Previously located on the Independent Chemical Corporation and the defunct Hansel ‘n Gretel deli meat plant in Glendale, the Brunner Winkle Aircraft Corporation produced Bird biplanes during the late 1920s to early 1930s. The model, similar to the one pictured above, made a significant mark in aviation history, as Charles Lindbergh used such a plane to train for his historic trans-Atlantic flight and gave flying lessons to his wife. The floor of the Brunner-Winkle factory is shown at left.
Industrial Glendale is in the news often these days, but not for reasons that have anything to do with industry. While we’ll leave the debate regarding the area’s future to the interested parties, we thought it might be appropriate to take a glance— or, rather, a flight—back in time to explore Glendale’s link to aviation history.
We’ve previously touched on the Brunner Winkle Aircraft Corp., which began on Long Island as the Royal Aircraft Corporation in 1926 and relocated to Glendale, under new management and with a new name, two years later.
The company had etched itself in aviation history by that time, as it produced a biplane model that Charles Lindbergh used in preparation for his historic, trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. He also used this particular aircraft to teach his wife, Anne, how to fly.
However, for its significance in aviation history, Brunner- Winkle found itself grounded from both the struggles of the Great Depression and an inability to keep up with engineering and design changes that quickly developed in the first decades of air travel.
Brunner Winkle Aircraft Corp. was incorporated in New York State in May 1928, with William E. Winkle, president; J.J. Finkel, vice president; Joseph E. Brunner, treasurer; and August Brunner, secretary. They rented space in the former Our Darling Match Factory at 72-34 Charlotte Pl. (now 60th Lane) in Glendale.
Michael Gregor was the chief engineer and designer. The Brunner brothers operated an automobile garage on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village and later had a Buick agency. Winkle, born in Ridgewood in 1894, was a pilot in World War I and second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Aviation Branch. His father operated an auto service station and tire shop on Cooper Avenue near Cypress Avenue.
In the fall of 1928, the company moved to larger quarters, renting 16,000 sq. ft. at 1-17 Haverkamp St. (now 71st Avenue) in Glendale, which was on the north side of the Long Island Rail Road opposite Ford Avenue (now 79th Place).
Today, this is the site of Independent Chemical Corporation and the recentlyclosed Hansel and Gretel deli meat company.
In 1929, the New York corporation was dissolved, and a Delaware corporation of the same name replaced it. The same officers managed the company.
Two hundred and fifty thousand shares of no-parc common stock was authorized and 70,000 shares issued. In March 1929, 50,000 shares of common stock were offered to the public at $15 per share through the brokerage house of Marlon S. Emery and the Company of New York City. The Manufacturers Trust Company was the registrar.
How successful the offering was, we do not know. If all the shares were sold, it would have raised $750,000 (about $10.4 million today) minus the underwriter’s fee. The company stated that they planned on building five planes by June 30, 1929, and a total of 15 by Sept. 30, 1929. The aircraft industry in the U.S. at the time was made up of about 600 small companies.
Bird was the word
The first plane that the company built was the Model A “Bird,” a conventional, three-seat commercial bi-plane with two open cockpits. The fuselage was of welded steel tubing covered with woven cotton airplane cloth stretched over wooden formers. The tail was also of steel tube construction covered by cotton airplane cloth. The wings were staggered and were built of solid spruce wood spurs, spruce and plywood ribs and covered by cotton airplane cloth. The leading edge of the wings were covered with aluminum.
After the cotton airplane cloth was stretched over the fuselage, tail and wings, “dope” was applied to strengthen the cloth and make it less wind resistant.
The forward cockpit seated two persons, side by side, and was fitted with dual controls which could be easily removed. This cockpit could be fitted with a folding seat so that it would hold three persons. The pilot sat in the rear cockpit.
Behind the rear cockpit was a fireproof partition separating the cockpit from the gasoline tank which held 40 gallons, plus a five-gallon reserve tank. Behind the gas tank was the luggage compartment. The undercarriage of the plane was of the split type in two vees with two wheels.
The Model A Bird was propeller-driven and powered by a Curtiss OX-5 90 horsepower water-cooled, five-cylinder radial engine originally designed for World War I aircraft. The radiator was mounted underneath the engine in a tunnel, copying the design of the military Curtiss Hawk fighter plane.
