Fred Wiseman, a successful automobile racing driver from Santa Rosa, California, began construction of an airplane in October 1909 in San Francisco. It was based on elements of Wright, Curtiss, and Farman designs, three of the most successful manufacturers of the day. Successful test flights were made in the spring of 1910, making it the first airplane built in California to fly.
In May 1910, as the first Wiseman airplane was being tested, construction started on a second aircraft. Wiseman made all his significant exhibition flights using this airplane, including the first air mail flight officially sanctioned by a U.S. post office, from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California, in February 1911.
In early 1912, the second Wiseman airplane was acquired by Weldon B. Cooke, a pilot who had been making a name for himself in recent months flying another airplane in the NASM collection, the Maupin-Lanteri Black Diamond. The second Wiseman airplane is now designated by NASM as the "Wiseman-Cooke aircraft" because both individuals were intimately associated with its history.
Gift of Port of Oakland-Board of Port Commissioners, Oakland, California.
Country of Origin: United States of America
Pusher biplane with one 60-horsepower Hall-Scott A-2 engine. Very similar in layout to the Curtiss Model D Pusher of the same time period. Natural finish overall.
In 1909, Fred Wiseman, a successful automobile racing driver from Santa Rosa, California, turned his interest to aviation. He assembled a small group of fellow mechanics and sponsors in Santa Rosa to build an aircraft. Wiseman and a fellow racing car driver, M.W. Peters, pooled their recent prize money and convinced a local butcher named Ben Noonan to put up the remainder of the required funds. The group also included Don Prentiss as secretary of the organization and Julian Pierre, an additional mechanic.
Construction began on the Wiseman airplane in October 1909 in San Francisco. The airframe was based on elements of Wright, Curtiss, and Farman designs, three of the most successful manufacturers of the day. It was a biplane with forward and rear elevators, and it had ailerons on both the upper and the lower wings. The airplane was well made and weighed 305 kg (670 lb). It was originally fitted with an engine reworked by Wiseman to generate 50 horsepower. Successful test flights were made in the spring of 1910, making this airplane the first one built in California to fly. By the end of July, several public exhibition flights of limited success were made, but the airplane was underpowered. The original engine was replaced by a 60-horsepower Hall-Scott V-8, which improved the flight performance somewhat.
In May 1910, as the first Wiseman airplane began to be tested and exhibited, the group started construction of a second aircraft. Wiseman would make all his significant exhibition flights using this airplane. It was modified extensively throughout its operational life and is almost certainly the origin of the Wiseman airplane that survives today in the NASM collection.
In November 1910, both Wiseman airplanes were shipped to Reno, Nevada. The first airplane was purportedly brought for sale, but it is unclear if it was sold at that time. Attempts to fly the second airplane were only marginally successful, but they were the first of any heavier-than-air craft in Nevada. With modifications to it, Wiseman fared much better with the second airplane the following year when he competed with it in a meet in San Francisco in January 1911. He took second place overall in the novice class. He won the distance event, made the longest sustained flight (just over 6 minutes), and accumulated the most total time in the air, 49 minutes 43 seconds. The performance gave Wiseman national recognition.
Riding his recently gained acclaim, Wiseman made the most significant flight of his career in February 1911. Citizens of his hometown of Santa Rosa, California, proposed that he should return home and bring his airplane back by air. He agreed. In addition to fifty copies of the Press Democrat, Santa Rosa's local newspaper, Wiseman carried three letters written in the city of his departure, Petaluma, California. One was penned by the local postmaster, J.E. Olmsted, marking the significance of the event. It read:
February 17, 1911
Santa Rosa, Cal.
Dear Sir and Friend:
Petaluma sends, via air route, congratulations and felicitations upon the successful mastery of the air by a Sonoma county boy in an airplane conceived by Sonoma county brains and erected by Sonoma county workmen.
Speed the day when the United States mail between our sister cities, of which this letter is the pioneer, may all leave by the air route with speed and safety.
