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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Roy Manning - Test Pilot & Confidant.

This is the first of several posts that will highlight some of the lesser known people at Ford Motor Co in the first 40 years of it's history.

This segment will deal with Roy Manning, or as he was known to his parents, Sherman Leroy Manning.

Roy Manning was introduced to Henry Ford thru a mutual friend, Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh holds the honor of giving Henry & Edsel Ford their first flights in an aircraft & that aircraft was none other than the Spirit of St. Louis!

Around 1926 Ford entered the aircraft business partnering up with William Stout to form the Ford all metal airplane corporation. The unique thing about these airplanes was the fact that canvas was not used anywhere on the aircraft, except for the upholstery in the wicker seats inside the cabin. Even the control surfaces were skinned in corrugated aluminum- an unusual practice in the day.

Ford hired Manning and one other test pilot, Harry Brooks (he will be covered in the next post) to test fly these aircraft and the various experimental jobs that were constantly being built. As we will read one of these cost him his life.

Henry Ford had a hard & fast rule of no smoking anywhere, anytime on Ford property. Manning being a smoker himself would load one of the Ford Tri-Motor's down with fellow smokers and take them for a ride long enough to enjoy a cigarette or two. The couple of times Ford questioned him about it, he chalked up the ride to 'testing purposes'.

Another interesting tidbit is whenever Henry Ford flew with Manning, he requested him to wear a Derby hat instead of his traditional leather helmet. No explanation is given, but this further proves Henry Ford's non conformist attitudes.

So what happened to Roy Manning? Ford Aircraft built an experimental bomber for the Army in 1931, it passed the test given it at Wright Field and Manning even commented on how "it was faster than any bomber I had ever seen". Back in Dearborn at the Ford Airport, Manning was again at the controls when he set a measured 3 mile course only 200 ft off the ground, at the end of this run he made a steep climbing turn and in the process G forces overloaded the wings and sheared them off. He was killed instantly.

Henry Ford was quite distraught over the whole thing as Roy had became a close friend of Mr. Ford's. Ford Aircraft did not built anymore aircraft until the Consolidated B-24 built at the famous Willow Run Plant during WW2.

There's not alot of information floating around about Manning, what I've posted here is what I've gleaned from my personal collection of Ford information and scouring old newspapers. If you have any information you'd like to share, feel free to drop me an email!