AMERICAN AVIATION HISTORICAL SOCIETY

   1956 - 2017, Celebrating  over 60 Years of Service
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Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 61, Nos. 1 - Spring 2016
Table of Contents
 

  • Van’s Aircraft, The World’s Most Popular Homebuilt Aircraft - Ken Scott
  • The Fisher P-75 Eagle - Michael P. Hoffman
  • Aviation’s Enterprising Salesman, James E. Granger - Barbara Schultz
  • Glass Husbands, Memories of an Airbase Advisory Team Member - Sidney Yahn
  • Arctic Operations, Part VII; Early Cold War Secret Military Arctic Operations - David Stern
  • The History of NAS Pensacola - Diane S. Segal
  • A Survior of the Budd RB-1 Fiasco - Alfred A. Silano
  • Forum of Flight - Tim Williams
  • News & Comments from our Members
  • President’s Message - Jerri Bergen

  • Van’s Aircraft, The World’s Most Popular Homebuilt Aircraft

    Minnesota winters got really long at Kinchloe Air Force Base, up near the Canadian border. Young Richard VanGrunsven, recently Lieutenant VanGrunsven of the United States Air Force, now discharged, was happy to be headed home to Oregon.

    Even though it was spring…finally…it wasn’t warm in the cockpit of his chosen conveyance, a homebuilt Stits Playboy. Nor was his trip particularly quick. Despite its sporty appearance, with the single seat, low wing and tailwheel landing gear, the Playboy was slow, slow, slow.

    Richard (aka “Van”) wasn’t a stranger to slow airplanes. He’d learned to fly in his early teens. He and his brother had flown a Cub and a Taylorcraft off a 670-foot grass strip they’d helped their father mow into the family’s farm near Verboort, Oregon. All through his high school and college years, he’d flown extensively around the Pacific Northwest, visiting old timers who remembered the prewar days when you could build your own airplane and fly it on a state license, with no federal involvement. When he graduated from the University of Portland, he had a degree in mechanical engineering and firm grip on the concept of home-building airplanes. But it was time to fulfill his ROTC commitments. The Air Force ignored the fact that he was already a skilled pilot and concentrated instead on his color vision problem – no fighter cockpit for him. Denied jets, he’d joined the base flying club, acquired a couple of Playboys and settled on improving the second one.

    Working in the base “clubhouse” – a barely heated trailer– he designed and made several improvements. He replaced the anemic Continental 65-hp engine with a 125-hp Lycoming, installed a bubble canopy over the open cockpit (nobody flies an open cockpit airplane in Minnesota for very long) and generally cleaned up the airframe. Performance was better, but the cruise speeds were still slow and stall speeds high.

    He contemplated more improvements on the way home– there was plenty of time to think. At Playboy speeds, South Dakota, Montana and Idaho took a long time to unreel under the spinner. It was obvious that the real problem was the wing. The struts were horribly draggy and the lack of flaps kept landing speeds too high to safely operate off the family strip. The only solution was a completely new wing.

    Setting up a workshop in the barn on his parent’s farm – it’s cold in the winter…but Oregon cold is not Minnesota cold – he used his spare time to design and build a completely new set of wings. He kept the 2300 series airfoil but instead of strut braced fabric covered units, the new wings were cantilevered and built entirely of aluminum. They incorporated a simple hinged flap that occupied the inboard trailing edge and Friese ailerons the outboard. A swoopy set of fiberglass Hoerner wingtips finished things off.

    The results were startling. With the new wing, the Playboy became a real performer. It cruised at 130 knots or more, climbed much better and landed slower. Best of all, the handling . . .

     



    Van’s Aircraft RV-3


     

    The Fisher P-75 Eagle

    There is an old saying, “desperate times require desperate measures.” That was exactly how the United States felt just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor suddenly involved the country into a two-year-old world war. Although the “Arsenal of Democracy” was striving mightily to build competitive aircraft to meet the challenge of the Axis Powers, the fact remained that only the obsolescent Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was on hand in sufficient numbers in early 1942.

