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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 48, No. 3 - Fall 2003
Table of Contents 

Gee Whiz! How Col John Paul Stapp Set the Land Speed Record, Discovered Murphy's Law, and Might have Saved your Life.

     On the evening of December 9, 1954, Lt. Colonel John Paul Stapp made it a point to watch the sun set. It was, like the end of most New Mexico days, spectacular. The drab desert landscape transformed suddenly into a deep crimson vista, then yielded slowly, inevitably, to darkness. Stapp observed the fading of the light to the end. It very well could be, he thought, the last sunset he would ever see.
     The next morning, Stapp arrived at Holloman Air Force Base bright and early, and walked out to meet his fate. There, surrounded by a team of technicians from Northrop and observers from the USAF Aero Medical Lab at Wright Field, sat a custom-made torture device called the "Sonic Wind." It wasn't much to look at: a rectangular, box-like sled about fifteen feet long, with a base perhaps eighteen inches high. It was equipped with a couple cameras, each pointed ominously towards a single, exposed, forward-facing aircraft seat. At the rear, a steel gantry protruded that was all business. In it were held nine large white rocket bottles, capable of producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
     Beneath the sled sat two steel rails, set in concrete and precisely aligned seven feet apart and running 3,500 feet. The last part of the track was filled with water. If all went according to plan, the "Sonic Wind" and Lt. Col. Stapp - who by now had donned a blue flight suit, leather gloves, and a fiberglass crash helmet - would be traveling somewhere in the vicinity of 600 miles per hour when they hit the water. At-that velocity, Stapp would easily set a new land speed record. But, surprisingly, speed wasn't the point of this test. G-forces, and a human being's ability to with . . . . .

Gee Whiz! rocket sled with 
Paul Stapp in the seat

"Sky Gypsies" The Transocean Airline Story

     I suppose one could compare Orvis Nelson, the Founder and President of Transocean Air Lines (TAL) in some ways to Gen. Curtis LeMay, the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1948-1957. Whereas LeMay had a strategic strike force of bombers to reach anywhere in the world (B-36's, B-47's and B-52's), Nelson had a global airline fleet of (DC-3's, DC-4's, DC-6's, Stratocruisers and Super "Connies") that covered the globe in the 1940s to 1960 and ready to go at anytime, in any direction.
     Both men possessed the ability to command respect and loyalty from the people who worked under their leadership.
     TAL crews were often referred to as barnstormers for they never knew where they would be going next. They could be in 80 degrees one day in California, and be in unbearable heat of 130 degrees in the Middle East the next day, then end up in Alaska with temps. 50 below zero. They were truly a band of mavericks.
     Orvis Nelson was born and raised in Minnesota. His interest in aviation came about with Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic. This sparked his imagination for the adventure of flight. Also, the fact that the Lindbergh family and the Nelson family were acquaintances, didn't hurt either. Finally, this thirst for flight led him to enter the Army Air Corps in 1933.
Orvis was a Captain with UAL in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and WW II commenced. Under a contract . . . . . . 

Boeing Model 226, NC233M, a revised Model 80A airliner

"Vertical Envelopment!" A story about "Operation Varsity" based on the eyewitness account of Lt. Col. Robert E. Thomas, USAFR (ret.)

     Ever heard of the term "vertical envelopment"? Maybe. Know what it means? No. Well, neither did twenty-year old Army Air Forces Second Lieutenant Robert E. Thomas, a native of Anderson, Indiana, when informed to expect immediate transfer to another air base for combat training of an unspecified nature. Neither the location of the base nor the makeup of the new unit was revealed to him, but he was told that an overseas combat assignment would follow shortly. After departing his duty station and spending two miserable days aboard a crowded troop train, Thomas, with another group of pilots, arrived at South Plains Army Air Field in Lubbock, Texas. There, they were confronted with a sight that turned their blood to ice water: an airfield inhabited by huge numbers of box-like Waco CG-4 troop Gliders! And the sandy-haired, boyish-looking pilot learned for the first time what "vertical envelopment" meant: Landing an attack force behind enemy lines by airborne means, which included not only paratroops but large assault gliders carrying artillery, heavy weapons, munitions, supplies, and other troops onto the battlefield.
     Like so many American boys who grew up in the Depression-wracked 1930s, Bob Thomas dreamed of one day becoming a pilot. Out of this ambition, he built model planes from IO-cent balsa wood kits, read Flying Aces, Popular Aviation, and the G-8 pulp stories, and was enthralled by movies like Dawn Patrol, Ceiling Zero, and I Wanted Wings. His first plane ride occurred at age 12, a 10-minute excursion in a surplus Curtiss Condor airliner biplane, which happened . . . . .

