Single-Seater Early Biplane is Being Born Again in Ithaca, New York

A 'Tommy' - Thomas Morse S4C <a href=>Photo Credit</a>
A 'Tommy' - Thomas Morse S4C Photo Credit

The ‘Tommy’ was a single seater bi-plane built by the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corporation of Ithaca, New York.

This plane was designed by B. Douglas Thomas, an Englishman, and manufactured from wood and fabric. It had a water-cooled V-8 engine that drove a two-bladed propeller. A distinguishing feature was the radiator mounted in the center of the upper wing. The pilot was exposed to the elements and sat in an open cockpit underneath a cut-out of the top wing which severely restricted his field of vision. The first planes built suffered a number of serious problems, such as engine vibration and fuel leaks, but most irritating of all was the fact that the fuselage had to be cut open to allow maintenance to be done!

Despite these issues, the Air Service ordered 50 of these planes in June 1920. Two of the prototype units built, were entered into the Pulitzer Trophy race in 1920. One of the planes finished second with an average speed of 238 km/hr for the 187 km course.

The fragility of these planes has meant that there are only two examples of it still on view. The first flew for a few years out of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Red Hook, New York before an accident meant that it could no longer fly and bit became an exhibit in the museum.

Now, the second example is being rebuilt at Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport, Ithaca after it was donated to the project by a doctor living on the west coast. The doctor did not want to give up his dream of restoring the plane and once again flying behind the Le Rhône engine. The doctor’s wife and son eventually persuaded him to allow the plane to be moved to Ithaca, after being convinced of the project team’s dedication to ensuring the little plane took to the skies again, reported.

Don Funke, who leads the project said, “After several years of looking and hoping and wishing and looking up every blind alley, Tommy came home. It was donated in 2009 it arrived in Ithaca in May of 2010.”

The rebuild project, now into its fifth year, is aimed at ensuring Tommy is back up amongst the clouds in time for its 100th anniversary which occurs early in 2018.

The Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation intends that Tommy will fly again and then be a permanent display at Ithaca.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE