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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

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Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 66, No. 3 - Fall 2021
Table of Contents

  • Why Trust a Tough Boss? Or, Safe Upgrades Cost
        Sweat As Well as Money - Larry Elman, USAF (ret.)
  • Americas Large and Small: A Most Confused
       Genealogy of the Curtiss Model H America
       - J. M. Caiella
  • Non-Skeds: The Story of America’s Supplemental
        Airlines, Part 5 - David H. Stringer
  • The Curtiss CW-20, The Airliner Destiny Forgot
       - Gary L. Killion

  • The Historic TWA Terminal and Lockheed
       Constellation at JFK - Robert G. Waldvogel
  • Transocean Air Lines, Refugees, and
       Aviatrix Ruth Nichols 1949 - Ed Martin
  • What Bert Acosta Did and Probably Didn’t Do:
        Through 1922 - Michael Gough
  • Confession Corner: Dreaded Two-engine Out
        Instrument Approach - Tom Beard
  • News & Comments from our Members
  • Forum of Flight
  • President’s Message - Jerri Bergen

  • Why Trust a Tough Boss? Or, Safe Upgrades Cost Sweat As Well as Money

    In the early 1960s, I completed my Air Force ROTC commitment and left active duty, retaining my reserve commission. By the late 1960s, I was a senior aeroelastician in the Rotor Dynamics Section of Sikorsky Aircraft. I had done quite a lot of pure research on helicopter rotors by then, when I was handed what appeared to be a very routine assignment. Supervise the redesign, test and certification of the new lag damper in the main rotor head of the H-53 series. What I was told was that we had had some unusual incidents that indicated inadequate capability of the current lag damper, combined with the fact that it had originally been certified at a lower aircraft gross weight.

    I went down to the flight line to view the aircraft. As I stood there, a middle-aged mechanic approached. He asked my name, and then asked about my military reserve status. He then said, “Well, I guess as an officer you can imagine what the court-martial charges would be if someone were caught with this.” He then handed me a highly classified flight log for an H-53, remarking that his son was crew chief on that aircraft and that his son had told the pilot that the logbook fell overboard as they were over the ocean. I asked, “What’s that got to do with me?” He opened the log and pointed to the takeoff weight for one of the last flights entered. It was many thousands of pounds above what the aircraft was certified for. The destination of that mission? Hanoi. The mechanic then added that he heard I was in charge of recertifying the lag damper. “Well, they better certify for what they are flying at or higher – not just what is in the current plan.” And then he walked away.

    Many portions of a helicopter rotor system are sized based upon maximum takeoff gross weight that the aircraft is certified for. All such parts are designed with a factor of safety. Of course, if one is upgrading certification of one portion of a rotor system, that portion must be designed with the actual maximum use kept in mind. The mechanic was actually telling me two things. First, that he’d seen the draft of the upgrade plan, and second that he had learned from his son that the upgrade would be far below what the aircraft was being operated at in combat. Handing me that classified log and walking away, was basically handing me a “hot potato.” If I handed that log to anybody, I was condemning the man’s son to a court-martial in a combat zone. If I did nothing, we would be certifying an aircraft below the conditions we were actually using it in.

    I returned to my desk, and began calculating. Take the max gross weight shown in the log, add several thousand pounds in case the copter “grew some more,” add a healthy safety factor and then start looking through that rotor system for other parts whose upgrade would be critical. By the way, please note that . . .

    Sikorsky CH-53 in Vietnam

    Americas Large and Small: A Most Confused Genealogy of the Curtiss Model H America

    The large Curtiss twin-engine flying boats of WWI are among the least heralded U.S. aircraft of that era. While many authors cite the dearth of U.S. combat planes on the front lines, the boats from Upstate New York had been flying combat since the earliest days of the war. Beyond this, the type left its mark on post-war Navy aviation up to the middle of WWII.

