Ding Who? A Case of Mistaken Identity

I’m a Smith.  It’s the most common last name in the western world, maybe.  There are a lot of us and we get confused for each other. Back in the days when early ATMs actually swallowed your card to read it,  the machine would occasionally fail to return it.  To add insult to injury,  a couple of times my old bank mailed my card back to the wrong Smith.

In later years I had a more interesting alternate.   Robert Smith was (and is) lead singer of The Cure. Once in a while, when I was working in a university in the UK I’d get breathless sounding e-mails from students asking me if I was *the* Robert Smith.  This is, of course, a matter of perception.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with aviation?

Readers may remember I’ve been having a lot of fun with the B-29 / Tu-4 article that came in the July 2016 edition of FlyPast.  I was struck by the accompanying illustrations which didn’t really sit comfortably with the photographic material.  I think the illustrations are inaccurate representations of the B-29s which force-landed in Vladivostok between July and November 1944. One of these inaccuracies is the result of case  of mistaken identity.  It was was not perpetrated by the author of the FlyPast article, but seems to have been around for many years.  This is the case of “Ding Hao”  or “Ding How” and specifically the confusion between:

  • B-29-1-BW 42-6225  “Ding How” 676 BS / 444th Bomb Group
  • B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding Hao” 794 BS / 468th  Bomb Group

Ding How (or Ding Hao) is a Chinese expression much used by American pilots in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater and it seems to mean “everything’s great / thumbs up / you’re the best” – so naturally there are several different American aircraft of the period which have the nickname painted on them.

Of our two B-29s. 42-6225 came from the very first production block,  and both fell within the group of 175 B-29s which General H.H  “Hap” Arnold wanted for operation “Matterhorn.”  The 175th and last of these B-29s was 42-6365 which he signed personally, and which was later named the “General H.H. Arnold Special.”  All of these aircraft were therefore the subject matter of the “Battle of Kansas.”

The very early B-29s were painted in the US standard finish of Olive Drab and Neutral Gray, and 42-6225 was no exception.


B-29-1-BW 42-6225 “Ding How” – 676BS/444BG 
Capt. Nicolas VanWingerden and crew, Summer 1944 (444th BG)

When I started researching the history of the interned B-29s I wanted to see illustrations of their former USAAF careers.   “Ding How” was remarkably easy, it seemed.  But there were factual errors of a pretty gross nature. Some confusion clearly arose between the two “Ding Hows.”

Nice picture - but oh, the caption.

Nice picture – but oh, the caption.

I don’t know which book this illustration came from.  My guess is it’s an Osprey or Squadron/Signal publication – judging by the caption font, I guess the former. The caption  gets the AAF serial and Bomb Group right, but confuses the fate of this “Ding How” with the other machine from the 468th Bomb Group.

Sadly the incorrect identification continued in some fairly authoritative sources, leading to awfully hybridized illustrations like this:

Wrong Ding How

Hmm. Right serial, wrong group markings and a very dodgy caption.

Right serial number  – but someone has applied the yellow stripes of the 795 BS / 468th BG  and the “Billy Mitchell”  pennant to an aircraft that, as far as I can see, never flew with the 468th and which NEVER force landed in Vladivostok.

The illustration in the July 2016 issue of FlyPast (which I shall not reproduce) takes the picture above one step further. The illustrator applied the serial number of the other “Ding Hao” (42-6358) but still uses the rest of the Olive Drab /Neutral Gray 444th BG machine as his canvas.

So why do I think these illustrations are wrong?    The answer is very simple and was even provided in the FlyPast article itself. It’s labeled as Ding Hao, although clearly the Bomb Log and 468th BG Shooting Star emblem have now been removed.  This is 42-6358,  but this isn’t a green B-29.


B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding Hao” (ex 468 BG)
in Soviet Hands with USAAF markings removed

The clincher for me, is this picture (below) from a Russian website on the Tu-4


B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding Hao” (ex 468 BG) in Soviet Hands
but still bearing its AAF serial number and last three digits (468th practice) on the fin.

