- California State Military
- The California
- A United States
Army Museum Activity
- Preserving California's
- Californians and the Military
- Frank Simpson, Jr.
- The Story of California's First
- By Colonel Norman S. Marshall
and Margaret A. Owens
- The Early twentieth century witnessed
the dawn of aviation. While the Wright brothers were busy on
the East coast, California saw its own awakening of the infant
aviation industry. Into this window of opportunity was born Frank
Born to a relatively comfortable life, Frank, affectionately
known as "Brolie", (as in "holy"), was to
be a significant participant in the battle to conquer air space.
He was one of the early aviation pioneers. He is remembered as
one of the founders of naval aviation - as naval aviator 53 -
and the first Californian to become a naval aviator, coming through
the California Naval Militia, the predecessor of the Naval Reserve.
To understand how Brolie came to be so influential, we must look
to his early years. His nickname was given to him by his only
sister, Beatrice Olga Simpson, who as a baby was unable to say
"Brother"; hence the name "Brolie", which
followed him throughout his entire life.
He was born in San Francisco on August 1, 1883 to a family of
some means. His father's business relocated to Los Angeles where
Frank, Sr., continued to operate a wholesale produce company
under the name of Simpson & Hack.
Through dozens of letters exchanged between Brolie and his family,
from his late teens and continuing throughout his life, we glimpse
an exceptionally close and affectionate family. From the letters
his father wrote to his mother, we see how Brolie developed his
extraordinary sense of respect for others and his grand sense
When sixteen, Brolie enrolled in the Mount Tamalpais Military
Academy in San Rafael, California. He was very proud of that
school and reveled in joining the School's activities while excelling
as a scholar, graduating with a prize in mathematics. Included
with pride are his reminiscences about his years of cadet training
and achieving a Lieutenancy of Cadets in his senior year. He
relished the responsibilities of command and his thoroughness
in preparing required reports of attendance, drill, marksmanship
and related duties caused him to markedly excel in his later
military and civilian careers. He was well liked by his peers
and his leadership abilities were quickly recognized by his superiors.
A thorough academic training led to his admission in Civil Engineering
at the University of California at Berkeley in 1903 where he
enrolled in the University Cadets, a predecessor to the ROTC.
The Corps of Cadets was called to active service for relief work
in the April 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Brolie's letters
see him serving as a Lieutenant in charge of a platoon of cadets
engaged in preventing looting, distributing foodstuffs, seizing
public supplies from black marketeers and even assisting a pregnant
woman in labor. He ultimately became a Captain of Cadets.
The growth of his family's fortunes and his interest in contributing
to the family business, caused him to leave the university at
the beginning of his senior year in 1907, even though he was
up for promotion to Brigade Colonel. He joined his father in
the produce business where he steadily progressed through hard
work and innate ability. Through his business activities he met
many influential people, becoming a member of a circle of solid,
respectable people whom he freely called upon in later years.
The family business required traveling to local growers throughout
the state. Many of these trips are chronicled in Brolie's letters,
where we find his early fascination with the routine of traveling
by rail and carriage, negotiating with farmers and growers, moving
to and from hotels, arranging for the carriage of goods to market
and dealing with retailers soon fading. Notwithstanding that,
he and his family business prospered.
Global events were to have a profound effect on the direction
young Frank, Jr.'s, life would soon take. War broke out in Europe
in August 1914 and although America was divided as to participation,
sentiments were abruptly focused in May 1915 when a German submarine
sank the Lusitania with the loss of over 1,000 lives including
168 Americans, all neutral and all non-belligerents. It was then
obvious that America, however unwillingly, would be drawn into
Beginning in 1891, California was one of the 24 states which
organized a naval militia as an adjunct to the National Guard
and by the end of 1915 its naval strength consisted of 64 officers
and 785 enlisted men. Los Angeles had such a unit, the Ninth
Division, under Lieutenant Frank Seaver, a long time friend of
the Simpson family, who was an active promoter of citizen sailors
and a prominent lawyer who later became a successful businessman.
He induced Brolie to serve, and continued to be a strong influence
in Brolie's life. Brolie was perceptive in recognizing the opportunity
to serve in an important role which promised adventure. He enlisted
as a seaman on February 14, 1915 and was commissioned an Ensign
on June 28, 1915.
California was the second state to form an Naval Militia Aeronautic
Squadron (November 1915), after Illinois in May 1915. Connecticut
formed its aviation unit in February 1916 and New York formed
its celebrated Yale Unit in September 1916. None, except California
and New York, had two or more planes and only California by diligence
and luck had machinists, tools and shops to keep its craft airworthy
at all times.
Frank Simpson was the person who recruited the unit, set up a
course in aviation theory, staffed it with instructors at the
Exposition Park Armory [now the Space Museum], established a
ground school in Inglewood and saw to it that all hands, even
the enlisted personnel, received practical instruction in flying.
The program of flight instruction was a magnet to attract and
retain ambitious young men who saw an opportunity for adventure.
At his own expense, Brolie began a course of instruction at the
Glenn Martin Flying School. This chance meeting with Martin and
others in the growing aviation industry would lead Brolie further
along the adventure his life was to become.
Just twelve years after the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty
Hawk, Simpson found himself working closely with America's second
licensed pilot and the man who would help mold America's airspace
supremacy from its inception until today. Glenn Martin built
thousands of aircraft for commercial and military purposes and
is remembered for his China Clippers of the 1930's, the Martin
Marauder of World War II and for the company that would eventually
become the Martin-Marietta Corporation of Baltimore, Maryland
Within one year after commissioning, Frank Simpson was using
the field, facilities and equipment of the Glenn Curtiss Aviation
Company during the Section's San Diego Summer encampment and
within two years he was flying the celebrated Curtiss R-6 model
as a naval officer. Thus, the lives of three men, Simpson, Curtiss
and Martin, were inextricably bound together.
Glenn Martin was three years younger than Brolie. He was a Kansas
native but had been a Southern California resident since 1905.
It is noteworthy to take a closer look at Martin and how he and
Simpson worked together, and together facilitated the transition
in one short decade from crudely built aircraft, made of bed
sheets and baling wire to multi-passenger workhorses capable
of overflying the Atlantic Ocean non-stop.
Martin was an extraordinary person, gregarious, and likable but
extremely shy among women. He would remain a lifelong bachelor
who had the gift of natural business instincts.
Upon coming west, he first worked as a mechanic and at age twenty
he opened the Ford and Maxwell auto franchises in Santa Ana,
California. He hired his father as a salesman. "His daily
attire was a dark suit, white shirt with celluloid collar, a
conservative tie and a bowler hat. With his slenderness and eyeglasses
he was the model of a dignified and reliable businessman."
Martin relished speed and took every new model car through its
paces on early morning test drives.
Another Glenn, Glenn Curtiss, was an early competitor of the
Wright Brothers and competition between these two manufacturers
was frequently featured in the newspapers. Martin followed their
news assiduously and in 1907 Martin saw his first aeroplane while
in the company of his agency mechanic, Roy Beal. They made a
close inspection of the plane. Remembering details, they drew
up plans that evening to make a prototype but it was a monoplane
with a single wing. Neither Beal nor Martin had any engineering
education but were gifted in design and mechanics and installed
a Ford motor car engine. The plane was not successful.
The next was built in an empty Southern Methodist Church he rented
for $12 a month. It was a few blocks from his garage. Thirteen
months later, the plane was finished. It was built of spruce
and bamboo and was covered with doped muslin. Weighing 1150 pounds,
it was taken apart, carried through the church and reassembled
in a bean field outside town on August 1, 1909. On its first
attempt, it flew.
Improvements on the plane followed, including a larger engine.
America now had four aeroplane builders: the Wrights, Burgess,
Curtiss and Martin. Frank, Jr., was to become integral to the
further improvements in aviation through this association with
Curtiss and Martin.
To support the new venture, Martin took up barnstorming and winning
prizes in flight competitions. He earned many appearance fees.
On August 9, 1911, Martin was the second aviator awarded the
Aero Club of America Expert Aviators Certificate. By the fall
of 1911, Martin was twenty-five years old and had seven employees.
All manufacturing was taking place in a former cannery and they
had a small backlog of orders, when there came a rare marketing
From 1908 until 1911 the Army Signal Corps had a lone Wright
plane. The Army announced it needed five more craft and Martin
wanted to penetrate that market.
One of his publicity efforts was to "bomb" a mock fort
with flour bags in a night attack with searchlights ablaze. This
was well covered by the Los Angeles press.
Additionally, in May that year he flew from Balboa Island to
Catalina Island and back setting a world record for hydroplanes.
Flights were frequently made out of Griffith Park and often featured
parachute demonstrations by a diminutive and attractive woman,
Miss Tiny Broadwick. One such jump on January 10, 1914 was witnessed
by California Nation Guard Brigadier General Wankowski who reported
favorably to the War Department in the use of what he called
a "life vest".
Martin capitalized on the mystique and glamour of early aviation.
Since his barnstorming days he affected a flying uniform that
earned him the sobriquet of the "Flying Dude". It consisted
of a black leather jacket, black trousers, black puttees and
a black leather helmet plus goggles. He is shown wearing it on
the day the plane was presented to the Naval Militia in November
1915. Being a personable and glamorous man, he was even featured
in a movie with the popular Mary Pickford and earned $4900 for
two weeks work.
In August 1912, Martin relocated to Los Angeles opening a much
larger facility at Tenth and Main Streets, just a few blocks
from the Simpson Produce Company and it was here he met Simpson
for the first time. Fate took a hand in changing Brolie's life.
Between 1912 and 1915, Martin's business focused on supplying
general aviation and sport planes for the rich; the European
war caused orders to flow in from belligerent powers and he began
building planes for Great Britain and the Dutch and training
Canadian and Dutch pilots at his school.
Upon Simpson's commissioning he was in frequent contact with
Martin and he acted as a technical observer on many test flights
of the Martin planes. The Militia had him act as a technical
observer for the graduating RCAF students of the School. This
experience stood him in excellent stead two years later when
he became an instructor at Pensacola and then as Officer in Charge
of the new San Diego Flight School.
Both Curtiss and the Army used San Diego for flight training
and there had been a number of injuries and fatalities of Army
trainees who were then using pusher planes. They were trained
at North Island and in 1913, twelve students died. By year end,
the Army had twelve pilots and just a few old planes.
The large number of requests for transfer as well as the poor
safety record brought about an investigation, the result of which
was the condemnation of the entire fleet of remaining pusher
planes which smashed easily and were flimsy and difficult to
The Signal Corps sent Grover C. Loening, an aeronautical engineer,
to outline the problem to a few manufacturers of aircraft. On
one of his visits to Martin's Los Angeles plant, Loening specified
a reliable two-seat aircraft with dual controls for instructor
and student, a nose mounted engine with tractor blade instead
of a pusher propeller, a plane that could climb eight hundred
feet in ten minutes and with a top speed of fifty-eight miles
per hour and a low of thirty-six miles per hour.
"Do you think you can do it?" he asked Martin.
Glenn, scarcely able to hide a smile, turned to Charles Willard,
his chief engineer, who replied, "That depends on how soon
the finished plane must be delivered." Neither Glenn nor
Willard let on that in the Martin hanger at Griffith Park stood
such a plane, and it was virtually finished. It was a souped
up two seater they had been working on for Tiny's parachute jumps.
Practically all of the Army's requirements were already built
in. All it lacked was a second set of controls. Loening said
the Army needed delivery in six weeks, or it would shut down
"And there is one more thing," he added. "We don't
have any money on hand, but if this plane you have in mind works,
we'll get it." Glenn's eyes sparkled as he told the Army
engineer, "We'll do it. I think we can chance it."
Six weeks later the Martin Company's first delivery to the Army
rolled out of the hangar. It was the Model TT, for Tractor Trainer,
aviation's first specially designed training plane. Its performance
in subsequent test flights exceeded the Army's expectations.
Fourteen more were delivered in 1914, including a version with
armor plate around the cockpit and engine.
The mortality rate at North Island dropped dramatically. Only
one pilot was lost of the twenty nine who trained in the Martin
TT during the first six months it was in service, and Loening
later told Glenn the Army did three or four times more flying
per pupil than ever before. It was neither coincidence nor luck
of timing that put the TT in Army hands so readily. Glenn had
long believed in and preached the military promise of the airplane.
It was only a matter of time he figured before the Army would
need an airplane like his.
With the Army contract, Martin's business began booming and the
new model had an enclosed fuselage with steel tubing replacing
bamboo. The company had one hundred people at the plant, maintained
a hangar at Griffith field, a hydroplane base near Gardena and
a test facility at Balboa Island which was owned by James Irvine
of the Irvine Ranch family. Irvine was also one of Martin's financial
By August 1916 there was to be a merger with Wright. Curtiss
had already absorbed the Burgess Company of Marblehead, Massachusetts
which was America's smallest manufacturer. The two giants were
now in competition and sales were everything.
Curtiss had earlier done two things to cement his relations with
the U.S. Military. He had persuaded the Aero Club of America
to negotiate a lease of North Island for a three year period
without cost and in 1910 he offered to teach all student Military
Officers to fly his planes free of charge. To penetrate the market
further, Curtiss had given the State of New York's Naval Militia
a hydroplane as an outright gift in 1915.
Similarly, Martin was doing his own clever promotional work.
He was already a Member of the U.S. Naval Academy Advisory Board
and through the urging of Brolie, Martin spent Saturday afternoons
at the Exposition Park Armory teaching the theory and practice
of flight in the ground school to militiamen.
In November 1915 Martin loaned the State of California its own
Model TT which was identical to that used by the Army at North
Island and additionally gave them an obsolete pusher plane. Further,
he encouraged his plant employees to join the militia as pilots
or as mechanics. Among the pilots were Edward Musick, Steve Calloway,
Arthur C. Burns, H.V. Reynolds and Edward Oliver. No other state
militia boasted such a large number of pilots.
The Aeronautical Section, attached to the Ninth Division of the
Naval Militia, was mustered on February 3, 1916 with a contribution
of $1200 from the Aero Club of America and a further contribution
of $750 was made by the Aero Club to defray the expenses of operating
the machines. The unit's first four drills were devoted to outfitting
the men and to other details connected with organizing the section.
On March 2, 1916 the roll of the Aeronautical Section was taken
for the first time. It had one officer and 25 men and one civilian
instructor. It was equipped with the new Martin TT as well as
an old Martin pusher. That Spring, Thursday evening drills, Saturday
afternoon drills and Sunday maintenance work, took place at the
armory and at Griffith field and the ground and aviation schools
were well under way. By September the unit was ready for its
first Federal encampment and Simpson had completed about one
half of his course of flight instruction. In one of his letters
he stated that he had effectively abandoned all civilian pursuits
starting in May so as to prepare the equipment and the men for
their tour of duty. His lengthy and thorough report is attached.
The unit took the older of the two planes, disassembled, plus
all other equipment in three motor trucks and two trailers plus
Simpson's Stutz auto. He borrowed the San Diego unit's steam
launch and moved all equipment to the Curtiss wharf at North
Island utilizing the site and tents of a former Marine encampment.
The instructor, T. E. Springer, was a civilian and he took each
man in turn on short flights. Army instructors stationed at North
Island also assisted in training the bluejackets both in the
evening classes and in practical flying.
The bigger and more powerful machine had been left behind because
Simpson and the others had not yet been qualified in it having
completed only a portion of the course of instruction and most
of the men had already been up in the pusher.
Note that Brolie's report states that all repairs and maintenance
were performed by the personnel of the detachment and the flight
time was greatly abbreviated to about three hours each day due
to turbulence affecting the flight characteristics of the ship.
Its 75 horsepower Curtiss O engine could not overcome the gusts
and it was sound judgement to discontinue flights and concentrate
on other military skills during the hours available. As the report
makes abundantly clear, Simpson accomplished all that was needed
and earned his promotion to Lieutenant three months later on
December 1, 1916 when he also received his license as a pilot
from the Aero Club of America. He had earlier volunteered for
further training at Pensacola and was ordered there for a course
of instruction on December 6, 1916 being qualified as naval aviator
number 53 on June 12, 1917. In sum, this meant he was fully qualified
to fly both land and seaplanes, balloons, dirigibles and blimps.
In recapping his early years, it can fairly be said he was a
remarkable man. He was an organizer and careful planner. He attracted,
recruited and organized the unit even before it had a plane.
He persuaded a manufacturer to give the unit two planes and make
his field and facilities available for training the students
and induced the manufacturer to serve as a teacher. He enrolled
and paid for pilot training himself and trained his entire squadron
as pilots and observers. He enthusiastically relished command
responsibilities and saw to it that the training opportunity
at North Island was maximized even going so far as pay from his
own pocket for the hired trucks moving all the gear. He was articulate,
well-groomed, socially connected and comfortable in dealing with
his superiors and was completely ready to meet the challenges
of the next five years with confidence.
All of this could not have been done without the financial support
and encouragement of the newly organized Aeronautical Society
of California founded in July 1915 and consisting of patriotic
business people who pledged cash, facilities and talent.
The organization committee consisted of:
Bradner W. Lee, former President, Sons of the Revolution in the
State of California
Hon. Chas. E. Sebastian, Mayor of Los Angeles
Hon. John C. Kline, Sheriff of Los Angeles County.
Congressman W.D. Stephens, member Committee on Naval Affairs
Brigadier General Robert Wankowski, National Guard
Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo H. Woodbine
Colonel Wm. G. Schriber, 7th California Infantry
Major A.J. Copp, Chamber of Commerce. Later (1943) a Colonel,
CNG, and President (1948), Sons of the Revolution in the State
W.W. Mines, President, Los Angeles Realty Board
Frank Garbutt, Sportsman Aviator
Louis Cole, Ex-Pesident, Chamber of Commerce
Harry E. Andrews, Los Angeles Times
Guy C. Barham, Los Angeles Herald
W.H. Brundige, Los Angeles Tribune and Express
Max Ihmsen, Los Angeles Examiner
Fred L. Baker, Pres., Auto Club of Southern California
W.E. Bush, President Merchants and Manufacturers Association
Hon. Lyman Farwell, Member California Legislature
- The Officers were:
Earle Remington, President Aeronautical
A. H. Rose, Secretary
A.J. Waters, Treasurer; and President, Sons of the Revolution
in the State of California
- Brolie was invited to join the committee
just weeks after he was commissioned.
- The Pensacola
- Pensacola was at that time the nation's
only naval aviation school. Brolie successively became a student,
naval aviator, Senior Instructor in Aerodynamics, Officer in
Charge of Advanced Flying and, finally, the Aide to the Superintendent
of the Flight School. Once again, he was recognized by his superiors
as an effective manager.
Included in his Pensacola period, there were occasional trips
to Cuba just one hundred miles off the coast and while there
he took the usual tourist photos. Simpson was at the time 33
years old, but possessed the assurance of a much older man. When
the Navy recognized a need to open a second flight school they
had an obvious candidate at their call who was an expert aviator,
teacher, organizer and probably wouldn't mind returning home
He was detached and sent to North Island, San Diego as the Officer
in Charge of the Machinists School and later as the Officer in
Charge of the Flight School. Upon his arrival the Commanding
Officer, Lieutenant Earl Spencer, had not yet arrived. He was
to report on October 15, 1917. Again, Brolie was to have a brush
with fame, by sheer luck of being in the right place at the right
Spencer was an interesting man. He graduated from the Naval Academy
in the class of 1910 and married a striking brunette from an
old Baltimore family who later charmed the King of England off
his throne and became the Duchess of Windsor, the beautiful and
charming Wallis Warfield. While enroute to San Diego to join
her husband, Wallis was entertained by Simpson's younger sister,
Olga, who acted as hostess and showed the future duchess the
sights of Los Angeles.
- The history of North Island is essential
background for the burgeoning aviation program of the armed forces.
First discovered in 1542, by Juan Cabrillo, it was covered with
Lemonberry and Mulberry trees and was of about 2000 acres originally
being about 2 miles wide and 4 miles long. North Island was first
used by Spanish explorers and later by hide vessels as a water
replenishment point. In 1886, it was purchased by the Coronado
Beach Company for future expansion of the Del Coronado Hotel
and in 1910, under a lease from that company, Glenn Curtiss opened
his first flying school because of its year-round favorable weather.
In 1911, Curtiss invited Navy pilots for free flight instruction
and this was expanded in 1912 to also include Army pilots. In
1917, the Army occupied the Southern half of the island and operated
from Rockwell Field and the Navy occupied the northern half.
In 1910, it was the site of the first competitive air meet. Curtiss,
having seen the site, elected to set up his training school there.
Thus he took over an old barn and house and erected some tar
paper hangars with a small shop. Personnel lived ashore in San
Diego and commuted by boat. This also became the base for his
hydroplane experiments while the Navy afforded limited supplies
and machinery specialists from the USS Iris, formerly a fresh
water distilling ship that supplied USS Oregon on its way to
Manila after the Santiago victory in 1898. Thus, she was a tender
to the shore facilities.
When WWI started, the Navy had only 48 officer pilots and 54
planes and all were stationed at Pensacola. North Island was
needed by both services and this led to squabbles between them
and finally on September 8, 1917 by joint edict of the Secretaries
of War and Navy, the island was declared a joint air station.
This proved to be a "Band-Aid" solution, as it soon
became apparent that the numerous aircraft in the area posed
insurmountable safety hazards.
What Simpson found upon arrival was essentially a sandpit and
little else. The Navy's limited facilities were at Balboa Park
where the service had taken over the Panama Exposition Grounds.
Brolie always had a sense of humor and this led to a "gag"
photo that generated laughs on both coasts. Writing to his parents
in October 1916 he said:
"The government is using the Exposition Grounds and buildings
- right away quick I'm going to have my picture taken in front
of the most imposing building, with a few sentries at attention,
and send it to the officers at Pensacola with the information
that it was snapped in front of my office at the Aeronautical
Station in North Island. They're all so foolish about California
that they'll probably swallow it.
"As a matter of fact there is no station here yet. Spencer
hasn't arrived and all our work is before us. As the Department
hasn't seen fit to unbosum itself, I don't know how much of a
station we shall have, when we are to begin establishing it,
nor whether we shall begin work in temporary quarters or what
- Three newly commissioned flight instructors
arrived shortly after Spencer arrived. They were Ensigns Aldred
Warren, Charles Ames and Amory Hackell. Warren wrote the following:
"On our arrival at San Diego on January 1, 1918, we found
the so called "air station" to be only a few old buildings
in Balboa Park left over from the San Diego's World's Fair. To
tell the truth the station at North Island was just a strip of
beach. The commanding officer Lt. Earl W. Spencer, Jr., gave
us a most God-awful bawling out when we reported for being without
either white gloves or carrying a sword. We had not yet learned
that swords and gloves were vital to winning the war....
"At NAS North Island, there was only one flyable plane when
we arrived - a Burgess U-2 similar to the N-9 Curtiss "Jenny"
but barely operational. It was kept in one of the four small
wooden hangars at the water's edge with a railroad type of ramp
to roll the plane into and out of the water. These four hangars
had been built by Curtiss in 1911 when he was experimenting with
flying boats and pontooned seaplanes...
"Shortly after our New Year's arrival, things began to stir
at North Island. The construction officer had completed a small
building, a few wooden sheds and an assembly hangar for the three
R-6 aircraft which had arrived...
"During the early months of 1918 a wooden hangar was built
to hold the three R-6's then being assembled. Lt. Spencer decided
they were too valuable for us fledglings to fly and so he and
the officer in charge of the flight school were the only ones
allowed to fly them. He did not know that both Ames and I had
successfully flown R-6's several times at Pensacola. Indeed,
I had not only been given instruction in the R-6, I had even
looped one. Moreover, I had been asked by Commander H. C. Richardson,
Naval Aviator #13 and the leading aeronautical engineer in the
Navy at that time to report to him on the R-6s maneuverability
in the air.
"So it happened when some trouble was reported down the
bay that Ames went to investigate it and the only plane available
to fly was an R-6. So he got into it and flew down the bay. When
he got back he got one hell of a bawling out for using the R-6
without permission. [We put it down to Lt. Spencer's nose being
out of joint by showing that someone else could fly R-6s better
"In May of 1918, Naval Air Station San Diego began its training
mission in earnest. We gave each student about 30 minutes in
the air followed by practice landings. After six or eight hours
of such instruction, each student was ready for solo.
"...My log book shows that I had nine flights on June 17th
putting in eight hours and thirty-three minutes in a single day.
The other instructors were doing about the same. In July, it
was more of the training routine except that on the 23rd, the
only time we were even close to being involved in the war. Several
of us instructors were then residing at the University Club in
downtown San Diego. About 4:00 A.M. in the morning, a sailor
riding a motorcycle with a sidecar roared up to the club with
orders that all instructors were to report to base immediately.
When we got aboard, Lt. Spencer told us a German Submarine had
been sighted and that we were to go and look for it. So at daylight,
three of us flying R-6 twin float airplanes took to the air to
find the enemy submarine. My crew consisted of a mechanic named
Ericson and our total armament consisted of a .45 pistol, which
I wore. Unfortunately neither I nor the other planes found any
sign of the enemy submarine. "This was the nearest naval
aviation came in San Diego to meeting the enemy in WWI. "Incidentally
the pistol was loaded with live ammunition."
Other letters of Warren are filled with complaints about the
unsatisfactory performance of the Burgess planes. He described
them as being "a pile of junk". On May 1, 1918 he declared
that the instructor pilots refused to fly the Burgess models
Simpson was obviously a very busy person much to his credit and
he was well liked. When detached for duty in Florida, there was
a farewell dinner dance held at the Maryland Hotel on January
25, 1919. The program was dedicated to Simpson and there were
speeches and recitations with the concluding number being "Until
We Meet Again". He returned to Pensacola for advanced flight
training in the Spring of 1919 and was then executive officer
and commanding officer of the Naval Air Station at Key West.
Then he was transferred to recruiting duties in San Francisco.
Having suffered a ruptured appendix in 1919, and a four month
hospital stay, his health was not satisfactory for continued
naval service. He received a medical discharge in 1921, leaving
the service as a Lieutenant Commander.
Casting about for something to do, he considered taking over
the Fiat automobile franchise for California and then the Stutz
franchise of Southern California. His father had sold the produce
business, turning his hand to other opportunities. Brolie returned
to help manage numerous investments and became the owner and
manager of the Hotel Savoy in Los Angeles. Among his many civic
roles, he became the President of the California Hotel Owners
Association and had active roles in the Chamber of Commerce.
He married the sister of one of his students, John Wigmore, who
had been killed in a crash. His wife's name was Marion Francisa
Wigmore and they had three children, two daughters, Mrs. Wayne
Dow and Mrs. Frank Finger, and a son, Frank Simpson III, who
graduated from the Naval Academy in 1948 and later became a Los
Angeles lawyer. Brolie died in 1956.
He left behind a rich chronicle of his life in a collection of
letters and photos.
Simpson and Spencer had done a remarkable job in two years at
North Island. They started with nothing and had jurisdictional
squabbles with the Army. Meanwhile the job of training aviators
and support personnel continued non-stop with day and evening
classes going full bore. Students even slept in old hangars in
hammocks. In July 1918, Simpson reported that at the machinist's
school there were the following personnel:
- 363 Qualified Aviation Mechanic Personnel
345 Students under instruction
237 Awaiting instruction
1 Supervising Machinist Mate Division
191 Trained and qualified machinists mates had already been transferred
to foreign stations and twelve engine test stands had been built
along the bay shore with five or six men assigned to each as
By war's end, Brolie's machinists had materially helped to keep
the Navy's 2,107 planes airworthy and operational.
Simpson's final significant achievement was to locate a suitable
spot for another naval air station along the California coast.
Under orders from Rear Admiral Jaynes he completed the first
aerial survey of all of San Francisco Bay and the area selected
is now at the Oakland International Airport. At the extreme Northwest
corner of the field is the seaplane base which served the nation
and the Navy during World War II and during the Koran conflict.
In retrospect, Simpson was a witness and active participant to
a wonderful window of time in which there were a few who conquered
the air and were among its earliest pioneers. He often said that
his proudest achievement during his service years was that of
authoring the first Course of Instruction for Naval Aviators
which became the standard work for many years.
It is clear that though the Naval Reserve Appropriations Act
of 29 August 1916 established the Naval Reserve Flying Corps,
its genesis came much earlier even predating the Yale Unit, for
both Illinois and California had flying units during 1915.
A classic role of the naval reservists - to augment the regular
Navy during a time of emergency - was first demonstrated during
WWI. In nineteen months between the Declaration of War and the
time the armistice ending WWI was signed, the Navy had trained
more than 6,000 aviation specialists, including 2,000 aviators.
At the end of the war, of the 1656 naval aviators on duty, 1,500
were reservists. Four thousand more aviation students were undergoing
On December 17, 1918, the San Diego Union reported there were
1685 officers and men at the school and they had completed 35,000
hours in the air and transited 2,360,000 miles on training flights
without injury or loss of any aircraft.
Simpson and California had made a tremendous and invaluable contribution
to that growth.
- Authors' Note:
- Mrs. Henry Grandin (Beatrice Olga Simpson),
Brolie's sister, has generously given of her time and recollections
and has reviewed and edited the foregoing. We are especially
indebted to Perry Simpson, Brolie's grandson who has shared many
letters and photos with us and to Hill Goodspeed, Historian of
the Naval Museum of Aviation History, for his significant help
in providing research and sharing letters with us.
We are also greatly indebted to David C. Holcome of The Western
Reserve Historical Society of Cleveland, Ohio; William T. Larkins,
Plesant Hill, California; Lindsley A. Dunn, Curator of the Curtiss
Museum of Hammardsporz, New York; Buzz Bartlett, Director of
Public and Community Affairs at Martin-Marietta Corporation and
Bill Harwood, who put together the definitive biography of Glenn
Martin. Sincere thanks also go to Mary Richardson of the San
Marino Public Library and to Roy Wagner of the San Diego Space
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