Non-Skeds: The Story of America’s Supplemental Airlines, Part 4
Resilience, Defeat, and Resurrection
In December 1955, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) gave the large irregular carriers a new lease on life by declaring that they served a purpose in the nation’s airline system by offering charter flights and limited scheduled aircoach service to the general public while providing the military with added support for the transport of personnel and cargo. This group of air carriers was also given a more dignified classification: they would now be known as America’s supplemental airlines.
With all of this new attention came yet another licensing process. But this time, the carriers deemed fit, willing and able would receive an actual Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for Supplemental Air Service from the CAB. The terms of their authority were made clear. The approved carriers could operate commercial and military charters. They could also offer supplemental scheduled service with a maximum of 10 flights per month in each direction between any two points in the 48 states and the District of Columbia.
Fifty-four companies applied for certification. In January 1957, the CAB’s examiners ruled that 31 of the applicants were qualified; 23 were not. When the certificates were finally issued on October 1, 1959, the pool of selected carriers had dwindled to 25. But these were the survivors. These would be the 25 supplemental air carriers legally certificated and protected under the law. It seemed that after 14 years of fighting, these non-skeds were finally going to have their day in the sun.
That sunny day did not last for long. Almost immediately United Air Lines filed suit against the CAB for overstepping its bounds. How could the Board permit these outfits to fly on a schedule between any cities they pleased up to 10 times per month when the scheduled airlines were strictly relegated to flying only their certificated routes?
In 1960, the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia agreed with United and the whole situation was turned over to Congress. On July 14, the House of Representatives enacted Public Law 86-661 as a stopgap measure. It allowed the supplementals that had been certificated the previous year to continue operating with interim authority – for 20 months – while the situation was sorted out.
Regarding this valiant group of air carriers that had pioneered air coach travel, commercial charters, and all-cargo flights, Congress was once again faced with the question, “What are we going to do with you?”
And then – as if on cue in some dramatic play – tragedy struck. Once again, an accusing finger was pointed at the non-skeds. After several years of safe operations without a single passenger fatality among the supplementals, a World Airways DC-6A, carrying military personnel and their dependents, crashed into a mountain after takeoff from Guam on September 19, 1960. Eighty people lost their lives. The accident was ascribed to pilot error.
Then, on October 29, the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) football team was set to return from a game in Ohio to their campus in San Luis Obispo. For the trip they had chartered a C-46 belonging to supplemental carrier Arctic-Pacific Airlines. In zero visibility, the Commando began its takeoff run at Toledo Express Airport. The port engine began . . .
California Eastern Airways C-54
American Fokker Factory Photos; an Introduction -
To the collector, there are a lot of photographs available depicting the Fokker aircraft in the United States during the first part of the twentieth century. The number of reproductions is nearly infinite and seldom is origin of the photo given. However, many of these photographs are from the former factory photo files without recognizing the source. For the historian who wants a guide on these photographs’ origin, a short description of the Fokker photographic files follows.
As with many other enterprises, the successive
American Fokker companies/plants each recorded their production with a series of photographs. The photograph number, and later also the date,1 were engraved in one of the corners of the (glass plate) negative. Most of these photographs were taken by the company’s (internal or external) photographer, but use was also made of photos from other sources inserted as reproductions in their own files. The Fokker Company photos were identified by a successive number, mostly issued in a chronological sequence. Sometimes, numbers got a suffix (e.g., the letter ‘A’ or ‘½’) and some series used a prefix. Sometimes, with a number of photos, more than a single version appeared. The ‘Fokker’ logo was sometimes added in one of the corners and in other cases text was added in the lower part. In all, the Fokker factory archives comprised about 3,500 numbered photos.
The dates engraved on the negatives seem to have been their production date, rather than the actual date of taking the photograph. In some cases letter blocks on boards were used to identify the subject in the photo, mentioning a slightly earlier date. Also, blocks of photos taken at the same time do not always have the same logical sequence as their numbering suggests. For example, a sequence might be the walk-around of a particular model. The numbering sequence might seem to indicate that the front and rear shots were first taken followed by a side-view. Logic would seem to indicate that it is most likely the photographer took the side view as he progressed around the plane.
Companies and their files
As there were different U.S. Fokker companies and plants, different series of photos exist. The following presents the details associated with the photographic files from each company.
