Californians and the Military
Frank Simpson, Jr.
The Story of California's First Naval Aviator
By Colonel Norman S. Marshall and Margaret A. Owens
The Early twentieth century witnessed the dawn of aviation. While the Wright brothers were busy on the East coast, California saw its own awakening of the infant aviation industry. Into this window of opportunity was born Frank Simpson, Jr.

Born to a relatively comfortable life, Frank, affectionately known as "Brolie", (as in "holy"), was to be a significant participant in the battle to conquer air space. He was one of the early aviation pioneers. He is remembered as one of the founders of naval aviation - as naval aviator 53 - and the first Californian to become a naval aviator, coming through the California Naval Militia, the predecessor of the Naval Reserve.

To understand how Brolie came to be so influential, we must look to his early years. His nickname was given to him by his only sister, Beatrice Olga Simpson, who as a baby was unable to say "Brother"; hence the name "Brolie", which followed him throughout his entire life.

He was born in San Francisco on August 1, 1883 to a family of some means. His father's business relocated to Los Angeles where Frank, Sr., continued to operate a wholesale produce company under the name of Simpson & Hack.

Through dozens of letters exchanged between Brolie and his family, from his late teens and continuing throughout his life, we glimpse an exceptionally close and affectionate family. From the letters his father wrote to his mother, we see how Brolie developed his extraordinary sense of respect for others and his grand sense of humor.

When sixteen, Brolie enrolled in the Mount Tamalpais Military Academy in San Rafael, California. He was very proud of that school and reveled in joining the School's activities while excelling as a scholar, graduating with a prize in mathematics. Included with pride are his reminiscences about his years of cadet training and achieving a Lieutenancy of Cadets in his senior year. He relished the responsibilities of command and his thoroughness in preparing required reports of attendance, drill, marksmanship and related duties caused him to markedly excel in his later military and civilian careers. He was well liked by his peers and his leadership abilities were quickly recognized by his superiors.

A thorough academic training led to his admission in Civil Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley in 1903 where he enrolled in the University Cadets, a predecessor to the ROTC. The Corps of Cadets was called to active service for relief work in the April 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Brolie's letters see him serving as a Lieutenant in charge of a platoon of cadets engaged in preventing looting, distributing foodstuffs, seizing public supplies from black marketeers and even assisting a pregnant woman in labor. He ultimately became a Captain of Cadets.

The growth of his family's fortunes and his interest in contributing to the family business, caused him to leave the university at the beginning of his senior year in 1907, even though he was up for promotion to Brigade Colonel. He joined his father in the produce business where he steadily progressed through hard work and innate ability. Through his business activities he met many influential people, becoming a member of a circle of solid, respectable people whom he freely called upon in later years.

The family business required traveling to local growers throughout the state. Many of these trips are chronicled in Brolie's letters, where we find his early fascination with the routine of traveling by rail and carriage, negotiating with farmers and growers, moving to and from hotels, arranging for the carriage of goods to market and dealing with retailers soon fading. Notwithstanding that, he and his family business prospered.

Global events were to have a profound effect on the direction young Frank, Jr.'s, life would soon take. War broke out in Europe in August 1914 and although America was divided as to participation, sentiments were abruptly focused in May 1915 when a German submarine sank the Lusitania with the loss of over 1,000 lives including 168 Americans, all neutral and all non-belligerents. It was then obvious that America, however unwillingly, would be drawn into the War.

Beginning in 1891, California was one of the 24 states which organized a naval militia as an adjunct to the National Guard and by the end of 1915 its naval strength consisted of 64 officers and 785 enlisted men. Los Angeles had such a unit, the Ninth Division, under Lieutenant Frank Seaver, a long time friend of the Simpson family, who was an active promoter of citizen sailors and a prominent lawyer who later became a successful businessman. He induced Brolie to serve, and continued to be a strong influence in Brolie's life. Brolie was perceptive in recognizing the opportunity to serve in an important role which promised adventure. He enlisted as a seaman on February 14, 1915 and was commissioned an Ensign on June 28, 1915.

California was the second state to form an Naval Militia Aeronautic Squadron (November 1915), after Illinois in May 1915. Connecticut formed its aviation unit in February 1916 and New York formed its celebrated Yale Unit in September 1916. None, except California and New York, had two or more planes and only California by diligence and luck had machinists, tools and shops to keep its craft airworthy at all times.

