A Francis Acrier - The Extraordinary Life of WACO Aircraft Company’s Vice President
From studying with Gustave Eiffel to studying UFOs, the life of A. Francis Arcier was certainly interesting
By Judy Deeter
There is a small tombstone at the Maple Hill Cemetery in Tipp City with the name of A. Francis Arcier carved across its top. It is an ordinary tombstone. One could easily pass by it without giving it much attention. Yet, below the tombstone are the remains of a man who had an extraordinary life. Locally, he is remembered as a Vice President and Chief Engineer for the WACO Aircraft Company of Troy from 1930 to 1947. His aviation experiences, however, go well beyond his time in Troy.
Alec Francis Arcier was born in London, England on November 16, 1891. Though his first name was Alec, he was always known by his middle name, Francis. Not much has been written about his childhood except that he was educated in both England and France. Some sources indicate that as a young man in the early 1900s he was involved in automobile racing in both England and on the European continent. When he was about 20, he traveled for a year through Europe and North Africa. Following his long journey, he went to France and studied under Sir Gustave Eiffel, who had built the Eiffel tower in Paris.
Eiffel, a bridge designer and creator of metal structures, was one of the top aerodynamic experts of the time. He had built two wind tunnels to study the effects of the wind. He wanted to make sure that the bridges he designed could withstand strong winds. In 1912, Arcier studied with Eiffel at the wind tunnel at Passy, France.
Arcier began flying as a young man. He is said to have taken his first flight in 1911 and was a flight instructor by 1914. He loved aviation.
During World War I, 1914-1918, he worked for a British aircraft company named Handley-Paige, Ltd. There, he was employed in the company Design Office as the Assistant Chief Designer. While with the company, he designed the first four-engine bomber used by Britain. George Volker, who was the Chief Designer in the Handley Paige Design Office at the time once wrote of Arcier, “His aerodynamic knowledge was greater than mine from his earlier association with Eiffel in Paris. He had an amazing flair for conveying his ideas by means of freehand sketches, rapidly and beautifully executed.” (From The Biography of A. Francis Arcier (1890-1969) by G. Allison Long, Jr., Commander USN (Ret.) Research Project 7219)
In 1915, Arcier had patented a bomb release gear for war planes. The patent was given over to Handley-Paige, Ltd. The bomb release gear developed by Arcier was used in war planes long after he left the company. In fact, it was used in planes in both World War I and World War II.
In 1919, Arcier immigrated to the United States. He first worked for Witteman Aircraft and then for Fokker Aircraft Corporation. He was employed as a Chief Engineer for both companies. In the 1920s at Fokker Aircraft Corporation, Arcier was involved in the design of what is known as the “famous” Fokker Trimotor F-VII-3M transport plane. This airplane model was used for the first flight over the North Pole by Richard Byrd and Bernt Balchen, flights across the Atlantic Ocean by Richard Byrd and his companions, and one by Amelia Earhart and her companions. It was used for the first flights from San Francisco to Hawaii, San Francisco to Australia and from London to Australia. In 1928, Arcier went to work at General Airplanes Corporation in New York. He came to Troy to work for the WACO Aircraft Company in 1930.
Arcier started his WACO career on May 1, 1930. He began with the title of Chief Engineer and Chief Designer. A short time later, he became Vice President in Charge of Engineering and joined the company board. It should be noted that for the first few years in Troy, the WACO Aircraft Company made airplanes in several buildings throughout Troy. By 1930, the company had centralized their operations into one manufacturing center. Today, most of the buildings from WACO’s centralized manufacturing center are used by Collins Aerospace. (For decades, the buildings were part of the Troy Goodrich plant.)
