One thing leads to another

I wrote about the B-52 being a shape  that didn’t do much for me, and soon thereafter my lovely wife posted a note on Facebook about a B-52 being brought out of storage from AMARC at Davis-Monthan AFB.    One facet of the reporting that amused me was that there was some confusion about the airplane’s Air Force serial number, although all the news sites agree its name is Ghost Rider.

There was another B-52 at Barksdale AFB that had a serious cockpit fire, and apparently it was cheaper to pull a B-52 out of storage than repair the damaged airframe.  The surviving systems from the damaged machine will be transferred to Ghost Rider.

B-52H 61-0007 Ghost Rider being readied for the flight to Louisiana

B-52H 61-0007 “Ghost Rider” being readied for the flight to Louisiana.

I checked with Joe Baugher’s site, and verified that the correct serial for the aircraft is 61-0007, not 61-10007 or 61-1007 as listed in some reports. Let’s just say I’ll back Joe Baugher’s judgement on serial numbers any day. The Boeing construction number is 464434.

A different confusion arises when the Jalopnik article quotes the serial number of the B-52 that had the serious cockpit fire, necessitating Ghost Rider’s resurrection, as 61-0049. Joe Baugher says that’s the serial of an F-105D-15-RE Thunderchief of the 49th TFW which crashed near  Wheelus AB in Libya on Mar 6, 1962 due to engine failure.  It isn’t 61-1049 either, since Baugher says that’s in the range of serials (61-0973 61-2050)  allocated to  a bunch of Martin ASM-N-7 Bullpup missiles re-designated AGM-12 in 1962.  It’s just a typo somewhere, I’m sure.

I’d better do some more reading.  FYI the serial range for the three B-52 construction blocks  built in Wichita, KS in FY 1961 are 61-001 to 61-0013 (B-52H-165-BW) , 61-0014 to 61-0026 (B-52H-170-BW) and 61-0027 to 61-0040 (B-52H-175-BW)


There is a nice segment in a story on the Davis Monthan AFB website  – concerning Mr. Jerry Fugere, aged 80 from Tuscon, AZ who was Ghost Rider’s first Crew Chief in 1962.  Mr. Fugere was given the honor of marshaling Ghost Rider for its first taxi run since 2008. That’s him in the orange Hi-Viz jacket in the USAF picture below.


Jerry Fugere salutes the “Ghost Rider” as it taxis by on Feb. 13, 2015, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
In 1962, Fugere was the first crew chief of the B-52H Stratofortress, tail number 61-0007, and is given the honor of marshaling the jet from its parking spot before taking its first flight since being decommissioned in 2008.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele/Released)


American shapes

I recently commented how much I liked the appearance of the F-104 “Starfighter,” especially in its early USAF liveries.  It made me think a little about some other forms that have been inspirational to me over the years.   I spent a wonderful few minutes looking at pictures of the English Electric / BAC Lightning, and I promise I’ll put something together in a future post.

One aircraft which I find immensely pleasing to look at, and which bears a small resemblance to the F-104, is the T-38.  It must the the short stubby low-aspect ratio wings.  There’s something about a white painted T-38 that I find very satisfying.

I did some image searching and had my breath taken away by this US Air Force image from 1961 – there is a T-38 in there somewhere.

X-15 being carried by its NB-52B mothership

X-15 being carried by its NB-52B mothership (52-0008), with T-38A chase plane.
San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives catalog #00043417.
United States Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The T-38 in this view reminds me incredibly of the Orion Spacecraft in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – so much so that I can almost hear the strains of “The Blue Danube” as it cruises alongside the venerable NB-52B  / X-15 combo.

Which led me to yet another ramble.   The B-52 has never been a shape I’d call attractive,  but it’s symbolized American air power probably more than any aircraft has since the B-17.  I was curious why this specific aircraft was an NB-52 but I haven’t found that explanation yet.  What I did find was another very pleasing image which completes a little circle for me.

A NASA Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter flies chase on the NASA Boeing NB-52B

A NASA Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter (serial N824NA) flies chase on the NASA Boeing NB-52B during a DAST ARW-1 captive flight on 14 September 1979.
By Bob Rhine, NASA (NASA photo EC79-11687) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the same B-52, 18 years later, with a former Luftwaffe TF-104G flying chase.   The NASA civilian scheme for the F-104 is very pretty.   The story of the B-52 itself is interesting and as usual I defer to the “W” website for the text.

“Balls 8 (52-0008) is a NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership, retired in 2004 after almost 50 years of flying service with NASA. The aircraft is famous for dropping the X-15 aerospace research vehicle on 106 of the 199 X-15 program flights.

Balls 8 was originally an RB-52B that was first flown on June 11, 1955, and entered service with NASA on June 8, 1959. It was modified at North American Aviation’s Palmdale facility to enable it to carry the X-15.

The modified bomber flew 159 captive-carry and launch missions for the X-15 program from June 1959 until October 1968. It was first used to launch the X-15 on its fifth flight, January 23, 1960. It also flew missions for the X-24, HiMAT, Lifting Body vehicles, X-43, early launches of the OSC Pegasus rocket and numerous other programs.

At its retirement on 17 December 2004, Balls 8 was the oldest active B-52 in service, and the only active B-52 not of the H model. It also had the lowest total airframe time of any operational B-52. It is on permanent public display near the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base in California.”

A further footnote from the image notes –  “The TF-104G was produced for Germany with the USAF s/n 63-3065, Luftwaffe serials 27+37. It was transferred to NASA in 1975 as N824NA. After retirement it went to the California Polytechnic Institute and is today on display at the Estrella Warbirds Museum, Paso Robles, California.”