The various companies and their picture files are:
Netherlands Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (NAMC): this was the New York sales office from 1920 to 1925 without a separate photo list.  The photos of the period were taken by miscellaneous photographers and incorporated later in the listing of AAC.
Atlantic Aircraft Corporation (AAC) started a photo file in 1924 called ‘Hasbrouck Heights’ N.J. after the location of the plant, with the lowest known number as of 1103. The series was discontinued after number 1889, issued in December 1931. In the 300 range, the photographs that are out of chronology were included. A number of photos from this period showed an imprint from the Reid Studio of Paterson, N.J., which apparently did print work for the factory or even did the photography.
Fokker Aircraft Corp. (FAC) was actually the successor to NAMC as sales and promotional organization and had no own photo files. Use was made of the AAC numbering.
Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America (FACoA) was set up in 1927 as a production plant at Glen Dale near Wheeling, W.V., with AAC as its subsidiary. The photographs started with prints apparently taken by a local photoshop owner, identified by a K-prefix to the number. This practice lasted . . .
American Fokker photo lists
Reginald Denny: “Father” of Radio Controlled Aircraft
In November of 1939 British actor and Royal Flying Corps gunner, Reginald Denny sold 53 radio- controlled aircraft to the U.S. Army, which were to be used as target practice by anti-aircraft gunners. The notion of unmanned aircraft was very much a novel concept at this time with the only previous examples being the “aerial torpedoes” built during WWI, as well as the early drone experiments carried out by the British and U.S. militaries. Denny’s sale to the U.S. Army marked the first instance of unmanned aircraft being mass-produced. He would later go on to sell close to 15,000 drones to the U.S. military over the course of WWII. The fact that Denny’s status as a UAV pioneer was seen only as a secondary accomplishment next to his long and illustrious acting career speaks volumes to the kind of life he led, but it is certainly not to be overlooked.
Born in 1891, the son of a successful stage actor and opera singer, Denny was introduced to the theatre lifestyle at a very young age. He got his first acting role at the age of seven in the stage performance of A Royal Family and would continue acting in both stage plays and silent films throughout his childhood and early adult life. In 1911, at the age of 20, Denny performed his first acting job in America and in the following years performed in both India and Australia.
With such a glamorous lifestyle in Hollywood, one would hardly consider him to be inclined towards aviation, but that would change in 1917 when he returned to Britain to enlist with the Royal Flying Corps, three years into WWI. Denny was stationed at Hastings airfield in Kent. There he went through pilot training flying Bristol Fighter F2Bs as a gunner. It was during a nighttime training exercise that Denny’s plane was hit by friendly AA fire. Denny was wounded in this accident but made a full recovery. This incident would turn out to be the closest thing to combat that Denny would ever see as he completed his training in 1918, right as the war ended.
Denny was released from service and returned to Los Angeles to continue his acting career, however, his time in RFC appeared to have sparked an interest in aviation that followed him throughout the rest of his life. The earliest example of this in his postwar life was his honorary inclusion in a group of prominent stunt pilots at the time, known as the 13 Black Cats. Named for their frequent invocation of superstition during their stunts, performing on Friday the 13 and making frequent use of ‘Bad Luck’ symbols just to add to the thrill, this group consisted of former war pilots, Hollywood stuntmen, and movie actors. Denny first got involved with the group by loaning them a Curtiss Jenny he owned at the time. His status in the group, however, never moved beyond an honorary member. Denny made at least one attempt at performing a stunt flight, what was to be a jump from the wing of the plane with a parachute. When the time came to jump, however, Denny froze up and clung to the strut. The pilot made several attempts to encourage him to jump, even shaking the wing of the plane at one point, but in the end, Denny clung desperately to the strut of the plane until it landed safely on the ground.
Denny’s interest in flight kept burning bright and he would continue to be of aid on several aviation-related projects around Hollywood, including one instance in which he loaned a Sopwith Snipe to Howard Hughes for use in a war film.8 In the 1930s Denny would take an interest in model planes, which would eventually lead to him founding the business where he would leave his mark on the aviation world, the Reginald Denny Hobby Shop.
The shop began humbly enough selling models of all breeds, from warplanes, seaplanes, flying wings and more. In addition to planes, the store also sold model rockets and slot cars, even featuring a large slot car track with several different lanes.
