The Life and Work of Aviation Photographer & Historian
William “Bill” Larkins, Part 2
In Part-1 of the Larkins story of AAHS Journal Vol 62, Number-3, Fall 2017, we left Bill in the summer of 1947 flying over San Francisco Bay in the turret of a GrummanTBM Avenger chase plane, scrambling after a USN Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat and Douglas Skyraider. He was setting-up for that “exceptional” shot that aviation photographers dream about, a classic air-to-air close-in, filled with dramatic cumulus clouds in the background! Since then Bill has been working on his next book “History of Seaplanes in California” for which he still has some work to do. In addition, he continues to photograph heavy-body commercial jets landing and departing San Francisco International Airport [SFO] primarily as a personal hobby.
In this Part 2 biography on Bill Larkins, we’ll be looking at his time in the post-war 1940s as the 144th Fighter Group Photo Officer, California Air National Guard, into retirement in 1981 and beyond to his present-day projects.
1947 – 2021 “THE REST OF THE STORY:
From the Jet Age to Computer-Aided Flying”
Northern California ANG Reserve Hayward 1947
It was the summer of 1947…..just a week before, Reserve Staff Sargeant Larkins received a letter of authorization to photograph USN, USMC and AAF planes for Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. After coordination with his Unit Photo Officer, his first opportunity was going to be a USN air-to-air shoot over the Golden Gate Bridge with two carrier-based aircraft from USS BOXER (CV-21), a Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat and a Douglas AD-1 Skyraider.
And so he did on that beautiful June day. As the one-and-only ANG staff photographger Bill recalls, “So, luckily, I had a chance to get a few more shots of the F8F. I had been looking around NAS Alameda previously and spotted this beautiful F8F-1 Bearcat with the special markings of VF-20A, from the aircraft carrier USS Boxer (CV-21) moored in San Francisco Bay. This particular Bearcat was the Boxer’s commanding officer Lt. Comdr. D.C. Caldwell’s personal aircraft.”
Above is one of the shots that finally resulted from that June 1947 photo shoot. This is the action shot aviation photographers always hope to achieve, a classic close-in filled with detail, clarity, ability to make out the pilot, and a sky full of clouds. What more could you ask for! [Note: Bill originally shot this photo in B&W. The author enlisted John Heebink of TuxedoPark Productions to colorize to the color of the original aircraft.]
Bill Lear Jr. & Major Betty Skelton
August, 1947…. A once in a lifetime photo opportunity with Bill Lear Jr., his Lockheed F-5G P-38 NX56687 and his good friend CAP Maj. Betty Skelton.
Larkins had no idea that Bill Lear Jr., the 19-year-old owner-pilot of the P-38 was going have a ride-along when he and Lear . . .
Bill Larkin suited up for a photo mission.
Black Friday over North Vietnam
May 19, 1967, a hazy Friday morning. The darkness of dawn quietly gave way to daybreak as the muddied, churning waters of the Gulf of Tonkin began to shimmer in rays of bright sunshine breaking through the broken cloud layers. Some 90 miles east of the North Vietnamese coastline, southwest of China’s Hainan Island, the faint outlines of three massive vessels began to appear. United States Navy aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CVA(N)-65), USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) and USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) were operating from Yankee Station as part of Task Force 77 (TF-77), providing round-the-clock missions deep into North Vietnam.
In the Integrated Operations Intelligence Centers (IOIC) onboard the carriers, the pace of activity was rapidly picking up. Aircrew, intelligence officers, meteorologists and other specialists from the air wing gathered and reviewed photographs and other intelligence of their assigned targets for the late morning strike. In the IOIC aboard Enterprise Commander (CDR) Herman “Herm” Turk of VA-35 Black Panthers methodically worked his tired eyes over a map of North Vietnam, covered with colored strips of paper marking ingress and egress routes, as well as the locations of known enemy positions that could pose a threat to the strike group composed of aircraft from both Enterprise and Kitty Hawk.
The strike group was going “Downtown,” as American airmen called the Hanoi area, in a daylight Alpha Strike. The targets for the Enterprise and Kitty Hawk strike group was the Van Dien Truck Maintenance Depot and Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Storage Facility just six miles south of the North Vietnamese capital in an area known as “Little Detroit” for the numerous industrial complexes and factories located there. The Hanoi Thermal Power Plant (TPP) was the target of aircraft from Bonne Homme Richard, who were using Walleye bombs for surgical precision in the densely-populated capital of the north. All targets were heavily defended by Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), SAMs and [North] Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF) Soviet-supplied MiG fighters.
