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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 49, No. 4 - Winter 2004
Table of Contents 

The Navy’s Striking Eagles Squadron, Part I

     The Golden Age of American Naval Aviation in the post-World War I era saw the development of carrier-based aircraft first in the role of reconnaissance and spotting for the battle line and in defense of the air over the fleet. The grand maneuvers of the 1920s and 1930s, the fleet problems, changed the role of the aircraft carrier as a battle line component into an effective weapon whose planes carried the offensive, the air strike, into the heart of the enemy. Protecting the strike group was the carrier-based fighter. While its role initially had been to intercept oncoming enemy aircraft, a role always important, its ability to escort and cover the attack by carrier-based bombers and torpedo planes had become equally important.
     Helping develop the new naval air combat tactics was Fighting Three, VF-3S (S-Scouting Fleet), commissioned at Naval Air Station Hampton Roads on 4 July 1927 or 17 August 1927 (records conflict). LT George Cuddihy, a Schneider Cup champion flyer, as skipper trained his men in the three-plane section, six-plane division formations of the day in Curtiss F6C-4 biplane fighters. He prepared his men for service on board the great newly commissioned USS LEXINGTON (CV-2), a 36,000 ton, 32 knot, converted battle cruiser, with practice carrier landings and takeoffs on its broad, generous flight deck.
     Assigned with the ship to San Diego’s North Island Naval Air Station, the unit developed fighting tactics keeping the up sun advantage, as well as dive bombing . . . . . .

Boeing F3B-1, served with VF-3

Douglas B-23 Dragon

     The Douglas B-23 Dragon was developed as a twin-engine bomber, to replace the less capable Douglas B-18 Bolo. The B-18 was unable to match the performance of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, four-engine bomber. Douglas first attempted to upgrade the B-18 by replacing the aircraft’s two engines with more powerful 1,600 hp Wright 2600-3 radial engines. This retrofit did not impress the War Department. Douglas engineers took the B-18 airframe and decided to make more substantial alterations. They modified the fuselage with a more streamline design, supported by a large tail-fin and rudder, powered by two 1,600 hp Wright R-2600-3 radial engines which had been planned for the upgraded B-18 or XB-22, stronger wings which were available from the Douglas DC-3 commercial transport. The civilian Douglas DC-3 was modified into a military transport becoming the Douglas C-47 Dakota or Skytrain. The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), replaced by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, liked the Douglas design proposal for the new twin-engine bomber and ordered thirty-eight. This was a small production order, but kept the hopes alive that Douglas might earn a larger bomber contract.
     The USAAC issued a change order on the B-18 twin-engine contract with Douglas, under existing contract AC9977, changing the order from thirty-eight B-18s to thirty-eight B-23s. This disappointed Douglas in that it did not get an additional order. This was a clear implication the B-23 was not to be a combat aircraft, with only a limited production, as the War Department looked for a . . . . . . .

Vertical .30cal gun

Korean War First: VF-53 vs. the Soviet Fleet Air Arm 

     Early September 1950 was a time of transition between phases of the Korean War. Air Group 5 from USS Valley Forge (CV-45) had initiated USN carrier air combat operations in Korea, as the only available USN carrier in the Far East, with strikes against North Korea on 3 July in concert with HMS Triumph, partly aimed at neutralizing North Korean air power and resulting in the first jet victories in naval aviation history, by VF-51 F9F-3s against North Korean Yak-9Ps over Pyongyang’s main airfield. That first day also yielded a pair of inconclusive brushes with airborne Yaks for VF-53s F4U-4Bs, plus some opportunities to strafe grounded North Korean aircraft. The subsequent operations of CVG-5 soon settled into the alternating routine of periods on the line engaged in interdiction and direct close air support missions for UN ground forces retreating into the Pusan Perimeter, plus replenishment, and short periods at bases and anchorages in Japan.
     When Valley Forge departed Sasebo on 25 August to act again as the core of TF 77, in concert with USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) embarking Air Group 11, the Inchon landing forces were already beginning to assemble. And the mission of TF 77 reflected the crosscurrents between changing phases of the conflict: strikes in the Seoul-Inchon area and as far as the North Korean capital to begin to prepare and isolate the objective area for the landings which would cut off the North Korean forces in the south, but alternating with emergency calls for close air support by UN units hard pressed in the open . . . . . . . .

