AMERICAN AVIATION HISTORICAL SOCIETY

   1956 - 2016, Celebrating  over 60 Years of Service
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Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 54, No. 4 - Winter 2009
Table of Contents 


Tactical Turnabout: Development of the Last 
U.S. Propeller-Driven Attack Aircraft

Martin’s XBTM-1 was the frontrunner in the race to become the Navy’s newest attack aircraft until Douglas’s XBT2D-1 entered the picture.

Flemmings Island Field, Florida, June 12, 1949: Navy pilot Ens. Rex J. Vannoy of VA-84 was about to learn the value of a pre-takeoff checklist. The big Martin AM-1 Mauler he was flying had just left the runway at full takeoff power and he’d smartly moved the gear selector lever to the “UP” position. Seconds later, at an altitude of about 75 feet, the plane’s 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-4360 engine coughed a few times and completely died: In his haste to take off, the young pilot had neglected to switch fuel tanks. At that moment, there was no time for him to do anything except land the airplane - straight ahead, gear up. Without power, the 10-ton Mauler dropped like a stone. Evidently not forgetting everything he’d learned, Vannoy maintained flying speed and bellied the plane into the overrun. Still moving at nearly 100 mph, the big Mauler erupted through the perimeter fence, slid across a road, snapped down a telephone pole, demolished a second fence, and didn’t come to a complete stop until it plowed into a stand of pine trees. Ensign Vannoy survived the incident; his aircraft, AM-1 Bureau No. 22326, however, was a complete write-off. Ironically, the most serious threat to “Able Mabel” (the Mauler’s unofficial nickname) wasn’t inexperienced naval aviators, but an arcane process known as the naval aircraft procurement system.

The Bomber-Torpedo Requirement
     Aircraft procurement is often dictated by the lessons learned in combat, and the early carrier battles of WWII taught naval strategists that a higher ratio of fighter aircraft was needed in the carrier air groups to ensure air superiority around the task force itself, and provide better protection for the aircraft of the carriers’ strike force. As a result, a decision was made in early 1943 to downsize the complement of torpedo and scout-bombers (i.e., SBDs or SB2Cs and TBF/TBMs) and replace them over time with one type of single-seat, multi-role strike aircraft under the new designation bomber-torpedo (BT). With extra fighter protection, strike aircraft would no longer need to carry gunners, and the weight normally associated with aircrew, guns, and ammunition could be exchanged for useful load and greater range. Moreover, with the more powerful engines becoming available (i.e., the Wright R-3350 and the P&W R-4630), the new BT types were likely to carry twice the payload of existing torpedo and scout-bombers, thereby reducing the number of strike aircraft needed by half. And to optimize mission flexibility, the requirement further specified that all ordnance be carried on external racks. 
     During the same timeframe, Douglas Aircraft Co. was already at an advanced stage of development with an aircraft that had been designed as an SBD/SB2C replacement - the two-place, tricycle-gear R-3350 powered XSB2D-1 Destroyer; similarly, the Airplane Division of Curtiss-Wright had the XSB3C-1 - a larger, more powerful . .  .



Douglas XBT2D-1 Prototype


Pickwick Airways 

      “Southward, northward, southward again, Pickwick flew today. With the muffled roar of three great engines that growled defiance at gravity, the sleek air transport rose majestically from the runway of the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale (California). With two crack pilots at the dual controls and eight lucky passengers in the luxurious cabin, it hurtled to San Diego. Ninety minutes later it headed northward again, this time to San Francisco, and then homed southward once again.” Much the same words appeared in local newspapers on the evening of March 29, 1929.  Flamboyantly descriptive, they heralded the opening of another chapter in the growth of U.S. transport aviation - the inauguration of Pickwick Airways.
     It was sunny and smogless in Glendale on that March morning. Five hundred air-minded people filled the grandstands which had been set up between the airport administration building and the flight ramp at Grand Central. Looking out over the heads of the dignitaries, seated on a stand below them, the spectators saw five brand new Bach trimotor transports, or Air Yachts as they were known, lined up on the asphalt runway. Across the field, the old Slate balloon hangar stood out like a large thimble against a Griffith Park background. This inaugural was to mark the beginning of regular California coastwise airline service, scheduled for three round trips daily, week days only, to San Diego (Ryan-Mahoney Airport) and one round trip daily except Sunday, to San Francisco (Mills Field). Fares were $15.00 and $49.50, respectively.
     While the American Legion drum and bugle corps and the municipal band struck up a fitting tune, the propellers on the first plane of the fleet turned over. Cameras began to click as the big Bach taxied up to the speaker’s stand where Bobby Trout, former holder of the women’s endurance record, swung a bottle of vintage champagne against the side of the airplane in the traditional christening ceremony. Included among the celebrities and local dignitaries on the stand were Los Angeles District Attorney Buron Fitts and Thomas Morgan, Vice President and General Manager of Pickwick. Both spoke briefly about the development of commercial air transportation and keeping California in its place as a leader in the field of aviation.
     With the conclusion of the ceremony, the Air Yacht taxied out and took to the sky. At the controls on this first regular service flight were Bill Frye and Bob Kennedy. The eight passengers, all guests of Pickwick on this occasion, were: Ruth Elder, aviatrix; Al Wilson, stunt pilot; Morton Bach, aircraft manufacturer; Henry Hohman, Pickwick . . .