For the Alpha Strike on Van Dien, Commander Turk would be commanding the aircraft from Enterprise Carrier Air Wing Nine (CVW-9) as flight leader of six state-of-the-art Grumman A-6A Intruders of
VA-35, call-sign RAYGUN. The A-6, or “Drumstick” as it was affectionately known, had a side-by-side crew configuration, bulbous radome nose and oddly protruding refueling nozzle, which gave the aircraft an outwardly awkward appearance. However, appearance notwithstanding, the Intruder had proven to be extremely effective in Vietnam. It featured a revolutionary computerized combat, weapons and navigational Flight Management System (FMS) known as DIANE, or Digital Integrated Attack and Navigational Equipment. It was this technology that made the A-6 stand out among its predecessors and contemporaries. It could fly missions day or night in all weather conditions, guided by the Inertial Navigation System . . .
F-4 and A-6 preparing to launch from the USS Enterprise
The Forgotten Bomber, Stearman’s X100/XA-21
During the latter part of the 1930s the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) was formulating an interest in obtaining a new light attack bomber, which would be capable of destroying an enemy with bombs and then be able to follow that up with strafing to attack ground troops. Consequently, in March, 1938, it issued Circular Proposal 38-385, which outlined the requirements for a twin-engine airplane that could carry up to 1,200 pounds of bombs at a minimum speed of 200 mph and have a range of 1,200 statute miles. A prototype aircraft built by the submitting companies was to be delivered to the USAAC by March 17, 1939.
These prototype aircraft that would be constructed by each company that wished to participate in the upcoming competition were to be built at the company’s own expense. The USAAC would not cover the cost. This program represented a change in policy for the USAAC. Previously the USAAC would present technical data and performance specifications to the participating companies before they actually began the construction of the aircraft.
At the Stearman Aircraft Co. in Wichita, Kan., the design work on their proposed bomber began in 1938, shortly before the company was forced by Government decree to become the Stearman Aircraft Division of the Boeing Airplane Company. Preliminary designs were subsequently evaluated by engineers at Boeing in Seattle, Wash., as well as by those at Stearman in Wichita. The general arrangement of the proposed airplane was determined by Boeing, but it was decided that it would be built in Wichita.
The Stearman X100, construction number (c/n) 10000, was unlike any other airplane that the Stearman Co. had ever built. Specifically, it was a twin-engine, all metal monoplane. Its design features included a flush-riveted semi-monocoque fuselage; fowler-type wing flaps and an electrically powered retractable landing gear. It also incorporated integral fuel tanks; full-feathering constant speed three bladed propellers and sealed compartments in the outer wing panels, central fuselage and tail section for flotation in the event of a water landing.
The plane was powered by two new and unproven Pratt and Whitney R-2180-S1AG (Army R-2180-7) “Twin Hornet” engines rated at 1150 hp that could be boosted to 1400 hp for takeoff. They were an enlarged version of the R-1830 engine originally developed for the Douglas DC-4E. Only two airplanes were to utilize this new engine – the Stearman X100 and the North American XB-21.
The X100’s most notable design feature was the contour of the cockpit enclosure in the nose of the fuselage. In the interest of streamlining, the nose contour made an unbroken curved line faired into the top of the fuselage. This was remarkably different from the standard “stepped” windshield configuration of most bombers and transports of that era. A similar concept . . .
Stearman X100 / XA-21
“Back From The Dust Bin Of History,” Restoring The Burnelli CBY-3
The Restoration Beginning
Very early in our restoration we were in contact with The Friends of Beacon Field Airport, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of Beacon Field.
In July of 1957 the Burnelli CBY-3 was being demonstrated to the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Both engines quit on the second high performance takeoff and the aircraft belly landed back on the runway. The aircraft was trucked to Beacon Field where it was repaired by Mr. “Junie” Marshall and Mr. Paul Zimmer before it was ferried out to Baltimore. Harry Lehman and Anna Marie Hicks had a number of photographs of the aircraft that they shared with us including a very rare photo of the cockpit interior. You can visit The Friends of Beacon Field Airport website at http://www.beaconfieldairport.com.
