Friday, March 30, 2012

Two French Geese

Grumman JRF-5s Nos. 4 and 7 of 8S Squadron probably somewhere in Vietnam
in the early to mid 1950s.
Sounds almost like a line from "12 Days of Christmas", right? Today's shot, a slightly blurred 8x10, shows a pair of Grumman JRF-5 Gooses (Geese?) from the French Navy's 8 Escadrille de Servitude de Aeronavale (aka, 8S Squadron).

The Grumman G-21 Goose was first conceived of in 1936 as a private flying yacht, but the relatively powerful, roomy and rugged aircraft soon caught the attention of the U.S. Navy. A number of military variants were developed, but by far the most widely produced was the JRF-5.

In 1952, twelve JRF-5 Gooses were bought by the French Navy and sent to Indochina, where things were heating up for them. The aircraft were assigned to 8S Squadron and stationed at Cat Lai, near Saigon, where they served in transport, liaison and medevac roles. Since they were equipped with a pair of guns as well as bomb racks, they were also used for close air support. Later, some were sent to New Caledonia, while others were sent to Algeria in 1956 (some of these JRF-5s were assigned to 27F Squadron - I've no idea if 8S served, as a squadron, anywhere but French Indochina...readers are invited to educate me!).

On January 27, 1961, the crash of a French JRF-5 with the loss Vice Admiral Pierre Ponchardier and five others at Tambacounda, Senegal led the French Navy to retire all their Gooses.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tigers over the Forrestal

A flight of four Grumman F11F Tigers bank over the USS Forrestal (CVN-59), sometime in the spring of 1958. Carrier trials of the first flight-test F11F had started on the Forrestal on April 4, 1956. Because the F-8 Crusader was an over-all better performer than the F11F, especially in terms of range, endurance and engine reliability, the Tiger had a relatively short career, being withdrawn from carrier service in 1961.

These four planes are from VF-21, known as "the Mach Busters". This squadron received their first F11F in October, 1957, and was one of the first to operate F11Fs from a carrier. They were aboard the USS Ranger for its shake-down cruise (for instance, here is a shot of a sister aircraft on the Ranger) starting that October.

Then, from March to May 1958, as a part of Carrier Air Wing 8, they operated from the Forrestal in the western Atlantic, and this is most likely when and where our photo was taken. (One note of oddity: all the records that I could find show that at this time, these aircraft should have been wearing either tail code AF or AJ, not AM.)

Less than a year later, in February 1959, VF-21 began transitioning out of the F11F and into the Douglas A4D-1 Skyhawk.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sinking Amphibian

Today's photo is one of those that I simply don't have a story for. I have no idea of what, when or where. I've had this 8x10 photo for a long time, and it's the mystery behind it that intrigues me. Clearly, this was not a good day for someone. Guesses anyone?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coral Sea Phantom

The third photo in our Navy Carrier series shows an F-4N Phantom, hook down, overflying the USS Coral Sea. Unfortunately, there is no date or other information on the back of this print. [Update...see Ran's comments below regarding probably timeframe for this photo.]

The Coral Sea, a Midway-class carrier, was originally commissioned on October 1, 1947. After a major re-fit that gave her a jet-era angled deck, she was recommissioned on January 25, 1960. She made a number of WestPac cruises, and participated extensively in the Vietnam War, as well as in operations during the fall of Saigon and the Mayaguez incident. She later saw service during the Iranian hostage crisis and, in 1986, launched her aircraft on combat sorties into Libya. In 1982, Coral Sea appeared in the movie The Right Stuff.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Saga of the Sunkist Lady

On the side of the Lady, underneath the "City of Fullerton" lettering, is a map
listing out the stops along the route to Florida and back.
While looking through a large stack of vintage photos, trying to find the elusive gems that would be worth acquiring for the MojaveWest archive, I came across a small, faded snapshot depicting a single-engine tail-dragger aircraft sitting in a field. At first glance, the photo was completely unremarkable, to the point that I almost passed it up. But the markings, round circles on the fuselage and wings, caught my attention, and the photo went in the "buy" pile. It's a good thing it did. A look closer at those circles showed that they contained the plane's name, Sunkist Lady. This Aeronca Sedan, it turns out, was for a time, a world-record holder for endurance flight.

When Dick Rutan, who became famous for spending a mere nine days in the small cabin of the Voyager, was just ten years old, another Dick, Dick Riedel and fellow pilot Bill Barris spent 1008 hours and 2 minutes - a total of 42 days on board the Sunkist Lady.

