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With the arrival ofautumn and an increase in inclem-
ent northern weather, the fly-in activity begins to grind
to a halt signaling the close of another very successful
season. With the exception ofafew winterfly-ins in the
southern states (Sun 'n Fun, Cactus Fly- In, etc.), this
breathing spell will permit us to repair and restore our
old birds so that they will again be in top shape by the
time that next year's fly-in season starts. Most of us
enjoy flying so much that we really need this enforced
maintenance period. If we didn't have it, we would fig-
uratively fly the fabric right offour poor old birds, so
it's nice to know thateven ourold airplanesare included
in nature's master plan and have their place in theoverall
Although we have not seen any actual tot als, we
believe that this past season was probably the busiest in
aviation history. Besides all of the regularly scheduled
fly-ins, there were a whole series ofaddit ional aviation
events honoring the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh 's
New York to Paris flight. Also, the EAA's Spirit ofSt.
Louis replica, by its reinactment of Lindbergh's good
will tour around the United States, has sparked many
more aviation activities on the local level over the past
Not all statistics for the bi ggest or the most are
necessarily the best. The EAA convention was the wet-

test in history with extensive periods of IFR weather
hampering operations. However, the participants at th e
d k h h ' .d d I'
event seeme to ta e t e weat er In stn ean not etIt
diminish their enjoyment of av iation. As we make our
plans for next year's events, we can only hope that the
sun will shinedown brightly on ourefforts.
For many months now each copy of The Vintage
Airplane has contained two new membershipappIi cation
blanks inserted between the pages, atotal offourteen so
far this year. Please remove these applications from the ' 0' WFares;::';: ''1e
magazine when you receive it and keep them in ahandy
place so that you can give them to yourfriends who are
interested in older aircraft. Also, please take them along
with you to your local EAA chapter meetings ortoyour
local flying club, and give them toyourfellow members
who show an interest. Your local fixed base operator
might like to have a few on hand, too. If each ofyou
will sign up just one new member between now and the
end of this year, we shall be ab le to increase thesize ot
The Vintage Airplane. This increase will give us the
necessary space to print monthly features such as type
club news, calendar of future events, etc., on a regular
basis, as well as provide youreditorwith morespace for
feature articles. The end result is a bigger and better
magazine for you, so please make theeffortto sign up at
least thatone new member.
Speaking of new members, your Divi sion experienced
a six percent growth in membership during the EAA
convention and signed up more new members than
either of the other two EAA divisions. We sincerely
thank ourheadquarters staffchairmen, Kate Morgan and
Donna Bartlett, and our exhibit booth chairmen, Alicia
Smith and Jackie House, as well as all oftheir volunteer
workers, for this fine achievement.
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Edi t o r
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Associate Editor
AI Kelch
Associate Editor
Assistant Editor
Lois Kelch
Associat eEditor
Robert G. Elliott
1227 Oakwood Ave.
Daytona Beach, Florida 32014
H. Glenn Buffington Edward D. Williams
818W. Crockett St. No. 201 713 Eastman Dr.
Seattle, Washington 98119 Mt. Prospect, Illinois60056
Associate Editors will he identified in the table ofcon-
tents un ",ticle; they send in Jnd repeated on the deticle
if they have written it. Associate EJilOrships will be
"ssigned to thuse whu 4u,tlify (5 articles in any calendar
Wi l li",n J. lhlen I:.vandcr M. Britt
ANTIOUEANDCLASSIC Route 8Box 506 Box 1525
DIVISION Tampa, Florid" 33618 Lumberton, North Carolina 28358
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THE VINTAGE AIRPLANE is owned exclusively by Antique Classic Aircraft, I nc. and is published monthly at
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Restorer's Corner ............,........... ....... ........... .... 1
Johnson Bros. Monoplane .................,....................,. 3
An Interviewwith HarryJohnson ,... . ._.. ..... ...... ... . ..........6
LifeStoryofLou Johnson ..........,...................,........ 12
Vintage Album ..................,.......,..,..........,...... 13
TheFirstJohnson Airplane ........,.,.....................,......18
The Amazing Ross ........................,....................23
o NON-EAA MEMBER - $34.00. Includes one year membership in the EAA Antique/Classic Division, 12
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ONTHE COVER (Back Cover)
Photo of the 43" wing span John- Model of the Johnson Brothers' air-
plane, presented to the Smith- son model, as it appears in the Air
sonian. (Before Covering) Photo by & Space Museum, Photo by Dr,
Dr. Paul Garber.
Paul Garber, Curator Emeritus.
Copyright 1977 Antique Classic Aircraft, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

By: AI Kelch, Editor
The Johnson brothers' airplane, flown successfully
just a few years after the Wright brothers' first flight,
was apparently one of many built in the U.s.A. about
that time. "All the World Aircraft for 1919"statesthat
no less than 2,000 people in the U.s.A. had builtflying
machines, but that most of them were home made
copies ofstandard designs. Most ofthem being copies of
the Wright brothers' biplane. The percentage that was
successful was no doubtvery few.
The Johnson brothers'airplane was agreat advance in
the stateoftheart, butwas never blessed bycommercial
success. It would be interestingto know how manygood
designs met the same fate. If Terre Haute, Indiana,
which t hen had a population of65,000 could have two
successful designers in 1911, namely The Johnsons and
Gus Ri ggs airplanes, there must be hundreds ofsimilar
stories in the entire country. The tragedy is thatpeople
who know about them are rapidly passing from the
90Horse PowerSteel
ROSS L. SMITH, Aviator
For Information Write
Johnson Bros. Motor Co.
Terre Haute, Indiana
scene, and if the stories ofthese accomplishmentsaren't
recorded, soon they will be lostforever.
While rummaging through Dale Crites' collection of
memorabilia, he called my attention to an Argosy Mag-
azine for September 1961, which carried an extensive
article on the Johnson brothers' airplane. I read it with
complete fascination, and started immediately prospect-
ing for further information to make up the complete
story, and research the efforts of the Johnsons. I soon
struck two mother load sources - o ne through a chance
look in Weldon Ropp's scrap book, I found a picture of
the Johnson airplane which I publi shed on the back
cover of Vintage Airplane in June 1976. On asking
Weldon where he acquired the picture, he advised that
Mr. Johnson was a relative and that hi s son Harry Ropp
had inherited from the Johnson brothers, quite a collec-
tion of material on this early effort. Also, through the
publication of an article entitled "One Man's Family" in
Vintage Airplane October 1976 issue, I became acquaint-
ed with Deward Peterson who lives in Terre Haute,
I ndiana. The subject of the J ohnsons came up, and he
was very fa miliar with the story, si nce the Johnso ns lived
in Terre Haute at the time they built the ai rplane. He
offered to research at the source for me, and has done an
excell ent job. Credit for this art icle goes equally to
Harry Ropp and Deward Peterson, my contr ibution
being to ed it it down from the volumes of material, and
separate the fact from fiction. Much of the material is
original hand written notes of Louis Johnson, the or ig-
inal manuscript of the Argosy article, volumes of news-
paper clippings besides a manuscript furnished by Mr.
Peterson, researched from microfilm copies of all the
Terre Haute papers with some assistance by his son -in -
law. My regret is that we couldn't publish the whole
package, but it would fill many volumes of our mag-
azine. I wil l attempt to give you a capsule of the story,
and then we will reprint several of the documents from
that era, which will help to fill in the fantastic excite-
ment that these brothers caused in Terre Haute.
To start with, the early lethargy of our country was
well known in the way that the public reacted, or rather
did not react, to the flight of the Wright brothers. It
took a trip to Europe and a presentation to the more
romantic Frenchmen to cause excitement, whi ch spilled
over to this country, and finally got the ball rolling. That
was the first time that the French were involved - the
second being with Lindbergh's fli ght to Paris. They were
considerab ly ahead of us in their aeronautical efforts,
havi ng so whole heartedly accepted the airplane. In this
country, scattered efforts were made in many small
towns, and it is hard to tell how many good things were
left to whither on the vine and never be accepted by the
aviation industry.
The effort of the Johnson brothers is a class ic, in that
they were at least 10 years ahead of their day in the
complete effort, and would have no doubt stolen a great
deal of the thunder had their effort come to the public' s
notice. Probably the first significant thing is that they
had developed an engine as early as 1900, which was far
ahead of any engine of its time. The pictures will verify
the fineness of thi s piece of machinery. Its performance
was unbeli evable for that day. Whil e others were fooling
with make shift machinery, the J ohnsons developed the
four cylinder V type engine, water cooled with a magnif-
icent weight to horsepower ratio, (65 Ib s.-65 hp.), and
unbelievabl e reliability. The workmanship and the
engineering on the engine is startling even today. The
engine was not only a four cylinder V engine, it was a
four cylinder two cycle engine with a very successful
patented valving arrangement. The engine developed
according to their figures 65 hp, but it's probably like
the 90 horse OX5. On today's scale it would be consider-
ably better. Many updates on the engi ne were mad e and
its proving ground was on boats of the day, which it
pull ed very successfully. The final completion of the
aeronautical V type motor to quote Mr. Johnson, was
completed in 1909, the same year t hat t hey made their
first air pl ane. The straight forward type of thinkers that
they were is evid ent in the following quotation from Mr.
Johnson's notes. "In our development we never tinkered
with anyth ing. I nstead we prepared designs and worked
out the problems with many drawings and mathematical
calcu lations in a precision manner. Through our calcul a-
tions we decided the monoplane would be much more
efficient t han the biplane that everyone was building,
because of the less head resistance than the two planes
and all the necessary wires ana structures between the
planes." Mind you they had already developed a very
successful engine, now they were going about it in the
same methodical manner to develop an airplane.
To quote the Argosy article "if the world had noticed
them at the time, the name ' Johnson' would have been
emblazoned in aviation history. Lou, Harry and Julius
Johnson, of Terre Haute, Indiana, designed their plane in
ways that nobody else, not even the Wright brothers or
Glenn Curtiss or Bleriot, had ever conceived. Where
these immortals had used wood, the Johnsons used alu-
minum, nickel and steel, and a long slender fuselage that
could have been the prototype of the monocoque fuse-
laged pl anes that are flying today. Like Bl eriot, they saw
the basic correctness of the aerodynamics of a mono-
pl ane. They worked out a tricycle landing gear at a time
when American planes landed on skids. I t was very near-
ly the same sort of landing gear you see today".
(There is much discussion about there being or not
bei ng a steerabl e nose wheel. I refrain from making the
statement that there was, but invite you to take a good
look at the pictures showing the hinged front wheel and
the steering horns, and make up your own mind.)
Beside the tricycle gear, the rear wheels were on
hori zontal V struts with verticle spring loaded tubular
members very similar to oleos the later airpl anes in the
20s and ea rly 30s used. Now add to this the fact that
th ey had a brake to slow it up after landing, a control
arrangement that is entirely conventional today consist-
ing of a steering wheel, operating the wing warping
which when moved fo rward and aft operated the eleva-
tors, and a rudd er bar to activate the rudders, all this at a
time when planes had barely co me out of the prone pilot
stage operating the ailerons with the body and skids for
landing gear.