An A-20G on the Douglas Santa Monica flightline

The Fighting 54th,  The Forgotten Squadron of the Forgotten War Part II

     With Attu Island retaken, the Americans and their Canadian allies turned their attention to the Japanese on Kiska. They gathered a large invasion force of 33,000 American and Canadian troops and began training them for Aleutian operations. Intelligence estimated that there were 5,000 troops on the island with strong defensive positions. In preparation for the invasion, the Eleventh Air Force moved its headquarters from Elmendorf Field to Davis Field on Adak Island and engineers began constructing airfields at Alexai Point on Attu and nearby Shemya Island.
     The Eleventh Air Force released its full fury against the Japanese garrison on Kiska. Every day, when the weather was good, its bombers and fighters pounded the installations and defensive positions on the island from Adak and Amchitka Islands. The 54th Fighter Squadron flew from Amchitka where conditions remained primitive in contrast to the well-appointed base at Adak, which boasted a flag officers’ mess.
     On 11 June, with clear skies over Kiska, the Eleventh Air Force launched a series of attacks with every available aircraft. The missions continued throughout the morning and early afternoon as the bombers and fighters shuttled back and forth between their bases and Kiska. Then the weather closed in. A flight of P-40s managed to land on Amchitka before the fog rolled in. However, a flight of Lightnings was unable to get in and ground controllers advised it to head for Adak with a B-24 for . . . . . . . . .

Lieutenant John Geddes and his P-38G

The Air Force’s Early Airlift and Operation Strawboss

     Although members of the Air Force Reserve have become accustomed in recent years to performing missions for the USAF on a daily basis all over the world, such has not always been the case. Prior to the present associate and unit equipped wing programs which provide MAC with the ability to greatly expand its capability overnight, the Air Force Reserve evolved slowly but steadily as a combat-ready force. However, there were a number of noteworthy individual events that led to Operation STRAWBOSS, one of the first and largest airlift movements in the Air Force Reserve’s history. This moved the entire 4th Fighter Wing from our country’s east coast to Korea to support early hostilities in the Korean War. Everything was moved – from the wing’s total force of F-86 Sabrejets and all of their personnel, to the last piece of support equipment.
     In 1949, President Harry Truman called his service chiefs together, firmly requesting them to more effectively organize and employ their reserve forces. Since the end of World War II, a reserve force of the USAF (after its separate identity had been established in 1947) was in place, but little if any effective organization existed nor was any realistic training being accomplished. Less than a year after the conclusion of the war, a number of Army Air Force Base Units (Reserve Training) or "AFBURM" had been established around the country. The aircraft assigned were mostly trainers from the war such as T-6s and T-11s and reservists in the area were encouraged to participate. At the beginning, it was mostly pilots, navigators and bombardiers who were getting some flying time. No specific missions were assigned and organization was haphazard at best.
     Only a few non-flying officers and even fewer enlisted personnel were in evidence.. . . . . . . . . .

Douglas C-124 became operational at the start of the Korean War

 Post WWII USAF Bomber Designs that Never Flew

     For much of the World War II period, development of new aircraft designs in the United States was purposefully delayed to allow aviation contractors to focus their energies on mass-production of the thousands-upon-thousands of aircraft needed in the war effort. With some notable exceptions, the aircraft produced for the armed forces during the war were based upon pre-1942 specifications. Once wartime restrictions were lifted, however, the advance in American aeronautical technology was absolutely phenomenal. A large part of the stimulus came from the U. S. Army Air Forces (AAF) Research and Development Board, set up in 1944 by AAF chief General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold and headed by renowned aeronautical scientist Doctor Theodore von Karmen of Cal Tech. Arnold, who astutely foresaw that America’s military responsibilities would not end with the war, told von Karmen to develop a technological blueprint for a post-war Air Force that possessed global striking powers.
     Military contractors, particularly those who built airplanes for the AAF, were encouraged now to undertake new and untried concepts utilizing turbojet and turboprop propulsion systems. When the war finally ended, American design efforts received an additional boost from captured German documents containing masses of research data on many different transonic aerodynamic planforms. The impact of the German data was sufficiently enlightening to cause several AAF contractors to go back and start virtually from scratch on their design proposals (i.e., North American XF-86, Convair XF-92, and Boeing XB-47). With respect to AAF bomber development, perhaps as noteworthy as advances in aerodynamic and propulsion systems was the availability of atomic weapons beginning in 1945. Indeed, Consolidated-Vultee’s long-awaited XB-36 might never have progressed beyond the mockup stage but for the intervention of the atom bomb and, with it, the AAF’s perceived need for a long-range nuclear deterrent.
     From late-1944 onwards, the AAF, and later the U. S. Air Force (USAF), began circulating bold requirements among various American aircraft contractors for turbojet or turboprop-powered tactical and strategic bomber designs which would be . . . . . . . .

