Chance Milton Vought


1917 to 1930

By: E. E. Wilson 1931



E. E. WilsonThis document is somewhat of a 'eulogy' for C. M. Vought, written about 6 months after his death by a personal friend, E. E. Wilson later to become the president of United Aircraft. C.H. Burk typed this in 1991 from a much faded mimeograph copy from the files of W. H. "Bill" Mier, who was in charge of the Blue Print and Reproduction Services at Vought during the 040’s and 050's.

Note the reference to the world war. We would now call it World War 1, but in 1931 the writer didn’t know we were going to have another World War in a few years and have to start numbering them.


Chance Milton Vought, pioneer pilot, aeronautical engineer and aircraft manufacturer, was born in New York City on February 26, 1890, the son of George Washington and Annie Eliza (Colley) Vought. He received his early education in the public schools of New York City and at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY. He entered New York University specializing in engineering and then entered the University of Pennsylvania.

Upon leaving college in 1910, he became consulting engineer for Harold F. McCormick in Chicago, Ill., and was associated with him for three years in charge of experimental developments sponsored by Mr. McCormick. He started to fly in 1910 under the tutelage of the Wright Brothers, and qualified as an airplane pilot in 1911. On August 14, 1912 he was granted International Aircraft Pilot’s License No. 156, issued by the Aero Club of America, as a student of the Lillie Aviation School, Chicago, Ill., and he continued to fly actively until 1917.

In 1912 he became consulting engineer for the Aero Club of Illinois, and in 1913 joined the Lillie Aviation School, Chicago, as aeronautical engineer and pilot. In 1914 he became editor of the pioneer American Aviation Weekly, 'Aero & Hydro.' Later in that year, he became associated with the Mayo Radiator Works in New Haven, Connecticut, where he designed and constructed an advanced training plane for the use of the British Government during the World War. In 1916 he became Chief Engineer of the Wright Company, Dayton Ohio, and produced the then famous Vought Model V Military Biplane. When the Wright Co. merged with Martin Co. to form Wright-Martin Aircraft Co., New York City, in 1917, he continued with the new corporation as aeronautical engineer for a period. Then with Birdseye B. Lewis, he organized the Lewis & Vought Corporation in 1917. He remained their Consulting Engineer and Chairman of the Board until 1922, when the company was succeeded by the one bearing his name. The Chance Vought Corporation, of which he was President and Consulting Engineer.

Both the Lewis & Vought Corporation and its successors, the Chance Vought Corporation, took leading positions in the American aircraft industry and were among the outstanding manufacturers of 2-place advanced training and observation planes. Among these, the Navy 2-seaters, especially designed for catapulting from battleships and scout cruisers and for the operations on aircraft carriers, are most widely associated with his name. From a little group of a dozen men who used a part of a loft floor, the Vought Company grew until in 1930 it employed some 700 men and occupied 175,000 square feet of floor space. In 1928 the Chance Vought Corporation was the second largest American produce of military airplanes, and in 1929, the leading manufacturer of its 'specialized types'. In 1930 the Corporation moved from Long Island City, New York, to East Hartford, Conn., to a new plant designed under Chance Vought’s careful supervision.

In February 1929, the Chance Vought Corporation joined with the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company of Hartford Conn., and the Boeing Airplane Company of Seattle, Wash., and the Boeing Airlines, in forming the United Aircraft Transport Corporation. Chance Vought took a leading part in this development. He became Vice President of the new company, and as a Director and member of the Executive Committee he continued active in its affairs up until his death. He was also a Director of Air Associates, Inc., the National Air Transport Company, and the Manufacturers’ Aircraft Association.

During the World War, he served as Consulting Engineer to the Bureau of Aircraft Production in Washington and to the Engineering Division of the Army Air Corps at McCook Field in Dayton. He was one of the outstanding airplane designers in the United States, and some of the most important developments in use by the Army and Navy are the products of his constructive genius and design leadership. His design work is characterized by advanced thought, sound and finished construction and a particular cleanliness and beauty. Even in the period of box-like aircraft Vought designs were singularly attractive in appearance. As American design continued to improve, Vought airplanes continued in the forefront. He was one of the first American designers to install the Handley-Page slotted wing which he adapted to his 'Corsair' type for the Navy.