Business did not come easily at first. The shop struggled for the first few years it was open and nearly closed for good until Denny found a new partner in the form of a young oilman named Nelson Paul Whittier. Whittier put up $75,000 to improve the shop and bring in more tools and supplies. They formed Reginald Denny Industries in 1935 to develop a new radio . . .
The Executive Bomber Fleet
In this age of swift business jets – and corporate liability – it’s hard to picture top executives of the country travelling in converted WWII bombers. With very few exceptions, such use of converted bombers was unique to the United States. The precedent had already been set when the fourth North American B-25 off the line was converted for the personal use of General Hap Arnold.
The Beginning of Executive Travel by Air
Using company-owned airplanes for travel by top executives began on a very modest scale in the late 1920s. A few fast single-engine Lockheed airplanes had been used earlier, but a specially-configured Ford 4-AT Trimotor with a club interior was the first multi-engine executive airplane. It was delivered to the Standard Oil Co. of Indiana on May 21, 1927 – the same day that Lindbergh landed in Paris. Texaco and Standard of California also had early ones. Their somewhat rudimentary club interiors were a preview of the very luxurious interiors installed in later executive airplanes. Some of the early executive airplanes also served as flying billboards to promote the company products. By the end of the following decade, executive travel by air had grown considerably – particularly among oil companies operating in widely-separated western areas. Very wealthy individuals had also found travel in their own personal airplanes both enjoyable and beneficial. Getting to a destination rapidly in moderate luxury was an attractive alternative to the then ultimate in travelling luxury – a slow private railroad coach!
WWII put all but high-priority travel on hold, but it did underscore the benefit of utilizing aircraft for urgent essential travel. President Roosevelt used aircraft for his historic Casablanca and Yalta conferences, and top military and governmental leaders also depended on air travel. Apart from the B-25 converted for General Arnold, a converted B-25J served General Eisenhower for his frequent short trips across the English Channel after D-Day. General MacArthur used the XC-108 Bataan, a converted Boeing B-17E, for his travel to more distant destinations in the Pacific Theater. Many companies that hadn’t previously considered using aircraft learned the benefits of travel by that mode first hand – especially companies that produced war materials in widely separated facilities. Consolidated-Vultee, for example, used an early
LB-30 Liberator for company travel.
Once wartime restrictions were lifted, there was a big surge in the demand for executive air travel. Some sought comfortable, but slow, Douglas DC-3s or the faster Lockheed Lodestars. Then, as now, the time of highly paid executives was valuable. Much high-level business that can be conducted electronically today could only be conducted by in-person face to face meetings then. Some executives were, therefore, willing to sacrifice cabin space to get to their destinations even faster than would be possible with DC-3s.
There was an extreme shortage of civil aircraft, and no purpose-built executive aircraft were even being considered for development then. Those would not be available for well over a decade. At the same time, the U.S. government had many surplus military aircraft stored in 57 disposal depots around the country and wanted to recoup as much of its investment as possible. Of course, some would have no value whatsoever as civil aircraft and would have to be sold for scrap.
An article in the September 1945 issue of Flying reported that 39,317 surviving airplanes ranging from small liaison planes to large aircraft had already been declared surplus as of the preceding June. That was just after the Nazis had surrendered in Europe, but about two months before the Japanese surrender. Their original cost to the government was quoted as $1,749,343,000. Apart from the relatively new aircraft based in the U.S., many bombers as well as transports had been ferried back from Europe filled with returning servicemen. Others were sold for their scrap value in situ because they were too worn out to be worth bringing home.
The number quoted in the Flying article would not have reflected the additional airplanes that would be declared surplus following Japan’s surrender. Although the war had ended in Europe, many were still needed for fighting in the Pacific and the anticipated invasion of Japan. Fortunately, the war with Japan ended quickly without an invasion; and many of those that had been retained for the final combat would be returned shortly. In a fitting conclusion to their wartime service, 250 C-54s were used to transfer two divisions of occupational troops from . . .
