Abrams P-1 Explorer

The Abrams P-1 Explorer was American purpose designed aerial photography and survey aircraft that first flew in November 1937.

The Explorer was designed by aerial survey pioneer Talbert Abrams, to meet his needs for a stable aircraft with excellent visibility for his work.

Abrams was an early aerial photographer in World War I.

He used a Curtiss Jenny post-war, forming ABC airlines.

In 1923, Abrams founded Abrams Aerial Survey Company and in 1937, Abrams Aircraft Corporation to build the specialized P-1 aircraft.

The standard single front engined airplane of this era had many drawbacks for carrying out scientific photography.

They were created to be nimble in the air rather than stable photographic platforms.

Their engines leaked oil which would then flow under the aircraft and affect the camera lens.

Finally, the loud engines made cockpit conversation difficult.

Abrams designed an aircraft with a rear engine to keep the camera apertures clean and reduce cockpit noise, and used a delta type wing to facilitate side vision.

He hired engineers Kenneth Ronan and Andrew Edward Kunzl, in Marshall, Michigan, who drew plans and began construction in the former Page Brothers Buggy Company factory.

Ronan and Kunzl operated an aeronautical repair station at the Marshall airfield.

Planning and construction took ten months and resulted in an airplane designed for more efficient and economical aerial photography.

To create the clear nose so the pilot had an unobstructed view, Abrams hired the German company Rohm and Haas, creators of Plexiglas.

With a wooden model of each window pane, the Plexiglas was clamped in a frame similar to a window frame.

Heated until it began to sag, it was then pushed down by two workers holding the frame until it was moulded to the wooden model.

The Plexiglas could then be trimmed and mounted in the frame work.

When the Explorer came back for restoration, the panels which had been heated were as clear as when new, though were destroyed due to abuse during disassembly.

The Explorer was a low wing aluminium monoplane with twin booms and a central nacelle for the pilot and camera equipment.

The pod’s nose section was extensively glazed in Plexiglas.

The undercarriage was fixed and of tricycle configuration.

Originally powered with a 330 hp (250 kW) engine and a two bladed propeller, it was sent back to Ronan & Kunzul to increase the horsepower to 450.

This change required braces to be added from the wing top to the fuselage and they added a three bladed propeller with Abrams hoping the increased power would attract a buyer.

World War II interrupted Abrams’s work, and the single aircraft built was put into storage for the duration of the war.

Obsolete by the end of the conflict, it was donated to the US National Air and Space Museum in 1948, where it remains today awaiting restoration.

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