Frank Simpson was the person who recruited the unit, set up a course in aviation theory, staffed it with instructors at the Exposition Park Armory [now the Space Museum], established a ground school in Inglewood and saw to it that all hands, even the enlisted personnel, received practical instruction in flying. The program of flight instruction was a magnet to attract and retain ambitious young men who saw an opportunity for adventure.

At his own expense, Brolie began a course of instruction at the Glenn Martin Flying School. This chance meeting with Martin and others in the growing aviation industry would lead Brolie further along the adventure his life was to become.

Just twelve years after the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, Simpson found himself working closely with America's second licensed pilot and the man who would help mold America's airspace supremacy from its inception until today. Glenn Martin built thousands of aircraft for commercial and military purposes and is remembered for his China Clippers of the 1930's, the Martin Marauder of World War II and for the company that would eventually become the Martin-Marietta Corporation of Baltimore, Maryland (now Lockheed-Marietta).

Within one year after commissioning, Frank Simpson was using the field, facilities and equipment of the Glenn Curtiss Aviation Company during the Section's San Diego Summer encampment and within two years he was flying the celebrated Curtiss R-6 model as a naval officer. Thus, the lives of three men, Simpson, Curtiss and Martin, were inextricably bound together.

Glenn Martin was three years younger than Brolie. He was a Kansas native but had been a Southern California resident since 1905. It is noteworthy to take a closer look at Martin and how he and Simpson worked together, and together facilitated the transition in one short decade from crudely built aircraft, made of bed sheets and baling wire to multi-passenger workhorses capable of overflying the Atlantic Ocean non-stop.

Martin was an extraordinary person, gregarious, and likable but extremely shy among women. He would remain a lifelong bachelor who had the gift of natural business instincts.
Upon coming west, he first worked as a mechanic and at age twenty he opened the Ford and Maxwell auto franchises in Santa Ana, California. He hired his father as a salesman. "His daily attire was a dark suit, white shirt with celluloid collar, a conservative tie and a bowler hat. With his slenderness and eyeglasses he was the model of a dignified and reliable businessman."

Martin relished speed and took every new model car through its paces on early morning test drives.

Another Glenn, Glenn Curtiss, was an early competitor of the Wright Brothers and competition between these two manufacturers was frequently featured in the newspapers. Martin followed their news assiduously and in 1907 Martin saw his first aeroplane while in the company of his agency mechanic, Roy Beal. They made a close inspection of the plane. Remembering details, they drew up plans that evening to make a prototype but it was a monoplane with a single wing. Neither Beal nor Martin had any engineering education but were gifted in design and mechanics and installed a Ford motor car engine. The plane was not successful.

The next was built in an empty Southern Methodist Church he rented for $12 a month. It was a few blocks from his garage. Thirteen months later, the plane was finished. It was built of spruce and bamboo and was covered with doped muslin. Weighing 1150 pounds, it was taken apart, carried through the church and reassembled in a bean field outside town on August 1, 1909. On its first attempt, it flew.

Improvements on the plane followed, including a larger engine. America now had four aeroplane builders: the Wrights, Burgess, Curtiss and Martin. Frank, Jr., was to become integral to the further improvements in aviation through this association with Curtiss and Martin.

To support the new venture, Martin took up barnstorming and winning prizes in flight competitions. He earned many appearance fees. On August 9, 1911, Martin was the second aviator awarded the Aero Club of America Expert Aviators Certificate. By the fall of 1911, Martin was twenty-five years old and had seven employees. All manufacturing was taking place in a former cannery and they had a small backlog of orders, when there came a rare marketing opportunity.

From 1908 until 1911 the Army Signal Corps had a lone Wright plane. The Army announced it needed five more craft and Martin wanted to penetrate that market.
One of his publicity efforts was to "bomb" a mock fort with flour bags in a night attack with searchlights ablaze. This was well covered by the Los Angeles press.

Additionally, in May that year he flew from Balboa Island to Catalina Island and back setting a world record for hydroplanes. Flights were frequently made out of Griffith Park and often featured parachute demonstrations by a diminutive and attractive woman, Miss Tiny Broadwick. One such jump on January 10, 1914 was witnessed by California Nation Guard Brigadier General Wankowski who reported favorably to the War Department in the use of what he called a "life vest".