In 1939, the world endurance flight records was set by pilots Wes Carroll and Clyde Scliepper of Long Beach, with a 736-hour flight. World War II came and went, and the record still stood. Riedel and Barris, both flight instructors at Fullerton Air Service, decided that it was high-time to beat the record, and publicize the advantages of the Fullerton Municipal Airport while doing it. The flight plan specified a flight that would last at least 1,000 hour and fly from Fullerton to Florida and back. The pair secured sponsorship from the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce, who raised funds to support the flight from community businesses. Southern California orange producer Sunkist jumped on board, shrewdly taking the opportunity to thumb their noses at competing Florida orange produces from the air.

The first three attempts at setting the record failed, due to mechanical problems. The first flight lasted 116 hours, and the second only 92 hours. On the third flight, after 568 hours in the air, they started experiencing power loss from carburetor icing. They tried to over come the problem for twelve hours before giving up and landing. But for Reidel and Barris, the fourth time was the charm. At 11:45 am on March 15, 1949, the two lifted off from Fullerton and headed their Aeronca Sedan east.

The aircraft they had chosen, an Aeronca 15AC Sedan registered N1074H, was ideal for the task, being docile, good at slow-speed flight, and relatively roomy. The first Aeronca Sedan flew in 1947, and was derived from earlier models that had built a reputation for reliability. Aeronca's two-seat aircraft had been good sellers, but the numbers were dropping off, so Aeronca decided to go after the four-seat market, with their new design utilizing as many parts from previous aircraft as possible, to keep costs down. Out the door, a new Sedan would set you back a mere $4,395. The production run lasted through 1951, with over 560 Sedans being built.

This Acme news photo (from the Aeronca Sedan N1331H
) was released on March 24, 1949, and shows the
resupply scheme in action. Bill Barris is at the controls, and
Dick Riedel is receiving the supplies. The location is Opa
Locka Airport, Miami, Florida.
The Sunkist Lady was accompanied by another Sedan called The Lady's Maid. This aircraft carried the ground crew, made up of  Lloyd Colboch, Don Janson, and Frank Miller, and would fly ahead and land at designated resupply points. Once there, the crew would board Willys Jeepsters (providing local dealers with publicity, too) and speed down the airport's runway, while the Sunkist Lady flew just above it. Fuel and food would then be handed up to Riedel and Barris, the gas in three-gallon milk cans, necessitating repeated runs (up to 14 runs were sometimes needed to fill the fuel tanks!) down the runway before the plane could head for the next destination.

When the weather along the route back went bad, they decided to wait it out: for two weeks! During that time, they orbited over the Miami area. It was during this time that the team had a run-in with the law. Resupply sessions were needed during the night, as well as during the day, and such nighttime affairs soon caught the suspicious attention of the local FBI office, who suspected some sort of smuggling activity was going on. In an interview that Janson gave to the Los Angeles Times, published on January 16, 1990, he described the encounter. '"This guy shoves a gun into my ribs. They thought we had just given them dope or something. . . . I think they thought they had something really good when they caught us.' None of the agents seemed to have heard of their attempt to set the world record, Janson said. 'And here it was all in the papers in the Miami area,' he said."

The Sunkist Lady arrived back over Fullerton on April 11, and then proceeded to tour around Southern California to build hours. Finally, the long journey was over and at 11:45 am on April 26, the Lady touched earth again at Fullerton, in front of a crowd that numbered somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 spectators (depending on which news source you read).

The Lady had flown flawlessly at an average airspeed of 75 mph, logging just over 1,008 flight hours, traveled over 75,000 land miles, and consumed 6,552 gallons of aviation gas. That distance is three times what the Rutan Voyager flew!

But, for all the effort, the record only lasted for six months. Later in 1949, a pair of ex-Navy pilot, sponsored by the City of Yuma, Arizona, also flew an Aeronca Sedan into the history books, with a flight that lasted 1,124 hours. That record stood for another nine years, when Robert Timm and John Cook set a record of 64 days and 22 hours in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk (named Hacienda, now hanging at McCarran Airport), over Las Vegas. That record has yet to be beat.

While the Sedan City of Yuma was preserved in a museum, The Sunkist Lady herself seems to have disappeared from history. The FAA registration number was most recently held by a Taylorcraft.

The Sunkist Lady's legacy hasn't been forgotten by the folks in Fullerton, either. The City has a whole web page dedicated to telling the story of the record flight, with some additional photos and a really cool, must-watch vintage newsreel documentary.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leyte's Korean Cruise

From left to right, the USS Henderson, USS Cimarron and the USS Leyte.
Part 2 in our series of official Navy photos featuring aircraft carriers is this shot of the USS Leyte that was shot during its sole Korean war cruise. Little did I know, when I found this and last week's 8x10s buried in a junk draw in a small Clear Lake, CA antique store, the emotional and heroic story that was behind this image.

