The Other Blog is Back

aged newspaper formation

B-24s of the 44th Bomb Group – the new title image for the revised “Joplin’s Bomber” Blog

After a lot of noises being made offstage about my long-term history project,  which I haven’t touched for some considerable time,   it’s become apparent that now is the time to do something.

Well, it’s back.

Despite having burned a couple of good domain names with the deletion of the Blogspot blog and my complete ineptness with an early version of the WordPress  platform, the  “Joplin’s Bomber” blog is back again.  This time it’s https://joplinjalopyblog.wordpress.com/

I’m hoping that what I’ve learned about blogging, WordPress and historical research may prove beneficial in the time ahead.

There isn’t much there right now (you wouldn’t believe the machinations I’ve been through in terms of styles, templates, layouts – or if you know WordPress, maybe you do – and I’m cheap so I’m using all the free stuff)  but I hope I’ll be getting some more of my eleven-year old research back into some useful form in the pages of the site.

Hazardous Drones

Reading the BBC news as I do for news of the Old Country I happened to see this article http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39747042 “Plane in UK’s first double-drone near-miss case” In which an A320 approaching London Heathrow last November reported having been in close proximity with not one but two drones. This is the first reported occasion that two drones have compromised the safety of an aircraft in UK airspace. The fact that the Airbus was at approximately 5,000 (five thousand) feet on its approach makes the actions of the drone operators even less explicable, since under UK law done operators are expected to restrict their flights to an altitude of 400 feet.

Drone

Generic drone picture. We don’t know exactly what types of drones are being flown into the paths of aircraft, deliberately or accidentally, but the fact that an increasing number of airprox reports are being filed indicates the problem is increasing.
(Public Domain image via Pixabay)

The article mentions the UK Airprox Board  so I thought I would have a look at their website.  https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/home/  As the website says” “Airprox occurrences are near accidents, and the mission of the UKAB is: “To enhance Air Safety through prevention of airborne conflict and mid-air collision”.  As part of this mission, a key role is to champion, contribute and communicate an understanding of Airprox causes and mid-air collision risks amongst the wider aviation community.”

Reading the report summaries for March 2017 https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/Reports-and-analysis/Monthly-summaries/2017/Monthly-Meeting-March-2017/ I am amazed at the number of reported incidents overall, and I am very concerned that the last five or so incidents involve both commercial and military aircraft coming into conflict with drones or models.   Some of the other reports are disturbingly interesting, such as the unidentified model aircraft that narrowly missed an RAF Chinook when it flew above  the low-flying helicopter (both pilots missed it, only a crewman observed the 1-meter white model passing above them). Also noteworthy is the interaction between an RAF Hawk and two “Foreign Military” (less than three guesses required)  F-15s over the Vale of York in November 2016.

When I feel inclined, I may look to see what similar mechanism exists in the USA.

 

Shooting Script

Having mentioned Shooting Script the other day, I naturally picked up my slightly tattered paperback once I’d finished Gray Eagles.

Shooting Script is a different proposition from Gray Eagles. Gavin Lyall wrote it in 1966 following a stint flying Meteors in the RAF while doing his National Service,  and following a career as a journalist which he gave up to write full-time.

Lyall always seemed to choose heroes with monosyllabic masculine names and the main protagonist in Shooting Script  is no exception. Keith Carr is a former RAF pilot and veteran of the Korean War.  He affects an amusingly world-weary wise-cracking style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler’s private eyes. We meet him flying from Jamaica to Puerto Rico in his slightly tatty De Havilland Dove,  and watch him being “bounced” by two Vampire fighters. It transpires that the military Junta running a small Spanish-speaking island nation, the Republica Libra has just purchased twelve Vampires.  “I hadn’t known the Republica owned any jet fighters, not even seventeen-year-old ones.” Carr says on the first page.

