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YOUR PURCHASE OF THESE BOOKS SUPPORTS THE WEB SITES THAT BRING TO YOU THE HISTORY BEHIND OLD AIRFIELD REGISTERS

Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register 1925-1936 with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. 375 pages with black & white photographs and extensive tables

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The Congress of Ghosts (available as eBook) is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link.

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Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.

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Art Goebel's Own Story by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Available as a free download at the link.

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Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race (available as eBook) is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.

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Clover Field: The first Century of Aviation in the Golden State (available in paperback) With the 100th anniversary in 2017 of the use of Clover Field as a place to land aircraft in Santa Monica, this book celebrates that use by exploring some of the people and aircraft that made the airport great. 281 pages, black & white photographs.

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I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Engle and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

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Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.

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WILLIAM HARRY ENGLE

W.H. Engle, Ca. 1942 (Source: Engle Family)

 

WORKING ON THIS PAGE

Bill Engle landed twice at Willow Grove. The first time, on Thursday May 8, 1930, he flew the Fairchild KR-31 he identified as NC284K (S/N 323). Based at Philadelphia, PA, he left no information about his destination that day. Neither did he mention passengers.

His second visit was about 12 years later on Saturday, January 24, 1942. This time he did not identify his passengers or his airplane by either make or registration number, but he identified his home base as Langhorne, PA and his destination as Pitcairn Field.

But, thanks to Engle's son, we have his pilot log book #4, below, that confirms, on the day of his second landing, that he flew a Fleetwings XBT-12, which wore Army registration number 39-719.

The XBT-12, and 39-719 specifically, was a prototype training aircraft, and was a product of the Kaiser-Fleetwings Company (1926-1962) . It was a tandem cockpit airplane, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engine. Engle was a test pilot for Kaiser-Fleetwings.

Uniquely, 39-719 was the first aircraft built for the military that was fabricated of stainless steel.. Design considerations are at the link. On February 21, 1944, 39-719 was taken out of service and used for training ground maintence personnel. Joe Baugher's site states that this airplane is (was?) part of the now inactive Walter Soplata Collection, Newbury, OH. I read through the article at the link, but saw no reference to the airplane. But see this link for images of the airframe from the 1970 & 80s at Soplata's property.

W.H. Engle Pilot Logbook #4, Early 1942 (Source: Engle Family)
W.H. Engle Pilot Logbook #4, Early 1942 (Source: Engle Family)

A public domain Web photograph of 39-719 is below. Although undated, the snow says winter, maybe January 24, 1942. Regardless, this is the aircraft Engle flew to Willow Grove. What is clear from Engle's log, is that he visited Pitcairn Field several other times with the airplane in January 1942, yet signed the Register only on the 24th.

Fleetwings XBT-12 prototype S/N 39-719 Under Test at Wright Field, OH, Date Unknown (Source: Web)
Fleetwings XBT-12 prototype S/N 39-719 Under Test at Wright Field, OH, Date Unknown (Source: Web)

In fact, Engle earlier flew this airplane for much of 1941. As well as at Pitcairn Field, his Pilot Logbook #4 documents landings flying 39-719 to Roosevelt Field, Mineola, NY and Middletown in New York and Wright Field in Dayton, OH.

Bristol Daily Courier, September 7, 1934 (Source: Woodling)
Bristol Daily Courier, September 7, 1934 (Source: Woodling)

 

Similarly, his logbook #4 records flight with Fleetwings Seabirds NC19191 and NX29003, and a Taylorcraft, NC27442. You can read specifically about this earlier Fleetwings Seabird model in this REFERENCE, volume 7, page 277ff. A motion picture of a Fleetwings Seabird is at the link. The airplane in the footage is NC16793, the first Seabird manufactured. It was not a Register airplane.

I've cited Engle's logbooks a couple of times. What about his flight logbooks? Engle's son shares five of them with us. Each is linked below to a PDF which exhibits color images of each page.

Logbook #1 and a parts of #6 were lost. That's unfortunate, because a news article from the Bristol Daily Courier (PA), September 7, 1934, right, reported a flight by Engle to the National Air Races (NAR). Mentioned is Esther Van Sant, who would become Mrs. Engle in 1938 (see below).