I take this to be a genuine Soviet picture of “Ding Hao”  with a nice red star  on the fin, and all US national markings and group IDs removed.  You can see pale traces on the fuselage and nose, and with the eye of faith you can *almost* see the 468th BG stripes having been erased from the rudder.  But anyway, the point is – she isn’t Olive Drab.

Compare the Soviet nose shot with this photograph from the 468th Bomb Group:

Ding Hao6

B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding How” – 468th Bomb Group, China, 1944

The size and shape of the “Hump” mission markers (the camels) and the bomb log correspond exactly with the painted or stripped areas of the B-29 in the illustration above this one.

One last surprise awaits. Everyone (including me) has been referring to 42-6358 as “Ding Hao”  but look at the name in the Group insignia.  Admittedly I’m wearing bifocals and this is a third or fourth generation copy but that rather looks like “Ding How” to me.

As I said somewhere previously,  it seems unlikely to me that the Soviets, even in their enthusiasm to make an exact copy, would go to the trouble of stripping all the paint off an Olive Drab  B-29 and then re-applying the AAF serial and 468 BG “last three”  on the fin.  I’m not buying it.  My theory is that somewhere, a few years ago, someone saw a picture, made an erroneous assumption and thus a whole generation of mistakes was born.    I would like to set the record straight, assuming I’m right.  I think I am, and this is my way of doing it.

Oh,  and just for the record, I checked with Joe Baugher’s website  to see what happened to the other “Ding How”

42-6225 ... 42-6228 (EXACT MATCH)
Boeing B-29-1-BW Superfortress
MSN 3359/3362
6225 reclamation completed Davis Monthan Jun 19, 1947

So the green one made it back home as a War Weary, while the silver one sat somewhere on a Soviet airfield until about 1954 when most of the Tu-4 fleet was scrapped.

Take it away, Kim.




“The Man Who Owns the Sky”

The Man Who Owns the Sky, the Master Birdman, the World’s Greatest Aviator.   How many times in the golden age of aviation were sobriquets such as these applied to the adventurers who took to the skies and burned so brightly, but for so short a time?   One such was Lincoln Beachey (1887-1915).   A pilot who, according to his Wikipedia page, was the first pilot to recover an aircraft from a spin by turning into it. Beachey started flying for Glenn Curtis.     105 years ago today in 1911 he was the first man to fly over the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.  The Smithsonian’s Facebook page  commemorated the event.

Suzy said to me “Is that the same airplane I photographed in Albuquerque?”  and I had no idea.  On closer inspection, no it isn’t, but it’s a fairly close relative.  The Ingram/Foster was a copy of a Curtiss.  Beachey flew a genuine Curtiss.  There are some similarities.


Lincoln Beachey

Lincoln Beachey was the first to fly over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls on June 27, 1911. Pictured here about to fly under the Niagara Fall Bridge. (Library of Congress Picture)


Another Library of Congress picture shows Beachey in his trademark business suit at the controls of his Curtiss

Lincoln Beachey

Lincoln Beachey at the controls of his Curtiss (Library of Congress)


And without doubt a favorite image even though I discovered it a few minutes before writing this article – Lincoln Beachey loops the loop over his home town of San Francisco  at the Exposition of 1913

Lincoln_Beachey Loops

Lincoln Beachey flying a loop over the San Francisco Exposition, 1913. (Popular Mechanics)


I know it has to be a composite of two pictures, but given the pilot’s position at the very front of a Curtiss pusher, I would have crowned him King of the Sky myself after this.

Beachey made his final flight at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition on March 14, 1915 in the Beachey-Eaton Monoplane. He took the plane up in front of a large crowd, made a loop, and turned the plane inverted. He may have failed to notice his altitude had dropped to 2,000 feet.  He pulled on the controls to pull the plane out of its inverted position, where it was slowly sinking. The strain caused the rear spars in wings to break, and the crumpled plane plunged into San Francisco bay between two ships. Navy men jumped into action, but it took almost two hours to recover Beachey’s body. Even then, rescuers spent three hours trying to revive him. An autopsy found he had survived the crash and had died from drowning.