In looking at the pictures, you will note that the main
fuselage tubes which are some 201" in diameter have
cooling fins along their length. Again in their inimitable
manner, they used t he actual fuselage tubes as the ra-
diator in order to cut down frontal area, an idea that was
re-enacted in mil itary planes of the early 30s with fu-
selage side radiators, etc. Now add to this a complete
forward section of all welded tube with not a single
piece of wood visib le, a monocoque tubular boom fu-
selage extending rearward from the tubular fuselage area
to support the tail, this being braced with a minimal
number of cables and again at a time when bamboo
poles were being used to hold the tail on. If you will
notice in the pictures all metal on the tail section is
highly polished, all work on the tube is done in a very
workmanlike manner that would put today's airplane
companies to shame. The method of affixing the wings
to the fuselage was to butt them into shallow welded
steel pockets held there entirely by the wire bracing
struct ure, a feature that has cropped up many ti mes in
later years. This allowed the wings more freedom in
warping, which was used for control. The spars them-
se lv es did not twist due to not being rigid ly con nected
at the butt end s. By looking at the cover picture of the
model, yo u realize the extensive use of metal throughout
the airpl ane, the outside edge that forms the wings being
completely tubular and all of the empennage surfaces
being welded aluminum tube. The onl y evidence of
wood in the whole airplane can be found in the propeller
and the actual rib sections which have metal caps to
strengthen them.
Thedesign features ofthe airplane are as follows:
Wing spread 36'
All over length 34'
Weight empty 738 Ibs.
The fuselage was made of steel, the total tail unit
made of aluminum. The fuselage consisted mainly of
three large steel tubes, rigidly assembled together by
brazing in cross tubes to form a bridge structure and
fastenings for all the parts that were attached. Two
upper tubes were spaced apart to take the 90
engine in a forward tractor position, providingspace be-
hind the motor for gasoline tank and pilot's seat, thus
being the first plane to use metal tubular construction
throughoutthefuselage and tail unit. The tail unitofthe
fuselage was a large tapered aluminum tube with re-
-enforcing structures throughout, including reinforce
ment at the large end with metal brackets to fit in the
ends of the three steel fuselage tubes, forming a rigid
attachment (detachable for shipping).
The four cylinder Vtype motor was a 5"bore and 4"
stroke, developing approximately 65 hp. Themotorwas
water cooled, the water being pumped by awater pump
through the three large main tubesofthefuselage which
had cooling fins attached. The cooling was efficientand
afforded very little frontal area as a radiator would on
Quoting Mr. Johnson "learning tofly when the plane ..
was completed, confronted us with the risk ofa smash
up. We were v&"y cautious about it and went about it
much as you would learn to walk. Stage one, I started installed, I could hold it down close to the ground and
ground work on a small field by doing considerable make short jumps and finally could make long curves,
ground running to get well acquainted with the operat banking successfully. I soon left the field and returned
ing ofthe motor, the controls, etc., keepingall 3wheels without a mishap and felt very elated about the whole
on the ground at all times. Stage 2, Iplanned to lift the thing. I made many flights around Terre Haute and
plane offtheground and then right down, butinstead of contracted many exhibitions away from Terre Haute.
that, the machine jumped up about 50' in the air with Stage 4, I taught a student to fly by thesame method I
the end of the field close, and high wires ahead. Ishut used and he was successful in flying the machine and did
the motor off by the switch, made a rough landing very well. Stage 5, Itook on ayoungfellow named Ross
bouncing up about 30',and down just in time toavoid a L. Smith who learned to fly in a very short time, and
smashup. There was no damage to the plane which provo was very good. He successfully carried outall ourexhibi
ed its strer;gth. Thiswas an errordue to oureagernessto tions and contracts without mishaps. Later he was a ci-
see it fly. We had only a switch down on the control vilian flight instructor in the first World War. For three
column, but had not yet installed a push button on the years he flew exhibitionsfor us."
wheel. I tried it again with the same results, so we Mr. Johnson, in some notes written in the late 1950s,
decided to place a push button on the wheel in the states that Tom Beldon for sometime urged us toget in
hands of the operator (blip switch in later jargon). We touch with the Smithsonian I nstitution about our early
then took the plane to a large enough field for longer development work on the monoplane, and he finally
jumps. Stage 3, on a larger field and the push button connected us with his friend Dr. Paul Garber, resulting in
considerable correspondence with Dr. Garber, who was
at the time head curator of the Smithsonian. The 3
Johnson brothers decided at their yearly reunion, to
take on the task of reconstructing their plans and build-
ing a scale model to be placed in the Smithsonian. The
original plane having been sent to the scrap yard after
approximately four years of existence and the prints
having been thrown away, it was a momentous task to
reconstruct from pictures and scattered notes the exact
dimensions, and reconstruct the airplane. They had to
work through much oftheoriginal engineering to do this
feat. The model is complete down to miniature spark
plugs, carburetor and all parts in exactscale. The beauti-
ful model standsas a monument to theirsupreme skill to
the last. At the time ofthe presentation to the Smithso-
nian, Harry Johnson and his wife were present at a
ceremony at which time Dr. Garber interviewed him,
and with much foresight taped the interview. Transcript
of that tape follows, giving much insight to their work.

By Dr. Paul E. Garber
(Curator Emeritus)
July 22, 1959 - This is Paul E. Garber, Head Curator,
National Air Museum recording an interview with Harry
Johnson who with his brothers Louis Johnson and Julius
Johnson constructed an airplane in 1911; an improve-
ment on an airplane which they constructed in 1909. As
I arrived in our Aircraft Building Shop, I found Mr.
Johnson and Mr. Shaw discussing this beautiful model
which Mr. Johnson is assembling, they are now putting
the wooden figure of a man into the cockpit, but ac-
tually there is no cockpit, strictly speaking, because the
man sits upon a band of canvas. There is no safety belt.
Mr. Johnson explains that the hands of th is figure were
carved separately so that they could be fitted around the
wheel which controls the airplane.
Mr. Shaw: Do you notice how the magneto is operat-
ed by a lever on the steering wheel and how cleverly it is
contrived so that the lever actually operates the magneto
in this model? Mr. Johnson has explained that the pilot
would hold that lever over in retard until the engine
gets going.
Mr. Garber: No safety belt, I see. Did you ever fly
this one yourself?
Mr. Johnson: No, No, Lou did it and then the fellow
that we taught to fly but I never flew as a pilot. Lou
flew th is for a whole year but it cost a lot of money to
teach a fellow to fly . At that time we were interested in
the development and sale of Marine engines and there
were some persons who thought we shouldn't waste our
"I found Mr. Johnson and Mr. Shaw discussing this beautiful model which Mr. Johnson is assembling".
This model, currently on display at the Air & Space Museum, has a 43" wing span.
time on airplanes. We had to make money so we finally
gave up the airp1ane and went to Marine engines.
Mr. Garber: You carved your own propeller too
didn't you?
Mr. Johnson: Yes, I made that myself. I carved the
one on the model and I carved the one on the airplane.
Mr. Garber: What wood was in the original,
Mr. Johnson: No, spruce and walnut. But I made this
one of maple and mahogany because they are of a sim-
ilar color. I wanted to put more strength in the propeller
on th is small model.
Mr. Garber: Where did you get your basic idea for
this airplane? Was it from seeing another airplane or
reading books or magazines?
Mr. Johnson: We made one like this before, you
know, but we didn't have very good ideas then. We made
that in 1909. We wNen't trying to copy any existing
airplane. There weren't any around at that time that I
knew of, but I remember a man named Benoist and
another named Bleriot. I think he crossed the English
Channel and I did see some pictures of that, but that's
all the part I can remember having seen.
Mr. Garber: These wings are much like those Bleriot
designed and used.
Mr. Johnson: The shape of them?
Mr. Garber: Yes, and Bleriot used wing warping like
you do here.
Mr. Johnson: The Wright Brothers used warping too.
All of their airplanes were something like this but the
same principle of wing warping was not new with this
one here, we knew.
Mr. Garber: Now for your steering control you have a
rudder bar there for your feet and that moves the ver-
tical rudder, on a vertical axis. Were those controls cross-
ed over, that is: when you pushed your right foot, did
you turn to the right or was it as in a sled or bicycle that
when you pushed the left end you turned to the right?
Mr. Johnson: We made it like a child's wagon.
Mr. Garber: Yes, thac IS quite logical and I have often
wondered why others didn't make the rudder bars move
the same way . I remember that it was awkward for me
to learn to move the rudder bar in a different manner
than I had been accustomed to on a sled and bicycle.
Mr. Johnson: We preferred to turn the bar the way
we were going.
Mr . Garber: Now for warping you turned the wheel
itself, turning it as in an automobile and I guess that as
you pulled down on the right side you would raise the
trai ling edge of the right wing.
Mr. Johnson: When you pulled down on the right side
you raised the left wing of the airplane upward and the
right side went down.
Mr. Garber: Then if you were making a right turn you
would push your left foot forward and that would bring
your right foot back a bit then at the same time you
would pull down on the right side of the wheel and that
would raise the left wing upward so that you would
bank to the right.
Mr. Johnson: That's right.
Mr. Garber: That is instinctive and logical; and then
to control the elevators the pilot would pull the whole
wheel assembly to him and that would cause the airplane
to climb.
Mr. Johnson: Yes, that would make the tail end of
the airplane lower than the front end and set at such an
angle that it would lift.
Mr. Garber: Now that's the controls and they cer-
tainly are understandable. I see that you have a brake
here; you have a long metal sleeve there by the pilot's
right leg. There is a handle on that rod in that sleeve and
as the pilot pulls up on the handle a wire at the bottom
end of that rod pulls up the front end of a drag bar, the
other end of which digs into the ground and acts as a
Mr. Johnson: The drag on the ground slows the air-
plane after landing.
Mr. Garber: That is certainly an early use of a brake.
You don't have the front wheel of your three-wheeled
landing gear steerable do you? Was steering on the
ground just by using the rudder of the airplane itself?
Mr. Johnson: It rolled on all three wheels but there
was light weight on the front wheel; that made it easier
to lower the tail section of the airplane and lift the
airplane off the ground.
Mr. Garber: That takes care of the controls. Of course
you pushed the wheel assembly forward in order to
descend. Now let's discuss the wings. Did you have metal
spars for them(
Mr. Johnson: No, those were of wood and so were
the ribs. There wasn't much metal in the wings.
Mr. Garber: Where did you get your wing section
from? That is, the curvature of the wing. Did you get
that out of a book? Did you just think that a curved
wing was a good idea or was it from looking at some
bird, maybe?
Mr. Johnson: I don't recall seeing any curved wings
before. We just made the structure as light as possible
and also to have strength; that required the bridge struc
ture as I call it. The cross pieces or ribs were made like
bridge crosses and the spars were the same way. They
have longitudinal sections separated by upright sticks
between them.
Mr. Garber: Then the wing section was not some
particular shape that you were copying from some book.
You realized apparently that you had to have curved
wings but where did you get that idea from? Why aren't
these wings flat like a kite?
Mr. Johnson: I think we must have gotten that idea
from somewhere; maybe from some picture but I don't
even recall the magazines that were out at that time.
Mr. Garber: There was "Aeronautics," put out by
Ernest J ones and from time to time he would publish
what he called, "structural aids."
Mr. Johnson: We might have gotten something from
those magazines.
Mr. Garber: Do you remember a book called "Ve
hicles of the Air," by Lougheed? It came out about
1909 and had drawings of a number of airplanes of that
Mr. Johnson: No, I don't remember that one.
Mr. Garber: Then apparently your information came
from a few photographs and magazines that you might
have seen, and in that way you learned something about
what others were doing. But there is so much original
work in this that it doesn't look as though you copied it
from anyone except the shape of the wing. The tail
section is something like that which was on the Antoin
ette airplane of that day, and I think there was a Bristol
which had a similar tail group.
Mr. Johnson: Wasn't Antoinette a man who tried to
race an airplane across the Straits of Dover?
Mr. Garber: Antoinette was the name of the airplane;
the pilot was Hubert Latham.
Mr. Johnson: Had a square-end wing didn't he?
Mr. Garber: Yes, we have a model of that one here in
our Early Bird Case. The internal structure of your wing,
then, was made from built up spars and built up ribs,
each having a sort of a bridge truss shape, is that it?