Martin capitalized on the mystique and glamour of early aviation. Since his barnstorming days he affected a flying uniform that earned him the sobriquet of the "Flying Dude". It consisted of a black leather jacket, black trousers, black puttees and a black leather helmet plus goggles. He is shown wearing it on the day the plane was presented to the Naval Militia in November 1915. Being a personable and glamorous man, he was even featured in a movie with the popular Mary Pickford and earned $4900 for two weeks work.
In August 1912, Martin relocated to Los Angeles opening a much larger facility at Tenth and Main Streets, just a few blocks from the Simpson Produce Company and it was here he met Simpson for the first time. Fate took a hand in changing Brolie's life.

Between 1912 and 1915, Martin's business focused on supplying general aviation and sport planes for the rich; the European war caused orders to flow in from belligerent powers and he began building planes for Great Britain and the Dutch and training Canadian and Dutch pilots at his school.

Upon Simpson's commissioning he was in frequent contact with Martin and he acted as a technical observer on many test flights of the Martin planes. The Militia had him act as a technical observer for the graduating RCAF students of the School. This experience stood him in excellent stead two years later when he became an instructor at Pensacola and then as Officer in Charge of the new San Diego Flight School.

Both Curtiss and the Army used San Diego for flight training and there had been a number of injuries and fatalities of Army trainees who were then using pusher planes. They were trained at North Island and in 1913, twelve students died. By year end, the Army had twelve pilots and just a few old planes.

The large number of requests for transfer as well as the poor safety record brought about an investigation, the result of which was the condemnation of the entire fleet of remaining pusher planes which smashed easily and were flimsy and difficult to control.

The Signal Corps sent Grover C. Loening, an aeronautical engineer, to outline the problem to a few manufacturers of aircraft. On one of his visits to Martin's Los Angeles plant, Loening specified a reliable two-seat aircraft with dual controls for instructor and student, a nose mounted engine with tractor blade instead of a pusher propeller, a plane that could climb eight hundred feet in ten minutes and with a top speed of fifty-eight miles per hour and a low of thirty-six miles per hour.

"Do you think you can do it?" he asked Martin.

Glenn, scarcely able to hide a smile, turned to Charles Willard, his chief engineer, who replied, "That depends on how soon the finished plane must be delivered." Neither Glenn nor Willard let on that in the Martin hanger at Griffith Park stood such a plane, and it was virtually finished. It was a souped up two seater they had been working on for Tiny's parachute jumps. Practically all of the Army's requirements were already built in. All it lacked was a second set of controls. Loening said the Army needed delivery in six weeks, or it would shut down North Island.

"And there is one more thing," he added. "We don't have any money on hand, but if this plane you have in mind works, we'll get it." Glenn's eyes sparkled as he told the Army engineer, "We'll do it. I think we can chance it."

Six weeks later the Martin Company's first delivery to the Army rolled out of the hangar. It was the Model TT, for Tractor Trainer, aviation's first specially designed training plane. Its performance in subsequent test flights exceeded the Army's expectations. Fourteen more were delivered in 1914, including a version with armor plate around the cockpit and engine.

The mortality rate at North Island dropped dramatically. Only one pilot was lost of the twenty nine who trained in the Martin TT during the first six months it was in service, and Loening later told Glenn the Army did three or four times more flying per pupil than ever before. It was neither coincidence nor luck of timing that put the TT in Army hands so readily. Glenn had long believed in and preached the military promise of the airplane. It was only a matter of time he figured before the Army would need an airplane like his.

With the Army contract, Martin's business began booming and the new model had an enclosed fuselage with steel tubing replacing bamboo. The company had one hundred people at the plant, maintained a hangar at Griffith field, a hydroplane base near Gardena and a test facility at Balboa Island which was owned by James Irvine of the Irvine Ranch family. Irvine was also one of Martin's financial backers.

By August 1916 there was to be a merger with Wright. Curtiss had already absorbed the Burgess Company of Marblehead, Massachusetts which was America's smallest manufacturer. The two giants were now in competition and sales were everything.

