Norman Albree, Aeronautical Engineer
Peregrine Timson, Aviation Experimenter and Designer
Pigeon, Partner, Pigeon Hollow Spar Company
Pigeon, Partner, Pigeon Hollow Spar Company
Robert Mansfield, Lead Draftsman for G. Norman Albree
Principal Offices at: 10 State Street, Boston, MA and 286 Humphrey Street, Swampscott MA.
Manufacturing facility at: Pigeon Hollow Spar Company, 128 Coleridge Street, East Boston MA.
Assembly facilities: Swampscott at the New Ocean House garage on Humphrey St. (Winter) and at a garage workshop at 53 Puritan Rd.
Aeroplane Flight Testing: Marblehead Harbor for Model U hydro and Nahant Beach for all landplanes.
The “organization” for building the Albree-Timson design aeroplanes was a series of legal partnerships and joint ventures that began in 1911. Since he was a youngster Norman Albree had an idea for accomplishing inherent stability in an aeroplane utilizing a unique gull type wing structure combined with a “flying tail” built as a one piece structural unit with fixed vertical and horizontal stabilizers. This tail section would be hinged to the rear fuselage and adjustable by the aviator and could be moved up and down to maintain longitudinal stability. Ailerons on the rear of the wings near the wing tips would provide lateral control and use to bank and turn the aircraft.
In October 1911 Albree came across a front page article in the Lynn Item newspaper announcing a new discovery in aeronautics by a local man, Roscoe P. Timson, This was possibly the long sought answer to providing inherent stability in an aeroplane. It was basically the same concept and methodology that Albree believed would solve the challenge of building an inherently stable aeroplane. Albree immediately contacted Timson. They met and discussed a joint project to test their jointly held theory that they felt was the “answer”. Timson had previously patented this concept and had spent considerable time and energy testing his theory with large scale model gliders. They agreed that now was the time to construct a full size aeroplane to confirm their belief that a scaled up aeroplane built with the design charceteritics of the Timson glider would have inherent stability in flight. They worked together to raise the money to build and flight test their first aircraft. With only modest success in their first flight attempts and with time and money growing short, Albree, still enthusiastic to move ahead, purchased Timson patent rights. Timson went his own way to design, build and market small personal monoplane aircraft in his garage at the end of Nahant Beach.
At this point in 1915 Albree, who had consulted and designed specialized equipment for the Pigeon Hollow Spar Company, asked that company to participate in a joint venture with him to build and sell aircraft. The European war would surely generate more interest in purchasing aircraft and related supplies from American companies and Albree believed there was a good chance to build a viable military aeroplane business. Roy and Fred Pigeon had the woodworking equipment, the skilled work force and the experience building specialized wood based products similar to the construction used in the aeroplanes of the day. They had built at least one aeroplane as a joint venture in 1911 and provided aircraft parts for other experimental aviation projects. They also had the production capacity available. Norman Albree and the Pigeon Company were 50/50 design, build and sales partners from late 1915 through 1918 and the end of World War 1.
The Planes : (All aircraft were monoplanes and all used the unique Timson-Albree flight control system utilizing a hinged flying tail)
Albree-Timson Model U Scout – “Harrowplane” 1914 - A gull winged tractor monoplane on twin floats
Albree-Timson Model U Scout 1914
Albree-Timson Model U Scout 1914
Number built: 1
Single place, powered with a Curtiss OX-5 V-8 90 hp. engine, Span 45’4” Chord: 6’6”. (No other data is available)
Designed by Timson and Albree built in the winter of 1913-1914 at Swampscott in leased space in the New Ocean House Garage.
Final assembly, engine installation and flight testing was scheduled for June at the Burgess Company, Redstone Lane, Marblehead. Model U was funded by family members and constructed by Timson and Albree based on their inherently stable model glider designs. The first test flight was made by George Norman Albree in early June 1914 at Marblehead Harbor where a problem getting the floats up “on the step” for takeoff resulted in cancelling the day’s testing. A subsequent day’s flight test by Burgess Aviator Cliff Webster was not successful due to a lack of sufficent lift from the 45 foot gull wing to achieve takeoff. After making some modest corrections and changes Albree tried again on June 11, 1914 with a full power and an extended takeoff run, unfortunately after a struggle to lift off, the Model U rose up and then came down hard on the water and the Harrowplane was heavily damaged. Albree was injured and quickly rescued. The Model U was towed ashore, later the engine was salvaged and the airframe and floats were scrapped.