Douglas B-23 executive hauler
Juanita Burns; Lofty Ambitions
By 1930, more women than ever before were taking to the skies as serious pilots. They were proving that flying was safe and encouraging the public to take advantage of air travel. They entered the competitive world of record setting – endurance, altitude, and speed. A pivotal motivation can be attributed to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) which officially recognized women’s records in June 1929. No longer would women‘s achievements be compared to that of men. Viola Gentry was prevented from receiving credit for her endurance flight on December 20, 1928, by the biased ruling. This was true for two other endurance attempts that broke Gentry’s time in the air – one by Bobbi Trout in January 1929 and the other by Elinor Smith three weeks later. Gentry’s flight, however, was the first woman’s attempt at a record flight officially supervised and recorded by the FAI and its American representative, the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). It served as the impetus for establishing a separate
category for women.
Front page newspaper headlines featured the latest news and images of the current conquest by an aviatrix. Columnist Thrawn Mountain wrote the following for the New York Evening Graphic Magazine on July 12, 1930. “Over burning deserts, through the fiercest storms, wherever there is danger or the promise of a thrill you will find the woman of today. Soaring high against the blue in a frail ship of the air, looping the loop at great risk of death, at hard tasks that once were strictly marked ‘for men only,’ in all fields of sports – there is no field too dangerous for her to enter. Men have grudgingly given ground. One by one the precincts that were theirs and theirs alone have been invaded by the modern woman.” The column was titled “Thrills Other Than Those of Love Lure Modern Girls to Daring Deeds.”
Of the approximately 200 licensed women pilots in the United States in 1930, there were a small number who possessed exceptional flying skills and set notable records. Included in this group were Ruth Nichols, Gladys O’Donnell, Phoebe Omlie, Laura Ingalls, and Pancho Barnes. None received the notoriety awarded Amelia Earhart. She was elevated to the status of an American icon following her 1928 transatlantic flight in the Friendship and was the most sought-after celebrity to endorse products. This, in turn, provided her with multiple sponsors to finance her flying. It was left up to the other women pilots to find their own funding. Some found companies willing to trade oil and gas for the placement of their company logo on the pilot’s airplane. Pancho Barnes displayed Union Oil on her Travel Air Model R. Sponsorship was also found by being fortunate enough to get a job test flying aircraft. Elinor Smith was well-connected with Bellanca Aircraft. But, as Ruth Nichols said, “Records are made to be broken, and I only wish that more girls could get good ships and keep setting new marks all the time.”
Juanita Eloise Burns, endowed with striking auburn hair and an abundance of energy and charm, was among those determined to set some type of flying record and made a valiant effort for several years. Her story is one filled with lofty ambitions, but not always as a record-setting pilot. She was born November 11, 1913, in Los Angeles as Juanita Eloise Rogers. According to ancestry searches, she often used the family name of McDaniel, perhaps that of a stepfather.
Juanita and her sister, Thelma, became involved in rum-running while living in El Paso, Texas. Newspapers claim that they were directly responsible for smashing two liquor smuggling rings while working as customs service operatives in 1927. Purportedly, at the ages of 14 and 10, they helped federal agents locate and seize a Waco aircraft used for rum-running and furnished the information that led to the arrest and deportation of two liquor barons. Their Waco was found in Roswell, New Mexico,. . .
Juanita Burns with Buhl Bull Pup
1950 Blue Angels and Seven Signatures on a Postal Cover
The Covid-19 pandemic forced many of us to address long deferred home projects, and I fall into that category. I decided to organize my Postal Flight Cover collection and to my surprise I came across a cover containing seven signatures under the heading “USN Blue Angels Panther Jets.” There is no flight involved so therefore it is probably classified as a “Commemorative Cover” for the specific cachet or even the historical military signatures affixed. I have no idea how, where or when I obtained it. The cover is date stamped January 15, 1950, in Miami with an official cachet promoting the 18th Miami American Air Maneuvers on January 13-15. The event was sponsored by The Miami Chamber of Commerce, Leading Air Gateway of the Americas. The seven signatories are as follows: Lt. Comdr. Johnny J. Magda, R.E. “Dusty” Rhodes, A.R. “Hawk” Hawkins, J.H. “Jake” Robcke, R.L. “Bob” Longworth, G.W. “George” Hoskins and E.F. “Fritz” Roth. I suspected these seven signatures could represent members of the Blue Angels 1950 Flight Exhibition Team, obviously additional research was required.
