Skip to main content

Robert L. Cavanagh Aviation Collection (MS-353)

Identifier: MS-353

Scope and Contents

The Robert L. Cavanagh Aviation Collection contains extensive research on a wide-variety of aviation topics. The strength of the collection is research conducted by Mr. Cavanagh on the Boeing P-12 including articles, photographs and plans for the airplane. The collection is divided into thirteen series.

Series I, Aircraft, contains extensive research on aircraft developed from approximately 1917 to the 1980s. Most of the research is newspaper and magazine articles about a variety of aircraft. The first part of the series is organized according to manufacturer. The second part is organized according to model number, i.e. B-series, F-series, OA-series, etc. Of particular note are the extensive files on the P-12 including plans, drawings and declassified accident reports from 1929 to 1931. The third part of the series is organized according to country with major sections on British, French, German, Italian, and Japanese aircraft. Most of this material is from WWI and WWII.

Series II, Military Units, contains mostly information on units of the United States armed forces including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force (after 1947). The files are organized according to unit designation or ship number. There is also information on support organizations such as Air Base Squadrons, Technical Schools, and Air Depots. Of particular interest is information on a number of units that were active during the 1920s and 1930s, many of which were P-12 units. There are also files on units, including British that were active during WWI.

Series III, Military Airfields, contains information on a few American airfields including Bolling Field, Kelly Field, Langley Field, and March Field. The largest section contains information on Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, including Wright Laboratory and the Air Force Museum.

Series IV, Warships, is a small series consisting of two boxes. Information found in this series consists primarily of magazine articles, and some drawings, of Navy warships. Most of the information is about U.S. Navy warships, primarily aircraft carriers, but there is information on the naval warships of other countries including British, German, and Japanese warships.

Series V, Modeling – Aircraft, Aircraft Decals, and Military Figurines, contains information on modeling. The series consists of information on aircraft models – American and foreign, aircraft decals for a variety of airplanes, and figurines modeling military uniforms from Roman times to World War II. Of particular note is model airplane planes located in Location 43, Folder 6 for 36 model airplanes.

Series VI, Correspondence, contains Mr. Cavanagh’s extensive correspondence with a wide-variety of people, mostly about aviation research or aviation questions, many about the P-12. Some of the correspondence is related to articles Mr. Cavanagh wrote for the American Aviation Historical Society. This series also contains research materials related to articles he wrote on aviation topics. Much of the research is undated.

Series VII, Journals, Books, and Published Material, contains primarily aviation journals such as Air Combat, Airfoil, Air Force Magazine, Flight Plan, Proceedings (Navy), and Replica in Scale. There are also books on Uniforms, a number of handbooks, and aviation catalogs. Most of Mr. Cavanagh’s extensive collection of aviation books were cataloged into the Library catalog and are located in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room.

Series VIII, Albums, consists of photograph and negative albums. Most of the albums relate to the P-series of aircraft including the P-26, P-36, and several versions of the P-12. There are also albums for the Army Air Corps from 1925 to 1941, as well as albums on Air Force research, Air groups and schools, and several individual units such as the 8th, 17th, 18th, and 20th Pursuit Groups. Finally, the series contains five boxes of slides and four boxes of negatives. The slides and negatives are photographs taken by Mr. Cavanagh at air shows and aviation museums he attended or visited.

Series IX, Media and Recorded Material, is a small series containing primarily microfilm used in Mr. Cavanagh’s aviation research. There are also audio tapes of Aero Historian meetings from the mid-1960s.

Series X, P-12 Photographs, consists of four boxes of photographs of the Boeing P-12. The photographs document the different variations of the P-12 from the “A” model to the “F” model. The series includes photographs of the interior and exterior of the airplane and crash photographs. There are also photographs of pilots standing next to or seated in the P-12 including Captain Eaker, Captain Elmendorf, and Major Tinker. Additionally, there are photographs of the aircraft flown by Colonel Spatz, Colonel Andrews, and Colonel “Hap” Arnold.

