Another Airplane Blog…

While the parents were gone, we took our grandkids to the Historic Flight museum on Felts Field. All their planes are in flying condition, and actually are flown regularly. They are spotless, and the museum itself is clean and bright.

This red biplane is a Travel Air 4000. A group of aviation pioneers formed the Travel Air company, and they made a quite advanced two seater biplane. By 1929 they produced more aircraft than any other company. The depression killed the company… and some of the founders left to form their own companies… names like Stearman, Beech and Cessna.

A Travel Air took third place in the 1927 National Air Races – New York to Spokane. (Felts Field was one of the first airports in the west, originally under the name of Parkwater Airstrip.) The race authorities allowed a certain amount of time for stopping and refueling, but the Travel Air team had a better idea. They had a partner airplane fly above them with a can of fuel, and dangle a hose down. The race plane caught it, hooked it into a specially modified gas line, and did mid-air refueling! In 1927!

The beautiful green Waco UPF-7 below was used as a trainer for WWII pilots. The government knew war was inevitable, but was hampered by official isolationist policy. So private airports bought these planes, and the government funded training programs to give college students a head start when they entered the Army Air Corps, Navy, or Marines.

This particular craft disappeared after its retirement in 1953. In 2002 it was found, dismantled and boxed up. The owner was planning to restore it, and moved the boxes with him three times over the 50 years. Because it was so carefully preserved, most of the parts on this plane are original.

Historic Flight claims these little Piper L-4J “spotter planes,” called “Grasshoppers,” were among the most lethal planes the US had in WWII. There were used exclusively for observation. They reported locations for military targets, which made their barrages far more formidable. There are stories about how troops on the ground would be unable to send radio messages, for fear of enemy detection. They could hold a capsule with a message on a line between two poles, and the Piper could swoop down and snag the message, relaying it safely to command. The pilots of these little unarmed planes are some of the unsung heroes of the war.

This little Grasshopper was shipped brand new to the Pacific Theater, where it flew over the Philippine and Ryukyu (Japanese) islands. It was decommissioned in Okinawa, bought by an ex-Army pilot, and still contains over 95% of its original parts.

In 1937, Stearman, then a division of Boeing, introduced this biplane. With the start of WWII, it became a popular trainer in spite of being almost obsolete at the time.

Below left is a Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine. Rolls-Royce traditionally names its jet engines after rivers – the River Nene flows through east England. The Nene engine became a standard fighter power plant and was used in at least eight different aircraft, including Russian MIGs. As a gesture of goodwill, 25 Nene engines were given to the Soviet Union under the condition that they were not to be used for military purposes. The Soviets reverse engineered the engines to create the engines used in the MIG-15, which was “more than a match” for the USAF’s Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star.

The tank on the right below is displayed under the title “The Tanks that Won the War?” In 1942 the Army Air Corps prohibited the use of auxiliary tanks like these, believing the heavy bombers in use would end the war. Staggering losses of bomber crews forced reconsideration of that policy. These tanks extended the range of fighters so they could protect the bombers. The tank below was used in the bomb bay of a B-25, to ferry it back from England to Felts Field. If you hang in here, you’ll see it in a minute.

The engine in the bottom picture is a Rolls-Royce Merlin. A V-12, it was somewhat unusual for an aviation engine in that it was water cooled. It has been produced in many variations, and by the end of the war it was producing over 2,000 Hp. It was used in fighters, bombers, even tanks and a few choice cars.

Thomas E. Hamilton got a job patching hot air balloons when he was 14 years old. He was fascinated with aircraft, and started experimenting with gliders. He formed an airplane manufacturing company when he was 16 years old! He started flying before Will Boeing flew. He actually introduced Will Boeing to a young Navy pilot at a club in Seattle, and that is when the Boeing company started. In 1929 Hamilton became a subsidiary of the Boeing Airplane Company.

