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Wingmen: 1919

Wingmen: 1919

October 1919. "Transcontinental air race, Roosevelt Field, New York. Col. A. Miller, Lt. E.C. Kiel, Sgt. F.K. McKee." Bain News Service. View full size.


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I was reading about this race on Monday. Tuesday I click on Shorpy and there's this photo. Weird.

Here's a photo of the planes "on the line", October 8, 1919. It took the winner, Lt. Maynard, 3 days, 6 hours, 47 minutes and 11 seconds between Roosevelt Field and the Presidio in San Francisco. 25 hours, 16 minutes, 47 seconds flying time.

"During the test 54 accidents wrecked or damaged planes, 7 fatalities occurred during the race, 1 in a DH-4B and the others in DH-4's (the type of aircraft pictured). When asked by press about any remarkable experience during the trip, 2d Lt. Alexander Pearson Jr. laughed and said 'Yes, I got there and back.'"

My vote on the halo

The "background" behind Col. Miller very far away (possibly sky) so the "halo" can't be a shadow. Also note that there is no darkening of the wire where is crosses the "halo". There is also a slight dark "shadow" to the left and top of the Col. Miller's head in the second image.

My vote is that the photographer left the shutter open after the flash, or before, to gather extra light to prevent the background from being coal black. In those pre-flashbulb days (flashbulbs were invented in 1928 and weren't marketed in the US until 1930) you had to do this to an extent, though electrical triggering of the flash powder or cartridge had been around since 1899.

If Col. Miller moved during that extra exposure time his dark head would have blocked some of the light from the background leaving a darkened area. This would be similar to the frequently seen odd eyes in such images when people close their eyes when the flash is set off. In the main image, Col. Miller likely turned his head quickly toward the camera and then stayed still for the remaining second or so of the exposure.

[Well, you've got me convinced. - tterrace]

Roosevelt Field

Roosevelt Field was indeed a historic airfield. A few years later, Charles Lindbergh would take off from there for his flight across the Atlantic.

The field closed down in the 1950s, and is now home to a big retail/office complex (including the upscale Roosevelt Field Mall) that is quite dense even by Nassau County standards. Not much left of the original facility except a museum. Coincidentally, the central approach control (TRACON) for the NYC area is nearby, as is Hofstra University.

Re: Wings

tterrace - nice catch. I can't figure it out either. The wires appear to be in front of whatever it is so I thought perhaps it was something in the distant background since a supporting structure could be hidden behind Col. Miller (or it could be a stray zeppelin). I checked in the LOC and found a companion shot (see below) that seems to have been taken moments before or after the shot posted. The subjects are in virtually the same positions but the curious anomaly seems to be gone (see detail also below). Perhaps it was a stray zeppelin after all.

Re: Halo

I think this might be a copy of a print that the darkroom tech of the original had to "burn" Col. Miller's head (expose longer than the rest of the print) because it was washed out compared to the oily rest of the group. This is usually done with the hands or a card with a hole cut into it and the shading is not always perfect.

[That had occurred to me, but then how to explain the complete lack of burn artifacting around his face, which you'd expect to be the area needing the most burn? And that's if this is a print; if we're to believe the LOC description, it's a "digital file from original neg." - tterrace]

Good points tterrace and timeandagainphoto especially the fact that the cables aren't affected.

Re: Wings

Re: Wings from tterrace: Interesting find. That halo certainly IS a mystery. My first thought was shadow from the strong front/ground flash if they were inside a tent. Outside I wondered if they pulled an early day photo trick by putting the men in front of a painted backdrop, but the shadows along the ground flowing back from the men seem to be normal. There can't be a hole in the sky. If from some other reason, then why does the halo match the exact roundness of the top of Col. Miller's cap? I've been no help at all, that much I do know. This may just end up being one of those unexplained enigmas.

Emil Kiel

Interesting article on the Air Race can be found here. Lt Kiel had an illustrious career and went on to become a general.

What became of McKee?

It appears that Kiel was the pilot and McKee was the mechanic on that air race, although one would assume they shared the piloting duty. There's plenty on the web about Kiel's future career. Does anyone have a clue what became of McKee?

Colonel Archie Miller...1878-1921

I found this New York Times obituary about the colonel. He was also awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.


Haven't been able to figure out the dark halo effect around Col. Miller's head, viewed either as a positive or negative. Can't be a shadow, and an emulsion anomaly isn't likely since it doesn't affect his cap at all. Must be an early flying saucer.

Quentin Roosevelt Field

This airstrip -- now a strip mall that's getting a new Neiman Marcus -- was named after Theodore Roosevelt's son, who the Germans shot down in World War One. The lack of that identification bothered Quentin's brother Archie in his later years, as after FDR few people remembered or cared just who the spot had been named after.

After a 3 hour flight

of breathing oil fumes and most of it on his face, it's time for a Lucky.

The art of posing

has not yet been learnt by these three, though something seems to be tickling the fancy of the one in the middle.

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