by Frederick W. Roos(Article originally published in February 1998 issue of Gateway News, © Frederick W. Roos)
The St. Louis Cardinals- a world-class baseball team, or maybe a once-great, but long gone, pro football team, right? How about a (small) flock of two-place, single-engine cabin monoplanes? They were manufactured right here in St. Louis by the St. Louis Aircraft Corporation in the heady days of aviation's "Lindbergh Boom"!
The St. Louis Aircraft Corporation was incorporated as a subsidiary of the St. Louis Car Co. during the First World War,1 in response to the Army's urgent need for large quantities of aircraft to support the training of military aviators needed to meet American commitments to the Allies. But St. Louis Car (a highly successful manufacturer of railway cars and streetcars) had already been actively exposed to the new world of aviation. In late 1915, Tom Benoist, St. Louis' earliest aeronautical entrepreneur, had arranged to construct his large Type 15 twin engine, six-seat flying boat in the St. Louis Car shops, lacking sufficient room in his own facilities.2 Sensing an opportunity to sell flying boats to Allied combatants in the War, Benoist contracted with St. Louis Car in October, 1915 for the production of large numbers (lots of 1000) of similar flying boats. However, Benoist's sales efforts in Europe were eclipsed by those of Glenn Curtiss, and consequently no flying boat production occurred at St. Louis Car.
Benoist Type 15 flying boat under construction in St. Louis
Car Co. shops (note railway car in background), ca. 1915
Later, when the U.S. did enter the War, St. Louis Car joined with Huttig Sash and Door Co. (also of St. Louis) to form the St. Louis Aircraft Corporation, which went on to manufacture 450 JN-4D Jenny trainers (a Curtiss design) for the U.S. Army.1
JN-4D Army trainer set up for publicity photos outside St. Louis Aircraft plant in 1918
St. Louis Aircraft continued to exist (as a wholly-owned subsidiary of St. Louis
Car) after World War I, its hopes of producing aircraft for private use were
stymied by the glut of surplus military aircraft that became available. The
company remained dormant until the so-called "Lindbergh Boom" in aviation developed
in the wake of Lindbergh's heroic solo flight from New York to Paris in May,
1927. An ingredient of this surge in aviation activity was the advent of powerful,
reliable, air-cooled radial powerplants to replace the bulkier W.W. I-vintage
water-cooled OX-5 and Liberty engines. St. Louis Aircraft seized the opportunity
afforded by the "Lindbergh Boom" in 1928 to produce a line of light, enclosed-cabin,
two-seat, single radial-engine monoplanes christened Cardinals. Unfortunately,
the Cardinal's timing was not ideal: having been beaten into production
by such highly successful similar private aircraft as the Monocoupe,3
Curtiss Robin,4 and others, the Cardinal
did not sell well, becoming an early victim of the Depression-era aeronautical
slump. The last of 21 Cardinals was delivered in 1931.
St. Louis Cardinal, 100 hp. model, at Lambert Field ca. 1929
Having survived for several years on development and production contracts for military aircraft parts and equipment, St. Louis Aircraft didn't produce another airplane until it brought out a biplane primary trainer in 1935, hoping to win an Army production contract. Initially unsuccessful, St. Louis Aircraft continued to develop the airplane and demonstrate it (including a crash at Wright Field in 1936) for the Army, which eventually acquired a trial batch of 14 trainers in 1939. The Army identified these trainers as PT-15. Interestingly enough, all but one of them ended up being assigned to Parks College (at Cahokia, Illinois) for use in Parks' Army aviation cadet training program.5 The hoped-for big production orders were not forthcoming, however, being won instead by the now-famous Boeing/Stearman PT-13/PT-17/N2S Army/Navy primary trainer.
St. Louis XPT-15 Army trainer prototype
While continuing to manufacture crew cars for motorized Army observation balloons (many of which operated at nearby Scott Field6), St. Louis Aircraft renewed its efforts to get into the trainer-production business, especially with the World-War-I1 -fueled major buildup in military pilot-training programs. With its own funds, St. Louis Aircraft developed and flew in 1940 the PT-LM-4, a sleek, low-wing, all-metal primary trainer with a Ranger in-line engine. Although tested by NACA, the Army, and in Canada, the PT-LM-4 was not put into production. Instead, the Army gave St. Louis Aircraft production contracts for the similar Fairchild designed PT-19 trainer. During 1942-44, St. Louis Aircraft built and delivered 350 of these primary trainers, in two versions: the PT-19A, with a Ranger in-line engine, and PT-23/PT-23A, with a Continental radial. These trainers were all test-flown at St. Louis Aircraft's own flying field, adjacent to the St. Louis Car factory on North Broadway in St. Louis. (This field was operated as a private airfield, Ross Airport, for a time after W.W. II.)
Army C-6 motorized observation balloon at Scott Field,
late 1930s. The suspended engine-equipped crew car, not the entire balloon,
was made by St. Louis Aircraft
St. Louis PT-LM-4 trainer at Lambert Field, ca. 1940
PT-19A (left) and PT-23A (right) trainers in St. Louis
Aircraft factory, 1944
One other military aircraft project was undertaken by St. Louis Aircraft during the Second World War. Having already placed large-scale aircraft production contracts with the major airframe builders, the Army sought to employ secondary sources when it decided in 1941 to develop a significant glider assault capability. Not being burdened at the time with aircraft production contracts, St. Louis Aircraft was invited to participate in the Army's glider program, obtaining contracts to develop eight-place and fifteen-place troop-carrying gliders.7 The eight-place XCG-5 demonstrated serious aerodynamic flaws during its first test flights (at Lambert Field) in 1942. The redesign necessary to correct the aerodynamic, as well as significant structural, problems doomed the XCG-5. The larger, heavier XCG-6 was never built.
St. Louis XCG-5 troop glider, 1942
St. Louis Aircraft once again went dormant following the end of World War II. It disappeared forever when the parent company, St. Louis Car, closed its doors for the last time in 1973. Fortunately for the historical record, the St. Louis Car and St. Louis Aircraft corporate archives were given to Washington University, where they now reside.
The author is grateful to David Ostrowski, who provided several of the photographs and much of the background material used in the preparation of this article.Notes:
"St. Louis and the Jenny," Gateway News, March 1980.
2. "Thomas Benoist and the World's First Airline," Gateway News, November 1984.
3. "Those Magnificent Monocoupes "Gateway News, October 1982.
4. "Of Robins and Records," Gateway News, December 1980.
5. "The Aviation Enterprises of Oliver Parks," Gateway News, November 1990.
6. "The Scott Field Story," Gateway News, September 1989.
7. "Silent Wings over St. Louis," Gateway News, December 1994.
Frederick W. Roos
Article originally published in February 1998 issue of Gateway News