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Saturday, October 13, 2018

The "The Journal: Part II - 'Single Blade Propeller'" Story

Cover of the Fall 2013 "The Journal"
Click on images to enlarge.
It was an ordinary day.  Looking at a photograph on the cover of the Fall 2013 "The Journal" which is a publication of the Lancaster County's Historical Society.  Photograph shows a young boy by the name of Jesse Jones Eckhart, age 13, standing next to a plane that has an Everel single-blade propeller.  As soon as I saw the photograph I knew disaster was soon to follow.  The single-blade propeller was a product made in Lancaster County during "The Golden Age of Aviation; the 1920s and 1930s.  It wasn't until the mid-1920s that most people had ever seen an airplane in person.  "Barnstormer" pilots were buying WWI airplanes, flying them to nearby towns and offering to take you for a ride for a fee.  It wasn't until 1927 that Charles Lindbergh made his record-setting flight from New York to Paris and in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, skilled pilot Jesse P. Jones brought his "NoNox" air show to the "flying field" at the Lancaster Gun Club along the Oregon Pike just north of the city limits.  
Jesse Jones ready to depart to Los Angeles.  He will fly
the plane behind him with the single blade propeller.
Mr. Jones liked the area so much that he bought land along the Manheim Pike and opened Lancaster's first airport.  Eight years later Lancaster opened a new Municipal Airport along the Lititz Pike.  When the airport was opened, Mr. Jones became the airport manager.  When the airport was dedicated in August of 1935 it was only one of two in Pennsylvania that had both a hard surface runway as well as lights for night operation.The Sensenich Brothers had been manufacturing wooden propellers close to the new airport since 1932.  
The single blade propeller on plane flanked by, from the left:
Harry Sensenich, Walter Everts, Jesse Jones and Martin Sensenich.
In 1937 Mr. Jones was contacted by Harry Sensenich and told that his firm was working with two men from Baltimore, Mr. Everts and Mr. Ellington, who had invented a propeller with only one blade.  He asked Mr. Jones if he would be interested in trying the new propeller on one of his planes.  Mr. Jones agreed and a few days later the propeller was installed on his 40 horsepower Continental Club airplane.  As soon as the plane started it began to vibrate and shortly parts were flying off the plane.  Mr. Everts worked day and night to correct the problem and on January 25, 1937 the revised propeller was fitted on the repaired plane.  
Jesse Jones Eckhart, age 13, is seen next to the single blade prop.
The engine was operating smoothly and the flight went smoothly.  Then on January 29, Jesse Jones flew the Continental Club with the one blade propeller to New York to meet Everts and Ellington.  The propeller was removed and shown at the Sensenich booth at the New York Aviation Show.  Most everyone doubted that the propeller would work, but the manager of the nearby airport testified that the plane with the one blade propeller was flown to his airport.  In March of that year two planes were going to make a transcontinental trip in planes with 145 hp engines and the single blade propeller.  
Helen Jones, 17 year old pilot, of
Lancaster, PA, makes adjustments
on the single blade propeller.
When one of the planes had reached an airport in North Carolina it was discovered that a bolt on the propeller had failed.  A new bolt was used, but by the time they had reached Dallas it was determined that the new bolt had also failed.  The passenger in that plane decided not to go any further in that plane.  At yet another stop, Jesse got in a conversation with an aeronautical engineer  who after examining the one blade proclaimed that "could NOT fly."  Jesse finally reached Los Angeles with the bolt being changed one more time.  That propeller was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.  By the summer of 1938 dozens of the propellers had been sold in the United States.  A twin-engine plane in the English Royal Air Force used two of the propellers.  It was later found that climate and temperature change were hard on the propeller.  The experience gained by the use of this propeller helped in the making of two blade propellers.  What makes this story so interesting and meaningful for me is that the daughter of Jesse Jones married Dr. Howard Eckhart, a local dentist and pilot who had his own plane.  They had three sons and one of them, Howard S. Eckhart was a member of the Manheim Township High School rifle team which I coached to a win in the Pennsylvania State Championship in 1971.  Small world.....as they say!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.


Howard Eckhart is in back row, 2nd from left.  His mother, Jesse Jones Eckhart, is the daughter of Jesse Jones who flew the single blade propeller plane.  This is the State Champion 1971 MTHS rifle team.
 

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