Ground Attack Experimental
Experimental Army tactical support designs
To back up the DH-4/-9 program with new designs for possible production in 1919, four new prototypes were begun for the Army in 1918. The LWF Company of College Point, New York, begun as a partnership of Edmond Lowe, Jr., Charles Willard, and Charles Fowler, was building a series of trainers with a unique laminated wood monocoque (single shell) fuselage. After the LWF Model F first tested the 235-hp 8-cylinder Liberty on August 20, 1917, they received a contract on September 14, 1917, for two advanced trainers to be test beds for the “U.S. Standard Aircraft Engine” as the Liberty was known. The Model G was flown with the early 350-hp Liberty 12, and had a fatal crash on January 16, 1918.
It had been unarmed like previous LWF aircraft, but the second prototype, LWF G-2, was heavily armed with seven guns and under wing bomb racks. Four fixed Marlin guns were grouped around the engine, two guns were on the gunner’s ring, and another fired through a hole behind and below the gunner. According to company claims, flight tests in summer 1918 at a gross weight of 4,023 pounds, including 90 gallons of fuel, showed a remarkable 138 mph and four hours endurance. Equipped for bombing with full fuel, up to 592 pounds of bombs, and 66 pounds of cockpit armor, the G-2 weighed 4,880 pounds. Great hopes were held, but the war ended, and the two-seater crashed on November 18.
A French engineer, Captain Georges LePere, had been loaned to the Army to design aircraft around the Liberty engine, and a prototype LUSAGH-ll (LePere United States Army Ground Harassment) ordered May 6, 1918, from the Engineering Division at McCook Field began tests on September 22. With 408-hp, (flight test output of Liberty engines varied) the heavy, squared-off, LUSAGH-ll had the forward fuselage built with 1,390 pounds of armor to protect pilot and gunner seated side-by-side in one cockpit.
For low-level work supporting infantry, a new .50-
caliber Browning heavy gun firing down and forward, a flexible .30-caliber Lewis gun protecting the upper rear, and 450 pounds of bombs were provided. A second prototype, LUSAGH-21, with a new 420-hp Bugatti, was completed in January 1919, but by then the need for any production was gone.
Unique among American aircraft designed for observation missions was LePere’s USAO-l, a triplane with two Liberty engines, a pilot and two observers with two pairs of Lewis guns, and a four-hour endurance at 106 mph for “long-range” penetrations. Two prototypes ordered from the Engineering Division on May 6, 1918, were delivered in February and May 1919.
An Italian engineer, Ottorino Pomilio, was also loaned to the United States, and he designed the BVL-12 day bomber ordered September 21, 1918. A plywood fuselage was suspended between the wings, three pairs of struts connected the wings, while one fixed Browning gun, two Lewis flexible guns, and 350 pounds of bombs comprised the armament. Six were delivered from January to May 1919 from Indianapolis.
During the war’s last year, German fliers gave outstanding close-support to their own troops by low-level attacks on Allied infantry. Special squadrons (Schlachstaffeln) of light two-seaters were formed in 1917 to strafe enemy trench and road systems with machine-gun fire. In 1918, they were joined by heavy two-seaters with added firepower and armor protection.
After the war, the Americans considered these methods and in 1921, the First Surveillance Group at Kelly Field, Texas, which had been patrolling the Mexican border, was redesignated the Third Attack Group. Their equipment remained the DH-4B for many years, while the Air Service made several unsuccessful attempts to develop a specialized attack plane.
Such a type should give armor protection and heavier firepower, including the 37-mm Baldwin semi-automatic cannon experimentally mounted in a Martin GMB bomber in September 1919. The Air Service issued a circular proposal for an armored ground-attack design on October 15, 1919, but not a single private company responded- despite post-war hunger for contracts. This left the task to the Army’s own prototype producer, the Engineering Division at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio.
The GAX (Ground Attack Experimental) was designed by Isaac M. Laddon (1897-1977), of the Engineering Division. Mr. Laddon had not yet reached the competence that his famous PBY and B-24 designs would show and he faced a task that private aircraft companies had rejected.
Powered by two Liberty engines turning four-bladed pusher propellers, the GAX was a triplane. All that lift seemed necessary for the ton of 3/16-inch armor protecting the engines and three crewmen. Slow and awkward, it had a 37-mm Baldwin cannon in front that swung 45 degrees right or left, 60 degrees down or 15 degrees up. Eight .30-caliber Lewis guns were mounted: four pointed front and downwards 45 degrees, another one faced aft over the wings, and all were fired by the busy front gunner. The rear gunner handled two belly guns and one upper gun. Ten small fragmentation bombs could be carried, if some guns were removed.
The GAX began tests on April 3, 1920, but was severely criticized by test pilot Lt. Harold R. Harris, who found it unmaneuverable and complained of the long takeoff run, poor visibility, and especially of vibration and noise from the armored sides. Nevertheless, a contract for 20, to be designated GA-l, was given to Boeing on June 15, 1920, but the quantity was reduced to ten before the first example was tested May 2, 1921. Shipped to Kelly Field for the 3rd Attack Group, the GA-ls were seldom flown, and were scrapped in April 1926.
More conventional was the Orenco IL-l (Ordinance Engineering Infantry Liaison), an armored two-seat biplane for low-altitude infantry support work ordered on January 26, 1920. Two were delivered, closely resem-bling a DH-4B with the same RAF-15 airfoil, but with double-bay triple struts, a .50-caliber Browning in the nose, and twin Lewis guns. Flight tests begun March 21, 1921, indicated that the IL-l was far too heavy for the performance needed.
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