Bethany, CT. – March 2, 1932

Bethany, Connecticut – March 2, 1932

     On the afternoon of March 2, 1932, Elliot R. McCune, (27), took off from Bethany Airport in a Cairns Airplane, (Ser. No. X-329V) for a test flight.  (He has been mistakenly identified as Ellis McKeon in some newspaper accounts.)

     The aircraft belonged to the Cairns Aircraft Corporation of 62 Rubber Avenue, Naugatuck, Connecticut, and was registered as experimental.   It was of a sleek mono-wing design, built entirely of metal.  The airplane was originally fitted with a 90 h.p. motor, but that had recently been replaced by a 165 h.p. motor.

     McCune was an experienced pilot and well known throughout New England having flown as a stunt-pilot and “barnstormer”.   He’d observed the experimental aircraft during several recent visits to the airport and was granted permission to fly it.  Prior to the flight he’d been informed that the airplane had been flown several times the previous day where it had been subjected to stunt flying without any negative results.

     While high over the area of the airport, McCune began putting the airplane through a series of aerobatic maneuvers, during which one of the wings suddenly broke away.  As the aircraft plunged towards the earth McCune appeared to bail out, but at the time he left the plane he was barely 500 feet from the ground and his chute didn’t have time to open.  The airplane was destroyed on impact, and McCune’s body landed several hundred feet away.   It was further reported that he may have been struck in the head by a portion of the wing when it separated from the aircraft. 

     Bethany Airport closed in 1965.

     Updated May 14, 2019

     The Cairns Aircraft Corporation was established by Captain Edmund B. Cairns in 1928, and between 1931 and 1932 the company manufactured five experimental aircraft which were tested at the Bethany Airport. 

     The aircraft were all-metal mono-planes with radial engines.  They carried two people, seated in tandem, in pen cockpits.  The landing gear was equipped with wheel fairings for better aerodynamics.     

     The engines were designed by the Kimball Aircraft Corporation, founded by Leo B. Kimball of New Haven, Connecticut.  The Kimball Corp. was in operation from 1927 to about 1932.   Kimball and Cairns reportedly collaborated on the five experimental aircraft. 

     What happened to the other aircraft is unknown.

     Source: Atlantic Flyer, “Connecticut Historian looking For Cairns Aircraft”, July, 1993, page A-20 

     Other Sources:

     Unknown newspaper, “Pilot Killed In Plane Crash At Bethany”, unknown date.

     Waterbury Republican, Scene Of Air Tragedy In Bethany”, (photo and caption.)  

     New Haven Journal-Courier, “Wing Torn From Plane In Dive”, (Photo), March 3, 1932    

     Naugatuck News, “State Investigating Bethany Air Crash”, unknown date.

     New Haven Evening Register, “Wrecked Plane That Cost Wallingford Man’s Life”, March 3, 1932, page 1

     New Haven Evening Register, “Girl sees Flier Plunge To Death”, March 3, 1932        


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