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EARLY AVIATOR Talbert “Ted” Abrams was the father of aerial photography. Not only did he perfect the genre into a measurement-oriented photogrammetry, he also established an aircraft manufacturing company to develop the P-1 Explorer, the first airplane designed for aerial photography. His legacy is multifaceted, in a university planetarium, an annual award, a mountain peak and the continued existence of the Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation.
Ted was born in Tekonsha, Michigan, about 115 miles west of Detroit. As a teen he worked for the Benoist Airplane Company (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-ow). He learned to fly at the Curtiss Aviation School (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-rz) and in 1926 earned Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Pilot license number 282, signed by Orville Wright.
Ted served in the First Marine Aviation Force in the Caribbean, his squadron making aerial maps of Haiti. After he was mustered out in 1920, he bought a Curtiss Jenny (http://wp.me/p2ETap-J3) and used its aerial photos to entice customers into taking joyrides.
By 1923, Ted decided that more people wanted the aerial photos than the joyrides. He bought a Standard J-1 aircraft, equipped it with a homemade camera rig and formed the Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation.
Success led to his forming the Abrams Instrument Corporation, specializing in aerial photography equipment. In 1937, he set up the Abrams Aircraft Corporation, the result being the Abrams Model P-1 Explorer.
The P-1 Explorer remedied several shortcomings of conventional aircraft used in aerial photography. Its pusher engine eliminated lens fouling caused by front-engine exhaust and oil leaks. It also made for a quieter cabin facilitating pilot/photographer communication.
Designed for Abrams by engineers Kenneth Ronan and Andrew Edward Kunzul, the P-1 was purposely a stable platform, unlike surplus military aircraft prized for their maneuverability. An all-metal aircraft, its fuselage proportions and wing orientation benefited its aerial photography function.
For fabricating the Explorer nose, Abrams enlisted a German company, Rohm and Hass, first marketers of Plexiglas in 1933. Similar configurations have appeared in subsequent aircraft, for example, the Sikorski helicopter.
The P-1 Explorer flew for the first time on November 30, 1937. A contemporary article in the Quarterly Journal of the American Society of Photogrammetry likened it to a “Buck Rogers space ship of the year 2040.” There’s a video of the Explorer at http://goo.gl/iiuS9J.
The P-1 was powered by a nine-cylinder Wright air-cooled radial engine producing 365 hp. It could cruise at 10,000 ft. at 175 mph with a range of 1400 miles.
During World War II, Abrams established a school to teach aerial photography to military personnel. Later, in 1962, Ted and his wife Leota established a foundation contributing to the Michigan State University planetarium named in their honor.
Ted Abrams died, at the age of 95, in 2012.
In his honor, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing presents an annual Talbert Abrams Award to one making an outstanding contribution to aerial photography and mapping. Also, based on his participation in Operation Deep Freeze at the South Pole in the 1960s, Abrams earned an Antarctic Service Medal—and was honored by having an Antarctic mountain named after him.
Fitting indeed for an aerial photogrammetrist. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014