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The Rocketeer Who Never Was - Annotated Bibliography
Annotated Bibliography to The Rocketeer Who Never Was.


Original citation that started this whole research (incorrect in every respect- date, location, and duration):

"1931 January 4: William G. Swan stayed aloft for 30 minutes over Atlantic City, N.J., in a glider powered with 10 small rockets." from: Eugene M. Emme, comp., Aeronautics and Astronautics: An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration of Space, 1915-1960 (Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1961), pp. 26-32. https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Timeline/1930-34.html


Identification of William Gaylord Swan as William Dewey Stinchcomb:

Note: Stinchcomb family surname written as Stinchcomb, Stynchcombe, and Stynchcomb.

Ancestry.com message boards:

antoinettehein (View posts) Posted: 23 Jul 2003 07:36PM My Great-grandfather was William Dewey Stinchcomb born in NC, but moved to MD and married into the Liston family. I know nothing else. He divorced his wife and left when my grandfather was very very young and then she died and my grandfather was raised by her side of the family. I know William Dewey had a lot of brothers and sisters! Please help. I want to do this for my grandmother!

Posted: 03 Jan 2015 02:52AM
My grandfather was supposedly William Gaylord Swan. His mother was supposedly Della Foster from Georgia. His father was supposedly William Calvin "Swan". But, I have been in contact with a close DNA match who believes we are Stinchcombs. My grandfather was supposedly born in 1902 and died in 1933. I do know for sure that he was a famous stunt pilot in the 1930's. I notice you posted yor message 15 years ago. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Posted: 09 Mar 2016 12:28AM
It looks like William and Della had a son named William Dewey. Through a DNA test, we know William and Della are my great grandparents. I've talked to Betty Stinchcomb Biles, and she is my Dad's first cousin. Now, I'm trying to figure out what happened to William Dewey. In Dorsey's obit., a brother W.D. Stinchcomb of Montreal is mentioned. Do you know William Dewey?

Arlene Stowe
Posted: 10 May 2017 09:05PM
Well, just got more info from a NC cousin who says William Gaylord Swan was born William Dewey Stinchcomb. He disappeared when he was very young, and his parents William Calvin and Della Foster died without knowing what happened to him. Under the Swan name, he was a stunt pilot. He supposedly died during a flight in Texas, and there was a big article about him in the local newspaper.


Before Swan

On farm in Georgia, age 9: 1910 United States Federal Census, Place: House, Jackson, Georgia; Roll: T624_195; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0095; FHL microfilm: 1374208

World War I service giving birth years as 1899: Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919. "William Dewey Stinchcomb", enlistment 11 November 1916.

Convict on chain gang: Georgia, Central Register of Convicts, 1817-1976. Received 23 August 1919. Name given as Dewey Stinchcomb, but no other Dewey Stinchcombs or even Stinchcombs of the correct age and from the correct county are known from Georgia in this period.

1920 United States Federal Census, Place: Monroe, Walton, Georgia; Roll: T625_283; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 165: Name given as David Stinchcomb but again no other David Stinchcombs or even Stinchcombs of the correct age and from the correct county are known from Georgia in this period. This entry is from prison inmates lists, probably transcribed incorrectly.

Birth of children with Marguerite Liston:

District of Columbia, Select Deaths and Burials Index, 1769-1960: Name: Stillborn Stinchcomb; Gender: Female; Death Date: 13 Sep 1922; Father: John Wm. Stinchcomb; Mother: Marguerite Liston; FHL Film Number: 2117451; Reference ID: 22930

U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007; Name Richard Liston Stinchcomb; Gender Male; Race White; Birth Date 23 May 1928; Birth Place Wash, District of Columbia; Death Date 18 Jun 1998; FatherJohn W Stinchcomb; Mother M M Liston; SSN 579362917; NotesJun: Name listed as RICHARD LISTON STINCHCOMB; 25 Jun 1998: Name listed as RICHARD L STINCHCOMB; Household Members M M Liston; John W Stinchcomb; Richard Liston Stinchcomb

Washington Post, District of Columbia, 5 June 1940, Obituary of Marguerite Liston Stinchcomb


Becoming Swan:

Cumberland Evening Times - 6 September 1929 "Miss Huldah Wellington Engaged to Georgian". The Wellingtons announced the engagement of their daughter to William Gaylord Swan, "son of the late Colonel and Mrs. William Swan, of Atlanta, Georgia. Swan was "connected with the Swan Aircraft Display Company, Atlantic City, New Jersey."

