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Porter H. Adams, President of the N.A.A., Ca. 1926 (Source: Smithsonian)
Porter H. Adams, President of NAA, Ca. 1926 (Source: Smithsonian)

Porter H. Adams was born August 10, 1894, the son of a wealthy Boston family. He was well-educated and well-connected. He learned to fly at a young age, became a one-time colleague of Donald Douglas and somehow went by the title of Colonel, even though he is quoted as having served in the Navy during WWI. In the Navy, he was an Ensign in 1922 and a Lt. Commander in 1925. Albeit short, he led a life of achievement.

Adams With N.A.A. Delegation, Undated (Source: Site Visitor)
Adams With N.A.A. Delegation, Undated (Source: Site Visitor)


Photograph, right, courtesy of the Smithsonian Flickr photostream. The caption states, "Porter Adams has just been elected President of the National Aeronautic Association [N.A.A.], an organization devoted to furthering the general use of planes in the United States. (An especially posed portrait of Porter Adams)." This would date the photograph to circa 1926, the year he took over the presidency (he held the position until 1928).

In his role as N.A.A. president, he traveled around the country meeting with local chapters of the organization, left. Note the name of Miss Lorraine Defren, president of the local N.A.A. chapter and of the Wing & Prop Club of New England (see below).

Adams, along with a couple of other Register pilots (e.g. E.E. Aldrin and Jimmy Doolittle) was a pioneering student of aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1914 graduate). His interest in aviation persisted through his life as evidenced by learning to fly, responsibilities with the N.A.A. and many other aviation-related activities.

Who's Who in Aviation, 1942 (Source: Webmaster)
Who's Who in Aviation, 1942 (Source: Webmaster)


The REFERENCE, page 5, shown at left, yields a 4.5 column-inch topical outline of Adams' accomplishments through 1940. If size matters to you, Lindbergh's topical outline measures only 4 column-inches in the same book.

If you study this listing carefully, you'll see that Adams was highly accomplished in things organizational and executive. Unlike a lot of other Register pilots, his personal flying did not lead to his notoriety. Whereas others brought their considerable physical skills to bear, Adams dwelled on his intellectual abilities, preferring to work behind the scenes to enable those with the other skills as they achieved their more visible records.

There is conjecture about his visit at Tucson, which is recorded about half-way down on page 18 of the Register. There you will see signed in the pilot column, in order, F. Trubee Davison, Lester Maitland and Porter Adams. Davison was flying a Fokker C-2 transport, and Maitland and Adams dittoed across the Register, implying that they, too, were flying Fokker C-2s. None of them entered a registration number, so it is impossible to say.

Assistant Secretary of War F. Trubee Davison, accompanied by Brig.-Gen. William [unreadable] and Porter Adams, president of the National Aeronautic Association, will fly to Oakland after the army air maneuvers at San Antonio, Tex., to inspect the Oakland municipal airport on Bay Farm Island and
Crissy Field. The tour will start May 22 and
will include visits to San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, Benicia, Oakland and San Francisco, according to information received here today.

The conjecture arises because Davison listed as his passengers in his airplane Maitland and Porter, among others. Were they flying as passengers with Davison and mistakenly wrote their names in the pilot column, or were they flying their own C-2s? The article from The New York Times of May 21, 1927 suggests the former, right.

Regardless of the conjecture, Adams landed at Tucson as either pilot or passenger with Davison, on Monday, May 23, 1927 at 10:00AM. Based at Washington, DC, they were westbound from El Paso, TX to San Diego, CA.

We can trace the natural path of Davison and Porter through Tucson by the article, left, from the Oakland (CA) Tribune of Tuesday, May 17, 1927, which told of their plan to visit Oakland and other locations in California to "inspect" various airfields after they left an event at San Antonio, TX. No mention is made of any of the other passengers listed with Davison in the Register.

A couple of months before his visit at Tucson, he was photographed on March 26, 1927 at an unidentified location (probably in Belgium), in what appears to be a congratulatory ceremony. Below is that photograph of Porter (L) with Baron deCartier, Ward T. Van Orman and Walter W. Morton. This image is from the Library of Congress (LOC) and is cited and sold numerous places on the Web. Note that Van Orman's name is misspelled occasionally as "Van Arman."

Porter Adams (L), March 26, 1927 (Source: LOC)
Porter Adams (L), March 26, 1927 (Source: LOC)


The New York TImes, May 21, 1927 (Source: Woodling)
The New York TImes, May 21, 1927 (Source: Woodling)


With a little research, we can determine the circumstances surrounding the photograph. Cartier (1871-1946) was a Belgian diplomat, who, upon his passing, was buried at Westminster Cathedral. W. T. Van Orman (1894-1978) and Walter Wilber Morton (1891-1981) were the winners of the Gordon-Bennett Balloon Race, which began in Antwerp, Belgium on May 30, 1926. If we compare this date with that of the photograph above, it appears that the congratulations are being given before the beginning of the Race. Oddly, the object on the table does not look like the Gordon-Bennett Trophy. Perhaps this was simply a vanity photo op, performed before the event for each pair of contestants, so they could go home with a photo of the Baron and N.A.A. president Adams.

Regardless, the stated purpose of the Gordon-Bennett Race simply was to fly the farthest from the launch site. Van Orman and Morton's balloon was named "Goodyear III" (Van Orman was a Goodyear employee who invented the inflatable life raft and self-sealing fuel tank) and they remained in the air for 16 hours and 37 minutes, traveling 864 kilometers. At the U.S. National Race in 1928, which started at Pittsburgh, PA, Morton was killed when lightning struck the balloon and ignited its hydrogen. Van Orman fell with the burning bag unconscious from the lightning concussion, but survived the landing without serious injury.

Compared to other years before and since, his was not the longest in the air or over the ground, but it was good enough for the 1926 win. Porter is in the group because of his affiliation with the N.A.A., which certified the event. Van Arman, flying with a different copilot, was the winner of the 1929 and 1930 Races, too. Incidentally, Register pilot Frank P. Lahm was the very first winner of the Gordon-Bennett Race in 1906, flying a balloon inflated with coal gas.

Another interesting photograph of Adams watching an aerial demonstration on May 26,1931 is at the Boston Public Library photostream.

During the 1920s the use and control of air power by military forces was not a given, or well-defined, enterprise. It is commonly known that General Billy Mitchell (1879-1936) was vocal and aggressive in advocating for increased investment in air power by the Army, and that his relationships with his peers and superiors (in both the Army and the Navy!) stood on shaky ground because of his criticism of them for not being foresighted regarding the role of aviation in warfare. These, and his advocacy for a single Air Force for the Army and the Navy, would lead to his court martial for insubordination and his resignation from the Army in 1926.

With that background, the article, right, from The New York Times of May 21, 1927 illuminates Adams' position on the Mitchell doctrine, as well as ties us in to his landing at Tucson. Trubee Davison and Porter are cited near the end of the article as participating in the military aerial display of, "202 planes in the air" at San Antonio, two days before their landing at Tucson. It seems the display fed into the position of the present military brass that aviation controlled by

Adams was president of Norwich University from 1934-1939. His personal papers, scrapbooks, articles, diaries and aeronautical materials are housed at the archives of the Norwich University Library. He received an honorary Ph.D. from Norwich University in 1935.

Adams resigned the presidency of the University in 1939 because of ill health. Born in Andover, MA in 1894, he died at age 51 in Boston, MA December 5, 1945. Below is his obituary from The New York Times.

The New York Times, December 6, 1945 (Source: Woodling)
The New York Times, December 6, 1945 (Source: Woodling)


An artifact that was gifted to Adams by Lorraine Defren (see article at top of this page) was this gold cigarette case, which was engraved with his initials and a small likeness of a biplane.

Porter Adams, Presentation Cigarette Case, Date Unknown (Source: Site Visitor)
Porter Adams, Presentation Cigarette Case, Date Unknown (Source: Site Visitor)

Ms. Defren was the local president of the N.A.A. in Boston and Mr. Adams was a previous local president from Boston. Inside the case was engraved the entire text of the Kipling poem "If." The text is out of focus, but you can read it at the link. The inscription on the other half is what is important. The case was given to Adams by Defren and engraved "Lorraine Defren Frankland." It appears to have been well-used.

Porter Adams, Presentation Cigarette Case, Date Unknown (Source: Site Visitor)
Porter Adams, Presentation Cigarette Case, Date Unknown (Source: Site Visitor)



THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 05/17/12 REVISED: 09/19/16

The Register
I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Adams to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.
Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.
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