Pickwick Airways Bach 3-CT-6


Struts, Wires and Braces: 
1920s and 1930s Military Bomber Development
 

     Military aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s had a charm and appeal that has all but faded away. There was just something about the open cockpits, struts and the whistle of the wind through wires that not only could catch an imagination but retain it for a lifetime. 
     Many of these aircraft types were of limited procurement, but it didn’t matter, the press photographed these photogenic birds so often that there seemed to be fleets of them. The beautiful and widely publicized Curtiss P-6E was so glamorized that few even realized that only 46 were built.
     The 1930s were a period of contrasts in aircraft development. During the first half of the period the bulk of U.S. military aircraft were, technologically, only slightly advanced over the WWI designs. But during the same time civil aviation designers were trying out all sorts of new concepts. Congress had doled out a few precious dollars for military types, and the moss-bound thinkers didn’t want to waste them on anything that might be considered innovative. Lockheed, Northrop Gammas, Vultees and the speedy Seversky designs were catching the eyes of the populace, but if it had been left to Congress we would have fought WWII with the Martin B-10, and maybe entered the later stages of the war with the Douglas B-18.
     When war clouds began forming on the world’s horizons, attention was directed toward the air forces of the world which had surpassed us in technology. The designs of Supermarine and Messerschmitt were innovative and fast. The biplane was fast disappearing. Hawker proved the feasibility of its earlier designs by creating the Hurricane from a biplane, but it was an isolated instance.
     Though the biplane was fast disappearing, “last gasp” exceptions included Great Britain’s Gloster Gladiator, the USN’s SOC Seagulls and Japan’s Mitsubishi F1M2, later code named “Pete.” The golden age of struts, wires, and braces was for many the era of romantic aviation.
     This article describes the evolution of aircraft design, with emphasis on U.S. Army bombers during the late 1920s and 1930s.
     The first of the post-WWI bombers obtained in any quantity with the “B” designation was the Curtiss B-2 Condor. Big and slow, the 13 procured barely predated the 1930s. The Condors were rated at 133 mph and featured gun positions behind the wing-mounted engines. It was not much of an advance over WWI bombers.
     Stablemates of the Condors were the Keystone series. The first Keystone to carry a “B” designation, other than some converted LBs, was the B-4A. A total of 39 B-6As were procured for combat units along with five more for use as service test vehicles. The Keystones were even slower than the Condors and only able to reach 121 mph.
     By 1932, approximately 75 of all types of these “bombers” were serviceable. None of these had any appreciable value for combat, despite being able to sink moored target ships!
     At least the Army Air Corps was getting away from thinking about biplane bombers. Although few in number, the Boeing B-9 started the monoplane trend. Yet it, in essence, was derived from the Monomail, and little . . . . 



