MG-4 Story 

The Melberg-Greenemier Bi-Planes
Article originally appeared in Sport Flying in May of 1970
Pictures from
Written Ray Melberg, Sr.
One day in the spring 1936 two airplane mechanics working together began comparing ideas and found they had a common desire; build an airplane. One of the two, Conrad "Dutch” Greenemier wanted to build the smallest airplane that could reasonably carry a pilot and perform in an outstanding manner. “Why haul around a lot of material you don’t need? You don’t need a bomber just to get up in the air.” The other had in mind just a high quality sport plane to put in practice some of the study of airplane designing he had been doing. Both were A & E mechanics with varied experience. The first attempt turned out to be the MGW-1 at that time a very small single seater biplane.

Winthrop Gardiner, Jr. in the MGW-1
Dutch wanted a 15 foot span. Melberg, the partner favored more like 18 feet. You guessed it, 16.5 feet. With that to start with, the normal steps followed – place a char out on the floor and get the chalk and a yard stick. That’s gonna be too small! No it isn’t, whaddya want a bomber? That leads to getting it on paper. Control surfaces slightly larger than normal in a percentage – we wanted to be sure it would have plenty since Denver in the summer-! A mite long on the fuselage for the same reason. Put the wheels back as near the CG as possible with making it too light on the tail. Result: the aircraft was not ground-looped in the little over a year we flew it while we had it.
The MGW-1 was a conventional wood win and steel tube airplane. Three foot chord using the NACA M6 airfoil for its low drag properties as well as extra high angle of attack a the stall. This will give good lift with fairly low drag right down to the touchdown and less possibility of developing a high sink rate with more abrupt control deterioration. Three quarter inch spars with 3/32” plywood plates under all fittings assured permanent strength of spruce spars. Steel tube drag (compression) struts with piano wire drag bracing using turnbuckles.
All fittings and tubing throughout the aircraft were of X-4130 Chrome Moly steel. Five eights by .035” tubing for longerons with other sizes needed according to a graphic stress diagram for the fuselage. Ailerons were designed on the lower wings to increase the ability to control the aircraft during ground roll as well as simplify the control system. The ailerons were constructed of small diameter steel tubing ribs welded to a tubular spar which extended into the fuselage as a torque tube control member. Conrol horns bolted to the ends of the torque tubes were connected by ball-joint links to horns on the control stick longitudinal torque tube.
Empennage was of all steel construction employing full cantilever spars with steel tubing ribs and of course fabric cover. The spars were made of 3/8” x .o35 tube caps with diagonal members welded in. The later models an .035” sheet web was used instead for ease of construction. Because of in-flight observation of an oscillating type vibration at the outer end of the vertical fin (from the prop beat or what have you) a single wire brace was run from each stabilizer to the upper part of the fin. Probably unnecessary.
The landing gear was drawn up as a fill cenilever strut with shock cord suspension using 1 ½” x .095” tubing with a gusset at the mounting point where it had a change of direction. Later a longer gusset was welded in and the unit heat treated as a result of a slight bend from an apparent hard landing. Wheel size was 16 X 4. The original wheels were adapted commercial wheels with roller bearings. These were strengthened by adding a conical disk to the outboard side by welding. Motorcycle brakes were tinkered up to match. Single tube tires. The cause a little skepticism but “they stay on racing bicycles” so we gave them a try. Had a little trouble at first with searing off valve stems. The airplane was very controllable on the ground so a flat tire was no problem.
One day Dutch showed up with some new tires with less of a non-skid tread which maybe wouldn’t have as much traction and thereby would give less trouble. While writing this I recall very sharply that flight with those tires on the ship. With a northwest wind I had taxied out to the end of the southeast runway. This was Denver, Colorado municipal Airport, 1936. It was a little rough with sand bumps around the grass clumps, since that runway was less used and received less grading. As I left the ground on the takeoff I felt a bump sort of under the airplane and starting climb I looked back at the runway and there, I couldn’t believe it, were two tires rolling side by side – mine! I flew around a few minutes to think this over and decided to land close to the hangar on the north-south regardless of the crosswind in case I wound up upside down. (While flying I had noticed that the aircraft flew slightly tail-heavy due to the reduced weight ahead as well as the less drag.)
