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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 49, No. 1 - Spring 2004
Table of Contents 

Flying Aircraft Carriers of the USAF: Project FICON Section 3: Thunderflash


Ten RB-36Ds were modified to serve as FICON GRB- 36D-1II carrier airplanes. The airplanes assigned to the FICON project included 44-92090, 44-92092, 44-92094,49-2687,49-2692,49-2694,49-2695,49-2696,49- 2701 and 49-2702. Their original production cost had been a little over $4,000,000 apiece.
      The first three production FICON carriers were originally ordered as part of a production batch of thirty-four B-36C-I- CF bombers in August 1944. The B-36Cs were assigned Air Force serial numbers 44-92065 through 44-92098.
     The B-36C model was to have been equipped with P&W R- 4360-51 Variable Discharge Turbine (VDT) radial engines. The exhaust of the R-4360-51 VDT engine was routed through a General Electric CHM-2 turbo-supercharger with a clamshell nozzle. The clamshell nozzle served to constrict the exhaust gasses into a jet that produced additional thrust. Convair experienced difficulty in adapting the VDT engine to the B-36. The B-36C program was cancelled in the summer of 1948. Convair was directed to complete the 34 B-36Cs on contract as B-36Bs.
     Only the first 23 airplanes on the contract were actually completed as B-36Bs. Jet engine pods were added to the subsequent airframes while they were still under construction. The next seven, 44-92088 through 44-92094, were completed as the first batch of RB-36D reconnaissance-bombers and the last four, 44- 92095 through 44-92098, were completed as B-36D bombers.
     The first three FICON carrier airplanes were delivered to the Air Force as RB-36D-l-CFs in 1950. 44-92092 was the first to be delivered in June 1950. It was assigned to the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance (Heavy) Wing at Rapid City Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota. 44-92094 was delivered to the 28th SR(H)W in July 1950.
      RB-36D-I-CF 44-92090 remained at Convair's plant in Fort Worth to serve as a contractor's demonstrator airplane. It was not delivered to the Air Force until October 1950. On January 14, 1951, a Convair crew took off from Fort Worth in 44-92090 at 9:05 A.M. to make the longest flight ever made by any B-36. 51 hours and 30 minutes later they landed at 12:35 P.M. on January 16.44-92090 was assigned to the 5th SR(H)W 
 . . . . .

Life at the 1949 National Air Races with the Christensen Goodyear Midget "Zipper" 

      I had the good fortune as an aeronautical engineering student to attend the 1949 National Air Races at Cleveland. A fellow aero student knew Harvey Christensen who was taking a midget racer to the races and we, plus a 3rd mechanical engineering student friend, went along as "ground crew" so we could have free and full access to the race and all the "inside" events before, during, and after the race. For an aero engineering student, this was like "dying and going to heaven."
     Christensen designed and built Zipper. He was impressed with Steve Wittman's Buster and Bonzo midgets and patterned his aircraft after them. It was well designed and well built. It had a steel tube fuselage shaped out with bulkheads and was fabric covered, as was the tail assembly. The wing had two wood spars, wood ribs, a plywood leading edge, and was fabric covered. The ailerons were fabric covered steel tube assemblies. The landing gear was a Cessna-type spring steel assembly. It was powered by a stock Continental C-85 engine to fit the 190 cu. in. midget rules and had a polished fixed blade metal prop with the backsides painted flat black.
     Zipper was licensed N57l3N, had racing number 59, and was painted all yellow. A local Minneapolis drive-in, Rich.,O Root Beer, was a sponsor with their logo painted on both sides of the fuselage.
     After Christensen arrived and we got settled into our hangar space, we looked around to see what the midget "pros" were doing. We got some wide masking tape and taped all non-functional openings to minimize parasite drag. We cleaned Zipper and polished it to a high gloss.
     As Christensen was inspecting the engine and tuning it up, a representative from B&G Sparkplug stopped by to look . . . . .

