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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 53, No. 1 - Spring 2008
Table of Contents 

A Gathering of Square Tails, 2006 

      Antique Airfield is located near the small rural town of Blakesburg in the rolling forested hills of southeastern Iowa. It is about nine miles southwest of Ottumwa, Iowa, the closest city of any size, and just a few miles north of the Iowa-Missouri state line. The significance of Antique Airfield lies in that it is the home of the Antique Airplane Association and the site of its Airpower Museum. Antique Airfield features a 2350 ft. x 100 ft. north-south grass runway with a fairly open approach from the south over the ever prominent Iowa corn fields and a north end that slopes towards tree-covered gentle hills and shallow valleys.(1)   To say the least, it presents a challenge to every pilot who operates in and out of it, demanding their utmost piloting skills and knowledge of their aircraft. However, over the years since its inaugural in 1970 it has seen a multitude of antique and classic airplanes routinely master its somewhat demanding features. These have ranged from the smallest and lightest airplanes such as Piper J-3 Cubs and Aeronca 7AC Champions through all the classic biplanes and even to high-performance heavy aircraft such as North American AT-6s, Beech D-18s, Lockheed 12s, Stinson Trimotors, a GrummanFM-2 Wildcat and a North American B-25.(2)
     Every year the Antique Airplane Association hosts its annual fly-in from the August Wednesday prior to Labor Day through Labor Day. The AAA-APM Fly-In actually is a convention, open only to its members, and thus the general public is not invited. Nor is there an air show of any kind scheduled. On an average about 250 to 350 antique and classic airplanes usually attend each year with 276airplanes attending in 2006 from all corners of the UnitedStates.3 The truly dedicated antique airplane enthusiast considers the fly-in at Antique Airfield to be Mecca and those who attend immerse themselves in the ambiance personified by the 1930s-style headquarters building and hangars as well as bythe sights, sounds and smells of radial engines, grease, oil, . . . 

1931 Stearman C-3R

Volumetric Air Transports: Part 1 - 
Development of the Pregnant and Super Guppies

     NASA was taking a very active role in the space race, but they were having logistical problems. They were able to lob fairly large payloads into outer space but they had difficulties moving the things that got the payloads up there.
     The idea of an outsized transport to carry outsized cargo had long been a popular one with John M. "Jack" Conroy, a contractor, non-scheduled airline pilot, and California Air National Guard pilot flying Boeing C-97Gs. The C-97 seemed to be an excellent vehicle for configuration to an oversized transport as it lent itself to stretching and swelling.Unfortunately, Conroy had the idea but no money. He took the idea to Lee Mansdorf, who owned a number of surplus 377s purchased from airlines when they were declared surplus after a short service life. Mansdorf, figuring he would have a hard time getting rid of his surplus white elephants on a market that was already becoming nearly all jet, agreed to provide Conroy with airframes but no financial support.
     By this time Conroy had drawings made for his proposed transport, so he went to Washington with high hopes. The NASA officials were skeptical but they admitted that such an airframe would be very useful if it did exist. 
     With that news Conroy was more determined than ever to construct his behemoth and he hurried back to Van Nuys to sell everything that he had and borrowed everything he could to start construction. The final sum was not great but he formed Aero Spacelines and forged ahead. Due to lack of funds and the unavailability of a large enough hangar, Conroy opened his airplane "factory" in the warm California air behind the On Mark Engineering hangar at Van Nuys Airport, in Van Nuys, Calif.
     At that time, On Mark was busy converting A-26s to executive configuration and the area was scattered with derelict military A-26s, shiny new B-25 transports, the occasional P-51D and B-17G, sections of Stratocruisers, and above all this, rising beneath a spider-web of scaffolding was the immense bulbous shape of an aircraft that was to become known as the "Pregnant Guppy."
     The Guppies were all based on a bloated version of the Boeing B-377 Stratocruiser and the . . . . 

Laying out bulkheads for the Pregnant Guppy

Belly Flop, The U.S. Navy’s World War II Glider Misstep

     Gliders appeared the only practical means for aircraft to complement Marine seaborne assaults via landing craft and amphibious vehicles. It would require gliders to be towed aloft from the sea or hard surface fields, and then glide free to a landing in the water. This was a bold innovation, envisioning swarms of gliders towed into range of the objective, setting down in the shallows, and beaching to deposit squads of Marines ashore instead of the long and vulnerable motoring to the beach of landing craft from ships offshore. It appears that inland landings were considered impractical.
     Commandant of the Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, decided in October 1940 to train one Marine battalion of each regiment as ‘air troops.’ One company would be paratroopers while the rest would be lifted in by aircraft to ‘airland’ into the combat zone. With Knox’s subsequent direction, the Navy began exploring the potential of gliders as one means of lifting the Marine air troops. While the entire notion of United States Marine Corps amphibious gliders was not carefully studied before program initiation, and caused many a furrowed brow, it was certainly worth exploring considering the new tactics and shattering victories of Germany and Japan.
     The Navy was to develop and procure the gliders while the Corps trained their own pilots and airborne troops. The Commandant wrote the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) on May 31, 1941, stating the USMC’s desires. The assistant chief, Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, had already initiated glider development when the effort was announced in April - although he made no secret of his skepticism. One of his officers, Comdr. Delmar S. Fahrney, had previously begun a bomb glider, or ‘Glomb,’ program as an adjunct to a long-standing unmanned drone effort, and this would run coincident with the Marine transport glider work. On April 30, Fahrney directed the Naval Air Factory (NAF), in Philadelphia, to perform a transport glider design study. Fahrney and the BuAer team would continue managing contracts and guiding the overall program.
     The NAF assigned Lt. Comdr. (soon Comdr., then Capt.) Ralph S. Barnaby to supervise the design project. Among his team, participating in the eventual flight testing, were Marine pilots Maj. Richard E. Figley, Lt. (later Capt.) Robert V. Reilly,  . . . .