Logbook #2 (35 Pages; October 21, 1934-December 17, 1938: PDF 8.6Mb; some entries out of order). Most of his flying through 1937 was instructional, for basic and instrument students.

The cross-country flights to and from the 1935 NAR were logged on page 5 of the PDF (see below) . The flights occurred on August 31st and September 5, 1935. He flew the Pitcairn Mailwing NC10377.

On March 25, 1937, he logged his first flight with NX16793, the prototype Fleetwings Seabird S/N F-401. Flights for Fleetwings picked up and log #2 showed about a quarter Fleetwings and the rest instructional flights in June. Significant for Fleetwings was the flight on July 6, 1937 on which the airplane earned the Department of Commerce (DOC) Aircraft Type Certificate (ATC) on NX16793, thus making copies of the airplane commercially available. The ATC was officially conferred by the DOC on October 30, 1937. In the early spring of 1938 he again began flying steadily for Fleetwings with nearly 100% of his logged flights being in their aircraft until the log ends.

Logbook #3 (27 Pages; January 23, 1939-December 16, 1939: PDF 4.5Mb; some entries out of order). Logbook #3 begins auspiciously with test flights with Fleetwings CF-BGZ (not a Register ailplane) in preparation for its sale to a Canadian mining company. Later in the spring of 1939 he twice flew Fleetwings NC19191 (not a Register airplane) to Florida, Cuba and the Banamas (see below). This was probably a welcome assignment while the north remained in the throes of a Pennsylvania winter. All but a handful of flights recorded through the rest of this log were in Fleetwings.

Logbook #4 (28 Pages; December 14, 1939-July 25, 1941; PDF 5.5Mb; some entries out of order). Early 1940 was spent in Fleetwings and other craft performing demonstrations and providing instruction. That pattern persisted through the fall and into December. From January to July 1941 he logged flights exclusively in Fleetwings.

Logbook #5 (26 pages; May 11, 1941-April 27, 1942 PDF 5.2Mb; some entries out of order).

Logbook #6 (

 

Although among these logs we don't have log records for the 1934 NAR flight, we do have a photograph of Engle, Vansant and Robinson (not a Register signer), below, on the ground in Cleveland that year. Their airplane, identified as a Pitcairn Mailwing in the article, was probably NC10377 or NC10378 (neither of them Register airplanes), both of which Engle logged in his #2 book later in the fall of 1934. Note their luggage in the left foreground.

William Engle, Esther Van Sant, L. Robinson, Ca. September 1934 (Source: Engle Family)
William Engle, Esther Van Sant, L. Robinson, Ca. September 1934 (Source: Engle Family)

Engle also attended the 1935 NAR. From Logbook #2, we can trace that flight to the NAR, which was held again in Cleveland, OH August 30th-September 2nd. Below, clipped from Log #2 page 5, is his itinerary. He flew the Pitcairn Mailwing NC10377 round trip.

Engle, et al Itinerary, 1935 (Source: Engle Family)

And below is a photograph with Vansant and Engle at center. The other people were unidentified. The airplane is an unidentified Stinson.

Vansant &Engle, Center, 1935 NAT (Source: Engle Family)

Along the path of his flying career, Engle earned Commercial pilot certificate C5194 and Transport pilot certificate T203, below, authenticated by his State of Pennsylvania pilot identification card (in the early days of aviation many local bureaucracies required pilots to have local ID cards, which brought a few dollars into local economies -- Engle even had one for the city of Atlanta, GA).

W.H. Engle, State of Pennsylvania Pilot Identification Card, June 2, 1930 (Source: Engle Family)
W.H. Engle, State of Pennsylvania Pilot Identification Card, June 2, 1930 (Source: Engle Family)

Regardless, if you think that the federal certificate number T203 means nothing, know that they were awarded in numerical order. His fellow Pitcairn Register signers would count him as a peer: Charles Lindbergh flew with T69, Cloyd Clevenger held T141 and Dewey Noyes earned T479. Engle also earned a mechanic's certificate, M16684.

