James V. Piersol, Ca. 1931
James Piersol signed the Davis-Monthan Register Friday, January 8, 1932. He arrived in Lockheed Vega NC32M carrying two passengers, Vance Breese and Arthur Mankey. Based in Detroit, MI, they were eastbound from Burbank, CA back to Detroit.
At the time of his Tucson landing, Piersol
was the aviation editor for the Detroit News. It must have been one of those crisp, January high-pressure area days, as Piersol noted in the Remarks column of the Register, "Fine weather". Piersol also appeared earlier in the Register as a passenger in NC32M on August 24, 1929 with fellow Detroit News pilot, Frank Byerley.
NC32M is a special airplane, in that it was fitted out for journalism, used for photo and news-gathering, and was owned by the Evening News Association, Detroit, MI, publisher of the Detroit News. It was equipped with a desk and typewriter, radio, wing-mounted camera and a dark room for developing pictures while aloft. Please direct your browser to the airplane's page for additional information and photographs of this interesting Register airplane.
As aviation editor for the newspaper, a pilot and a journalist, Piersol involved himself as a peer in the feats, people, aircraft and events of Golden Age flying. The role of the Detroit News airplanes (there were two Lockheeds, Vega NC32M and Orion NC799W, below, and an autogiro) was pivotal in getting news quickly and accurately in the days before email, communication satellites and video feeds. Piersol summarized these very newsworthy advantages of the Vega in this article (PDF 7.8MB) from Aero Digest, January, 1931 (courtesy of Roger Holden, via Tim Kalina). Of high interest in this article is the economic analysis performed to justify the airplane in the Detroit News' business toolkit.
Also of interest in this article is the lead photograph of Piersol. You will notice that it is a headshot cropped from the autographed photo, above. In additon, the background is erased and blended, eliminating the details of what appears to be the Vega NC32M behind Piersol. His signature, with first name, initial and last name all connected, matches that of his signature on page 180 of the Register. The back of the photo is stamped ‘Photograph by the Detroit News’. Compare this photograph with the one at Byerley's link, above. It is itself cropped from that photo.
Below, courtesy of Roger Holden, is a crisp image of NC32M. It is embossed in the lower right corner, "The Detroit News, Detroit, Mich." Please direct your browser to the Vega's link, above, for additonal information about this pioneering workhorse aircraft.
Lockheed Vega NC32M, Date & Location Unknown
Since NC799W is not a Register airplane, we'll feature it here on Piersol's page. It replaced NC32M as the primary news plane. Below, Piersol in white flying helmet talks with Detroit News publisher W. E. Scripps. This same image can be seen at Scripps' link. The location of the image is probably Detroit, MI. Note the streamlined "pants" on the non-retractable tail wheel.
Lockheed Orion NC799W, Date Unknown
Below, a wonderfully clear overhead image of the Orion. Piersol wrote about this airplane and its equipment in a two-page article for Aero Digest, February, 1935 (PDF 3.4MB). You will see Piersol in this article photographed as he serviced the camera pod visible on the port wing, visible forward of the "S", below. Another example of Piersol's journalism, from September, 1935, is here.
Lockheed Orion NC799W, Date Unknown
Below, a Detroit News photo of Piersol, left, standing on the wing of the newspaper's Orion alongside Detroit Tigers catcher/manager Gordon 'Mickey' Cochrane. The photo is dated on the bottom.
James Piersol, Left, June 21, 1936 (Source: Kalina)
Detroit News, July 17, 1928
Neither of Piersol's visits to Tucson in NC32M seem to be related to significant aeronautical events.
We know that he reported on the National Air Tours of 1927, 1928 and 1929. Chapter 3 of this REFERENCE summarizes the 1927 event. During the 1927 Tour, Piersol was a passenger in the Navy Ford Trimotor A-7526: the Lockheed Vega NC32M had not been built yet.
Chapter 4 of the REFERENCE cited above documents the 1928 Tour. No mention of Piersol appears in the chapter, but we do have an article from the Detroit News of July 17, 1928 (left) when the Tour was in the Pacific Northwest (when it passed en masse through Tucson July 10th, either Piersol wasn't with the Tour, or he didn't sign the Register).
This article references the powerhouses of the 1928 Tour, who, not coincidentally, are Register pilots celebrated on this site: Phoebe Omlie, John Wood, Frank Hawks, Eddie Stinson, William Brock, Vance Breese and Al Henley. Please direct your browser to the individual pages for these pilots to learn about their participation in the Tour, and about their airplanes and lives.
The REFERENCE, above, cites Piersol riding part-time with Register pilot William S. Brock in a Bellanca CH, NC6503. Although Brock, and this airplane, landed at Tucson July 10th with the 1928 Tour, Piersol is not listed among the two passengers cited by Brock. You may see a motion picture of the airplanes of the 1928 Tour flying, landing and taxiiing at Tucson here.
With the acquisition of NC32M, page 112 of Chapter 5 of the REFERENCE above cites the Vega as an accompanying airplane to the 1929 Tour. Byerley is cited as pilot; Piersol as passenger. The 1929 Tour did not land at Tucson.
Piersol also worked and wrote for the New York Times and in other journalistic endeavors on his own.
According to his NASM biographical file (left sidebar), Piersol was born at Battle Creek, IA on July 25, 1901. He attended Trinity College, but left to serve as a seaman and gunner on the USS Columbia during WWI (see below).
He attended the Ashley Aviation School and learned to fly in 1920 at Brown Field, MN. He attended the Ramsey Institute of Technology in 1921 and the Minnesota College of Law in 1922. I am not sure he graduated therefrom. Does anyone KNOW? He married Barbara Hadley of Minneapolis on March 21, 1925.
National Aeronautics, June, 1938, cites his role in the development of news aircraft, "Jimmy Piersol drew the specifications and supervised the construction of the first planes built especially for newspaper work. His most recent job [then with the New York Times], known as 'the newspaper office of the sky,' combines in one plane the facilities of a paper truck, a passenger transport, photo and radio broadcasting equipment and has a range of 1,000 miles at 200 m.p.h."
The same source cites other significant and relevant accomplishments, "He developed a harness mocrophone to eliminate background noise from airplane broadcasts and to leave both the pilot's hands free for flying the plane. He holds a radio operator's license and has done extensive test flying of radio directional devices and ultra-high frequency equipment for aircraft communications and the transmission of photos." This last activity sounds like it might be an early version of airborne facsimile transmission. Although fax technologies had been around for a while, and radio transmission of facsimile information was in use at the time, this may be the earliest application of fax from an airplane. Does anyone KNOW?
Who's Who in Aviation for 1942-43 lists his aviation business record as, "grease monkey 1919; barnstormer and pilot for aviation firms 1920-25; aviation reporter Kalamazoo Gazette, Mich., 1925-1926; aviation ed. The Detroit News 1927-1937, the New York Times 1937-38; transport pilot 1939-40; originator of pilot actuated and remote control camera installations for news photoplanes and mil. reconnaissance planes."
The same source cites his military experience beginning when he was assigned to naval convoy duty 1917-1918. He became a cadet in the U.S. Navy at the Great Lakes Training School in 1918. He was on active duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps beginning in 1941, rising through the ranks to Major as of 1942-43.
Piersol died in August of 1962, when he was sixty-two years old.
UPLOADED: 03/19/09 REVISED: 03/27/09, 03/31/09