His funeral in San Francisco was allegedly the largest in the city’s history until then. A Wikipedia writer estimated 30 million people saw him in his career, 17 million in 1914 alone



More about the B-29, Tu-4, Tu-70

I’m having rather a lot of fun with this topic, so much so that there ought to be a couple more articles  in it while I set a few things straight in my own mind and perhaps try and draw a few threads together.

Having read the last post and corrected my appalling typing and grammar for the umpteenth time,  I happened to follow a link on YouTube and discovered a very interesting Russian TV documentary about the Tu-4 under the series title “Made in the USSR.”  The English in the subtitles is a little strained at times, but you’ll get the drift.

This in itself was pretty interesting in that it confirmed pretty much all we already knew about B-29 cloning program.    What made me rather excited was a tiny sequence just under three minutes into the program – and here’s a screenshot. Interned B-29

So, that’s a group of Soviet engineers and military being shown over a B-29.  A couple of seconds before you could see the lower portion of a US ‘Star and Bar’  – and on the nose we can clearly see the ‘shooting star’  emblem of the 468th Bomb Group and above the flat cap of the gentlemen on the right there is quite clearly a bomb log and what I assume to be some ‘Hump’  mission markers.

Assuming this is one of the interned B-29s,  then the machine above can only be either 42-6358 “Ding Hao” or 42-6365 “General H.H. Arnold Special”   since 42-6256 “Ramp Tramp” belonged to the 462nd BG.

It’s a small thing I know,  but it’s amazing to me that someone was even making movies of this kind in Stalin’s USSR in the late 40s.


The Soviet airliner that bombed Japan

The Soviet airliner that bombed Japan

In a very old article in the Kent (or Medway) Evening Post, It was reported  that someone’s garden shed  consisted of a fuselage section from an early operational variant of a  Short Stirling, which had actually participated on several bombing raids on Germany before meeting some unspecified end.  If I find the cutting again I’ll try and track down the date, the serial number of the Stirling  and its operational record.  The recovery of the shed was reported under the headline “It’s the shed that bombed Germany”

In my case, the story goes back to August 1947, and the Soviet Aviation day parade at the Tushino airfield in Moscow.  Western dignitaries and observers were treated to a view of the Soviet Union’s latest strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-4, which was revealed to be a virtual clone of the Boeing B-29.  It had been known for some time that the Soviet Union had been trying to duplicate the B-29, three of which had force landed after bombing raids in 1944.  The three machines which flew overhead were immediately assumed to be those B-29s, revived and put into service with the VVS. However their skepticism was cast aside when a fourth aircraft, with the wings, engines and tail assembly of a B-29 attached to a new cylindrical fuselage, flew over the parade.  This aircraft was introduced as the Tu-70.  What had been thought to be impossible had been undertaken – the Soviet aircraft industry had duplicated the B-29.

I’ve always known about the story of the three B-29s which landed in the Soviet Union.  I know that these three were allegedly the subject of an order by Stalin himself to make an exact copy by reverse engineering.   I even lectured about this once or twice in a course on the history of Kansas and the West, and referred to the Soviet strategic bomber from Wichita.

The B-29s in question were all fairly early models of the B-29 which had been completed by Boeing Wichita:
•    42-6256 B-29-5-BW “Ramp Tramp”   771BS, 462BG which force landed in the Soviet Union on 29 July 1944   MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) 7178
•    42-6365 B-29-15-BW “General H.H. Arnold Special” 794BS,  468BG  which force landed in the Soviet Union on 11 November 1944 after a raid on the Omura Aircraft Factory  in Japan.  MACR 9664
•    42-6358 B-29-15-BW  “Ding Hao” 794BS, 468 BG  which force landed in the Soviet Union on 21 November 1944. MACR 9865

The July 2016 issue of FlyPast has a very interesting account of the development of the TU-4 and the fate of the three B-29s.  Although the illustrations in the article are misleading there are a couple of very interesting photographs of the B-29s and their cloned brethren.