Albree –Timson Model G Scout -1915 - tractor monoplane land plane
Albree-Timson Model G Scout of 1915, George Norman Albree at the controls
First Flight by Cliff Webster on July 13, 1915 at Nahant Beach, Nahant, MA
Number built: 1, Designed Oct. 1914, First flight July13, 1915
Single place, with a unicamber wing powered by a Hendee 7cyl. 50 hp. rotary engine, Span: 47’3”, Chord: 6’, Length: 20’9”, Height: 8’7”, Weight: 950lbs. Surfaces- in sq.ft. Wings: 197.8, Ailerons: 16.5, Tail: 48.5, Rudder: 9’8”. Aircraft Markings: None
First flown by contract aviator Clifford Webster of the Burgess Co. on July 13, 1915 at Nahant Beach. After the test flights by Webster; Norman Albree and Roscoe Timson made a series of short flights. This monoplane was designed with ailerons only for lateral control with an adjustable flying tail structure that was designed to act as an elevator unit with the vertical stabilizer to provide lateral stability. The Model G was tested through September 1915 with continuing output power problems with Hendee engine. The Hendee rotary rated at 50 horsepower was actually producing just 35 horsepower. Not surprisingly by mid 1915 the Hendee rotary, built in Springfield MA, had been discontinued and was no longer serviced or repaired by the manufacturer. The engine problems had extended the Model G flight schedule and the minor modifications recommended by aviators and mechanics who at least knew how to keep a Hendee running were the only help available. Flight and taxi tests were continuing to be made until finally arrangements were in place in October for it to be sent for U.S. Army testing and evaluation at Mineola, NY. Sadly enough after all this travail, when it was finally on its way to New York, the sole Model G was severely damaged in a railroad accident enroute. Some of the Model G hardware and other reusable parts were salvaged for the next time but the aircraft was a total loss.. Timson had decided at this point to go his own way and George Norman Albree now working with Roy and Fred Pigeon, was back at the drawing board.
Albree Model N-9 1916- tractor monoplane land plane, Military Observation type, Designed not built. -
Albree Model N-12A 1916- tractor monoplane land plane, Military Observation type, Designed not built. -1916
Albree Model S 1916- tractor monoplane land plane, Scout-Reconnaissance type, Designed not built. -1916
Pigeon-Fraser* Model SG Pursuit -1917 - tractor monoplane land plane, Albree design.
Model SG Pursuit USAF Art Program Artist- Raymond Bayless
Number built: Two complete aircraft, plus one Model SG fuselage only, were ordered by U.S. Army April 17, 1917.
Single place, Span: 37’11”, Height: 8’5.5” Length: 24’, with General Vehicle- Gnome 9 cyl.100 hp rotary engine, Max. Speed: 103mph.
First aircraft Model SG- SC-#116 delivered in September 1917 and SG- SC #117 followed in November 1917. First flight: both were flown and successfully tested by contract pilots including Eddie Stinson, at Langley Field, VA. However there were no official flights authorized to be made for the U.S. Army acceptance process. The third Model SG order under the same contract was for a fuselage only, no engine to be provided and with instructions for it to be shipped to the Colt Arms Company, Hartford, CT. (Possibly for mounting and testing a machine gun installation) The SG fuselage was completed and shipped in the fall of 1917.
(Recognition notes: two Model SGs for the Army had their SC Serial #s: high on the vertical stabilizer for #117, and lower for #116).
Markings: U.S. Army standard aircraft wing star markings for 1917.
Upon Albree’s and his lawyer’s request for the official military flight and acceptance testing status at Langley Field; in January 1918 Model SG- SC#116 was stress tested to destruction however no photos or other records were made available. Albree filed a protest charging wanton destruction of U.S. Government property in regard to the two aircraft since he was advised that both were destroyed in the tests. Albree’s claims of the calculated, elimination and destruction of an innovative combat aeroplane continued in his continuing communications with War Department officials and Members of Congress without any resolution into the January 1918. However based on this series of complaints and a number high level meetings in Washington G. Norman Albree and the Pigeon Fraser Company were given a tentative order in January for two additional Model SG aircraft. Work was started at once on the SG #3 & #4 aircraft. Upon learning that the second original Model SG was still stored at Langley, Albree and the Army agreed that Mc Cook Field should perform an official Signal Corps /Air Service stress test of the Model SG #117. The aircraft was shipped to Dayton, Ohio in May 1918 and it too was destroyed in the structural testing program but it was professionally done and reported to have passed the test series. Norman Albree and his attorney accepted an invitation to witness the tests, attend a briefing at Dayton and examine the Army’s McCook records and photographs that were made available on the entire SG test program. The Army to finalize this issue with Albree and his influential Washington friends and supporters did agree to give Albree the option to construct a new aircraft at his own expense, using his patented control system. The Army would loan him a 100 hp. Gnome engine and officially flight test the new aeroplane with Army aviators at Hazelhurst Field at Mineola, NY at the Army’s expense. (See Model PG of 1918 below)
Model SG Pursuit U S Army # 116 1917
at Langley Field G N Albree in cockpit
Model SG Pursuit U.S. Army SC #117 1917
nearing completion in Swampscott
Model SG Pursuit--- Pigeon Fraser Serial #3 at Rhinebeck
Meanwhile a third Model SG #3, based on the Army’s tentative order while they were “under fire”, was being completed by Pigeon Fraser at East Boston. It was June and the Army based on locating the “missing” SG #117 and setting it up for official testing now cancelled the tentative order for two more Model SG aircraft. G. Norman Albree held that the Pigeon Fraser Company now owned and was responsible for the remaining Model SG #3. This is, we believe, the Model SG that later ended up with Cole Palen at Rhinebeck in the 1960s and was disowned as “not his” by G. Norman Albree in the 1970’s. The Rhinebeck Model SG is reported in museum inventories as serial number #3. If that Model SG is the third “tentative order Model SG” that never paid for, it is a logical and rational answer to the Rhinebeck mystery that puzzled George Norman Albree, Paul Garber at the NASM and many aviation historians.
