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Walter Laurence Brock

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Walter Laurence Brock (1886-1964) US aviator

Biography [1]

To all of the members of the Illinois Model Aero Club he was known as “Mister Brock”

It was estimated by the 1930 US Census Bureau that he was born in 1886 in Cook County Chicago, Illinois, that he was estimated to be 44 years old, and he lived with his seventy year old mother Lula M. Brock. No record has been found to establish that he ever married. He died in 1964 at the age of seventy-eight.

Mr. Brock was famous enough to be listed as one of the “Early Birds of Aviation”, but was left off of the listing for “Pioneers of Aviation.”.

He earned his British Aviators Certificate number 285 on August 17, 1912 which he carried with him the rest of his life. He also held a US Aviators License that he earned at Chicago’s Ashburn Airport, presumably earned before he departed for Europe in 1911.

Because of his ability to participate in Air Races in Europe, he was better known to the readers of the British Journal “FLIGHT” prepared by the “Royal Aero Club” of the United Kingdom, than he ever was in the United States.

Walter L. Brock was a member in good standing all his life in the “Illinois Aero Club,” and as an affiliate he established the “Illinois Model Aero Club” in 1915 to help teach young people about the science of aviation by designing and making aeromodels.

1911 Deperdussin-A
Mr. Brock became a skilled master aviation mechanic, and a skilled master machinist, prior to earning his pilot’s license. These skills were well known to the Illinois Aero Club, coupled with his piloting ability it is presumed that the club asked him to represent them in European air racing events after 1911. It must also be presumed that the club made arrangements in the UK for Walter L. Brock to fly aircraft that were owned by the Aircraft Constructor Claude Grahame-White. Walter L. Brock qualified for his British Aviators License flying in White’s French Deperdussin-A monoplane. Walter L. Brock learned to fly this aircraft at the Deperdussin Flying School at Hendon Aerodrome, north of London England, both owned by Claude Grahame-White.

The 1911 Deperdussin-A with a Gnome 80hp rotary engine used wing warping to control horizontal roll, and a stabilizer for climb and dive control. It was not a simple aircraft to fly, having an open cockpit with a large tiller steering wheel to control wing warp and the Stabilizer. The pilot had to keep his hands on this wheel, and his feet on the rudder petals at all times, flying something that more resembled a bird then an airplane. The Deperdussin evolved into the famous “SPAD” (Socie’te’ Pour les Appareils Deperdussin) that was flown by USAS Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker of the 94th Aero Squadron, in 1917-18.

Flying a Gnome-rotary Powered Aircraft
In the Nov. 1991 Air & Space magazine Jeffrey L. Ethell writes of his experience while flying the Nieuport-10 belonging to Cole Palen (edited by author):

With one pull on the prop by Cole Palen the (Gnome) Le Rhone(rotary) sputtered to life, spraying castor oil all over the place, including the windshield and me… there is no such thing as bringing the power back to idle. Instead there is a coupe’ or cut-out button(switch), on top of the stick. Press it down-blip it- and the entire ignition system shorts out, leaving nothing but whistling prop and cylinders. Release it and the engine roars back to life…unburned fuel and oil fill the cylinders and spray the horseshoe-shaped cowling. If you blip the engine for more than four or five seconds and then release the switch, you can start a fire…The odor was overpowering-nothing smells like hot castor oil…engine-propeller(rotation torque) are so strong that both the stick and rudder had to be pushed far right to maintain control… A rotary at full power in a spin could add such force to the decent that pilots dug smoking holes in the ground with these little machines…We turned back to Old Rhinebeck and I reduced throttle and mixture for decent. As I turned for the final approach I had to use the cut-out switch repeatedly to reduce the power-BrrrUP-Whoosh-BrrrUp-Whoosh…all the way down…covered with (castor) oil, I climbed out.

1913 Bleriot, and 1914 Morane-Saulnier-G: UK Aerial Derby
With additional flight training Walter L. Brock learned to fly Grahame-White’s Ble’riot with an 80hp Gnome-Rhone rotary engine, in which he flew in the 1913 UK Aerial Derby. Walter L. Brock may have completed the race but he did not place within the first four places.

In 1913 flying in the London-Brighton-London Air Race he flew to a second place finish. The third UK Aerial Derby was held at Hendon Aerodrome on June 16, 1914. This year Walter L. Brock was entered to fly Claude Grahame-White’s Morane-Saulnier-G monoplane, powered by a nine cylinder 80hp Gnome Lamda rotary engine. This was a sport aircraft designed and developed for racing by Frenchmen Le’on Morane and Raymond Saulnier. A type G is preserved at the Museo del Aire de Cuatrovientos in Madrid Spain. The Morane-Saulnier Type H was developed for the French Air Force in 1914. Anthony Fokker purchased a Morane-Saulnier type H to develop his machine-gun interrupter cam, and his Fokker E-3 “Eindecker” monoplane.

