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IF YOU’VE changed planes in Denver (and haven’t we all at one time or another?), you might well have admired a biplane displayed overhead near Gate 21 of Concourse B.
This aircraft, the Alexander Eaglerock, comes with a good story, in fact, several of them: a film connection, a road-going prototype, legerdemain wing panels, an engine of your choice. All from the world’s largest aircraft company that was soon to disappear, but not without a bit of drama.
The Alexander brothers, S. Don and J. Don, were motion picture producers living in Denver, Colorado. Their Alexander Film Company, founded in 1919, specialized in advertising pieces that accompanied theater features. This part of the business thrived into the 1950s, with a library of more than 8200 subjects for clients such as Ford, G.M., Philco and Seven Up.
Back in 1923, J. Don sensed his salesmen could market more films if they used airplanes to get around. Bids for 50 planes went unanswered by fledgling aircraft manufacturers, so the Alexanders decided to build their own. The Alexander Aircraft Company was set up as a subsidiary of the film company in 1925.
Their first Eaglerock prototype was a two-seat biplane with a novel feature: folding wings for convenient storage and ground transportation. In fact, there was a power link to the aircraft’s oversize tailwheel so the Eaglerock could propel itself on the highway. Only one was built.
The A-series Eaglerock that followed was a tad more conventional (no road propulsion), but still innovative. Unlike most biplanes, its lower wingspan exceeded that of its upper wing.
Its added lower wing area enhanced the cushion of air on takeoff and landing. However, the real reason was one of production: The lower wingspan was precisely the upper’s plus the width of the fuselage; that is, upper and lower wing panels were identical.
Another Alexander innovation was offering the Eaglerock on a time payment plan. Its cash price in 1926, delivered at Denver Field, was $2475, considerably more than the cost of a war-surplus Curtiss JN-4 Jenny (http://wp.me/p2ETap-J3).
Eaglerocks were originally powered by the Curtiss OX-5 (http://wp.me/p2ETap-rz). When its war-surplus supply dwindled, Alexander offered the customer an Eaglerock, sans engine and propeller, for $2250. Add the price of power, ranging from a $2167 130-hp Anzani to a $4980 220-hp Wright Whirlwind J5.
Buyers also had a choice of the original Long Wing design; or one with a shorter lower span, the Combination Wing; or yet another with an extension between the two top wing panels, the Center Section Wing.
By the end of 1928, Alexander Aircraft had 39 distributors and 106 dealers around the country. It had a plant in Englewood, Colorado, a larger facility in Colorado Springs and its own flying school. In 1928 – 1929, production was 8 Eaglerocks/day, making Alexander the largest manufacturer of aircraft in the world.
In 1929, Alexander introduced the Bullet, an advanced low-wing four-seat monoplane. Worldwide depression didn’t help matters and only 12 were built. In 1931, the company tried an ultra-light two-seat monoplane, the Flyabout. Only 18 were built, and the company folded in 1932.
Former employees got together and formed Aircraft Mechanics Inc. It acquired rights to Alexander designs, but followed it into bankruptcy in 1936.
The parent Alexander Film Company encountered its own drama, in part caused by the rise of TV and demise of local movie houses. Into the 1950s, its commercial features continued to be popular during drive-in theater intermissions.
The firm was a non-union shop and got black-listed by industry professionals. National advertisers shied away from its products.
Alexander Films continued as a specialist in industry film processing and in film/digital transfers. It closed in 2009 after 90 years in business. For a video of the company, see http://goo.gl/UqL1gE. Period commercials begin around 2:50 in the video; a neat TV ad, at 5:10. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014