U.S. Army Serial #116-117 First Monoplanes ordered by U.S. Army. (Pigeon - Fraser Serials SG #1, 2 and 3)
Albree Model PG U-2 1918 at Hazelhurst Field Mineola NY
Albree Model PG U-2 1918 at Hazelhurst Field Mineola NY
Albree Model PG Pursuit (Model U-2, No.9) -1918 - tractor monoplane land plane, Albree’s ninth design, referred to as Model U-2
Span: 36’ 5.5”, Height: 8’7”, Length: 21’ 1.5”, Chord: 5’9.5”, Wing area: 169’6”, Angle of Incidence: 2 degrees, with unicamber (flat undersurface) wings. Weight: Empty: 835lbs. Load: 400lbs., Powered by a General Vehicle-Gnome 9 cyl. 100 hp rotary engine with a full cowl,
This Model PG Pursuit was built at Albree’s expense specifically for a special “make or break” test program arranged with the U.S. Army. Model PG was a modified and streamlined Model SG and would be the final operational test of the unique Albree/Timson “Flying Tail” control system. Recognition note: Albree NO.9. on the vertical stabilizer.
Model PG was a completely new design with larger ailerons combined with an improved version of the patented adjustable control system. The first two days of test flights at Hazelhurst Field at Mineola, NY were successful but on the December 24th 1918 the third day of flight testing a second test pilot lost control in a sharp banking turn and spun into the ground at high speed. The pilot was killed instantly and the plane was completely destroyed. That was the last flight of any Albree aeroplane design. The Army’s accident investigation resulted in a verdict of pilot error. Contrary to his flight instructions the pilot had intentionally snap rolled the aircraft to the right without sufficient altitude to recover.
Although Albree was stunned by the loss of life and the complete destruction of his aeroplane he was determined to find out what actually happened and stayed at Hazelhurst Field though the crash investigation and met with the Army aviators and mechanics who worked on his No.9 and discussed at length the two days of flight tests with the first pilot that flew the plane. When he left he was resigned to move on from his life in aviation and left the field entirely without getting closure on the merits of his unique flight control system. Fifty years later in the 1970s he started corresponding with the Air Force Museum, and the National Air and Space Museum to find his place in American aviation history and revisit his theories’ of flight and hopefully to find the answers to the questions that were still troubling him.
*Note: the Pigeon Fraser Company was one of a group of subsidiary companies created by acquisitions that were maintained by the Pigeon Hollow Spar Company to separate marketing revenue, production cost accounting for their various product lines and specialty markets. These included a wide range of custom wood working products. Products such as: ship masts and booms, flagpoles, auto bodies, theatrical stage sets, dirigible control cars (for USN Model B pressure airships), aircraft spars, tail booms (for the USN NC- flying boats), power boat hulls, rafts, surfboards etc. The Army Signal Corps had insisted on a “company name” for the 1917 contract and the Pigeon Fraser legal entity was available and it was the name Albree and his partners Roy and Fred Pigeon agreed to use for the Army contracts.
Sources: The history of the Albree - Timson- Pigeon joint ventures in early aviation history was preserved and documented with the help of the Winchester and Swampscott Historical Societies, the Albree Family genealogical files at the New England Historical Genealogical Society. The information above is based on his business records, personal files and his correspondence with museums and aviation archives across the United States. WW1 Aero, Journal of the Early Aeroplane, articles and the Massachusetts Aviation Historical Society research files also contributed photographs, local newspaper records and U.S. Army Signal Corps / Air Service contract memorandums and official correspondence on the Pigeon –Fraser and Albree monoplane flight and construction evaluations.
William. J. Deane