Wiseman's flight was delayed for several days because of stormy weather and wet ground, but on February 17, at 12:30 p.m., he departed from the racetrack at Kenilworth Park in Petaluma and headed for Santa Rosa. About 7 km (4.5 mi) out he developed magneto trouble, and the airplane was forced down in a field, barely missing a windmill. When the wheels touched the ground they dug deep into the mud left by the earlier rains. The airplane was brought to an abrupt halt, breaking a landing skid. With good foresight, Wiseman had a chase car following him and the ground crew removed the airplane from the mud, repaired the engine problems, and readied the machine for takeoff. By the time they were ready, stiff winds came up and the team decided to delay completion of the fight until the next day.
With the ground still soft the following morning, a canvas cover that was used to protect the airplane from dampness was spread out on the ground to form a makeshift runway. By 9:05 a.m. Wiseman was in the air once again. He traveled the remaining 22.4 km (14 mi) to his destination in 12 minutes at an average speed of 70 mph. While en route, Wiseman "delivered" the newspapers from the air. About one mile from Santa Rosa, he was forced down when a loose wire caught in his propeller, stopping the engine and damaging it. Because he had landed so close to his final destination, the people of Santa Rosa nonetheless celebrated his arrival in town.
The historical significance of the flight relates to Wiseman's mail delivery. Messages had been carried by air previously by pigeons, balloons, and other aircraft, but Wiseman made the first airplane-carried mail flight officially sanctioned by any U.S. post office and made available to the public. The first air mail flight sanctioned by the U.S. Post Office in Washington, D.C., took place on September 23, 1911, when Earle Ovington carried mail from Garden City, Long Island, to Mineola; and the first continuously scheduled U.S. air mail service began on May 15, 1918, with routes between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Although Wiseman's flight was sanctioned only by a local post office, it did indeed precede Ovington's.
Wiseman continued to make exhibition flights with the second airplane during the rest of 1911. In early 1912 it was acquired by Weldon B. Cooke, a pilot who had been making a name for himself in recent months flying another airplane in the NASM collection, the Maupin-Lanteri Black Diamond (catalog number A19490036000). Cooke entered the Wiseman airplane in an air meet in Oakland, California, February 17-24, 1912. The engine suffered a broken crankshaft during the competition and Cooke won no major prizes. He later installed a new six-cylinder Roberts engine and made further modifications to the airframe.
Cooke continued flying until his death in crash (not in the Wiseman airplane) in Pueblo, Colorado, on September 16, 1914. His brother, Robert L. Cooke, took possession of the Wiseman aircraft and kept it in storage at his home in Oakland until 1933 when he lent it the Oakland Port of Authority for display at the Oakland Airport. The Maupin-Lanteri Black Diamond was also turned over to the Oakland Airport for public display at this time.
Paul Garber, curator of the then National Air Museum, became aware of both the Black Diamond and the Wiseman airplanes in 1947 and approached the Oakland airport officials about acquiring them for the national aeronautical collection. Plans were then in motion to expand the National Air Museum's facilities and staff. In a letter dated April 9, 1948, Garber reported to the Oakland airport authorities on the progress that had been made on the expansion of the NAM and inquired if the heirs of the builders of the aircraft would consent to turning them over to the Smithsonian Institution. The families enthusiastically agreed. On May 31, 1948, at a ceremony at Oakland airport commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Charles Kingsford-Smith's flight to Australia in the Southern Cross, the Black Diamond and Wiseman aircraft were transferred to the National Air Museum. Paul Garber, representing the Smithsonian, was on hand to accept the donation personally. Both aircraft were immediately transported to Washington, D.C., and placed in storage.
The second Wiseman airplane is now designated by NASM as the "Wiseman-Cooke aircraft" because both individuals were intimately associated with its history. The Wiseman-Cooke was restored by NASM in 1983-1985 and is currently on display in the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum. The Black Diamond was restored for NASM by the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California, in 1997-1999, and is currently on loan to that museum.