WW1 Planes
An encyclopediae of 1914-18 aircraft types


Funded by British expatriates

The Company Workshop at Ithaca, New York, circa 1915

The Company Thomas Morse is unknown to Fanboys of WW2, but most of its assets were passed in 1929 to Consolidated, which built several marking planes and especially the Liberator bomber. The company was founded in 1910 by two English citizens, William T. Thomas and his brother Oliver W. Thomas, and therefore started as the Thomas Bros. Company of Hammondsport, New York. The company later moved to Hornell, New York, and then ended at Bath, New York, within the same year, but it was by then little more than a glorified workshop. Their first public show would have been the Livingston County Picnic in 1912.

Their Hydro-aeroplane was indeed scheduled to fly but strong winds prevented this. They showcased their plane in a static mode, but they would have another occasion later. From 1913, the company created the Thomas Brothers School of Aviation at Conesus Lake, McPherson Point (Livingston County) in the same state, also for pilots to train on hydroplanes. The same year, the company known as the Thomas Brothers Aeroplane Company move again and was settled in Ithaca, New York by December 7, 1914. With the war, their military production started. In 1915, they built T-2 tractor biplanes. The ironic part is their chief designer was then Benjamin D. Thomas, which had no relation with the brothers but was also an English subject, experienced at Vickers, Sopwith, and Curtiss.

Thomas-Morse T-2
No Photo found of the T-2. Instead this is the S4C assembly line. Thomas Morse was a prominent fighter maker of 1918 and the S4C "Tommy" the absolute best seller, with 461 delivered for the Army with French licenced Le Rhône engines.

The T-2 was built for the RNAS, but it was fitted with floats instead of wheels and also marketed to the US Navy as the SH-4. They replace the planned Curtiss OX engines by their own, funding the Thomas Aeromotor Company for that purpose. In 1916, whereas they approached bankrupcy, they won a contract from the US Army Signal Corps, which evaluated the D-5. But apart 24 orders previously for the RNAS, by January 1917 their financial difficulties were such that they had to negociate a merging with with Morse Chain Company (Frank L. Morse) to seek indirectly the financial backing of H T Westinghouse.

So in 1917 the company became Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corporation. They tried hard from then to market training biplanes to the US Army and with their backing succeeded to sold the versatile S-4/S-4E trainer/S-5 floatplane and Fighters of the MB series, since the Country at war badly needed planes. Postwar their MB-3 fighter (1919) became until 1925 the main U.S. Army Air Service fighter, also built by Boeing. They would produced other small peace time series until the O-19 observation biplane, but after joining the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, as a Division, they completely ceased operations in 1934.

Thomas-Morse HS
Thomas-Morse HS floatplane at Ithaca lake, New York

Most important Models

Probably the most famous model was the T-2 trainer, declined into many sub-products, and the Scout, probably the best single-seat fighter trainer of the US Air Service during the war. As usual production models are in bold, production figures in brackets.
  • Thomas Brothers D-2 (2) 1915
  • Thomas Brothers D-5 (2) 1915
  • Thomas Brothers HS (2) 1915
  • Thomas Brothers T-2 (26) 1915
  • Thomas Brothers SH-4 (15) 1915
  • Thomas Brothers S-4 (470) 1917
  • Thomas-Morse MB-1 (2) 1915
  • Thomas-Morse MB-2 (2) 1918

Thomas Bros. D-2/HS and D-5

Thomas-Morse D-2
Thomas-Morse D-2 circa 1915. The 1916 D-5 was a very close copy, with the improvements bring on of the HS. Only two built for testings.

The D-2 was produced to only two planes (6 total, counting the HS and D-5) as an improved T-2. It had a 135 hp engine (top speed 132 kph), a 14.7 m wingspan, 9.1 m in length, 3.1 m hull width, and total wing area of 41 m2. This was a two-seats tractor sesquiplane, which weighted 1180 kg. The Thomas Brothers D-2 set an unofficial speed record for an American aircraft. It was soon declined into the HS for the United States Navy and D-5 for Aviation Section of the Army, the U.S. Signal Corps. It was propelled by a domestic engine, the Thomas Aeromotor Company 8-cylinder, water-cooled gasoline engine built on the basis of the 135-horsepower Sturtevant engine, which propelled the D-2. The Thomas 8 would propel some of the later aircraft produced by the company.

Thomas Bros. HS
Thomas bros. HS of the Naval Air Service at pensacola in 1917.

The prototype D-2 first flight occurred in the spring of 1915, and it was able to reach 97.4 mph or 156.7 km/h, setting an unofficial speed record in the US, and about 100 to 102 mph (164.1 km/h) in another occasion, perhaps diving. Its climb speed was also excellent, 4500 feet (1371 m) in ten minutes. However only two prototypes were built and tested. The United States Navy was interested and ordered two planes in July 1915 of the HS version, with floats fitted under the wings and a small stabilizing float under the tail on skids. First flight occurred in late u or September 1915 at Cayuga Lake, Renwick Park. It showed the excessive drag take by the floats when turning, putting a heavy the train on the engine which overheated fast.

The radiator xas not up to the task. in the following winter, the prototype crashed during trials on the lake, when landing. It was rebuilt and modified in the same standard of the second USN model. The upper wing was extended by 350 cm, with enlarged ailerons on the upper panel only. The tail float was also modified. The first of the two models had a Sturtevant engine (accepted in January 1916) and the second had the Thomas 8 engine (June 1916). They were used for training and experiments with radiotelegraphy. In 1915, two D-5 powered by Thomas 8 engines were ordered by the Army, as traditional landing planes.

Thomas Bros. T-2

Designer Benjamin Douglas Thomas previously worked for Curtiss, where he designed the famous Curtiss Model J or "Jenny". He at first did not receive any remuneration for his work, his remuneration being indexed on half of the future from aircraft sales. He began design work on a design he knew best, so the T-2 model (his first model) was a close copy of the Curtiss Model J and Curtiss Model H. This was a single-engine, two-seat biplane tractor powered by a 90-horsepower Austro-Daimler engine. First flight and trials were done with this model, but later production planes used by the RAN had the Curtiss OX-5 engine, also rated for 90 hp.

The T-2 flew for the first time on December 7, 1914 in Ithaca, and clearly one of the best aircraft of the time, flying at 83 mph(133 kph) with one passenger and carried an additional 450 kg load. Its ceiling was 3,800 feet (1,150 m) which it climbed in ten minutes. After the long test phase of early 1915, the British Admiralty ordered twenty-four T-2 delivered in two batches of twelve. No further orders were to follow, due to the Curtiss engines being in short supply. A naval derivative of the T-2, the SH-4, was later ordered.

Thomas-Morse MB1 (1915)

Thomas Morse MB1
Possibly the first truly indigenous fighter plane designed and built in the U.S.A., only two were produced and not meeting expectations no further production took place. It was a monoplane, propelled by a 400hp Liberty 12, weighing 680 kg/1499 lb, 11.28 m (37 ft) in wingspan, 6.70 m (22 ft) in lenght and 2.56 m (8 ft 5 in) in height, armed with two 7.7mm MGs.

Thomas-Morse MB2 (1918)

Thomas Morse MB2
It was designed by B. Douglas Thomas as the same time the MB-1 was built and tested. The MB-2 was powered by a 400 hp Liberty 12 engine, the first of two two-seat biplanes flying in November 1918. The Army was not impressed by the performance and no order came. Both prototypes were then scrapped. But Thomas-Morse would had more success with the MB-3 in 1919 (265 made).

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