ROBERT C. STROOP delivered the first purchased plane to the Rome airport — where the General Electric plant now stands — in 1927.
The Waco 9 OX-5 had been purchased by Rome physician John L. Garrard, who soon became known as the “Air doctor of Rome, according to a poem written in 1928 by his daughter Meriam Garrard Hare.
The Waco 9 was “a dandy home-made plane,” Mrs. Hare wrote, but her father and Stroop apparently took their time in putting the plane together.
“There’s a wing here — a motor there, and so many plane parts scattered everywhere,” she wrote. “Someday he will put them all together.”
Stroop, an early aviation advocate in Rome, apparently got Garrard interested in flying: “Dad’s mighty crazy about pilot Stroop, ’cause he thrills him with the loop-a-loop,” Hare wrote and Romans soon got used to the sight of Stroop and Garrard “flying over Rome.”
Dr. Garrard often flew the Waco 9 to medical conventions and other destinations around Georgia and the the Southeast, said Mary Stroop Gilliland, Stroop’s daughter.
Stroop got into aviation early in the 20th century — his pilot’s license was signed by pioneer-aviator Orville Wright.
Bobbeth Stroop Hawkins, another of Stroop’s daughter said her father also flew a Travel Aire plane that was dubbed “Miss Rome.”
The late Rome historian Roger Aycock, in his book “All Roads to Rome,” said Stroop was “an expert mechanic and plane builder whose experience and skill made him at once an institution and an oracle.”
EARLY IN his flying career, Stroop built his own planes and later spent three years at Douglas Aircraft, now McDonnell Douglas, as a plane builder, according to his Bobbeth Hawkins. With war clouds gathering over Europe, Stroop went to work on a new concept in earnest in 1939, she said.
He was already familiar with the requirements of military aircraft, Mrs. Hawkins said: He built and tested military planes at Standard Aircraft of New Jersey and had delivered Curtis Jennys to British aviation cadets training in Americus, Ga., during World War I.
But that war, Stroop realized, was a different one than what he expected to be fought in World War II. He was concerned with designing a plane that could take off and land in relatively short spaces, such as on the deck of an aircraft carrier or on make-shift runways, and still be fast enough to be useful as a military aircraft.
The convertible-wing design he came up with, he said, allowed the plane to be converted from one with a low takeoff and landing speed — around 30 mph — to a ultra-high-speed (for those days) craft with top speeds of 450 mph.
STROOP BELIEVED that his design, with the proper mechanical devices, new materials and construction methods, would result in a plane with “speed, range and performance, such as attack bombing planes, which can carry a heavy load and still have sufficient speed and performance to make successful attacks,” he wrote.
The design was suited to high-speed fighter planes, as well, Stroop believed: The convertible wing would allow the plane to “cruise at slow speeds for patrol duty and snap into extremely high-speed to meet a bombing squadron as far out at sea or from our borders as possible,” he wrote.
His concern was over a possible attack on United States territory, which was to happen two years after he wrote those words. After Pearl Harbor, the United States spent the early parts of 1942 preparing for an attack on its shores that never came.
“Bomb attacks,” Stroop wrote, “will be in the future the most disastrous of any and all past methods used in warfare. Therefore, nothing should stand in the way of building proper aircraft to adequately protect our country.”
Working in a hangar at the old Rome Airport, Stroop built a prototype of his convertible-wing aircraft.
THAT FIRST MODEL, reminiscent of the X-wing spacecraft popularized in the “Star Wars” movies, never flew — pictures of the model show it suspended in mid-air by wires — but Stroop was sure such a plane was feasible.
Portions of the wings, with landing gear attached, folded down for takeoff and for low-speed cruising. At high speeds, the folded wings resembled those of fighter planes used during the war.
“The more radical the design is from the conventional types, the harder it is to introduce such a new design and have it demand the attention of men who are in a position to finance and build the new plane,” Stroop wrote in his notes. “All new developments have to necessarily undergo the process of evolving from the old to the new.”
Perhaps Stroop’s design never caught the attention of financiers. Perhaps the rapid pace of aviation research that took place after America entered the war found other ways to reach the high speeds Stroop envisioned. He was apparently not discouraged that the convertible-wing fighter never took its place in aviation history. In the later stages of the war, Stroop was still designing aircraft, according to his daughter.
He tested and successfully flew the BT-13, a single-wing plane with a short auxiliary wing bolted on for added lift, Mrs. Hawkins said. Stroop believed the added lift would increase the cargo-carrying capacity of the conventional aircraft of the period.
WHATEVER the reasons, neither the convertible-wing fighter nor the BT-l3 ever progressed beyond the prototype stage, and Rome’s airport lost its chance to make aviation history.
However, Stroop lived into his 80s, long enough for him to see supersonic jets with flex-wings, built not to his design but proving his theory that planes that could set their wings one way for take off and another way for flight were indeed feasible.
Editor’s note: Information about Dr, John Garrard and his plane was written by his daughter, Meriam Garrard Hare in 1928 and provided to the Rome News-Tribune by her daughter, Elaine Couch. Information about Robert C. Stroop and the Waco 9 was provided by his daugthers, Bobbeth Stroop Hawkins and Mary Stroop Gilliland. Additional information about Robert C. Stroop is from an article that first appeared in the 1991 PastTimes magazine, “World War II: A Homefront Scrapbook.”