The Hamilton Metalplane below was designed by James McDonnell. It has a lot in common with the Ford Tri-motor, because Ford had also employed McDonnell. This early airliner carried 7 passengers in the first trans-continental airline service. This is the second oldest Boeing aircraft still flying. Can you imagine sitting in those wicker chairs, crossing the country at 105 mph? It must have seemed forever!

You have to love the interesting details of this Hamilton Metalplane.

The US Army Air Corps used these T-6 trainers to advance pilot’s skills from the biplanes to more modern high performance craft. If they performed well enough, they could advance to the P-40 Warhawk or the P-51 Mustang. When we saw this plane on the ramp from a distance, my grandson Bryan asked the docent if it was a Japanese Zero. The guide was impressed, and said while it was an American plane, its silhouette is so similar to the Zero that T-6’s were painted in Japanese colors as Zeros in many movies, like Tora Tora Tora and The Final Countdown.

“Grumpy” is a B-25 “Mitchell” that was flown back from England with the ferry tank (shown above) in its bomb bay. Grumpy was one of 70 B-25’s participating in a lend/lease agreement with our allies. She served in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, before being retired in 1962.

From the museum notes: The list of credits for the B-25 Mitchell bomber includes many “firsts”: It was the first army plane to see action on every fighting front of WW II, the first to sink a submarine, and the first medium bomber to fly from a carrier deck. Yet it was designed in just 40 days, without wind-tunnel tests or prototypes.

The DC-3 has always been one of my favorite airplanes. The military versions were called C-47s. I’m going to plagiarize a couple of paragraphs about this plane from the Museum documents:

[ This particular plane was one of 300 C-47s built specifically for the China-Burma-India theater of operations. It was fitted with long-range fuel tanks and supercharged engines for better high altitude performance. It was delivered to China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) in Calcutta, and supplied U.S. armed forces and Nationalist Chinese from 1944 to 1945.

Pan American Airways partnered with the Nationalist Chinese government to operate CNAC. Many CNAC pilots had flown with the disbanded Flying Tigers. These pilots sought cloudy weather or flew at night to avoid Japanese fighter planes. From April 1942, when the Burma Road was lost, to August 1945, CNAC crews made more than 38,000 trips over the Hump, transporting approximately 114,500 tons of people and supplies. Post-war, CNAC continued its operations as the leading airline in mainland China. In 1949, Civil Air Transport (CAT) acquired CNAC. Claire Chennault formed CAT with the support of the State Department to keep CNAC aircraft out of Communist hands.

The Communist and Nationalist Chinese disputed ownership of 71 former CNAC aircraft through British courts in Hong Kong. During this aircraft’s three-year wait at Kai Tak Airport for the dispute to be resolved, it suffered damage when a booby-trap, apparently the work of a Nationalist agent, exploded, creating a hole in the starboard wing. ]

The court found in favor of the CAT, and the plane served for about 5 decades as a VIP transport for several American companies, including Johnson & Johnson. It is going to be left in VIP configuration. It was fun to see the slide rules on the navigation table!

This de Haviland Beaver, now on floats, served during the 60’s in Laos, in Air America, the CIA’s air service. (Did you know the CIA has its own air service??) Operating out of small airstrips in mountainous terrain, it was responsible for moving personnel and providing aerial resupply, often in the form of “hard rice” (ammunition.)

After official retirement, it flew as a float plane in Alaska for about a decade. On one takeoff, the passenger door popped open, and the pilot, trying to close the door, crashed into a tree. (FLY THE AIRPLANE!) (That’s a rule – every pilot knows that, but some get distracted…) Anyway, the plane was abandoned for six years and then restored to its present glory.

Under the wing of the Beaver is a beautiful old White tour bus. Yes, I realize it’s red, but the manufacturer is the White company. I love these old busses, and so again I’m going to copy museum info for your enjoyment. If you don’t enjoy this kind of detail, skip it!