Douglas YB-11


Bomber Number 148

      I had lost track of time – absorbed by the insides of a Browning machine gun - until I laid down an oily screwdriver and glanced at the clock. Eleven o’clock. Late already.
     I tore out of the Armament Section of the 20th Bombardment Squadron and across the big empty hangar toward the flight locker room. Three of the huge Keystone bombers had just been rolled out onto the line, and I was scheduled to fly one of them as No. 3 in a 3-plane formation. I could hear the thunder of six Cyclone engines warming up outside. A mechanic cut the racket off short as he hauled the hangar door shut against the frosty air of a January morning at Langley Field.
     I skidded to a brief halt before the bulletin board in the locker room, to make sure of my ship’s number: 148 it was. Crew chief: Sergeant Eddy. Passenger: Corporal Miller.
     I jerked open my locker, pulled on a helmet and goggles, light leather flying jacket, and winter flying moccasins. No time for the full heavy winter flying equipment. Better to freeze up there than miss the flight. It’s a serious matter to be absent from an ordered mission in the Army without an air-tight excuse. I seized parachute and fur gloves and ran out to 148.
     Those numbers were painted white, and three feet high, on the olive drab side of the bulky fuselage; but I had no reason to give them any especial heed this morning. I didn’t notice for instance that they added up to 13. Nor, for that matter, did I stop to recall that the date on today’s operations order read 1-23-34, which also adds up to 13. And I was ignorant of still another fact: that punctuality doesn’t always pay - that punctuality on my part this morning would have provided a job for a dredge. The job of grappling along the muddy bottom of Chesapeake Bay for my body within 20 minutes. You see, ordinarily I should have had time to climb into my heaviest winter flying equipment – but that comes later. 
     Another pilot was already in the cockpit of 148, with Sergeant Eddy sitting beside him. I walked out under the nose and crisscrossed my arms at the pilot. It was Lieutenant Crain. As he unfastened his safety belt and climbed down out of the ship, I could almost hear him cussing above the explosive hum of the left engine, which the crew chief was running up. Crain stamped up to . . . 



Keystone LB-7


John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly: Pioneering Aviators

     The dream of soaring on heavenly winds to distant destinations has been the aspirations of mankind from time immemorial. During the 1920s four Army pilots, through their aerial achievements, furthered the fulfillment of that centuries old ambition and herein lies their remarkable stories. The first of these pioneering feats began on a clear afternoon of May 2, 1923, at precisely 12:36 and 53 seconds from Roosevelt-Hazelhurst Field at Westbury, Long Island, N.Y., when Lts. Oakley Kelly and John A. Macready departed in a Fokker T-2 (it actually carried, according to military files, the designation F.IV) bound for Rockwell Field located on the north end of Coronado Island (now North Island Naval Base) on San Diego Bay, California.
     Over a decade earlier, in February 1911, Glenn Curtiss had signed a three-year contract with the owner of North Island for the establishment of a flying school, but within a year the Army’s Signal Corps Aviation School was established at that location for the training of military pilots after moving from College Park, Md. The airfield on Coronado Island was named in memory of Lt. Lewis C. Rockwell who was killed in an aviation accident on September 25, 1912, along with Corporal Frank S. Scott, at the old flying base before it relocated to California. Of historical note, Corporal Scott was the first enlisted member of the military air service to be killed in an aviation accident.
     Kelly has left us a detailed description of how he and his colleague, Lt. Muir S. Fairchild, had conceived the idea of flying nonstop across the continent in the winter of 1921-1922 and then set about getting support for this perilous journey.
     Ridiculed by his colleagues at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, for assuming that pilots could stand the strain of a crosscountry flight, nonetheless, Kelly and Fairchild were convinced it could be accomplished. Kelly later wrote:

In order to promote the idea, a large map of the United States showing the proposed route from New York to San Diego was posted on the wall in my office near the entrance to the pilot’s locker room. Shortly the inevitable happened, when Col. Thurman H. Bane, Commanding Officer at McCook Field at that time, came walking in to don flying clothing and paused to inquire, “What’s this?”  In those days a good story was necessary to secure approval of a cross-country trip over 100 miles. Later events indicated that from that moment we were on our way except for approval from Washington, and the all important feature of finding an airplane capable of making the flight.

     One of the potential aircraft that was considered for the flight was a Fokker single-engine monoplane of the F.IV design, which was an enlarged version of the commercial aircraft, the F.III. Because of Fokker’s contributions to the German war effort from 1914-1918 . . . 