William Engle was born October 17, 1904 in Philadelphia, PA (but see magazine article below). The 1910 U.S. Census, his first, placed him living with his parents on a farm in Phiadelphia. His father, Harry C. (43) was a farmer. His mother, Susan C. (39) was a housewife. He had one older brother, Aaron (18), who was coded as married. No record that Aaron's wife was living with him was in that Census. Charles H. Patter (35), a hired hand, lived with them. In 1920, the Census recorded Engle (17) living at the same farm with both his parents. His occupation was coded as "farm laborer."

The 1930 Census placed him at age 27 living at 1357 72nd Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. He lived with his parents and the Census identified his marital status as married. Edith H. Engle (25) lived in the household and appeared to be Engle's wife. I found no record of their wedding, although the Census coded their marriage date as 1928. Engle's son stated, "I know basically nothing about his first marriage except it was 'short,' it wasn't discussed."

Curiously, given the biographical information in the article below, his occupation was coded in 1930 as a "bank clerk" in the "banking" industry. No mention was made of aviation. Engle's son corroborates the Census, stating about the bank work, "... Dad was a bank employee in the '30's; his uncle owned a bank and it was a steady source of income while keeping the Silver Star Airport afloat."

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Indeed, in the summer of 1928, Engle took over ownership of the Silver Star Airport, Langhorne, PA. At the link is the history of the airport as well as photographs of Engle. The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1930 documented his early efforts, below. The "Challenger" mentioned in the last sentence is most likely NC284K (see above)

The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1930 (Source: Engle Family)
The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1930 (Source: Engle Family)

 

Bristol Daily Courier (PA), August 22, 1930 (Source: Woodling)
Bristol Daily Courier (PA), August 22, 1930 (Source: Woodling)

 

A print advertisement appeared in the Bristol Daily Courier (PA), August 22, 1930, left. A similar ad appeared in Daily Courierof September 5, 1932. Silver Star transferred to another owner and closed in the 1970s. It is now, like many old airfields, a shopping mall.

Many hours of "Stud. Inst." appear in his pilot logs through the 1930s into the 40s, reflecting the bulk of the work he performed at Silver Star and surrounds. The first entry of a flight in a military airplane appeared on December 21, 1940 in his Logbook #4, page 36. He flew 39-719 (see above). He was active in state aviation organizations also. The article at right from The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 1932 documented his membership in the Aero Club of Pennsylvania. Over 30 years later, a news article that appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times, March 26, 1969 provided a retrospective for the Silver Star Airport and reported on Engle's withdrawal from the airport management role.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sunday, March 27, 1932 - Page 29

Aero Club Gets New Members
James M. Eaton, president of the Ludington Air Lines, Inc., has become a member of the Aero Club of Pennsylvania. Others whose names have been added to the rolls of the club are William H. Engle, operator of Silver Star Airport, Langhorne; Captain William S. Johnson, trans-port pilot; A. T. Ofstie; Dr. Francis H. Sheets, legal advisor for Ludington Air Lines; Richard Scull, traffic representative, Eastern Air Trans-port, Inc., and Alfred Woodruff, glider pilot.

I found one U.S Immigration form that documented Engle's voyage aboard the S.S. Rotterdam sailing from New York September 10-23, 1938 and return. He traveled with his wife, Esther Van Sant Engle (m. 1938), both living at 210 Jefferson Avenue, Bristol, PA. There was no mention of itinerary on the form, but, separately, his flight Logbook #2, page 32, for September 26, 1938 mentions, in a comment after one of his flights, a "return from S. America," which suggests a possible sailing route. We might further deduce theirs was a honeymoon cruise.

In the 1940 Census, coded April 12th, Engle was listed as a "guest" in the home of V. Gibson Vincent in Boonton, NJ, about 25 miles NW of New York City. His occupation was listed as "test piloting" for and aircraft corporation, probably Fleetwings. Also in the same house were Milton Anderson, identified as an aircraft mechanic, and Thomas Knox, identified as an aeronautical engineer. We can imagine this living arrangement was due to an assignment away from the Fleetwings base is Bristol, PA.

Engle's pilot logbook #3, page 11, for March 28, 1939 records a demonstration of Fleetwings F502 NC19191 to Howard Hughes in Nassau, Bahamas. This voyage to Florida and the Bahamas was documented in the news (publisher unknown) article below.

