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This information comes from the listings of Non-Prefixed and Non-Suffixed aircraft reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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Fokker F-VII NC1661

Loudspeakers

This airplane was a Fokker F-7 tri-motor, (S/N 609; ATC unidentified), manufactured during April 1926 by the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, Teterboro Airport, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ.  It left the factory with three Wright J-4B Whirlwind engines (S/N 6978, 7229, 7230) of 200 HP each. Below, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM), a photograph shows NC1661 dressed in livery advertising, "Denatured Alcohol The Best Anti-Freeze." The image is undated, therefore it is difficult to know where it fits in the chronology outlined below the photograph.

Fokker NC1661, Date & Location Unknown (Source: SDAM)

The NASM record is not sure if the airplane was assembled from U.S.- or Dutch-built parts.  It was sold to the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, Philadelphia, PA, and used for passenger line service during the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial.  During this service it was partially wrecked and rebuilt by the manufacturer with a new wing.  Cost of repairs was $25,000.

On September 16, 1927, NC1661 was sold to Reynolds Airways, Inc., New York, NY.  On January 17, 1928, in what looks like a shift of assets, it was transferred to Reynolds Aviation, Inc. of North Carolina, Winston-Salem, NC. 

U.S. Air Services Magazine, March, 1927 (Source: HTDL)
U.S. Air Services Magazine, March, 1927 (Source: HTDL)

 

We find NC1661 landing at Tucson on April 1, 1929 at 2:40PM flown by Lew Gower.  He carried four passengers, including his wife, H.G. McGrath, B. Knapp and H.E. Wendt.  They were westbound from El Paso, TX to San Diego, CA.

According to the NASM record, in May 6, 1931, while still owned by Reynolds Aviation, the airplane received an “NR” registration and was equipped with loudspeakers for broadcasting.  The airplane was sold on June 13, 1931 to A.J. Williams, Roosevelt Flying Service, West Palm Beach, FL, then, on December 15, 1931 to Roosevelt Aerial Advertising Company of West Palm Beach.

However, from the article at left from the U.S. Air Services magazine, via the University of Michigan's HathiTrust Digital Library (HTDL), the airplane was configured as a sound projector before March, 1927, the date of the article. There was apparently a gap in the offical record for the airplane. Likewise, there is nothing in the NASM record that suggests what kind of broadcasting was performed from NR1661. It is clear there was some singing involved, however.

HOW the sound projection was done however, is nicely illustrated in this undated and unsourced article from a popular science magazine of the era (PDF 779Kb). A photograph of NC1661 is on the last page, taken before it was re-registered NR.

Pilot Gower is cited in the article as the pilot during broadcast flights, and passenger Wendt is the mechanic. Passenger McGrath is identified in the article as the "Voice of the Air," speaking as the airplane flies over a city or town. A record player is described that plays jazz intermezzo. Below is McGrath in his compartment of the airplane.

Announcer H.G. McGrath in the "Voice of the Sky" May 12, 1929 (Source: Tacoma Public Library)
Announcer H.G. McGrath in the "Voice of the Sky" May 12, 1929 (Source: Tacoma Public Library)

This and the next image are from the Tacoma Public Library via Guest Editor Bob Woodling. The caption for the above photo states, "Announcer Bert McGrath, showing a bit of his suit and knickers, smiles as he grips his microphone. He is partially emerging from a Fokker USA trimotor airplane... at Mueller-Harkins airport on May 12, 1929. Mr. McGrath was part of the 'Voice of the Sky,' aviation's first talking airplane, that paid a visit to Tacoma that day and astounded the city with music and chatter emerging from the giant passenger plane while it was hundreds of feet in the air. Mr. McGrath was stationed in a heavily insulated cabin within the plane, his speech amplified and then broadcast through huge horns from the plane."

Below, a profile view of the airplane with crew. Interestingly, it still displays its NC registration. The interior geometries of the sound system and crew quarters are illustrated in the diagram found in the download, above.

NC1661, "Voice of the Sky" and Crew, May 12, 1929 (Source: Tacoma Public Library)
NC1661, "Voice of the Sky" and Crew, May 12, 1929 (Source: Tacoma Public Library)

The caption for the second photograph states, "Aviation's first talking airplane, 'The Voice of the Sky,' visited Tacoma on May 12, 1929. The crew posed next to the the Fokker USA trimotor passenger airplane parked at Mueller-Harkins airport: (L-R): Lew Gower, pilot; H.E. Wendt, mechanic; B. Knapp, crew chief; Bert McGrath, announcer. The plane, C-1661, has large advertising for Standard Ethyl gasoline painted on its side. This was the first Pacific Coast visit by the 'Voice of the Sky' which amazed listeners and viewers with animated audible chatter and music from 2500 feet up in the air."

NC1661 made its way back east and was featured performing in an article appearing in The New York Times, December 18, 1930. It was used to broadcast while flying over New York City on behalf of a Salvation Army job fund drive for unemployment relief (the U.S. was in the second year of the Great Depression). The flight itinerary was described as a circle of the Woolworth Building at noon, followed by a formation flight over the city between Central Park and the Battery while an appeal for the Salvation Army was broadcast from the airplane.

On September 27, 1932, NR1661 was sold to Plane Speaker Corporation, New York, NY and moved back north. As far as I can determine, a contemporary recording used by the Plane Speaker Corporation might be available here. As it appears, the download is a PDF file, in French, that lists patents of the era. I could find no sound file.  If you can figure out how to download a sound file, please let me KNOW. The popularity of Voice of the Sky as operated by Plane Speaker Corp. led the company to franchise offers like the one following, sent to us courtesy of a site visitor.

Voice of the Sky Franchise Offer, Ca. Post-1934 (Source: Site Visitor)
Voice of the Sky Franchise Offer, Ca. Post-1934 (Source: Site Visitor)

Given, as suggested above, the earliest date was 1927 that an airplane was used to broadcast sound while aloft, this franchise offer can be dated to approximately 1934 or later. Notice that an airplane used for such advertising need not be a large liner like NC1661.

NC1661 suffered an accident at Garden City, NY sometime between September 1932 and July 1933.  Its registration file was cancelled on July 19, 1933.

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UPLOADED: 07/06/06 REVISED: 02/18/13, 06//9/14, 12/05/14, 11/28/16

 
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