Larry Pope of Austin, Tex., has had a long interest in Burnelli’s blended wing designs and contacted us shortly after our restoration began. Larry has compiled an impressive collection of printed material and photographs pertaining to the CBY-3 and had provided us with several rare high quality color photographs and supporting material. We are using these color photos to guide us in reproducing the color scheme for our finished display. You can see Burnelli’s planes and designs along with some of what Larry is doing at www.burnelliaircraft.com. He has also been in contact with The University of Texas, and has discovered a comprehensive flight evaluation dating from 1953 that he has forwarded to us.
“Field Expedient Repairs” (FER’s)
When the CBY-3 restoration began our team was faced with several issues with the aircraft’s overall condition including preexisting structural damage, widespread pockets of corrosion and wear and tear from the time it was in service - often operating out of rough airstrips. All of these conditions proved to be challenges for our crew. The “wear and tear” issues - of which there were many - presented our crew with decisions about which issues should be restored and which should be left as they were found since they represent an important aspect of the CBY-3’s operational history. Adding to this history has been the ongoing discovery of numerous “field expedient repairs,” which our crew has dubbed “FERs.”
Faced with hull punctures and tears while operating in very remote areas, the CBY-3 crews and mechanics apparently used whatever materials were available to cope with the damage and return the aircraft to operation, perhaps with the intent to make permanent repairs at a later date.
Since it is not our intent to return the CBY-3 to flying condition, our approach during this restoration has been to preserve many of the FERs in situ, while repairing or replacing those where the aircraft’s structural integrity was impacted. Where a FER was located on a skin panel that requires replacement due to widespread corrosion, the FER would not be preserved or reproduced. In one instance a FER was found where a long piece of steel angle-iron was bolted in place to span a damaged area along an aluminum structural channel in . . .
Burnelli CBY-3 prior to restoration
Superfortresses for the RAF, The Boeing B-29 Washington in U.K. Service
By any standard the creation of the B-29 Superfortress was a herculean achievement in bomber development. Peter M. Bowers in his book, Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, describes it succinctly: “ …a truly heroic development program that in four years designed , built, tested and perfected one of the most complex pieces of movable machinery ever made up to that time….” It is no wonder that, at the end of the 1940s, the eyes of the U.K. Air Ministry turned towards it as a short-term solution to the re-equipment of RAF Bomber Command. At the turn of the decade the RAF was still operating the Avro Lincoln, a development of the WWII Lancaster. A ‘tail-dragger’ with noisy conditions for the crew, the Lincoln was fine for anti-terrorist operations in Kenya and Malaya but was unarguably outmoded for modern warfare.
True, the English Electric Canberra was waiting in the wings to usher Bomber Command into the jet age, but it was not equipped for radar bombing and it was regarded as a stop-gap until the introduction of the so-called V-bombers, the first of which, the Vickers Valiant was not due in service until February 1955. The B-29 on the other hand offered a pressurized cabin, dual-wheeled tricycle landing gear and computerized fire control system for four remote machine gun turrets. It is not surprising that the U.K. Air Ministry took the opportunity to equip some of its front-line bomber squadrons with a state-of-the-art machine. There were plenty available, as the type was being replaced in SAC units by the B-50 and B-36.
Planning for B-29s
In the latter half of 1949 a series of meetings were held at the Air Ministry in London to discuss ‘Problems Connected with the Possible Introduction of B-29 Aircraft into RAF Bomber Command.’ The discussions were wide ranging and acknowledged the challenge of operating a more technically advanced aircraft than the Lincoln. On the question of crew composition, the Lincoln carried a single pilot while the B-29 would require two. The complexity of the flight engineer’s role was highlighted but could include bombardier duties. (On the Lincoln this was performed by one of the two navigators – Plotter and Observer.) A range of options for aircrew training was aired, including in the U.S., but the eventual solution would be a Conversion Unit at a U.K. airfield. On the question of ground crew training, “It was known that 3rd Air Division were very willing to offer facilities at Burtonwood and on their squadrons for the training of the first batch of ground crew. There was a Mobile Training Unit at . . .
Boeing B-29A Washingtons of the RAF
What Happened to the Wright Brothers After 1903 and 1908?
The achievement of the Wright brothers on the windy cold beach of Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, is well-known and not in doubt. They were truly first to fly an a powered vehicle under control of an on-board pilot. Wilbur, older than Orville by four years, had failed to fly in a weak wind three days earlier. (Who was first to try was decided by a coin toss!) Nearby at the right wingtip Wilbur is anxiously watching the “First Flight” 117 years ago. His brother Orville was on board for the picture familiar to anyone who has even a passing interest in aviation history.