Cumberland Evening Times - 31 October 1929 "Colorful Reception Follows Wedding" Swan marries Helen Huldah Wellington. She was the daughter of John Wellington, a banker, and granddaughter of Republican US Senator George Wellington. Swan's father was named as the late Colonel William C Swan, of Atlanta, Georgia.

Cumberland Evening Times - August 8, 1930, it was reported that "Swans, Following Visit, Fly to Lake Seneca: Mrs and Mrs William G Swan, who have been the guests of Mr and Mrs John L Willington, left yesterday by plane for Lake Seneca, New York. Mr Swan was flying a Mercury monoplane. They took off at Mexico Farms at 2 PM, reaching Lake Seneca in 2 hours and 15 minutes. (Mercury monoplane, Mercury Chic T-2 2POLM, Lettland 90 hp 935 lbs empty 328 lbs useful load 1513 lbs gross. Flown for the first time in 1928 around 30 were built but due to the early 1930s economic depression only 15 were sold and the rest were scrapped… Mexico Farms Airport is a public airport located 3 miles south of downtown Cumberland, Maryland..)

Cumberland Evening Times - March 21, 1931, it was reported that "Mrs John L Wellington returned last night from a two weeks' visit to Atlantic City, where she was the guest of her son-in-law and daughter."

Swan trainer:

Cumberland Times-News 5 June 2010 "The idea of rocket-powered flight intrigued Swan. He was already an inventor, who had created a flight trainer. According to the Cumberland Evening Times, his trainer was 'a miniature plane with stub wings and a small motor, which are superimposed on a large pivot. Actuation of the controls in the cockpit causes the plane to bank, turn, dive and climb on the pivot as in actual flight, without leaving the ground.' So Swan set about overcoming the problems of rocket powered-flight. On Jan. 4, 1931, he took a glider fitted with 10 small rockets and stayed aloft over the Atlantic City Municipal Airport for half an hour, according to the NASA website. In doing so, he became the first American to fly successfully using rocket power.



Zoegling Glider: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DFS_Z%C3%B6gling

The Opel / Sander / Lippisch flights:

Source: http://www.astronautix.com/l/lippisch.html, reference Michels, Juergen and Przybilski, Olaf, Peenemuende und seine Erben in Ost und West, Bernard & Graefe, Bonn, 1997:

1928 June 11 - A rocket-boosted glider is flown by Friedrich Stamer from the Rhoen Mountains in Western Germany. The development was funded by Opel, the canard-layout glider designed by Hans Lippisch, and the powder rockets developed by Sander. As in the Opel ground vehicles, a boost rocket (360 kgf for 3 seconds) was to accelerate the glider down the launch ramp. A sustainer rocket (20 kgf for 30 seconds) would keep the aircraft in flight. It was hoped to develop a method of launching gliders that would allow the pilot to get airborne without assistance - that did not require a tow aircraft or the eight-man crew needed to pull back the rubber band on existing rail launchers. Tests with smaller motors in models showed the high-thrust motors were too powerful, so the full-scale tests used a standard rubber-band rail launcher with only the low thrust motors installed. After two attempted flights, Stamer finally made a successful flight, firing two 20 kgf motors one after the other. The glider flew about 1.5 km in 70 seconds. On the second flight the first motor exploded, setting the aircraft on fire. Stamer landed successfully but further attempts were abandoned.

