Stinson Aircraft Company
By John A. Bluth
Edward A. Stinson, b. July 11, 1894, at Fort Payne, Alabama; m. Estelle Judy, Oct. 1, 1919; exhibition flying and instructing, 1912 to 1917; Instructor, U.S. Army and test pilot, Curtiss Co., 1917 to 1919; Commercial flying 1919 to 1925. World endurance record Mineola, N.Y., Dec. 30, 1921. President of Stinson Sales Corp., 1925; address 8226 Wilson Ave., Detroit.
p. 8] Older sister Katherine preceded Eddie as barnstorming pilot; established flight school on grounds of Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. Eddie took lessons at Wright school, Dayton. Returned to S.A. and worked on school’s planes. Graduated from Katherine’s school in 1915. Became first to master controlled recovery from tailspin. Headed 1st aero squadron and taught Army pilots at Kelly field.
9) In 1919, E.S. bought 5 used Curtiss Jennies and sold rides at Newport News. Former Lt. William A. Mara moved to bustling Detroit. Stinson meets Estelle that summer in Pittsburgh and marries her in the fall. Younger bro Jack joins them in Dayton and assists in organizing Stinson Aeroplane Co., cobbling together their own plane, the Greyhound. Moves to Birmingham, Ala.
10) Misadventure after delivering 6-pssgr Ansaldo to Mexico for Mexico City-Juarez service; student pilot from General’s staff crashes; E.S. ordered out of Mexico.
11) Flying Junkers F-13, renamed Larsen JL-6 because of anti-German sentiment, E.S. and co-pilot fly for record of 26.19:35 in freezing-cold open cockpit. (360 gallons of fuel.) Meanwhile, 26-year-old Bill Mara secures job on Detroit’s Board of Commerce, befriends Harvey Campbell, club VP and secretary. Mara becomes asst. secretary. “Together they would start a company that would build more airplanes for a longer period of time than any other Michigan airframe producer.”
12) Detroit’s “long-standing interest in aviation.” Pulitzer Trophy Air Races here in 1922. Detroit’s dominance in autos, speedboats to be supplemented by aviation.
Chapter One: The Principals Meet
13-15) After arriving in Detroit “sometime early in 1922” behind the controls of his own F-13, Stinson tests W.B. Stout’s twin-engine Navy Torpedo Bomber, witnessed by Rear Admiral W.A. Moffett.
16) Mara, as editor of Board of Commerce’s Detroiter magazine, gives coverage to Stinson’s Detroit-to-New York flight. 20) Later, he runs a 3-page profile of Stinson, which helped neutralize his “reputation of being uncommonly fond of bootleg liquid spirits.” 21) Stinson gains charter-service passengers from BOC members.
22) 1925 Air Tour with 17 entrants to 13 cities in 7 days, with Ford Field as its base. E.S. pilots “pathfinder airplane.”
Chapter Two: The Beginning of Stinson Aircraft Operations
23) Mara joins DAC in 1925. Stinson Airplane Syndicate is formed with 25 investors (20 from DAC; among them Detroit’s mayor), raising $25K to create a plane for the civilian market in 3 months’ time. Stinson was president, Mara, sec’y.
24) 70 people lined up at the Packard airfield on Feb. 21, 1926 to ride in Stinson Detroiter: air-cooled 200-hp Wright Whirlwind radial engine, heated enclosed cabin, electric start, wheel brakes (from Harley-Davidson motorcycle); luxe features included cigar lighter, ash trays, carpeting, upholstered seats and side walls. Prototype built in a downtown Detroit loft. Airframe of welded steel tubing.
26) Specs: Wingspan 33 feet 9 inches; chord 6 feet, wing area 350 sq ft, length 28 feet, empty weight 1700 lb, load 1200 lb, fuel capacity 76 gallons, speed range 45 to 125 mph; range 500 miles. Far-forward placement of landing gear helped avoid nose-over when brakes were applied.
27) Mara’s notes show prototype sold to Horace Dodge, son of Horace Dodge (and boating enthusiast).
28) “The Stinson Detroiter airplane (was) the most interesting development (I have) seen in that it is absolutely stable and almost flies itself.” – Major General Sir Sefron Brancker, director of commercial aviation for the British Empire.
29) May 1926, Stinson Aircraft Corporation formed from syndicate, capitalized at $150K by “most of the original investors.” Northville chosen for production. “Though distant, the Northville site had the advantages of a railroad, an interurban line to bring in workers, and an old, empty factory owned by one of the investors.” Open land for landing field. Other operations in Wayne and Belleville (all in NW Wayne County).
