Born in 1898, young Edmond Rufus Doak would bicycle after
dust devils around his Ft. Worth, Texas, ranch tossing bits of paper and
watching them swirl out of sight. This fascination with rising air currents
never left Doak, a self-made engineer and pioneer of vertical lift in the
early days of Southern California aviation.
In December, 1910, the Doak family moved to California and
young Ed peddled his bike to the 1911 Dominguez Air Meet where his
fascination with flight truly hit home (Note: my mother and father attended
the Meet, separately)
By November, 1913, 15-year old Ed was hired as a stock boy
with the fledgling Glenn L. Martin aviation company of 30 employees at 934
S. Flower, Los Angeles. There, he rubbed elbows with Donald Douglas, Sr. and
Lawrence Bell, later the founder of Bell Aircraft. When Martin moved to
Cleveland, Ed remained behind inspecting aircraft and engines for the Army
Signal Corps in Sacramento, California.
In 1922, Ed became the purchasing agent for the
Davis-Douglas company, a position he held until 1935. After a brief stint as
Factory Manager for North American Aviation, he rejoined Douglas and became
General Manager and Vice President (of Douglas-El Segundo) where he oversaw
the DC-5 project in El Segundo..
As war clouds were gathering in 1939, Doak left Douglas to
found his own Doak Aircraft Co. in Hermosa Beach and Torrance. Wartime
contracts poured in as he converted aluminum skins of training aircraft to
molded plywood. By war's end his Torrance company at 2321 Abalone St.
employed nearly 3,000 women.
They had produced 1,000 fuselage sections for the Vultee
BT-13 and the North American AT-6 along with aluminum doors, hatches, and
gun turrets for nearly every aircraft manufacturer, earning the coveted
Army-Navy E for excellence.
After the war Doak built aluminum lawn furniture for the
Kroehler Furniture Co. while continuing to explore ideas for helicopters,
ducted fans, contra-rotating impellers with rigid blades with trailing edge
flaps and spoilers.
In the late 50's, Army Research and Development awarded Doak
a contract to explore vertical take-off aircraft coupled with forward
flight. On February 25, 1958 with Jim Reichert at the controls, the Doak
Model 16 (VZ-4DA) lifted off from Torrance Municipal Airport for the first
Flight tests continued at Edwards (1959-1960), then the
airplane was turned over to NASA (Langley). Doak went out of business in
1961 - The VZ-4 data and drawings were sold to Douglas and two or three Doak
engineers were hired by Douglas...
The chief engineer of Doak Aircraft, Norm Nelson, along with
Jim Reichert (Aerodynamicist and private pilot), were primarily responsible
for the design of the Doak Model 16NZ-4DA research airplane. Jim did an
outstanding job as test pilot although he had very limited vertical flight
(helicopter) experience. Virtually all of his prior flying experience was in
his Cessna 120, and later, his Beech Bonanza. Of course, nobody in the world
had experience flying a ducted-fan VTOL airplaine!
Norm Nelson landed at Lockheed following the demise of Doak
Aircraft. He was heavily involved in the A-12/SR-71 project and later was
program manager of the HaveBlue and F-117 program. He retired from his
position as V.P./General Manager of Lockheed's Skunk Works in the late 80's
. Jim Reichert also ended up at Lockheed and was one of the developers of
the radar absorption coating systems used on the F-117.
Many thanks to Ray Ulyate - Placentia, California (2001) for
sending this item to us. Ray was employed by Doak Aircraft from 1957 to 1960
and knew Ed Doak personally.
Check out this web site for more info on Doak Aircraft