Warren Pietsch's Monocoupe 110
Last September's Monocoupe Reunion at the Creve Coeur Airport near St. Louis was significant in that several 'Coupes were on display that few attendees had ever seen before. One of them was the yellow with black trim 1932 Monocoupe 110 you see pictured here. Owned by Warren Pietsch of Minot, ND, it has been flying since the completion of its first and only restoration in 1990, but in deference to its age and Warren's busy work schedule, had never been far from home base.
Monocoupe 110 NC114V, Serial Number 6-W-23, was rolled out of the Monocoupe Corporation factory door at St. Louis on April 11, 1932. Obviously a special order by its purchaser, Charles C. Rumsey of Port Washington, Long Island, NY, it came equipped with what existing paperwork refers to as a "racing landing gear", with the notation that it weighed 14 pounds less than the standard gear. This was the cleaner F model shock cord gear, rather than the draggy tripod oleo gear that began as standard on the Monocoupe 90s and 110s.
114V also came equipped with a Townend ring cowl, apparently with the same sort of partial after-skirt overlapping each side of the boot cowl that Johnny Livingston had on his famed racer, NC501W. Another notation in the paperwork states that the airplane's ". . . lift strut streamlines (were) 10 inches shorter than standard." There seems to be no question that the airplane was purposely being kept light for racing because it was ordered with a tail skid (rather than a tailwheel) and no starter . . . items a person with owner Rumsey's exclusive Long Island address could certainly afford, even in the depths of the Great Depression. It did, for example, have a custom, extra cost, paint job, which current owner, Warren Pietsch, has reproduced using old photographs that, fortunately, have survived to show the 'Coupe in its original configuration.
Charles Rumsey owned NC114V for just over one year, then sold it on May 26, 1933 to Paul S. Bauer of Lynn, Massachusetts . . . with just over 25 hours recorded in the airplane's paperwork. Bauer, in turn, would also sell the Monocoupe after approximately one year (on May 17, 1934), but would have increased its logged flying time to about 160 hours. The new (third) owner was Ignatius Sargent of Harvard, MA. Sargent would fly the 'Coupe just over 200 hours before selling it, on December 21, 1935, to Arthur C. Lohman of Rochester, NY.
114V's subsequent chain of owners were, by date of purchase, as follows:
- March 17, 1937- Maynard Duquette, Utica, NY.
October 31, 1939- John A. Piersma, Oriskany, NY, who installed a pair of Federal S-C2 skis for winter flying.
May 11, 1940- Phillip L. Coupland, Newark, NJ. Coupland purchased 114V for $1,250, and flew it to Florida in December. On 12-30-40, he departed from New Smyrna Beach and upon landing at Daytona Beach, had the wheels bog down in the sand and flip the airplane over on its back. Fortunately, damage was relatively minor, with repairs limited to the replacement of the skylight and one prop blade, plus repair of the "top station of the rudder."
There is some confusion regarding the eighth owner of 114V. One bill of sale exists, dated January 9, 1941, showing the transfer of ownership from Phillip Coupland to the Florida Aeronautical and Supply of Orlando, but there is also a second one, dated June 13, 1941, showing a transfer of ownership from the General Discount Corporation of Atlanta to Florida Aeronautical and Supply. The likelihood is that owner Coupland had the 'Coupe financed through the General Discount Corporation and a second pre-dated bill of sale was necessary for Florida Aeronautical and Supply to get a clear title.
In any event, Florida Aeronautical and Supply sold the 'Coupe to Lt. Lester G. Browne on November 2, 1943 - for $739.20. Here, again, only a few intriguing clues are available in existing paperwork to detail the ninth change of ownership of NC114V. Lester Browne was apparently a Navy lieutenant - he listed Long Beach, CA as his address on the bill of sale, which was a major Navy base during World War II. He was actually from Philadelphia, however, and early in the war, on March 31, 1942, had taken the precaution of assigning the power of attorney over his estate, including NC114V, to his lawyer, Walter Hannum.
There is nothing in the paperwork currently on file with the FAA in Oklahoma City to indicate the fate of Lt. Browne during World War II . . . but his Monocoupe would not be sold again for 16 years, and when it was, on November 3, 1959, the name on the bill of sale was that of attorney Walter Hannum.