Among the airplanes designed and built by him were the PLV biplane (1914); Mayo biplanes (1915); Simplex 3-place Flying boat (1915); Vought-Wright Model V Military Biplane (1916); Wright Hispano Flying Boat (1916); Vought VE-7 Advanced Training Plane (1917); VE-l0 Flying Boat (1918); VE-7SF Navy Standard Thrust Plane (1919); VE-9 Advanced Training Plane (1920); VE-1 1 Special Pursuit Single-seater (1921); Vought UO-1 Convertible Observation Airplanes for catapulting from scout cruisers and battleships (1 922-25); EU-i Single-seater high altitude supercharged fighter (1925); and the famous Vought 02U Corsair series, convertible naval reconnaissance airplanes for catapulting and deck landing. This type as a stock naval seaplane set four world records for speed and altitude performance. Of this list, the VE series, the UO series and the 02U series were types, which took predominant places in military and naval aeronautics, which were built in large quantities, and which continued to operate over a long period of time with conspicuous success.

During his life Chance Vought was the author of numerous treatises on aircraft design, construction, and performances. He was a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers in which he was Vice president and Chairman of the Aircraft Committee. He was a member of the 'Quiet Birdman', and his clubs included the Long Island Aviation Country Club at Hicksville, Ll., of which he was treasurer, Bath & Tennis, Palm Beach; Racquet, Washington; Sampawm, Babylon, L.I; Southampton Riding & Hunt, Southampton; Engineers; Cloud; Embassy; and Montauk Yacht of New York. He was affiliated with St. Thomas Church, New York City. He died in Southampton Hospital. South Hampton, Long Island of septicemia on July 25,1930, leaving his wife, Ena Lewis Vought and two children. Mrs. Vought was closely associated with him in her work and personally assisted him in his shop.

Chance Vought is one of the foremost figures in American aeronautics. A pioneer pilot, he was strikingly successful measured in terms of finance. He made outstanding enduring contributions in the field of design; he was a manufacturer of unusual ability; he combined with this an artistic taste that gave all his works enduring beauty. He was extraordinarily keen mentally, colorful in person and personality, artistic in temperament, tireless in his work, intense in his zeal and a firm realist.

Perhaps a clearer indication of his contribution to Aeronautics may be briefly outlined in the narrative of his later activities. Beginning with 1925, the air-cooled engine began to assert itself in the scheme of things. Chance Vought was one of the first to appreciate its possibilities. He knew that if an engine of this type could be developed in dependability to the point where it would equal other types, it had outstanding advantages. This was particularly true in the field of naval work, in which he was then active, because of the possibilities of reducing weight and size, which were vital in naval aviation. Characteristically, he analyzed the whole situation clearly, and determined to take the lead in exploiting the possibilities. He had wide familiarity with matters of aeronautic engineering, as well as those of automotive and powerboat field. Engineering features which were being widely discussed, defined and argued about were as much a part of him as his own name. He thought in fundamentals and went straight to the bottom of things. Far in advance of his time he thought 'Engineer-wise', if one can express it this way. The influence of these factors in aircraft performance were not items to be defined in the process of use. They were elements of his personality. We find, then, in all his work features in advance of their time which ultimately have become standard. He became keenly interested in the specialized problems of naval aviation. He studied naval activities, and anticipated the place aircraft would take in the scheme of naval things. He foresaw developments and utilized this foresight in the design of his ships. There was a period in which his UO was practically the only airplane entirely suited to naval needs.

With sound business judgment he continued to improve and refine this particular type and made his design last in production as long as it could possibly do so. He was careful not to disclose his idea of a replacement type until such time as he had completely exhausted the sales possibilities of the old type. When confronted by the Navy Department with the demand of something improved, he was ready with a forward step. It was Chance Vought who suggested to the Navy Department the idea that 400 H.P was the minimum which could be expected to give outstanding performance and the maximum which could be expected to give minimum size. It was he who suggested the Wasp size engine. This development was undertaken by the Navy Department through the Pratt and Whitney Engine Company, and the close cooperation between Mr. Rentschler, Mr. Boeing, and Chance Vought, laid the cornerstone of what has become the United Aircraft & Transportation Corporation. When the engine was ready, the new Vought ship was ready, and the 02U plane, known as the Corsair, was one of the first applications of this engine. The striking performance of this ship, which as straight stock airplane, brought world records for speed, distance, and altitude to this country - - brought him dominant position in the Navy observation field. It will be noted that he had confined his activities to one outlet and had dealt in the minimum number of types. Those who have struggled in the effort to manufacture for the Army, the Navy and commercial users in several different types, will appreciate the soundness of his judgment. He undertook one task and performed that task in such a finished was as to assure domination in his field.

