Got something weird in your mailbox? Hello, the Saturday Air Mail is here!
This Saturday (cold and windy, I must admit) our guest star is the GA-1 (ground attack aircraft No.1), a brainchild of Engineering Division, U.S. Army Air Service, and their engineer, Isaac M. Laddon. It was built by Boeing Airplane Company in Seattle, Washington.
The concept of a "flying tank", i.e. armor-plated, heavily armed ground attack plane was born during WWI, much earlier than we use to think. Of course, the earliest implementations of this concept were totally unlike the highly successful armored attackers of WWII (Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, Junkers Ju 87D, and Republic P-47D, to name a few).
Now, to the GA-1. Designed by Laddon under the auspices of the Engineering Division located at McCook Field in Ohio, the prototype of this plane was built as the GAX Ground Attack Experimental, and was evaluated during 1920 with what was thought to be success. The machine was a massive tri-plane with heavy armament and extensive armor protection, and despite the fact that the type's drag and weight made it seriously underpowered, it was decided to procure a small production batch. The contract for 20 GA-1 production aircraft was open to tender, and the lowest bid came from Boeing.
Cumbersome at best, the only twin-motored triplane on USAAC rosters (powered by a pair of 435hp Liberty L-12 pusher engines) flew despite having to haul three men, a 37mm cannon and eight .30cal Browning machineguns, fragmentation bombs, and nearly a half-ton of armor plate in its role of a ferocious strafing machine, but the idea never caught anyone's fancy, especially its pilots.
Nevertheless, Boeing didn't give up the armored attacker concept, developing a more conventional GA-2 biplane. Initially designed as a trimotor, the GA-2 was powered by a single Engineering Division W-18 engine.
No wonder that neither Boeing Company nor Mr. Laddon (Consolidated Aircraft chief engineer since 1927, the man behind the legendary Catalina flying boat) weren't too happy to mention these "flying tanks". The GA-1 and -2 are almost completely forgotten. But they existed - and flew.