Friday, June 29, 2012

Dynamite is my Co-pilot

The harsh necessities of bush flying often have led pilots to do things on a routine, daily basis that would have been unthinkable in the regular aviation world. Like flying around with boxes of dynamite on the seat next to you in a Bell 47D.

When there are no roads, and you've got some blasting to do in the far north of Canada, this is the guy to call!

Over 5,600 Bell 47s were built over the years, and they did just about every kind of helo work imaginable. Introduced in 1949, the D-model had the fully molded canopy, but didn't have the larger side-saddle fuel tanks of the more famous G-model.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Helldiver Oops

Occasionally, the Archive has the opportunity to acquire not just images, but materials that help tell the stories of the photographs they accompany. Such is the case with this week's offering of Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver photos, three of which show the result of a mechanical failure in the landing gear system. They come from the estate of Navy pilot Lt. (jg) Herman E. Olds

The SB2C Helldiver, which replaced the legendary Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber, failed in many ways, and was generally unpopular with pilots. When it was produced, it was plagued with problems which led to a scathing by the Truman Committee, and ultimately the problems started the slide into oblivion for Curtiss. These included handling qualities issues, electrical problems, a terribly complicated and hard-to-maintain hydraulic system (which could very well have led to this gear-up incident), and problems with the aircraft's weight and range (more specifically, lack thereof). Some of these problems were solved in later models of the Helldiver; the one pictured here was the more mature -5 version.

One of the unique things about this set of photos is that we also have the pilot's logbooks, which include the entry for the incident, which occurred on July 1, 1946 at NAS Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida. (The back of the photos are dated July 2, so either they were taken the day following the incident, or printed the following day, or the lab simply got the date wrong.) NAS Cecil Field was a principle dive bombing training base during and immediately after WWII.

Starting in March, 1947, Lt. Olds flew with attack squadron VA-1A

Not sure the point of this particular formation...please comment if you know.

This 8x10 is presumably a training photo. Though stamped on the back, there is
no explanatory text.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gooney Bird in the Dust

Early this week, we featured two official images of Douglas C-47s, and today we have an unofficial image snapped of C-47s hard at work rather than posing for an official portrait. As photos go, this crooked snapshot wouldn't win any awards, but as a glimpse at ordinary life in the field, it is priceless.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Skytrains in Train

Serial 316101, ship 20, in the lead, is a C-47A.
The crews of these two C-47 Skytrains, along with whatever chase plane the photographer was in, clearly were having fun on this day, switching out positions for the photog.

The back of the photo on the left is marked "Photographic Section, Sedalia Army Air Field, Warrensburg Missouri" (the back of the second print isn't marked at all). Sedalia was established in November 1942 as a training base for WACO glider pilots, so these two C-47s likely were primarily used as glider tow planes. During the early months of 1945, the base's C-47s were replaced by Curtiss C-46 Commandos, so that plus the tail numbers of these planes place the date the photos were shot somewhere between late 1943 and early 1945.

Ship 26 is either serial 316140 or 316149, the image just isn't clear enough to be
certain, either way, it is a C-47B.
Sedalia is known today as Whiteman AFB, home of the nation's B-2 fleet, named after Lt. George Allison Whiteman, who was shot down during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, becoming the first U.S. casualty in aerial combat during World War II.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Vintage Air featured on radio show

I was recently featured on Aerotech NewsRadio's weekly aerospace show a few weeks ago talking about Vintage Air. If you're interested in hearing the show, the podcast is available at this link. The 20 minute interview starts about 10 minutes into the show.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lackland's Guardians

B-17G 44-83512 was initially put on display in 1956. Note post-1947 wing markings
Lackland Air Force Base, just to the west of San Antonio, Texas, is known as the "Gateway to the Air Force", since it serves as a training base that just about all new USAF personnel have to transit through. Lackland has, for years, cultivated a large collection of display aircraft which have been located at different places around the base, and most of which today line the perimeter of the base's parade grounds (see the overhead photo at the bottom of this post). It's thus no real surprise that when one of the new arrivals wanted to send a photo back home to his parents or buddies, the old planes were a natural backdrop, and a few of these photos have found there way into our Archive.

This photo is unmarked and unrelated to the three below (which are dated June
1951). Since the grounds have not been prepared, it would be my guess that this
photo was taken earlier than the others.
Three of the Lackland aircraft are featured this week, the B-17G above, a Republic P-47N Thunderbolt and a very rare North American P-82E Twin Mustang.