Interpretation of the photograph of the first piloted flight, the most famous picture of the 20th century (according to Life magazine’s assessment at the close of the century), is far more complicated and has a much more poignant interpretation than commonly believed. The main purpose of this paper is to explore and to explain a few of the many reasons that the man who virtually alone should be recognized as the inventor of the airplane is Wilbur. His accomplishments deserve everyone’s praise and should not be diminished by the almost universal practice that gives equal status to the two brothers as co-inventors. The man who will always be known (and celebrated) as the first to fly a powered aircraft was certainly not the man who had the ideas that made that first flight possible. It was truly a magnificent event caught in an unforgettable picture, of an historical occasion. It is important that beliefs based on, and related to, that picture be soundly established.
It is an accident that the man who made the picture possible in 1903 has not received the full recognition that is really his. Although Orville arranged the photographic equipment, and was apparently responsible for the many photographs taken of Wilbur and the brothers’ working together, it was Wilbur who had complete responsibility for the formulation and success of the project until his death in 1912 at the age of 45. His brother died in 1948, aged 77, having never given a true and complete account of the process leading to the brothers’ success.
It was an accident of a coin throw that as far as most people are aware, the case that the two brothers share equally the responsibility for inventing the airplane, one of a small number of truly great inventions by humans. My reasoning based on the available evidence is that Wilbur stands alone as the inventor. His brother was a valuable help, and learned to fly first in 1902 with Wilbur’s direction and only after Wilbur decided his own flying indicated that the glider was safe for Orville to try.
While this story has often been told by many people, in their own ways, this paper examines the events from a different perspective based on material that was first became publicly available in 1953 when Marvin McFarland collected and published the Wright brothers’ papers and diaries. The very best account by a historian is found in The Bishop’s Boys (1989) written by Tom Crouch. Chapters 12 and 13 in this work come closer than any other writings in support the views presented here. 
The main purpose here is to cover my interpretation of the Wright brothers’ invention, namely that Wilbur had virtually all the ideas from the project’s inception in 1898 and was ‘in charge’ until his early death of typhoid in 1912. Every effort has been made to avoid unfounded speculations, for everything set forth is founded on the Wrights’ own writings. A few guesses based on general knowledge and personal understanding of subjects will be offered, and when doing so we have tried to carefully distinguish between these interpretations and established historical facts.
Because we are dealing with events that occurred before 1912, a certain amount of guessing is unavoidable. Also, because of the breadth of the story, covering some parts can only be cursorily addressed, which is regrettable but necessary in order to focus on the primary theme.
The relationship between the brothers in their program of inventing the airplane, especially who contributed what, seems to have been examined previously in depth by two authors, Crouch and James Tobin, in his carefully researched and very well written book, To Conquer the Air. With a view to determining just who contributed what in the important period, 1899 to 1905, and subsequently to 1908 when their invention . . .
Orvill and Wilbur Wright
News & Comments from our Members
Maxine Dunlap Bennett
I’m currently working on a paper for the AIAA SciTech 2022 meeting with an SDSU student Madison Cicchitto. We’re writing a biography of Maxine Dunlap, an aviatrix of the late 1920s-early 1930s who not only was the first licensed woman power pilot in the San Francisco Bay area but also the first woman to earn a glider license of any kind in the U.S.
We have a solid draft, but are reaching out to various organizations to see if they might have any additional information in their files.
Would you happen to have any additional info on Maxine or know if anyone has written about her previously in AAHS Journal?
Looking forward to your reply,
Dr. Gary Fogel
Wilson B-3 Mid-Wing
Member Dan Hagedorn can come up with the most unusual requests. He is looking for a photograph of the Wilson 3B Mid-Wing, NX123W. Aerofiles describes this Los Angeles area product as a three-place, open monoplane powered originally by a 150-hp Axelson B, and later a 220-hp Wright engine. Span 37’0”, Length 27’0” and empty weight of 1600 lbs. Maximum speed was 125 mph, cruise 110 mph and stall a mere 44 mph. The aircraft is reported to have passed all flight tests with no engineering modifications required, but was never put in production. It was designed by E. H. Gustavson, so might also be referenced as a Gustavson Mid-Wing.
