A Mailplane for Lindbergh
Donald Hall's 1927 rush job.
- By Tom Leech
- Air & Space magazine, July 2011
NASM (SI NEG. #SI-94-8819~PM)
(Page 2 of 2)
Leech: Did Ryan add any engineers?
Hall: I was all alone during the design of the plane, except for two evenings when a purchasing agent helped me with weight analysis. We kept the office door locked so nobody could walk in. A few aeronautical people were always interested in anything and they’d walk around; we didn’t keep anything from them. I don’t think we talked about it but gradually it leaked out. When test flights started, people in San Diego heard about it.
Leech: Where did you make the test flights?
Hall: We flew from Dutch Flats, just opposite from Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Dutch Flats was a tidal flat at one time. I think they built up a dike so water wouldn’t flow in. It was not paved; it was a natural tidal ground with sand and muck. When it rained heavily you might have two to three feet of water.
Just before Lindbergh got here, we had heavy rains and floods for two weeks. You couldn’t leave San Diego except by way of El Centro. Lindbergh came by train about a week later.
Leech: What were his first thoughts about the site?
Hall: The water had disappeared when he arrived, and we had no rain at all during flight tests. We had only about 12 days for tests. He flew every day he could. There were no major problems and the engine was excellent. The M1 had a Wright engine, though a few had J4 engines, for mail flights from San Diego up to Seattle. The Spirit had a J5C 200-horsepower Wright Aeronautical engine. All we used from the M2 were the wing ribs and the tail surfaces. Everything else was different.
Lindbergh was not a bit nervous about the flight. He was the most composed man I ever ran across. Physically he was very good, had excellent vision—maybe better than normal, which helps a lot in flying. He was an excellent cross-country navigator by means of dead reckoning, just by following maps. He had cut all his own maps from New York to Paris and plotted his course on them.
Leech: Did he participate in the design?
Hall: He wasn’t actually a designer but he had his own ideas, some of which I accepted and some I disagreed with. We’d come to an agreement. Claude Ryan was acting manager out in the field. I only saw him once or twice, outside of our office hours only, during design. [Ryan co-owner Bob] Mahoney said leave us alone, Lindbergh and I, and not to bother us, that we could handle it without any interference. When we got to construction, we had to work with the shop. We laid a lot of stuff down full-size—landing gear, axles—on plywood and worked from that.
Leech: Looking back?
Hall: I don’t like to stress the work on the Spirit. Other work has been extremely important over the years. I did another airplane in 1928 with Ryan-Mahoney more important to me than the Spirit. After all the publicity, I started my own company, Hall Aeronautical Development. But I could never get the X-1 promoted far enough. It was a monoplane with low semi-tandem wings; the aft wing was a little higher. Ryan-Mahoney bought the idea all right, but they went back to St. Louis and we parted company. It was too hard through the Depression and I finally gave it up when Consolidated moved to San Diego.
I was with Consolidated from 1936 to 1949 as an aeronautical engineer. I was a consultant to Mac Laddon, chief engineer, for a few months. Then I went into pre-design. I was with the Navy from 1949 to retirement in September 1963, at the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, as an engineer, head of the helicopter branch and then the structures branch. My interests are home and garden.
Donald Hall died at age 69 in 1968.
Tom Leech is a presentations coach, an outdoors writer, and a professional speaker.