CONSOLIDATED MODEL 23 NR33Y
A FAILED OBSERVER WITH A RESTRICTED HEART (or is
This airplane began life as a Thomas-Morse XO-932 (Y10-41)
(S/N 1; no ATC # assigned). It was originally built
by the Thomas-Morse group of Consolidated Aircraft, Buffalo,
NY. Consolidated was founded by one of our Davis-Monthan
Register pilots, Ruben
NR33Y was manufactured on May 4, 1931. It left the
factory with a Wright GV-1570 engine (S/N 62) of 600 HP. It
was a two-place airplane. It flew with U.S. Army Air
Corps insignia and, in the fall of 1934, it was used in competition
for Air Corps observation aircraft. The competition
was won by Douglas, and the airplane was used as a Consolidated “dog
The NASM record states that the airplane was remodeled on
September 21, 1934. No mention is made of what the
remodeling entailed. However, on April 18, 1935, Consolidated
test pilot William B. Wheatley wrote a letter that suggested
what some of the remodeling might have been: “Plane
was submitted in several Army Air Corps observation competitions,
and built to conform with their requirements, standards and
specifications. If flew with Air Corps insignia. Government’s
equipment was returned and replaced by similar equipment.”
With that, a “NR” registration was requested,
with transport restricted to executives, engineers and Consolidated
company service workers. Experimental flights were
not contemplated. At this time, the airplane was called
a “Model 23 Corps Observation Biplane”. It
had an adjustable pitch propeller, two gas tanks (total capacity
125 gallons), and the government’s engine was replaced
(with what is unspecified).
At the Civil Aeronautic Authority (CAA, the precursor of the
FAA), officers talked about the “NR” request
and concluded that the airplane was probably, “just
as safe as ATC ships [i.e. those that were CAA-approved].” The “NR” registration
was approved on August 27, 1935.
In August 1935, Wheatley received permission to fly his
wife as passenger in the airplane, ferrying it from Buffalo,
NY to San Diego,
CA at the time Consolidated Aircraft moved
its facilities to San Diego.
This is where we find NR33Y. NR33Y landed at the
Davis-Monthan Airfield on September 7, 1935 flown by William
Wheatley. He carried Mrs. Wheatley as passenger. Their
home base was listed as San Diego, CA (anticipation); they
were westbound from Buffalo, NY to San Diego.
It just doesn’t get much better than
this. When you can trace the custody, correspondence
and activity of an airplane to its actual landing at the
Airfield, and the pilot’s signature in the Register,
that’s a good day’s work.
But that’s not the end. The airplane was involved
in an accident (no details) and the NR license was suspended. As
of October 4, 1935, the airplane was in storage at San Diego. It
was repaired as of October 16th and licensed again to Consolidated
Aircraft. It stayed with them for about a year more.
In December 1936, the airplane was sold to Mexican Colonel
Alfredo Lezama Alvarez. It was exported to Mexico as
of December 31, 1936 under export license E-4124, with approval
of the U.S. Department of State. In actuality, it was
acquired by Lezama Alvarez as an agent for the Spanish Republican
Government. It was registered in Mexico as X-ABDX,
and it is uncertain if it was ever sent to Spain.
The CAA file was officially cancelled on May 29, 1937.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/29/06 REVISED: 01/05/12