The tenth owner of 114V was James T. Purnell of West Chester, PA, and judging by the fact that no records of restoration work are on file, it is likely that the 'Coupe was a non-airworthy project at this point in its existence. It was 27 years old, and with no record of recover, it is highly improbable that its original cotton or linen and nitrate dope cover job was still capable of passing a punch test. There are no records of any restoration work by James Purnell during his ten year ownership of NC114V, nor any by the next owner, John T. Madigan of Gap, PA, who purchased the airplane on October 31, 1969. We do know the status of the airplane at the time of its purchase by its 12th owner, Charlie Vogelsong of Dillsburg, PA, however. A widely known homebuilder and probably the largest purveyor of aircraft quality steel tubing anywhere, Charlie listed 114V as "disassembled and stored" in affidavits to help settle the estate of John T. Madigan, who died the year after selling the airplane to him. The 'Coupe's airworthiness certificate was cancelled during these settlement procedures and, as a result, the N number, N114V, was reassigned by the FAA to a Twin Beech. (In January of 1991, Warren Pietsch was able to get the number back from Beech 18 owners Roger and Linda Brooks.)
On December 29, 1979, Charlie Vogelsong sold the now legally "deceased" Monocoupe to still another well-known sport aviation personage, Hale Wallace, then of Charlotte, NC. Hale would later purchase the Steen Skybolt rights and business and open shop at the airport at Marion, NC, but prior to those moves, he began restoring 114V. He had the fuselage completed and covered, in fact, when he sold the project to Warren Pietsch on November 27, 1985.
According to Warren, "I had always wanted a Monocoupe. I built models of them when I was a kid and had read about them, but, oddly enough, I had never actually seen one. Hale advertised 114V in Trade-A-Plane and I saw my chance, but I really had to scrounge around to raise the money to buy it. My wife and I had just married, so my disposable assets consisted mainly of a Pitts S1T project I was building and a 1941 Rearwin Skyranger. I sold the airplanes, borrowed some money from my mom and bought this thing from Hale. He delivered it to Minot in a Ryder truck and I'll never forget standing beside it for the first time in the back of the truck. It was sitting on its axles and the fuselage didn't seem to be more than two or three feet high. I had seen pictures of Monocoupes and the guys standing by them always came up to about the prop hub. I remember wondering for a moment whether this was a real Monocoupe or a scaled-down replica.
"Hale had already rebuilt the fuselage and had covered it with Grade A cotton and painted it. When I later learned that the airplane's original color was lemon yellow with black trim, I repainted the fuselage, but the hard work had already been done by Hale. The wood wing was long gone and all I got was the metal fittings - in a gallon can of used oil. A complete new wing, including ailerons had to be built and, fortunately, I had the help of Ed Grenvik, who was a really good wood worker. He has passed on now, but he had helped my dad build wings for his Starduster and was always interested in doing projects like this. We had a lot of fun building the one-piece wing. I'd go up to his house in the wintertime and we'd spend the day out in his shop routing out spars, building ribs and stuff. It was a neat project. I covered the wing with Ceconite and used Randolph dope. That's what I'm used to working with."
Before selling the project, Hale Wallace had farmed the engine out to John Barker in the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome area in New York to overhaul the Warner engine - which was still the original Serial Number 957 that came with the airplane in 1932.
"After he finished it, John brought the engine to my place in North Dakota on his way to the west coast to pick up a Travel Air project. We hung it on the airplane and when he stopped on his way back through, we ran the engine for the first time.
"I'm running a Curtiss Reid propeller on the airplane now, but the original was a Hamilton Standard ground adjustable that I got with the project. I sent it in to Maxwells for overhaul and Frank, one of the repairmen down there, called and wanted to know where we got the prop. He said he had never seen one like it - one he believed had never been touched with a file because the blades measured full length and width. He didn't even want to ship it back because he was worried about it getting hurt. I ran it just enough to take some pictures of the plane in the air, but I haven't run it since because I don't want to put a nick in it. It's a really pretty prop and it performs even better than the Curtiss Reid I have on the airplane now."
It took about four and a half years of part time effort to complete the restoration of NC114V and Warren flew it for the first time in 1990. As previously noted, he had never flown the 'Coupe any distance from Minot until last September when he took vacation time to attend the Monocoupe Reunion at Creve Coeur. He was accompanied on the flight by two other airplanes: his own Luscombe 8E flown by his friend Jay Blessum and the prototype Monocoupe 90A, X11735, owned and flown by Ted Dilse of Scranton, ND. The distance was 850 miles and they made it in seven hours and 25 minutes of flying time. The trip came very close to being cancelled just hours before the scheduled start.
"The evening before, we discovered a broken rocker box. We replaced it and looked at the rest of them very closely before starting out the next morning. It's an old engine, an open valve Warner, so you have to keep after it. It ran fine coming down here and I really enjoyed finally getting to go somewhere in the airplane."
