No. 11709. Sperry Messenger (68533) US Army Air Service
Photographed at NASM's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia, USA, October 4, 2011, by Ted Black

Sperry Messenger

09/30/2014. Remarks by Johan Visschedijk: "The pictured aircraft is not original, it was built as a two-seat Sperry Sport Plane. It was owned by a number of people, including Charles Lawrance, the originator of the radial engine in the USA and designer of the L-3 engine. The last owner was American WW I ace and Eastern Airlines President Edward V. Rickenbacker, who donated it to the NASM in September 1957. In the early 1960s the NASM started conversion of the two-seat Sport Plane to the single-seat Messenger configuration. It was fitted with a skyhook and finished in the colors and markings of the Messenger that made the first successful airship hook on and release in the air. In the summer of 1968 the aircraft was loaned to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio, where the aircraft was finished. Since it has been on display at the NASM.

12/31/2012. The Engineering Division Messenger, with no other designation, was designed at McCook Field by Alfred Verville. The little all-wood biplane, smallest aircraft ever used by the US Army, was intended to serve as the aerial equivalent of a dispatch motorcycle, landing in small clearings in forward areas to deliver and pick up messages from field commanders, hence the name Messenger. The Sperry Aircraft Company of Farmingdale, Long Island, NewYork, won contracts for the manufacture of 42 Messengers, including prototypes. Since these had not been given a number in the new designation system and were built by Sperry, they became known simply as Sperry Messengers.

The structural simplicity and low cost of the Messenger suited it to experimental work and research. Eight of the first 12 were completed as radio-controlled aerial torpedoes and Sperry was given an additional contract to rebuild three Standard E-1s as torpedoes. One Messenger was used to test four sets of wings with different airfoils including a variable-camber type, and two other airfoils were tested on sets of tapered wings.

Lawrence Sperry conducted tests of an Army Messenger with jettisonable landing gear; the subsequent landing was made on sprung skids. He also developed a device for hooking on to an airship in flight and a hand-operated mechanical starter for air-starts. The first drop of a Messenger from the Army blimp TC-7 was made on October 23, 1924; the first hook-on was to the TC-3 on December 12, 1924. The Messenger used in these trials was serialed 68533 (c/n 22) and had the McCook Field Number P-306.

Following revision of the designation system in 1924, the Messengers received the official designations of M-1 and M-1A, and a directive was issued to the effect that reference to the machines as "Sperry" would cease. The torpedoes were to have become AT, but since this would have duplicated the new advanced trainer designation, it was changed to MAT, for Messenger Aerial Torpedo."

Created December 31, 2012