The Society has nothing in our files and we have reached out to a couple of members that might likely have a photo, if one exists.
John Underwood responded with, “I have a file card on the Wilson 3B, X124W, which places Dr. Wilson at 4738 Whittier Blvd in 1930 and 4963 Whittier Blvd, when his experimental aircraft was cancelled for reasons unknown on 02/11 1933. Neither Dr. Wilson nor E.H. Gustavson seem to have been certificated aviators. I don’t think a picture of 124W was ever published, because I have tried to document all California aircraft manufacturers, using Western Flying (formerly The Ace and later Western Aviation) and the old Pilot magazine published here in Glendale at Grand Central Air Terminal from 1929 into WW2.
So, check your personal files and see if you might have a photo of this mysterious aircraft. If you do find one, please contact this editor at email@example.com and we’ll arrange for Dan to get in contact with you.
John Underwood Comments:
I really loved that spread in Vol..65, No. 4, especially of the “Endeavour” on its last flight. I watched it from our upstairs balcony with Dad’s WWI field glasses as it entered Los Angeles County and headed for the Los Angeles Civic Center. We were astonished when it headed our way, passing directly over our house, and seemingly enter the Burbank pattern to land. So close I could almost feel the wake turbulence. And I didn’t have a camera - dang it !!!.
That reminds me when I did have a camera at the right moment and snapped a shot of Art Daegling’s Pitts S-2A, N80011, without knowing what if anything I had for film in my ancient Zeiss Super Ikonta B, which Dad bought in the ‘30s, possibly before I was hatched. Dad, a bacteriologist by trade, was a prize winning amateur photographer. Anyway, the picture I shot of N80011 rolling into a brilliant rainbow from a “Tora-Tora-Tora” AT-6, with Kaneohe NAS in the background, was a winner! I sold it for several magazine covers and a McGraw-Hill dust jacket. Maybe you could use it for an AAHS cover sometime. I still have that Zeiss, but I dropped it off of Art . . .
Forum of Flight
The FORUM is presented as an opportunity for each member to participate in the Journal by submitting interesting or unusual photographs. Except for the first two photos, this issue takes a different approach by examining the history of three-engine aircraft from the 1920s to current. Space doesn’t allow for every variant and we may have missed some, but we believe all the majors are represented. Most of the images come from contributions to the AAHS archives. Unfortunately, in many cases the contributor information has been lost. Where known, we acknowledge them.
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 92605-3023. Mark any material to be returned: “Return to (your name and complete address).” Or you may wish to have your
material added to the AAHS photo archives.
Boeing 727 of Braniff International
You may be, like me, evaluating priorities, in realizing that our post-COVID world may be irrevocably altered. New restrictions for event gatherings, travel, expectations for remote learning and video-driven work programs that may become the norm could change what we love to do, or how we do it, while many businesses and organizations have been forced to close altogether. AAHS has been asked, “Is this the time for us to close our doors as well?”
Our membership numbers have been down, due largely to COVID upsets. We have many aging members. Many feel our product of aviation history articles, aviation images and other resources may not be relevant enough for this new world. We should address this question so you, our members understand our position regarding the anticipated longevity of AAHS.
AAHS was built by a group of aviation enthusiasts who worked to share their enthusiasm with others, and promote aviation history for the betterment of our country and future generations. This mission will continue to drive our service until we no longer have the resources or members to make it possible. With generous donations from members, we continue to be financially viable, and, are working to position ourselves so we can be more relevant in a mostly-digital age.
We are using our resources to get our images out of physical storage and onto the internet, where they can be shared more easily (our image digitization project). We are loading catalog information on our aviation library to an online book software program to make this a searchable resource. We are reaching out to classrooms and remote volunteers to participate in identifying our images through a native-built web application PLANESPOTTER (www.AAHSPlaneSpotter.com) that could conceivably have hundreds of people across the world tagging AAHS images. And finally, we are placing advertisements in three major aviation publications (a FIRST for AAHS!) to increase our visibility.
This last year has been turbulent, but there have been upsides too. We’ve met many wonderful new volunteers who are willing to share in our mission. We’ve begun to make partnerships with our neighbors at Flabob Airport who also share our aviation passion, and we’re using the new ‘remote-work’ paradigm to accomplish AAHS objectives that we hadn’t even considered five years ago.
I’m looking forward to the future of AAHS; to me, it looks a great place to be!
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