General Aeroplane Company

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
General Aeroplane Company
Former type Private
Fate Dissolved
Founded Detroit, U.S. (February 10, 1915 (1915-02-10))
Founders Corwin Van Husen
Fred and Russell Alger
Defunct August 28, 1918 (1918-08-28)
Headquarters Detroit, Michigan, United States
Key people Alfred V. Verville, Herbert B. and Frank P. Book, Wm. Hendrie, Jerome H. Remick

The General Aeroplane Company was Detroit's first commercial airplane builder. GAC built three types of aircraft during the First World War and operated a flying school. The aircraft were the Verville Flying Boat, the Gamma S biplane with floats (floatplane), and the Gamma L biplane with wheels. All had engine installations driving pusher propellers.[1]


The key player in the company was 18-year-old Corwin Van Husen, who was supported by his guardian W. Howie Muir and other key players of Detroit and Grosse Pointe society. Other major investors included Fred and Russell Alger (who were also investors in the Wright Company and had demonstrated the Wright craft at the Grosse Pointe Country Club four years earlier), Herbert B. and Frank P. Book, Wm. Hendrie, and Jerome H. Remick.[2]

In November 1915, the GAC hired 24-year-old Alfred V. Verville, an experienced airplane designer who would be a part of Detroit's aviation activities for years to come. Design of the company's first airplane, a two-passenger biplane flying boat, was completed in December and construction of the hull was begun by the Mayea Boat & Aeroplane Works.

The flying boat was flight tested during early 1916 and was advertised nationally for sale beginning in September. The U.S. Navy purchased the plane as a trainer, the first built-in-Detroit airplane sold for profit.[3][4]

With U.S. involvement in World War One imminent, Verville began designing a military airplane, the Gamma. By November 1916, the prototype, a "pusher" type plane with the engine and propeller behind the crew, was fitted with seaplane floats and test flown from its base on the Detroit River. In the meantime, the leading industry magazine Aviation gave the GAC plane a boost by running a two-page story about the as yet unproved craft.[5] For the winter the Gamma was fitted with wheels to replace the floats. On its maiden flight from frozen Lake St. Clair, a wind blew the Gamma into a snow bank, and it crashed. The pilot, William Bonney was unhurt, but the Gamma was destroyed.[4]

Promotional Description[edit]

Realizing the increasing popularity of the flying boat among sportsmen in the States, more and more of the American manufacturers are turning their activities in that direction. Among others, the General Aeroplane Company, of Detroit, Mich., have recently produced a flying boat that is especially adapted for sporting purposes, and its general lines are shown in the accompanying scale drawing and illustrations. In the "Verville" flying boat, named after its designer, Alfred V. Verville, the Company has aimed at producing a craft embodying the best principles of construction with an efficient design rather than to attempt anything in the way of novelty.

The hull is built up of Honduras mahogany double-planked with aluminum bulkheads forming four watertight compartments, and has a concave vee bottom, with off-sheered deck and D-shaped tail. Aluminium handhole covers are provided, rendering access to various parts of the hull. The cockpit, which seats two side-by-side, is veneered with 1/8 in. Honduras mahogany and upholstered with green leather, filled with "Kapok." The polished mahogany dash-board is equipped with altitude barometer recording to 15,000 ft.; "Tycos" inclinometer; "Tycos" speed indicator; "Tel" revolution indicator; petrol tank pressure gauge, oil pressure gauge, electric light switch, dash-board light, motor cut-out switch, hand throttle and magneto spark control. Four special Tungsten ceils for lighting purposes are provided, and the hand-pump is located in a convenient position for the pilot at the side of cock-pit. The two streamline wing-floats are of mahogany, and have a displacement capacity respectively of 200 lbs.

The main planes are divided into sections, three for the top and two for the lower. The top planes are attached to a centre plane-section - which, it will be observed, is peculiar in that it is arched - supported above the boat by two pairs of struts, whilst the lower plane sections are mounted on the hull.