De Havilland Vampire

Two Swedish Air Force de Havilland Vampires
By Flygvapenmuseum/Nygren, (fotograf F 3) (digitaltmuseum.se) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

After a series of adventures in which he meets a fellow Korean War veteran, an Australian fighter pilot now flying those very same Vampires for the Republica as a mercenary, Carr returns to Jamaica and is hired to fly a camera plane for a semi-legendary Hollywood actor making a South American revolution movie (provisionally titled Bolivar Smith) on location in and around Jamaica.  The camera plane the company purchases turns out to be a seriously dilapidated B-25 which has served in several South American air forces since its retirement from the United States.   Carr is amused to see the faint outlines of  some American nose-art which suggests the B-25 saw squadron service in the USAAF somewhere as “Beautiful Dreamer”

North American B-25 Mitchell

North American B-25 Mitchell –  Góraszka,  2007
By Lukas Skywalker (Own work) GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It is of course all much more complicated.  The film star has assets frozen in the Republica and wants to recover them. Carr’s flying pupil (also hired by the company)  turns out to be the wastrel son of the revolutionary leader who intended to “borrow” the B-25 and use it to drop a few bombs on the Vampires to aid the revolutionary cause.   You can see where this is going.   Our hero ends up flying the bombing raid, has a showdown with the Australian mercenary (both in the air and on the ground)  and after several tense scenes, everything turns out happily.

As I said about Gray Eagles, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a nicely written thriller that is amusing and credible,  and the book led to many happy hours flying my simulated B-25 around the Caribbean in the Days of Microsoft Flight Simulator 98.  I also think that even now Shooting Script  would make a decent film, especially given the plethora of L-29s and L-39s which could sub nicely for the Vampires.  The B-25 would be fine as is.

Don’t just take my word for it. Go and have a look.  If you’re in the mood, also have a look at a couple of his other novels featuring Major Harry Maxim, once of the SAS,  and now attached for various reasons to 10 Downing Street in the closing days of the Cold War. These are:  The Secret Servant (1980),  The Conduct of Major Maxim  (1982),  The Crocus List (1985),  and Uncle Target (1988).

Gavin Lyall died in 2003 having written fifteen novels and two non-fiction works.

A Little Quiet Recently

My fault.   Mostly just getting caught up with the daily life of an adjunct professor and occasionally doing some teaching.   We’re into the 1960s next week, which means about three weeks of the semester remains and then into the long-ish summer break.  I do have a little prep work for the Fall Semester, in which I assume I’m still teaching.

In the meantime.   I want to pause and remember that we have just passed the 20th Anniversary of the crash of ATL-98 Carvair N83FA in Griffin, Georgia on April 4th. On that day I actually did sit back for a moment and took a moment for prayer and reflection.    I never for a moment imagined that a blog article which was born from reading a John Le Carre novel and thinking “huh?” would generate so much interest.  Looking at the WordPress statistics for the blog, it always seems to get a couple of hits most weeks. I was touched and honored to have received comments from Kris Whittington, son of pilot Larry Whittington who was killed in the crash of N83FA, and recently Vanessa Presley, who as a child in Griffin saw and heard the crash and who suffers from the after effects to this day.  My deepest thanks to everyone who contributed to expand a little piece of aviation history here.

HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip board an ANA C-54 (VH-INY) at Western Junction, Tasmania. Feb 20, 1954. This C-54 would seven years later be converted into a Carvair which, with the registration N83FA, would crash on take-off at Griffin, Georgia in April 1997
http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=AB713-1-2859

 

My research project,  the history of B-24J-1-FO  42-50535  “Joplin Jalopy” got a boost this month.  For some reason an article appeared in the Joplin Globe a couple of weeks ago (which I have managed not to read) but which, I am told, listed the correct number of operations the Jalopy flew.  This would then indicate that someone read some of the research material I forked over to the globe in 2006.     Shortly afterwards I received an email from Ray Foreman from KODE12  TV in Joplin  (Hi Ray!)  who had seen my January 2016 post commemorating the anniversary of the start of the now defunct “Joplin’s Bomber”  blog.   Apart from being a military aviation history enthusiast Ray has some connection with the Joplin Civil Air Patrol so I hope to have a chat with him, and them in the near future.  This has been a timely prod not to let all that information  go to waste.