I started my research with the first clue on the top left hand corner of the cover “USN Blue Angels Panther Jets” and this lead me to the history and development of the Blue Angels website,www.blueangels.navy.mil/history that states:
Following the end of WWII, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Chester W. Nimitz ordered the formation of a flight exhibition team to keep the public interested in naval aviation, to boost navy morale, and demonstrate naval air power.
The Navy Flight Exhibition Team was established on April 24, 1946 - 2021 will mark their 75th anniversary. In a short three months the Navy Flight Exhibition Team performed its first flight demonstration June 15, 1946, at their home base Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida. Lt. Comdr. Roy “Butch” Voris led the team and flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, transitioning to the Grumman F8F-1 in August 1946. The Navy Flight Demonstration Team was not a very catchy name so the Navy held a competition and the name Blue Lancers was suggested. The team was not very excited about this name.
When planning for a show in New York, Right Wing Pilot Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll came across an advertisement for the Blue Angel nightclub in the New Yorker Magazine in a column called, “Goings on about Town.” He showed it to Commander Voris. Voris said “that sounds great, the Blue Angels, Navy, Blue, and Flying.” The team was later identified in the press as the Blue Angels following a show in Omaha, Neb., July 1946.
The Blue Angel nightclub was located on 55th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues and closed on May 25, 1964, after operating for 21 years. One comic told his audience there, “The Blue Angel is indestructible. It will be here long after most of us don’t care.” Yet at 3:00 A.M., that night with word around that the club was bankrupt and that this was the last show, there were undeniable signs of sentimentality – people did care.
The new Navy Flight Exhibition Team was only the second formal flying demonstration team to have been created in the world, since the Patrouille De France formed in 1931.
In August 1949 the Blue Angels transitioned from propeller driven aircraft F8F-1 Bearcat to perform their first demonstration with blue and gold jet aircraft the Grumman F9F-2B.
In 1950 the Blue Angels continued to perform nationwide and on June 25, the Korean War started, all Blue Angels both officers and enlisted men volunteered for combat duty. On July 20, 1950, the Blue Angels flew their Panther planes on the east coast for the last time in Jacksonville, Fla., because of the . . .
Philatelic cover with Blue Angels' signatures
The First of the Many
During 2020, the commemoration of a major milestone in the history of the Stearman Aircraft Company of Wichita, Kan., was observed. That occasion was the first flight of the first production Stearman Model 75, PT-13, U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) serial number (s/n) AC-36-2, Stearman construction number (c/n) 75001. It has been 85 years since that flight occurred and it initiated the first major U.S. Army Air Corps contract for the Stearman Aircraft Company. It began the full scale production of perhaps the most significant WWII primary trainer aircraft obtained by the USAAC and later the U.S. Navy as well as several other allied countries.
The long quest by the Stearman Aircraft Co. to obtain a contract for production of a primary trainer for the U.S. military establishment began in 1930. Lloyd Stearman designed a small, utilitarian biplane designated as the Model 6 Cloudboy that was powered by the 165-hp Wright R-540 engine. In 1930 the U.S. Army Air Corps conducted a competition to replace the obsolescent Consolidated PT-3 that had served as the Army’s main primary trainer since the 1920s.
The Stearman Aircraft Co. submitted its first Model 6 Cloudboy, c/n 6001, civil registration NC786H, for evaluation by the USAAC. The USAAC designated it as the XPT-912. After the evaluation flights were completed it was returned to Wichita and a second Model 6A, c/n 6002, NC787H, was constructed that incorporated modifications as ordered by the Army. In December, 1930, the Stearman Aircraft Co. received a contract from the USAAC to build four Model 6 aircraft, now designated as the YPT-9, for service testing. The first of these four aircraft was delivered to the USAAC on March 2, 1931.
Eventually, the USAAC rejected the YPT-9 as its new primary trainer, as well as designs by some other aircraft companies. Instead it selected the Consolidated YPT-11. Although the Stearman Aircraft Co. was unsuccessful in securing its first Army contract at that time, it did gain valuable experience in dealing with the U.S. military services. The Stearman Aircraft Co. built six more Model 6 Cloudboy aircraft that were sold on the civilian market, which brought the total number of the Model 6 Cloudboys built to 10.