A highly efficient wing section (Eiffel) suited to the requirements of this type of machine is employed, and the planes are built up in the orthodox way on two main spars with ash compression ribs, and spruce webs and battens. Shelby oval steel tubing is used for the trailing edge, and the whole wing structure is braced with strong Roebling aviator wire. The framework is covered with Irish unbleached linen (having strength in weft of 91 lbs. per linear inch, and in warp of 103 lbs.) doped with nine coats of Emaillite, and surfaced with three coats of spar varnish. The interplane struts are of Virginia silver spruce, well seasoned and shellaced, and bound with grey silk ribbon to relieve shattering. The strut sockets are clamped around wing spars, thus avoiding the necessity of the securing bolts piercing the spars.

Hinged to extremity of top plane rear spar by five cold rolled steel hinges are the ailerons, which are interconnected. Lynite pulleys, having brass bushings throughout, are used for the control gear.

The tail planes consist of a semi-circular stabilizing plane, mounted above the stern of the boat, to which the two elevator flaps are hinged, and a triangular vertical fin, to which the partly-balanced rudder is hinged. Either Deperdussin, Curtiss, or the makers' "three-in-one" systems of control may be fitted.

The engine, a 100 h.p. Curtiss OXX, is mounted above the hull under the top plane centre-section, and drives direct a three-bladed "Paragon" propeller, 8 ft. 3 ins. diam. by 5 ft. 6 ins. pitch, constructed of oak tipped with copper. A flat copper-tube cellular type radiator, in nickel-plated brass casing, and weighing 41 lbs., is mounted in front of the engine. The water capacity is 2 1/2 galls. Starting the engine is accomplished from the cock-pit by means of a crankhandle.

A factor of safety of seven is used throughout the machine. All wiring is doubled (factor of safety taken on one cable), and French "National" turnbuckles are used exclusively; all cable is wrapped with copper wire, sweated with solder and at least three ins. long: control cables are extra flexible 19-strand cotton centre Roebling grade wire. Metal parts are either nickel or treated with non-corroding metal enamel.

The main characteristics are as follows :- Span: top 38 ft., bottom 30 ft.; gap, 6 ft.; cord, 5 ft.; gliding angle, 1 in 7; length over all, 27 ft. 9 ins.; speed range, fully loaded, 42-70 miles per hour; weight (loaded), 2,050 lbs.; weight (unloaded), 1,450 lbs.[6]


On Aug. 28, 1918, GAC ceased operations. In spite of its short life, the General Aeroplane Company still has the distinction of being Detroit's first commercial airplane-building enterprise.[7]


  • Verville flying boat (aka Beta), 1916
    • 2 passenger, open cockpit, biplane flying boat
    • in the style of a Curtiss Model F
    • 100 hp Curtiss OX-5 or Maximotor pusher
    • span: 38 ft length: 27 ft 8 in, load: 600 lb
    • Mahogany hull and wing floats constructed by Mayea Boat Co (Detroit), three-bladed prop, engine mounted under top wing
    • the Navy purchased the plane for use as a trainer. Two more similar military pushers and two twin-engine seaplanes were ordered in March 1917
  • Gamma S
    • biplane with floats (floatplane)
    • a two seater, open cockpit, flying boat, biplane with an 80 hp Le Rhône pusher engine
  • Gamma L
    • similar but with wheels
    • Twin floats were replaced with wheels for winter operations off the ice of Lake St. Clair


GAC Airplanes
Verville Flying Boat 
Illustration from a 1916 Flight magazine of the Verville Flying Boat (beta) 
Verville Pusher Seaplane - Plan, front and side elevations to scale. c.1916 
Gamma S (top), Gamma L (bottom) 
Gamma L 
Gamma S Seaplane by Alfred Verville and General Aeroplane Company - 1917 in Flight Magazine 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Havre Daily News, August 26th, 1928, Page 3
  2. ^ "Aerial Age Weekly" 3 (18). The Aerial Age Company. July 17, 1916. p. 545. 
  3. ^ Mondey, David (2000) The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft. London: Quantum. p.265
  4. ^ a b Michigan Aircraft Manufacturers. Arcadia Publishing. 2009. p. 16. ISBN 9780738552187. 
  5. ^ Company History, 2009 Mayea Boat & Aeroplane Works - Division of D&L Marine Consulting, Book with Verville included
  6. ^ Flight Global Magazine, Sept 7, 1916, Page 765
  7. ^ Bluth, John A., Detroit's first commercial airplane builder, May 1, 2001, Special to The Detroit News Online, Michigan History Section, Detroit News

External links[edit]