[PDF of Complete Bibliography and Foot Note]

Complete Bibliography for this article (PDF document)



Macready & Kelly with Fokker T-2


    The 1938 National Air Races at Cleveland, Ohio 

     1938, the ninth year of the Great Depression saw some improvement in the U.S. and world economies. The unemployment rate of 20 percent in the U.S. would not change until the outbreak of war in 1941. 
     The National Air Races (NAR) were a short respite from the grinding depression. The event was a favorite and the Labor Day week each year was something to look forward to.
     There were many rule changes in the NAR for 1938. The introduction of the Seversky civil P-35s in 1937 caused a complete shake-up of the rules. Most of the changes were aimed at curbing possible takeover by the advanced military aircraft like the civil P-35s that had done so well in both the Bendix and Thompson races the year before. In view of the $35,000 cost of the civil versions of the military aircraft, the Thompson Race organizers felt they had to act immediately to keep their series alive for the low budget grassroots American racers with homebuilt planes.
     The new 1938 rules stipulated a maximum engine size of 1860 cubic inches to keep any large future military engines out of the NAR. Qualifying was changed to two laps of the race course, with a minimum average of 225 mph with no more than 15 planes starting. The race was lengthened to 300 miles to encourage more practical planes with reliable engines. The purse was nearly doubled to $45,000. A key rule change was that no plane could compete in both the Bendix and Thompson races, though this did not apply to pilots. It was felt that this would give the big military a shot at one title but would prevent any domination of both series.  . . .



Tony LeVier in #70


“Air Raid on Pearl Harbor - This Is No Drill” 

      On the morning of November 28, 1941, a U.S. Navy task force consisting of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and accompanying cruisers and destroyers left Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to deliver a squadron of 12 Marine Corps fighter planes to Wake Island, some 2,000 miles west of Pearl Harbor. The fighter planes were to reinforce the garrison at Wake.
     After landing aboard, the Marine fighters, Grumman F4F Wildcats, had been taken from the flight deck to the hangar deck below using the enormous airplane elevators of which the Enterprise had three. The Wildcats were stored on the hangar deck for the trip to Wake in order to leave the flight deck clear for the twice-daily operations of the ship’s own air group. This air group flew out from its shore base at Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor and landed aboard after the Marines had landed.
     While the fighters of Fighting Squadron Six (also F4F Wildcats), the Douglas SBD Dauntless of Bombing Squadron Six and Scouting Squadron Six, and the Douglas TBD Devastator of Torpedo Squadron Six were being tightly parked in takeoff position on the aft end of the flight deck, inspected and refueled. The pilots of the squadrons gathered in their respective ready rooms for a briefing on the fleet’s mission. I was a pilot in Bombing Six with the rank of ensign.
     For security reasons the nature of the mission had not been revealed until the ship and its squadrons were at sea. The air crews and the “ship’s company” soon learned that this was to be no practice cruise. They learned further that for the first time all of their planes were to carry ammunition for their machine guns, and that the SBDs were to carry a 500-pound bomb on the routine twice-daily scouting flights.
     Vice Adm. William F. Halsey’s instructions were “If you encounter any enemy (Japanese) ships or planes, you are to avoid detection if possible, otherwise you are to attack.” And this was peace time! I did not take the threat of war seriously, having been through many false alarms about imminent Japanese attacks during my preceding two years at Pearl Harbor. Many others on the ship shared my skepticism. 
     On the cruise to Wake Island, we encountered no “enemy,” as I expected. We flew our morning and evening searches to 150 nautical miles ahead of the fleet, each section of two planes scouting a 15-degree sector, and saw nothing. Two events of interest did occur. The fleet crossed the International Date Line, causing us to lose one . . . .



Lt. (jg) W. E. “Bill” Roberts, USN


Naval Aeronautics in the Civil War: 
Naval-Associated Operations of Observation Balloons; Part 1

     Naval aviation history in the United States does not begin with the Civil War, although it does mark the U.S. Navy’s first association with aeronautics, a story that has yet to be told in full. The activities of military observation balloons in the war are well documented; less so are those naval-related operations by both Union and Confederate forces. The term “naval” is used in the broad sense, in that military balloons were employed on water-borne vessels for military purposes, these vessels being both civilian and military. During the war, observation balloons were operated by, and for the purposes of, the Union and Confederate armies. At times, circumstances dictated using steam tugs or barges as bases for balloon ascensions. On the Union side, the Army’s Quartermaster Corps most often chartered these craft. Although balloons at sea largely supported Army operations, the Union Navy benefitted directly from aerial observations on at least two occasions, at Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River and on the James River in Virginia. Both events are of historical interest in that for the first time a navy combined aeronautical and naval activities to achieve specific operational goals. The Union Navy also modified and provided to the Army’s Aeronautic Corps the world’s first vessel specifically configured for aeronautical purposes, the balloon-barge George Washington Parke Custis. Possibly of more importance, the Navy built the mobile gas generators that allowed Union balloons to operate independently in the field and at sea.
     Balloon missions included gathering intelligence, making topographical maps, and spotting and directing artillery fire. Ships and barges extended their capabilities by providing mobile platforms to observe military operations adjacent to rivers and bays. While comprising only a small percentage of balloon ascensions during the war, naval-associated flights can be documented on at least two-dozen occasions and across a surprising number of military campaigns and theaters.  Operations occurred on the Mississippi River, at the sieges of
Savannah and Charleston, on the Potomac River below Washington, D.C., and in Virginia on Hampton Roads and during Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign of 1862.
     In general, all balloon ascensions from ships and barges were tethered, in that a rope or ropes firmly connected the balloon to the deck of the vessel below. Handheld telescopes or field glasses assisted the observers, although observations with the naked eye could be successful in clear weather.  Communication between balloon and ship were by voice, if within earshot, or via written notes attached to a metal ring around the tether line, which guided. . . .