Mr. Johnson: Yes, that's right.
Mr. Garber: The covering was what kind of cloth , was
it muslin?
Mr. Johnson: No, it was rubberized linen.
Mr. Garber: Was that a commercial product or did
you make it up yourself?
Mr. Johnson: We bought it that way.
Mr. Garber: There was a Goodyear cloth which was
rubberized and then there was a material called Pena-
cloth which was put out by the Pennsylvania Rubber
Company, so there were availabl e at that tim e some
fabrics th at were impregnated.
Mr. Johnson: It might have been an experimental
Mr. Garber: So then you put it on with the warp and
woof running at right angles spanwise and chordwise,
parallel with the spars. The Wright brothers put theirs on
diagonally so as to get som e additional bracing from the
fabric, but apparently you put yours on straight across.
Mr. Johnson : That's right. And then we put rib strips
on like you see here to keep the fabric from tearing
where the tacks are, and we also had rib stays inside
which were wires to keep the wing from being bent
backward diagonally.
Mr. Garber: That takes care of the wing and the
controls; now let's consider the construction of the fu-
selage and landing gear. In the fuselage you used steel
tubing. Did you braze it or was welding in use that
Mr. Johnson: No we had to braze it.
Mr. Garber: Langley used brazing on his aerodromes.
The landing gear of your airplane I see is something like
that used by Glenn Curtiss, so although you may have
copied the Bleriot wing you did not copy the chassis
from that airplane. This longitudinal boom which
constitutes the principle member of the fuselage, aft of
the pilot, is very unusual. I had once seen a somewhat
similar structure in a Smith Monoplane but apparently
this idea was original with you.
Mr. Johnson: With us it was just a means of carrying
the elevator and rudder far back.
Mr. Garber: I notice you don't have any long guys or
stays, extending from the front of the fuselage out
diagonally to the entering edge of the wing, to serve as a
preventer for any tendency to backsweep, nor do you
have any stays extending from the trailing edge of the
wing back to the tailboom. Apparently you have all the
stiffness that you need there in the tailboom itself and
you have told me that you made that out of pieces of
sheet metal that you formed into conically-tapering
tubes and then riveted them together; but in the model
here you have turned the boom out of a piece of alu-
minum rod. This is certainly beautifully done.
Mr. Johnson: That cooling system is interesting.
Mr. Garber: Yes I thought we ought to take up next
the engine.
Mr. Shaw: I think he was one of the first to develop ,
that method of cooling.
Mr. Garber: The Antoinette used surface cooling
/ / ~
along the fuselage. You have no drag at all for your
radiator. In most airplanes the radiator was placed up
front and was of a square shape. I t created more drag
than any th ing else.
Mr. Johnson: That's right.
Mr. Garber: This engine here you tell me is based on
those that you had been making for use in boats. This is
a four-cylinder shape with the cylinders arranged like
two vees staggered with one another. What was the bore
and stroke?
Mr. Johnson: The bore was five inches and the stroke
was four inches. It was two cycle.
Mr. Garber: Those little spark plugs on this model are
certainly well made; did you use a Mea magneto?
Mr. Johnson: No it was a Bosch magneto.
Mr. Garber: Then I guess the distributor was on the
magneto itself. Did you use dry cells for starting the
Mr. Johnson: No we didn't need that. Turning the
propeller would start the engine all right.
Mr. Garber: Did you use any booster?
Mr. Johnson: No, we didn't need it.
Mr. Garber : Where is the carburetor?
Mr. Johnson: We had a pipe here for carrying the
gasoline through a needle valve. That's the needle valve,
there, where we would adjust the gasoline while the
engine was running and get the maximum speed out of
it, the right mixture. There was no throttle on the
engine. It was a one-speed engine and to start it we
would prime the engine, put gasoline through the
exhaust opening here and turn the propeller to start, and
when the engine starts, the aviator pulls on this little
valve control here, the one here by his right knee, and
opens up to allow the gasoline to run through the screen;
and with the engine running we adjust this lever here and
then that can stay that way. I t usually stayed that way
for a long time and to control the engine he has a push
button on the steering wheel which grounds the magneto
to kill the spark, and he just cuts the engine in and out
for control as when coming in for a landing on the
ground . It had no throttle on it, and it works very well
that way and we had the advantage of not needing any
throttle. And then when the engine is running the avia
tor only has to fly the airplane.
johnson Aero Engine, 2 cycle - V 4 - water cooled 65 lb. =65 HP.
Mr. Garber: Then you didn't move the spark lever
back and forth in order to control the speed of the
Mr. Johnson: No, we never did that.
Mr. Garber: With the rotary engines there was a
button on the top of the control stick, called a "blurp
button" which was depressed to cut out the ignition for
the engine. Sometimes when it would be cut in and out,
the pilot would get a face full of castor oil. What kind of
oil do you use in your engine?
Mr. Johnson: We used a good boat oil like we had
used in Marine engines but I can't think of the make of
oil we used at that time.
Mr. Garber: Now in this tank here which is even with
the entering edge of the wing, this triangularsectioned
tank, - does it include an oil tank? Did you mix the oil
with the gasoline?
Mr. Johnson: Yes, we did mix oil in the gasoline tank
here and there was no other oiler on it.
Mr. Garber: Now what is this header on top of the
top of the gasoline tank?
Mr. Johnson: We called it the steam dome at that
time. It collected the water as it came hot from the
engine and the steam collected in this. It has the steam
escape here just as you have in the automobile at the top
of your radiator, and here is an overflow tube the same
as in an automobile so that the water and steam could
escape down here. The water was in there only about
2/3 full.
Mr. Garber: Oh yes, you are speaking of this small
tube that comes out of the front center and bends
around to go down toward the left side, and I guess this
top opening is where you put the water in.
Mr. Johnson: Yes that's right. The water starts to
flow here from the water pump which is at the back of
the crank shaft. From there, the water is carried from
these tubes here and up into here, and enters the water
jacket here on the left side along this tube of the fu-
selage, and goes right and left, and then circulates
through the four water jackets, and then comes out here
into this hose and then through that hose and then
enters into the steam dome.
Mr. Garber: Oh yes, I see that it flows out from these
tubes just behind the aviator's seat where one bends to
the right and the other bends to the left and then the
water flows into the center unit and then is piped into
the longitudinals. It comes out of that tube just in front
of the foot bar and then it goes from there to the pump.
That is a complete circulation which continues all the
time that the engine is running. The air-cooling flanges
are fastened to the longitudinal tubes to increase their
radiating surfaces. Those longitudinal tubes are not only
the structural members for the fuselage but also, being
hollow, provide pipes through which the water flows so
that it can be cooled before re-entering the engine, and
these flanges increase that cooling.
Mr. Johnson: Those flanges were .soldered on to the
tube to improve the heat conductivity. The air stream
helped to cool the water. This system worked very well.
Mr. Garber: It almost looks like you would have had
more cooling surface than you required, but that is
certainly better than not having enough. Now we have
covered the construction of the wings, engine, fuselage,
tail group, and under-carriage. Next: how about flying it.
You say that the center of gravity is located just about
in a line forward of the rear wheels of this three-wheeled
landing gear.
Mr. Johnson: Yes, and the center of pressure was
about 1/3 back from the front of the wing.
Mr. Garber: Then your center of pressure was for-
ward of your center of gravity, and your center of thrust
was in a straight line from the propeller shaft back
through this long telescoping boom to the tail group.
That is a good distribution of forces. With the engine
started, could you hold the airplane back with the
brake? I mean, this brake here that is pushed into the
ground when you pull up on this handle. Or do you have
to have someone to hold the airplane back for you while
you were revving up the engine?
Mr. Johnson: We had around 250 pounds of thrust,
measuring it with a spring balance and a rope tied to a
tree. Sometimes we would tie the airplane to the tree
until the engine was running up or sometimes we had
some men to hold it back. A man on each wheel here at
the back could hold it. We have a picture of two men
doing that, but most of the time we used a rope tying it
to a fence or a tree, but out in the field sometimes when
there wasn't anything to tie it to we would use men to
hold it back and that gave them quite a lot of work to
do, too.
Mr. Garber: Did you have a slip knot in the rope
which the pilot could release or did you have someone
on the ground to let the rope 100se
Mr. Johnson: A fellow on the ground would do that.
The pilot has to use a step ladder in order to get into the
Mr. Garber: I see, and so with th e pilot at the
controls and the engine running, the airplane would be
released either by cutting or untying the rope or by
having the men let go, so then the airplane would roll
along the ground and when it gained sufficient speed the
pilot would pull back on this wheel column, thus
depressing the tail, inclining the airplane upward, and up
he would go. Did you ever measure the rate of climb or
the extreme altitude?
Mr. Johnson: No we did not have any way of meas-
uring it. We probably could have arranged a way but we
didn't do that. I imagine that the speed at which we
took off was about 30 miles an hour. We would find that
out by an automobile running along side of it while the
man in the car would watch his speedometer.
Mr. Garber: How fast was the airplane flying as it
came in for a landing?
Mr. Johnson: I guess that speed was about 35 miles
per hour maybe, just a little faster then what it took off
at. We could slow it down by this push button which
would cut the engine in and out. I n the air the speed was
about 50 or 60 miles an hour, straight and level without
a tail wind; but at that time we had no way of measuring
it. That is just our guess. We never tried for altitude,
sometimes we would say it was up about a mile high but
we just said that. The airplane would look pretty small if
Steering yolk is conventional - it straddles the
main lower tube of the fuselage. Forward is
down, back is up, turning the wheel creates a
normal bank. Note the rudder bar at bottom of
photo, with leather loops to hold flier's feet.
it was as much as a mile high up. We have some pictures
of it way up high and it looked pretty small. It could
have been a half a mile high, but that is just a guess after
all. We had no way of measuring how high we were, but
Lou always said that it felt mighty high.
Mr. Garber: Well now Mr. Johnson you have been
very obliging and patient to answer all of these ques-
tions. We have discussed this airplane along the same
method that I used in the Navy when I was teaching
recognition of enemy airplanes. We have also considered
the structure and performance, but I wish that I could
hear from you some anecdotes of the times when you
and your brothers were building and flying this airplane.
You have told me that th is was constructed as an
improvement over the one you and your brothers made
in 1909. May I suggest that Mrs. Johnson and you might
have lunch with me. We can continue our conversation
Mr. Shaw: While you two are at lunch I'll glue these
hands together around this wheel.
Mr. Garber: Thanks, Win. We'll be back before long.
Mr. Garber: Now we are back from lunch. It was
particularly enjoyable to have Mrs. Johnson with us.
During lunch we spoke further about the airplane. Mr.
Johnson said that there were two things which in-
fluenced their discontinued operations of the airplane
and their further interest in aeronautics. One factor was
a cyclone which demolished their factory, and another
factor was their hope to get a contract for some airplane
engines from Russia. That was after the beginning of
World War I in Europe, 1914. The Johnson airplane had
conti nued in flight through 1913 and during that year
the brothers were thinking of developing a more power-
ful engine. The engine as shown in this model had 4
cylinders but the brothers intended to develop the type
with 6, 8, and possibly 12 cylinders. The Russians
became interested in the most powerful Johnson engine,
and the Johnson Brothers invested a great deal of money
and effort into the development of the 8 and 12 cylinder
engines. The Russian government was rather unsettled at
that time and it seemed difficult for the agents of that
nation to make up their mind. When the Johnson
Brothers learned that the Russians preferred a 12 cyl-
inder engine they decided that it should be of the 4
cycle type, but the brothers could not obtain a magneto
of sufficient power and reliability to use in the ignition
system. Had the Russian government ordered the 8 cyl-
inder engines in quantity or had the brothers been able
to get an experimental contract for development of the
12 cylinder engines and been able to produce a proto-
type that was satisfactory, the Johnson Brothers might
well have gone into the business of manufacturing air-
plane engines and developing more advanced examples
of their airplanes. But, not receiving such encouragement
the brothers decided to concentrate on Marine engi nes.