Curtiss had earlier done two things to cement his relations with the U.S. Military. He had persuaded the Aero Club of America to negotiate a lease of North Island for a three year period without cost and in 1910 he offered to teach all student Military Officers to fly his planes free of charge. To penetrate the market further, Curtiss had given the State of New York's Naval Militia a hydroplane as an outright gift in 1915.

Similarly, Martin was doing his own clever promotional work. He was already a Member of the U.S. Naval Academy Advisory Board and through the urging of Brolie, Martin spent Saturday afternoons at the Exposition Park Armory teaching the theory and practice of flight in the ground school to militiamen.

In November 1915 Martin loaned the State of California its own Model TT which was identical to that used by the Army at North Island and additionally gave them an obsolete pusher plane. Further, he encouraged his plant employees to join the militia as pilots or as mechanics. Among the pilots were Edward Musick, Steve Calloway, Arthur C. Burns, H.V. Reynolds and Edward Oliver. No other state militia boasted such a large number of pilots.

The Aeronautical Section, attached to the Ninth Division of the Naval Militia, was mustered on February 3, 1916 with a contribution of $1200 from the Aero Club of America and a further contribution of $750 was made by the Aero Club to defray the expenses of operating the machines. The unit's first four drills were devoted to outfitting the men and to other details connected with organizing the section. On March 2, 1916 the roll of the Aeronautical Section was taken for the first time. It had one officer and 25 men and one civilian instructor. It was equipped with the new Martin TT as well as an old Martin pusher. That Spring, Thursday evening drills, Saturday afternoon drills and Sunday maintenance work, took place at the armory and at Griffith field and the ground and aviation schools were well under way. By September the unit was ready for its first Federal encampment and Simpson had completed about one half of his course of flight instruction. In one of his letters he stated that he had effectively abandoned all civilian pursuits starting in May so as to prepare the equipment and the men for their tour of duty. His lengthy and thorough report is attached.

The unit took the older of the two planes, disassembled, plus all other equipment in three motor trucks and two trailers plus Simpson's Stutz auto. He borrowed the San Diego unit's steam launch and moved all equipment to the Curtiss wharf at North Island utilizing the site and tents of a former Marine encampment.

The instructor, T. E. Springer, was a civilian and he took each man in turn on short flights. Army instructors stationed at North Island also assisted in training the bluejackets both in the evening classes and in practical flying.

The bigger and more powerful machine had been left behind because Simpson and the others had not yet been qualified in it having completed only a portion of the course of instruction and most of the men had already been up in the pusher.

Note that Brolie's report states that all repairs and maintenance were performed by the personnel of the detachment and the flight time was greatly abbreviated to about three hours each day due to turbulence affecting the flight characteristics of the ship. Its 75 horsepower Curtiss O engine could not overcome the gusts and it was sound judgement to discontinue flights and concentrate on other military skills during the hours available. As the report makes abundantly clear, Simpson accomplished all that was needed and earned his promotion to Lieutenant three months later on December 1, 1916 when he also received his license as a pilot from the Aero Club of America. He had earlier volunteered for further training at Pensacola and was ordered there for a course of instruction on December 6, 1916 being qualified as naval aviator number 53 on June 12, 1917. In sum, this meant he was fully qualified to fly both land and seaplanes, balloons, dirigibles and blimps.

In recapping his early years, it can fairly be said he was a remarkable man. He was an organizer and careful planner. He attracted, recruited and organized the unit even before it had a plane. He persuaded a manufacturer to give the unit two planes and make his field and facilities available for training the students and induced the manufacturer to serve as a teacher. He enrolled and paid for pilot training himself and trained his entire squadron as pilots and observers. He enthusiastically relished command responsibilities and saw to it that the training opportunity at North Island was maximized even going so far as pay from his own pocket for the hired trucks moving all the gear. He was articulate, well-groomed, socially connected and comfortable in dealing with his superiors and was completely ready to meet the challenges of the next five years with confidence.

All of this could not have been done without the financial support and encouragement of the newly organized Aeronautical Society of California founded in July 1915 and consisting of patriotic business people who pledged cash, facilities and talent.

