Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Thomas-Morse S-4C Scout


September 1, 2020

Photo courtesy of Tom Lymburn

July Contest Photo

The Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corporation of Ithaca, NY, built a series of single-seat advanced fighter trainers for the Signal Corps/Air Service beginning in 1917. The S-4B, with the unreliable 100 hp Gnome rotary, appeared in October 1917. Other than being a bit tail heavy, the Tommy had good flying characteristics. With production of the S-4C, power changed to the 80 hp Le Rhone. The Le Rhone was built under license by Union Switch and Signal Company of Swissvale, Pennsylvania. Capable of being armed with a .30 caliber Marlin machine gun or a gun camera, the Le Rhone version topped out at 95 mph at sea level and had a service ceiling of 15,000 feet.

Since the AEF preferred more advanced fighters manufactured in Britain or France, the Tommy never went overseas and served primarily at Carlstrom Field, Florida, Gerstner Field, Louisiana, and Rockwell Field, California. Twin float Navy examples flew from NAS Dinner Key, Florida. At the end of the Great War, surplus models appeared in civilian livery. Some raced, others were converted to two-seaters and served as trainers, one flew the mail with Northwest Airways in late 1926, and many others graced the silver screen. Movie credits for the Thomas-Morse included Hell's Angels (1930), The Dawn Patrol (1930), Men with Wings (1938), and The Great Waldo Pepper (1975). Today, at least 10 Thomas-Morse S-4 models survive in museums or private hands.

The aircraft in this July 2018 photo is an S-4C with serial number 38899, which was declared surplus with only 20 hours after WWI.

It once carried civilian registration NC3991 and was re-registered by the EAA as N38899.It was donated to the EAA Museum in March 2018 by Allen Johnson of Texas.

Dave Lundgren nailed the Tommy, one of the more obscure WWI American single-seat trainers, and wins this month. Stay safe, stay well, and wish for blue skies and tail winds.


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