The Museum's eye-catching Verville Sportsman AT open-cockpit biplane is the sole survivor of the ten aircraft of the type built in the early 1930s. It was the last of the production airplane designs to come from the fertile mind of the inventive genius Albert Victor Verville, whose lifetime service in many government aviation roles earned him the citation "Elder Statesman of Aviation." Assessing the airplane market of the late 1920s, Verville saw the need for a rugged training biplane for both military and civilian markets, as well as for affluent sportsmen pilots. Unfortunately, like so many airplanes of the depression era, its high price forced the end of production before the aircraft could establish a market foothold.
In 1958, Alfred Verville initiated a search for the Sportsman aircraft in his desire to see it donated to the Smithsonian's National Air Museum. After locating one from William Champlin, Jr., president of Skyhaven Inc. in Rochester, New Hampshire, Champlin responded favorably to Verville's request and it arrived at the Museum in 1963.
The Museum's eye-catching Verville Sportsman AT open-cockpit biplane is the sole survivor of the ten aircraft of that type built in the early 1930s. It was the last of the production airplane designs to come from the fertile mind of the inventive genius Alfred Victor Verville.
The Sportsman AT was derived from a long line of Verville designs that started with his first airplane while working for Glenn Curtiss in 1915. He then became Chief of Design in the U.S. Air Service Engineering Division at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, and made many contributions to aircraft design, including the welded steel tube fuselage. In the early 1920s, his Verville-Packard and Verville-Sperry racing airplanes each won the coveted Pulitzer Race. After leaving the Air Service in 1925 he teamed with Lawrence Buhl to form the Buhl-Verville Aircraft Company of Detroit, Michigan and the Buhl-Verville J-4 Airster, a commercially oriented open-cockpit biplane that was granted the first Approved Type Certificate (ATC No. 1) to be issued for a civilian airplane by the newly formed Bureau of Air Commerce. Verville then sold his share of Buhl-Verville and formed the Verville Aircraft Company in 1928 to manufacture the Verville Air Coach, a high-wing cabin monoplane. The sleek lines of this attractive four-place cabin airplane had considerable influence on the design of the Sportsman AT airplane. Unfortunately, as with many aircraft companies at that time, the Depression of the early 1930s forced the closure of Verville's factory in 1932 after having built only 10 Sportsman AT airplanes. He then joined the Bureau of Air Commerce as chief of the civil aircraft certification branch. His lifetime service in many government aviation roles earned him the citation "Elder Statesman of Aviation."
In assessing the airplane market of the late 1920s, Verville saw the need for a rugged training biplane for both military and civilian markets as well as for use by the more affluent sportsmen pilots of the day. The resulting design was the Sportsman AT and its companion YPT-10A military trainer, introduced in May 1930. The AT was a tandem two-place, open-cockpit biplane, strong but with the excellent flight and stability characteristics that were necessary for its role as a trainer. In its sports version, the roomy well-equipped cockpit was upholstered in leather and the airplane had a battery, self-starter and navigation lights. A seven-cylinder 165 hp Continental A-70 radial engine, equipped with a ground adjustable metal propeller along with its aerodynamic design, gave the Sportsman excellent short-field and climb performance but a modest top speed of only 120 mph. It sold for about $5,500 in 1931, a rather expensive airplane in Depression days when a Ford automobile sold for less than $500. Unfortunately, like so many airplanes of that era, the high price forced closure of the company before it could establish a market foothold.
The fabric-covered fuselage was of welded chrome-moly tubing with wood formers and fairing strips to provide the pleasing shape. The wings had spruce spars and built-up spruce and plywood ribs. The leading edges were faired with sheet aluminum with Friese ailerons located on the lower wing panels. The fuel tank was located in the upper wing center section and the entire wing assembly was fabric covered. The tail assembly was of welded chrome-moly tubing and was fabric-covered. The main landing was split-axle type with hydraulic shock struts and was equipped with balloon wheels and brakes. It had a full-caster tail wheel that incorporated a shock strut for better control during ground operation.
The Sportsman AT NC-457M was the eighth production aircraft and is the only remaining one of the 10 built. Samuel Adams, Jr. of Shields, Pennsylvania bought the aircraft on September 15, 1930. W. Rhodes McCaskey of Pittsburgh bought it in 1934 and sold it to Ronald Chappell of Dearborn, Michigan, in 1935. Chappell flew it until February 1948, when Robert Baxter agreed to purchase the aircraft; however Baxter defaulted on the payment and Chappell repossessed the aircraft. Chappell then sold the Verville to Richard McPherson of Michigan in 1953 and then he sold it to Robert Francis Gillis, Lynn, Massachusetts, in October of that year. By March 1955, William Champlin, Jr., President of Skyhaven Inc. of Rochester, New Hampshire, acquired the aircraft.
In 1958, Alfred Verville initiated a search for Sportsman aircraft and, in January 1960, received a letter from Champlin confirming that he had Sportsman NC-457M in storage at Skyhaven Airport. Champlin responded favorably to Verville's desire to see the aircraft donated to the Smithsonian's National Air Museum and NC-457M arrived on April 18, 1963.