[ Developed specifically for sightseeing in the National Park System, the White Model 706 has become famous among public transportation vehicles. It all started in 1935 when four manufacturing companies agreed to participate in product evaluations at Yosemite National Park to determine the best vehicle for touring in western national parks.

The transition from horse-drawn carriages to internal- combustion-engine powered coaches had taken place, but no standard had been established for seating capacity or power requirements. All of the participating vehicles were loaded with sandbags to simulate passenger weight and driven the same course throughout Yosemite. The White Model 706, with its longer wheelbase and powerful 318-cubic-inch 6-cylinder engine, outperformed the other entries and became the vehicle of choice. The coach boasted a red and black paint scheme in Glacier National Park and a yellow and black scheme at Yellowstone.

The styling of the White Model 706 did not go unnoticed. The radiator cowling and grill were the work of the renowned Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, a Russian immigrant whose designs had been used on the Packard, the Cord, and the De Vaux automobiles. The Bender Body Company designed and built the coach body under the leadership of Herman Bender and F.W. Black, president of White Motor Company.

Yellowstone Park ordered 27 of the Model 706s for the 1936 season. By 1940, there were 98 in service. The Model 706s were used until the mid 1960s when the remaining buses were sold. Aviation legend Edwin “Skeeter” Carlson of Spokane, Washington acquired this 1937 example and shared it with his friends until it arrived at Historic Flight Foundation (HFF) in 2012. The coach is used for group tours of the airport and special occasion transportation. ]

Another White bus is in Yellowstone livery. Both busses have canvas tops that can be rolled back, letting tourists enjoy the beautiful National Park vistas.

Another favorite of mine (OK, I have a bunch) is the Beech Staggerwing. After Walter Beech left the failed Travel Air, his new eponymous company wanted to make a fast, comfortable business flyer. The D17 first flew in 1932. Its unusual wing configuration, with the upper wing further back than the lower, gave it the “Staggerwing” nickname. Interiors were fitted with leather, mohair and wool. The first planes sold for up to $17,000.

Staggerwings did well in racing, and famous aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran flew one to an altitude record of over 30,000 feet. Later, with Hap Arnold, she established the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs.)

“Impatient Virgin” is a 1944 P-51 Mustang. The “P” stands for Pursuit, and this was a very fast plane. She flew four sorties on D-Day, and flew bomber support in the Kassel Mission, “one of the most dramatic aerial battles of WWII.” Later she flew with the 361st Fighter group, when they engaged German fighters in dogfights. The 361st downed 18 German planes that day, 3 of which were done by Impatient Virgin.

[ By mid-1945 Mustangs were flown for training purposes only. On June 22, Flight Officer Wade Ross took Impatient Virgin on an extremely low and fast training flight. Ross got into trouble, bailed out, and the plane crashed in a Little Walden, UK farm field. In 2002, during another crash site excavation, a man approached the archeologists, pointed to a nearby field and said, “That’s the one you should be digging up.” As a young farmhand, he had witnessed Impatient Virgin’s crash. ]

The plane was found in a sugar beet field, and excavation had to be halted during beet growing season because the UK had a law that fields could not lay fallow. Excavation and restoration took about 6 years, but she is now in fabulous shape!

Ammunition is fed to the machine guns on belts in these guides. Pilots were encouraged to expend all the ammo they set out with… guess how long the belts were… 9 yards. Some say that’s where the phrase, “The whole 9 yards” comes from.

Our grandkids had an “away” soccer game, so we drove 40 minutes out to the middle of nowhere, Edwall, to attend. Lots of open fields, quite pretty in their own way, and the sky was awesome! No pictures of the game. Live with it.

I was privileged to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of Palisades Christian Academy’s new gym. It is a very beautiful building, well designed, and it was fun to see the grand opening!

Friday I got to help Loren put some lights up on the deck. It looks very nice, and will be fun in tomorrow evening’s party! Come back next week to see how it went!

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