    Although visually the U.S. Navy’s F-5L flying boat demonstrated solid roots in the works of Glenn H. Curtiss and is generally known as a Curtiss product, it did not carry a Curtiss designation. It was in fact a derivative of one of several European designs co-opted by the U.S. aviation industry in the haste to get American-built aircraft into WWI combat. The F-5L was the culmination of the evolution of Curtiss’s twin-engine flying boats during WWI. The basic design, however, further evolved with numerous iterations and manufacturers and flew on until supplanted by Consolidated Aircraft’s big boats in 1930.

    It is often claimed and taken for fact that no U.S. designed and built aircraft had active service during the Great War. This statement ignores the fact that dozens of aircraft designed and built on the shore of an Upstate New York lake flew regular combat missions with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) years before the United States entered the war.

    The aircraft had its roots in the 1913 Curtiss design for the Model H America, a flying boat built to compete for a £10,000 prize—$50,000 then or $ 1.3 million today—offered by the London Daily Mail for the first airplane to fly from any point in the United States or Canada to the United Kingdom.1 Lewis Rodman Wanamaker, the wealthy owner of department stores in New York City, Philadelphia and Paris, France, as well as the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, sponsored the aircraft for $25,000 — $740,000 today.2 The plane was to be built by the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. on the shore of New York’s Keuka Lake in Curtiss’s hometown of Hammondsport.

    The America was a twin-engine pusher biplane design with enclosed cockpit. Its wing with two-bays outboard of the engines spanned 74 feet on the upper but only 46 feet on the lower. Curtiss claimed that the aircraft and wings were designed under his supervision by B. Douglas Thomas, a British expatriate who . . .

    Curtiss-built F-5L, BuNo A-4281

    Non-Skeds: The Story of America’s Supplemental Airlines, Part 5

    In 1962, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) began awarding its commercial air carrier contracts primarily to a group of supplemental airlines represented by a gentleman named Coates Lear. Lear was a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm Zuckert, Scoutt & Rassenberger. The Zuckert in the firm’s name was Eugene M. Zuckert, who had recently been appointed Secretary of the Air Force. It certainly appeared that the military contracts were being awarded to a select group of “good old boys” represented by Zuckert’s law partner, Lear.

    Coates Lear was also the president of a newly-formed organization called NACA, the National Air Carrier Association. NACA was yet another clearing house, serving as a charter booking agent for its seven supplemental airline members: American Flyers Airline Corp. (AFA), Capitol International Airways, Modern Air Transport, Overseas National Airways (ONA), Saturn Airways, Southern Air Transport (a carrier later purchased by the Central Intelligence Agency) and World Airways. NACA also booked civilian charter groups aboard the member airlines’ aircraft when they were not tied up with military charters.

    The possibility of receiving a military contract was becoming more and more remote for many of the supplemental carriers that were not a part of Lear’s chosen few. Ralph Cox, president of United States Overseas Airlines (USOA – see sidebar), claimed that he approached Coates Lear, asking to be represented by him in the quest for future MATS contracts. Lear replied to Cox that he felt USOA was a fit company that had proven itself over the years to be a professional military contractor. Lear told Cox he felt that USOA deserved to receive contracts.
    But several days later, according to Cox, Lear came back and apologized stating that, “The rest of the boys do not want you. They do not want me to . . .

    Overseas National Airways (ONA) DC-8-55, N851F

    The Curtiss CW-20, The Airliner Destiny Forgot

    Many believed that Curtiss CW-20s would completely replace Douglas DC-3s in U.S. domestic airline service. They would feature cabin pressurization, be considerably faster, and carry half again as many passengers as DC-3s. Unfortunately, while still a new design they were prevented by WWII from going into airline service and were rushed into production as unpressurized military C-46 transports. They had a further disadvantage. They were the product of a company that was preoccupied with producing needed combat aircraft and couldn’t devote the resources to fix problems typically discovered in those days only after a new model goes into service.