Walter L. Brock won the 1914 UK Aerial Derby, and became unbeatable flying in races with this combination of aircraft and engine. On June 20, 1914 Walter L. Brock won the London-Brighton-London Air Race flying again in Claude Grahame-White’s Morane-Saulnier-G with an 80hp Gnome-Lamda rotary engine.

1914 Morane-Saulnier-G: UK London-Paris-London
Walter Laurence Brock flew in his last European air race on July 11, 1914. This final race known as the “International Correspondence Schools London-Paris-London Air Race,” that would begin at Hendon Aerodrome. From Hendon to Paris BUC Aerodrome each contestant would land and wait for two hours before heading back to Hendon Aerodrome. This round-trip flight measured approximately 502 aerial miles. The pilot completing the course in the least amount of time would be judged the winner. The winner would receive L800 pounds from the sponsors plus L300 pounds from the Royal Aero Club, or a total of L1,100 pounds, about $5,500 dollars. Second and third place finishers would receive L300 pounds each. Fourteen pilots were registered to fly in the contest, and would take-off in their handicap position. These handicap positions were kept secret by the race officials until take-off on the day of the race:

  • 1. Lord Carbery, UK, Bristal biplane 80hp.
  • 2. Roland Garros, France, Morane-Saulnier monoplane, 80hp Gnome.
  • 3. M. Hirth, France, Morane-Saulnier monoplane, 80hp Gnome.
  • 4. D. Daucourt, France, Clement-Bayard monoplane, 80hp.
  • 5. M.A. Parmelin, Switzerland, Deperdussin monoplane, 80hp.
  • 6. Walter Laurence Brock, USA, Morane-Saulnier-G monoplane, 80hp Gnome.
  • 7. Louis Noel, France, Morane-Saulnier monoplane, 80hp Gnome.
  • 8. R. H. Carr, UK, Morane-Saulnier monoplane, 80hp Gnome.
  • 9. M. Mallard, France, Neuport monoplane, 100hp.
  • 10. R. R. Skene, UK, Martinsyde monoplane, 120hp.
  • 11. M. Lenoir, France, Ponnier monoplane, 80hp.
  • 12. E. Renaux, France, M. Farman biplane, 70hp.
  • 13. P. Verrier, France, M. Farman biplane, 70hp.
  • 14. T.E. Hearn, UK, Bleriot monoplane, 80hp, Gnome.

On the morning of July 11, 1914, at 6:30 AM Lord Carbery revved-up his Bristol engine, and took off for Paris, followed in 10 minute intervals by the remainder of the contestants until 8:50 AM, when they would all be airborne. The only American in the race, Walter Laurence Brock, seeded sixth, took-off at 7:30 AM. It was raining and there was something of a headwind. The flying course had been laid out to avoid the populated areas of London. Navigation would be by dead reckoning from Hendon Aerodrome to Paris BUC and back to Hendon Aerodrome. Flying towards the south-west the contestants would head for Harrow, then towards Epsom, still on a southerly tack they would head for Folkestone on the edge of the English Channel. From Folkestone the group would head out, still on a southerly course over the Channel, towards Boulogne France. From Boulogne they would fly south and east towards Paris, to land at BUC Aerodrome for two hours. Each aircraft was recorded as it landed at BUC Aerodrome, and the pilot was informed of his take-off time two hours hence.

Landing at Hendon Aerodrome from Paris
At approximately 5:04 PM those waiting at Hendon Aerodrome quickly tallied the time of the aircraft above them, the number on the underside of the wings of the aircraft was number 6. It was the American, Walter Laurence Brock! He had flown his Morane-Saulnier-G monoplane to a record total finish time of seven hours, three minutes, and six seconds! The Gnome-Lamda Rhone rotary engine had performed faultlessly, never missing a stroke in 502 miles, a tribute to the masterful mechanical care that Mr. Brock had lavished upon it. Later Rowland Garros flying another Morane–Saulnier-G monoplane landed at Hendon to place second. Third place was claimed the following day by Eugene Renaux flying a Farman biplane. Out of the 14 entries there were no others who finished the race course.

Within a month Great Britain, France and Germany would be at World War. The “International Correspondence Schools London-Paris-London Air Race” would soon be forgotten history, lost in the sea of blood and death in the “War to End All Wars,” that began when Germany declared war on Russia on Aug. 1, 1914. On Aug. 4, 1914 England declared war on Germany.

