Jersey Reflections: Cove Aeroplane Sidelined

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As questions arose, George Cove transported his plane out of Bridgeton to an undisclosed location.

George H. Cove’s biplane with its revolutionary feature of an automatic stabilizer was publicly unveiled in the former Riley Brothers garage on Laurel Street in Bridgeton early December 1910 at a time when the town’s other aviation manufacturer Henry Hettinger was in the process of redesigning his own aircraft. But while the details of Cove’s plane revealed both craftsmanship and promise, its future became more tenuous as the months passed.

Bill Chestnut’s South Jersey Magazine piece “The Incredible Inventor George H. Cove and his Balanced Biplane,” quotes an article from the Bridgeton newspaper the Daily Pioneer, which reported that the inventor had “shaped the framework by hand and placed everything together himself” and described the plane as constructed entirely of spruce, just one of the features that would diminish the weight of the aircraft.

The newspaper’s detailed description of the plane offered an impressive picture of a fine prototype that, according to accounts, had stirred enough interest to earn Cove “provisional contracts for five machines.” The inventor had been hoping to obtain government contracts by eventually, as Chestnut explains, “carrying mail between given points for six consecutive days. If the airplane could successfully carry a passenger, Cove said he could sell the same number of airplanes to the Spanish government.”

The biplane was transferred from the Riley Garage to the countryside near the Cumberland County Hospital by December 10, 1910, when it was paraded through the Bridgeton streets to its new location to await a test flight. Many wondered how the aircraft would be removed from the building in which it was constructed since it exceeded the height and width of the doors in the building. The issue was resolved by removing the front and back portions of the plane.

“One can imagine the spectacle of the airplane being moved west along Jefferson Street,” Chestnut writes, “over the Broad Street bridge, then up the steep hill past the Cumberland County Courthouse to its destination at the County Hospital farm,” which was located several miles west of downtown Bridgeton.

But this is where the tale of the Cove Balanced-Aeroplane Company begins to produce more questions than accomplishments. Chestnut observes contradictions in Cove’s explanation about how his plane “would run differently out in the cool December air.” The inventor asserted “he had [already] suffered from the cold on a warm summer day after attaining a certain altitude,” Chestnut writes before acknowledging that it’s “a somewhat contradictory remark since he had earlier stated that he flew only at relatively low heights.”

The most perplexing factor, Chestnut points out, is that “despite all these public pronouncements, there is no evidence to confirm that Cove ever got his balanced biplane off the ground. Nor was the financial condition of his firm discussed after the Daily Pioneer announced [it] on November 19, 1910.”

If any suspicions were aroused at the time, they weren’t evident. By March 19, 1911, an issue of the German publication Fachseitung fur Automobilismus und Flugtechnik celebrated Cove and his recent achievements, giving the balanced biplane international attention. But by this time, Cove had already transported his plane out of Bridgeton to some undisclosed location.

A May 19, 1911 Daily Pioneer article cited by Chestnut reported that Cove conducted several test flights away from Bridgeton that resulted in some redesigns for the plane before he returned with the aircraft to Cumberland County that spring. And while the article speaks of Cove recently having “taken the big flying machine out” on an Irving Avenue tract in East Bridgeton, with further local test runs planned, apparently no corroboration of any such flights in this region or elsewhere was ever reported.

Cumberland County residents had no way of knowing that when Cove left Bridgeton with his plane in early 1911, he had apparently taken up residence at 107 West 69th Street in New York City. Temporarily placing his aviation plans aside, he resumed his partnership with Elmer Burlingame in a business venture that was at least a year old in February 1911. By the time he returned to Bridgeton that spring with announcements that he would continue to test his biplane, federal authorities were already looking into this other business, which offered solar-powered electric generators. We’ll see how that unfolded when this series continues.

Read: Jersey Reflections: Aeroplane Idea Takes Off


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