WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A World War I aircraft identical to the one flown by the only Wichitan to receive an Airman’s Medal of Honor, Erwin Bleckley, is being restored in the capital of the world. air.
The group of Wichitans working on this project say they are working to find out more about who flew this specific aircraft, reiterating to KSN that it was not the plane piloted by Bleckley.
About the aircraft: The DH-4
“This plane is as authentic as it gets. It has the nameplate made in 1918, it has all the original pneumatic instruments, throttle controls, it has the original 400 horsepower Liberty engine! Member Grant Schumaker of the board of the Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation, told KSN in May last year.
The aircraft, an Airco DH-4, or de Havilland, was a two-seater aircraft based on a British design. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the aviation section of the Signal Corps had only 132 obsolete aircraft, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The Smithsonian National Postal Museum indicates that in 1917, Colonel RC Bolling traveled to Europe to examine designs for Allied aircraft intended to replace the Air Service fleet. The DH-4 stood out from Bolling due to its simple design and potential for mass production.
The largest producer of DH-4 aircraft during World War I was the Dayton-Wright Company, which by the end of the war had delivered over 3,000 aircraft to air service. The Air Service actually ordered 12,000 DH-4s, but production quality and design disputes caused significant delivery problems.
In all, the total number of DH-4s built and delivered to air service was 4,846, more than 7,000 less than their order of 12,000.
- Dayton-Wright Company: 3,106
- Fisher Body Division of General Motors: 1,600
- Standard Aircraft Corporation: 140
According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the primary use of the DH-4 was daylight bombing, observation, and artillery spotting. The first US-built model arrived in France in May 1918, and the first combat mission using the aircraft was flown in early August by the 135th Aero Squadron.
After World War I, the DH-4 saw many different roles with the air service and was developed into many different variations of its original design before being officially phased out of service in 1932.
It was used in many different roles throughout the Air Service, such as forest fire patrol, training, and even carrying mail with the United States Postal Service.
About the Hero: 2nd Lt. Erwin Bleckley
Erwin Bleckley, who is the only Air Force Medal of Honor recipient, flew an exact replica of the aircraft being restored during his time with the 50th Aero Squadron when he and 1st. Lieutenant Harold Goettler flew a mission to find the famous “lost battalion” on October 6, 1918.
According to the Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation, during the first run to locate the lost battalion on October 6, 1918, Bleckley believed he had located the battalion. The mission was extremely dangerous and actually pinned down the DH-4 from enemy fire.
Nevertheless, Bleckley volunteered for a second assignment. The plan, which was risky, was to fly low and slow towards the ground to draw enemy fire, thus pinpointing the location of the missing unit.
According to the foundation, Bleckley updated his will before the second mission because he knew it was very unlikely he would return. When warned by the squadron commander, Captain Daniel Morse, of the danger that awaited him, Bleckley replied, “We will make the delivery or we will die in the attempt.”
If you would like more information about the Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation, you can visit their website by clicking here.