Well, I landed and it couldn’t have been more normal, just a little shorter ground roll and took a little more power to taxi off the runway. After clearing the runway I cut the engine and walked in for assistance. No one had notice the crazy guy flying around out there without any tires on his wheels. That was the end of the single tube tire era. Dutch obtained some pressed steel wheels for straight sided tires and tubes, installed the motorcycle brakes and we were back in business. They worked fine until Dutch (he never quits) turned out some wood patterns and had some aluminum wheels cast. These were beautiful and worked fine too.
Originally we had a lightweight 50 h.p. engine in mind for the MGW-1. When we got down to the engine department we were offered such good reasons for putting more power on it by Billy Parker that we did just that. He just happened to have some like-new Lambert 90's, one of which could be obtained at reasonable cost. He had seen the progress of the construction of the airplane from time to time as he visited Denver flying Phillips Petroleum airplanes. We bought one of these and really appreciated his advice. It made the airplane fly not only good, but like a fighter! (Yes, fighters in those days were still mostly biplanes.) A ground adjustable Hamilton Standard propeller was installed which made the whole thing look like two hundred thousand. (That was a lot in those days.)
Dutch tacked together some brass channel into a frame for a swank three pane laminated glass windshield. Got it chrome plated so we were just like uptown.
The first test flight was made on May 4, 1936. Dutch and I had flipped a coin for the first and I had won. On May 4 we were running some ground tests, checking brakes, engine controls, rudder and aileron response at fast taxi, etc. A friendly “air line pilot” on his stopover in Denver was real interested in the proceedings. We had no chute and weren’t planning to fly it just yet. This particular pilot asked if he could run it up and down the field a couple of times. He was one of the “big boys” and a real sharp pilot so we wanted his opinion on the apparent ground performance. (I had about 80 hours at this time and I believe Dutch had nearly the same.)
The aircraft disappeared around the hangar taxiing to the northwest end of the field. The next thing we saw here he came with the tail up, like a shot out of a gun and pulling the nose up some he buzzed up into the sky like a hornet. We stood and looked with mixed feelings. He had pulled a fastie on us but we couldn’t help being thrilled at the sight of this runty machine flashing around like a real “show job.”
After a few fast circles and quick rolls from one steep turn into another he came around to a very smooth landing. Taxiing up with a wide grin he climbed out and said “It flies beautifully but watch it on the take-off – the rudder‘s mighty quick. I grinned and said “Thanks – uh – how come you forgot to fasten your safety belt?” He just smiled as he hurried away.
After a few days we had double checked everything and installed the safety belt which we had left out “so no one would get any ideas.” I went for my “first” ride in it and Dutch flew it around a while. I must say our self appointed test pilot wasn’t kidding the rudder was really a little too quick. I, as well as everyone else who flew it for the first time, did that little tiny see-saw on the first flight. The second time around had it whipped. We decided to leave the rudder gearing like that. It certainly did just what you wanted it to on the ground. My first impression in the air was of the outstanding stability of the craft. The aileron and elevator response were “right.” The rudder was as close to you as your socks, you weren’t conscious of it, it was right there. It was really a dream ship to fly, but take that with a grain of salt, I am talking like a designer-builder-salesman.
Dutch was ever wanting to bet someone he could outrun him from there to anywhere and back again. He nearly always did, too. I remember the bet with the Ryan Broughman pilot who took him on one day. The race, from the ground to KOA tower and back across the field. We could just barely see the specks circle the tower together and later there they came screaming over the airport, the MG about 20 feet ahead--.