B-17G 44-83512 was initially put on display in 1956, and for a time, it was painted to represent the B-17 Princess Pat, (at least one source says that it was also displayed as Sentimental Journey for a time) but has since been repainted as Heaven's Above (I've tried to determine if this actually was Heaven's Above, or only wears the colors...results of my research are inconclusive...and I welcome reader's input!)A 1959 color shot of it can be seen here (note the lack of the upper turret). A fairly current view can be seen here.

Though it isn't entirely clear when P-47N 44-89348 was put on display, The photo on the left indicates that it has been at least 61 years as of next week. what is known is that it is still there, exactly 61 years (as of tomorrow) later, although not looking at all like it did in 1951 (it's painted in the colors of a P-47D; a modern photo of it can be seen here, and one that's a bit older can be seen here). At least six N-model Thunderbolts have survived, three (includeing 348) are on display, two are airworthy, and one more is being restored.

The back of the photo has some extensive notes hand-written in blue ink which read:

"Saturday, June 23, 1951, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas
This is a picture of the F-47 Thunderbolt. It's said to go over 500 mph. In 1945, this fighter was the only plane of its type to exceed 500 mph. It's a long-range fighter-bomber. It was used in European Theater + Pacific. Armament consist of 8 - 50 cal. machine guns, 10 rockets + 2 - 2000# bombs. Gross Wt. with auxiliary belly tank is approx 16,000 pounds."

Possibly the rarest of the aircraft on display at Lackland is P-82E 46-262, which was once one of two such aircraft on display at Lackland. The other, 44-65162 was restored to flying condition by the CAF and flew at airshows until it suffered a gear-up landing. After much legal wrangling, the Air Force took it back, and it sits, only partially complete, in storage at Dayton. Out of the five surviving P-82s, there are only two complete airframes, 46-262 and P-82A 44-65186, which resides at the Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton.

The back of the photo above reads: "Taken Saturday June 23, 1951 Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio Texas. This is a picture of me next to a twin Mustang. It's said that this plane goes very fast."

Some current photos detailing the aircraft's condition can be seen here. Note, in comparison, that in 1951 the canopy was still clear, and the hard-points can still be seen under the wings.


The Lackland AFB parade grounds as seen in Google Earth. The P-82 is in the lower right corner, and the P-47 is just one
aircraft up from it. The B-17 is in the upper left corner.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spirit Testbed

This aircraft, 60-0377, started out as a standard C-135A Stratofreighter. It was converted to the NC-135A configuration when it was adapted to be the B-2 avionics testbed, on which the radar and navigation systems were tested and validated, with over 300 sorties, before the B-2 took to the air. (In some sources, it's referred to as an NC-135A and a C-135E, but there's no indication that these are correct). After the B-2 program came to an end, the aircraft was retired and put into storage at Edwards AFB for eventual restoration and inclusion in the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum.

The C-135A started out as a stop-gap logistical transport that the Air Force bought to use until the C-141 Starlifters came on line. After an initial three were converted from KC-135s by having their refueling booms removed, the Air Force bought fifteen production Boeing 717-157s which they designated as C-135A (yes, Boeing has indeed re-cycled the 717 designation). A 1966 view of 60-0377 can be seen here.

In this undated photo, 377 flies over the U.S. Borax Mine that sits just north of Edwards and Rogers Dry Lake. The mine, which opened in 1957, is the largest open-pit mine in California and the largest borax mine in the world.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kawasaki Gunner

Sometimes when I pick up one of these old photos that are devoid of any notations or discernible history, I have to wonder how in the world it got from where it was snapped to where I found it. Take this one: a portrait of a proud Imperial Japanese Army gunner, taken probably sometime in the 1930s, and found in a pile in a Palmdale, Calif. antique store some 80 years later. To make matters even more odd, it is printed on French photo postcard paper.

The plane that this anonymous gunner is standing in is a Kawasaki Ki-3, the last biplane light bomber built by Japan. The Ki-3, which first flew in March 1933, was designed by German engineer Richard Vogt (who went on to become chief engineer for Blohm und Voss) and was powered by a liquid-cooled BMW IX V-12 engine. Production ran from January 1934 through March 1935, and Ki-3s saw service in Korea and Manchuria.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Black Widows

Two P-61As are depicted on this Northrop-issued postcard. Compare to the
same depiction on a press 8x10 further below. 
The MojaveWest Archive recently had the opportunity to obtain two small collections of Northrop- and Air Corps-issued publicity/press photos of the Northrop P-61 Black Widow. The first is a set of three real-photo postcards issued by Northrop, presumably as publicity giveaways, and the second collection is are press-release 8x10 photos that were collected by some unknown individual (they came from an estate via an intermediary, so the origin has been lost), although I suspect that this person was a retired Northrop graphic artist.