Flight Training and American Aviation Pioneers

      The pioneering spirit in aviation is fundamentally different from the one found in most other forms of endeavor. There is something about the very term "aviation" that adds dash and danger and romance to the pioneering concept. We do not confuse, for example, the aviation with the software pioneer. When computer whiz Bill Gates crashed at Harvard University in 1974, he went for a brew; when aviatrix Harriet Quimby crashed at Boston in 1912, she went to the morgue. 
     Indeed, the dangers inherent in early flight produce a key ingredient in how we define aviation pioneers, at least those we identify before 1912: they generally taught themselves how to fly. From this fact emerges the obvious. Many pioneers endured accidents and experienced bodily harm.
     Amply recorded by contemporaries and later historians was the prize-winning, fame-producing, pioneering flight by French aviator Louis Bleriot. He flew across the English Channel in July 1909. Fewer remember that just five months later he suffered his thirty-second airplane crash, this one near Constantinople (now, Istanbul). The accident was so serious and injured Bleriot so severely that it all but ended his flying career.
     Russian pioneer Igor Sikorsky also experienced numerous accidents when he taught himself how to fly. Maddeningly, from Sikorsky’s perspective, most of his "unexpected" landings were due to engine failure. After he enjoyed public and governmental acclaim for his Model 6 and acquired the financial backing of a large company, Sikorsky built The Grand in 1913. He designed the four-engined behemoth so its pesky powerplants could be serviced in flight.
   The prize for dogged determination in learning flight must go to the American, Clyde Cessna. After he purchased a U.S. copy of Bleriot’s Model XI early in 1911, he packed his family and moved to Oklahoma's Great Salt Plains where he taught himself how to fly. Cessna succeeded, but only after six months of innumerable teeth-rattling crashes that made him a world class expert on repairing airplanes.
     Like many pioneers, Cessna, Sikorsky, and Bleriot initially attracted attention precisely because they had taught themselves how to fly and had become expert pilots. Indeed, all three gained publicity by their exhibition or distance flights. Their fame, however, was sustained and broadened by the fact that they also designed, built, and sold airplanes to the public and/or military.
     As entrepreneurs and salesmen, they had every reason to convert the act of flying from a death-defying stunt to a reasonably safe activity that would appeal to their future customers. Thus many pioneers, especially those who built and sold aircraft, involved themselves in flight training. And this characteristic was equally true of America's . . . .

The Known North American O-47 Aircraft Assigned to the Pre-World War II National Guard Squadrons

     Included in Volume V, No.1, Journal of the AAHS, is an article National Guard Aviation - 1940-1941. This article included a listing of the different types and quantities of aircraft assigned to the then existing National Guard squadrons prior to being federally activated for training before we were formally invited to participate in WW II by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
     For all current Air National Guard Historians and anyone else interested, here is a listing of the assignments of the 0-47 s built for the Guard, although all may not have been so assigned at the same time. In fact, some of the aircraft were shifted around and are so noted.

Aircraft Photos by Emil Strasser, Part VI: The '30s, '40s and 1957

      Lets take another trip back in time to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. We hope these photographs will bring back pleasant memories of aircraft fro time gone by.

The only engine engine version of the Ford Tri-motor was this model 8-AT freight hauler, NC8499. The aircraft was flown with six different engines. The original engine was a Pratt and Whitney Hornet A, geared 2:1, when it was first flown on July 7, 1929. A P&W Hornet B geared 3:2 was also tried. The next engine installed was a Bliss Jupiter model 9000 of 535 hp (a British engine built under license in the US.). On January 30, 1931, a 575 hp Wright Cyclone was installed. On April 7, 1931 this was changed to a Hispano Suiza model 12NB in-line engine of 650 hp. At some subsequent time the plane was remodeled, cabin doors installed and certified under Group 2, Letter of Approval 2485 dated August 16, 1934 with 700 hp Wright Cyclone GR-1820-F1 engine. At this time is was licensed to carry 11 passengers and a crew of 2 (12,500 lbs.). This photo was taken on May 31, 1938 at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, CA. The plane had been sold to the Sanabria Mines Ltd., Guapi, Columbia earlier in 1938 and was probably in transit when this photo was made.