1929 September 30 Opel sponsored resumption of tests of rocket-boosted gliders near Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. These involved a design by Lippisch, boosted by 16 powder rockets of 23 kgf each. With Opel at the controls, the glider successfully launched itself from a 20-m long rail launcher, and he flew the aircraft for ten minutes. However the landing went badly - the design had a landing speed of 160 kph, and with a total weight of 270 kg, a high wing loading. Opel survived but the glider had to be written off. This was Opel's last involvement with rocketry. General Motors, the majority owner of the Opel company, prohibited further rocketry work after the stock market crash. Fritz von Opel left the country and moved to Switzerland.

Swan's Powder rocket characteristics: There seems to be no good view of the rocket installation in the seat below Swan's glider. However they seem to have been smaller than the rockets used by Lippisch, probably commercially-available black powder rockets, such as those used for line throwing from ships. The Glendale Rocket Society Annual of 1946 includes a review of small black powder rockets tested. The nominal 6 pound rocket had 1.5 pounds of charge, with 0.7 pounds of black powder, producing a maximum of 42 pounds of thrust, an average of 17 pounds over 2.8 seconds, with an exhaust velocity of 2230 feet/sec. If Swan's were similar, 10 rockets would have resulted in a supplemental velocity of around 50 mph after the launch with the bungee cord. If the glider was truly launched from the Steel Pier, it could have been catapulted from a rail, with the mentioned floats for landing on the water. However this probably would have involved only one rocket to produce the smoke effect.

The Courier-News, Bridgewater, Somerset, New Jersey - 25 May 1931 - "…an Atlantic City pilot narrowly escaped death in a forced parachute jump when the wing of a plane he was flying back from Trenton ripped as he was near Columbus. The flier is William G. Swan, stunt parachute jumper for 10 years. He is pilot of the rocket-driven glider at the Steel Pier here. It was the first forced jump he had to make during all the time he has thrilled spectators with his parachute leaps " One may wondered if this really happened or if it was provided to newspapers to promote the upcoming Steel Pier attraction.

The New York Times, 5 June 1931: First hand account of Swan's first flight.

The New York Times, 6 June 1931: First hand account of Swan's second flight.

On June 8, 1931, a postcard was postmarked saying: This letter was carried on the first rocket glider flight from (crossed out the Steel Pier) Bader Field, Atlantic City, New Jersey, (crossed out May 30) 6/4/1931. Signed W G Swan Pilot. (by H Volpin, 1107 Arctic Ave, AC NJ. To H G Kingdom, Conneaut, Ohio.) This shows Swan was using the 'rocket post' concept to raise money at the exhibition. It also documents the change of the place and date of the first flights. Https://www.sovietspacecovers.com/eksponat-hopferwieser

June-July 1931 issue of the Bulletin of the American Interplanetary Society, Swan was immortalized as part of space history: "Successful Flights Made With Rocket Driven Glider… Perhaps the first successful rocket-propelled glider flight in this country was made on June 4, 1931, by William G. Swan, 29-year-old resort stunt flier, at Atlantic City, N. J. The glider, which weighs 200 pounds, was equipped with ten rockets. It was launched by a ground crew in the usual manner, after which Swan closed an electric switch and ignited the first rocket. The craft rose bumpily to an altitude of 100 feet and soared for 1000 feet, under the propelling power of the one rocket. The other nine were not ignited for this first flight."

Cumberland Evening Times - July 12, 1941: reporting on 'ten years ago': William G Swan featured in news reel, diving plane into Atlantic Ocean at Atlantic City.

Popular Mechanics, August 1931 reported: " Rocket Glider is Tested Before a crowd of 2,000 spectators, William G. Swan, Atlantic City, N. J., aviator, successfully flew his rocket glider in the face of adverse wind conditions. The glider, equipped with two sets of rockets, six to a set, was trucked from a hangar onto the field and the rockets set off from the cockpit. Although a strong wind was blowing, Swan took the craft up to a height of about 200 feet, and attained the speed of about 35 miles an hour, bringing the plane back to earth in a graceful landing. Each rocket carried a "pushing" velocity of about fifty pounds.