30) Revised prototype SB-1 (Stinson Bi-Plane) began production in August 1926. Two-story New England industrial-style brick factory with roof monitor measured 50×194 feet. Building had been a furniture and scale factory. “Final assembly took place after the planes, minus wings, were towed through town to the landing strip a couple of miles to the west.”
31) Production version featured 35 foot 9 inch wingspan, 2-in chord increase, 10-inch length increase. First example to Aeronautics Bureau of Dept. of Commerce; second to Dodgeson Motor Co., which was enterprise of John Duvall Dodge (son of John D).
34) Northwest Airlines formed Sept. 1, 1926, in Detroit after Col. L.H. Brittin sought air mail route between St. Paul and Chicago. Mara and he had met during the previous year’s Air Tour. Mara got DAC-Stinson investors to match Brittin’s $50K in capital and purchase three SB-1 planes at $12,500 each. Northwest became a repeat customer.
36) Nov. 1, 1926 was delivery day for Northwest’s fleet.
37) May 1927 magazine ad boasted the Stinson-Detroiter (SB-1) had features “developed as the result of the practical experience of Edward A. Stinson, who has flown more miles, trained more pilots and tested more planes than any other man.” Customer list includes Marmon Motor Car Company, Detroit News, and several businessmen including Shell Oil distributor Edward F. Schlee, who bought several examples of the plane for his Wayco Air Service, Inc., of Detroit.
38-39) The News was supporting Capt. George H. Wilkens’ attempt to find land at the North Pole and claim it for the U.S.
40) 26 SB-1s were built. Canadian Air Express and (Rickenbacker’s) Florida Airways (Atlanta-Miami air mail) were customers.
42) The SM-1 monoplane—which would still be marketed as the Stinson Detroiter—was in final tests when Lindbergh’s Ryan made the transatlantic flight on May 20-21, 1927. In June, Stinson piloted a the first production unit, purchased by Schlee, to victory in the fourth Ford Air Tour. 44) In August, Ed Schlee and another pilot flew the “Pride of Detroit” two-thirds of the way around the world. SM-1s could be purchased in any color.
Chapter Three: Building the Stinson SM-1 in Northville
47) “They now had to tackle the unknown problems of building a modest volume of airplanes in a less-than-satisfactory factory.”
49) SM-1 had wood-framed doors and windows; six-place wicker chairs with leatherette slipcovers, and carpet even on the side walls and the ceiling, appealing to the “quality/luxury market.”
50) Pontoons added $2500 to the $12,500 price. (Like many manufacturers today, more features at same price.) Wings spanning nearly 46 feet assembled on sawhorse jigs on the 50×190-foot second floor. Wings were of many pieces of spruce gusseted with plywood; ailerons were of welded steel tubing. Aluminum covered leading edge while rest of wing was covered in fabric.
51) Fabric was stitched to the four dozen ribs in each wing. Adhesive “dope” was applied to the pinking tape that went over each seam; more dope was then applied to all fabric to tighten it. Fuel tank inside each wing drained into 1.5-gallon auxiliary tank behind firewall.
52) Of the 200 workers, many traveled some distance on the interurban trains to reach the factory.
54) “It took dedicated workmen to build a quality product under these conditions.”
55) Wooden (Wright) engine crates used as playhouses by children of Northville. Stinson coveralls are collectible.
56) Stabilizer trim-control lever was an automotive handbrake.
58) 1927 advances included Clyde Cessna’s cantilever-winged plane and the Lockheed Vega with its monocoque fuselage. When an early production SM-1 was delivered to Ford Air Tour veteran Paul Braniff, he had no money. Mara, ever the innovator (circumstances behind Northwest Airlines’ founding), suggested forming a flying club with OK City backers. This was the basis for Braniff Airlines.
Chapter Four: Upward and Onward for Stinson
60) Stinson and George Halderman counteract rash of bad publicity (Brunswick, Ga.-to-Rio flight disappeared) by flying 53 hrs., 37 mins., on March 28, 1928, flying a 30-mile course over Jacksonville, Fla., and winning a $5000-prize offered by Chamber of Commerce.
62) Detroit All-American Aircraft Show of April 1928 intro’d Stinson SM-2, marketed as Stinson-Detroiter Junior, a four-passenger variant with Warner Scarab 120-hp radial engine, which was about half that of the SM-1’s Wright J-5. The idea was to match Buhl, Cessna, and Mahoney-Ryan in price. Stick-type control (instead of steering wheels) and tail wheel were features.