    For many years high-flying bomber aircraft had no fear of intercepting aircraft because of the nearly equal speeds between bombers and fighters, and the lack of adequate notice so that the defending fighters could climb to altitude and intercept. Enemy fighters or fighter-bombers with generally equal performance to that of the interceptors were more or less immune from attack also. Before there was radar that could vector the interceptors to their targets, the only effective, but costly, solution was to have patrols already in the air and loitering in the airspace through which the attack was anticipated.(1)

    Faced with this dilemma in the Pacific at the beginning of the war, the USAAF had neither the sophisticated ground equipment (radar) nor the high-performance fighters to counter Japanese attacks. Therefore, it was deemed urgent to have a fighter with unprecedented rate of climb that could react quickly to enemy intrusions.(2)

    General Motors/Fisher Body Enters the Picture

    Donovan R. Berlin, father of the Curtiss Model 75 (P-36), which led to the more famous P-40 Warhawk, had left Curtiss in April 1942 to become director of the Aircraft Development Section in General Motors’ (GM) Fisher Body Division.(3) On September 24, 1942, Fisher Body, represented by Don Berlin, proposed a high-rate-of-climb interceptor that would use GM’s still-developing Allison V-3420, one of the most powerful reciprocating engines then available, installed in an airframe contrived from “off-the-shelf” major assemblies. Theoretically, this proposal for using parts already in existence would not only save money, but would shorten the time for the new fighter to be ready.(4)

    In the original proposal Berlin’s interceptor would use the wings of a P-40E or North American P-51 Mustang mounted in a gull wing configuration, the tail assembly and landing gear . . .



    Fisher XP-75 in flight


    Aviation’s Enterprising Salesman, James E. Granger

    James Granger sold safety in the air. He believed the public’s view of a pilot as an irresponsible circus performer could be changed to that of a conscientious professional. As he stated, “Aviation will never become a universal means of transportation as long as the average man thinks of a licensed pilot as a cross between a bird and a man endowed with superhuman powers.”

    In a short span of eight years, Jim Granger played an integral role in the advancement of aviation through his passion, foresight and respect for his fellow flyers.

    Born March 22, 1890, in Webster, Mass., James Earl Granger migrated to Pasadena, Calif., in 1910. Armed with a practical knowledge of electrical circuitry, he easily found work with the Edison Electrical Co. supervising the conversion of gas lighting to electrical. Pasadena’s Huntington Hotel was one of his largest projects. Two years later, longing for independence and adventure, Jim opened a Brush Runabout and Briggs-Detroiter agency in Long Beach. Billed as Every Man’s Car, the Brush provided a steady income for Jim until the company merged with several other auto manufacturers to form the United States Motor Corp. Two major decisions caused the company to close its doors in 1913. Its directors attempted to operate under the same premise as GMC and the introduction of enclosed vehicles superseded the Runabout that offered little protection in inclement weather.

    A renovated bootlegger’s barn in Spadra, a now defunct town on the well-traveled route between Pomona and Whittier, provided Jim with a suitable location for his next enterprise. He opened a gas station and garage, attracting customers by lighting up the intersection with Prest-O-Lites mounted in an old car chassis. The Spadra station originally offered Standard Oil’s Red Crown gasoline and Zeolene oil but switched over to Union products in 1922; at the same time, Jim opened a Ford dealership. His gregarious personality earned him the nickname Sunny and the position of first president for the local Citrus Belt Auto Dealers Association that later merged into the California Auto Trades Association. In 1922, Jim promoted the first automobile show at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona and a convention for the Automobile Trades Association on Catalina Island in 1923.

    An airplane ride in the spring of 1926 resulted in a dramatic turn of events for the car salesman. Inspired by the flight, Jim was certain that aviation would play an important role in the advancement of transportation and he wanted to be part of the exciting probability. He excelled in the automobile business; operating an aviation company shouldn’t be that difficult. He just needed an airplane, someone to teach him to fly, and a promising location. After exploring southern California for airports, Jim settled on municipally-owned Clover Field in Santa Monica. There were several aircraft manufacturing companies located on the field, a good indicator of stability. Before the end of the year, Jim sold his Spadra business, purchased Union . . .

    .

     



    Granger Family


    Glass Husbands, Memories of an Airbase Advisory Team Member

    Now that I am retired, in my late 80s and no longer burdened with the pressures of the workplace, I have more time to recall many of my most unforgettable experiences. It was during one of these mental expeditions when I decided to write this article. It is important, however, to maintain the proper perspective, since much of the following took place over a half century ago, and many changes have taken place since then.

    Early in 1956, I was a young United States Air Force (USAF) captain assigned to Bryan Airbase (AB), Texas. I had accumulated a considerable amount of single engine flight time in both jets and reciprocating type aircraft and was hoping to be assigned to a USAF fighter aircraft squadron. Instead, I received orders assigning me to the Air Base Advisory Team (ABAT), attached to the Chinese Air Force (CAF) First Fighter Wing at Tainan Air Base, Taiwan. I was disappointed, but had been in the service long enough to know people seldom got the assignment of their choice. In retrospect, I am very happy things evolved as they did.