Cumberland Evening Times - September 4, 1931 it was reported that "W G Swan of New York, landed his monoplane on the Everett (Pennsylvania) air field Wednesday after becoming confused in directions while on his way to Cumberland, Maryland. Swan crash landed on a field in the James Snyder farm in Snake Spring Valley and, after learning of the field at Everett, flew there."

Newspaper clipping - November 21, 1931, it was reported "The start of what is believed to be the first successful rocket glider flight in the United States is shown above. William G Swan, 29, Atlantic City, NJ stunt flier, is shown at the controls of the glider as it is propelled into the air at a speed of 35 miles an hour by two sets of rockets - six to a set- each rocket containing a pushing capacity of 50 pounds. The rockets are set off from apparatus in the cockpit and, despite strong winds, the glider attained a height of 100 feet on its first flight. Smoke from the exploding rockets can be seen." This is the only photo showing smoke from the rockets; it may have been added by the newspaper artist.

Cumberland Evening Times - December 21, 1931, it was reported that Mr and Mrs William J Swan of Forked River were guests of Mrs Swan's parents.

Cumberland Evening Times - February 20, 1932, birth of son Gordon Gaylord Swan in Atlantic City reported.


Air Launched:

Cedar Rapids Gazette - July 18, 1932: Inventor Succeeds in Flying in his New Rocket Plane: Aurora, Ill. (INS) Following the first known successful experimental flight of a rocket airplane, William G Swan, inventor-aviator of Atlantic City, NJ, Monday said he is working on a plan to pierce the stratosphere at an altitude of 40,000 feet and fly across the Atlantic at a speed of more than 500 miles per hour. Before a crowd of 5,000 persons at Exposition Park here Sunday Swan piloted a rocket plane which had been dropped from a balloon 2,000 feet above the ground. After zooming above the crowd for four minutes, Swan brought the plane to a safe landing. He said his plans call for the construction of a combination balloon and rocket plane. A number of balloons for this purpose are already under construction here, Swan said.

NEWSREEL HIGHLIGHTS OF 1932 (UE32055) - ROCKER-GLIDER PILOT DROPS FROM BLIMP IN SENSATIONAL FLIGHT AURORA, IL – William G. Swan of Atlantic City, whose pastime is soaring aloft in gliders shot into the air by rockets, tries a new death defying stunt, of having his glider borne several thousand feet up by a huge hot-air balloon, then cutting loose and sky-rocketing in immense circles. He finally reaches the ground safely but almost comes to grief when the deflated balloon nearly hits his glider in mid-air. This flight, says Swan, is a big step toward cross-ocean rocket-plane travel, which he sees as an actuality before many more years have passed.


Video https://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675027481_Pilot-Bill-Swan_balloon-flies_people-gather_short-rocket-powered-flight


The End of Swan

Clipping - 6 April 1933 - Human Rocket Obtains Plane Sources:

The Brownsville Herald - 11 April 1933 - Gulf is Searched for Swan's Body

Cumberland Evening Times - 11 Apr 1933 - Search continues for Swan

Clipping - 11 April 1933 - Stunt Ace - AP Version

Clipping - 12 April 1933 - SAM ROBERTSON PRAISES SWAN:

16 Apr 1933 - Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Cameron, Texas - Star Investigation Reveals Swan Planned to Disappear



Cumberland Evening Times - 12 December 1933 - Society Leader of Cumberland Succumbs in Hospital

Cumberland Evening Times - 13 December 1933 - Society Leader of Cumberland Dies in Hospital


Secrets Revealed

ancestry.com forum posts (referenced at beginning).

Correspondence between author and Swan family.

Image sources: Swan and Stinchcomb family public image archives Contemporary Newspapers as cited above Contemporary publicity materials for the Steel Pier and Del Mar Beach SpaceX publicity image

===================== Excerpts

Clipping - 12 April 1933 - SAM ROBERTSON PRAISES SWAN: "The following article, written by Col. Sam A. Robertson of Del Mar, is in appreciation of William G. Swan, stunt flier, who lost his life during an exhibition in which he bailed out of an airplane over the Gulf near Del Mar Sunday.

"AN APPRECIATION Of Wm. G. Swan, Gentleman, Aviator & Parachute Jumper

"No man or woman with a little brains and understanding of human nature could look him in the eye and not know Instantly that he was an honest man and a gentleman.

"He came to Brownsville, broke; promoted a flying exhibition from which he had high hopes of making sufficient funds to return to his family In Maryland.

"The morning of his flight on the coast, the weather was cloudy, foggy and depressing and continued so until about 3 p. m., when the sun broke through the mist.

"He expected a crowd of about 3,000 cars; only 1,086 came in. Before he went up for his proposed stunt, he realized that advertising, fire works, rent of plane and other heavy expenses would exceed the income at the toll gate. He told a friend he would not make a cent on the stunt, but he would carry out his contract and give his audience their money's worth.

"He received some advances in cash, about $25 for food, room rent and a shave or two. I would gamble my life when he went to his death, he had less than a dollar, if he had been dishonest or unfair he could have said to me: "young fellow, come across with a hundred or two or I will ruin your show." and of course I would have been forced to come across.

"He was a gentleman. A contract to him was a sacred obligation. He asked no favors. He gave his life his effort to fulfill his contract. He leaves his little sons a far greater heritage than any billionaire can leave his son.

"Signed, Sam A. Robertson"

16 Apr 1933 - Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Cameron, Texas

The Brownsville Herald - 20 Apr 1933

W E Elwing of the Brownsville Herald first approached Col Sam A Robertson, owner of Del Mar beach, asking him to help sponsor the chute jump. Robertson said he could not afford the expense himself without prepayment. Elwing, Charlie Reel, and Swan met at Robertson's San Benito home and drew up a contract. Swan read it, threw it down, and refused to sign it. Later Elwing, "doc" Cook, an advertising man, and Swan returned. Robertson said he still wasn't interested but after negotiations they drew up another contract, which was signed. Swan then asked for a $40 advance to buy necessary equipment. Robertson refused the advance, but Elwing agreed to it. Robertson's compensation was to come mainly from advertising and publicity, and a small part of the gate receipts. Swan had difficulty finding a pilot to take him up. One person they contacted was W F Fullwood at the McAllen iarport. Fullwood had an airplane available, but had no experience in flying a parachute jumper. He suggested Floyd "Slats" Roders, who was working for Robert N Clark of the Valley Aero Dusting Service in Edingburg.

Slats Rodgers interview: "Well, here I am, grounded. My license has been taken from me; my only means of earning a living gone. Why? All because I tried to be a good fellow and carry on to keep from disappointing a large crowd. On Friday night, April 7, I received a telephone call at the Allen apartments in Edinburg, Texas from Robert N. Clarke, who said: "I have a job for you." I says: "What is it, a white elephant, I suppose." "No," says he, "It's flying a parachute jumper down at Boca Chica. "Mr Clarke told me that W F Fullwood of the McAllen airport asked him received call from Robert N Clarke who asks him to fly a parachute jumper at Boca Chica. W F Fullwood of the McAllen airport had asked him. Fullwood was asked to com Saturday morning and synchronize his motor. Fullwood said he had never flown a chute jumper and didn't take it serious when he talked to W E Elwing of the Brownsville Herald and William Gaylord Swan and did not want to do it as he never had any experience flying a parachute jumper but he had either agreed to fly him or get someone else to fly him. "I asked Mr Fullwood if he had the regulation parachutes and if he had a parachute for himself…"