Also there were some financiers who were considering
investing money in the Johnson Company. The investors
believed that aviation was an unstable field and they
would not agree to put their money into the Johnson
Brothers' enterprise when the state of aeronautics was so
indefinite, and considered to be unreliable. Moreover,
there was the thought on the part of these investors that
if any of the Johnson Brothers were injured in the
course of their flying, that their company would thereby
be deprived these services, thus reducing or even closing
the operations of the Marine engine plant. So those three
factors: the severe damage to their plant by the torna-
do, the loss of the Russian contract, and the attitude of
investors caused the brothers to give up airplanes and
airplane engines and concentrate on Marine engines. For
a while the brothers made a small gasoline-engined unit
which was attached to a bicycle and called the Johnson
motor wheel. (I remember that these were sometimes
built into 4-wheel wagons and used by boys for
transportation around the neighborhood. A friend of
mine had one about 1916 which he and I would fre-
quently go from my home which was then near the
Naval Observatory, all the way over to my friend's
family's summer home in Virginia.) After that the
brothers got into the making of outboard motors, they
being the first ones to use a rope for starting the engine.
Now, of course, Johnson outboard motors are famous
and the company itself is very substantial. Mr. Louis
Johnson and Mr. Harry Johnson are retired from their
business and Clarence is continuing it. Julius Johnson I
was told had withdrawn his investment several years ago
into another line. Clarence was the youngest of a family
of 7 children but at the time when the airplane was
being made and flown he was too young to participate
other than by lighting bonfires so that the pilot could
land the airplane when evening was coming on. At
present time one of the five brothers and one of the two
sisters have passed away. Mr. Johnson is there anything
that we haven't covered in our discussion here in the
shop or at lunch?
Mr. Johnson: How about the springs on the landing
gear. You notice that they extend upward at an angle
from their lower connection near the rear wheels. Those
springs were very useful when we were rolling over rough
ground, and then when we landed these springs would
stretch upward so that the skid would touch the ground
and help to slow us down for landing.
Mr. Garber: I see that you have made miniature
springs here, and that they operate the same as in the
original airplane.
Mr. Johnson: Yes, I have put it all in there exactly as
it was nearly 50 years ago.
Mr. Garber: I notice that you have some heavy
springs up here in the horizontal section of the control
cables where they connect to the cables coming off of
the control wheel. They look like whiffletree springs.
What were they used for?
Mr. Johnson: Well, when the aviator pulled his
control wheel back it would tend to shorten this cable
here but the springs were so arranged as to take up that
extra play, and similarly permitted the connections to
elongate when the aviator pushed the wheel forward.
That would keep the chain from coming loose on these
sprockets over which the length of chain passed. Thus the
spring would expand or contract to compensate for the
over-all differences in the lengths of the connections to
the elevators. Now, for take-down purposes we could
take the wings off and lay them alongside of the body
when we were going down the road or moving it from
one place to another. One end of the wings would rest
on this pin here and the other end on this cross bar,
while the trailing edge would lay against the upper struc-
ture of the fuselage. We would tie the wings in place and
then we could pull the whole machine along acountry
road behind a horse-drawn wagon, and then bring it into
a field where we could take off. One of the fields that
we used had a bluff there and we would usually take off
from the top of the bluff.
Mr. Garber: About dimensions, you have told me that
the scale of this model is 1: 1 O. That is 1/10 size, every
part being 1/10 that of the original. A decimal scale.
Mr. Johnson: Yes that is right; the wing span was 36
feet and the length was 34 feet. That was measured from
the front of the front wheel to the extreme rear, over-all.
The propeller was 8 feet in diameter and the width of
the wing was 8 feet.
Mr. Garber: Do you remember the pitch of the
Mr. Johnson: Yes that was 4Y2 feet. The revolutions
per minute were about 1200 on the ground but I don't
know how fast the engine turned up when the airplane
was in the air. In the air it must have been more than on
the ground. We had no indicator on the machine, how-
ever. Here is another thing I had not mentioned. The
cables extending from the rear spar connections on the
right side of the wing to the corresponding fittings on
the left side would pass over the pullies on top of these
upright cabane braces here, and in that way they would
move span wise from side to side when the wing was
Mr. Garber : You told me during lunch that in all of
the flights with this airpl ane there had never been any
serious crack-ups. You said a few minor damages had
occurred that were easily repaired and that the airplane
was flown until 1913.
Mr. Johnson : Yes right up to the winter of 1913 but
not over into 1914.
Mr. Garber: Was there any change in the design
during that period?
Mr. Johnson: No, thi s model shows how it was at the
beginning and how it was al l the time we were flying it. I
don't recall any changes that were made all that time
except these flanges here on these longitudinal fuselage
pipes. At first we didn't have them on, and then we
added them in order to help make the engine run cooler.
They were on in 1911 however, so we must have put
them on rather soon after we built it. On the model I
have made them out ofrsheet brass, but on the airplane
they are made of copper and were of L-shaped section.
On the model it was quite a problem to figure out how
to make them but first I ran the brass through a set of
gears so as to form these parts that expand up, and then
I made a tool for pinching those U-shaped parts flat.
That formed the shape that would fit around the pipe.
Then I soldered them together, soldering the joint on
the unerneath line of the tubing on this model, but in
the original airplane we soldered each piece on
Mr. Garber: That is certainly a wonderful story and I
marvel not only at your ingen io us craftsmanship in
constructing the original but also in the exquisite jewel-
like precision and beauty with which you made this
miniature reproduction. Is this to be accessioned as a gift
from all three brothers?
Mr. Johnson: Yes that's right, from all three of us. We
are very honored to have it here in the National Air
Mr. Garber: Well I assure you Mr. Johnson, and I
assure your brothers that we ourselves are honored to
accept it from you and to display it. I know that our
visitors will be thrilled by the excellence of this beautiful
model. Those brothers are yourself, Louis whom I met,
and Julius who I have not had the pleasure of meeting
Mr. Johnson: That's right, that is Louis J. Johnson,
Harry L. Johnson, and Julius M. Johnson.
fxcl:ls;l'(' fe;)IIII"l'S or
JOHIf.50A'AlRIAL 110r09
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Mr. Garber: The correspondence clearly indicates that
th is is being given by the three brothers to the National
Air Museum. At the time when I had the pleasure of
seeing Mr. Louis Johnson he mentioned also a trophy
and said that would be available, and I assured him that
we will be pleased to have it. I will contact Mr. Beldon
about that. May I confirm the address please?
Mr. Johnson: Yes. Louis J. Johnson is now at Drum-
mond Island, Michigan. Julius M. Johnson is at Meadow
Court Hotel, Bradenton, Florida, and after Mrs. Johnson
and I return from a little trip we are taking, we will be
back home at R. R.-1, Culver, I ndiana. We will stop off at
Washington as we turn back toward home after we visit
some friends up North.
Mr. Garber: Thank you again Mr. Johnson; and Mrs.
Johnson, we are further indebted to your husband for
bringing you. I hope that you have enjoyed your visit to
the Museum. We will proceed to put this beautiful model
on exhibition so that we and our visitors can enjoy it.
Again and always our sincere appreciation to you.
Letters of acknowledgment will be sent to you and to
your brothers, and we are very grateful to you per-
sonal[,y for assembling the model here, and informing us

~ i f Story of
Pioneer Airplane Manufac-
turer and Aviator, Developer
of the Vee Type Motor and
Modern Outboard Engine
As Recorded in an Interview
By Dorothy Jefferson
Especially for MoToR BoatinG
March 1927
Lou Johnson grinned cheerfully as he answered my
questions concerning his initial flight. Lou is the eldest
and the leader of those four red-headed Johnson broth-
ers who designed, constructed and flew the first success-
ful American monoplane in Terre Haute, Indiana, eight-
een years ago, and who have taken many remarkable
steps in the perfection of V-type motors.
"Kind of funny," he said , with that quiet, reticent
humor which is so much a part of his personality, "When
that machine was ready to go up I had not the remotest
(Continued on page 15)
Louis johnson makes first st/ccessful flight
with johnson Aeroplane.
Upper Left: Note the brass
steam condenser (tea kettle)
just behind the engine. In
front of the condenser is the
ignition system. Large box was
magneto and selective cylinder
control, later substituted for
blip switch.
Lower Left: The johnson
Motor wheel served the
Company for a period of time
- after aeroplanes and before
outboards. As a child I remem-
ber a johnson motor wheel
powered buckboard. (a bicycle
wheeled contrivance about
twice the size of a child's
wagon, accommodating two
Upper Right: A good shot of
the east side of the engine,
with Louis Johnson's wife at
the controls. The propeller
was made of alternate strips of
spruce and walnut.
Lower Right: This engine
could enhance my living room
anytime! Everything the John-
son brothers did was done to
perfection. I magine what a 72
cylinder 2 cycl e engine could
have done for an aeroplane -
too bad they were never
successfully applied.
idea how to fly. Had to learn that at the same time I was
testing out the plane. Quite different nowadays, learning
all the principles in an aviation school and then having a
perfectly good, standardized, thoroughly inspected plane
delivered into your hands. In the old days you had to
keep your wits about you, all right. You never knew
what might happen next. I'll never forget the first time I
went fifty feet off the ground. It was lots more of a
surprise to me than it was to the spectators!"
We were sitting in the cheerful, home-like living room
where Mr. johnson does most of his reading and much
of his designing. A log fire snapped on the hearth and
the atmosphere suggested such peace and retirement that
it was almost impossible to see in the modest, kindly
man who sat before me, that rugged, grimly determined
Hoosier lad who never allowed a class-mate to pass him
in school, who dreamed fantastic things with his boyish
brain and carried them out with his amazingly skillful
boyish hands, who permitted no failure, even heavensent
destruction in the form of a tornado that completely
wiped out his entire motor plant in a few hours, to come
between him and his goal, and who has accepted success
with an unconscious grace known to few. At forty-five
Louis james johnson occupies an enviable position in
the engineering world, yet one has only to converse with
him a few moments to be certain he feels that only a
very small portion of his work has been accompl ished.
And what he admits of success he attributes in no
great measure to his own ability. He tells you, gravely, of
two paramount influences in his youth, and insists that a
boy, given these, could not have failed.
The first influence, as you may have guessed, was his
home life.
Meeting Mr. johnson's parents as they are today, it is
not difficult to understand the reverence that is accord-
ed them by all of their five children. Father johnson, at
eighty-four, has the keen clear eye of a man of sixty. His
most prized possession is a motor wheel presented to
him when his sons were manufacturing them, and he
rides daily. During the war he was called by the gov-
ernment to take over an important task in an ammuni-
tion factory, for though he had been long in idleness, his
ability as an expert tool dresser was well known, and
they were unable to find skill in younger men that
matched his. Coming from Denmark when he was nine
he went at a very early age into a machine shop, reaching
the place where he could gauge steel by his senses as
accurately as other men ga uged it by instruments. And,
from the first, hi s sons were benefited by an interest and
cooperation which very few fathers know how to give.
"We always had our own tools and work-benches,"
Lou explained, "Father indulged us in these things as
wealthier men indulge their children in expensive toys.
We were encouraged to try our hand at any sort of
construction that appealed to us. And father was always
there to advise and assist. No task, even the building of a
sled, was regarded as trivial. We were taught to put
sincere effort into everything and to finish whatever we
Mother johnson, quietly sitting, softly rocking,
speaks in a low, almost awed tone of "her boys," and
you know at once what her part in their story has been.