A little should be mentioned about the personal life of Arcier during these years. It too is quite interesting. Though things had gone well for Arcier regarding his career, he went through some tough times in the 1920s and 1930s in his personal life. Arcier had married a woman named Effie and, together, they had a daughter named Betty. Effie died of an embolism in 1927. Arcier’s mother and sister then came to America from England to care for his home and daughter Betty. Not long after Effie’s death, a family friend named Lloyd Balliet also passed away. Arcier then married Balleit’s widow, Mae. Within a short time, she also died. In 1938, he married Elizabeth Staley Dickey, the widow of a famous South American explorer named Dr. Herbert Spencer Dickey. Though related to the Stanley and Missouri Staley family in Miami County, Elizabeth is reported to have lived in Tiffin, Ohio and New York when she was a child. As a young woman, she spent time in the jungles of Ecuador with her husband. According to an article published in the New York Times newspaper on December 30, 1931, she spent five weeks camped in an Indian village while her husband went exploring. She is remembered in the early 20th century as the only white women to have been with headhunters in the Jivaro area of South America. She was highly regarded in scientific circles and is known to have traveled and lectured in many places. She too is buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Tipp City. (The information about Elizabeth Arcier was published in the previously cited Arcier biography by USN Commander G. Allison Long, Jr.) Arcier became an American citizen in 1929.
Arcier stayed at WACO for 17 years. During those years he designed both a wide variety of airplane models and aircraft parts. During World War II, he designed both airplane training equipment for pilots and military gliders. (He designed WACO gliders along with WACO Assistant Engineer, M.P. Baker and F.A. Dobson, Project Engineer.) The gliders—aircraft without engines—could take soldiers and equipment to battle areas where aircraft with engines could not go. The WACO CG4-A military glider was used in Sicily, Burma and at the Battle of Normandy in France—D-Day. A poster at the WACO Air Museum and Aviation Learning Center in Troy says, “The WACO Aircraft Company Chief Engineer, Francis Arcier, and his assistant Max Baker…were responsible for the successful design of the combat gliders and C-62 twin engine cargo plane during the Second World War. Arcier guided the design of the classic biplanes during the 1930s.” A World War II glider exhibit at the museum features the WACO CG4-A glider used during the war.
Arcier retired from WACO in 1947, but he did not stay retired for long.
On July 1, 1947, what had been the United States Army Air Force became the United States Air Force. Soon thereafter, Arcier was invited to serve as a special consultant to the Technical Intelligence Division of the Intelligence Department, Air Material Command, United States Air Force. What was the Material Center at Wright Field in Dayton, then became part of the Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. In 1948, Arcier became the Chief Scientist for Intelligence at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Starting in 1947, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was headquarters for what was known as Project BLUE BOOK, which investigated and documented reported sightings of unidentified flying objects. Though a civilian, it is believed that Arcier was involved in the base UFO investigations. A document archived online refers to a meeting between Central Intelligence Agency people with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base personnel. The document is titled “Hosting with Air Force Personnel Concerning Scientific Advisory Panel Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.” It is dated “17 January 1953” and marked “Secret”. Arcier’s name is listed on the report. Project BLUE BOOK ended in 1969.
While at Wright-Patterson AFB, Arcier started what was known as the Office of the Scientific Advisor to the Commanding General to provide accurate advice and counsel on technical and scientific matters.
During his time working at Wright-Patterson, Arcier was presented with some of the Air Force’s highest awards, including The Meritorious Civilian Award in 1953 and the Distinguished Civilian Service Award in 1961. Arcier retired from Wright-Patterson in 1963, but continued his association with the base as a consultant to the commander of the foreign technology division until 1968.
Arcier died on November 21, 1969 and was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Tipp City. He is buried in section 4 of the cemetery with members of the Stanley and Missouri Staley family.
A story in the Dayton Daily News published just after his death on November 22, 1969 remembered Arcier as a “pioneer scientist and engineer in aviation.” According to the article, Arcier had many awards and important associations during his life.
From studying with Gustave Eiffel to studying UFOs, the life of A. Francis Arcier was certainly interesting.
In 1972, Arcier’s wife, Elizabeth, donated his papers to the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The papers are listed at the museum as the A. Francis Arcier Collection. An Arcier family member added papers to the collection in 2019.
Another honor for Arcier is that a scholarship named the A. Francis Arcier scholarship is offered to employees and children of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.
The WACO Air Museum & Aviation Learning Center at 1865 S. County Rd. 25-A in Troy has a fine collection of materials related to the history of the WACO Aircraft Company, including photos of Arcier and more.