We had many interesting and enjoyable flights in the MGW-1.We had flown as far east as St. Louis to attend the air show there and race if possible and as far west as Kingman, Arizona. We would have been in Los Angeles during the 1936 Nation Air Races but California restrictions against unlicensed aircraft kept us on the ground at Kingman. The CAA people in Denver had told us we needed a special purpose to be issued an “NR” so we had left without it. At Kingman we were advised that “An inspector will be through there in a couple of days who can inspect your airplane and issue an “R.”
Well the show was going on and I at least wanted to see it so hooked a ride in with a passing pilot leaving the MGW-1 tied to the fence. Well, on the way back anyway I followed a cold front into Winslow with Joe Jacobsen, Bill Ong and some other race pilots. We had to overnight there and again the next night at Albuquerque behind the same front. I took the wrong turn on the railroad and landed in the rain in a hayfield near Belen, New Mexico. A couple of helpful guys offer to tow me to Albuquerque so we tied the tail skid to his spare tire and away we went – up the main highway. No Trouble. The next morning I noticed a blowing exhaust valve on cranking up so with the use of some of Bill Cutter’s tools I pulled a cylinder and fixed the bad valve. Was off the ground by 1:00 PM and 3 hours later in Denver.
After flying the MGW-1 for a year and a few months a sale was arranged with a buyer from the east coast and our little bird flew away. Our thanks to Al Higgins who was our dedicated helper during the MGW-1 project. His only pay was what knowledge he could scrounge while doing it. Thanks to the rest of the guys that lent a hand here and there.
The MG-2 was designed for a pilot that asked if I would build, on a partnership basis, another ship just like the one which had been sold to his friend in the east (Winthrop Gardiner, Jr. of Long Island). I agreed to design another airplane, however a new model with various changes.(You always have to try something better). Really the only similarity was that they were both single seat biplanes. Duch had moved to Newark J.J., so I worked with Higgins and other enthusiastic helpers.

I bought a cracked up Fairchild 24 for the engine and instruments, pulleys, tubing and other parts. A new fuselage was drawn up taking advantage of the greater width allowable with a larger diameter engine. The upper longerons were widened out 4 inches and the lower longerons left at 20” centerlines. Three quarter inch by .035 tubing was used for the longerons and others sized as required by the stress diagram. The top longerons were sloped downward aft of the cockpit to 4” lower at the tail position. This helped give it that “Boeing look.” (Also necessary for the longer-legged landing gear.)
A new landing gear was designed using a built up rectangular cross-sectional tapered strut as a cantilever structure this was .049” plate. Oil-spring shock struts were mounted in front of the firewall. This gave a very stable ride over rough ground. Wheels were 6.50 x 6 semi-streamline type aluminum alloy.
The wings were completely new using the new NACA 32012 airfoil. One inch thick spars in the upper wing and 7/8” in the lowers. These were placed at the 15% and 65% points along the chord. Ribs were 1/4” rib stock with 1/16” plywood gussets. New hardware was designed for the wings using MacWhyte tie rods for internal bracing. With the landing wires attaching to the top longerons a single N strut was used for the upper wing center attachment. Ailerons were designed again on the lower wings and were built up with wood spars and ribs. Ball bearing hinges were used. The ailerons were statically balanced with lead on the leading edges of the Friese balance section. Ailerons were cable controlled to a bell crank in the wing and a swivel bearing link rod to the aileron.
The wing span, chord, gap relationship was worked out from Bradley Jones reference on Aerodynamics.
The tail group was a similar design to the MGW-1 but with using .035” sheet for a spar web and reducing the spar taper to a point nearer the tips. This made them somewhat stiffer. A controllable elevator trim tab was installed.
The MG-2 was a very responsive and stable aircraft in flight. It was a pleasant airplane to fly with all control gearing about right, no zig-zag on takeoff. A loop could be commenced out of level cruise flight with the throttle added as you stated the maneuver. Fast aileron rolls could be made with no rudder required, just raise the nose a little and move the stick over. Slower rotation of course required a little rudder.