    TAIWAN, MID-1950s
    This was not my initial introduction to Taiwan. In 1951, while assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron (44 FS), Clark AB, Philippines, I was a member of a makeshift aerobatic team consisting of four F-80C type aircraft. We were tasked to conduct flight demonstrations over each of Taiwan’s major airfields and the summer residences of Chiang Kai-shek. In those days, the island was often called Formosa, a name which early Portuguese sailors used, which means beautiful island.

    Our initial landing was on Taoyuan Air Base. Chinese military personnel, still wearing WWII type uniforms, swarmed around our aircraft. Many had never seen a jet aircraft. Obviously, to them an aircraft without a propeller was a strange sight. Airbase officials stated our aircraft were the first jets to land on the island. I have never tried to confirm or refute this claim.

    TAIWAN
    Actually, Taiwan is a fairly large island; it is approximately 240 miles long and nearly 80 miles across at its widest point, with a spine of mountains running down its center, the highest being approximately 13,000 feet. The Tropic of Cancer crosses the center of the island; as a result it has a semi-tropical climate.

    Weather conditions on Taiwan can change quickly, primarily due to onshore winds and the mountains. There are periods during winter months when low weather ceilings caused by fog or haze can last for days, or even weeks. The months of May through October are considered the typhoon season; in the Western Hemisphere they are called hurricanes. Typhoons can be devastating and usually hit Taiwan several times each year. The water from these storms, however, is important in helping to fill the island’s reservoirs. Chinese pilots often referred to the island as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.

    In 1956, Taiwan’s population was approximately 21 million people (local Taiwanese 80%, Chinese Mainlanders 18%, Aborigines 2%).

    Mandarin Chinese was the official language but many people spoke Taiwanese. Chinese is a tonal language, which . . .




    Author Sidney Yahn in F-84G cockpit


    Arctic Operations, Part VII; Early Cold War Secret Military Arctic Operations

    GENERAL ALASKA RADIO INTELLIGENCE
    Radio esoterica relating to the Territory of Alaska prior to and during WWII must include the secret arena of radio intelligence – the application of receivers to monitor the broad radio frequency spectrum, recording all foreign military and civilian encoded and plain text traffic. It included determining the physical locations of naval vessels and aircraft operating in the Pacific from the 1920s throughout WWII and the Cold War. The navy established HF (High Frequency) and HFDF (High Frequency Direction Finder) sites throughout the Pacific to monitor, then forward their “take” to navy Station Hypo or Station H, the major Pacific reception center at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. All encrypted traffic was then delivered to the codebreakers.

    A little known radio-intelligence anecdote includes the secret 11th Weather Squadron (based at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, in early WWII), decoding Russian broadcast weather reports, and translating them into English using new tape-fax equipment. They were then transmitted via short wave radio to an unidentified San Francisco facility that retransmitted the take still encoded over radio teletype equipment to the Pentagon.(1) And yes, somehow this secret activity aroused the high interest of NKVD agents imbedded within the Russian AL-SIB contingent practically running Ladd Field.

    In the early 1900s during early military radio operations reception of Pacific and northern hemisphere radio traffic (irrespective of frustrating irregular solar storms blanking out radio communications). Two navy HFDF stations were established in Alaska – one at Sitka (1938), code name “Station AE,” and the totally out of place house constructed at Dutch Harbor, code named Station King. They provided valuable radio intelligence and bearings on Japanese aircraft and vessels during WWII.(2) Other stations in Alaska were Unmak Island (1941-45), Amchitka Island as code name MS-6 (1943-1944) and Fairbanks as MS-7, (1942-1944).(3)

    The Army lacked Alaska based radio intelligence units so Lt. Colonel Castner, Assistant Chief of Staff G-2 for Alaska Command, requested the Radio Intelligence Division (RID) of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), to establish an Adcock direction finder station in Fairbanks – possibly identified as MS-7. A secondary unit was established near Anchorage (code name unknown).(4) A five man monitoring and direction finder station with Signal Corps assistance was also established just four miles outside Nome proper in 1942. It augmented the navy’s HFDF stations and monitored all Japanese radio traffic, thus providing bearings of their aircraft and ship movements including the Kiska and Attu garrisons.(5) The FCC RID unit included sending a maritime monitoring unit with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on sea patrols in Alaska waters.(6)

    ALASKA AERIAL RADIO INTELLIGENCE
    Alaska retains the nearly forgotten distinction of becoming the initial arena where the USAAF birthed its airborne radio intelligence activity. Among the Japanese garrison’s equipment on Kiska Island were two unidentified military units situated in close proximity on elevated ground. Eleventh AF photo . . .