63) Wingspan about 6 feet less (41 feet, 6 inches), weight about 1000 pounds less (1428 lb), and length of 26 feet. Yet the Junior could cruise at 80-percent the SM-1’s speed (95 mph) and carry 75-percent of the load (2253 gross weight). The fuel tank capacity was 45 gallons, and the engine used 6.5 gallons per hour. Range: 600 miles. Glass was shatterproof, and the two front windows could be rolled down. A skylight provided extra illumination for control panel. Luggage could be stored under the seats. Interior was trimmed in leather that matched the upholstery of the seats. Price: $6750.
67) Customers for SM-1 included governments of Peru, Mexico (for air mail).
68) Sales of about 40 Juniors in 1928.
69) Sept. 8, 1928 ad in Air Transportation stresses Stinson planes’ “ruggedness, reliability, economy and dependability.”
70) Kalamazoo-based Thompson Aeronautical Corp. recommended Stinsons after use in air mail routes.
71) Sept. 1928 announcement of reorg and issuance of 140,000 new shares. Stinson shareholders were developing Detroit-Wayne Industrial Airport between Van Born and Ecorse Roads, just west of Wayne Road and alongside the Pere Marquete Railroad line. In December, Stinson announced construction of 85,000-sq-ft factory was under way on east side of the facility, and hoped-for completion date was January 1929. Interurban train service meant workers could stay with the company. Employment 88) of 300 was expected.
Chapter Five: E.L. Cord Reshapes the Company
73) SM-1 purchaser E.L. Cord
76) Cord moved in summer 1929 to acquire Stinson, looking 78) for an outlet for his Lycoming engines, acquired in 1928.
79) Cord become chairman, Stinson stays as president, Mara as VP. November 1929 announcement. Post Black Friday, Stinson’s 123,905 shares fell from high of $20 in Feb. to $16 in Nov. 19. Stockholders rec’d one share of hold company Cord Corp. (formed in June 1929) or $17, which latter represented a 17:1 return. Mara and Stinson move to large houses in Dearborn.
81) Cord dreamed of founding Century Air Lines.
82) SM-6B intro’d in 1929. Payload of 8 pssgrs or 2000 lb. 440-hp engine. 52 ft, 8 in wingspan, 34 ft., 4 in length; 5350 lb weight; cruising speed 128 mph; ceiling 18,000 ft. Price: $19,500. Production total: 11 units.
84) About 150 SM-2 series planes built.
85) SM-8A 4-pssgr, 9-cyl Lycoming radial 210-hp for $5775. Cruised at 103 mph with 125-mph top. Landing speed of 45 mph. Climb rate of 600-ft/min. Ceiling 15,000 feet. 500-mi range. Wingspan 41 ft, 8 in. Length 29 feet. Marketed as Stinson 210 H.P Four Place. Half price of competitors Ryan, Buhl, Cessna, Fairchild.
86) Some 75 SM-8A units were sold in June 1930.
87) “By the end of 1930, Stinson was outselling all other cabin airplanes in the U.S.”
90) Cord/Manning’s Corman tri-motor rec’d Stinson refinements and went into production as the SM-6000, with production of 10 or 11 units. Eight were sold to the Ludington Line (New York, Philadelphia, and Washington Airway Corporation), which made hourly flights between N.Y. and D.C.—the beginning of commuter flights. Price: $23,900. Some 42 of the SM-6000B ($25,000) were built. Cord’s Century Airlines (sic) purchased 14 for service between St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit. Others rec’d “Club” interiors for executive use. It was available with heated cabin and a lav. Cruised at 6000 ft. Night-flying was possible.
93) “All-Stinson” Model U was an improvement over the 6000, with wider wings and more power but costing $22,900. Sales totaled 40, and by the end of 1932 the price 97) had fallen to $19,500.
95) George Hearst, San Francisco Herald publisher, ordered U-Series executive model, with cabin construction the result of Stinson-Duesenberg collaboration. The passenger cabin was divided into three parts, with seating, a lunch room, and dressing room/toilet.
97) 70 percent of the commercial market was lost between 1929 and 1931, when only 1658 commercial airplanes sold nationwide. Manufacturers dropped in number from 92 to 46 in that time.
98-99) Jan. 25, 1932: Eddie poses with Model R-2 before fatal flight. Running out of gas (55-gallon load, 12.4 gallons per hour after Detroit-to-South Bend-to-Chicago) on demo flight over Lake Michigan, he tries to glide into Jackson Park golf course but strikes a flag pole and crashes. DFP story repro’d on page says “The Dean,” with more than 14,000 hours, was pinned beneath the plane and died a few hours later in Illinois Central Hospital. Bluth says Eddie and three pssgrs walked away from the wreck, but Stinson died a few hours later of chest injuries. Ray Collins, manager of the Air Tour, told the DFP that Stinson “did more for aviation than any man in the country.” Another column says in-flight refueling was Stinson’s idea.