Aviation has been a part of Warren's life for as long as he can remember. His father, Alfred Pietsch, founded Pietsch Flying Service on the Minot, ND International Airport in 1948 and it is still in operation today. Warren grew up in the business and runs it today - when he's not off flying as a Lockheed 1011 or Boeing 727 captain for American Trans Air. He initially learned to fly in a Cub, but soloed on his 16th birthday in a Grumman American Trainer, which Pietsch Flying Service was selling and using for instruction at the time. He bought his Rearwin Skyranger that year and flew it and a Taylorcraft quite a bit as he was building time for his Private and Commercial tickets. The flying service was also a Mooney dealer and Warren's father retained a new 1968 model as a company plane.
"My two brothers and I kinda cut our teeth in the charter business with that airplane. It has 14,000 hours on it and we still keep it around for the shop to use."
Warren, his father, and two brothers, Gary and Kent, have all been in the airshow business, in addition to operating a fixed base operation. Alfred Pietsch flew airshows in the upper midwest for years in a Starduster he built, and his three sons would eventually get involved also. Warren flies a clipped wing Taylorcraft and a Laser-type monoplane in air shows today. His older brother, Gary, was killed in 1974, but Kent is still active in airshow work and the restoration of antique aircraft.
Vintage aircraft restoration is, in fact, a part of the Pietsch Flying Service business today. A Grumman TBF Avenger and L-29 Delphin jet trainer were completed last year and were for sale when we talked to Warren at Creve Coeur last September.
"My brother, Kent, and I own a number of airplanes and we lined them up in front of the shop last summer for a picture. There were 20 in all. 14 were antiques and two were warbirds. A pretty neat mix. I've got the Monocoupe; a Cessna 195 I bought wrecked and rebuilt; a PA-11; a Luscombe 8E; my dad's Starduster, which we're going to hang in our museum on the airport at Minot; a Mooney Mark 22, the presssurized Mooney; my dad's Champ, a 7CCM 90 horse like the one he started the business with; and a Waco QCF-2 project that I'm doing. Kent has an Interstate Cadet he flies in airshows, a Starduster Too he built, a couple of Champs and a Mooney. He's rebuilding a Waco ASO and a DSO right now. I ferried a Staggerwing down from Alberta last Summer and it will be rebuilt in our shop and available for sale."
Aviation has always played an important role in the life of the Dakotas. It's a long way to anywhere across those vast reaches of high plains and the airplane is the fastest way to get there. The Pietsches intend to recall and honor that tradition, in which they have played such a significant role, with an aviation museum located on the Minot airport - and obviously won't have any trouble stocking it with significant airplanes.
Quickly, now! Which model of the Monocoupe was the most successful in air racing?
Well, of course, the legendary Clipwing Monocoupe, the 110 Special . . . right?
The Clipwing certainly would have been, had the stock (certified) plane classes been continued at the famed National Air Races, but they were discontinued after 1932 in favor of pure racing aircraft. For the remainder of the 1930s the two or three Clipwings that were raced regularly were relegated to smaller regional and local events. Then, conversely, after Rudy Kling and Frank Haines were killed as an apparent result of high speed stalls rounding the scatter pylon in the main event of the December 1937 Miami Air Maneuvers, pure racers were banned there in favor of certified aircraft. In the final pre-World War II races at Miami the Clipwing Monocoupe cleaned house, showing the potential it would have had throughout the middle '30s had the stock classes been retained at the huge national events at Cleveland and Los Angeles. As events transpired, the Clipwing Monocoupe really achieved its greatest claim to fame as an aerobatic/air show plane. In 1948 Woody Edmundson would win the world's aerobatic championship in his Clipwing "Little Butch", which would really be the apogee of achievement for the little 110 Special.
O.K., if not the Clipwing, which Monocoupe was the most successful as an air racer? The answer, overwhelmingly, was the stock, long wing Model 110 . . . and this is the story.
Performance became a major selling point for Monocoupe virtually from the beginning of the line in 1927. The factory began racing its little 55 h.p., cross-axle Model 70s in 1928 and always tried to stay ahead of the competition in the speed department. The Model 70 evolved into the Model 113, several examples of which had their 60 h.p. Velie engines replaced by 110 h.p. Warners - specifically for air racing. Those racers led to the certified 110 Warner powered Monosport 1 and 100 Kinner Monosport 2 of 1929, and their success, in turn, led directly to the 110/125 Warner powered Model 110, which was certified on June 16, 1930. Although only about 50 Model 110s would be built, they cut an amazingly wide swath at the National Air Races in 1930 and 1931, not only winning their 450 cu. in. class, but also the 510, 650, 800 and 1,200 cu. in. classes - against aircraft with much larger engines!