    B-24D "Ferret 1" Ladd Field, AK


    The History of NAS Pensacola

    A fascinating aspect of Naval Aviation history appears in an old color postcard that has the caption, “Awaiting Flight Orders, Chevalier Field, Pensacola, Florida.” What historic events occurred at this long-closed airfield and who is the individual in whose honor the airfield is named? Pensacola has the nickname, “City of Five Flags,” because throughout history five flags have flown over the Pensacola Bay area when it was ruled by the Spanish, the French, the British, the Confederacy and the United States.

    PENSACOLA NAVY YARD
    In 1825, President John Quincy Adams realized the advantages of the Pensacola harbor and the large nearby timber reserves for shipbuilding. He requested that a Board of Navy Commissioners select a site near Pensacola for a naval outpost. The commissioners were Captains William Bainbridge, Lewis Warrington and James Biddle, who selected a site on Pensacola Bay. The site was approved by President Adams and construction began in 1826. The Pensacola Navy Yard was developed.(1)

    By 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, it had become a firstclass navy yard.(2)

    On January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union. Two days before, on January 8, Union and Confederate troops exchanged shots over the occupation of the Pensacola forts, the first shots of the Civil War.(3)

    On January 12, 1861, Alabama and Florida state militias occupied Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, the Advanced Redoubt (Queen’s Redoubt) and the Navy Yard. Federal forces had moved to Fort Pickens. Gen. Braxton Bragg took command for the Confederate army at Pensacola. There was a raid on the Navy Yard by about 100 federal marines and sailors. Bragg responded with about 1,000 men in a night attack on Santa Rosa Island and burned the camp of the 6th New York Infantry. Federal forces then responded with a massive bombardment that heavily damaged Fort McRee and the Navy Yard.(4) In May 1862, Confederate troops retreated from Pensacola and reduced most of the Navy Yard facilities to rubble. After the war, work was done to rebuild the base.33 In 1911, the Navy Department decided that expenses by the yard were greater than the productivity and put the yard in caretaker status.(5)

    NAVAL AVIATION AT GREENBURY POINT,
    MARYLAND

    Naval aviation training took place where aircraft manufacturers operated. On July 6, 1911, Capt. Washington Chambers was ordered to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to establish the first base. Aviation operations were established at Greenbury Point, Md., which was located across the Severn River from the U.S. Naval Academy. Greenbury Point had an Engineering Experiment Station, a . . .



    NAS Pensacola, January 1917


    A Survior of the Budd RB-1 Fiasco

    Recent issues of the AAHS Journal contained articles authored by Ms. Nancy C. Heslop and Dr. Michael Watter concerning the Budd RB-1 Conestoga and the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland.(1, 2, 3) These articles contain events that have plagued me for 71 years. Ms. Heslop and Dr. Watter have opened a stainless steel can of RB-1 worms. There are errors in their accounts that need correction. These errors are not due to them but may be the result of poor record keeping by the U.S. Navy.(4) The recorded dates of several RB-1 accidents do not agree with my recollection of what happened.

    The RB-1 saga began with the Budd Co., manufacturers of stainless steel railroad cars, automobile bodies and one small seaplane.5 Apparently they were able to influence the U.S. government that a growing shortage of aluminum emphasized the need to substitute stainless steel for aircraft. Earlier, Budd had acquired the patents for “shot welding,” a form of spot welding done over a very short time.(6, 7) This process protects the structural strength of austenitic stainless steel so that it retains its rust resistant properties.(8) In fact, the shot welding technique was used to build the Savoia BB-1 amphibian for the Savoia Co. of Italy in 1932.(9)

    Clearly, Budd had advanced knowledge of how to use stainless steel in a variety of ways. Did they have the knowhow to design and manufacture an airplane to compete with the Douglas R4D or the Curtiss R5C? The decision to produce the RB-1 may have been a desperate attempt by Budd to survive through WWII.

    According to Dr. Watter, he said he led Budd’s design, production and flight parade.(10) He created an odd shape for the RB-1. An obligation of an aircraft designer is to minimize the drag of an aircraft.(11) The bulbous, rather than a teardrop, nose on the RB-1 was a lift/drag ratio reducer. The blunter the body, the greater the drag.(12) The fuselage had a flat bottom so that it could land safely on water. The high wing design provided ground clearance, placing the fuselage close to the ground for boarding and loading. It also provided ground clearance for the propellers and easy access to the rear cargo ramp. Dihedral on the horizontal stabilizer avoided turbulence from the wings and propellers. These were all positive features on the RB-1. But why did they use the same Pratt & Whitney R-1183-92 Twin Wasp engines used on the Douglas R4D? The empty R4D weighed 3,186 lbs. less than the stainless steel RB-1.(13) The low engine power and extra weight were partly responsible for the long takeoff run of the RB-1. Even the range of the RB-1 was half that of the R4D.(14) Were all of these faults worth . . .