The official caption, stamped on the back, reads: "16 Nov. 1950. The USS Leyte (CVA-32) is refueled at sea by the USS Cimarron (AO-22) as the USS Henderson (DD-785) stands fire watch, off the coast of Korea. Official Navy Photo, Released by Dept. of Defense."

Like the Princeton featured in last Tuesday's post, Leyte was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built for the Navy during and after WWII. Originally intended to be named the USS Crown Point, it was renamed in memory of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Leyte was commissioned on April 11, 1946.

Her Korean cruise, as a part of Navy Task Force 77, lasted from October 9, 1950 through January 19, 1951, during which her crew earned two battle stars. On board, she carried F9F Panthers, F4U Corsairs and AD-1 Skyraiders. 

One of the Corsair squadrons on board the Leyte was VFA-32, the "Fighting Swordsmen" (they are still active today, flying F/A-18 Hornets, most recently from the USS Harry S. Truman), and one of the pilots from this squadron was the Navy's first African-American Naval Aviator, Ensign Jesse L. Brown. 

Corsairs and Skyraiders on the Leyte. One of these Corsairs was likely Jesse
L. Brown's.
About three weeks after our photo was taken, Brown, call-sign "Iroquois 13", was part of a six-ship element flying a close air support mission in support of Marines of the US X Corps fighting during the crucial Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and was hit by Communist Chinese ground fire. He was forced to put his Corsair down in a remote, snow-covered area, and while the aircraft broke up, Brown survived the landing. His wingman, Lt.(JG) Thomas J. Hudner, Jr. saw that he was alive but pinned in (some sources say under) the burning wreckage of the Corsair, so Hudner deliberately crash-landed near-by in order to rescue his fellow flyer. A rescue helicopter soon arrived, but the rescue crew, working with Hudner, were unable to free Brown. Approaching darkness forced the helicopter crew to have to return to base with Hudner, and leaving Brown behind. Brown died that night, of a combination of his injuries and exposure to the extreme cold. In order to prevent Brown's body from falling into Chinese hands, Navy pilots bombed the wreck site with napalm two days later, while reciting the Lord's Prayer over the radio.

Jesse L. Brown was the first Navy officer killed in the Korean conflict. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and a Purple Heart. For his efforts in trying to rescue his fellow Naval Aviator, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Another photo from this same fly-over of the Leyte was used in an article in the October 1951 edition of the official Navy magazine Naval Aviation News. It can be seen here, scroll down to page 15.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Midway Then and Now

Today's three snapshots, which came from a family photo album that included no other military or aviation photos, show the USS Midway in port, presumably her home port of Norfolk, Virginia. On board one can make out F4U Corsairs lining her forward flight deck.

Midway was commissioned on September 10, 1945, the first of her own class of carriers. She was the first Navy ship that was too large to operate through the Panama Canal.

In 1966, Midway underwent a massive overhaul which gave her, among other modernizations, an angled flight deck needed for high performance jet operations.

Midway holds the distinction of a number of firsts, including the first sea launch of a captured German V-2 rocket in 1947. Aircraft from the Midway are credited with both the first and the last air-to-air kills of the Vietnam War.

Midway returned to Vietnam as the forces from the North overran the South and participated in the rescue and evacuation efforts of Operation Frequent Wind. Her last combat operations came in Operation Desert Storm.

She was decommissioned on April 11, 1982, and in 2004 she moved to her new and permanent home in San Diego as a floating museum. The photos below show here there during the huge celebrations of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, including the gala CoNA kick-off reception that included the Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations and numerous admirals and captains.

The USS Midway was the "front row seat" for the massive parade of flight during the NAS North Island CoNA air show.

Music, dancing and a welcome address by the Secretary of the Navy started off a night of partying during the gala CONA kick-off reception.

It was black-tie and dress uniform for the assembled DVs, admirals and captains during the dinner on Midway's hangar

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Princeton's Panthers

Today's photo, an official U.S. Navy image which is dated May 23, 1951, leads off four weeks of Tuesday posts that will feature Navy aircraft carriers of the past. This image has the following caption stamped in purple ink on the back: "Two F9F's (Panther Jet Planes) making a pass over the USS Princeton (CV 37) in Korean waters. (Official Navy Photo, Released by Dept. of Defense)"

There have been six USS Princetons in U.S. Navy history, the first one a sloop which also was the first "steam screw" powered warship in the Navy, from 1843. The most recent is CG-59, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, the first in its class to carry the AN/SPY-1B radar system.

Our Princeton was one of 24 Essex-class carriers built during the WWII era, and was launched in November 1945. She saw extensive action in the Korean war, with her crews earning eight battle stars. One of her last missions, before being sold off for scrap metal in 1971, was to serve as the recovery ship for Apollo 10. Unlike other Essex-class carriers, Princeton was never modernized with an angled flight deck.