    The Curtiss-Wright Corp. was a supplier of airline aircraft in the early 1930s, but it could only offer its fabric-covered Condor biplanes when a new generation of aircraft went into service in 1933. The new generation, represented first by Boeing 247s and shortly thereafter by Douglas DC-2s and Lockheed Model 10 Electras, were fully-cantilever, low-wing monoplanes with retractable landing gears. This new generation also marked the departure from fabric-covered truss construction to more durable semi-monocoque aluminum. They contributed a number of advances in safety, comfort and profitability. To get back into the airliner market, the company began design studies in 1935 for a new model that would surpass this new generation. The result was the CW-20 or, as sometimes identified, the CW-20T. It was a large all-metal 36-passenger, pressurized model with two 1,700hp Wright R-2600 series engines. Work on those engines also began within the Curtiss-Wright family in 1935, probably with powering the new CW-20 in mind; and they were the most powerful aircraft engines in sight then. Although never used in a production variant of the CW-20, later R-2600 series engines were used extensively during WWII in such aircraft as North American B-25 Mitchells and Grumman TBF/TBM Avengers.

    The fuselage had a novel figure-8 cross section in which the cabin floor formed the intersection of the two circles. That configuration provided adequate strength for cabin pressurization and other loads with much less structural weight than if it had been an oval design. The cabin was wide enough for comfortable two-abreast seating on both sides of the center aisle. The unpressurized lower part of the figure-8 contained a
    455 cubic ft underfloor baggage compartment.

    The CW-20 was quite streamlined for the time with the windshield completely faired into the forward fuselage and the main landing gears and tail wheel fully enclosed when retracted. It originally had twin vertical tail surfaces. The CW-20 was expected to cruise about . . .

    Curtiss CW-20 maiden flight

    The Historic TWA Terminal and Lockheed Constellation at JFK

    As I passed the curb-parked convertible and entered the doors of the Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Terminal with its winged, flight-suggesting roof at JFK International Airport on a mid-September day, nothing, I noted, had changed, except that the passenger check-in counters flanking either side were refreshingly devoid of lines. Perhaps that should have been a hint.

    Mounting the dozen stairs and then redescending those that led to the familiar Sunken Lounge, I eyed the Solari split-flap arrivals and departures board, its panels periodically flipping and clacking like stacking poker chips, but they only revealed blank squares. There were no flight numbers, no times, and no destinations.

    Yet by views of the vintage airliners on the ramp through the floor-to-ceiling angled glass displaying TWA’s red-and-white livery, but lacking a single jet engine, my destination today could only be labeled “history” or, even “aviation history.” Perhaps that was appropriate for the “luggage” I brought: a carry-on consisting of a clipboard and a pen.

    The scene before me was a suspended one. The period music and the announcements echoing through my head transported me to the one I was not in.

    “TWA Starstream Flight 802 to Paris, now boarding at gate one,” they said.

    My eyes, scanning past the location of the once famous and familiar Brass Rail Restaurant toward the dual, main terminal connecting tubes still covered with chili red pepper carpeting to the departure area, I fully expected to take in one or more Boeing 707-320Bs with their bluntly pointed, radome noses, 35-degree swept wings, and Pratt and Whitney JT3D-3B low bypass ratio turbofans.

    Yet the Lockheed L-1649A Starliner Constellation, representing the pinnacle-of-piston development, indicated that the era preserved and depicted “out there” was not the one my mind tried to convince me still existed “in here.” Instead, it was two decades earlier, of the 1960s, and I had entered a preserved pocket of time.

    The TWA Terminal
    As an expression, representation, and development of the post-WWII-fueled, technology-facilitated commercial airline industry and the then-named Idlewild International Airport whose evolution resulted from it, the TWA Terminal was and is an architecturally aesthetic symbol of it all. It captures the sensation of flight with its wing-resembling shell and the fluid, open interior beneath it.

    Unlike many of today’s single-building, multiple-airline facilities, it traces its origin to 1954 when the Port Authority of New York devised its terminal city concept. Anticipating the need for infrastructure to cater to increasing travel demand, it implemented a plan in which each major carrier would design, build, and operate . . .

    TWA Terminal at JFK

    Transocean Air Lines, Refugees, and Aviatrix Ruth Nichols 1949

    Transocean Air Lines was formed in 1946 following WWII by United Airlines Capt. Orvis M. Nelson and a group of pilots. Captain Nelson had flown with the U.S. Army Air Transport Command during the war and his experiences led to plans for development of an unscheduled airline that would operate charter services particularly in the Pacific region.

    Originally formed as Orvis Nelson Air Transport Company (ONAT) and incorporated Transocean Air lines Inc. on June 1, 1946. Operating out of Oakland and adopting the acronym TALOA-from its telegraphic cable address, Transocean Air Lines Oakland. Two Douglas C-54A Skymasters, the military variant of the Douglas DC-4, were acquired from the U.S. Army Air Corps. First flights were originated under a subcontract with United Airlines operating military flights between San Francisco and Honolulu.

    Transocean continued to grow and expand its operations, including diversifying into contract aircraft maintenance. In 1947 Transocean Air Lines received a contract to move 7,000 English emigrants to the Provence of Ontario, Canada. That was followed by a contract with the International Refugee Organization (IRO), a temporary specialized agency of the United Nations, established in 1946 with 26 member states for the care and the repatriation or resettlement of Europeans made homeless by WWII. The U.S. provided about 40% of the IRO annual $150 million budget. In 1949 Europe was rebuilding after the war and many refugees were trying to re-build their lives. The IRO recognizing that genuine refugees and displaced persons constitute an urgent problem signed a contract with Transocean Air Lines to fly 25,000 persons displaced by WWII to South America and Australia, this required daily flights from Munich and Rome.

    The International Refugee Organization chartered a Transocean Douglas DC-4 to transport a group of Italian emigrants to Caracas, Venezuela. There were 47 Italian emigrants on board plus two Transocean employees. The crew consisted of nine and all were Americans, with the exception of an Italian stewardess, the ninth crew member listed was Ruth Nichols, famous American aviatrix, serving as a stewardess although she had no flight duties. She joined the flight in Rome at the last minute returning from a worldwide tour promoting the International Children’s Emergency Fund.

    In 1946 the International Children’s Emergency Fund (ICEF) was created by the United Nations Relief Rehabilitation Administration to help children affected by WWII. The ICEF . . .

    Transocean Air DC-4

    What Bert Acosta Did and Probably Didn’t Do: Through 1922

    “You have to love Bert Acosta (1895-1954), an aviation pioneer who became famous for his talent and his misbehavior in pre-World War II aviation.”[1]

    Unrivaled accomplishments as a test pilot, finding and proving routes for cross-country flights that led to air mail routes, making long-distance and endurance flights, flying for fledgling airlines and racing, especially racing, from 1919 through 1922, make Bert Acosta a hero of early aviation. In 1927, he coaxed Richard Byrd’s over-loaded tri-motor America off the ground at Roosevelt Field to begin the third successful aerial crossing from New York to France. A decade later, in 1936, he sailed to Spain to fly for the Republicans (“Loyalists”) against General Franco’s (“Nationalist”) forces. The Great Depression torpedoed his plans to become an airplane manufacturer.

    Acosta’s making (unofficial) record-setting long-distance flights in 1920,[2] his successes in the 1920 and 1921 Pulitzer Trophy Air Races3 and his reputation for being able to fly anything including the fabled “kitchen table”[4] or “barn door”[5] when equipped with an engine, make a wonderful beginning for the story of an aviation pioneer. But his glory period lasted only three years, 1920 through 1922, and he would never repeat the success of those years. [See Tables 1 and 2 and note how few additional achievements appear in Table 2.]

    Acosta’s life on the ground as well as in the air was attention-getting. Thomas G. Foxworth provides details about Acosta on the ground in two articles in the Historical Aviation Album: All American Series, Volumes VI (1969)[6] and VII (1970)[7] and in his magisterial The Speed Seekers,[8,9] the standard history of high-speed flight in the 1910s and 20s. Foxworth writes stories about Acosta’s womanizing and those, combined with reports of his excessive drinking, dominate what is known (or reported as known) about Acosta’s private life.

    His drinking was, almost certainly, partly responsible for his losing his decade-long job with Glenn Curtiss in 1923. He was jailed and lost his pilot’s license for flying under bridges and was later arrested for flying without a license.[10] He served jail time for speeding and failure to pay child support. He fell from being an admired, sometimes adored, quick-silver public personality in his 20s and 30s, to a tubercular, unemployed, broke, broken and drunk man in his 50s, old before his time, unable to live on his own. He died at age 59 in 1954.

    Coming early in his life, Acosta’s accomplishments shine above the later messiness, helplessness and failures, but taken altogether, his life is a story of loss.

    Bertram "Bert" Acosta

    Confession Corner: Dreaded Two-engine Out Instrument Approach

    On a modern automobile, one warning light is called “Engine Warning Light.” We called it a “sump light” at this device’s first use in airplanes. This light, on an aircraft’s instrument panel, became either a salvation or bane, or sometimes both, depending on the stage of flight. The story of my two failing engines on an instrument approach in a twin-engine aircraft began in 1957 or about 13 years prior.

    I recall sometime in the spring of that year an aircraft equipment salesman offering a new device to our Navy attack squadron’s skipper. The small object was simply an engine oil drain plug with a magnet in its center and an electrical connection. Ferrous metal in the oil, attracted by the magnet, created a switch. This drain plug wired in a simple circuit could light a warning light in the cockpit alerting a pilot of metal contamination in the engine’s oil.

    Our squadron of 14 Douglas AD-6 (A-1J) Skyraiders was getting a high number of premature engine failures on the aircrafts’ Wright R-3350 engines. Some engine casualties were discovered before in-flight failures by maintenance crews, periodically pulling engine oil strainers, checking for metal contamination. Some potential problems, however, were not discovered when aircraft were on the ground. “Deadstick” landings in this single-engine aircraft, most often prompted by “rough runners,” were frequent and also practiced a lot.

    Our skipper purchased two of these magnet plugs for a trial. At the time, the Navy allowed units to make temporary modifications on only two squadron aircraft. These plugs were installed over the weekend by maintenance crews. An ordinary aircraft “press to test” red light was added to the instrument panel completing the system. Monday morning both aircraft launched; both returned shortly with glowing red “sump lights.” Both engines required changing based on internal damage. The plugs and lights were shifted to two other aircraft. The next day a third engine needed changing based again on a sump light coming on in flight. Urgent messages flew between our squadron at NAS Miramar, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. Very soon, all Navy reciprocating-engine aircraft were getting these amazing chip detector lights installed.

    The sump plug or metallic chip detector became common in aircraft engine lubricating systems including helicopter gearboxes thereafter. This light provided aircrews early warning so flights could be terminated and engines examined before significant engine damage, or aircraft losses, occurred.

    I flew reciprocating engines in military aircraft for another decade and a half with positive assurances provided for me by this ever-present light on . . .

    USCG Grumman HU-16 Albatross

    News & Comments from our Members

    The above Forum of Flight photo and caption generated a number of responses from AAHS member Tom Imrich and Boeing historians Leon Roberts and Bob Bogash. According to them, the photo shows the Boeing 757 at the southern end of Runway 13-31 at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. As 757s were built in Renton, this could not have been the maiden flight, since it appears to be entering the runway for takeoff, or as reported by these individuals, it was not uncommon for 757s to be flown to Boeing Field from Renton and then immediately performing a refused takeoff (RTO).

    One very minor editorial note
    The Caption “...as it taxi’s for its maiden flight...” is likely not correct. As best as I know, all the B757s were built at Renton, and all did their first flight takeoffs out of Renton (I was fortunate to have been able to watch NA001’s first flight in person).
    However, some B757s did do their first landings back at Boeing Field (KBFI), (e.g., early test flight program jets), unless this is a photo of a subsequent production flight, where the first landing would typically have been at Grant County International Airport (KMWH), or Paine Field (KPAE), on the way to that flight’s final landing at KBFI, usually followed by a Refused TakeOff (RTO), before a B flight completion.
    Keep up the great work at AAHS!!!