"When Lou was only twelve," she says, "he decided
he wanted a new sled. We couldn't afford to buy him the
kind he selected, so he took an axe and went out into
the woods and cut down a tree. He worked at it until he
had his lumber ready. Then he sat down and drew a
design. We didn't think he could carry it out, he was
such a little fellow, but first thing we knew he had some-
thing that looked like a real sled. The only trouble was
with the runners. Finally he took the rim off an old
buggy wheel, pounded it down flat and fastened it to his
wooden runners. Father got him some red and black
., 1
paint and I want to tell you he had a sled to be proud
of! I have it in my attic now, and you couldn't buy a 'A
better one." ,-
The second influence you cannot guess.
It was the Wabash river. \
When the johnson boys were still youngsters the
family moved from Effingham, Illinois, to Terre Haute,
I ndiana. All of the boys, Lou, Harry, julius, Clarence
and Arthur, (the latter being the one who lost his life
some years ago in a factory accident) were enchanted
with the river.
"Our Danish blood," Lou smiles quietly.
It seemed to them that life would not be worth living
until they owned a boat.
"Make it," their parents encouraged.
So the boat was begun, and before the summer ended '
it was an admitted success. But another summer came
and brought new ambitions. Lou johnson and Nell Cockerham johnson.
Louis and Harry wearied of rowing each other about It is rumored that she flew the johnson air-
one day and began to dream. plane. The family doubts that she did.
"If we had a motor - " Pictures of her in the plane may have been
"We couldn't afford to buy one - " responsible for the rumor. (See page 74)
"We could race, n'everything."
"Gee, how fast d 'you suppose we could go?"
They approached their father and mother.
"Make it," said the parents fi nall y, with less enthu-
siasm than they were wont to show. Gasoline motors
were strange toys in those times.
But the motor, slowl y assembl ed, proved the envy of
all their small associates. It was t he two-horse power,
inboard type, a quaint ancestor for the outboard of
today, but it chall enged, and defeated, many a marine
motor of prouder origin.
The influence of the Wabash -
Hi gh School was completed, with so excell ent a
record in mathematics that Terre Hau te professors still
speak of Lou's astonishing ab ility in that line, and the
young inventor, for he was now recognized as that,
sought hi s father's consent to engage in marine motor
As usual, hi s parents nodded approval. They had
always wished their boys to be in business for t hem-
selves, a nd there was money ready for a small factory .
Here it is interesting to make a note on the progress
of Louis Johnson's educat ion. No more schooling, yet
systemat ic study, never neglected in the press of any
circ umstances whatever. More mathematics, a keener
interest in everything pertaining to the mechanical
sciences, engineeri ng co urses. Constant reading, ev-
id enced today by the books that surround him in his
A few years of this marine work, and then the brain
that dreamed and the hands t hat were ever ready to
carry out those dreams united in a burni ng desire to
drive somet hing far more romantic than river boats with
a gasoline engine.
He wanted a sled, and made one. He wanted a launch,
and he made one. He wanted an air pl ane, and he made
one. It was America's first triumph with a monopl ane.
No one, probably, will ever know just what those
brothers suffered in the way of ridicule, disappointment
a nd discouragement in the first period of their struggle
with the unknown air monster. But they drove ahead,
undaunted, and fi nally something that resembled an
ominous bird of prey was hatched.
Not only the Indiana town in whi ch it was born
thought thi s creation a fantastic f ledgling. Looking over
Mr. Johnso n's scrap-book one comes to hi ghl y amusing
comments by the press in various parts of the country.
Wright and Curtiss were experimenting at the same time,
of course, but air asce nsion was still regarded in the light
of so rcery.
"Working fever ishly day and night and with the
utmost secrecy the Johnson brothers of Terre Haute,
India na, are said to be toiling and scheming to put
together a huge bird-like machine which is slated either
to f ul f ill their fo ndest hopes or prove their bitterest
disappointment", says a cl ipping of Sept ember 26, 1909.
"Despit e the Johnson' s efforts at secrecy, spectators
began to throng the camp in the old reservoir bed ear ly
Saturday afte rnoon, and later automobiles could be seen
on every road leading to the hiding pl ace of the Flyer .
All the far mers took the afternoon off to view the
mach ine, news of which had leaked out in spite of the
covered e ntra nce to the farm where the try-out is to be
This, a li tt le later, in the Terre Haute Tribune.
Mr. Johnson ch uckl es soft ly as he reviews these
"The betting ran high at those fi rst exhibiti ons," he
says . " Bets ran about two to one that we'd not get off
the ground . Peopl e always paid to see the machine, too.
One day in Hill sboro, Illinois, we took in 2500 gate
admissio ns of twenty-five cents each."
Gasoline, of course, was regarded with much fear and
the greatest caution used. Before the engine was started
a crier ran down the f ield warning spectators of the
imminent danger and forbidd ing them to smoke.
But the queer creature t hat the Johnson brothers had
labored with was now winning wagers for those who had
faith in it. The press spoke of a f light as a "lift," and,
fo ll owi ng a discouragingly rainy summer when muddy
fields delayed the tests for weeks, we read :
"After a period of experiment covering some time,
the Johnson brothers made a successful lift at their camp
Sunday evening. The machine was started on the aer-
drome track fr om which it was run down the field in an
effort which finally succeeded in raising it clear of the
earth. Several times the craft raised for d istances of from
fifteen to twenty feet, though th e height attained was
not more than a foot from the ground at any time."
"Among the things that the history of tomorrow will
carry will be the invention and construction of the first
successful American monoplane. It will recount the
years of unaided struggle by those red-headed Johnson
brothers in Terr e Haute, I ndiana, who brought out of a
chaos of thought the most wonderful th ing, up to the
year 1912, in the way of an aero engine mounted on a
steel flyer that really flew."
The original motor was mounted on a wooden fra me,
the wings were of silk and the position of the flyer was
perilous. The improved monopl ane boasted a steel
frame, stronger wings, and the aviator was pl aced above
and behind the machinery, eliminating the danger of
being crushed by the engine in a fall.
This successful ai rplane had a spread of 36 feet, a
length of 34 feet, 260 square feet of plane surface, and
weighed 750 pou nds. I t had a speed of better than sixty
mil es an hour and was driven by a V-type motor, which
was in the nature of a revolution.
Then came the Johnson School of Aviation.
Now that there were pl anes to fly there must be
aviators to fly them. But, while many young men took a
keen interest in the sport from the sidelines, most of
them were sti ll decidedly earthbound. However, there
were two immediate ap plicants and Ross L. Smith, who
trained one hundred and fifty men during t he war, was
Lou Johnson' s first pupil. Frank Schutt was the ot her,
and to him befell the thrill of crashing to ground from a
height of 1500 ft. and landing unhurt. Hi s accident was
caused by a shortage of gas, as were many ot her similar
catastrophies of the time.
But there is a more persona l note to be sounded in
connection with Mr. Johnson' s f li ghts. Somet hing other
than motors and his aviation school engrossed him.
There was a charming young person in the hood and
dust coat, supposed to represent the ideal sport costume
of the day always ready to assay the clouds with him.
Up to now spectators had gazed in obvious ad mirati on at
the mother who bade her son such a brave god-speed
when he started upon those fearsome, uncharted voy-
ages. Her gallant bearing unfa ilingly caused a little ripple
of comment. But now another woman stood at her side,
eq ually anxious, yet equally heroic. It was whispered
that Miss Nell Cockerham, also of Terre Haute, had
often been up in the machine with Mr. Johnson, and
that she evidently took a keen interest in monoplanes -
The story is briefly told in two headlines from the
local paper:
A new partnership was formed, for it is evident to
everyone who contacts the Johnsons in either a business
or a social way that theirs had proven a very successful
marri age, and that Mrs. Johnson's interest has been
manifested in every phase of the inventors' work.
But the influence of the Wabash -
Flying was all very well, Mr. Johnson admitted when
questioned concerning his return to motor-boat building,
but the call of his first love was too strong to ignore for
long. Of course, during these remarkable three years, he
had never ceased to manufacture the Johnson marine
motor, but following his marriage he devoted himself
intensively to the development of several ideas he had
held in embryo while he sought the conquest of the
Soon the Johnson brothers were offering twenty
models of marine motors. Racing motors ranged from
single cylinder to twelve cylinder type. One of these held
therecord in the 320 in. class for four years.
But the fates, having accorded this much in justice to
the originality, persistency and energy of the Johnson
family, evidently decreed that the number thirteen must
cast an ominous influence upon the new industry. The
tornado of 1913 is well remembered by all who lived in
the vicinity of Terre Haute at that time, but to none,
perhaps, was it more devastating.
"Lou and I had been in the theatre while the storm
was at its worst," said Mrs. Johnson, when we had come
to this part of the narration, "And Lou spoke of the
satisfaction of being in a nice new brick factory. We
went home and knew nothing of the damage that had
been wrought until the following morning. Then, when
the men reported for work, they saw a pile of wreckage
that would have sickened any heart. The highest portion
of the plant left standing was a bit of the brick wall,
three feet above the ground."
W ea ker men wou Id have broken, perhaps, but
apparently Lou and his brothers bowed to the will of the
gods and accepted their loss calmly. I n humbler quarters
but with no lessening of spirit they designed something
new in the manner of a racing craft.
In 1914 Johson's most famous boat, Black Demon
III, entered a special match race against some of the
fastest boats in the country, on Lake Michigan. Disturb-
er I V of Ch icago took first honors, but Black Demon
was a close second, out-classing a number of favorites. It
was a recognized triumph for the V-type motor, which
had been exhibited in Chicago a few months before and
was causing much comment. Black Demon III was a
23-footer, powered with two 12-cylinder high speed
marine motors, each having 180 horse-power.
Ever casting about for new transportation methods,
Black Demon III was a 23 footer powered with two 2 cycle 72 cylinder high speed marine motors, each
having 780 horsepower.
the red-headed Johnson boys now wondered whether a
bicycle driven by their motor would compare favorably
with types already on the market. Apparently it did, for
in 1917 the Johnson Motor Wheel Company was a going
business with an output of 10,000 machines a year, and
the slogan - "SIXTY MILES FOR TEN CENTS" was
familiar to many of us.
Warren Ripple, Chicago financier, was especially
interested in this new venture, and through his influence
the factory was moved to South Bend in the early part
of 1918.
In eight years the growth of the Johnson Motor
Company has furnished South Benders with an in-
exhaustible subject of conversation. First, it was-
"Did you hear about those Johnson people? They've
taken over the o'd Bottling plant next to them."
"Have you heard the latest about Johnson? They've
leased that whole block of stores on Lincoln Way and
put their offices over there."
On and on it went, this amazing growth. Soon a
vacated portion of a large underwear mill across the river
was commandeered, neighboring houses, sheds, buildings
of any type whatever were given over to the manufac-
ture and housing of Johnson motors. It was said that one
must carry a road map to complete a tour of the plant.
The wheel had gone into the discard, but there was
never a lull in activities. The out-board marine motor
had quietly taken the place of the motor-driven bicycle
- and Lou Johnson was back again doing homage to his
first love!
Strange influence-"On the Banks of the Wabash - "
tho' now, of course, it was the St. Joe river that knew
his experiments.
Mr. Johnson's smile changed as he finished the little
resume of his work and, walking to the fire-place framed
by the well-filled bookcases, looked thoughtfully into
the flames for a few seconds.