Unexpected find

Silver Wing monument at Montgomery-Waller Recreation Center in Otay Mesa, San Diego, California

Silver Wing monument at Montgomery-Waller Recreation Center in Otay Mesa, San Diego, California. (Wikimedia).

John Joseph Montgomery (February 15, 1858 – October 31, 1911) was an American inventor, physicist, engineer,  known for his invention of controlled heavier-than-air flying machines.

Between the years 1884 and 1886, Montgomery, a native of Yuba City, California,  made the first manned, controlled, flights in a heavier-than-air flying machine in the United States, using a series of gliders in Otay Mesa near San Diego, California.

Montgomery’s name was unfamiliar to me and yet interesting because clearly he was a pioneer of aviation in the United States.  He was killed in 1911 when his glider “The Evergreen” crashed on October 31st.  There was even a movie made about him, called Gallant Journey, (1946, Directed by Wiliam A. Wellman) starring Glenn Ford as Montgomery.

And how is this connected in any way with what I was doing on a cold Sunday afternoon?  I was looking at the history of the Convair B-32 “Dominator” – the lost, superfluous bomber of the second world war, of which little or nothing survives.

A few years ago in 2008 an artist erected a memorial to Montgomery in California in the shape of a wing – it has a very high aspect ratio as you can see from the picture.  The Wikipedia article writer says it’s a glider wing.  Other articles claim that it is in fact the outer wing section of a B-32. If so, it’s  probably the largest piece of B-32 extant worldwide.

This Day in History – 14th February

This Day in History – 14th February

Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998)

Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998)

I just wondered what might have happened on Valentine’s Day so I looked at This Day in Aviation.  I was rather happy with the results as I got another link to another article about which I’d already written.   You know how I like connections. On this day in 1913, Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier  was born.  Tony LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998) was an air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s, says the “W” website.

I happened to notice that LeVier flew the XP-80 (see the earlier article about XP-80A, 44-83020 Lulu-Belle elsewhere in this blog)  but it’s a little better than that. According to This Day In Aviation,  Lulu-Belle was first flown by LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now  Edwards AFB)  on 8 January,  1944.

As a test pilot for Lockheed, LeVier was also involved with one of my favorite aircraft of the 50s and 60s, the F-104.  I can’t describe why I like it, and certainly in the “missile with a man in it” competition, my heart also belongs to the English Electric Lightning,  (and having said that, I feel another article may be on the way) but the polished silver F-104s with bright USAF markings and heraldry appeal to some part of my aesthetic sense. I’m sorry I never managed to get a big F-104 model from my local Walmart when they were on sale.  Actually I never saw them in my local Walmart.

Here’s Tony LeVier pictured on the XF-104 53-7786

Tony LeVier with the XF-104

Tony LeVier with the XF-104 53-7786 – USAF Photograph

And (below) here is the beast in its element.  I have no idea who’s flying it in this picture but no doubt I will find out.

Lockheed XF-104

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 – USAF

Another couple of F-104 snippets courtesy of “This Day” author Byron Swopes.  XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed on 11 July,  1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot (not LeVier on this occasion) ejected safely.  Tony LeVier died at the age of 84 on February 6, 1998, having  survived eight crashes and one mid-air collision in his flying career.  Today’s post is dedicated to his memory.

Meopham Air Disaster, July 21st 1930.

It is not my intention to dwell too much on air disasters in this blog, but while I was thinking about the explosion aboard Viking G-AIVL in 1950 (see an earlier post), I thought that I could probably write a little bit about an air crash which had a tangential effect on me personally.

When I was a small child,  my parents told me the story of a Junkers that crashed in the Kent village of Meopham, a few miles from where we lived in Rochester.   My great-grandfather was one of two village policemen in Meopham at the time. The way my father told the story, a German airliner, probably a Ju 52, crashed before the outbreak of the Second World War. There was a significant loss of life in the crash, which became known as the Meopham Air Disaster. The passengers were rich and their personal effects, including ladies’ jewellery, were scattered around the countryside. Not all the jewellery was recovered, and my great-grandfather and several other policemen who had been drafted in were ordered to secure the wreckage and personal belongings.

I later found out that it was a much older accident, that the machine in question was British, and that while the death toll was smaller, all aboard the aircraft had been killed.

Whilst I haven’t untangled all the threads of the story, especially relating to the passengers, there are a some very interesting facts which link the story of the Meopham crash to some notable events in British aviation and social history.

The Wikipedia Article summarizes what happened. “The Meopham Air Disaster occurred on 21 July 1930 when a Junkers F.13ge from Le Touquet to Croydon with two crew and four passengers crashed near Meopham, Kent, with the loss of all on board. The report of the inquiry into the accident were made public, the first time in the United Kingdom that an accident report had been published. The aircraft involved was Junkers F.13ge G-AAZK, c/n 2052.”

By another one of the strange coincidences of which I’m fond, the accident report, published in 1931, is still available in the collection of a library where I used to work in Kansas City. I suspect it’s probably the only copy in the United States. I looked it up on WorldCat and didn’t find many copies.

After a small amount of searching on the Web I found a few interesting,  and in some cases downright weird snippets of information relating to the crash, which I hope to collate in further blog posts. I also wasn’t expecting to find new images – in fact I’d only ever seen one very grainy photograph, but ran across a YouTube video which was originally made by Pathe News.  I will close this entry with that Pathe News newsreel.