The organization committee consisted of:

Bradner W. Lee
Hon. Chas. E. Sebastian, Mayor of Los Angeles
Hon. John C. Kline, Sheriff of Los Angeles County.
Congressman W.D. Stephens, member Committee on Naval Affairs
Brigadier General Robert Wankowski, National Guard
Lieutenant Commander Lorenzo H. Woodbine
Colonel Wm. G. Schriber, 7th California Infantry
Major A.J. Copp, Chamber of Commerce. Later (1943) a Colonel, CNG
W.W. Mines, President, Los Angeles Realty Board
Frank Garbutt, Sportsman Aviator
Louis Cole, Ex-Pesident, Chamber of Commerce
Harry E. Andrews, Los Angeles Times
Guy C. Barham, Los Angeles Herald
W.H. Brundige, Los Angeles Tribune and Express
Max Ihmsen, Los Angeles Examiner
Fred L. Baker, Pres., Auto Club of Southern California
W.E. Bush, President Merchants and Manufacturers Association
Hon. Lyman Farwell, Member California Legislature
The Officers were:

Earle Remington, President Aeronautical Society
A. H. Rose, Secretary
A.J. Waters, Treasurer
Brolie was invited to join the committee just weeks after he was commissioned.
The Pensacola Period
Pensacola was at that time the nation's only naval aviation school. Brolie successively became a student, naval aviator, Senior Instructor in Aerodynamics, Officer in Charge of Advanced Flying and, finally, the Aide to the Superintendent of the Flight School. Once again, he was recognized by his superiors as an effective manager.

Included in his Pensacola period, there were occasional trips to Cuba just one hundred miles off the coast and while there he took the usual tourist photos. Simpson was at the time 33 years old, but possessed the assurance of a much older man. When the Navy recognized a need to open a second flight school they had an obvious candidate at their call who was an expert aviator, teacher, organizer and probably wouldn't mind returning home to California.

He was detached and sent to North Island, San Diego as the Officer in Charge of the Machinists School and later as the Officer in Charge of the Flight School. Upon his arrival the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Earl Spencer, had not yet arrived. He was to report on October 15, 1917. Again, Brolie was to have a brush with fame, by sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time.

Spencer was an interesting man. He graduated from the Naval Academy in the class of 1910 and married a striking brunette from an old Baltimore family who later charmed the King of England off his throne and became the Duchess of Windsor, the beautiful and charming Wallis Warfield. While enroute to San Diego to join her husband, Wallis was entertained by Simpson's younger sister, Olga, who acted as hostess and showed the future duchess the sights of Los Angeles.

North Island
The history of North Island is essential background for the burgeoning aviation program of the armed forces. First discovered in 1542, by Juan Cabrillo, it was covered with Lemonberry and Mulberry trees and was of about 2000 acres originally being about 2 miles wide and 4 miles long. North Island was first used by Spanish explorers and later by hide vessels as a water replenishment point. In 1886, it was purchased by the Coronado Beach Company for future expansion of the Del Coronado Hotel and in 1910, under a lease from that company, Glenn Curtiss opened his first flying school because of its year-round favorable weather. In 1911, Curtiss invited Navy pilots for free flight instruction and this was expanded in 1912 to also include Army pilots. In 1917, the Army occupied the Southern half of the island and operated from Rockwell Field and the Navy occupied the northern half.

In 1910, it was the site of the first competitive air meet. Curtiss, having seen the site, elected to set up his training school there. Thus he took over an old barn and house and erected some tar paper hangars with a small shop. Personnel lived ashore in San Diego and commuted by boat. This also became the base for his hydroplane experiments while the Navy afforded limited supplies and machinery specialists from the USS Iris, formerly a fresh water distilling ship that supplied USS Oregon on its way to Manila after the Santiago victory in 1898. Thus, she was a tender to the shore facilities.

When WWI started, the Navy had only 48 officer pilots and 54 planes and all were stationed at Pensacola. North Island was needed by both services and this led to squabbles between them and finally on September 8, 1917 by joint edict of the Secretaries of War and Navy, the island was declared a joint air station. This proved to be a "Band-Aid" solution, as it soon became apparent that the numerous aircraft in the area posed insurmountable safety hazards.