[PDF of Complete Bibliography and Foot Note]

Complete Bibliography for this article (PDF document)



G.W.P. Custis balloon barge


NAVAIR Memories

     On the morning of November 28, 1941, a U.S. Navy task force consisting of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and accompanying cruisers and destroyers left Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to deliver a squadron of 12 Marine Corps fighter planes to Wake Island, some 2,000 miles west of Pearl Harbor. The fighter planes were to reinforce the garrison at Wake.
     After landing aboard, the Marine fighters, Grumman F4F Wildcats, had been taken from the flight deck to the hangar deck below using the enormous airplane elevators of which the Enterprise had three. The Wildcats were stored on the hangar deck for the trip to Wake in order to leave the flight deck clear for the twice-daily operations of the ship’s own air group. This air group flew out from its shore base at Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor and landed aboard after the Marines had landed.
     While the fighters of Fighting Squadron Six (also F4F Wildcats), the Douglas SBD Dauntless of Bombing Squadron Six and Scouting Squadron Six, and the Douglas TBD Devastator of Torpedo Squadron Six were being tightly parked in takeoff position on the aft end of the flight deck, inspected and refueled. The pilots of the squadrons gathered in their respective ready rooms for a briefing on the fleet’s mission. I was a pilot in Bombing Six with the rank of ensign.
     For security reasons the nature of the mission had not been revealed until the ship and its squadrons were at sea. The air crews and the “ship’s company” soon learned that this was to be no practice cruise. They learned further that for the first time all of their planes were to carry ammunition for their machine guns, and that the SBDs were to carry a 500-pound bomb on the routine twice-daily scouting flights.
     Vice Adm. William F. Halsey’s instructions were “If you encounter any enemy (Japanese) ships or planes, you are to avoid detection if possible, otherwise you are to attack.” And this was peace time! I did not take the threat of war seriously, having been through many false . . . .



The USS Sable, IX-81


Remember When - Piper Super Cub

      For those of us who recall the period, a boom in general aviation was to take place following World War II. It was anticipated that returning airmen would trade their wartime aircraft, flown in hostile skies, for light planes flown over peaceful American terrain. The return of many veteran pilots, aviators and airmen was to be the catalyst behind the figurative statement “an airplane in every garage,” and it gave impetus to artists’ conceptions of smiling families flying to vacation destinations in futuristic light planes. Aviation magazines of the day reinforced this vision by depicting modern-day housing developments with a runway and individual taxiways leading up to each new home.
     Aircraft companies and subcontractors shared this optimism as they converted their wartime facilities into the manufacturing of general-aviation aircraft. Soon their drawing boards were busy as they transitioned from the manufacturing of bomber and pursuit aircraft of war to the postwar pursuit of building light planes. In some cases, and for expediency, their aircraft were prewar or updated designs. Other companies, however, capitalized on wartime knowledge and transferred newly developed technology into modern and innovative aircraft designs.
     New light-plane designs and prototypes from major aircraft manufacturers, including Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, North American and Republic, entered into development. Additionally, new light planes from many other aircraft companies entered the developmental stage at the end of the war (see listing of aircraft). Concurrently, production was resumed on prewar aircraft, including the ERCo Ercoupe, Globe Swift, and the Luscombe Silvaire.
     However, the aviation boom was not to be. Many war-weary pilots turned their vision from the sky to earthbound goals, including home, automobile, family and peacetime employment. Also, the exigencies and economic conditions at the time helped to fuel the death knell of the aviation boom. 



Piper Super Cub Brochure


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