B-24 Joplin Jalopy

B24J-1-FO 42-50535 “Joplin Jalopy” – 506BS / 44BG

I was relating all of this to one of my colleagues at Pittsburg State who then said “you ought to write this up for a journal article”  (in one of the local academic journals) ,  so given a long enough period of rest  I may actually do that.

In the meantime I will continue to be fascinated by little snippets that float into my field of vision from the world of aviation.

Happy Birthday

5th March 1936, first flight of K5054 the Supermarine Type 300 Spitfire prototype, or so the common theory says.

Jeffrey Quill in his book Spitfire: A Test Pilot’s Story is adamant that the first flight actually took place on 6th March,  because he flew Vickers’  Miles Falcon G-ADTD from Brooklands to Martlesham Heath, picking up  Captain Joseph “Mutt”  Summers (Vickers’ Chief Test Pilot) and transporting him to Eastleigh for the flight.  Quill also says he gave brief joyrides to Major H.J Payn,  R.J Mitchell’s Technical Assistant, and Stuart Scott-Hall, Air Ministry technical officer in place at Supermarine.  They were also at Eastleigh for the first flight.     It doesn’t help that Dr. Alfred Price when preparing Spitfire: A Complete Fighting History, quoted an account sheet with a note, hand written by Mitchell updating a line from “Not yet flown” to “Flew 5 Mar 36.”

While we’re in uncertain territory, what did “Mutt” Summers  say when he landed K5054 after that first flight?  Quill says he said “I don’t want anything touched”   which has been widely misquoted (the Wikipedia article says he said “Don’t touch anything”).   Bryan Swopes in This Day in Aviation quotes him as saying “Don’t change a thing!”    People wonder why I like being a history teacher.  What one person said in front of a group of witnesses 81 years ago is a matter of debate and interpretation.  Perhaps in the future our record keeping will be better, but somehow I doubt that important speeches and sayings will ever be clearly recorded or remembered.

I’m inclined to agree with Quill who says it’s unlikely  that after a test flight of a few minutes in which he didn’t even retract the undercarriage,  that Summers thought the aircraft was perfect and didn’t need any refinement.  It’s much more likely he didn’t want anyone fiddling with the aircraft before he flew it again.

Wherever the truth lies, at least we know how the story developed.

 

Spitfire Mark VB

Spitfire Mark VB (AD233, ‘ZD-F’) being flown on 25 May 1942 by Squadron Leader Richard Milne, Commanding Officer of No. 222 Squadron based at North Weald, Essex.
By RAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Careful With That Axe, Duane

Every so often I get the urge to re-read one of my old paperbacks, and recently it was my 30-year old copy of Duane Unkefer’s Gray Eagles. Originally published in 1986, Gray Eagles is the story of a group of Luftwaffe veterans who are invited to assemble in 1976 for a reunion-cum-flying holiday in Arizona, except that they will be flying armed Bf109G aircraft and will shoot at a number of selected targets in missions planned by their Staffel Commander and Executive Officer. These latter two have a score to settle with a member of the Confederate Air Force (as it was known then) who killed one of their comrades when he himself was a young  Mustang jock in the USAAF.

Messerschmitt Bf-109G-2

Messerschmitt Bf-109G-2/Trop Werk Nr 10639 G-USTV aka “Black 6” at Duxford in 1997. Now imagine eight of them in a hangar in Arizona.
(Photo By Alan D R Brown GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

Duane Unkefer (who weirdly does not have a Wikipedia page) is a teacher at Santa Barbara City Community College and will be leading a course on fiction writing at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference in June 2017.  I read a 1986 article in the LA Times which described him going on the road to promote his book after the USA gave it a fairly muted (read, non-existent) response on first release.  I googled him, and saw that in earlier life he was a promotion and advertising executive for Harley-Davidson who had a burning ambition to be a novelist.  I don’t see any specific mention of aviation in the scarce biographical information and to a certain extent, the lack of aviation knowledge shows in the book.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like Grey Eagles. It has all kinds of stylistic flourishes that project the fantasy and I am happy to indulge the little bits of oddness like the restorers modifying the Bf109 canopy to make it slide rather than swing on a hinge.   If anyone did that on a warbird today, I think the community would emit a collective scream of shock.  The story, however needs it (so I believe).

