Memories of Aviation in 1940's Bridgeport Ct.

My wife's uncle, Ray Hansen, has pursued a lifelong interest in flying and aircraft.  He is an experienced pilot, and he builds and flies scale models as well.  Ray was moved by my album of postcards of early flight to put down his memories of working in a Corsair fighter factory as a young man.

During the Second World War, in the early 1940's, the Chance Vought Corsair was manufactured in a relatively small factory in Stratford, Connecticut, across the road from Bridgeport Airport.  The people in the Bridgeport area took pride in knowing that family members or friends were helping to produce such a beautiful plane.  So, when it was suggested that the people in the area could chip in to buy one of the planes for the Navy, the people gladly reached down in their pockets to donate toward the plane. 

I have attached a picture of a certificate, similar to those that were given to people in the Bridgeport area who contributed to the purchase of a Corsair.  The plane used to cost $100,000.  I can recall two drives and I can recall looking at and feeling the certificate the family got.

During the summer of 1944, during the summer vacation from high school, I got a job in a branch of the engineering department at the plant.  The engineering building was a separate building from the production building.  I would go to work early and spend the time before work and on my lunch break out where I could get a good look at the planes as they came off the assembly line. 

The next year I was drafted and spent two years in the Army.  But as soon as I came home, even before I was officially out of the Army, I was back at Chance Vought riveting the aft sections of the F4U-4 version of the plane.  Along with many other people, I can honestly say I loved that plane.

The other picture is that of Igor Sikorsky flying an early model of one of his helicopters.  If you will look at the tail rotor you will see it rotates in a horizontal plane and not the vertical plane he later found out gave him better lateral control.  The caption on the picture says it was taken in Stratford.  I was not there when it was taken, but I am sure that the picture was taken as he test flew this model just off the beaches of Seaside Park in Bridgeport.  This model was not all that stable and he would have had to fly from his small factory at the end of Seaside Park, the whole length of Seaside Park, about one and a half miles, then over the mouth of the river and a little of Long Island Sound at the entrance to Bridgeport Harbor, and then fly over a residential area for two or three miles before he could get to Bridgeport Airport.

Let me give you a little background of what I just wrote.  When I was in high school I played shortstop for the baseball team.  High schools today have everything for the kids.  Central High School was one of three high schools in Bridgeport.  The only one that had a football field was Harding.  None had a baseball field.  So Central had to go all the way to Seaside Park for practices and games.  Seaside Park was long and narrow, about 200 to 300 yards from the water at the widest part.

So when Mr. Sikorsky would test fly his latest version, it was very easy to see him sitting out there in his business suit and fedora hat.  We all thought it was a stupid thing to be working on because over at the airport the Army had fighter planes that could fly over 300 mph.

He was smart about how he went about testing the crafts.  He would fly at a height of less than 100 feet just off the beach.  A truck drove on the road along the beach at the same speed he was flying.  If he had an emergency, he could set the copter down in the shallow water with very little chance of damage to him or the craft.  And the men in the truck would be there in an instant.

One other summer job I had while in graduate school was at Sikorsky overhauling transmissions.

No comments: