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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

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Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 63, No. 1 - Spring 2018
Table of Contents

  • America Export Airlines & Sikorsky VS-44 - Ed Martin
  • The 37th Bombardment Squadron (L) Night Intruder Black Nights - Korea - Antonio G. Fucci
  • The Curtiss-Wright C-76 Caravan - Terry Love
  • Women Airforce Service Pilots - Ryan Clauser
  • Sentiment Journey, The Forgotten Air Fields of the Sixth Air Force - Dan Hagedorn
  • Letter to a Fallen Airman - Donald M. Bishop
  • The Great SAC Plaque Caper - Thomas Lowe
  • Confession Corner: One Bomb Too Many - Larry Elman
  • Forum of Flight - Tim Williams
  • News & Comments from out Members
  • President’s Message - Jerri Bergen

  • America Export Airlines & Sikorsky VS-44A

    In the early 1900s American Export Shipping Lines was one of the largest shipping companies between the U.S. East coast and the Mediterranean. Four of their passenger ships were identified as the “Aces” due to their comfort and speed.

    The crossing between America and Europe was one of the most heavily travelled passenger routes in the world. It was estimated about 1,000,000 passengers a year crossed the North Atlantic on the world’s greatest ocean liners, with about 180,000 in first class. Large quantities of mail and freight were also carried, an inviting revenue source for any airline.

    With the growth of aviation in 1937 it was generally recognized that Pan American Airways was the unofficial U.S. flag carrier, and after its successful Pacific flights was ready to conquer the Atlantic. However, at that time American Export Shipping Lines decided to enter the aviation arena and in April 1937 established a subsidiary named American Export Airlines (AEA) also known as AMEX. Juan Trippe, President of PAA was very concerned and challenged the right of a shipping company to operate an airline. The CAB ruled in AEA’s favor. Pan American was aggressively negotiating with Britain, Canada, Bermuda and Portugal in preparation for transatlantic flights between the U.S. and Europe. These were difficult agreements to obtain as Imperial Airways also had transatlantic desires but did not have suitable aircraft to cross the North Atlantic and Britain would not grant PAA landing rights until Imperial could start a similar service. Additional transatlantic competition was also in the offing from the German Zeppelins, Lufthansa and Air France. Pan American considered competition from a second U.S. airline unacceptable, and Juan Trippe put his considerable government contacts to work to protect PAA’s interests.

    The British government had control over landing rights at Newfoundland and Bermuda that were Atlantic stepping stones when Pan American and Imperial Airways signed an agreement which effectively eliminated any competition without those landing rights. The agreement also provided that neither Pan American nor Imperial Airways could begin service until both airlines were able to do so. Imperial still had no aircraft capable of making the journey and Pan American had to wait.

    The Montreal Agreement in 1935 between the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and the Irish Free State ruled that all transatlantic aircraft would land at an Irish airport when travelling east or west. In December 1935 it was announced by the Irish government that Foynes, near the city of Limerick, with a sheltered harbor on the River Shannon in the west of . . .

    AEA Sikorsky VS-44A Excalibur

    The 37th Bombardment Squadron (L) Night Intruder Black Nights - Korea

    This is a slice of history relating to the 37th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Wing, N/I, Black Knights and its role during the Korean War. This history is being presented at the 100th birthday of the 37th Bomb Squadron on June 11-12, 2017, at Ellsworth AFB. The following describes some of our endeavors in Korea that I felt the present day 37th BS might find interesting, and others interested in Korean War era history might as well.

    It has been 65 years since the 37th BS was engaged flying combat missions in Korea and from that time I’ve had the feeling that Korea has been treated like a black hole in outer space where a war just happened to happen. The country and the war, still remain an opaque never-never-land.

    For many years most of us that flew with the 37th during the Korean War have had to live with that period of time and our involvement in it, as simply “the Forgotten War” or the “War before Vietnam.” History doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. Mainly because no war ever really duplicates a previous war. The Korean War can be compared with the Vietnam War in broad terms at best. Granted, many of the challenges we faced between 1950 and 1953 in Korea were repeated in Southeast Asia, and more than just a few lessons had to be re-learned. But, in Korea we had to quickly refresh ourselves on practices that had been learned during WWII. From the standpoint of technology, the Vietnam War was light years ahead of Korea. To us the war is “not forgotten.” We mourn for the loss of our brethren and praise the freedom that we helped attain to free a nation from the enslavement of communism, the Republic of Korea.

    The ratio of casualties of the Korean War were greater than in Vietnam (e.g. three years vs 10 years). This can be best be understood by the raw statistics of both wars. In three years, 1950 -1953, the Korean War claimed as many American Casualties (36,000 plus), as did over ten years (1965-1975) of fighting in Vietnam with American casualties being greater than 58,000.

    Korea was the last of the massive “Big Battalion” land battle conflicts. For any of us who happened to fly over the main line of resistance (MLR) during a massive artillery duel between the two armies at night, it was an awesome sight – and . . .

    37th BS (L) Douglas B-26C, LSMFT

    The Curtiss-Wright C-76 Caravan

    In late 1941, Curtiss-Wright was contacted by the United States Army Air Force to develop an all-wood military transport aircraft. The use of wood construction was requested, because of a foreseen shortage of aircraft grade aluminum. The performance specifications stated that the design must meet or exceed that of the Douglas C-47, which was then entering the service.

    Curtiss-Wright chief designer, George A. Page, Jr. had just finished working on the highly successful CW-20 / C-46 Commando. The C-76 model became the Curtiss-Wright CW-27, a high-wing, twin-engine, cargo transport utilizing plywood construction with tricycle landing gear. There had been other military aircraft built from wood - some had been very successful, like the deHavilland Mosquito. The Mosquito utilized ply construction using balsa wood core and birch hardwood exterior.

    Using research provided by the Forest Products Laboratory, Curtiss­-Wright decided to use ply construction of dense mahogany. George Page subcontracted to a number of furniture makers and the Baldwin Piano Co. to build components for the C-76, which would be assembled at the new Curtiss-Wright defense factory in Louisville, Kentucky. To keep the plywood flexible during construction, the factory was kept hot and damp. This made working conditions terrible.

    Mr. Page opted for twin Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp engines of 1,200 hp each, one mounted on each wing. Designed to carry 23 passengers or a cargo payload, the Caravan had a nose section that swung vertically to ease loading and off-loading, for example, a jeep or small artillery pieces. The USAAF ordered 175 C-76A production aircraft.

    The first five test aircraft (serial numbers 42-86913 through 42-86917) were built and tested at Curtiss-Wright’s St. Louis, Mo., plant. The designed cruising speed was 160 mph, a service ceiling of 22,600 feet, a range of 750 miles, and a cargo capacity of 8,000 pounds. The C-76 proved to be severely under-powered and significantly overweight.

    The first flight of the C-76 Caravan was on May 3, 1943. The results were terrible. It failed several flight test requirements. It was discovered during a test flight that the C-76 was unstable when not carrying a cargo load. In order to obtain a stable center of gravity, the plane had to have a ballast beyond its maximum permissible gross takeoff weight. Also, at any speed, or gust of wind, the elevators would flap back and forth violently. It was discovered that the aircraft was very heavy, due to the use of mahogany plywood. The test pilot was very happy to make a quick circuit and get back on the ground.

    On May 10, 1943, as Curtiss test pilots were planning the flight of the first YC-76, 42-86918, constructed at the Louisville, Ky., plant, the Army requested that a project flight officer be on the flight. The pilots refused to take him. During the flight the aircraft lost its tail unit at due to missing securing bolts. The plane crashed at Okolona, Ky., killing . . .

    Curtiss C-76 Caravan, #5

    Women Airforce Service Pilots

    On December 7, 1944, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold stood before the final Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) graduating class, 44-10.[1] The general gave a rousing speech to the graduates at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Tex., the home of the WASPs, and told them that “[You] have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. If there was ever any doubt in anyone’s mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASPs have dispelled that doubt.”[2] While the general’s speech touted the accomplishments of the women in front of him, and all the women who had served as WASPs, their future had already been decided. Although there had been a push to integrate the WASPs into the military, or militarize the WASPs, in March of 1944, a bill to make that a reality ultimately fell short by 19 congressional votes. On November 1 a memo from Washington was sent to the commanding generals of the United States Army Air Force in which it was made clear that the WASPs would be officially deactivated on December 20, 1944.[3]

    While the WASPs were disbanded before the end of the WWII, their impact on the war effort at home was critical. They performed valuable services in ferrying aircraft across the United States and overseas. It can be argued that the WASPs were a critical auxiliary unit of the Army Air Force, but also argue although the unit lacked military status the WASPs were expected to perform with the same skill, dedication, and efficiency as their militarized counterparts. What has been written about the WASPs has largely focused on their founder and leader, Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran. The following will explore more deeply the story of the WASPs using sources from women who participated in this service.[4]

    In 1940, before American involvement in WWII began, there was already a clear need for ferry pilots. Although the United States was at peace, aircraft manufacturers had begun to . . .

    WASPs returning from a trianing mission

    Sentiment Journey, The Forgotten Air Fields of the Sixth Air Force

    The previous installments of this series in the Journal described the “big five,” principal Army Air Service/ Army Air Corps/Army Air Forces semi-permanent airfields that, with the exception of Rio Hato, were situated within the confines and former borders of the Panama Canal Zone itself.

    Army planners realized early-on, however, that these “permanent” stations, with their excellent station facilities and hard-surface runways, had by the end of the 1930s become exceptionally well-known to potential adversaries and, being situated for the most part very near major population centers near either end of the Canal on the Pacific and Atlantic entrances, provided highly recognizable and easily targeted objectives – not only to intruding aircraft but, indeed, to large-caliber naval guns that might be brought to bear by attacking surface fleets or submarines.

    As early as the 1920s, when the Air Service was operating from a solitary, permanent station in the Canal Zone – France Field – the crews of the far-ranging bombardment and observation aircraft, as well as a smattering of early amphibians that operated from there, quickly located suitable landing areas elsewhere in the Republic. The location and qualities of these landing areas, fixed with some precision, soon became a part of the patrol and cross-country training regimen of the units. One of the criterion the crews apparently engaged was whether the landing area offered even the briefest of respite from the torrid tropical environment at the home stations in the Canal Zone!

    The truth is that, through most of the 1920s, Army aircraft alighting at these locations did so with scant regard for Panamanian sensitivities or ownership, and in most instances, worked out arrangements with local municipalities or land- owners, if they could be identified. So isolated were some of these landing areas, however, that even assigning a proper geographic name to them often took some time to sort out, as the Army crews often called them one thing, while the local Panamanian citizenry had no idea what they were talking about.

    As the 1920s and 1930s played out, however, defense plans for the vital Canal soon required that some formal arrangements for the use of these locations beyond a hand-shake or verbal agreement was required, and thus a truly astonishing array of base leasing agreements were slowly but surely hammered out between the Army hierarchy in the Canal Zone and the often indignant and suspicious central government of Panama, a sovereign nation, in spite of the rather casual regard for this status often voiced by U.S. military personnel stationed in the Canal Zone enclave.

    As the WWII inevitably approached, the importance of these stations, which in most cases the Army very much wished to keep confidential, became ever more central to mobilization dispersal planning.

    Mere hours after Pearl Harbor, and the lessons learned there and in the Philippines, these dispersal airdromes (sometimes cited in official parlance as “Aerodromes” or “Auxiliary Aerodromes”) were very quickly engaged in what might well be described, in retrospect, on a very nearly crisis basis.

    From December 7, 1941, through to V-J Day, nearly all of the stations described in the narrative that follows became very familiar indeed to USAAC Caribbean Air Force and USAAF Sixth Air Force crews. These men, and a few women, enjoyed a rather peculiar wartime existence, however, that was seldom replicated in other overseas locations. While they indeed “roughed it” in primitive conditions at many of the airdromes described in these pages for extended, fixed periods, they soon realized that the training value of such deployments also earned them a reprieve at one of the pre-war, permanent installations in the Canal Zone proper, at the end of these deployments. Thus, performance “in the field” soon came to be recognized as the key to once again being able to enjoy hot showers, clean sheets . . .

    Sixth AAF La Joya Field No. 1

    Letter to a Fallen Airman

    To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Asia, China’s Yunnan province organized a cultural exhibition, “Welcome Home, Flying Tigers,” that visited Washington in 2015. The province’s capital of Kunming was the headquarters of the “Flying Tigers” of the original American Volunteer Group and then the 14th Air Force, commanded by Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault. Kunming was also the eastern hub of “the Hump,” the hazardous airlift route over the Himalayas that brought supplies to China when the Japanese had taken or cut China’s transportation links with the rest of the world.

    Included in the exhibition was a display of stamps and covers organized by collector Li Quan on WWII in China.1 Browsing through his panels, my eye fell on an American cover.

    The Shell Oil Co. had sent a letter to Lt. William E. Rickon, stationed in China, but it was marked “Return to Sender.” A captain in Rickon’s unit wrote in longhand, “Deceased.”

    This cover is a postal history artifact with no rare stamps or visual appeal. Lieutenant Rickon never received the letter, and one can only guess how this cover was preserved. With the help of internet databases, however, the cover draws us into the story of an American airman, fallen to earth in China in the last months of the war.

    The Cover
    The letter from the Shell Oil Company’s office at 100 Bush Street, San Francisco 6, California, was addressed by a metal plate – most likely stamped by a Graphotype machine produced by the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation. These machines . . .

    Envelope that started it all

    The Great SAC Plaque Caper

    It had been just about a year since the military forces of the United States had been authorized officially by the U.S. Congress, via the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, to initiate direct air and ground intervention in South Vietnam. USAF tactical fighter and transport squadrons had been deployed, both from stateside and Pacific Air Force (PACAF) units, on a temporary duty basis (TDY), to establish combat operations over both South and North Vietnam.

    The 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS), a North American F-100 Super Sabre unit known as the Crusaders, was assigned to the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Cannon AFB, Clovis, New Mexico. The squadron deployed on a planned 90-day temporary duty assignment (TDY) to South Vietnam on June 12, 1965. Eighteen F-100s departed Cannon AFB under the code name Operation Two Buck 16 on the long trans-Pacific crossing to Southeast Asia (SEA). The squadron’s support personnel and equipment followed in a number of Lockheed C-130s.[1]

    The advance party of the 481st TFS first landed at Da Nang AB in northern South Vietnam. They flew a few combat missions from there while making arrangements for a permanent duty station for the squadron. The 481st TFS originally had been scheduled to operate from Bien Hoa AB, but it was determined that there were not sufficient facilities and ramp space for an additional F-100 squadron there. While arrangements for another suitable location were being finalized the bulk of the 481st TFS remained in the Philippines at Clark AFB.

    After having completed nine aerial refuelings during its 9,213 nm odyssey across the Pacific the rest of the 481st TFS finally arrived at Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon, South Vietnam, on June 21, 1965.[2] After a quick familiarization with local flying procedures, the squadron began flying combat missions that very day. The 481st was the first, and at that time, the only USAF tactical jet-fighter squadron operating from Tan Son Nhut. It quickly established an outstanding combat record. It’s expected 90 day TDY assignment was eventually extended to almost six months in order to allow the USAF to finalize the establishment of permanently (PCS) assigned squadrons throughout the varied bases in South Vietnam and Thailand.

    Tan Son Nhut AB (TSN), located just outside of Saigon, was an extremely busy airport and in the mid-1960s was reportedly the busiest in the world. It had more traffic than O’Hare Field . . .

    Martin B-57 Canberra at Tan Son Nhut AB.

    Confession Corner: One Bomb Too Many

    This is a true story. Time - 1965. Location - South Vietnam .

    Some of the names are real; some of them have been slightly changed. This narrative is part adventure, part drama, part history, part philosophy.

    If you are an aviator of any dimension, you will have no difficulty understanding the emotion generated when losing power, in a single engine aircraft, 50 feet above the ground over hostile territory, in a war zone. If your aviation experience is a seat in a commercial airliner, then I ask your indulgence while I relate the details of a life-changing event.

    Most of my adult life I have been a “Y-in-the-road” guy. I believe we are rational beings that have opportunities, during our journey, to make decisions that change the remainder of our life. As we come to a Y in the road, we can go left or right. Whichever lane we choose, our life is forever impacted. As these events unfold, you will see that the decisions and actions of others also have influence on the Y’s in our road. This story has many Y’s, and I am convinced, any deviation from Y-decisions made would have left me dead at a young age.

    My philosophy leads me to believe that one event brings on the next. I guess that means that I do not believe in predestination. For examples within sports, it has always distressed me when “play-by-play” announcers utter a line like: “ Here we are in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the score Dodgers 1, Cubs nothing. If not for the error by Scmaltz at third base, for the Cubs, in the first inning, we would have a nothing-nothing game.” I don’t believe that. Without the error in the first inning, the score could be anything, as every thought, every strategy, every pitch, every batter, and every play after that would be different. In tennis - one swing of the racket changes every swing after that. So it is in life. Every Y in the road leads us to different thoughts, different decisions, and different actions.

    In 1964, I was a 29-year old fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, flying F-102s, at Paine Field near Everett, Washington. I was due for an overseas assignment, and felt that my IBM punch card would soon select me for a transfer to Southeast Asia. In April, I received orders to report to an auxiliary field of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for training in the T-28, that both the U.S. and the Vietnamese air forces were using in the Vietnam conflict. Upon arrival, I discovered that the training had been changed. I would now be taught to fly what the USAF called an “A-1E.” This was a larger and more powerful plane purchased from the U.S. Navy, who called it the AD-5 Skyraider.

    In July, after completion of this training, I departed for a one-year assignment with the 1st Air Commando Squadron, at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam. Our mission was to provide close air support of combat forces on the ground, and interdiction of tactical targets, with a wide assortment of weapons. The A-1 was a great machine for the job. It carried a large load of bombs, rockets and cannon; had good endurance; . . .

    Douglas A-1E Skyraider

    Forum of Flight

    This edition of Forum of Flight focuses on Lockheed aircraft ranging from the Model 5 Vega through the L-1011 and P-3C Orion and the still in production C-130. It covers military, commercial and even Lockheed’s exploration of general aviation aircraft.

    The FORUM is presented as an opportunity for members to participate in the Journal by submitting interesting or unusual photographs. 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 92605-3032. Mark any material to be returned: “Return to (your name and complete address).” Or you may to wish have your material added to the AAHS photo archives.

    Lockheed P2V-5F Neptune N410NA, BuNo 131482

    News & Comments from our Members

    The First Zemke Fan, May 12, 1944, Vol. 62, No. 4, Winter 2017

    Member Tom Lowe has helped clarify information associated with an image published in this article. He provided the following:

    I would like to comment on the caption to the photograph of the seven P-47s in flight in the article about “The First Zemke Fan” on page 235 published in Vol. 62, No. 4, Winter 2017 issue of the AAHS Journal. It stated in part that “UN-Z....could be Zemke.” I can confirm that UN-Z was the aircraft assigned to Col. Zemke, but most likely the pilot of that aircraft in this photo was Maj. Harold E. Comstock, the CO of the 63rd FS and not Col. Zemke. Major Comstock was one of the many aces of the 56th FG and was officially credited with five aerial victories, (2 ME-109s, 2 FW-190s and 1 ME-110), one probable and seven damaged. He also was credited with two aircraft destroyed on the ground and also 22 locomotives.

    In the mid-1960s Lt. Col. Harold E. Comstock was the CO of the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron (F-100) stationed at Cannon AFB, Clovis, New Mexico. I served as the Intelligence Officer for the 481st TFS at that time. I spent many hours with Lt. Col. Comstock, then, and also in subsequent later years, talking with him about his experiences in WWII with the 56th FG. He was an outstanding fighter pilot, a real leader of men and a life-long friend and mentor.

    In the official unit history book The 56th Fighter Group In World War II, the front and back covers have on their inside a full size two page print of the same photo that was published in the Journal except that it shows eight P-47s in formation rather than seven P-47s as shown in the photo in the Journal. A copy of that photo is enclosed.

    Close examination of the two photos shows that all the aircraft in both photos are the same. The unit identification . . .

    Jacket cover from The 56th Fighter Group in World War II.

    President's Message

    Our Annual meeting, held in Orange County (OC), Calif., was a history packed weekend, that highlighted a wide range of early aviation in Southern California, including the 1910 Los Angeles Air Meet, the beginnings of John Wayne Airport (SNA)-the oldest still operating OC airport, and its founder Eddie Martin, the aviation collection of Gen. William Lyon, history of the Santa Ana Air Base and a peek into the second oldest Orange County airport, Fullerton Municipal Airport. The most enjoyable aspect, as always, was visiting with old friends and making new ones. We want to thank the AAHS members that attended, as well as the tireless volunteers that helped organize and manage the three-day event. AAHS would not be able to put on this or other events without such volunteers, nor without donors who generously provide their support in funds and raffle items.

    Support for AAHS operations has recently been given a tremendous boost by AAHS member John Turgyan, of New Jersey (not Virginia, as stated previously, in error!). John has provided generous financial donations for the purchase of new office equipment, photo scanning equipment and advertising space in EAA publications. AAHS has always utilized the large majority of its resources to create and publish the Journal, using whatever funds remaining to digitize and preserve the aviation collection, maintain office operations and reach out to new audiences. With this situation, many important maintenance tasks get delayed, or dropped altogether, due to lack of funds. An example is the AAHS microfilm reader, necessary for us to read our microfilm archive (which includes 100s of reels of Air Force / Navy Aircraft Record Cards) has been broken for several years, with limited funds to repair or replace it.

    In addition, incoming photo donations have far outpaced our digitization efforts, both from sheer volume, and the slow pace of work using outdated equipment and slow PC systems. John recognized AAHS’ dilemma and . . .

    John Turgyan flying EAA's DC-3