The lurid 1940s hype shines through in the description: "Big, venomous,
secretly equipped, the BLACK WIDOW has what it takes to lurk in the darkened skies."
The P-61 Black Widow was a fighter that, like so many other planes built by Jack Northrop, just didn't quite fit the image that people had about fighters. While most such aircraft were single-seaters, the P-61 had a three-man crew: pilot, gunner and radar operator. It had almost the same length and wingspan, as a B-25, and more powerful engines and had a heavier empty weight than the Mitchell. Yet the P-61 had no bomb bay (it did have under-wing hardpoints, though). Instead, the Widow's bite was its four 20mm cannon it its belly, as well as four .50 caliber Browning machine guns in a dorsal turret, which could be aimed and fired remotely by any one of the three-man crew - at least that's how it was designed. After the first 37 aircraft were delivered with turrets, delivery issues with the turret led to the next 363 aircraft to be delivered without them, as the turret shared critical components with those used in B-29s, which were considered a higher priority aircraft. The aircraft that came without the turret also had the gunner position eliminated.

The real secret of the Black Widow, however, was that it could see in the dark. In fact, it's sole intended mission was to serve as a night interceptor, finding and eliminating the enemy in the dark. To do that, it was equipped with the SCR-720 radar system, which was steerable by a radar operator, who initially sat in the aft section of the aircraft; on aircraft without a dorsal turret, the radar operator was moved up to the gunner's position. The radar system had a range of about five miles and when the operator identified a target, he would vector the pilot towards it. When the Widow got closer, the pilot could navigate using a small radar scope on the instrument panel.

The rest of the images, below are all accompanied by the text of the mimeographed cut lines pasted to the backs.

This appears to be a factory new plane; note lack of any markings other than the
insignia, and the lack of an upper turret.
(Left) "Closeup of the deadly Northrop Black Widow, world's largest pursuit plane, designed specifically for night fighting, now in increased production at Northrop Aircraft Inc., Hawthorne, California. The Black Widow P-61 is quick and easy to 'spot' in flight or on the ground. Distinguishing features are the long nose of the crew nacelle and twin 2,000 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines. Twin tail booms supporting two rudders are connected by a stabilizer and elevator group. The plane is as large as a medium bomber; it carries a crew of three fighting specialists. Photo by Northrop Aircraft Inc."

This serial 41-18876, the third aircraft built and the first of 13 YP-61 service test
aircraft. Note that the aircraft paint crew seems to have been somewhat dyslexic,
having labeled the tail incorrectly as 11867. Also note the early experimental radar
antenna on the side of the fuselage.
(Left) "The Army Air Forces' deadly night fighter, the Northrop P-61 'Black Widow', is doing yeoman work in the Philippine Theater, where the Japs are attempting to destroy our B-29 and fighter airbases, supporting General MacArthur's re-conquest of the Islands. Jap attempts to night bomb our airfield have met disaster in the 'Black Widow's' sting with its four 20 millimeter cannon and four .50 calibre machine guns. Darkness moans nothing to the 'Black Widow', for with its special detection instruments it can spot planes from afar, sneak up on them in the dark and blast them to pieces. 14 Feb. 1945. Photo by Air Technical Service Command."

The press print version of the post card includes lots of clouds, but somehow,
the angles all seem wrong to me, as if a photo of the planes taken from the ground
was superimposed on a photo of clouds. Thoughts?
(Right) "Northrop Black Widows soar gracefully through the sky in test flights daily over Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. These deadly night interceptors, now in increased production, are the world's largest and most powerful pursuit planes and were designed specifically for night fighting. The Black Widow P-61 is easily identified in flight. Look for the long nose of the crew nacelle extending far in front of the plane's two 2,000 horsepower Pratt and Whitney radial engines, and riding between twin booms. Capable of blasting apart anything that flies, the Black Widow packs 20 mm cannon and 50 cal. machine guns. Photo by Northrop Aircraft Inc."

