Charles M. Olmsted

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Charles Morgan Olmsted
Born Jan. 19, 1881
Died 1948
Occupation Aeronautical Engineer
Spouse(s) Elizabeth A. McNiel (June 18, 1881)
Children 5 children
Parent(s) Clara Amanda Morgan
John Bartow Olmsted

Charles Morgan Olmsted (Jan. 19, 1881 – 1948) was an American aeronautical engineer.


Charles M. Olmsted held a Ph.D. in astrophysics and became an aeronautical engineer in the early 20th century.

When he was 14, he designed and built a glider, one of the first models ever tested in the United States.

Excerpt from biography by Garrett S. Olmsted:

Olmsted minimum-induced-loss propellers set many records in climb rates, speed and weight carried aloft in flights of the Curtiss built flying boats, Edith and America, in 1914, and various military craft during 1917 and 1918. Because they increased efficient by 20% over the standard design, Olmsted minimum-induced-loss propellers were also used on the first leg of the historic Transatlantic flights of the NC planes in 1919. Charles Olmsted can be ranked as America’s first scientifically-trained aeronautical engineer in the modern sense of the term: one who applies mathematical methodology to the scientific study of air flow, propeller design and to the analysis of the strengths and weights of materials to design and construct aircraft.

Olmsted was not the first in the US to design, build and fly a glider, which he did at the age of 13 in 1894, but he was probably the first child to do so. In 1894 Charles Olmsted designed and built a glider in which during the following year he made the longest glider flight ever achieved in America till that time. Most noteworthy, beginning in 1910, Olmsted was the first to design and construct a streamlined monocoque aircraft and Olmsted was certainly the first to develop the minimum-induced-loss propeller.

In 1894 and 1895, Charles Olmsted attended Harvard University. After Harvard, Olmsted attended Göttingen University and Wilhelm Institute in Bonn from 1902 to 1906, obtaining his PhD from the Kaiser. In 1908, Olmsted began experiments and theoretical investigations into minimum-induced loss propellers. Only five years after the first successful powered flight of the Wrights, Charles Olmsted developed the initial equations describing the blade shape and pitch to achieve the maximum attainable efficiency from an airplane propeller. In the first-time-ever wind-tunnel testing of full-size propellers in 1909, Olmsted perfected his design and his theory of propellers.

Such increases in efficiency were crucial for the successful operation of the early Transatlantic Flying Boats, like the America (1914) and the four NCs (1919), all of which utilized Olmsted propellers. After final testing on July 12, 1914, in preparation for the planned Transatlantic flight, Glenn Curtiss publicly announced the Olmsted propellers, “the finest and most efficient I have ever seen.” Two years after developing the propeller equations in 1908, Olmsted formed a syndicate with the Buffalo Pitts Company to develop for mass-production a prototype plane.

The Olmsted-Buffalo-Pitts 1912 Monocoque Bird with its wings made of thin-gauge chrome-vanadium steel sheet, aluminum sheet, and basswood lamination, and its fuselage molded of monocoque laminated birch and chrome-vanadium steel sheet was one of the first true “airplanes” of scientifically engineered design and structure ever to be manufactured. The plane’s original development was stopped when it was 90% completed due to the bankruptcy of the Buffalo Pitts Company in the summer of 1912. Charles Olmsted then formed the CMO Physical Laboratory and continued to manufacture and sell the ultra-efficient propellers on his own for another seven years.

Indeed, flying boats with Olmsted propellers broke the world weight-carrying record twice in 1914, a MacDonnell hydroplane with an Olmsted propeller set the Navy climb record in 1917, and a Le Pere fighter clocked in its fastest flight ever with an Olmsted propeller in 1918. Olmsted propellers also enabled the NC boats to fly with 1500 pounds more weight and they also cut the take-off distance in half. Charles Olmsted was also the first to design a super-transport WIGE (wing-in-ground effect) vehicle in the spring of 1942. Out of this effort ultimately developed Howard Hughes huge flying boat, the Spruce Goose.[dubious ]

Olmsted only flew four times under powered flight in his entire life.

See also[edit]


  • Olmsted, Garrett. Olmsted Pusher. World War I Aero #87, November 1981, pgs. 30-52.

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