Sunday, October 12, 2014

Owls Head Transportation Museum

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
12 Oct 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - RKD (Rockland, ME) - SDC 6.9 1351.0

Much like the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI, the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine formed in the 1970s as a "plausible excuse to fly old airplanes".  But the museum has since developed into a transportation museum in the fullest sense with a collection that appeals to aviators as well as those preferring more two-dimensional means of transport. It is a fantastic museum featuring golden age era aircraft, many in airworthy condition, and an even greater array of vintage automobiles, motocrycles, and bicycles.

It was a very worthy excuse for my recent flight to Maine.

The museum is on the field at Knox County Regional Airport (KRKD). Although there is nothing preventing fly-in visitors from taxiing directly to the museum, the museum prefers that visitors park on the main ramp. A ride to the museum can be had with a phone call.

The first aircraft I encountered was this 1917 Curtiss JN-4D, otherwise known as the "Jenny" (why is it that I always hear Forrest Gump's voice in my head when I say that?). In 2005, Kristy and I landed at Souther Field in Americus, Georgia (now Jimmy Carter Regional Airport, KACJ) and found a plaque proclaiming that Charles Lindbergh did his first solo from the field in a Curtiss Jenny. Jennys were used as trainers in World War I and are considered America's first, commercially successful, mass produced airplanes (which probably drove the Wright Brothers absolutely crazy).

If I understood correctly, this Curtiss OX-5 engine will soon be on its way Le Roy, NY for overhaul.

This ornithorpter, built by James Clark of Bridgewater, PA around 1900 is one of the more curious "aircraft" on display. A five horsepower gasoline engine made the wings flap.

It never flew, but I bet it could shake the fillings out of your teeth.

A graceful monoplane, this 1913 Etrich Taube was nevertheless a mass of wires that provided aerodynamic control through wing warping. Presumably, Igo Etrich was not concerned about being sued for patent infringement by the Wright brothers. Despite the fact that this is a very real airplane, something about its birdlike form festooned with control cables struck me as being the stuff of fantasy.

Smallest vertical stabilizer ever?

The steering wheel seems awkwardly incongruous on such a graceful airplane.

Taube is the German word for "dove", a symbol of peace. Ironically, the Taube was the first military airplane mass produced in Germany and the first airplane used for dropping bombs. This is the only known flyable example of a Taube in North America.

The shape of the wings was inspired by the zanonia tree seedpod because of a theory that it was the perfect aerodynamic form (only zanonia seedpods aren't bristling with wires).

Just look at that magnificent propeller!

It is attached to a 1923 Fokker C.IV that was originally built in Holland. The pilot sits in an open cockpit immediately aft of the wing, but the rest of fuselage accommodates passengers. Records indicate that it was converted to a passenger aircraft in a Seattle auto body shop. The whole "Tacoma to Tokyo" scheme (note the paint job) was evidently a bust.

If this 1918 Standard J-1 resembles a Curtiss Jenny, it may have something to do with the fact that Standard once built Jennys under contract. This J-1 was their "better" version of the Curtiss design. However, most Standards finished World War I still in their crates once it was discovered that the original Hall-Scott engines used by Standard had a penchant for breaking fuel lines and catching fire. For some reason, this made them unpopular.

Post-war, Standards could be purchased cheaply (fire sale?) and, when fitted with different engines (typically 150 hp Hispano-Suiza or "Hisso" engines), they became quite popular with barnstormers and as platforms for wing walkers.

The 1909 Bleriot XI was the first successful tractor monoplane. It was at the controls of a XI that Louis Bleriot achieved fame for conducting the first flight of an airplane across the English Channel. The museum's Bleriot is a reproduction.

Prior to invention of the gun synchronizer, firing machine guns through a spinning propeller was a significant challenge in World War I. This Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8 solved the problem with a pusher engine arrangement. Once the gun synchronizer came into use, however, the aircraft was removed from service and all examples destroyed by the British government.

This aircraft is a reproduction from original plans built by two California men. In 1980, one of them (it is a single seat aircraft, after all) flew it to Owls Head using only a compass for navigation. At an average speed of 80 mph, this journey required 57 hours of flight with 61 stops. Although the original aircraft would have used a Gnome rotary engine, the reproduction uses a modern six cylinder air cooled Continental.