"Of course it is only a beginning," he said, "This is
the age of mechanical development and no one can
foretell the progress that will be made in the next ten
years, even though one may feel it coming. Naturally the
thing that interests me most, and always has, is the
improvement of water transportation. Better boats, fast-
er boats- "
He paused, and the smile was again in his eyes.
"America is only beginning to enjoy water sports.
presume we Johnsons have that in the blood!"
And suddenly I saw him as he is, a tall Danish-
American captain, commanding in spite of his reticence,
who began his voyage about three decades ago on a
childishly constructed raft in the Wabash river and has
been coming, fearless of current and snag, upstream ever
Wednesday , August 3, 1910
stands ready after more than a year's work for its initial
flight - brothers guard secret of place of first trial. Air-
ship has as original feature , V type 2 cycle engine , built
for strength and lightness.
Harry, Louis, and Julius Johnson, the Johnson Broth-
ers, who have been at work for more than a year
manufacturing an aeroplane at their shop, 717 N. 10th
St., have at last completed the machine and will leave
Friday for a place in the open country near Terre Haute,
to make the first attempt at flying it.
Thus far, the Johnson Brothers have kept the location
of the place where they will try to fly the machine, an
entire secret. It is desired to have no crowd about to
bother while the machine is being tried.
Everything was completed Wednesday with the
exception of putting the parts together. The machine,
which weighs 650 pounds complete, will be shipped
knocked down to the scene of the first attempted flight.
The propeller, which is over 10' in length, the wings, seat
and balances will not be attached until the scene of
try-out has been reached.
Wednesday morning the airplane stood in the big
building erected especially for the purpose of building it,
at the rear of the Johnson home, on North 10th St. It is
36' in length and measures the same exactly from tip to
tip in width. Every part of it has been manufactured by
the three young men while they at the same time carried
on their occupation of gasoline and marine engine
manufacturing. It was begun just a little less than a year
The wings, which are to extend on either side from
the front of the machine, measure 16 Yz x 8' and are
made of light waterproof canvas, stretched over stout
framework. The engine is a V type 2 cycle engine , the
only one of its kind to have ever been made.
"There are V type engines " said Mr. Johnson, "but
they are 4 cycle. The 2 cycle engines have previously
been built straight, causing increased weight. Everything
about the machine has been built for speed and light
ness. "
Two 7% gallon gasoline tanks will furnish the propell
ing power for the machine. It is expected it will take a
day and a half to set the machine up after it's been
shipped to the place where it will be tested.
-"" ,
" -
Saturday, August 6 , 1910
FOR TEST everything was hustle and bustle at the
Johnson brothers aero camp, a few miles from Black
hawk, Saturday, where the three young men, manufac
turers of engines and incidentally builders of an airplane ,
were engaged in putting together their airplane prepar
atory for a trial flight . One of the busiest of the workers
was Clarence Johnson, a 12 year old brother , who
showed himself a handy man about the pl ace. Owing to
the fact that due to their hurried move from Terre Haut e
with their machine Friday, the Johnson brothers left
behind some necessar y blocks and braces , and the flight
that was scheduled for Saturday , will be postponed until
some time Sunday. The strange man by the name of
Zakarius, supposed to be from Indianapolis and well
versed in aviation, was with the three brothers Saturday
as they worked on their machine, which was enclosed in
a 40' tent, to shut out the view from the spectators.
Another important personage at the scene was Dr .
Dupui, of Riley, who was on hand in case a flight should
be made, to see to the injuries of the aviator in case he
should meet with an accident.
The tryout grounds are admirally situated in the
center of a 100 acre farm in the reservoir of the old
Wabash and Erie Canal. There is a wide stretch of clear
country, without any woodland within its radius of two
miles. It is believed the airplane will be assembled and
ready for a trial late Saturday afternoon, but it is not
thought a flight will be attempted before Sunday.
-"" ,
Ii _

Sunday, August 7, 1910
first flight , if flight is to be, of the Johnson airship, now
resting in all readiness for its try-out at its camp at
southeast of Terre Haute, will come at about noon
today, and the result of a year 's work and effort to build
a successful airplane will be determined .
In spite of the Johnson effort at secrecy, spectators
began to throng to the camp in the old reservoir bed
early Saturday afternoon, and later in the evening
automobiles could be seen on every road leading to the
hiding place. The farmers also took Saturday evening off
to take advantage of the opportunity to see the machine
and the men.
A heavy steel roller was brought to the scene Sat-
urday evening and the Johnsons will layout the course
early Sunday morning on which the aviators who drive
the machine in the preliminary try-outs will score down
for a start. The meadow as it stands, is rough , and
trouble was feared when the wheels of the flyer were
started over the ground before the machine raised into
the air .
Just who would be the first man to steer the machine
on it s initial effort , the Johnsons refused to state, but
the crowd of sightseers who have been watching the
progress of the work at the camp picked the man who
they believe will be in the seat when the airplane raises
first. It is William Zachow, the stranger from Racine,
Wisconsin who arrived in this city just in time to take an
active part in completing preparations for the try-out.
Zachow refused to give out his name, but the above is
the name he registered under at the Philbeck Hotel.
Gossip has it that the Wisconsin man is an experienced
aviator, and it is on this fact that the spectators base
their belief that he will be the one to drive the machine
when it is tried out.
There is no spirit of speculation in the air about the
Johnson camp, but in plain, businesslike manner , the
men are carrying forth the work which is to determine
whether or not Terre Haute has produced a parallel to
the Wright Brothers. There were several men on the
ground Saturday afternoon who professed some knowl-
edge of mechanics. All the men who have seen the
machine since it has been brought near enough to
completion for an idea to be formed as to its efficiency,
has had nothing but praise for the thoroughness with
which it has been finished, and experienced mechanics
say that from a mechanical standpoint, the machine
looks good.
An experienced mechanic who examined the machine
Saturday, stated that the V type , 2 cycle engine , a
distinctive feature of the new machine, is especially
adapted for the use on airplanes. The Johnson brothers
claim the distinction of having made the first engine of
this type, and mechanics say that it is the coming engine
for use on aerial machines.
The Johnsons, themselves, though they do not talk
much, have all confidence in their creation. The men
have had years of experience in the manufacture of all
kinds of engines, and in addition have put in consider-
able time in research work on the subject of airplanes
and other flying machines. They have been close
students to the methods of the Wright Brothers.
Ii -"" _ ,
Monday , August 8, 1910
INITIAL FLIGHT with the airplane removed from the
tent in which it has been housed , and the engine of the
plane in perfect running order, the Johnson brothers
were expected Monday at noon to make an attempted
flight at any time.
The field , located near Blackhawk, south of the city,
where the first trial will take place, is in perfect condi-
tion for the flight. The only thing that may cause a delay
of the flight is the lightness of the wheels which support
the airplane on the ground at the start. It was feared
Monday that heavier wheels would be necessary. In case
this is decided on, the trial of the machine will not take
place for a day or so. One of the Johson boys will pilot
the machine on its initial attempted flight. This was
definitely announced Monday. It was thought at first
that William Zachow, who was present at the aviation
camp would pilot the machine, but it has developed that
the stranger is a salesman for an airplane supply com-
pany. He is said to be thoroughly fa miliar with the
mechanism of airplanes, however, and has been of great
value in getting the machine ready for flight.
A test of the engine was made Monday morning, it
developed 40 HP. Confidence was expressed by the
Johnsons that the engine could develop 20 HP additional
if necessary.
...., .. -'

Saturday, August 13, 1910
MUST AGAIN BE DELAYED - the Johnson brothers
made no attempt to fly this afternoon. It is reported
that they would make their initial attempt to scale the
clouds today. A crowd followed in the wake of the
rumor , and by 2:00 this afternoon many people swarm-
ed down from the meadow.
When the Johnson machine was wheeled out at 2:00
it was found by the inventors that an important set of
springs were too weak. These will be strengthened and it
is probable that the apparatus will not be taken out of
the tent again until Tuesday of the coming week.
Two of the brothers hurried to Terre Haute this after-
noon as soon as the defect in the machine was discov-
ered. They will return to the camp Sunday and begin
_ F
...., A ..

Sunday, August 14,1910
though delayed again in their preparation for the initial
flight of the first airplane ever manufactured in Terre
Haute, the Johnson boys, Louis, Julius and Harry, went
to work to remedy the defect which made necessary the
postponement of their flight for the second time. The
defects which they are now forced to repair causes no
despair in the Johnson boys, or lessens their faith that
the machine will fly after they are completed.
"We have encountered no difficulty whatever as yet
which would in any way interfere with the successful
flight of the machine," said one of the boys Saturday.
"The trouble is only in the wheels and supporting spring,
those parts of the machine which are used to make a
landing on, and the defect is not curious in any way,
though it does take some time to make the necessary
changes. "
The intention of the trio was to fly Saturday, and the
day was ideal, but it was decided at the last minute that
the chances of flying and making a safe landing would
involve too great a risk.
Louis, the eldest of the Johnson brothers, said to a
Tribune representative Saturday, "I am sorry that we
could not fly today. In the first place the weather is
ideal, and in the second place when the statement that
we have been halted again appears in print , a great many
people will believe that the machine is a failure. As for
us, we are certain, as we have been all along, that the
airplane will fly."
..." Ii ..?

Monday, August 15, 1910
THAN AIR MACHINE - the work of getting ready the
remodeled parts of the carrying truck for the airplane,
occupied the day of the Johnson boys at their work
shop on 10th Street on Monday. The men expect to
have their work completed and will take their remod-
eled parts to the camp near Blackhawk, Tuesday eve-
Louis Johnson said Monday that they expect to have
everything in readiness for the trial by Wednesday. One
man has been left at the camp, while the others came to
their home in Terre Haute over Sunday.
""'"qp t*t ..

Friday, August 19, 1910
IGATING THE AIR - the initial flight of the Johnson
monoplane was scheduled to take place Friday after-
noon , but a strong wind swept over the field here, and
made the test impossible. The huge flyer waits serenely
for the first chance to take to the air, having been
thoroughly tested on the ground.
Friday afternoon the monoplane was staked to the
ground headed into the wind, and the engine turned on
for the purpose of determining her power. Under full
speed the flyer acquired the full strength of the helpers
to keep her from leaping upward. At half speed the
power developed was not sufficient to convince the
builders that the test would be a success in the wind, as
it is their desire to fly first under half power, leaving the
remainder for reserve while in the air.
After the test of the engine, Louis Johnson expressed
himself as being unsatisfied with the condition of the
engine and propeller.
..." ,. E

Saturday, August 20,1910
TO LIFT MACHINE INTO AIR - the Johnson brothers
have made half a dozen attempts to fly the monoplane
upon which they have worked for so many months, and
in none have they succeeded in getting the big machine
into the air.
Three times Friday they turned the big propeller
under high speed and freed the machine from all
restraints. At a rate of about 12 mph it tore down a
rough field, only to be stopped at the limit of the course
without having raised from the ground. Three of these
efforts were made before, and three after alterations had
been made to the propeller. Saturday morning the John-
sons were not disheartened or discouraged, they had
come to the realization that they were not as far advanc-
ed in the building of the machine as they had thought.