1914 Return to the USA
Walter Laurence Brock was born in 1886 according to the 1930 Federal Census he was estimated then to be forty-four years old. There is no military record of him enlisting in the Flying Services, when America went to war against Germany in 1917, he would have been thirty-one years old. Perhaps he was too old to fly in the US Air Services. We do know that Mr. Brock had won in excess of $50,000 dollars in prize money by 1914. Before Britain had entered the war against Germany, Claude Grahame-White and Walter Laurence Brock had the Morane-Saulnier-G boxed up and ready for shipment to the USA. They anticipated the confiscation order of all private aircraft by the British Air Ministry after declaring war against Germany. The crates containing the Morane-Saulnier-G were labeled “Brock Airplane.” This led some historians to believe that Mr. Brock had made his own aircraft in Chicago. Some mythical stories have it that Mr. Brock had even machined his own engine. Mr. Brock undoubtedly had helped to prepare the Morane-Saulnier-G in Claude Grahame-White’s Aircraft factory, therefore he must have also helped to tune, modify and prepare the temperamental Gnome rotary engine in his aircraft. The Gnome rotary engine was well known for it’s in piston pop-up intake valve allowing fuel to be injected into the cylinder head from the crankcase on the down-stroke. Repairs to the valves of these engines was required after only ten hours of flight time. This required that all of the cylinder heads had to first be completely disassembled to access the in-piston pop-up intake valve. The good thing about the Gnome rotary was that it was air cooled, and therefore did not require a heavy radiator and coolant. The problematic side evolved about its spring-less pop-up intake valve that required constant adjustments and inspection. Also there was the need to perfectly balance the rotary engine. Added this those problems was the condition that the engine had to run at full throttle once it was started, and stayed at full throttle until it was shut-down. Besides these, the torque resulting from the rotating engine and propeller made flying difficult, requiring constant right stick to counter left torque. Grahame-White’s Gnome-Rhone-Lambda rotary engine may have been equipped with the advanced Monosupape dual push rod activated in-head valve design, requiring far less maintenance and disassembly.

1915 P-KAC Biplane
After he arrived back at Chicago’s Ashburn Airport, we do know that Mr. Brock went to work for the Partridge-Keller Aeroplane Company (P-KAC) in 1915. His first commission appears to be modifications to an existing Partridge-Keller biplane for Miss Katherine Stinson, an air show stunt pilot. Mr. Brock mounted a Gnome-Rhone-Lamda 80hp rotary engine onto this biplane. One story has it that this engine had come out of the fatally crashed aircraft belonging to Lincoln Beachy. Conjecture may also have it that this engine came out of Mr. Brock’s Morane-Saulnier-G, regardless, Miss Stinson flew stunt exhibitions in Mr. Brock’s beautifully prepared P-KAC biplane in air shows throughout North America, and the Orient. Miss Stinson later decided to modify her P-KAC biplane making numerous changes including replacement of the nine cylinder Gnome 80hp rotary engine, with an 80hp six cylinder Smith radial engine. No mention has been made as to the whereabouts of the historical Gnome-Rhone-Lamda 80hp rotary engine that Mr. Brock installed into Miss Stinson’s biplane in 1915.

At some time after 1915 the aircraft (less engine) that Walter L. Brock won the July 11, 1914 “International Correspondence Schools London-Paris-London Air Race” was donated to the “The Museum of Science and Industries” in Chicago, Illinois. After the Museum remodeled its aircraft display area, Mr. Brock’s 1914 Morane-Saulnier-G became surplus and was returned to Dorothy Shannon of Walter L. Brock’s family. Mr. Weeks, owner of the “Fantasy of Flight Museum” in Polk City, Florida purchased the Brock Morane-Saulnier-G, without an engine from members of the Brock family. The Museum has installed a 50hp Gnome rotary engine into the aircraft, and has made plans to prepare it for flight in the future.

1917 to 1964
From 1917 onward little information about Walter Laurence Brock exists outside of some questionable reminiscence that have been found to be unreliable. One myth had it that Walter L. Brock had been drafted into the aircraft industry during WWII by the Federal Government to help to solve the mysteries of the operation of the B-29 pneumatic bomb bay doors. This suggests that the Boeing Aircraft Company had apparently run low on brain power in its engineering departments, and needed some expert help to resolve this pesky problem. There appears to be no biographical or autobiography concerning him. Mr. Brock was not one to blow his own horn.

Although there was more than enough history to fill a book, historians overlooked Mr. Brock’ contributions to aviation while he lived; for instance, by not including him as a “Pioneer of Aviation.” In his last years he acted as a mentor for the Illinois Model Aero Club.

Judging from the awe associated with the mention of his name, Walter Laurence Brock more than lived up to the mythology, and the truth that accompanied him all the seventy-eight years of his extraordinary life, he was truly a “Pioneer of Aviation.”

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Charles Dennis Rushing-IMAC