What Simpson found upon arrival was essentially a sandpit and little else. The Navy's limited facilities were at Balboa Park where the service had taken over the Panama Exposition Grounds. Brolie always had a sense of humor and this led to a "gag" photo that generated laughs on both coasts. Writing to his parents in October 1916 he said:

"The government is using the Exposition Grounds and buildings - right away quick I'm going to have my picture taken in front of the most imposing building, with a few sentries at attention, and send it to the officers at Pensacola with the information that it was snapped in front of my office at the Aeronautical Station in North Island. They're all so foolish about California that they'll probably swallow it.

"As a matter of fact there is no station here yet. Spencer hasn't arrived and all our work is before us. As the Department hasn't seen fit to unbosum itself, I don't know how much of a station we shall have, when we are to begin establishing it, nor whether we shall begin work in temporary quarters or what not."
Three newly commissioned flight instructors arrived shortly after Spencer arrived. They were Ensigns Aldred Warren, Charles Ames and Amory Hackell. Warren wrote the following:

"On our arrival at San Diego on January 1, 1918, we found the so called "air station" to be only a few old buildings in Balboa Park left over from the San Diego's World's Fair. To tell the truth the station at North Island was just a strip of beach. The commanding officer Lt. Earl W. Spencer, Jr., gave us a most God-awful bawling out when we reported for being without either white gloves or carrying a sword. We had not yet learned that swords and gloves were vital to winning the war....

"At NAS North Island, there was only one flyable plane when we arrived - a Burgess U-2 similar to the N-9 Curtiss "Jenny" but barely operational. It was kept in one of the four small wooden hangars at the water's edge with a railroad type of ramp to roll the plane into and out of the water. These four hangars had been built by Curtiss in 1911 when he was experimenting with flying boats and pontooned seaplanes...

"Shortly after our New Year's arrival, things began to stir at North Island. The construction officer had completed a small building, a few wooden sheds and an assembly hangar for the three R-6 aircraft which had arrived...

"During the early months of 1918 a wooden hangar was built to hold the three R-6's then being assembled. Lt. Spencer decided they were too valuable for us fledglings to fly and so he and the officer in charge of the flight school were the only ones allowed to fly them. He did not know that both Ames and I had successfully flown R-6's several times at Pensacola. Indeed, I had not only been given instruction in the R-6, I had even looped one. Moreover, I had been asked by Commander H. C. Richardson, Naval Aviator #13 and the leading aeronautical engineer in the Navy at that time to report to him on the R-6s maneuverability in the air.

"So it happened when some trouble was reported down the bay that Ames went to investigate it and the only plane available to fly was an R-6. So he got into it and flew down the bay. When he got back he got one hell of a bawling out for using the R-6 without permission. [We put it down to Lt. Spencer's nose being out of joint by showing that someone else could fly R-6s better than him.]

"In May of 1918, Naval Air Station San Diego began its training mission in earnest. We gave each student about 30 minutes in the air followed by practice landings. After six or eight hours of such instruction, each student was ready for solo.

"...My log book shows that I had nine flights on June 17th putting in eight hours and thirty-three minutes in a single day. The other instructors were doing about the same. In July, it was more of the training routine except that on the 23rd, the only time we were even close to being involved in the war. Several of us instructors were then residing at the University Club in downtown San Diego. About 4:00 A.M. in the morning, a sailor riding a motorcycle with a sidecar roared up to the club with orders that all instructors were to report to base immediately. When we got aboard, Lt. Spencer told us a German Submarine had been sighted and that we were to go and look for it. So at daylight, three of us flying R-6 twin float airplanes took to the air to find the enemy submarine. My crew consisted of a mechanic named Ericson and our total armament consisted of a .45 pistol, which I wore. Unfortunately neither I nor the other planes found any sign of the enemy submarine. "This was the nearest naval aviation came in San Diego to meeting the enemy in WWI. "Incidentally the pistol was loaded with live ammunition."

Other letters of Warren are filled with complaints about the unsatisfactory performance of the Burgess planes. He described them as being "a pile of junk". On May 1, 1918 he declared that the instructor pilots refused to fly the Burgess models at all!

Simpson was obviously a very busy person much to his credit and he was well liked. When detached for duty in Florida, there was a farewell dinner dance held at the Maryland Hotel on January 25, 1919. The program was dedicated to Simpson and there were speeches and recitations with the concluding number being "Until We Meet Again". He returned to Pensacola for advanced flight training in the Spring of 1919 and was then executive officer and commanding officer of the Naval Air Station at Key West. Then he was transferred to recruiting duties in San Francisco.