Series XI, Photographs, is the largest series in the collection. The photographs are stored in photo pages in forty-six photograph album boxes. The series documents literally hundreds of aircraft produced or flown by virtually every country in the world. Most of the photographs are minimally indentified with the manufacturer and model number. The first major section is organized according to manufacturer. The second major section is organized according to model series, i.e. B-series, F-series, P-series, etc. The third major section is organized according to country beginning with British aircraft through Far East aircraft. Major parts of this section include photographs of British, French, Italian, and German aircraft. The fourth major section contains photographs of group and squadron aircraft, including “Command” aircraft, Air Base squadrons, and schools. The fifth major section includes photographs of naval aircraft divided according to their ship number and/or squadron number. The sixth section contains photographs of World War I aircraft divided according to squadron. The sixth, and final major section, contains photographs of airfields, including Bolling, Hickam, Langley, March, McCook, Rockwell, Selfridge, and Wright Field. Most of these photographs are from the 1920s and 1930s.

Series XII, Memorabilia, contains a wide variety of material. Included in this series are aviation prints, several of which are framed and hung in Special Collections and Archives. There are also several boxes containing prints of military in uniform from the colonial and American Revolution time period to World War II.

Series XIII, Negatives, contains 8” x 10”, 5” x 5”, and 4” x 5” negatives of aircraft photographs. Most of the photographs from the negatives can be found in Series XI. The negatives are minimally identified with the manufacturer and model number.


  • Creation: 1917-1999


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection, however, due to preservation concerns, original audio materials cannot be played in the reading room. Patrons may have access to reference copies. Items without reference copies can be digitized at the request of a patron for the cost of creating a digital copy. Please contact us at least two weeks advance notice. Use of digitized content is subject to conditions governing use.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

From an early age, Robert L. Cavanagh was interested in flying and aircraft. His professional career began with his assignment to Wright Field in the early days of World War II. As an aeronautical engineer, he was placed in the aircraft structural test facility. After the war, he stayed at Wright Field (changed to Wright-Patterson AFB in January 1948) as a civilian employee, first in the Aircraft Laboratory, and then in the Flight Dynamics Laboratory. He retired in 1976 as the Chief of Experimental Structures Branch.

When Mr. Cavanagh retired, he continued to spend time at Wright-Patterson AFB as a volunteer researcher and restoration consultant. He was a volunteer in the Special Collections and Archives of Wright State University, and a member of several aviation historical organizations including Cross and Cockade, the League of WWI Aviation Historians, the Air Force Historical Foundation, Friends of the Air Force Museum, and the Naval Institute. Mr. Cavanagh was well known as an aviation historian and an authority on aircraft of the First World War and the 1920s. He held a special interest in the Boeing P-12. He wrote articles for historical publications, such as the American Aviation Historical Society Journal, as well as assisting other authors with research and review. He was working on a book about the P-12 at the time of his death. His friend, and colleague, Bergan Hardesty, provided illustrations for the planned book until Mr. Hardesty’s death in 1994. Mr. Cavanagh died in Kettering, Ohio at the age of 78.


71.58 linear feet

Language of Materials



The Robert L. Cavanagh Aviation Collection contains extensive research on a variety of aircraft, including detailed information on the Boeing P-12. The collection also contains a wide variety of aircraft photographs, along with negatives, slides, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photograph albums.


The Robert L. Cavanagh Aviation Collection is organized into thirteen series:

  1. Series I: Aircraft
  2. Series II: Military Units
  3. Series III: Military Airfields
  4. Series IV: War Ships
  5. Series V: Modeling: Aircraft, Aircraft Decals, and Military Figurines
  6. Series VI: Correspondence
  7. Series VII: Journals, Books, and Published Materials
  8. Series VIII: Albums
  9. Series IX: Media and Recorded Materials
  10. Series X: P-12 Collection
  11. Series XI: Photographs
  12. Series XII: Memorabilia
  13. Series XIII: Negatives

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Robert L. Cavanagh Aviation Collection was donated to Special Collections and Archives by Anne Cavanagh after her father’s death on August 20, 2000. The collection was accessioned on July 12, 2001.

Related Materials

MS-223, William F. Yeager Aviation Collection MS-344, Walter Matthew Jefferies Aviation Collection

Processing Information

The Boeing P-12 portion of the collection (Series X) was organized by Peggy Leadingham in May 2001 and was assigned a collection number of MS-299. The rest of the collection was organized by Sherri Derringer during spring 2007 with the processed P-12 portion incorporated into the overall collection. Final processing of the collection was completed by John Armstrong in September 2009.

Guide to the Robert L. Cavanagh Aviation Collection (MS-353)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Wright State University Libraries
Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435-0001 USA