News Article, April 29, 1939 (Source: Engle Family)
News Article, April 29, 1939 (Source: Engle Family)

His Logbook #5, page 16, recorded on December 7, 1941 a 20-minute instructional flight. Similar entries on the 8th through the 12th were logged without note about the declaration of war and the beginning of WWII.

Not that the Fleetwings factory was without WWII intrigue. The article below gives a history of German spy activity aimed at the Fleetwings company, especially regarding a new plane model.

Bucks County (PA) Courier Times, July 1, 2019

By Carl LaVO / Correspondent

I’ve snagged many interesting Bucks County stories to tell over the years. Somewhere near the top is a reminiscence from Katharine Ritter Wallace of McLean, Virginia. Her father [left] recruited and supervised Nazi espionage agents in Britain, America and North Africa from 1936 to 1941.

Their aim was to swipe aviation secrets. Katharine hoped I could resolve a question about Col. Nikolaus Ritter’s rendezvous in 1937 with his Doylestown agent working at a nearby seaplane factory “on the Susquehanna River.” I chuckled. “Your dad probably meant Fleetwing Aviation on the Delaware River in Bristol. Seaplanes were built there, only 30 miles from Doylestown.”

Katharine had been translating into English her dad’s German memoir, an insider’s view of being Adolf Hitler’s spy handler. “Cover Name: Dr. Rantzau” was recently published by Kentucky University. An advance copy arrived at my doorstep a few weeks ago.

Ritter was a wounded German infantry officer in World War I who immigrated to the United States in 1924, became a businessman, gained fluency in Americanized English, married a schoolteacher and fathered two children. In 1935, the family left for Germany, in part so the kids could meet their gravely ill paternal grandfather. That year, Ritter joined the Abwehr (“Repulse” in German), a new intelligence agency of the Third Reich. Ritter was chief of air intelligence whose assignment was to gather data on enemy airfields, aircraft and state-of-the-art technology.

Ritter’s grasp of English made him ideal as a roving spy recruiter and organizer. He used many aliases while drifting around Europe and the United States. In Holland, he was Dr. Rantzau. In Belgium and Luxembourg, Dr. Reinhard. In Hungary, Dr. Jansen. In the U.S., Alfred Landing, or simply “Mr. Johnson.”

In 1937, Ritter returned to the United States to meet individually with his spies. Within months, he personally secured plans for Norden Corp.’s ultra-secret bombsight and Sperry Corp.’s gyroscope that he smuggled back to Germany. Both would help propel Hitler’s Luftwaffe into the world’s most devastating air force by 1939.

During his spy-to-spy tour, Ritter arrived by bus in Doylestown to see one of them. He was at work, but his wife offered to drive the colonel to the factory, which she said was building “flying boats for the Navy.” [image, right, from the article]

“Is just anyone allowed to drive in there?” he asked. “Why not?” she replied. Stopping at a coffee shop outside Fleetwing, a waitress mistook “Mr. Johnson” for a new employee. Then a “short, lively man in shirt sleeves came in, saw me, sat next to me, and greeted me in German like an old acquaintance. ‘You are Mr. Johnson?’

“I delivered regards from (codename) ‘Kurt’ in Hamburg, and told him that Kurt was wondering why he had not heard from him for such a long time. ‘That’s just like him,’ the little fellow laughed. ‘Well, we did not have anything for him in the past two years.’ ”

Ritter braced as the agent openly discussed in German things “that should have been secret. He made fun of my dismayed expression. ‘Calm down,’ and pointed toward the hostess. ‘Annie here can listen in on everything. First of all, she doesn’t know a word of German, not even Pennsylvania Dutch. ... Come on. Let’s go over, and I’ll show you the shop.’ I had to gasp for air and went along with him.”

The facility was old.

“The little fellow saw how disappointed I was. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Now everything is being modernized. We have a big order from the naval air arm. Let’s get over there and take a look at the model boat.’ ” Which they did without interference.

Out of earshot, the two discussed how intell should be handled. The spy was reluctant to send it by mail to New York; a flurry of letters might raise suspicion. Ritter suggested St. Louis.

“You’ll get your re-routing address as soon as possible, but to begin with, we must do a careful trial run. First, just write two harmless letters so we can see if everything is clear. Then, we can begin with your confidential reports.”

