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The Ross RS-1: A tale of what might have been

Joshua Stoff
Curator Cradle of Aviation Museum One Davis Avenue Garden City, NY 11530

In the post-Lindbergh euphoria in the 1920s and 30s, a wave of flying fever swept the country. This resulted in many thousands of people wanting to fly and some day even own their or own aircraft. In a response, the aviation industry produced a wave of low-cost aircraft in the 1930s, including simple gliders, kit planes, plans for planes and some relatively cheap production aircraft. Notably among the latter was the Ross RS-1, not for what it achieved, but for what it could have become had it been introduced but a couple of years earlier. Orrin Ross was a grassroots flier on Long Island, New York, and in the mid 1930s he designed an aircraft that could be produced and operated with the lowest possible budget. Visually the RS-1 was very much along the lines of the popular Pietenpol Air Camper, which first made its appearance in 1929. The major difference between the two was that the Ross was always intended to be a production aircraft, the cheapest on the market, while the Pietenpol was always a homebuilt. A simple no-frills airplane, the RS-1 possessed no unique aerodynamic or structural breakthroughs. It was just designed to sell cheaply, to operate cheaply, and be very simple to fly with no unusual handling qualities. Its one real selling point was its price, $875, ready to fly ($300 down). Even by 1930s standards this was a remarkable price for a new aircraft. Like the Pietenpol, the RS-1 was a two-place strut-braced parasol-wing aircraft. Always intended to be powered by a 40hp Continental engine, the RS-1 had the same general dimensions as the Pietenpol (20 foot length, 30 foot wingspan) and featured about the same performance with a cruising speed of about 75 mph. However, whereas the Pietenpol was almost entirely wood, the RS1 incorporated steel and aluminum construction The Ross Aircraft Company was registered in Amityville, N.Y., with Orrin Ross as President and Engineer and his wife Florence as Secretary and Treasurer. However much of the aircraft appears to have been built at Roosevelt Field, Garden City. Ross began designing the aircraft in the mid 1930s, with
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construction taking place in 1937-38. It had standard aircraft construction techniques although the use of materials was kept to the minimum necessary. Other than offering the thrill of flight cheaply, there was little to be said for the design. Ross firmly believed that his aircraft would sell like hotcakes, even in Depression-era America. This belief was based on the reality that there were certainly thousands of weekend pilots who would be thrilled to get into the air in their own aircraft, even the bare minimum that it was. The flat-sided fuselage frame was built out of welded steel tubing, fabric covered. The tail surfaces were also of welded steel tubing with aluminum ribs, again fabric covered. The two-panel slab-like wing featured solid spruce spars with spruce and plywood truss-type ribs. Its leading edge was covered in aluminum with the entire wing frame covered in fabric. The bathtub-like open cockpit sat two in tandem, with a windscreen for the front occupant only. Both instrumentation and control systems were straightforward and as simple as possible. With such a simple aerodynamic arrangement, the aircraft was probably quite stable and easy to fly. Certainly visibility was outstanding. The one surviving pilot report claims the aircraft handled like a heavy ship in the air, able to be flown hands off with excellent flying and landing characteristics. Unfortunately as Ross was always determined to certify the aircraft for production, it was forced to go through a lengthy and expensive certification process, unlike the homebuilt Pietenpol. This resulted in a full two years of delay with the aircraft not being fully certified until August 1940. By then however, it was just too late as World War Two was upon America with its impending halt on General Aviation production. Sadly after its four year development and certification process, it arrived on the scene just too late. Its appeal in 1941 was nowhere near what it would have been in 1937. It is interesting to wonder how the story of this little-known aircraft could have been very different had it been produced in the thousands as Orrin Ross once predicted.

The completed RS-1 (NX1316) at Roosevelt Field, circa 1938. Visibility in all directions was clearly outstanding.

The RS-1 taking shape at Roosevelt Field. It appears to have been assembled by Roosevelt Field Aviation School mechanics (students?). Note both the cabane and landing gear struts are welded directly to the fuselage.

A view of the simple cockpit of the RS-1. The air wheels were the only form of shock absorber.

A rear view of the RS-1 on the flightline at Roosevelt Field. While initially featuring a tailskid, a tailwheel was to be offered as an option.

The RS-1 now being covered with fabric. The uncovered fuel tank was forward of the cockpit. The streamlined steel struts bolted directly to the wing spars.

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Above: The RS-1 paying a visit to the swanky Aviation Country Club in Hicksville in 1938. Note solo was from the rear seat. Below: A 1940 publicity photo of the RS-1 shown, for contrast, with a DC-3 at Roosevelt Field. Note that the aircraft now has both a tailwheel and a proper registration number (NC1316) as it has now been certified.

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Below: After World War Two, Ross made another pass at marketing the aircraft, now known as the RS-2. It featured a second windscreen for the rear seat, modified cowling, and now a 65hp Lycoming engine. The one Ross built was destroyed in a windstorm at Fitzmaurice Field on Long Island in 1950.

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