The next attempt by the Stearman Aircraft Co. to develop a primary trainer aircraft that might satisfy U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Navy requirements began in late 1933. It was a completely new design and was a totally in-house project without any federal funding. Stearman engineers, Harold Zipp, Jack Clark and Chief Engineer Mac Short took a rudimentary sketch of a modified Model 6 Cloudboy that Lloyd Stearman had made in 1931 and upgraded it into what eventually became the Stearman Model 70, c/n 70001, NC571Y.
The Model 70 was tested by the USAAC, which designated it as the XPT-943. It was also tested by the U.S. Navy. The military pilots were satisfied with its basic flight characteristics and handling qualities, but their opinion was that its stall was too gentle and its spin recovery too unpredictable for its use as a primary trainer.
No orders for production of the Model 70 by either the Army or Navy followed. However, the U.S. Navy later did express an interest in the design and requested that the Stearman Aircraft Co. provide a proposal for a new trainer based upon the Model 70, but built to Navy specifications. The resulting airplane was the Stearman Model 73, designated as the NS-1 by the U.S. Navy. Between 1934 and 1936 the U.S. Navy ordered 63 Model 73, NS-1 trainers. That order consisted of 41 actual airplanes plus enough spare parts to build an additional 20 airplanes.
This was the first contract to produce a primary trainer for a branch of the U.S. military establishment that the Stearman Aircraft Co. received and it served to whet their appetite for more. The NS-1 trainers went on to serve the U.S. Navy faithfully for several years and were stepping stones for the. . .
Stearman PT-13, 36-2, c/n 75001
The Lost Aircraft of Salton Sea Lake
On the afternoon of Christmas Day 1998, a Piper P-28 Cherokee carrying two occupants went down into the northern end of Salton Sea.[1a] During a search mission for the Cherokee three weeks later, divers from the sheriff’s offices of Imperial County and Riverside County — joined by Navy divers — probed a northern section of the lake for the lost aircraft via sonar. After locating a probable site, Erwin Frederick, a Riverside County Sheriff’s diver, submerged to confirm the discovery of the wreckage. However, he did not find the Cherokee; instead, he discovered a TBM-3E Avenger, which went down December 30, 1947, during a navigation training flight.[3,T] Mr. Frederick, reflecting on this series of dives in the 2020 documentary Secrets of Salton Sea, remarked, “I came across, probably, eight more plane wrecks down there - some still containing bodies.”4 The Cherokee remains unrecovered to this day.
Salton Sea, California’s largest inland body of water, is a 15 by 35-mile6a mistake of agriculture. In 1900, a serpentine canal system was engineered to redirect water from the Colorado River to provide irrigation for the Imperial Valley, which lies roughly 45 miles west of the river’s nearest bank.[6b,7] In 1905, the Colorado River flooded, overwhelming its levees, and in turn breaching the canal head gates, sending the overflow toward the Salton Sink, an endorheic basin in Southern California’s Colorado Desert. By the time all of the breaches were adequately staunched in 1907, the diverted water lies 235 feet below sea level in the remnant of the extinct Lake Cahuilla, forming what is now called Salton Sea.6c This artificial lake currently defines a 95-mile shoreline encapsulating a
343-square mile surface area and has an average depth of
29 feet, descending to a maximum depth of 51 feet.[6a, 6d]
The lake has an outsized aviation history when balanced against its relatively young age, particularly military aviation: The Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Army Air Force all participated in training at Salton Sea. The Navy was using Salton Sea’s northeastern shore as a seaplane training and emergency landing site by 1939. As military use of the lake increased, planning began to construct a more appropriate operational area on its southwest shore at Sandy Beach. The Navy eventually commissioned a Naval Air Facility (NAF) there in late 1942, which consisted of a seaplane ramp, a 2,100-foot parking apron, a control tower, and buildings to accommodate officers and enlisted men.[9,5] Earlier in 1942, just south of the eventual NAF site, Paramount Pictures had built a . . .
Grumman TBF at Salton Sea Navy base
The Bell P-39 Airacobra and the “Iron Dog” Ace
When the U.S. went to war in 1941, it was seriously lacking in numbers and quality of fighter aircraft. The USAAF took the Bell P-39 Airacobra to the South Pacific because that’s what it had, along with the similarly performing Curtiss P-40 to fly against the Japanese Zeke and others. The P-39 was to fight a mission it was not designed for. But Americans being great improvisers used it well until something better came to the harsh and remote tropics, while the U.S. focused on a “Europe First” strategy. Obscure heroes were produced in an unheard of hellhole over 6,000 miles from home. This story is about one of those heroes and the aircraft he flew.