 A Tale of Two P-51s Named Joan

     This is the story of two obscure P-51 type aircraft, among the hundreds of colorful fighters of the old 8th Air Force of World War II. Both aircraft scored victories over the Luftwaffe, one was part of the 8th Air Force’s historic first bombing raid on Berlin, one flew a shuttle mission to Russia, and one was flown by an eight victory ace.
     The author was a ground crew member on both of these machines, and for many years thought he knew the correct sequence of events that befell the two P-51s. Almost 50 years later, however, with new information and re-analysis of the memory bank and available photos, he discovered he had been wrong on many aspects of the story. Hopefully the following is the correct story of these two obscure P-51s.
     When the 357th Fighter Group formed at Hamilton Field, California, late in 1942, and got its first airplanes early in 1943, this writer was assigned as Assistant Crew Chief,  with SSgt. Ray Morrison as crew chief. Crew Chief slots were usually given to the "older" men in their 20s, while the kids, not yet 20, were made Assistant crew chiefs. Morrison and I worked together as a team from Hamilton Field days, until the end of the war, first on P-39s, then on P.51s. Only a handful of the maintenance men were old line army NCOs, the rest of us were fresh out of Air Force mechanics school, the same being true among the newly arriving pilots.
     Following is the story of the first two P-51s assigned to us upon our arrival at 8th Air Force station F-373, near the town of Leiston, in the eastern bulge of England, as memory and a few photos recalled it. These first two P-51s were B or C models (essentially the same thing). Although the author took several photos of this aircraft, none showed the tail . . . . .

The Waco Model F

     The Waco Aircraft Company. introduced their new Model F Sport plane in August of 1930. The stock market crash of October 1929, was less than a year before and the U.S. economy was falling into the Great Depression that would last until December 7,1941.
     The General Airplanes Company of Buffalo, New York would be an early victim of the spreading economic collapse. It has been said that "it is an ill wind that blows no good." The Chief Engineer at General Airplanes was A. Francis Arcier. He joined Waco on May 1, 1930 after the dissolution of General Airplanes. Arcier had many years of experience and would bring to Waco an exceptional talent for aircraft design. Arcier would be Waco's Chief Engineer through all the beautiful designs of the 1930s, WORLD WAR II production and resigned only after Waco got. out of the aircraft business after World War II .
     Arcier's first challenge at Waco was the new Model F. Economic conditions made it clear that the new design would need to offer an airplane of good performance with nominal horsepower that was affordable. An intelligent rethinking of old concepts was necessary.
     The old tried-and-true Curtiss OX-5, OX-66, the Hispano-Suiza 150 and 180 hp water cooled engines and their need for a radiator hanging in the slip stream were on the way out.. 1930 was the last year Waco offered the Hisso engines. The Curtiss engines were still equipping the Waco GXE aircraft that were sold in the early 1930s.
     Aircraft engine technology had advanced and made available small air cooled radial engines in the 100 hp range. These engines such as . . . .  

General Eisenhower's Modified B-25J Used During World War II

     When the North American B-25 Mitchell, twin-engine, medium bomber is mentioned in conjunction with World War II events, the first American air raid on Japan, after Pearl Harbor, first comes to the main conversation. On 18 April 1942, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle in a B-25 took-off from the rolling and pitching deck of the aircraft USS Hornet, leading fifteen other B-25s in a surprise bombing raid against the Japanese home islands, Tokyo and surrounding cities. The B- 25 was a versatile aircraft. One B-25J, during WW II, was converted to a Very Important Person (VIP) transport and is currently on display at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, outside the main gate to Ellsworth Air Force Base.
     The B-25 airframe was selected for modification into a VIP transport. North American Aircraft took out of military service, aircraft serial number 40-2165 to determine what modifications had to be made and the extent of those alterations. The B- 25 was flown to North American's production plant located at Kansas City, Kansas. North American engineers designed and made the following changes to the Mitchell's structure and configuration:

1. All non-essential military equipment was removed from the aircraft, including armor plate, guns, crew items and bombing related items.
2. Five over-stuffed passenger chairs were installed in the aft, now designated, passenger compartment.
3. A drop-leaf desk installed across the width of the passenger compartment at the rear of the compartment.
4. An intercom was installed, allowing communications between the passenger compartment and the pilots' cockpit.
5. The nose was flared over.
6. Windows installed in the passenger compartment for natural light and view out the . . . .