T. Claude Ryan
In 1922 Ryan was flying with a barnstorming expedition in northwestern Mexico. The local “General,” who weighed over 250 pounds, wanted a ride. Against his better judgment he took the “General” aloft. The poor over-loaded Jenny struggled into the air, rode an up-current to a thousand feet then, caught in a downdraft, skidded upside down on the heavy grass in a gully beside a railroad track. When the plane stopped Ryan hopped out and sprinted for the gas tank which was threatening to spill over the engine. When rescuers arrived, Ryan was like the Dutch boy saving the dike, plugging the gas line hole with his finger. The general was unhurt but too frightened to move. It was the end of Ryan’s Mexican barnstorming trip.
- In 1925, he opened the Los Angeles-San Diego Airline, the nation’s first regularly scheduled airline. That same year his Ryan Airlines, Inc. began manufacturing commercial airmail planes.
- Ryan’s plane design, M-1, evolved into the Spirit of St. Louis for Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight.
- During World War II the Ryan School of Aeronautics Company trained 14,000 Army Air Corps pilots.
- The company built the FR-1 Fireball, the Navy’s first jet fighter.
- In 1957, Ryan’s X-13 “Vertijet” aircraft demonstrated vertical takeoff and landing for the first time.
- Ryan developed the radar-controlled system that enabled the Apollo II Lunar Module Eagle to land on the moon in 1969.
T. Claude Ryan, born in Parsons, Kansas, on January 3rd, 1898, was interested in aviation from boyhood. He read everything he could about flight. He learned all he could learn about mechanics. He wanted to fly and to take care of the flying machines.
When America entered the First World War, Ryan hopped a train to Joplin, Missouri, to join up when the military made the plea for pilots. But Ryan was only nineteen, and the Navy had an age requirement of twenty-one for fliers. Ryan attempted the Army, but was too young for its program as well. At this time Ryan and his family were living in California. He saw an advertisement for the American School of Aviation and, after convincing his father, signed up to learn to become a pilot. The school was not the best, but Ryan persisted and managed to learn something about flying. One day, when he was supposed to be taxiing the plane back and forth, Ryan decided to open her up wide and take off. Unfortunately he encountered difficulties during the landing and tipped the plane on its side, ruining the propeller. The school folded, but Ryan convinced his instructors to write a letter indicating that he had had some training. Ryan promptly delivered this letter to the Army office. After days of waiting, Ryan was thrilled when he received a letter indicating that he could enter flight training. But the Armistice was signed and World War I ended before his call-up date. Ryan subsequently enrolled in Oregon State College to study mechanical engineering, the nearest subject to aeronautical engineering that was avaliable in this time period. While at Oregon State, Ryan read that the government was going to resume aviation cadet training and would accept seventy applicants per class. Ryan eagerly applied. His letter of acceptance passed through the offices of so many officials that it was too late for Ryan to enter the flight program by the time he received the letter. Finally, in 1920, he reported for flight training at March Field, near Riverside.
In January 1922, Ryan left the Army, hoping to fly as a civilian. That fall he saw an opportunity to buy an airplane. After purchasing a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny for $400, Ryan became a barnstormer and offered rides for $2.50 or $5.00. Claude set up shop at Dutch Flats and opened the Ryan Flying Company, advertising passenger transport and a school of aviation. Using a standard J-1 biplane, he offered charter flights to Los Angeles from San Diego, there and back on the same day. In 1925, he opened the Los Angeles-San Diego Airline, the nation’s first regularly scheduled airline.
In 1925 T. Claude Ryan walked into his partner’s office at the Ryan Flying Company, tossed his freehand sketch on the desk, and said: “Here’s a plane we ought to build.”
In February 1926, Ryan’s drawing came to fruition as a sleek airplane rolled out of the Ryan Flying Company’s hangar. The open-cockpit Ryan M-1 was an advanced monoplane that promised great performance.
In March 1926, Ryan and the partners who owned Pacific Air Transport, set off in the M-1 on the Los Angeles to Seattle airmail route and fly the San Francisco to Seattle leg in a record seven hours, three minutes. This was the beginning of many Ryan M-ls flying U. S. airmail routes.
On February 3rd, 1927, a telegram arrived in Ryan’s office: “CAN YOU CONSTRUCT WHIRLWIND ENGINE PLANE CAPABLE FLYING NONSTOP BETWEEN NEW YORK AND PARIS STOP.” Sixty days later, the Spirit of St. Louis, a plane based on the M-1, rolled out of the factory. This would be the remarkable and historic plane that Charles A. Lindbergh flew to fame from New York to Paris.
A sleek, low-winged monoplane rose from Ryan’s operation at Lindbergh Field and flew over San Diego on its maiden flight. The two-seat craft, described as a “silver bullet,” was the first Ryan S-T Sports-Trainer. A greatly advanced aircraft for its day, the S-T was an all-metal, streamlined plane that went on to set a standard for sports planes rarely equaled.
From the S-T, Ryan designed the PT-16, the first monoplane primary trainer. It proved to be of immense value during years of service with the Army Air Corps, the Navy, and friendly foreign governments. By 1939, PT-16s were in use in Australia, South Africa, South America and Mexico.
The secretly-developed Ryan Fireball became the first jet fighter for the Navy in 1944. Jet-pushed, propeller-pulled, the Fireball could fly either on its jet or conventional engine, or on both.
Another Ryan achievement, the Firebird, is the first Air Force air-to-air research missile which was portable by fighter aircraft. To track its target, it utilized a special radar guidance system aerospace electronics.
The Ryan Firebee drone, introduced in 1952, was an unusual plane designed to simulate the performance and maneuvers of jet fighters and to provide a realistic flying target for training air and ground crews.
In 1957, at the Pentagon, the Ryan Vertijet demonstrated, for the first time, the dramatics of vertical takeoff and landing operations. Lifting clear of its ground service trailer, it climbed vertically, then changed to horizontal flight. The Vertijet returned to a nose-up hovering position and landed vertically on the trailer.
The Ryan Vertifan came into being by 1964. It uses jet engines mounted in the fuselage for conventional flight. For vertical flight, the jet exhaust was diverted to drive large fans in the wings and nose, providing vertical thrust of up to three times that of the engines, and permitting a spectacular vertical takeoff.
When Astronaut Neil Armstrong guided his lunar module spaceship Eagle to the Sea of Tranquility on th moon in 1969, it used a landing system that Ryan developed which enabled man to take his first historic steps on the moon.
Ryan would later go on to found Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical and would receive credit for operating the nation’s first regularly scheduled passenger airline, a $17.25 shuttle between San Diego and Los Angeles.
T. Claude Ryan died in his sleep on Saturday, September 11th, 1982.
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