The outstanding performance of his Corsair series was due not only to the general cleanliness of the design, but also to a basic conception, American aircraft had been steadily increasing their speed at sea level and much of this increase had been obtained at the expense of landing speed. As long as the landing speeds were reasonable and the low altitude performance was all that was measured, this tendency passed by unobserved. When, however, the Vought Corsair was compared with contemporary single seat fighters, it was found that the 2-seater Corsair was superior to the single seaters at high altitude. The Vought Corsair with 12000 pounds of useful load was faster, more maneuverable, and had better climb characteristics above 15,000 feet than had contemporary single seaters around the same engine with only 700 pounds of useful load. This result served to focus attention on the influence of altitude performance of wing loading. Naval aircraft had been limited in landing speeds from purely practical consideration of operations from catapults, from rough water, and on smaller carrier decks. It was Chance Vought who so clearly emphasized the fact that this practical consideration for working nearer the ground brought superiority at high altitude.

As a further illustration of his advanced ideas, we have the development known as the Vought FU. His standard observation 2-seater, UQ, was converted to a single seater and stiffened up to withstand the additional loads. It incorporated the first service application of supercharging. Some twenty-odd of these ships were built and put into service using the Roots blower capable of maintaining sea level pressures at the carburetor to the critical altitude of 15,000 feet. The engine was the Wright Whirlwind J-5. The little ships went into service simultaneously with the Boeing Packard FB-5. This was a single seater with a 600 h.p. water cooled engine. The squadron equipped with the Vought EU came into daily competition with a similar squadron equipped with the Boeing FB-5. It was a striking fact that anywhere above 10,000 feet the little FU was superior in speed, maneuverability, and climb to its competitor, which had approximately three times its sea level horsepower. Here again was emphasized in actual service the influence of wing loading and supercharging on altitude performance.

Chance Vought was among the first to see that tactical flexibility in observation aircraft working from aircraft carriers required that one type of ship be readily convertible, say over night, to perform numerous functions. The operations of land planes over the water from aircraft carriers had certain elements of risk, which could be removed provided a convertible amphibian feature could be incorporated. His airplanes were already equally outstanding on wheels and floats. He therefore, undertook the development of and produced the first single float service amphibian. His O2S could therefore be flown on wheels from an aircraft carrier with striking suitability as a defensive fighter, it could be catapulted as an amphibian from battleships and cruisers, and land on the carriers for servicing. It could be flown as an amphibian from carrier decks and operated safely at long distances from the carrier because it was capable of landing on the water. By simply removing the wheels from this float it could be operated as a seaplane when desired. Here again, his vision enable him to expand the usefulness of his type and thus the quantity available for manufacture.

In developing his new designs, he worked practically alone. Before a decision was reached to build something new, he had carefully thought out every detail. He then with his own hands with little or no drawings built the first type. At such a time he worked with feverish energy day and night. He seldom left the plant until the new product was finished. When it finally emerged, his design was found to incorporate characteristics, which were new and outstanding. Where others sought by cut and dried methods and the wind tunnel to arrive at cleanliness of form, he accomplished the same result almost instinctively through his artistic sense. He was a firm believer in the adage that a design, which looks well, will perform well. There was never anything radical in the Vought designs, but when these were subsequently tested, they were found to be in advance of contemporary ideas. When as a result of inevitable overloading incident to service, he found his designs compromised, he was prepared with something new to replace it. Thus before his death he had begun a new two seater naval type to be known as the 04U. Here again he had incorporated the results of experience and his genius for advanced design. He was keenly sensitive to the reactions of the pilots who flew his ships. He was tireless in his efforts to meet their requirements. He took great pride in the quality of his ships and was a finished workman. It is likely that he had more real friends among the flying personnel that most any other contemporary designer. His familiarity with developments in the automotive and powerboat field enabled him to incorporate advanced ideas, both in design and manufacture. As a result of his business acumen he accumulated a fortune.

Chance Vought was one of the picturesque and colorful figures in American Aviation. He loved the theater and the life of New York and found recreation there. He watched the City’s passing show with amused tolerance, clearly recognizing the realities behind the scenes. Artistic by nature and a finished workman, he appreciated and loved the fine technique in the shop, on the stage or in sports. Frank and forceful in personality, he used picturesque language, particularly in exposition of hypocrisy and sham. In conflict he quickly sensed maneuvering behind the lines but he won his battles by direct attack in which disarming frankness exposed the opponent’s weakness. A host of real friends loved him for his personality and admired his genius. His closest friends had many proofs of his devotion and loyalty and were proud of his regard. Strong personal pride influenced his every act. He was that rare combination of outstanding ability and colorful personality, which remains intensely human and real. He leaves a niche in American life no one else can fill because there is none other like him. He as a man among men, loved and respected by his employees.

January 22, 1931

EEW mg


A Short Biography of Chance Milton Vought
An Extended Biography with Photographs