Their attention was turned to alterations that were
expected to have a decided affect on the plane and also
to the grounds upon which they were flying. The avia-
tion camp is located on exceedingly poor grounds. It is
rough and full of ruts, and so soft that the tired wheels
sink to 1" to 3" in it when the machine is started_Those
who have watched the attempts to fly are of the opinion
that the nature of the grounds is largely responsible for
the failures, as it is impossible to start the machine at a
pace that will make it rise. Whether the Johnsons will
move or prepare a smoother runway is a question that
has not yet been determined. The three efforts to fly
Saturday morning were made early, while the sun was
rising and the wind was low. A fairly steady breeze from
the south made it necessary to drive the machine up a
slight grade into the wind, but this was not sufficiently a
factor to which to attribute a failure to rise. The mono-
plane failed to fly simply because it did not have enough
power to raise it from the ground. There is no speed
indicator in the camp and it is impossible to tell at what
rate the propeller is revolved, but several have estimated
it at about 900 rpm. 1500 rpm is considered necessary
for success, and the Johnsons may have to make radical
changes in the propeller before making the desired
Saturday evening, before a large crowd, they started
the engine three times and raced down the field with
Louis Johnson in the machine. The first was probably
the best of all the trials. The monoplane attained a good
rate of speed, but it did not leave the ground. The build-
ers decided the trouble was due to the size of the propel-
ler, and they cut it down several inches. The result was
the engine operated faster and more smoothly, but it
was by no means as speedy as necessary and the test
made established that more alterations were necessary,
espicially if attempts to fly are from the present loca-

Sunday, August 21,1910
day, the Johnson brothers, who are now so earnestly
engaged in the attempt to fly a monoplane in the old
canal basin near Blackhawk, are going to demonstrate
that they can build a high power, low speed motor fully
adapted to the needs of the aviator.
Just now they are encountering difficulties that
would discourage many, with a patience that means
success, they are working under handicaps that appear as
insurmountable, but must give way before their deter-
Saturday morning, the last of six attempts to make
their machine leave terra firma failed and they went
back to their tent disappointed after two weeks of the
hardest kind of labor. In spite of the cheerful attitude
they assumed, there was an air of disappointment all
around the camp and even the jokes of the jolly party
did not dispel it.
The disappointment lay not so much in the fact that
the machine failed to leave the ground in its trials, as in
the evidence that higher speed would be necessary for
the proper operation of the motor. It is the object of the
Johnsons to develop a motor that will run a monoplane
without the terrific speed common to those in use. If
they succeed in securing one of this type, they have a
fortune at their command. They do not desire to
construct an airplane merely for the purpose of flying. If
they did, they could easily obtain the pattern of the
Wright brothers' machine or other machines and build
accordingly, or they could purchase a machine at less
cost and trouble than they have encountered. But,
having as their object the development of a low speed
motor, the failure of the one now in use to do the work
expected, was disappointing. Although it whirled the
propeller at a speed that astonished the spectators, it was
not operated at a rate of which it is capable, but at a rate
very much lower, and which the builders hope would be
sufficient for its purpose.
Consequently, when the speed attained by the motor
in the first trials Friday proved insufficient , one of the
hopes of the Johnsons was dashed.
Reluctantly they cut down the size of the propeller,
knowing that every inch shaved from it would increase
the speed of the engine. Two inches all around were
sacrificed in the desire to raise the skybird, and the
result was a perceptible increase in the number of revolu-
tions and consequently a steadier engine. Some consola-
LIon was offered by the fact that even with the reduced
propeller there was little vibration noticeable about the
Late Friday night the airplane was run out of its tent,
and the motor started. The effect was extraordinary and
the hopes of the Johnsons that they had accomplished
their purpose ran high. Saturday morning, early, the
fourth attempt to fly, and the first with the reduced
propeller, was made.
Whether the alterations had any effect on the raising
power of the motor was difficult to determine, because
of the conditions under which the trial was made. A
steady breeze from the south, made it necessary to start
the machine .from the north end of the field at the foot
of the small incline, and on ground that was wet and
soft. The machine behaved no better than before, bllt
whether it was due to the propeller, the grade or the soft
ground, was a question the Johnsons were not ready to
answer. To eliminate the grade is almost impossible. To
wait for a more favorable wind is nerve racking, yet the
Johnsons will have to do all of these things before
making sure that they have the propeller rightly propor-
tioned for the task.
Whatever may be determined regarding the propeller,
it remains that the Johnsons have demonstrated an
engine that is remarkable for its power and speed
combined with its steadiness and construction. The
motor is of the 2 cycle type, 4 cylinders. This means
that an explosion occurs in each cylinder just twice as
often as in the more common 4 cycle 4 cylinder type.
More power is the result and 75 hp is the indication.
This is accomplished by combining the Johnson patent
valve with cylinders set at an angle of 180
and big
carburetors. The patent valve is one on which the men
have worked for a long time and they have shown by it a
method of allowing more gas to enter the cylinders with-
out increasing the size of the valve, a point, of corisider-
able value in construction. Then, they have obtained a
motor that will run at great speed and create so little
vibration that it scarcely causes a tremor in the light
wooden frame of the airship. All in all, the motor has
conducted itself in a manner that is deemed most
satisfactory. It is applying it to the airplane that has
proven the puzzle and that is the very point the John-
sons are seeking.
The Johnson monoplane will fly because it is
constructed on the proper principles for flight. That it
has not been successfully launched as yet is due to two
things - the experience in designing and operating of the
men in control of it and the unfavorable conditions
under which the trials have been made. Both of these
points will be overcome in time. While they are eliminat-
ing the unfavorable conditions, they are learning from
experience the points they have overlooked in designing,
and they are learning rapidly how to operate it.
The story of the construction of the Johnson mono-
plane is one of hard work and persistent effort. The
Johllsons have had no teacher in the art. They have
studied much, observed a great deal, and gathered from
experience a great deal more than the average man will
ever know about airplanes. No one realizes more than
they that there is a great deal more to be learned. That is
why, after months of work they took their machine to
the Blackhawk basin. It was two weeks ago today that
they arrived there, and since that time they have fought
mosquitos, malaria and rain in a most credible effort to
work out the theories they have formed. It is not a
pleasant task, but one that requires thought , constant
experiment and careful reasoning. They are not partic-
ularly interested in what the public thinks about their
work. They want to apply the Johnson motor to aero-
As one enters the aviation field, he is greeted by a
sign that reads " Welcome - Outside the Tent". The sign
is expressive of the attitude of the Johnson boys. They
are willing that anyone watch them at work, free about
giving information when asked, but they promise
nothing, and consequently are not responsible for the
disappointment of the many who have come to see them
fly, and have left without that satisfaction.
Julius Johnson expressed their attitude well when he
said, while waiting for a wind to subside, "we have
waited a year to get to this point with the machine, and
we can afford to wait another day rather than run the
chances of breaking up the airplane".
Last week's activity at the camp became intensive.
Thursday morning, when the machine was run out of its
protection for the first time, the frame buckled. This
was immediately repaired and trials of the engine and
frame made that evening. Friday, three unsuccessful
attempts to raise the machine were made, and Saturday,
with an altered propeller, three more efforts brought no
better success.
When the last visitor departed from the aviation field
Thursday night, the Johnsons rested content with their
preparations for a flight on the early morning air. Time work, until, as the crowd left the field Thursday night,
noon for further tests tobe madesolelyontheabilityof
and again the builders had been disappointed in not they saw the end ofthelast bit ofpreparationfor an air
the machine to lift. It is expected that thetrial will1ake
having it ready for flight at thetimeagreed upon. Little test.
place about an hour before sunset. No effort at flight
weaknesses that could not be foreseen becameapparent While it has been disappointing tovisit the aviation
will be made at this time, the test being confined to
when the machinewasstartedacrosstherough field, had field and fail to witnessanattempttofly, thechagrinof
determining the buoyancy of the machine, its balance
yielded one by one to careful attention and ingenuity. the Johnson brothers and Pearl Conover has been
andgeneral fitness for flight.
Every nutand boltonthe unwieldlylookingskybirdhad greater. Living in a single big tent pitched in a malaria
been inspected and found in first class condition. The breeding district, pestered by insects and blistered with ....., r;t; _
alterations made necessary by faulty calculations as to the heat, they have put up with all kinds ofinconven-

weight and pressure on therunninggearwere completed iences since leaving Terre Haute, and every hour'sdelay
and the new woodwork covered witha preserving paint.
In the center of the structure the light, but powerful
engine, shown in polished brilliancy. Just in front of it
the big propeller, built of many pieces andsmoothedto
a surface likeglass, was perfect to thelastdetail. Asliver
that had been knocked from it was replaced with
cement, and its bearing was as true as science could
make it. Stretching away on each side for 16', were
ribbed wings on whichso muchdepends,each without a
flaw or scratch. At their tips hung the balancing planes,
so delicately fitted that the slightest movement of the
operator wasreflected bya changedposition. Totheeye
the machine was perfect and thebuilderswho workedso
patiently, at last were satisfied itwasreadyfor itsinitial
It now appeared that nothing stood in the way of a
thorough demonstration, but the Johnson brotherswere
doomed to meet another disappointment. Under its
power for the first time, Louis Johnson drove theairship
down the field from the tent in which it had been
housed. Three of the four cylinders were in operation,
yet it was evident that the Johnson motor was suffi-
ciently powerful for the purposes of the craft. Atspeed
that hurried those who accompanied it, the aircraft ran
along over the rough ground with little or no vibration
from the motor and a steadiness that spelled success.
Four men hung to it with their weight keeping it from
mounting the air, while thedriver accustomed himselfto
thesituationand watched the engineand the plane.
This was thefinal test ofthe monoplanebefore it was
entrusted to the element for which it was constructed.
This test fully demonstrated that the care bestowed
upon its construction was not misplaced . Therewas not
a flaw noticeable in any of its moving parts. There was
nothingabout its action that indicateda single weakness.
But one thing marred thesuccessofthis test,and Thurs-
day night saw that one point corrected. The long body
or frame that extends from the plane to the rudderon
the tail , was not sufficientlystrong tostand thestrain of
alighting from a height as was shown in its actionduring
this test. Immediately the builders prepared to strength-
en it, and all day Thursday they worked on this one
part,rebracing and adding to the solidity of this frame
has been bitter to them. Malaria sent ClarenceJohnson,
the youngest of the camp, back to the city unfit to be
about. Mr. Conover succumbed to it one day, but was
able to throw off theattack. The Johnson brothershave
all felt the effect of life in the camp andas Louis John-
son expressed it, "Are dead anxious to get to doing
..." .-
: -

Monday, October 10, 1910
TESTS MADE SUNDAY- after many weeks of quite
work at their camp on the old reservoir prairie 3 miles
east of Blackhawk, in an effort to perfect the airplane,
which, when first tried out,was found to belacking in a
few particulars, Louis, Harry and Julius Johnson, the
inventors and builders of the Johnson Bros. airplane,
succeeded in makingseveral lifts with theaircraft attests
made Sunday evening. Three tests were made,and it was
on the third one that the machine lifted from the
ground. Several times the craft raised for distances of
from 15 to 20'. Though the height attained was not
more than a foot from the ground at any time, thisfact
was rather to lack in certain details than because the
airplanecould not raise higher.
The craft exhibited a wonderful buoyancy for the
test and tended to leave the ground at all times higher
than it was allowed to. However , necessity for certain
corrections was manifested before a flight could be
safely made and to avoid possible wrecking of the
machine,it washelddownat all times.
An assistant of the Johnson boys, in their efforts
toward perfecting the machine, stated Monday that an
idea ofbuoyancy of the machine could be gained from
the fact that when starting on thesoft dirt just previous
to the test, that it would leave no track in thesoftdirt ,
but that when being brought back for a second test it
would plowback into thesoil for adepthof6".
Preparations were almost completed Monday after-
Tuesday,October II,1910
Johnson, the elder of the Johnson brothers, builders of
the Johnson Monoplane, spent Tuesday in Terre Haute
looking after business matters. The other two brothers,
Julius and Harry are at the aviation field, making a few
required minor changes in the mechanism, preparatory
to attemptinga flight Wednesday orThursday.
Louis will return to the field Tuesday evening to be
ready to sit at the wheel of the machine in the initial
attemptat flight.
"We have gone far enoughnow,tosee through to the
end, and we now know that the theory which we have
been working, is the right one. We will fly within a few
days, possible WednesdayorThursday. The changes now
being madeare only minoradjustments,which wereseen
to be necessary in ourtestsas tothelifting powerofthe
"",., .-
Editor's Note:
The brothers apparently abandoned the attempts to
make the 1910 airplanefly shortlyafter this, in October
1910, and started work on an improved design, which
was successful in the summer of1911. Between theend
of October and the middle of July 1911, they built an
entirely newairplane butused the same power plantthat
had been used in the 1910version. The new airplane was
radically different in design using basically a metal
framework, cloth covered wings and cloth covered tail
surfaces, which were supported on a single aluminum
boom. It had a tricycle gear as contrasted with the
conventional gear in the1910plane. It had wing-warping
in place of the moveable surfaces at the tips of the
wings, steerable nose wheel and brakes and many other
Ross Smith had never seen an airplane, and was attract-
ed to one ofthe public displays of the Johnson monoplane,
the practice being a charge of 25 to see it in the tent to
help alleviate the costs. The plane had barely flown, and
excitement was running high. Ross evidently took one
look at it and said "that's for me". It's hard to guess
how he convinced the Johnsons that he should take a
hand at it, however it is very possible that he was the
only one with enough nerve, and the J ohnsons had spent
a great deal of theirs. A bird in the hand at this point
was probably welcome. According to the records, the
motor was started, and Ross ran the plane up and down
the field for some half hour, experimenting with the
controls, learning how to use the throttle, steering the
airplane, accelerating until it was light. Evidently Ross
had figured play ti me was over and the description states
"suddenly the plane shot forward and then rose grace-
fully into the air." His very first flight lasted for 30
minutes, and he thrilled the onlookers as he flew back
and forth over the field. (I nstructors take note - how
many students would you turn loose, in a better
machine of today, with 30 minutes of instruction?)
Barely two days atter Ross's first flight, he launched into
the professional flying ranks in a big way. He imme-
diately received an offer from his home town of
Mattoon, Illinois, to engage in some demonstration
flights, and was paid for three flights at $500.00 per
flight. Airplanes were so rare in these days that people
paid to look at them, and in most cases such flights were
initiated by promotors seeking a quick fortune. You
would believe that flying such an airplane was enough of
a daredevil stunt, but not for our friend Ross. He
managed to concoct stunts that even from this distance
in time seem absolutely ridiculous. Daredevil is too mild
a word. One of his next exploits was an engagement to
fly the monoplane during a 10 day Chautauqua. Now for
you youngsters, you'll have to run to the dictionary,
however, I'll save you the effort. The name Chautauqua
originated in New York where some wise promoter start-
ed an educational summer camp. Families took their
vacations, very similar to those going to Oshkosh for the
week long fly-in, lived in tents in a large tent community
that attracted as many as 50,000 people during its run.
This particular Chautauqua that contracted for Ross's
services with the Johnson airplane, was at Merom Bluff,
Indiana, a high point on the Wabash River. The bluff was
in Sullivan County and stood 150' above the river on
one side, while the opposite side fell to flat farm land
going away from the river in a flat plain. Th is particular
Chautauqua was obviously one of great importance for
the midwest, and attractions included William Jennings
Bryan, Senator Robert LaFollette, William Howard Taft,
former President of the United States, Vice President
Thomas R. Marshall, a gal named Maude Ballington
Booth discussing prison reform, John Temple Graves, a
noted orator of the time, and Jeanette Rankin, the first
American Congresswoman. The Chautauqua encom-
passed every subject from religion to suffrage, child care,
and anything at all that would interest the family.
To spice this particular Chautauqua, Ross came up
with the idea of building a 250' wooden platform with
its far end hanging over the bluff on the river side. The
intent was to fly the airplane from this platform, and fly
it he did for many performances. Descriptions of the
flight states that "the airplane labored uphill, gained
speed and disappeared from the end of the platform, in
what must have been a free fall until it gained flying
speed, leveling out some safe distance above the river,
then circling back over the Chautauqua area like a
peacock preening its feathers". It must have been a
supreme thrill for all to witness. There was no possible
way to land at the Chautauqua area, so Ross would cross
the river to the Illinois side, and land on a road at the
ferry. The plane would then be disassembled, hauled
back across the river, pulled back up the winding road to
the bluff, for its next day's operation.
I n the eyes of the Chautauqua attendance, Ross was
no doubt walking mighty tall despite his slight stature. It
was quite common practice for the Johnson airplane to
be engaged for fairs, etc., at which time it generally flew
off the racetrack. Evidently by this time a standard stunt
This monoplane, piloted by Ross Smith flew off the Merom Bluff daily, August 22-37, 7973, during
the Chautauqua.
This was the view from the Merom Bluff. The picture is deceiving, for it was 750' down to
the water. Note the Ferry, cars and buggies waiting to cross and climb the winding road up
the bluff. This is the view Ross Smith had as he literally dove his plane off the platform
without adequate flying speed. The result was a near free fall, with flying speed gained in
time to narrowly miss striking the water below. The flight was enacted daily to please the
Ross Smith preparing for an exhibition flight. Note man with ladder at right,
below wing. It was a tall gear and a long climb to mount this machine.
had been for the airplane to race a car on the track. Dirt
track races being part of almost every fair, there was
always someone present willing to race. At one such
event, it states that "Speed in the air and on land, thrills
thousands. Aviator Ross L. Smith and Speed King "Wild
Bob" Burman, held first place in the hearts of sensation
lovers for the wild thrills they gave the thousands at the
fairgrounds on Sunday. Taking off from the track, Ross
flew around the track, circled the infield, and landed
directly in front of the.grandstand, amid the applause of
thousands". As an additional build up to the race,
Burman took Ross for a ride in his 300 hp Blitzen Benz,
and proceeded to smash the world record for a mile on a
half mile dirt track, breaking his own former record. His
speed was just over 60 mph, but this meant that 80 mph
must have been his speed on the straight away. On the
first lap he gave Ross a thrill by hitting the turn too fast
and almost losing control in a skid. Evidently Ross did
not appreciate the ride, for when Burman said he would
go up with him in his plane, Ross calmly said that if he
did, he would get pushed out. Burman of course imme-
diately changed his mind. Evidently this was the last of
Burman's summer appearances, and he was going to
spend his time readying himself for the 500 mile motor
speedway event . He had held the lead the previous year,
until his machine caught fire and burned while he was
many laps ahead.
As to the race between the airplane and the car, the
airplane invariably won all events, in spite of the fact
that the cars appeared to be going faster. Speed in the
air does not seem to be speed compared to a roaring
monster of an auto, spewing exhaust and throwing large
clods of dirt as it rounds every corner. Smith evidently
thrilled the crowd with a simple thing that today would
be called a "touch and go". Newspaper emotes over the
fact that even the French exhibition flyers had not done
such a thing, stating that Ross had no trouble at all in
thrilling the crowd. In another engagement it states that
"Ross L. Smith will pilot the Johnson brothers' mon-
oplane during the Corn Week Show, sponsored by the
Rotary Club of Terre Haute". The big thrill of this event
was to be a flight down Wabash Avenue, between the
buildings, just above the street car wires. It was stated it
would be the first time in history that an aviator would
attempt such a dangerous feat. The plane was to be
brought down until the wheels barely cleared the wires,
then proceed west down the street to the Court House
where the plan was to circle the big dome. I n a flair of
penmanship the author writes "it will be unusual for a
businessman to see the wings of an airplane almost
brushing the windows of his building". He further states
"the trip will be a dangerous one, but the aviator and the
builders of the machine have such faith in the mon-
oplane, that they believe that both will stand the test".
I n a later account where Smith was engaged to fly an
exhibition over Elsworth, he decided to give them a new
thrill and go for altitude. With much circling, he reached
dizzying height of 2,000', where he passed through a
cloud bank that confused him for a short time. On
recovering from the confusion, he found himself at
1,000', (he invented vertigo no dOUbt).
In still another account, it states "the Johnson mon-
oplane gave one of the best exh ib itions of the art of
flying it has been our pleasure to witness. There were no
death defying stunts, just plain flying".
The monoplane took off on the back stretch of the
race track, and for 30 minutes circled, dived, swooped
and turned, running up and down the valley for several
miles. It states "the limited space in which he had to
land caused him some trouble. He had failed to make the
first descent (made a go-around - probably the first).
When finally on the ground, Aviator Ross stated it was
the hardest day to fly on he had ever experienced, as the
air seemed dead and no breeze whatsoever was stirring".
{Density altitude).
About the year 1913 Ross was running out of tricks,
the bag was getting empty, so he decided to scoop them
all. He announced that he would like to fly the Atlantic,
and from all records, it appears that he was the first to
have such serious ideas. He was at least 19 years ahead of
his time. He proposed to fly the flimsy Johnson airplane
across the Atlantic alone - a statement that makes Lind-
bergh's remarks an echo of the past. He approached the
Navy Department and asked them to place 10 battle-
sh ips at intervals of 300 miles apart, figuring that th is
would be the maximum load of gasoline possible to
carry. The Navy, of course, refused considering the flight
across the Atlantic, as only a hair brained scheme. The
Government was not very interested in flying at this
time, and their decision was certainly not a surprise.

Evening flights from the field were customary.
Ross did not remain silent on this issue and at a later
time stated in print "when the Atlantic is crossed, it will
be by a flying boat, and not a dirigible".
In reading the history of these days, all of the em-
phasis on long range travel was transfered to the gas bag.
History proved Ross to be 100% right and the Navy's
NC4s were the first to fly across.
To further add hues of color to his career, Ross was
perhaps the first American aviator to get an offer from a
foreign government, and probably one of the first
conceptions of military aviation was born. President
Huerta of Mexico offered him a high ranking position in
the Mexican Army if he would organize an air force for
them. Ross immediately declined. Poncho Villa, who
was then the bad boy of Mexico and conducting what
we would call today Guerilla attack, tried to make Ross
a better offer of $2,000 a month in gold to do the same
thing for his side. Ross declined that too. Time proved
how wise he was in declining this offer for one of his
best friends was killed - not while he was flying, but by
Villa's own men. Four of Ross's friends had decided to
fly for Villa, but when weeks went by and they received
no pay, they drew straws to see who would confront
Villa with the facts. Mickey McGuire (the wild Irish
Rose of the skies) was unlucky enough to get the job,
and foolish enough to make the attempt. He faced the
illiterate General in his tent and asked for the money.
The General promptly whipped out a 45 caliper pistol
and shot McGuire through the heart. In revenge, the
remaining three proceeded to burn Villa's airplanes,
saving one to make their escape in. They successfully
flew that one back to the United States.
This was not Ross's last encounter with Army life. As
World War I came along, there were but 50 flyers avail-
able for instructors in the U.S. He was one that formed
the nucleus of the great Flying Corps. This group was
called on to also perform test pilot functions, and in
their vernacular did nose dives, tail spins, and no doubt
were the first creators of aerobatic flying in this country.
This was no doubt a cup of tea for our adventuresome
Mr. Ross, captivated the services and the record that he
established was remarkable. General Andrews commen-
ded Ross with a citation ending it with a comment
"Seven years without a serious mishap". Ross lived a
long and successful life and became very well known in
Wash ington and for years was Public Relations Manager
for the Hot Shopps, a food chain in the East. He lived a
full life and died on February 19, 1959. For an adven-
turesome person who lead such a colorful life and
seemingly knew no fear, he must have also been blessed
with skill and a great amount of common sense. In the
Hot Shopps Company magazine, from which some of
this material was gleaned, they coined an epitaph for
him stating simply "An amazing man".