100) Model R was reworked Junior, shortened (by about 5 ft) and deepened fuselage, retractable gear (R-3) , same powerplant. R-2 price raised by $600, to $4595; R-3 by another $500. “The Aircraft Standard of the World” line is adopted.
101) Cord’s partner Lou Manning made president of Stinson Aircraft. Company inaugurates Stinson Air Cab Service to entice businessmen to learn to fly. Special livery (113) was developed in International Orange and Bonnet Blue was developed, along with Air Cab logo.
103) Stinson Reliant developed for $3995, intro’d in May 1933. Sales of 90 that year, 1500 overall. It was a 4-pssgr plane with 215 hp and cruising speed of 115 mph.
104) Model A Tri-Motor of 1933, developed for American Airlines, brought service to such “feeder” cities as Kalamazoo. Cruising at 163 mph…
108) R.J. Reynolds Corporation purchases a custom Model A with seating for six and a sleeping berth. About 30 units built between 1934 and 1936.
Chapter Six: Stinson’s Reliant Years
109) SR-5 Reliant model in 1934 “solidified Stinson’s position and provided an airplane platform with the capability to grow and develop.”
110-111) SR-5 Reliant used 225-hp Lycoming radial engine, 2-ft shorter wingspan, and was priced $1780 more than SR. Besides introducing wing flaps (called (114) “speed arresters”) to Stinson lineup, it emphasized interior comfort and added “automobile type colors, fabrics and design to the cabin.” Advertising in March 1934 claimed the Reliant outsold all other makes of two-, four-, and six-passenger cabin planes combined in 1933. Copy claimed the Reliant “is an ‘airliner’ for the business man and commercial operator.” E.L. Cord acquires control of AVCO Corporation through “convoluted” stock swaps. His holdings in 1933 were:
- Auburn Motor Car, $18.4 million
- Cord Corp., $17.6 million
- Lycoming, $5.3 million
- Stinson, $730,000
112) Variable-pitch propeller a $775 option on new orders.
115) 1936 SR-7 Reliant “Gullwing” model added Stinson’s signature double-taper wing design from Model A Tri-Motor.
116) Advertising boasted Pure Oil Company, of Chicago, as a customer for the SR-7B Reliant. The series culminated in the SR-10K in 1941. However, “by the late 1930s, Bill Mara was sensing a changing mood in the market.”
Chapter Seven: Pre-War Boom, Post-War Boom
117) May 1939: Stinson 105 receives type approval and pre-production models go on demonstrations tours. The aircraft features air-cooled Lycoming 75-hp flat-four and sells for $2995.
118-119) “Like other Stinsons before it, the 105 was a lot of airplane for the money.” Wingspan was 7 ft less than the SR-10 Reliant, length was 8 ft less, weight dropped by 2400 lb. Price was $9500 less. Landing speed of 43 mph “made the airplane virtually spin proof.” Engine output increased to 80 hp; cruising speed of 100 mph. E. Cord had left AVCO in 1938 and Victor Emanuel led the conglomerate, which included Stinson, Lycoming, and Vultee Aircraft. Purchasers of the 105 included Indy-winner Wilbur Shaw, actor Jimmy Stewart, and Howard Hughes. Vultee briefly moved 105 production to its Nashville plant but soon returned the model to the Wayne factory.
121) Refined Model 10-A named Voyager by Mara. (No date given.) More than 760 Voyagers built by the end of civilian production in 1942.
123) Model 10 adapted for military use in summer 1941 and designated the L-5. Over 3600 were built, “making it the most widely-used utility airplane in World War II…”
124-125) Vultee’s merger with Consolidated Aircraft created Convair, with California HQ. But Stinson stayed in Wayne and created the Model 108 Voyager “for the expected postwar private airplane boom.” The Voyager continued with an airframe of welded steel tubing covered by heavy fabric as all-metal monocoque fuselages were beginning to dominate. The Voyager cruised at 125 mph and carried four pssgrs and luggage. Range: 500 mi. A Franklin engine provided standard power. Price: $5495. The 108 Voyager was the most popular Stinson ever, with 5500 examples built between 1946 and 1948, and Stinson was Convair’s only profitable division. Convair sold Stinson to Piper Airplane Company, which built out the remaining Voyagers in the plant and closed the division.
128) “On the day of his (Stinson’s) funeral, his adopted city, Detroit, gave him homage fit for a head of state.” In all, 13,598 Stinson airplanes were built.