The Model A, priced at $3,150 (equal to $43,814.84 today), had a cruising speed of 80 mph and could fly for eight hours (640 miles) at 16 miles to the gallon. It had a ceiling of 18,000 feet and a top speed of 105 mph. The first nine Model A planes produced did not qualify for the FAA’s full Approved Type Certificate (ATC) and instead were issued memorandum certificates.
In September 1929, the FAA issued to Brunner-Winkle Aircraft Corp. an ATC for the new model Bird known as the BK. It was powered by a five cylinder, air-cooled radial engine, the Kinner K-5, built by Kinner Airplane and Motor Corp. of Glendale, Calif. It was a 100 horsepower engine. The Model B-K, priced at $3,895 (equal to $54,177.40 today), had a top speed of 115 mph. About 75 were built.
The company, however, continued to build the Model A until their supply of Curtiss Ox-5 engines was exhausted. They built about 85 Model As.
We would be remiss if we didn’t note that Bird planes were, to the best of our knowledge, not tested in Glendale. They were shipped east for test flights via rail to Roosevelt Field—then an airport—where Brunner-Winkle owned a hangar.
A more powerful flight
In November 1929, the FAA issued an ATC for the Bird Model B-W, which was equipped with a Warner Scarab seven cylinder, 110 horsepower air-cooled radial engine built by Warner Aircraft Corp. of Detroit. This model had a top speed of 117 mph. Only seven of these planes were built.
In 1930, the company introduced the Bird model C-K equipped with the five cylinder, Kinner B-5 125 horsepower aircooled radial engine with a top speed of 120 mph. This was the most popular Bird built, with over 100 sold.
The company also tried equipping the Bird with a Wright J-6 R-540 Whirlwind five cylinder 165 horsepower aircooled radial engine with a top speed of 120 mph. This was the Model C, but it was not popular; only a few were sold.
It is interesting to note that, when Charles Lindbergh made his historic, non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 from Garden City, L.I. to Paris, France, his Ryan monoplane was powered by a Wright J-5, 200 horsepower, nine cylinder, aircooled radial engine, with a ratio of 2.54 lbs. of engine weight to one horsepower delivered. The Kinner B-5 had a ratio of 3.36 lbs.
The big breakthrough in gasoline aircraft engine design came in 1931, when Wright introduced their F model aircooled radial engine with a supercharger with a ratio of 1.2 lbs. per horsepower. It was quickly adopted for use by both military and commercial aircraft.
The rest of the story
The depression took its toll on the Brunner-Winkle Aircraft Corp., and in 1931, the name of the company was changed to The Bird Aircraft Corp. The Brunner brothers dropped out of management. Thomas Lamphier became president, William E. Winkle became vice president, and James Phelan became secretary.
The company moved to 79-52 Cooper Ave., which was near their former location. The Bird design, an open cockpit plane, was obsolete, and they attempted to introduce a cabin version of the Bird by raising the fuselage to the top of the wing and eliminating the cockpits, but this was not successful, and none were built.
The company went out of business in 1932, and Perth Amboy Title Company took over their assets. Winkle died in 1946. The Perth Amboy Title Company tried to keep the business flying under yet another name change—this time as the Speed Bird Corporation—at a new base in Keyport, N.J. But alas, fate would clip the company’s wings, and Speed Bird was permanently grounded in 1931.
About 300 Birds were built in all; in later years, they were used for crop dusting, towing banners and gliders, etc., and were ideal for these tasks because of their slow speed. In 1947, there were still 137 Birds listed on the records of the FAA. However, as World War II surplus Stearman training planes became available at low prices, the Bird aircraft were replaced.
Today, there are about 70 Bird planes still around, many of which are owned by collectors or in museums. According to Air and Space Smithsonian magazine, the restored Bird that Lindbergh used to teach his wife how to fly is on display at a Maryland air park.
If you have any remembrances or old photographs of Our Neighborhood that you would like to share with our readers, please write to the Old Timer, c/o Times Newsweekly, P.O. Box 863299, Ridgewood, NY 11386, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any print photographs mailed to us will be carefully returned to you.