C-47 making a glider pickup

A Man and His Dream, Part 1: The Beginning

     Many dream of finding a treasure, Tony Mazzolini's dream was of finding and recovering a WWII, B-29 Boeing Super-fortress. After 12 years of grinding research, Tony found what he was looking for, and then the struggle to obtain this aircraft started. The aircraft is probably the last known B-29 airframe in the world that is capable of being restored to an air worthy condition.
     Back in March 1945, the Wichita built Boeing B-29-70-BW Super-fortress, was delivered and accepted by the U.S. Army Air force, and assigned serial number 44-69972. In late March 1945, the Super-fortress was sent to a modification center at Birmingham, Alabama. Records indicate that on April 16,1945 the B-29 was sent to Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Later that same month it was transferred to the Air Force Ferry Command at Cincinnati, Ohio. After this entry there was then a seven-month gap in the aircraft's records and it is thought the aircraft was being operated overseas, but no records to substantiate this has been found.
     On November 11, 1945, the aircraft was sent to Peyote Field, Texas, for storage with the 4141st Base Unit. In October 1950, the aircraft was transferred to the 2753rd Aircraft Storage Squadron (Air Material Command).
     After this rest, the Air Force found a need for the B-29 and it was brought out of storage and sent to Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, for additional modifications and was designated a TB-29. In July 1951, it was assigned to the 7th Radar Calibration Squadron (Air Defense Command) at Griffiss, Air Force Base, Rome, New York. In November 1951, the TB-29 went to Robins, Air Force Base . . . . . .

Tony Mazzolini, CEO for the United States Aviation Museum & "DOC"

Martin's PBM Mariner 1937-1956

     The Martin PBM Mariner seaplane was deployed from 1940 to 1956 for a period of sixteen years. It was in production for twelve years. Few planes of that era had that length of production and fleet service. Glenn Martin had built his first plane at Santa Ana, California in 1909. Like the Wrights, he left bicycle and auto interests for the flying machine. He was in and out of a partnership with the Wright brothers. By 1917, he had an aircraft plant in Cleveland, Ohio. Martin was always innovative and fast from design to production. He built aircraft for the army and the navy and later added some commercial airline business. This diversity continued as long as his company produced aircraft, well into the fifties.
     In the early thirties his B-10 gave the USAAC their first long range enclosed cockpit bomber. In the middle thirties he answered Pan American's challenge for an aircraft that had the range to fly the vast Pacific. His answer for them was the ChinaClipper seaplane. Three of these were built; the China, Philippine and Hawaiian Clippers. They were outfitted for up to fifty-two passengers in luxury accommodations and had a range of 3,200 miles. Their four engines gave them a cruising speed of 150 m.p.h.
     Fresh from success with earlier twin-engine flying boats for the navy and the larger Clippers, the Martin team proposed their gull-winged model 162 (PBM) flying boat to the navy and included, for the first time, a three-eights scale man-carrying airplane to prove its air and water worthiness. The navy placed an order on June 30, 1937 for one prototype XPBM-1. This prototype was flown for the first time on February 18, 1939. By December an order was given for twenty production PBM-1's. These had retracting stabilizing wing floats. The . . . . . .

Martin XPBM-1 Mariner prototype

The Hagerstown Airport 

     The airport serving the Hagerstown, Maryland community and surrounding area is a story rich in aviation history. Along with other cities and towns, Hagerstown too had an interesting aviation infancy and era of early development.
     Today however, even most local residents never knew, or have forgotten, that the current airport location is actually the third site for a flying field at Hagerstown.
     A few months before the United States entered World War I, young Gieuseppe Mario Bellanca came to Hagerstown from Mineola, Long Island, New York. Bellanca went to work at the Pope Avenue plant of the Maryland Pressed Steel Company, which had large contracts to produce military equipment for the French, Russian and U.S. governments. Bellanca was developing a design for a single-seat scout plane.
     The aircraft, which Bellanca called his CD Tractor Biplane, was completed in September 1917- It had a wing span of 26 feet, was powered by a three-cylinder, air-cooled, 35-horse-power Anzani engine, weighed 400 pounds empty, and had a useful load of 375 pounds. It had a reported top speed of 85 miles per hour. Lateral control of the aircraft was achieved by warping the wing tips.
     Initial flight tests of the model CD were made from a farm field known as Doub's Meadow, about two blocks away from the . . . . .

Kreider-Reisner Shop, 1927

Aircraft Photos by Emil Strasser: Part V, Cleveland 1947

     In 1947, a new class of racing aircraft was established at the Cleveland, Ohio nation Air Races.  The aircraft in the new class were limited to 190 cu. in. engines, fixed pitch propellers and fixed landing gear and an empty weight limit of 500 lbs.  These small racers flew low over a 4-pylon, 15 lap, 2.2 mile course within easy sight of all.
     Emil Stasser attended both the 1947 and 1948 National Air Races and took many photos of the new class racer that was sponsored by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
     Tony Le Vier called himself "Fox of the Skyways" in those days just after WWII.  He bought a surplus Lockheed P-38L, put a fire truck red paint job on it, removed the superchargers and stabilizer tips and took second place in the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race at Cleveland.  Tony was practicing flying the P-38 at Vail Field in Montebello in October 1946 where Emil took these fine photos. 

Bill Falck modified Art Chester’s 
pre-war Jeep racer for 1947 races