Thomas-Morse S-4

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Thomas Morse S4C Scout USAF.jpg
S-4C Scout
Role advanced trainer
National origin United States
Manufacturer Thomas-Morse Aircraft
Designer Benjamin D. Thomas
First flight June 1917[1]

The Thomas-Morse S-4 Scout was an American biplane advanced trainer, operated by the United States Army and the United States Navy. Dubbed the "Tommy" by pilots who flew it, the aircraft became the favorite single-seat training airplane produced in the U.S. during World War I. It had a long and varied career beginning with the S-4B, which first appeared in the summer of 1917.[2]

Design and development[edit]

Built by Thomas-Morse Aircraft in Bath, New York in 1917, it was a compact single-seat open-cockpit biplane of equal span and a 100 hp (75 kW) Gnome rotary engine.[3]

The S-4 was designed by Benjamin D. Thomas, an Englishman (no relation),[4] formerly with the Sopwith Aviation Company,[5] the S-4 made its maiden flight in June 1917 in the hands of Paul D. Wilson.[4] Twelve planes went to the Navy.[4]

Operational history[edit]

A U.S. Navy S-5

The S-4B, with a 110 hp Gnome, a span of 27’ (8.22 m), and length of 20’3” (6.17 m)[4] proved more successful, with three prototypes followed by an order of 97 for the Army and 10 for the Navy,[4][6] while six more were completed with two main and one tail floats as the Navy S-5.[3][7] The S-4B was used by practically every pursuit flying school in the U.S. during 1918.[2]

It was supplemented in 1918 by the S-4C, at a cost of US$5400 each.[4] Six prototypes were built,[4] and the 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome B-9 was replaced by the "more reliable" 80 hp (60 kW) Le Rhône C-9 starting with the fifty-second production aircraft.[3][4] 461 S-4Cs went to the Army and four S-4Cs with floats went to the Navy.[4]

After World War I, many "Tommys" were sold as surplus to civilian flying schools, sportsman pilots, and ex-Army fliers. Many were still being used in the mid-1930s for World War I aviation movies, and several continue to exist in flying condition today.[2]

A single aircraft was fitted with new tail and 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône, becoming the S-4E aerobatic trainer.[3] It was not adopted by the military, and after being fitted with a 135 hp (101 kW) Aeromarine V8 engine, it became Basil Rowe‘s racer Space-Eater.[4]

About sixty surplus aircraft survived in civil service, most of which were fitted with the Curtiss OX-5.[4]


 United States


  • The only known surviving Thomas-Morse S-4B, said to be the last example produced, was replaced at the NMUSAF by the above-mentioned S-4C. The lone surviving S-4B aircraft was on loan to the NMUSAF from Mrs. D.B. Woodard of Richland Center, Wisconsin from 1963 until 1973.[2] Cole Palen acquired the aircraft from the Woodard estate in 1973, made the airframe flightworthy and flew it with American civil registration N74W, poewred with its original Le Rhone 9C rotary engine in his Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome's weekend airshows in the facility's early years.[8] It is currently on display in the Aerodrome's main static display hangar.
  • One resides at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.
  • One resides at Yanks Air Museum Chino CA. At the Chino Airport.
  • Two S4C's, rebuilt with original metal fitting sets are currently under restoration in Kingsbury, Texas. Both are powered with correct Le Rhone 9C, 80 hp rotary engines. "Tommy I" has flown at Kingsbury and both aircraft will be flying eventually. As of April 2013 all horizontal surfaces have been restored for both aircraft and covering and fuselage work on both aircraft continues. The first attempt to restore "Tommy II" was never completed but in the "re-restoration" new metal is being cut and formed for the forward fuselage and cockpit. It is intended that one Tommy will be marked with US WWI roundels and the other with the star and red disc insignia.

Specifications (S-4C, late production)[edit]

Data from Aerofiles, United States Navy Aircraft since 1911,[4][6]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 19 ft 10 in (6.05 m m)
  • Wingspan: 26 ft 6 in (8.08 m)
  • Height: 8 ft 1 in (2.46 m)
  • Gross weight: 1,330 lb (605 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9C aircooled rotary, 80 hp (60 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 97 mph (156 km/h)
  • Endurance: 2 hours  30 min
  • Service ceiling: 15,000 ft (4,500 [9] m)


  • Optional .30 caliber Marlin machine gun

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ Holmes, 2005. p 52.
  2. ^ a b c d United States Air Force Museum 1975, p. 10.
  3. ^ a b c d Donald 1997, p. 875.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Thomas." Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  5. ^ Angelucci 1973, p. 41.
  6. ^ a b Swanborough and Bowers 1976, p. 471.
  7. ^ Swanborough and Bowers 1976, p. 472.
  8. ^ "Cole Palen's Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome — World War 1 Aircraft — Thomas Morse S-4B Scout". Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  9. ^ Angelucci 1983, p. 85.
  • Angelucci, Enzo, Great Aeroplanes of the World. London: Hamlyn, 1973.
  • Angelucci, Enzo. The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, 1914-1980. San Diego, California: The Military Press, 1983. ISBN 0-517-41021-4.
  • Donald, David, ed. Encyclopedia of World Aircraft, p. 875, "Thomas Brothers and Thomas-Morse aircraft". Etobicoke, Ontario: Prospero Books, 1997.
  • Holmes, Tony. Jane's Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide. London: Harper Collins, 2005. ISBN 0-00-719292-4.
  • Strnad, Frank. The Thomas Morse Scout. London: Profile Publications, 1966.
  • Swanborough, Gordon and Bowers, Peter. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. London:Putnam, Second edition, 1976. ISBN 0-370-10054-9.
  • United States Air Force Museum. Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio: Air Force Museum Foundation, 1975.

External links[edit]