The story of Vought, which still produce aircrafts under the Northrop Grumman umbrella, started with American designer Chauncey Milton "Chance" Vought (born February 26, 1890 in Long Island, New York). This American aviation pioneer and engineer co-founded the Lewis and Vought Corporation with Birdseye Lewis. The company was founded in 1917, succeeded by Chance Vought Corporation in 1922 when Lewis retired. From 1919 the business started operations in Astoria, New York by 1919, then at Long Island. Vought designed until 1930 a large array of fighters, seaplanes, training planes, surveillance planes for both the USAF and US Navy own Air Service. In 1922 when the Vought VE-7 made the world's first takeoff from the USS Langley, the first American aircraft carrier (converted). Later planes strongly associated with Navy would be the VE-11 and Vought O2U Corsair... But in WW1 his most famous model by far was the VE-7, and its "bluebird" version in 1918 won the Army competition for advanced training machines.
Vought VE-7 (1917)
As the company was formed a few months after the U.S. entered World War I, a trainer was quickly designed, modelled after European designs and propelled by the same liquid-cooled Wright Hispano Suiza (SPAD's engines). Vought made it strong enough to accomodate the engine, therefore the trainer became as fast as the best fighters of the time. So much so that the Army soon ordered 1,000 VE-7 derivatives, the VE-8s, a contract cancelled when the hostilities ended. Meanwhile the Navy has been equally impressed and therefore received their own serial VE-7 in May 1920. Orders followed in such numbers that Vought passed most of it to the Naval Aircraft Factory, 128 VE-7s being built total.
The Vought VE-7 was a two-seat tractor biplane and advanced trainer answering to a government request for advanced training (fighter pilots). The first serie were built for tests, and first flew on February 11, 1918. The Signal Corps accepted it and ordered 14 VE-7 airplanes by May 1918 and the the Navy soon followed with 60 more, some later converted as VE-7SF for aircraft carrier landing tests in 1922. First tests were performed at Hazelhurst Field after which they were sent to the Airplane Engineering Department of McCook Field (Dayton) in Ohio, for official tests for the officials, and received all but praises for its show. In March of 1918, the "bluebird" took part in an open government competition, winning largely over seven competitors and this was followed by more orders both for the official Test Board and for training. The official report also stated that the plane was fit for both primary and advanced training, a sound, cost-saving solution.
This Vought model was warmly recommended to authorities by Lt. Col. Virginius E. Clark, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell stating it was overall better than the Spad, Nieuport, SE-5 while Entente delegates from various European Aviation Missions also praised it. The Bureau of Aircraft a conversion as a fighter and two designs followed, the VE-7A (short-range) and VE-7B (long-range) both with a single machine gun mounted behind the aft cockpit, but at the same time for standardization on the battlefield, it was decided to keep European fighters in service, therefore condemning the VE-7 as an advanced trainer only. Extensively tested, Vought's biplane became overnight the most uniform design with equal very high standards for sturdiness, reliability, performances, agility, flight characteristics, and even maintenance. To add to this, the "Bluebird" after the competition blue-rimmed plane was as good looking as it was well-finished, with standards close to that of the best automotive luxury brands. Tests also made history in a sense they were the most thorough yet, as devised by Professor Klemin, the procedure of which was followed for the whole interwar and refined afterwards.
In May 1918, the Signal Corps ordered 14 VE-7’s with the plans and rights to build the aircraft, allowing the Aircraft Division at McCook Field to build two more. The government also granted it to the low bidders. Indeed by late October 1918, General William L. Kenly, of the fresh Department of Military Aeronautics placed an order for 1,000 VE-7’s to three companies, McCook, the Springfield Aircraft Corporation and Springfield Massachusetts, each receiving a contract for a total of 500, the remainder places after the Sturtevant Aeroplane Company based in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, and only four days afterwards a recommendation for 3,000 was added, but the Contract Cancellation came out only two weeks later as the war was over. Therefore what could have become the best fighter/trainer of the war never saw action in Europe. The few built however were used extensively in the early 1920s, making history as they went.
VE-7 modelling blueprint
The VE-7S was converted as a single-seater with a modified front cockpit to support a single caliber 30 (7.62 mm) Vickers machine gun on the left side and synchronized. A few derived VE-7SF were given inflatable bags to help keep the plane afloat when ditched at sea. The VE-8 first flew in July 1919 with a 340hp Wright-Hispano H while the overall dimensions were slightly reduced while the wing area was widened, and the faired cabane made shorter. Most importantly it was given two Vickers guns. Only the two prototypes were ever completed but test shown these planes were overweight, had stiff controls, poor stability and overall bad performance. The drawings were revised for the VE-9 variant designed for the Navy and delivered on 24 June 1922. Vought started again with the basic VE-7 design, but much improved, especially around the fuel distribution. 21 were completed and put in service, among which four were unarmed observation seaplanes carried to test battleship catapults.
Other variants (Postwar)
VE-7G (1921): 1 converted (Marines) and 23 converted for the U.S. Navy
VE-7GF (1921): 1 converted
VE-7H (1924): 9 produced for the U.S. Navy
VE-7SH (1925): 1 7SF converted as floatplane
VE-9H (1927): 4 carried observation seaplanes by U.S. Navy battleships. The 9W was canceled.
Dimensions 7.45 x10.47 x2.63 m (24 x34 ft x8 ft 7.5 in) Wing area: 284.5 ft² (26.43 m²)
Weight: Empty 1,392 lb (631 kg), loaded 1,937 lb (879 kg)
Engine: Wright-Hispano E-3 180 hp (134 kW), Top speed: 106 mph (171 km/h)
Range: 290 mi (467 km), Ceiling: 15,000 ft (4,600 m), Climb: 738 ft/min (225 m/min)
Armament: Vickers .30 in (7.62 mm) synchronized MG