    All the Best,
    Tom Imrich


    The airplane is unpainted and is (probably) using a Boeing registration “N” number. It will get its airline registration number painted on later. The unpainted status indicates that this is probably the first flight out of the factory in Renton. After paint, an additional production test flight is required.

    It is likely . . . that the airplane is taking the runway to perform a test of the RTO (Refused TakeOff) braking function in the automatic brake system (Autobrakes).
    If true, it has just completed its initial flight from the factory, the Boeing first flight which is called a B-1.

    It is in fact one of the last 757 airplanes to be made.

    Leon Roberts

    Forum of Flight

    The FORUM is presented as an opportunity for each member to participate in the Journal by submitting interesting or unusual photographs. Most of the images come from contributions to the AAHS archives. Unfortunately, in many cases the contributor information has been lost. Where known, we acknowledge them.

    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 92605-3023. Mark any material to be returned: “Return to (your name and complete address).” Or you may wish to have your material added to the AAHS photo archives.

    U.S. Navy Martin P5M-1 Marlin, BuNo 126510

    President’s Message

    The American Aviation Historical Society, now celebrating its 65th year of continuous publication, marks the passing of William T. Larkins, the remaining of three founders of AAHS, on September 9, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday.

    Bill Larkins, along with Willis Nye, and Chalmers Johnson, developed a concept for an aviation society that would contribute accurate and timely information for aviation photography enthusiasts. Bill Larkins himself was a longtime aviation photographer, and worked as an audio visual specialist for the University of California, Berkley.

    Bill is remembered by many in the aviation community, not only for his extensive aviation knowledge, his published books and articles, but his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge with others. It was that passion for sharing with others that forms the basis of our founding mission. Long time members, such as Bob Parmerter, have shared their recollections of Bill and his influence on their lives. Bob expressed the shared sentiment well with these words:

    “We will remember Bill as a founder of AAHS but also for his books, articles, wonderful photographs and for me the fine example he set of aviation historians sharing both their knowledge and their photos. He shared hundreds of Beech 18 negatives with me so that I could make prints, and even more important was his encouragement for me to continue my work with the Beech 18 and subsequently to publish my work.

    I have images in my mind of Bill standing on the roof of his early Ford coupe to get a better angle of an aircraft, spending two days photographing the 1,000+ surplus WWII aircraft stored at Ontario, Calif., and then renting a Piper Cub to photograph them from the air. I fondly recall sharing with Bill the excitement of discovering a very unique aircraft to shoot, of going to extraordinary means to get a shot, of waiting for endless minutes for the sun to come out or of finding a significant photo or document in an archive, and sharing it with the aviation community. Bill will live on in his wonderful books, photos and inspiration that we will hopefully pass on to another generation. I’m very proud to be able to say I was a friend of Bill Larkins.  

    Regards, Bob Parmerter

    In my first year as President of AAHS, in 2012, I made a pilgrimage to Bill’s home, a trove of aviation lore in Concord, Calif., to discuss his vision for AAHS. Bill remained steadfast in his vision that AAHS was meant to make aviation history photos, negatives, and collected aviation material available to the world, and not held for a privileged few. It has been a commitment to this view that has spurred AAHS to dramatically increase conversion of our images to digital format so our archives can be of use to others, as our founders envisioned.

    More information on Bill’s life and achievements can be found in a two part article “The Life and Work of Aviation Photographer & Historian William “Bill” Larkins”, published in AAHS Journal Vol 62, #3, and AAHS Journal Vol 66 No 1, by Jim Geldert

    We all wish a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to Bill, and our ongoing members for enriching the aviation community through our shared interests.

    Jerri Bergen
    AAHS President

    William T. Larkins with Jerri Bergen