During the time this photo was snapped, May 1951, Princeton and her Air Wing 19 were a part of Task Force 77, and were flying missions against the rail lines connecting Pyongyang with Sinanju and Kachon, among others. These two F9F Panthers belonged to squadron VF-191. Over 1,300 F9Fs were built by Grumman, and were the most widely used fighter and ground attack aircraft in Korea. The Panther was also the first jet used by the Navy's Blue Angels.

Note the fuel being dumped from the wing tanks prior to landing!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sioux City Sue

Sioux City Sue as she sat in 1947 at the Sioux City Airport.
This is a cautionary tale, a story of what not to do, and the loss that results from not taking proper care of things.

Sioux City Sue was a Boeing-built B-17G, serial 42-102542. Nothing that I can find is known of its war-time career, but at some point it was converted to a TB-17G trainer, likely stationed at Sioux City, Iowa. During the war, Sioux City Army Air Base was one of the primary locations for B-17 heavy bomber basic flight qualification training, and it was here that then-Captain Jimmy Stewart and his crew trained.

After the war, on November 5, 1945, the aircraft was transferred to the Reconstruction Finance Corp., an independent government agency that disposed of surplus materials. Then, in 1946, it was sold to the American Legion and set up on display as a war memorial at the Sioux City Airport.

That's where our three photos were taken. The processing dates on the back of the photos indicate that they were taken in May, 1947. The photos were taken by one of the friends of the gals shown, and the photos were then placed in a photo album with captions indicating that the plane was visited by this group of teenagers on a school "ditch day". Sometime later, some probably well-meaning person decided to update the album in the currently popular scrapbooking style. The photographs were cut up using popular specialty scissors, the backs slathered with white glue, and the prints affixed to scrapbook paper. The images were then further damaged as the album was taken apart once again. I almost passed them up. As damaged as they are, though, they still show a remarkable B-17. And so, the first lesson of the day: friends don't let friends cut up vintage photos!

What happened to the photos kind of mirrors what happened to the aircraft. While in general, it's a good thing to have a war memorial, and at the time a B-17 must have seemed like a good thing to use for the memorial, what didn't seem to be considered was how to maintain that memorial. As can clearly be seen in the photos, the plane was open to the public, and in the six years that it sat there, it was pretty thoroughly trashed. It had only been in place for about a year when these photos were taken, and already damage is evident (note, for instance, the broken plexi in the upper turret). And this is the second lesson of our story: don't let vintage aircraft just sit and rot! (I write this with the B-17 in Tulare, California in mind...though fenced off from vandals, its condition continues to deteriorate.)

An article titled “Flying Fortresses at So. St. Paul” by Noel Allard in the February 2010 edition of On Final, the newsletter of EAA Chapter 25, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, describes what happened subsequently. “Sioux City Sue...had been derelict at the Sioux City airport for many years, and was in very bad condition. So much so that a local junk dealer would only offer $300 for it."

At this point, a man named Jack Lysdale, the owner of Lysdale Flying Service and operator of South St. Paul’s Fleming field, enters the story. Lysdale was authorized by the government to purchase and refurbish surplus aircraft from the War Assets Administration. He had already refurbished two other B-17s. Allard's article continues: "The plane was owned by the local American Legion, which had purchased it after the war and Lysdale bought it [in 1952] from them with the intention of cannibalizing it for parts. To ferry it, Lysdale had to deal with missing and torn control surfaces, five years of bird nests in every cranny, and a smashed tail caused by its being moved several times on the airport, being pushed by a bulldozer! A daunting task, but Lysdale was up to it and it soon [in 1953] arrived at South St. Paul. The plane was rebuilt in 18 months and sold for over $100,000 in 1955 to Aero Service Corp. of Philadelphia."

Also taken the same day by the kids ditching school, was this Mid-Continent
Airlines DC-3 at the Sioux City Airport
Aero Service Corp. had been around since 1919, and specialized in providing aircraft all around the world for aerial photography and geo survey work. B-17s, with their long range, stable flight characteristics and high-altitude capabilities were an ideal platform for the type of cartographic aerial photography that Aero Service performed. Sue is known to have flown in Arabia and visited the RAF base in Idris, India in August 1958. And that's where the trail goes cold. Supposedly, Sue crashed sometime later in 1958, but I can find no details of where or why. Readers, of course, are invited to comment below with any information that you may have.

Update: It has come to the attention that now even the Iowa Air National Guard is looking for is detailed in this article.

[Big tip o' the hat to Noel Allard and On Final editor Pete Gavin for permission to quote from the newsletter!]