Of the three American airframes, “Ding Hao” apparently never flew again but was preserved as a reference copy in the development of the Tu-4.    The “General H.H. Arnold Special” which had been signed personally by ‘Hap’ Arnold at the Boeing plant in Wichita at the beginning of the so-called Battle of Kansas, was dismantled piece by piece to facilitate reverse engineering of the components. “Ramp Tramp” was flown by the VVS extensively and was used to carry a developmental aircraft including the rocket powered Samolet 346  (“Aircraft 346”) which was a captured unfinished German prototype. Ramp Tramp ended its days with much of the TU-4 fleet, being scrapped in 1954.


Former 462nd BG (perhaps this is why the formerly red rudder looks darker in this picture) B-29-5-BW 42-6256 “Ramp Tramp” takes off carrying “Samolet (Aircraft) 346” – actually the captured German DFS 346 rocket-powered research aircraft, possibly in May 1947. “Samolet 346” reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.95


The Tu-70 was something of an enigma. Its arrival on the scene in the later summer of 1947 showed that the Soviet Union had developed the technology to duplicate and adapt the B-29 and made derivatives. However even this part of the story has an ironic twist.   When you look at pictures and the YouTube video of the Tu-70 the viewer is obviously struck by the B-29 engines, wings and tail.  Although it’s not exactly clear, it would seem from various articles that the engines and wings are not just similar – they are the engines and wings of a B-29. These are components from 42-6365 “General H.H. Arnold Special” which were delivered to the plant to facilitate speedy production of the Tu-70.  Thus by 1947 the VVS had available a long-range transport and passenger aircraft of some sophistication.  Don’t forget that at this time the British were still flying derivatives of the Lancaster and Halifax.

It’s even more ironic to learn that the Tu-70 never went into volume production.  Aeroflot couldn’t see the need for such an aircraft and rejected it.  The Tu-70 soldiered on with the VVS as a transport until it was scrapped in 1954.

Meanwhile in the United States, Boeing had developed their own transport derivative of the B-29 and its offspring the B-50.  This was, of course the C-97 which continued in service in various parts of the world well into the 1970s and even entered volume production for the passenger market as the model 377 Stratocruiser.



Another Piece of History – The 1914 Ingram Foster Biplane

Suzy came back from a conference in Albuquerque, NM and said she had seen an old aircraft on display in the airport there.   She took a couple of pictures with her mobile phone, and I was very interested to see (yet again) a piece of American aviation history about which I knew nothing.

13435334_10209829020306243_5335520562409996548_n 13445790_10209829020746254_6587747938586611731_n

The story itself doesn’t seem to involve Albuquerque or New Mexico except as the final resting place of this historic machine.    Apparently a Texan car dealer called Ingram met a flyer called Foster  and they set up a partnership  known as the Pioneer Aeroplane Exhibition Company.

Foster essentially built a copy of a Curtiss pusher  biplane. Some of the components came from mail order supply houses, and  some were custom built.  The machine was sufficiently robust to warrant building four more.   However business in the form of exhibition flights dried up and soon Ingram was left with one serviceable machine.   He packed it up in 1916 and put it into storage.   It would stay there for more than 50 years.

In the sixties an aircraft restorer from Texas named john Bowden heard of the machine and bought it from Ingram’s family.    The machine was apparently in surprisingly good condition – only the tires had perished – apparently Bowden was even able to start the two-stroke engine.  In 1987, Bowden sold the machine to The Albuquerque Museum and City of Albuquerque Aviation Department, where it remains to this day in the Albuquerque International Airport.

Obviously the striking thing for me is the fact that the machine is largely in its original condition.  The City of Albuquerque website doesn’t mention how much (if any ) conservation work has been done, but it’s a fascinating piece of history and lovely to see a real relic from the early days displayed anywhere.   If anyone can tell me what the New Mexico  connection is, please let me know.  What we seem to have is a slice of Texas aviation history displayed in Albuquerque.   I can live with that.