Gustine Built 1912
- Joseph L. Cato, is shown in 1912 at the controls of the radical plane he
designed and built himself at Gustine. The modern design craft had a 1907
Pope Toledo car engine with four cylinders. It was one of the first planes
with fabric on top of a wing as well as under. The revolutionary
three-in-one steering mechanism did away with shoulder straps previously
used to control the craft in the air. There were no brakes. Cato flew the
craft three years after his first solo flight at the Alameda marshes.
Cato of Turlock, who made his first solo flight six years after the Wright
Brothers flew at Kitty hawk, is an "Early Bird" who never broke a bone
Recently honoured by the government for "significant contributions to
the history of flight made by pilots who flew solo before December 17,
1916," Cato lives quietly with his wife at 409 North Thor St., Turlock.
His name is inscribed with 280 other pioneers on a bronze plaque outside
the National Air Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D. C.
Less than a handful of the original "Early Birds" are still alive. It was
1903, the year that Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first powered
flight, that Cato jumped off a Stockton barn in an attempt to fly a
home-made glider. One crashed, but the second flew. The 28-foot, 110-pound
powerless craft sailed 200 feet over a hay stack.
In 1908, he wrote to the war department in Washington for information on
building a powered plane he proposed to manufacture. On Oct. 15, 1909, he
made his first solo flight in a single surface Curtiss-type airplane he
designed and constructed. The next year he held a 20 minute endurance
record with a 35 horsepower plane owned by Ames Tricycle Company of San
Francisco. Working spare time as an auto mechanic to pay for his flying
lessons, Cato continued to learn about the infant industry that would take
powered craft into outer space during his lifetime.
Cato liked engineering more than flying. He worked out his ideas from
paper to the finished aircraft. He took the planes into the air to see if
he was right. Wrong engineers usually made one error. Designing and
building a new type of monoplane in 1910, he installed one of the first
air-cooled engines available. In 1911, he designed and built a
nine-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine. Al told, he is credited with 14
different types of airplanes he designed and built. He collaborated in
design and building nine others. He was the man who installed the first of
the famous Liberty engines that flew to glory in warplanes. He holds
10 patents and has applied for four more, all in aviation experimental
fields. These figures are all officially recorded in the government's
recognition of Cato's accomplishments.
After 44 years as an experimental aeronautical engineer, he retired to
Turlock in 1953.
He can look over Gustine and recall what it was like to fly his homemade
plane over the grain fields of that area in 1912. His radical cotton,
muslin and spruce craft did not require shoulder straps to control the
ailerons, a big step forward in engineering.
SAFE AGAIN -
Mrs. Joseph L. Cato, a new bride, rushed out to greet her pioneer flying
husband when he landed his experimental fighter plane after a 1918 test
flight at Long Island. The 450-horsepower plane, designed and built by
Cato, had armour plating under the bolts below the cockpits. The seven
machine guns appealed to the British air wing, but the war ended before
the LWF could fight overseas. The Catos still have the box camera with
which a friend took the picture 45 years ago.
1918, he took his new bride up in a Model G L.W.F. fighter plane he
designed and built himself. It was a bristling warplane, first in the
country to have armour plate. Four machineguns fired through the
propeller, two were under the wings, and one was mounted on the gun ring
of the rear cockpit. The war ended before it saw action.
Mrs. Cato hated flying. She has been up less than half a dozen times since
then, and tried many times to persuade her husband to give up flying and
concentrate on engineering. He was up the last time at the start of World
War II after logging about 1,400 hours, mostly in early day planes.
Many friends crashed in those early days, but Cato was never seriously
injured. He played his "hunches" and never flew when they told him not to.
While others died, he never had a crash serious enough to break a single
The man who never wore a parachute until his final flying days at the
start of World War II considers jets "too radical" and has never gone up
in one. He has no wish to ride in a commercial airliner now, he maintains.
For the tall, energetic Early Bird who'll be 74 hears of Feb. 18, the
thrills began in the days when he dreamed of controlling a balloon in
flight. He worked out his schoolboy ideas on the topic which a Frenchman
later proved were right.
The steps to gliders and powered craft followed.
Cato was not able to go to Washington, D. C. last year to accept the
government's bronze plaque in recognition of his contribution to aviation.
His son, Budd, accepted for him. Today in Turlock, the bronze plaque hangs
on the wall of the Cato home. There is a photograph of his name inscribed
on the building that houses the original Spirit of St. Louis and Kitty
Hawk. A copy of the Congressional Record at the house lists his mane with
Guiseppe Bellanca, George Page (of the WW I Handley Page bombers) and
Allen Lockheed as an "eminent designer of aircraft."