WWII USMC glider training at Parris Island, S.C.

Emil Strasser Photographs from the 1934 National Air Races

     The 1934 National Air Races (NAR) were back in Cleveland, Ohio, following the practice of alternating with the west coast where the 1933 NAR had been held in Los Angeles, Calif.
     Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the first air race in Reims, France, the 1934 NAR were held August 31 to September 3. This event had been shortened to a four-day weekend from the 10 day extravagances that had been the previous venue. The country was in the heart of the Depression, which had shrunk the purses, but did not prevent a sell-out crowd estimated at 100,000 showing up for the Labor Day "big race" for the Thompson Trophy.
     A new race was added to the 1934 NAR for aircraft powered by restricted displacement engines. Sponsored by the Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Co., manufacturers of aircraft landing gear components, the race was named in honor of its president, Louis Greve. The race was actually flown in three heats with the winner being decided by the total number of points accumulated.
    All the closed course races were flown on a race course that had been shortened to an 8.33 mile triangular shape in order to make the planes more visible to the grandstand spectators. Racer Doug Davis complained to the organizers that the course was too short, forcing pilots to make low-altitude high-speed turns that could have disastrous potential  . . . .

Tilbury-Fundy "Flash"

The Gardner Trophy Air Races - May 1929; Part 2 - The Final

     More than 10,000 spectators reportedly gathered at Parks Airfield in East St. Louis, Ill., to witness the Gardner Trophy Race final on May 30, 1929. The nine finalists had lined their multi-colored racing planes across the southern border of the field to await the ten o’clock start. As in the preliminaries, the race was for all-out speed, with no handicaps. The first to round a pylon at the Indianapolis "500" races and return to the Parks Airfield would take home the silver Gardner Cup.
     No account of this unique event would be complete without some discussion of the race pilots and of the design features of the nine race planes. Each of the qualifying pilots had brought to the race their own flavor of experience, charisma, and technical abilities. Some had already achieved a meager level of fame among their flying colleagues, while others had yet to make their mark in aviation. Some were merely in it for the sport. Yet to others, racing was strictly business. This unique blend of talent and enthusiasm gave the Gardner participants a true sense of competitive flare. Each of the nine qualifying airplanes was advanced in some way. The race rules had been set up to require the aircraft to be of a certified type. However, experimental modifications were allowed, as long as the plane carried proper registration ...

Travel Air D-4000

 The Death of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.

     Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was born on July 25, 1915. The oldest of nine children to be born to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, he was groomed by the family to become President of the United States. He entered Harvard University in 1933 and graduated in 1938. He returned to Harvard in l940, a student in their prestigious Law School. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the older Kennedy boys promptly enlisted in the armed forces. Joseph Kennedy left Harvard Law School before his final year to become a naval aviator, earning his wings in 1942. He was assigned to coastal patrol and antisubmarine duty off the coast of England. His group operated the Consolidated PB4Y-1 Privateer, the Navy version of the Consolidated B-24, a long-range heavy bomber. Like his younger brother Jack, Joe would later be awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously in his case, for his heroism. He would also receive the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross to become one of our nation’s most decorated naval aviators. Kennedy flew many patrols from his base in Devon. Although a number of enemy submarines were sighted by his crew, no kills were registered. In mid -1944, his squadron was asked to supply volunteers for a top-secret mission over Continental Europe. Lt. Kennedy stepped forward and was selected.
     A base from which the secret mission would operate was developed at Winfarthing-Fersfield in East Anglia. A small number of war weary aircraft were assembled at that site along .
. . .

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr
in flight training

Remember When . . . Beechcraft Musketeer 

     For those of us who recall the period, a boom in general aviation was to take place following World War II. It was anticipated that returning airmen would trade their wartime aircraft, flown in hostile skies, for light planes flown over peaceful American terrain. The return of many veteran pilots, aviators and airmen was to be the catalyst behind the figurative statement "an airplane in every garage," and it gave impetus to artists’ conceptions of smiling families flying to vacation destinations in futuristic light planes. Aviation magazines of the day reinforced this vision by depicting modern-day housing developments with a runway and individual taxiways leading up to each new home.
     Aircraft companies and subcontractors shared this optimism as they converted their wartime facilities into the manufacturing of general-aviation aircraft. Soon their drawing boards were busy as they transitioned from the manufacturing of bomber and pursuit aircraft of war to the postwar pursuit of building light planes. In some cases, and for expediency, their aircraft were prewar or updated designs. Other companies, however, capitalized on wartime knowledge and transferred newly developed technology into modern and innovative aircraft designs.
     New light-plane designs and prototypes from major aircraft manufacturers, including Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, North American and Republic, entered into development. Additionally, new light planes from many other aircraft companies entered the developmental stage at the end of the war (see listing of aircraft). Concurrently, production was resumed on prewar aircraft, including the ERCo Ercoupe, Globe Swift, and the Luscombe Silvaire.
     However, the aviation boom was not to be. Many war-weary pilots turned their vision from the sky to earthbound goals, including home, automobile, family and peacetime employment. Also, the exigencies and economic conditions at the time helped to fuel the death knell of the aviation boom.

Beechcraft Musketeer