Syracuse. The sun was getting low in the west, the air was smooth, and a gentle tail wind puffed me into Syracuse Airport fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. As I hovered in front of the hangar where I thought we were going to house the ship, a guard burst around the corner to give me directions. His eyes popped open as he spread his jaws and his feet simultaneously, when he saw me awaiting instructions, fifteen feet up in the air! Recovered from his shock and reassured by my grin, he signaled me down to the other end of the field, and I could see apprehension oozing from the nape of his neck as he dogtrotted along the ramp with the helicopter's nose a few feet behind and above him!

This first day had Lyone according to schedule. The helicopter had for the first time in history proved itself an airworthy vehicle, capable of rendering true transportation. It had traveled 260 miles in 5 hours, 10 minutes without even beginning to approach its high speed. However, a quick inspection of the ship revealed one difficulty in this particular craft that was to give us our share of worry in the weeks to come: the transmission was heating up badly. It seemed strange that we should create a totally novel aircraft and run into no particular structural, functional, or control problems -while a simple gear transmission, something that had been developed and used successfully in hundreds of millions of applications during the last half century, was destined to hound our every move.

When we started for Rochester the following morning, I kept the ground party and their yellow-spotted car in sight for several miles, but finally decided to cruise ahead at normal speed. It was another beautiful day, but the hot, calm air presaged thunderstorms.

At the outskirts of Rochester, I noted that the main highway went straight ahead into the business district, while a small cross-road led directly to the airport a few miles away. I lingered, debating whether or not to hover there until our car came along and signal them the best route to take, but finally decided that, in the interests of the overheating transmission, it would be best to go on to the port and check things over.

Above the field, I headed into the wind and slowly settled down facing the open hangar doors. Several men working inside "ran for their lives," expecting a crash, but when they realized that there was no danger, they reappeared from behind airplane wings and packing boxes and watched the landing with unconcealed amazement. A guard came over and advised me to taxi up in front of the control tower at the other end of the hangar line. He didn't realize, of course, that a short flight in this strange craft was much more satisfactory than taxiing on the ground, and he exhibited the usual reaction as I took off, still facing the hangar, and lazily buzzed along ten feet above the ramp.

The control tower was simply a square glassed-in box atop a fifty-foot skeleton tower at the edge of the operations area. No ship may land without first receiving a green-light signal from the control-tower operator. It was fortunate indeed that my ship could hang motionless in the air, because, when I whirred up in front of the tower and looked the operator in the face, he was so astounded that he completely neglected his duty and left me hovering there for the better part of a minute before he stopped rubbing his eyes. Then, with a broad grin, he flashed on the green light, and I settled to a landing at the base of the tower.

As I walked across the field, one of the instructors hailed me. "How do you expect us," he asked, “to train our students? Here we spend months teaching them to keep plenty of speed at all times-and then you come along and make liars out of us with that crazy contraption." (Confidentially, the next question that followed close upon this belligerent broadside was, "How soon can I get one of 'em?")

The transmission was still running pretty hot, so we decided to fly to Buffalo with the metal cowling removed from the sides of the ship to try to get more air circulation. With a head wind and a promise of thunderstorms, I stuck close to the ground party so that if an intermediate landing were required they would be able to check the gear-case temperature immediately.

Down the highway we went together. I knew they were pushing along at good speed (they said later that it was often close to seventy-five miles an hour), and I was hoping a state trooper would pull them over, so I could hover just beyond his reach while he was bawling them out, or even giving them a ticket. No trooper showed up, however, so I had to content myself with flitting ahead to each cross-road to make sure there was no converging traffic to cause danger: then signaling them to proceed without worry at the intersection.

As we approached Batavia the sky to the west became darker, and an occasional streak of lightning sliced down through the black curtain a few miles away. I edged northerly for a time to see if I could get around the storm, but it was spreading across my path. It looked pretty good to the south, but I hesitated to get too far off course, particularly since I didn't know what sort of conditions prevailed behind the storm front. So I finally decided to land and sit it out.