Background on Floyd Slats Rodgers. A barnstorming troupe operated out of Dallas, Texas, under the name "The Lunatics of Love Field," was managed by the irrepressible Floyd "Slats" Rogers. Rogers would conduct air shows in the afternoon and send one of the planes across the border for a shipment of whiskey. Rogers was an aviation legend in Texas. He was born in Tunnel Hill, Georgia, on March 7, 1889. The family moved to Waco, Texas when he was a boy, and he had a keen interest in aviation, building kites, then model planes, and then designing and building the first aircraft in Texas, which he flew in late 1912. By 1915 he was working as a locomotive engineer and has married his first wife. He became a civilian flight instructor for the army in 1916. In 1918 Rodgers bought a Lincoln Standard five-passenger biplane and started bootlegging whiskey from Mexico. He spent much of the following years playing cat-and-mouse with Texas Rangers. Meanwhile he achieved public notoriety came from newspaper stories of his escapades as one of the "Love Field Lunatics" in Dallas. He survived a crash after the motor had fallen off, safely landing a fabric-covered aircraft with one side in flames, and landed safely at night after being blinded by lighted fireworks mounted on his plane. The Lunatics would perform in air shows in the afternoon and on the way back land in Mexico to pick up shipments of whiskey. Slats also was involved in gambling and moonshining operations and ended up spending six months in a Dallas jail. With the impending end of prohibition and start of the Great Depression, he 'went straight' and turned to crop dusting in the lower Rio Grande valley.

Chronology of Events:

In the evening of Tuesday, April 7, Rodgers received call from Clarke who asked him to fly a parachute jumper at Boca Chica on Sunday, April 12. Rodgers called Fullwood and asked him to come Saturday morning and synchronize his motor. Rodgers asked Mr Fullwood if he had the regulation parachutes and if he had the regulation parachutes for himself and the jumper. All was settled and on April 8 the Brownsville Herald telegraphed Clark, thanking him for accepting.

On Saturday, 11 September, Swan had a long talk with Robertson on the beach. He said he was 'down on his luck' and wanted to selttle down with his family back in Maryland. Swan asked Robertson for an advance of $20 to tide him over. Colonel Robertson was impressed with Swan's open countenance and attitude. Robertson made out a bank draft to him for that amount.

Meanwhile, while Fullwood tuned Rodger's engine at , Elwing gave him a letter of agreement that Ellwood had signed with Ewing and Swan. The letter would serve as a formal introduction to Swan the next day.

When Sunday came, just before the jump, Swan applied to Clarke for a job as a crop duster. He told him he wanted to remain in the Valley and settle down.

Swan was never seen after disappearing into the mist at 6,000 feet. Two cars were parked against the water on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, their occupants anxiously watched the skies. A Coast Guard boat searched the Gulf for a while Sunday night. Lack of funds prevented Slats Rodgers from flying over the Gulf in an effort to locate the body. Elwing refused at first to believe that Swan was in the water. It was said that Swan planned to land, cut off his chute, go into hiding, and remain there. Arangements had been made for someone to pick up the chute, cut it into neckerchiefs, and sell them for souveniers. Expenses and fees were advertising were to be deducted. If anything was left, Swan was to get it.

Colonel Robertson called Sheriff Brown and asked him for an inquiry. The inquiry convened on the afternoon of Monday, April 13, 1931. At the inquiry Robertson stated that he believed Swan was dead, either because something went wrong with his parachute or he had been despondent. Robertson posted a $50 reward for the body of Swan or information leading to his return to Cameron County. The Valley Morning Star Newspaper added another $50 to the award.

Elwing made an effort to have Rodgers and Clarke sign papers releasing the Herald of any liability in Swan's death, in the event he was dead. Clarke went to Colonel Robertson for his money for the airplane. Robertson referred him to the Herland and said he would give $25 from the gate receipts if Ralph Buell, editor and publisher of the Herald would OK a draft. Robertson wrote the draft for $25, payalbe to the Brownsville Herald. In turn it was endorsed to Clarke who endorsed it. Colonel Robertson that cashed it from the receipts.

On Saturday, April 15, Rodgers pilot's license was revoked by E E Hughes, department of Commerce inspector. Hughes forwarded his report to Robert I Hazen, supervising aeronautical inspector for the Department of Commerce in Houston.

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