     



    Forum of Flight

    The FORUM is presented as an opportunity for each member to participate in the Journal by submitting interesting or unusual photographs. Negatives, slides, black-and-white or color photos with good contrast may be used if they have smooth surfaces. Digital submissions are also acceptable, but please provide high resolution images (>3,000 pixels wide). Please include as much information as possible about the image such as: date, place, msn (manufacturer’s serial number), names, etc., plus proper photo credit (it may be from your collection but taken by another photographer).

    Send submissions to the Editorial Committee marked“Forum of Flight,” P. O. Box 3023 Huntington Beach, CA 92605-3032. Mark any material to be returned: “Return to (your name and complete address).” Or you may to wish have your material added to the AAHS photo archives.

     



    Martin B-10A


    News and Comments from our Members

    Journal Cover, Vol. 60, No. 4, Winter 2015

    You probably have been told by many members of the Society regarding the B-17s on the cover of the Winter 2015 issue are from the 381 BS and not the 391 BS as identified in the caption for the cover.

    Bob Jesko


    Editor’s Comment: Actually, Bob was the first to point this out. We erred by accepting the ID information with the photo and not verifying it independently. We’ll try to do better in the future.


    The Non-Existent Threat – Air Defense of North America in the Cold War, Vol. 60, No. 4, Winter 2015

    I greatly enjoyed Mr. Pattillo’s well researched, well written, article on the air defense considerations of the early Cold War. It did not include a minor aspect of Gordon Saville’s recommendations from the Battle of Britain, nor their effect almost 15 years later.

    During the Battle of Britain, there were more gaps in the RAF’s radar coverage than most people (even historians) realize. To cover these gaps, the RAF created and used the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). This organization of volunteer civilians detected and reported aircraft that might be missed by the radar coverage. Visualize persons unfit for military service – elderly, young teenagers or those medically disqualified from the military. Supply them with a field telephone, a clipboard and a pair of binoculars. Station them in a church steeple or even in a farmer’s field. They were very effective, and one of Saville’s reports emphasized that the United States should seriously consider establishing a similar organization. Whether later in his career he would have still endorsed that recommendation or not is questionable because of changes in technology.

    In the Battle of Britain, the attacking aircraft generally flew in large formations – not always, but enough so that spotting such a formation was the primary task of ROC. After all, 50 bombers in close formation coming from the east in 1940 was almost certainly a German air raid! The attackers were at a speed (approximately 200 mph) and an altitude (10,000 to 20,000 feet) where even an inexperienced spotter could observe valuable information, and the ROC teams were well trained in aircraft identification. As for obtaining the personnel for the teams, the gaps in radar coverage (the need) compared to the population density of Britain (the supply of teams) was such that recruiting and positioning the teams was not a serious . . .



     

    President's Message

    A single day is just too short to become re-acquainted with long-distance AAHS friends, or to strike up new conversations with like-minded historians, while also taking in the program, food and amazing surroundings, such as we enjoyed at the 60th Anniversary of AAHS meeting at the Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) on February 12.

    And what a program! Walt Disney assembled a wealth of artifacts, photos and documents (many from archives of AAHS members like John Underwood, Gary Hyatt and Phil Dockter) to present the history of GCAT in a specially built Visitor Center that will be available for public viewing by appointment. One item of interest for many of us was the original GCAT Airport Log (this one had copied pages), showing the landings and takeoffs of aircraft out of GCAT from 1933 to 1935. We discovered that the practice of the time by the GCAT tower included recording off-field aircraft landings and takeoffs only; local aircraft based at GCAT were not entered into the airport log. The Disney Co. did a stellar job of bringing the feel of the original Grand Central Air Terminal of 1929 back to life with their meticulous renovation. Architect John Bereley noted that The Disney Co., although owner of the building had a real responsibility to the public to preserve this icon of aviation history, as well as make the space useful for modern business activities of Walt Disney Imagineering employees.

    There wasn’t nearly enough time to admire the detailed tiles, ironworks and glasswork of GCAT’s interior, and visit with the large group of 1930s re–enactors outside (orchestrated by ‘30s enthusiasts . . .

     

     



    Restored Grand Central Air Terminal


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