The car with its yellow dot had gotten itself misplaced somewhere in Batavia's traffic, and I wasn't sure which of two parallel roads it would follow toward Buffalo. So I leisurely swung back and forth between the two highways, trying to spot my earth-borne companions-keeping a weather eye on the progress of the storm in the meantime, and picking out a likely looking house with a telephone (I could see the lead-in lines from the road) where I could land and report my position. (Strange that with this aircraft neither the size of the available landing field, nor its surface conditions, had any influence on where to land, the only factors being a comfortable house and a telephone!)

First helicopter formationOne of the first helicopter formation flights in history was made with Igor Sikorsky as pilot of the VS-300 and Les Morris flying the XR-4.

For reasons I cannot understand, I failed to pick up the yellow dot on the highway (they claimed I flew directly over them several times), and after five or ten minutes the storm was close at hand. I swung in over the spot I had chosen-a nice green strip of grass about seventy-five feet wide between two ploughed gardens. On one side of the gardens was a comfortable old farmhouse with its unpainted barns rambling out from under the big maples. At the other side of the gardens stood a shiny new bungalow that looked as though it might originally have been one of the cozy family group around the farmhouse, recently become independent and gone modern.

As I came to a stop twenty-five feet above the green turf, that old bugaboo lack of power became all too apparent. The engine just wasn't able to cope with such unfavorable conditions as the calm humid air before a thunderstorm, and the "bottom" seemed to drop from under me. As the craft settled rapidly to earth, I spent a few uncomfortable seconds wondering about the safety of this experimental baby. Even here, the pilot's safety was not in jeopardy, because of the ship's unique abilities. The landing was a great deal harder than normal, but a quick check showed the machine to be unscathed by its experience.

The occupants of the house were only too glad to let me use their telephone. The owner-in his late seventies and on crutches-had been out in the chicken house when I settled in for the landing and was full of suggestions as to what had gone wrong with the engine, because he had heard it "sputter and backfire" when I came over. I don't believe he ever became quite convinced that the landing was intentional.

The daughter lived with her husband and eleven-year-old girl in the new offshoot of the family mansion across the gardens. "Is there anything I can do?" she asked, as I approached. "Thanks very much," I replied. "I hate to ask you to stay off your own property, but we are under strict orders to let no one near the ship. Would you mind just keeping people away while I telephone?"

"Willingly," she said. So willingly in fact that, when Labensky and the others arrived during my absence, she firmly refused to let them pass until I had identified them.

After the storm was over and we were preparing to leave again, one of the people warned me quite persistently of a hidden ditch about 200 feet from the ship. I couldn't make him believe that I would take off straight up, so I finally quieted his fears by assuring him, with thanks, that I would be careful. The ground party reported that after the take-off his astonishment knew no bounds-that the eleven-year-old girl gasped momentarily, but quickly recovered and jumped up and down shouting, "Boy! Will I have something to tell them in school tomorrow!"

Another storm was skirted before Buffalo, but finally the airport loomed out of the haze. The control-tower operator, I suppose, could not be expected to guess that the queer contrivance being visited upon him would not interfere in the slightest with an air liner that was about to land on the runway-so he gave me the red light. A short flight around the hangars brought me back to the tower a second time, and, although the air liner was still on the runway, the operator realized I saw him and flashed the green signal for landing. I settled in slowly over the buildings while a sea of faces gaped upward. I purposely overshot the edge of the ramp by twenty feet-then stopped and backed up onto it! The ground party, on hand for the landing, drifted through the crowd and heard: "I never thought I'd live to see one back up!" "I've given up drinking from now on!" "Well-now I've seen it all!"

One of the younger mechanics made the error of taking the story home to his family that night and gleefully reported the next day that his father, in all seriousness, said, "Son, I want you to give up aviation. When you start seeing things like that, it's time to make a change!"

Owing to a long string of thunderstorms between Buffalo and Cleveland, we canceled out for the day and made arrangements to store the ship under guard.

The following day was not at all promising. Low clouds covered the lake shore, scattered showers were predicted, and there were head winds up to twenty miles an hour in the offing. We decided to take a shot at it, however, and got away late in the morning.

The usual weather prevailed in the pocket below Buffalo very smoky, hazy conditions cut visibility to less than a mile - but I steered my course half by compass and half by highway in order to be close to the road the ground party was following.



last update SEPTEMBER 22, 2012