The 1912 Curtiss Model D Pusher was one of the first aircraft to employ ailerons for roll control. This was done to avoid wing warping, thus circumventing the Wright brothers and their litigious ways. It must have worked; we still use ailerons today. This Curtiss Pusher is equipped with a modern four cylinder air cooled engine.

This 1930 Speedwing D-4000 was one of the last racing airplanes built by the Travel Air Company. This is a relatively rare airplane with only 15-20 ever built. It is a relative of the Travel Air biplane I once flew over the southern California coastline. The founders of Travel Air, Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman, and Walter Beech went on to create their own individual legacies in aviation.

I love the paint job on this 1917 SPAD XIIIC.I. It's probably not particularly good camouflage, however.

Here is what I love about the Owls Head Transportation Museum: In most museums, a 1941 Stearman biplane might be the elder statesman of the collection. Not at Owls Head. Compared to the pre-World War II aircraft dominating the collection, the Stearman looks positively modern.

There are other curiosities at the Owls Head Transportation Museum that do not fly. This 1909 Pierce motocycle was built by the Pierce Cycle Company of Buffalo, NY. Pierce also made magnificent automobiles such as the Pierce Arrow (several examples of these can be seen at the Gilmour Car Museum near Kalamazoo, MI).

A steam powered 1904 Stanley Model B Runabout.

How do you prefer your H.C.S. Touring Car? Restored or unrestored?

Here's a curious vehicle with an aviation link: the 1935 Stout Scarab. William Stout, of course, significantly influenced the design of what became the Ford Trimotor (talk about a stout airplane!). Only nine Scarabs were ever built. For its time, this car must have seemed incredibly futuristic.

A 1916 Scripps-Booth Model C, which was partially designed by William Stout. Elegant.

This is a Chevy. In a few short decades, it would evolve into that pinnacle of automotive design: the Chevette.

1923 Ford Model T Truck. One interesting lesson that I learned at the museum was a debunking of the myth that Model T drivers drove backward up hills because of a more favorable gear ratio available in reverse. Because the gravity fed carburetor was only slightly lower than the fuel tank and well forward of it, climbing hills in the forward direction could result in fuel starvation of the engine. Driving uphill in reverse ensured that gravity would continue feeding fuel to the carburetor

Calling all BMW snobs! This egg-shaped, three wheeled 1958 BMW Isetta 300 helped save the car manufacturer from economic failure in the late 1950s. Believe it or not.

A nice looking 1932 American Austin Roadster.

This gorgeous fire engine is the marriage of a 1904 steam powered pumping engine (American Manufacturing Company) with a 1918 American LaFrance tractor. This photograph does not do the beast justice - the chrome alone was worth the price of admission.

This is a ca. 1850 coach built in Concord, NH. Though most of us associate these coaches with the Wild West, they originated on the East Coast. The Concord Coach had a unique suspension of leather braces that cradled the coach on the chasis, giving a smoother ride than a leaf spring suspension.

An early "crotch-rocket", a 1913 Excelsior Model C7 motorcycle.

This 1920 Buick is one of the few models that I'm sure my grandfather never owned.

I tried not to take of picture of this REO, but decided that "I can't fight this feeling anymore." REO, of course, stands for Ransom E. Olds and the REO Motor Car Company of Lansing, MI was the second automobile manufacturer to carry his name.

Does anyone remember the Fabulous Hudson Hornet from Cars? Here he is, in the "flesh".

An elegant hood ornament and the snazzy Packard to which it is attached.

In this example, the ever-versatile Ford Model T was transformed into a snowmobile using a commercially available conversion kit devised in West Ossipee, NH.

This is only a small sampling of what the wonderful Owls Head Transportation Museum has to offer. I learned a lot about both early airplanes and early automobiles. This is a nice facility that still operates many of its vehicles, flying and rolling alike, and maintains them in excellent condition. I highly recommend a visit.


  1. Seems you forgot what you started fighting for.

    Great pics and write up.

    1. :-)

      Just imagine my disappointment to discover that the REO at the museum was not, in fact, a Speedwagon.

  2. Awesome pics! Thanks for sharing.