Archive for 2010

Aviation Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1925)

Tuesday, December 28th, ©2010 Marcus Brooks

Turner Classic Movies recently showed the silent 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. This one notably includes Oliver Hardy as the tin woodsman, and is reported to deviate even farther from the book than the familiar 1939 version. I have yet to read the book, though, so I can’t say much about that.

This 1925 edition does include airplanes. The show’s climax makes rather creative use of some neat Curtiss Jenny airshow-style footage. What I found even more interesting, however, was another plane that turns up earlier in the show.

Oz (1925) Mystery Plane (Note Single Strut)

Oz (1925) Mystery Plane (Found! See below.)

As the plot unravels, one “Ambassador Wikked” and four henchmen fly from Oz to Kansas in a biplane that I have yet to identify (oops, see below). The Oz rendition of the plane is clearly a model, but in Kansas the plane seems genuine: we see it land and taxi up to the camera. This plane strikes me as unusual in at least two ways:

First, the plane seats five in two open cockpits (two in the back, three in front). This, plus the exhaust stack arrangement, suggests that the powerplant was a 150hp Hispano-Suiza 8 (“Hisso”). From what I’ve found so far, most open-cockpit biplanes of the time either seated three (two in front, one in back), or placed the pilot alone in a back cockpit with passengers in an enclosed cabin up front. It is possible that the movie makers overloaded the plane to get the shot, but the cockpits do look pretty wide.

The second and most surprising thing I noticed about this plane was its rigging: it had a single, deep chord, interplane strut on either side. I’m still looking, but I have yet to find another record of a 1920’s biplane with fewer than two interplane struts. The single-strut arrangement is common in modern stunt biplanes like the Pitts Special, but the plane in this movie is the earliest example I’ve seen.

The mystery is rather exasperating. I haven’t come close to exhausting my library yet, but I may have to give up. It is quite possible that the plane in this movie is an undocumented “one-off,” or a unique modification of some more familiar type. There are more planes in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are found in the ATC registry!


(29 Dec 2010) I found the answer. The mystery plane is most likely a 1924 precursor of the rare International F-17-H “Sportsman,” designed by Ed Fisk and type certified ATC #155 in 1929.

Too Much Information Dept.

Shea thinks the following is too technical. If you agree, please skip it. Unfortunately, most of this information doesn’t exist elsewhere on the web, so I can’t just cop out with links.

(Earlier, 29 Dec 2010) By sheer coincidence, on the very same evening I first wrote this post, I happened across a photo in Juptner, Joseph P., U. S. Civil Aircraft (1962 Tab Aero, Vol. 1, p. 102). The pictured plane, a 1928 OX-5 International F-17 (ATC #35), looks very similar to the “Oz” mystery craft. The only apparent differences are a narrower back cockpit, an OX-5 engine with relocated radiator, and more contemporary “N” braced interplane struts.

What’s more, I hadn’t realized the significance of the plane’s octagonal cross-section fusilage. It turns out this was practically a trademark of the F-17’s designer, Edwin M. Fisk, who according to Juptner built about 17 different aircraft types on a more-or-less “backyard” basis prior to 1928. Of these, the first “International” type was built in Venice, CA as a “Catron-Fisk,” late in 1924. And here’s the clincher: Jupter says many of Fisk’s earlier designs used “I” strut interplane bracing; ahead of its time, but exactly what we see in the “Oz” plane!

The F-17 “Sportsman”, BTW, was reportedly loved by pilots who flew it, but apparently only 71 were built, including the few Wright J5- and Hisso-powered variants (ATC #s 154 and 155). Formed officially in 1927, the International company went through several moves and reorganizations. Around 1930 it quietly succumbed to the depression.

Load specs for the later “Hisso” powered F-17-H suggest the “Oz” plane could carry five relatively light people, especially with a partial fuel load, and the Hisso F-17 had the same radiator placement that we see in the movie (under the engine). I’m convinced the Hisso-powered plane in 1925’s Oz is a Fisk design, possibly the prototype for the Hisso F-17 that was certified in 1929 (as cheaper OX-5 engines grew scarce).

Much TMI: The International company rates only five narrow-column lines in Jane’s Encyclopedia of Aviation (1980, Jane’s London, p. 688). The Jane’s entry includes a 6-place F-18 “AirCoach.” This type was apparently never ATC certified, but from clues in Juptner it seems to be like the J5-powered F-17, except with an enclosed front cabin for passengers. (An erratum in Jupter Vol. 9, p. 83 says Frank Clarke’s withdrawn and virtually unheard-of Dole Derby entrant “Miss Hollydale” pictured in Vol. 2, p. 156 was a modified F-18.)

(Much later, 29 Dec 2010) Even more TMI: Another would-be Dole entrant was also a Fisk design (presumably his tenth). Hoot Gibson’s entry Miss Los Angeles was a Catron & Fisk CF-10 triplane (a.k.a., International F-10). The plane crashed in San Francisco Bay with no fatalities while flying to the race’s starting point in Oakland. Besides its fate, the CF-10 seems even more unheard-of than the F-18. Perhaps relevant: in the movie, the silhouette model seen leaving Oz might well be a triplane, but a biplane lands in Kansas.