William C. Ocker, 1930
(Source: San Antonio Express, May 4, 1930)
William C. Ocker (June 18, 1880-September 15, 1942) was one of the pioneers of
instrument flying, and, like Albert
Hegenberger, spent a
decade or more of his military service inventing and contributing
to the science of blind flight.
He landed three times at Tucson between 1928 and 1931,
flying Douglas aircraft (two landings in AAC #25-400 carrying non-commissioned passengers). His flights to and from Tucson occurred
about the time he was performing his instrument flight experiments
and designing the equipment to train pilots in the art of
Image, left, from the San Antonio Express, May 4, 1930,
which features an article about the testing performed by
Ocker at Brooks Field, San Antonio, TX. He used a device of his own invention that incorporated
a box with primary flight instruments in it, encased in a
wooden box with a hole against which a pilot would place
his face. The device was mounted on a swivel chair. The device
is pictured in the news article.
sat in the chair with his face sealed against the box and
an instructor rotated the chair while the pilot observed
the behavior of the instruments. The basic lesson was that
the pilot's kinesthetic senses would soon conflict with what
the instruments were telling him and disorientation would
result if the pilot did not "believe the instruments". An article published in the August-September 2009 issue of Air & Space magazine further describes the "Ocker Box", as his device was named, and shows additional photographs of it.
His device was patented by Ocker and
his military colleagues and licensed to the Link company
who manufactured the "Link Trainer" for military
use. This series of events is documented in a special citation
awarded to Ocker and his colleague and Register pilot Carl J. Crane by the Order
of Daedalians (he is a member), which document is in Ocker's
NASM biographical file (left sidebar). However, I am unable to corroborate on the Web
or in books this connection to the Link company.
It is surprising
also that, upon review, no connection is made between Ocker's
work at Brooks Field, San Antonio, TX and Hegenberger's work
at Wright Field, Dayton, OH, all against the problem of instrument
flight. Perhaps it is because Ocker's work had to do mostly
with attitude instrumentation (cited on page 9 by Miller
in the book listed in the left sidebar) and the neuropsychological
aspects of instrument flight, while Hegenberger's dealt with
radio instrumentation and navigation.
Ocker faced a court martial over other matters at Brooks Field, as described in Time Magazine of January 22, 1934. If this had anything to do with the lack of connection between his and Hegenberger's work, it's not clear from the article. The article is quoted in the box below.
"When the Wright Brothers were experimenting with their flying contraption at College Park, Md., 25 years ago, they were pestered by a young Army corporal named William C. Ocker who wanted to take lessons. When they made their first successful test flight for the Army at Ft. Meyer, Va., Bill Ocker was there as an armed guard. From a greasemonkey and bamboo polisher at Curtiss Flying School, Corporal Ocker rose to be a pilot, then an inventor. Flying upside down in the clouds made him dizzy so he helped devise an instrument to prevent vertigo. When flying by instruments alone was scoffed at, he built a little black box full of indicators which not only made blind flying simple but two years ago led the Army to require it of every flyer in the service. Congress appropriated $1,000 to buy up his patent. But last week at Ft. Sam Houston, Major Ocker, oldest pilot in the Army in point of service, was summoned to appear before a court-martial. Charge: insubordination—by using improper language to a superior officer (96th Article of War). Major Clyde C. Johnston had examined Pilot Ocker at Kelly Field, after he recovered from a broken vertebra, and grounded him for weak eyesight. Pilot Ocker, no friend of Kelly Field's hard-boiled com- mander, Lieut.-Colonel Henry B. Clagett
, took his re-examination at another field, managed to pass the eye test. Back he went to Major Johnston and, according to the court-martial charges, said: 'If other pilots on this field, namely such as Clagett, were given more than a cursory examination they too would be off flying status. There was collusion between you and the Commanding Officer of this field relative to my examination!'"
I was unable to find the outcome of the court martial, if, in fact, it took place. Regardless, Ocker's and Hegenberger's work was contemporaneous, and together they developed the basis for control
of aircraft under raw instrument meteorological conditions
that remains to this day with few embellishments. Any contemporary
instrument-rated pilot can relate to the challenges and skills
Ocker and Hegenberger met and trained against with their
primitive devices over 75 years ago. Below, courtesy of site visitor Andy Heins, Ocker occupies the front cockpit with General Menoher in the rear.
William Ocker (L) and General Menoher, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Heins)
Ocker reached the rank of Colonel and this link provides
information, images and other links about him. Some sources cite his birth year as 1876. He has a modest Web presence.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 01/14/07 REVISED: 12/21/09, 05/10/10, 09/09/11