Having suffered a ruptured appendix in 1919, and a four month hospital stay, his health was not satisfactory for continued naval service. He received a medical discharge in 1921, leaving the service as a Lieutenant Commander.

Casting about for something to do, he considered taking over the Fiat automobile franchise for California and then the Stutz franchise of Southern California. His father had sold the produce business, turning his hand to other opportunities. Brolie returned to help manage numerous investments and became the owner and manager of the Hotel Savoy in Los Angeles. Among his many civic roles, he became the President of the California Hotel Owners Association and had active roles in the Chamber of Commerce. He married the sister of one of his students, John Wigmore, who had been killed in a crash. His wife's name was Marion Francisa Wigmore and they had three children, two daughters, Mrs. Wayne Dow and Mrs. Frank Finger, and a son, Frank Simpson III, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1948 and later became a Los Angeles lawyer. Brolie died in 1956.

He left behind a rich chronicle of his life in a collection of letters and photos.

Simpson and Spencer had done a remarkable job in two years at North Island. They started with nothing and had jurisdictional squabbles with the Army. Meanwhile the job of training aviators and support personnel continued non-stop with day and evening classes going full bore. Students even slept in old hangars in hammocks. In July 1918, Simpson reported that at the machinist's school there were the following personnel:
363 Qualified Aviation Mechanic Personnel
345 Students under instruction
237 Awaiting instruction
1 Supervising Machinist Mate Division
3 Instructors
191 Trained and qualified machinists mates had already been transferred to foreign stations and twelve engine test stands had been built along the bay shore with five or six men assigned to each as instructors.

By war's end, Brolie's machinists had materially helped to keep the Navy's 2,107 planes airworthy and operational.

Simpson's final significant achievement was to locate a suitable spot for another naval air station along the California coast. Under orders from Rear Admiral Jaynes he completed the first aerial survey of all of San Francisco Bay and the area selected is now at the Oakland International Airport. At the extreme Northwest corner of the field is the seaplane base which served the nation and the Navy during World War II and during the Koran conflict.

In retrospect, Simpson was a witness and active participant to a wonderful window of time in which there were a few who conquered the air and were among its earliest pioneers. He often said that his proudest achievement during his service years was that of authoring the first Course of Instruction for Naval Aviators which became the standard work for many years.

It is clear that though the Naval Reserve Appropriations Act of 29 August 1916 established the Naval Reserve Flying Corps, its genesis came much earlier even predating the Yale Unit, for both Illinois and California had flying units during 1915.

A classic role of the naval reservists - to augment the regular Navy during a time of emergency - was first demonstrated during WWI. In nineteen months between the Declaration of War and the time the armistice ending WWI was signed, the Navy had trained more than 6,000 aviation specialists, including 2,000 aviators. At the end of the war, of the 1656 naval aviators on duty, 1,500 were reservists. Four thousand more aviation students were undergoing training.

On December 17, 1918, the San Diego Union reported there were 1685 officers and men at the school and they had completed 35,000 hours in the air and transited 2,360,000 miles on training flights without injury or loss of any aircraft.

Simpson and California had made a tremendous and invaluable contribution to that growth.
Authors' Note:
Mrs. Henry Grandin (Beatrice Olga Simpson), Brolie's sister, has generously given of her time and recollections and has reviewed and edited the foregoing. We are especially indebted to Perry Simpson, Brolie's grandson who has shared many letters and photos with us and to Hill Goodspeed, Historian of the Naval Museum of Aviation History, for his significant help in providing research and sharing letters with us.

We are also greatly indebted to David C. Holcome of The Western Reserve Historical Society of Cleveland, Ohio; William T. Larkins, Plesant Hill, California; Lindsley A. Dunn, Curator of the Curtiss Museum of Hammardsporz, New York; Buzz Bartlett, Director of Public and Community Affairs at Martin-Marietta Corporation and Bill Harwood, who put together the definitive biography of Glenn Martin. Sincere thanks also go to Mary Richardson of the San Marino Public Library and to Roy Wagner of the San Diego Space Museum.


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Updated 8 February 2016