Tail number 42-5501, the 16th A-model built. 
(Left) "First official photo of the top turret of the Northrop Black Widow P-61 night fighter. While much of the equipment of the Black Widow is still highly restricted by the War Department, permission was granted to show the lethal, revolving turret, on top of crew nacelle, housing four .50 caliber machine guns. In addition to this armament, the Widow carries 20 millimeter cannon, a combined fire-power greater than that of any other fighter in the world and capable of blasting out of the sky anything that can fly. It is this terrific fire-power PLUS the inherent maneuverability and safety of the Black Widow that has enabled it to shoot down the best the Japs and Nazis could throw against it, without a single Black Widow being compromised or shot down in combat. Official Army Air Force Photograph."

P-61A-1 42-5507
The photo on the right is clearly not the same photo, nor the same aircraft, as shown above, but carries the exact same caption on the back, with the exception of the photo credit being given to Northrop. Which was first? Were they released on the same day? Well, who's counting. What is intriguing to me is the motivation for releasing two photos of early-production A-models, which were built just before the turrets became unavailable - and unused - on the next 363 aircraft. Could it be a little bit of psych-warfare, wanting the enemy to fear a weapon that was not actually available?

Serial 42-39486 was a B-model, and had an 8-inch longer nose. Like many of the
A-models, the first 200 (out of 450) B-models built didn't have an upper turret,
the lack of which might have been one reason this plane was shot from the bottom.
(Right) "Newest photo of the Black Widow P-61 night fighter, Army's most powerful, and still highly secret pursuit plane. Picture was taken to show the exceptional rate of climb of the Black Widow which takes off steeply and swiftly, as well as landing at low speeds, permitting it to be used on small airfields. In [this] picture, the Black Widow has attained considerable altitude although its landing wheels have barely started to retract. The plane is made by Northrop Aircraft, Inc. Hawthorne Calif., creator of the Flying Wing. Photo by Northrop Aircraft Inc."

The last photo is not part of the above collection, but is an 8x10 film positive that has been in the Archive for a while; the image itself is one of the more common P-61 photos out on the web. There is no caption accompanying it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Requiem for a Neptune Crew

Tanker 11 flying from Fox Field on the 2009 Station Fire.
We learned today that Neptune Aviation's P2V Neptune Tanker 11 crashed yesterday, Sunday June 3, in southern Utah, with the loss of both of her crewmembers. They were flying against the White Rock Fire near the Nevada-Utah border. We mourn their loss, and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and the Neptune Aviation and USFS crews that worked with these brave pilots. You will not be forgotten.

Tanker 11 flying from Fox Field on the 2009 Station Fire.

Friday, June 1, 2012

75 Years of Silvaires

There isn't a story of major historic significance behind today's photo, but I found it intriguing anyway. NC45449 is a Luscombe Silvaire, and the fact that it is on floats caught my eye when I was going through a stack of photos at an antique store recently. Luscombe began building the Model 8 in 1937, and with the introduction of the deluxe model 8C in 1940 came the name "Silvaire".

Luscombe went out of business in 1949, but the tough little two seat aircraft had developed an extremely devoted following, and additional airframes have been produced by successor companies over the years, and even today, 75 years later, there are still efforts to build more, the most recent being Renaissance Aircraft, who are aiming at the FAA's Light Sport Aircraft category. As a means of personal transportation, the Silvaire is appealing: at 6,000 feet and 75% power, the Silvaire turns a respectable 128 mph while burning a mere five gallons an hour. Add a 44 mph stall speed and a 600 foot takeoff roll, and you have a whole lot of fun!

As for the plane in our photo, there's no trace of the registration number that I can find (that number is currently held by a CE150). There is, however, an intriguing reference to the Orlando Aviation Country Club, which appears to have been in existence from about 1945 through 1950, in the April 9, 1985 edition of the Orlando Sentinel. In an article about adventurer/photographer Tom Turner  IV and his participation in a polar expedition long with Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong, the paper gives a bit a background on Turner's father, Tom Jr.: "After the war, Tom Turner Jr. launched the Orlando Aviation Country Club on Winter Park's Lake Killarney. 'We had a lot of fun out there until about 1950 -- people water-skiing behind airplanes, that sort of thing,' he said. 'Fox Movietone came in to shoot a 20-minute film. Paramount, too.'"

It's not at all clear from the photo if it was taken on Lake Killarney or at one of the other many lakes in the region, but one thing is certain: the Google Earth view of Lake Killarney shows a very different landscape, a lake completely surrounded by urban sprawl. Oh for those simpler days when you could get away from it all and waterski behind a Silvaire!