The great Johnny Livingston . . . and, yes, he was the inspiration for Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" . . . was the most spectacular of the Model 110 race pilots and 1931 was the year of his greatest success. Including the National Air Races at Cleveland, he entered 65 races at venues around the country that year, won 41 of them, came in second 19 times, third four times, and fifth a single time. In The Golden Age of Air Racing, Pappy Weaver noted that Livingston's success prompted complaints that his engine was modified and thus should not be allowed in the Type Certificated classes, but its manufacturer, the Warner Aircraft Corporation of Detroit, put up $10,000 as a bet that no one could find an illegal part in the engine. (Apparently, there were no takers.) Johnny's greatest performance was at the National Air Races at Cleveland in 1931 where he won the following events in NC501W:
- Men's 510 cu. in. Free For All (including pure, uncertified racers)- 140.77 mph
- Men's 510 cu. in. certified (ATC) aircraft- 148.791 mph
- Men's 650 cu. in. Free For All- 139.507 mph
- Men's 650 cu. in. ATC- 132.555 mph
- Men's 800 cu. in. ATC- 145.221 mph
- Men's 1,200 cu. in. ATC- 144.327 mph
In addition, he came in second in the following events:
Men's 800 cu. in. Free For All- 149.466 mph. Johnny lost this race to Ray Moore in a much faster pure racer, a Menasco powered Keith Rider.
Men's 1,000 cu. in. ATC- 135.240 mph. This event was won by Jim Haizlip in a Laird powered by a P&W Wasp Jr.- but only by two mph faster than Livingston.
Johnny even had the brass to enter his Monocoupe in the 1,000 cu. in. Free For All that included the Gee Bee Z, the Wedell-Williams #44, etc., and finished fifth! That year Jimmy Doolittle would win the Bendix Trophy in the Laird Super Solution, and Lowell Bayles the Thompson in the Gee Bee Z to garner most of the national headlines, but no one came even close to Livingston's winning six out of the nine races he started. Including some dead stick landing contests he won, Johnny's total winnings at the 1931 National Air Races were $6,280, which, with inflation factored in, is around a quarter of a million dollars in today's coin of the realm. Quite a haul at a time when a new Ford or Chevrolet could be bought for about $500!
To make matters worse for the competition, Johnny Livingston's performance was just the sharp point of the spear. In many of the races he won, other 110s were second and third. And worse yet, the Monocoupe sweep in 1931 was just a continuation of their performance during the National Air Races the previous year when the Model 90s and 110s had won 11 of the 15 events in which they were entered. Monocoupe test pilot Vern Roberts had been nearly as dominant in the Model 110 as Johnny Livingston would be in 1931.
In 1932 the National Air Races switched to a new race format that may have been influenced at least in part by the domination of the stock classes by Monocoupes. Rather than cubic inch displacement classes, the racers were grouped according to qualifying speeds and in some events, a handicap formula. Monocoupes still did well, but no one type was able to rule the roost as they had for the two previous years. Then, as previously noted, the stock racers were eliminated altogether in 1933 and subsequent years.
It's hour upon the national stage was brief, but the Model 110 was the brightest star in the stock plane firmament in 1930 and 1931 . . . and there would never again be a comparable racing venue for certified lightplanes.
What happened to Johnny Livingston's 501W? A truly great empirical drag reduction expert, he modified his 110 so much for the 1932 season that he had to give up its standard category license and move into the experimental-air racing (NR) category. This was the result of having the factory install a wing reduced in span from the normal 32 feet to 23 feet and 2.5 inches. This was the first Clipwing Monocoupe. It was very fast, but had to run against pure racers that were faster still, so Johnny's only win at the 1932 National Air Races was in a cross country race. His best finish in a pylon race was third place.
Johnny sold NR501W to Jack Wright in April of 1933 and had Clyde and Eldon Cessna build him a pure racer, the CR-3A . . . but that's another story. Jack Wright continued to modify 501W and, with the help of the Monocoupe factory, subsequently had the airplane returned to the Standard category under the Group 2 approval 2-452 (7-1-33). All the subsequent six factory Clipwings would be built under that approval.
Jack Wright and long distance flyer John Polando would enter the famed England-to-Australia MacRobertson Race in 1934, but dropped out in India after incurring damage during a landing.
NC501W was sold to Ruth Barron early in 1935 and she was killed in the crash of the racer the following July 3, 1935 while on landing approach to the Omaha airport. Apparently, a fire broke out in the cabin. The Clipwing was totally destroyed in the crash, but as we know so well today, as long as the paperwork still exists a new airframe can always be built up from it. California's Jim Heim began that process of resurrection years ago, passed it on to Al Allin of Michigan and Texas, and, today, the work on 501W is being completed by Jim White of Chandler, Arizona.
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