The planning and the first couple of missions are written in a pretty believable style. The moment when the eight Bf109s of 76 Staffel intercept five CAF Mustangs over Phoenix en route to an Airshow in Chino, CA is beautifully done and one of the high points of the book.

I think there are two or three points where things do get a little too contrived.  The P-51 equipped unit of the task force which is established after the second attack on an active US training base in Arizona is a lovely idea,  and necessary for the book (in order to have the final confrontation) but odd.  I can imagine some crusty veteran saying “give me another P-51 and I’ll go and get those SOBs” but even in 1976 I could imagine the official response as “Don’t be so stupid.” Secondly, as a self-avowed aviation nut myself I find Unkefer’s choice of the F-5 as the USAF jet fighter of choice in a couple of set pieces is plain weird.  Yes,  F-5s were stationed at Williams AFB (the base that 76 Staffel attacked in the book) from 1973,  but I never heard of anyone in the USAF except aggressor training squadrons using F-5s. I think of the F-5 as one of those export-only models that the USAF didn’t seem to want at the time. However I love the F-5/T-38 shape so much that it can pass. I wonder what the USAF really would have used then – perhaps an F-4?  Who knows. It doesn’t make a huge amount of difference except that it takes you out of the story for a moment to think “F-5? Huh?”     I love the addition of the Spitfire from Milwaukee (or wherever) and the slightly overdone “what-ho, chaps”  RAF veteran Wing Commander who flies in because he heard on the grapevine there was some sport to be had.   I just wish it hadn’t been a Mark Vb he was flying.

USAF F-5Es

“Be vewy, quiet we is huntin’ Gustavs”
A formation of three USAF F-5Es of the 527th TFTS, RAF Alconbury, UK in 1983.
(USAF, Public Domain)

Some of the Bf109 modifications and the use of the F-5 could be attributed to poetic license in order to progress the story or just to the fact that Unkefer wasn’t all that familiar with aircraft and could have used a bit more time to check a few minor-ish facts.  My only significant yelp at the time of first reading occurred when one of the main protagonists started playing tracks from Pink Floyd’s album The Wall on his car stereo.  This is a neat trick,  since The Wall wouldn’t be released for another three years. The band were working on Animals in 1976,  and even this album only saw the light of day in January 1977.  It would have to have been a track from The Dark Side of the Moon, or Wish You Were Here,  and that wouldn’t have hurt.

Don’t let these criticisms put you off.  If you haven’t read Gray Eagles, try it.  It is one of two aviation novels (the other being Gavin Lyall’s Shooting Script) which I could imagine transferring neatly to the big screen, even though it’d be a bear to make.  These days, finding eight Bf109s would be much less of a problem than it would have been in 1976.

Probably the best comment is from a 1985 Kirkus review which said that if you can follow the reasoning of the German commander you will enjoy this colourfully-written book.

“Of course it is a mad undertaking. . .It is brilliant, so brilliant that it seems mad!”

Welcome, my son. Welcome to the Machine.  🙂

 

One of Those Pictures

I saw Bryan Swopes had a version of this picture in This Day in Aviation the other day but I lost the place and the reference.    A quick Google search for “Mercury 7 F-106” brought a back a slightly cropped version of the picture, which is fine since in this case we’re looking at the men, not the aircraft.

The

Standing beside a Convair F106-B aircraft in a January 1961 photograph are the nation’s Project Mercury astronauts. Left to right, are M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton. (Credits: NASA)

 

I did a quick check on the F-106B in question (F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart  – AF Serial 59-0158). The entry in Joe Baugher’s website makes for interesting reading.  Apparently 59-0158 still exists and may be on the gate at Edwards AFB, having had a rather picaresque service life including a sojourn at AMARC.  A pleasing footnote.