The P-39, often referred to as the “Iron Dog,” was a much maligned USAAF WWII fighter, so much so that it is not included in the U.S. Air Force Academy’s “Fighter Memorial”. However, aces Chuck Yeager, Buzz Wagner and others liked flying it in spite of rumors of it “tumbling end over end.” The Allison engine mounted close to the center of gravity probably made the P-39 easy to accomplish this impressive feat. However, Bell and USAAF test pilots tried to replicate this maneuver but reports indicate it could not be done. Many USAAF fighter pilots flew the P-39 during their advanced training, but once transitioned into a P-51 Mustang or P-47 Thunderbolt appreciated the finer fighting qualities of these aircraft.
Some say the P-39 design looked better than it flew. It had good lines with a racy stance on its tricycle landing gear and huge cannon protruding from its prop spinner. With the cockpit forward of the engine, almost even with the wing leading edge, there was good visibility even with the gun sight and canopy framing. The P-39s limiting factor was the early decision in its development for a single stage supercharger, hoping a higher performance Allison engine would be developed, but never was. A turbo-supercharger was tried at one point early in its development, but was never satisfactory. It was destined to fight below 15,000 feet, which contrary to most historians, it actually did well.
Servicing the mid-mounted engine was straight forward with multiple access panels and the Allison engine could be changed quickly, which was a good thing as it did not have the reliability of its V-12 counterpart, the Rolls Royce Merlin.
Bore sighting was a challenge to ground crews with a mixture of a 37mm cannon, two .50 cal. and four .30 cal., all having different trajectories.
Many P-39 pilots describe the 37mm rounds quickly dropping away from the .30 and .50 trajectories, but they were effective at strafing barges and other vessels.
Many South Pacific P-39 squadrons replaced the 37mm with the excellent Hispano 20mm from wrecked P-400s (P-39 variant built for the British who rejected it) as the larger gun tended to jam after 2 or 3 rounds. It was determined this was caused by the use of the wrong lubricating oil, a common . . .
Bell P-39 Airacobra
Forum of Flight
The FORUM is presented as an opportunity for each
member to participate in the Journal by submitting interesting or
unusual photographs. 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.
United Arab Emirates Boeing 747SP-31
News & Comments from our Members
What Happened to the Wright Brothers After 1903 and 1908? by F. E. C. Culick, Vol 66, No. 1 Spring 2021.
We had a number of members’ comments regarding this article with several noting that we probably could have picked a more appropriate title. The following are among a sampling of those comments received.
Thank you for publishing the important and informative article “What Happened to the Wright Brothers After 1903 and 1908?” by F.E.C. Culick. Rather long, but the detail was necessary. I might have preferred a different title, since the events after 1903 and 1908 are covered only in the last four pages, but no matter.
The important point is that Mr. Culick has done his homework. I particularly relate to his findings since they are consistent with my own, as covered in my just-published novel A Romance of Flight (Mountain Arbor Press, 2021). Wilbur was indeed the primary developer of powered, controlled flight. I may have presented the case in a fictional context, but my account is consistent with that of Culick. Orville obviously wanted equal recognition with his older brother, (see How We Invented the Airplane, originally published 1953, from Orville’s text of 1920), but the documentation provided by Culick clearly establishes the dominant role of Wilbur.
Again, a significant contribution to aviation history.
Donald Pattillo #20121
The AAHS Journal has a duty, I believe, to serve as a platform from whence “revisionist” history can be nominated but I, for one, found this one most disturbing. Wilbur, in his correspondence, almost inevitably used the terms “we” and “our” in describing their work, and the notion that any such a partnership must rise to the level of absolute “equality” is unreasonable.