Concept of the Convair XB-53

Aircraft Photos by Emil Strasser Part VII, The '30s, '40s and 1962

     It’s time for another trip down memory’s runway to the 1930s, 1940s and early 1960s. We hope these photographs will bring back pleasant memories of aircraft from time gone by.

General Airplanes Corporation Model 107 Mailplane

The Tragic Flight of Boeing’s Prototype Model 307 Stratoliner

     On December 31, 1938, test pilot Eddie Allen took the new Boeing Model 307, Stratoliner on a 42-minute maiden flight.  When he returned, he was very enthusiastic about the excellent handling characteristics of the new four-engined airliner.
    Over the next 11 weeks Allen and Julius Barr, another veteran test pilot, continued to put Stratoliner number 1 through its flight-test program, especially critical low-speed maneuvers to test its stability at extreme and unusual angles.  By all accounts, the Stratoliner appeared airworthy and there were no indications of trouble.
     On March 18, 1939, Stratoliner number 1 took off from Boeing Field with 10 people aboard for a demonstration flight.  The flight crew included Julius Barr and Project Manager Jack Kylstra.  There were two airline representatives aboard for the demonstration.  That afternoon while the ship was at 15,000 feet it stalled and fell into a spin.  A valiant attempt was made to pull the ship out of the dive but the stress was so great that the wings and tail broke off.  Moments later, the Stratoliner pancaked into the forest near the foothill community of Alder, 65 miles south of Seattle.  The tragic crash killed all ten of the people aboard.
     With the help of eyewitnesses and Federal investigators, the stark story . . . . . . 

Boeing 307, NX19901 prototype Stratoliner

Max Holtzem: An "Old Eagle" of the First World War. 
Part Two: Fighter Pilot

     When Holtzem joined Jasta 16b as a fighter pilot late in 1917 he was assigned a Pfalz D.IIIa which design he had flight tested at the factory one year earlier. The D.III was the first biplane fighter design produced by Pfalz, the company having previously built the Roland D.I and D.II aircraft under a license agreement.
     The 160 hp Mercedes six cylinder engine drove the D.III to a top speed of 103 miles per hour and it required seventeen minutes to reach 10,000 feet. Despite this inferior speed and rate of climb the design performed yeoman service at the front because of its ease of handling and phenomenal strength. The pilots who flew the D.III had no fear of losing wings or fabric unlike their Albatros and Fokker Triplane flying comrades. The design had excellent dive recovery characteristics and was ideally suited for balloon busting. The loaded weight was 2,056 pounds. Two Maxim machine guns were buried in the cowl.
     The D.IIIa differed from the original D.III in that it had a 180-hp Mercedes engine and an enlarged stabilizer, plus externally mounted machine guns for greater accessibility and cooling. These craft were often mixed with Albatros scouts in the same unit as was the case with Jasta 16b.
      A few days after his arrival at Jasta 16b Vizefeldwebel (Vfw.) (master sergeant) Holtzem was ordered by the C.O., Leutnant Geigl, to take a familiarization flight over the front lines. The weather was clear and yet there was very little activity in the air on that day so Holtzem enjoyed himself at the controls of his Pfalz. As he turned for La Folie Ferme, the Jasta 16b airfield, Max spotted a lone SPAD in the distance flying directly toward the Pfalz; head on. The German immediately prepared for combat as the French fighter loomed in his gun sight. By this time it was quite evident that the Allied pilot did not see the Pfalz which was slightly below him. Holtzem was ready to press the firing button but hesitated a moment . . . . . . . .

Max Holtzem and Pfalz