"‘How am I to send them?’ he asked. ‘Microphotography. ... I’ll send you an agent who will initiate you in the mysteries of microphotography, and from then on, don’t use anything else for your reports.’ ”

Mr. Johnson bade “auf wiedersehen” and boarded a train for St. Louis.

Unfortunately for him, one of his recruits became a double agent, leading the FBI to take down the spy ring in 1941. Thirty-three agents were arrested and convicted. Ritter evaded capture and was reassigned to German air defenses. After the war, the British incarcerated him for two years. He then faded from the scene until his family urged him to write his memoir before his death in 1974. Thanks to his daughter, the conversational account at last tells his story for an American public.

 

As with most U.S. males, regardless of age, as the threat of WWII developed, Engle was called to register with his draft board on October 16, 1940. His registration card is below. He was 35 years old and employed by Fleetwings of Bristol, PA. He was 5'10" and 147 pounds.

W.H. Engle Draft Registration, Front, October 16, 1940 (Source: ancestry.com)
W.H. Engle Draft Registration, Front, October 16, 1940 (Source: ancestry.com)
W.H. Engle Draft Registration, Back, October 16, 1940 (Source: ancestry.com)
W.H. Engle Draft Registration, Back, October 16, 1940 (Source: ancestry.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engle continued flying for Fleetwings, which became a division of Kaiser Cargo, Inc. in 1942 (the company also made the Liberty ships at another location).

The photograph below shows Engle standing in the hatch of a Fleetwing Sunbird F-5, NC19191, on August 23, 1944. He appears to be helping passengers in or out of the airplane. Notice what appears to be the livery of the Civil Air Patrol painted on the side of the fuselage. The people were unidentifed. On close examination, both Engle and the gentleman on the left have company photo identifications on their belts. And the woman is wearing "nylons" with seams in the back. The photograph was probably taken at Kaiser Field, Levittown, PA.

 

William Engle, Fleetwings Seabird F-5, NC19191, August 23, 1944 (Source: Engle Family)
William Engle, Fleetwings Seabird F-5, NC19191, August 23, 1944 (Source: Engle Family)

How do we know about this photograph? Because we have Engle's pilot Logbook #6, page 23, below, that records at lower left the flight on the 23rd, the date on the photograph. The aircraft registration number was clear, as was the purpose of the flight: "First pass. flight - Kaiser Field."

Engle Pilot Logbook #6, page 23, August 23, 1944 (Source: Engle Family)

The March 1945 issue of Fleetwings, the company news magazine, below, provided a short summary of his activities with the company as Fleetwings' Chief Test Pilot and Manager of Flight Operations. I spliced magazine pages 13 and 32 together.

 

 

 

Fleetwings, March 1945 (Source: Engle Family)
Fleetwings, March 1945 (Source: Engle Family)

 

Bucks County Courier Times, August 25, 1971 (Source: Woodling)

 

An interesting aside involves Model F401 Seabird N16793 (not a Register airplane), manufactured by Fleetwings in 1936. Engle flew this airplane over a dozen times between March and August 1937 (Logbook #2). According to the FAA database, it still exists and is currently owned by Yellowstone Aviation, Inc. in Wyoming. It used to belong to Channing Clark (1916-2004). Clark flew his Seabird back "home" to Bristol, PA as documented in the Bucks County Courier Times (PA), August 25, 1971. Photo, right, from the article, which is available in-full at the link. According to the article, among the people that greeted the airplane at Bristol was Bill Engle and a group of other people who worked for Fleetwings.

 

William Engle flew West September 29,1978 at Langhorne Manor, PA. He carried with him Transport pilot certificate T203, Commercial pilot certificate C5194 and mechanic's certificate M16684. Clark sent a heartfelt letter dated October 10, 1978 to Engle (in the absence of knowledge he had passed away eleven days earlier). The two-page (hand-written!) letter is below. It is filled with warm praise and serves as a modest and humorous send-off for Engle's place in the sky.

Channing Clark Letter, October 10, 1978 (Source: Engle Family)
Channing Clark Letter, October 10, 1978 (Source: Engle Family)

 

Channing Clark Letter, October 10, 1978 (Source: Engle Family)
Channing Clark Letter, October 10, 1978 (Source: Engle Family)

 

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