Since he was cited by Dr. Culick, we reached out to Dr. Tom Crouch (The Bishop’s Boys) for comment. After reviewing the article, the feedback he provided stated, that he agrees Wilbur was clearly the one moving things forward before the first trip to Kitty Hawk in 1900. Beyond 1900, Dr. Crouch indicated that he doesn’t concur with Dr. Culick’s conclusions saying that there are numerous points for which counter arguments could be cited. He stated one of the strongest arguments against Orville being strictly a follower is that Wilbur insisted that his brother write the first long account of their work, “The Wright Brothers’ Aeroplane,” that was published in Century Magazine, September 1908, p. 641-650.
Dr. Crouch also referenced a quote by Grover Loening, who remarked that, “Glenn Curtiss was a great mechanic and Orville Wright was a great engineer.”
While I found Dr. Culick’s analysis interesting and thought provoking, I think in the end we are left with no clear proof regarding his postulations about the Wright brothers. It seems to me that it is probably a case of where neither could have achieved success by themselves. What may be more likely is that Wilbur was the aerodynamacist or designer while Orville was the engineer that was able to translate concepts and ideas into practical implementations. To say one or the other was the “brains behind the operation” would be disingenuous because neither could have created the Wright Flyer alone.
I think their father stated this most succinctly. “Neither could have mastered the problem alone. As inseparable as twins, they are indispensable to each other.” (Bishop Milton Wright, January 16, 1904).
To support this point, one can look at the role that Orville played with the Dayton Wright Airplane company from 1917 to 1923. One of his last efforts in the early 1920s was the Dayton Wright OW-1 (Orville Wright 1). This four-place single-engine aircraft established a number of world records and, in essence, formed the basis of the design of most general aviation aircraft that have followed. And this was an effort made long after Wilbur’s passing.
AAHS Managing Editor
Superfortresses for the RAF, The Boeing B-29 Washington in U.K. Service, by Tony Fairbairn, Vol. 66, No. 1, Spring 2021.
In this article the author mentions that, “…while WW349 was still in the U.K. being prepared for despatch at the Vickers aircraft company at Wisley, Surrey, it was struck by a taxiing Vickers Valiant and so badly damaged that it was written off.” Member Michael West has provided a photo of the damaged aircraft (obvious why it was written off) along with an excerpt of the accident report as follows:
On Wednesday 20 April, 1955, the daily inspection for flight on Valiant WP216 was carried out. The aircraft was granted a Form 1090 Serial No. 57725 at 09.40 hours.
After all signatures had been obtained from Mr. C. Allen, 1st Pilot, a normal pre-flight check was carried out by crew and aircraft taxied to west end of runway and lined up for takeoff. Pilot then taxied aircraft down . . .
As of this writing, EAA’s newly imagined, post-COVID 2021 AIRVENTURE begins in just hours, with record numbers of pre-sold tickets and aircraft inbound for the event. With much of the world’s aviation enthusiasts in one place, it makes sense that AAHS should make plans to attend as well. We had decided a few months ago that AAHS would not attempt to attend Oshkosh in 2021, as we did not have the resources to plan and implement such a trip with other critical projects consuming our time.
We intend, however, to start planning now for the airshow season next year, and make AAHS a regular presence at a few key airshows around the country. Many AAHS members are already regulars at airshows and other aviation events, photographing aircraft, displaying aircraft, or participating in some way. Having an AAHS booth would give us the chance to meet AAHS members and share our passion with others who may not be aware of our organization.
Would you be interested in attending an aviation event representing AAHS? Would you enjoy meeting potential new members and sharing a story or two about your own aviation passion? Or maybe get a press pass and develop a write up (with photos) of an aviation event that includes an AAHS booth?
We have already begun to create the advertising materials and display items that would tell the AAHS story at an airshow. We have priced out booth space for various airshows, and the costs to ship materials to a venue. We also have discussed how best to staff booths at these aviation events.
Start your planning now if you’d like to be part of the 2022 AAHS AirVenture team! We are organizing housing and travel plans for those who will dedicate a couple of days supporting the AAHS booth. We would like to hear if you plan to attend EAA Airventure 2022 and could give a couple hours of volunteer time during your visit to Oshkosh.
Everyone is looking forward to getting back out to enjoying the sounds and smells of aircraft engines, the sight of history and innovation in the air. The AAHS wants to get out there, too. With a little planning and support from our members, we’ll be out there together!
In the News | Book Reviews | Links | Store
| Members Only | Membership | About AAHS | Contact Us | Site Map
Copyright © 2002-2021 American Aviation Historical Society