14th June, 1919

Alcock and Brown Take Off, 14th June, 1919.

Alcock and Brown depart St. John’s, Newfoundland in their Vickers Vimy.  14th June, 1919 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I remember going to the Science Museum in London when I was small and seeing the Vickers Vimy  that Alcock and Brown used to make the first non-stop Atlantic crossing.  Until today it had never actually struck me on which day the crossing had taken place. Admittedly it was on the 14th/15th June.   You can read about some of the trials and tribulations of the flight  on their Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_flight_of_Alcock_and_Brown

A couple of things I didn’t know about the flight:

  1. John Alcock had been a POW in Turkey in the First World War while flying with the Royal Naval Air Service – while a POW he dreamed of making the Atlantic crossing.
  2. There was a very real competition between Vickers and Handley-Page (among others) to win a 10,000 GBP prized offered by the Daily Mail. The Handley-Page team were still testing their aircraft when the Vickers team arrived, assembled their aircraft and took off.
  3. Alcock approached Vickers suggesting they use a modified Vimy bomber for the attempt. Vickers were impressed and made him their pilot.
  4. Arthur Whitten-Brown was apparently unemployed and approached Vickers looking for a job.

It’s amazing how a series of chances came together. One would say it was a very British undertaking.

Dragon Lady

1 May 1960 is the anniversary of Francis Gary Powers being shot down somewhere over the Soviet Union in his U-2A  by what I call a SAM-2  and everyone else calls an S-75. I assumed the event took place earlier in the year and have to thank my regular engagements with Bryan Swopes’ blog for reminding me.   Funnily enough I mentioned the U-2 incident to my American History class last week.  Every so often I get close to an anniversary like this, but mostly it’s coincidence.   In March 2014 I happened to hit the 70th Anniversary of the “Great Escape” and subjected my class to a few minutes of Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2 plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers on view in Gorky Park. (RIA Novosti archive, image #35173 / Chernov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

I had a quick riffle through the pages of Wikipedia to find a Public Domain picture of an original U-2 and read briefly that another U-2 was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   I didn’t managed to teach that part and will have to look it up.   I will also have refresh myself on the clandestine overflights that were carried out by Canberras and RB-45s flown by RAF aircrews (and the RB-45s had RAF markings) a few years previously.

Lockheed U-2A

Lockheed U-2A at the National Museum of the US Air Force

Many years ago I saw a TR-2 (I think it was)  derivative of the U-2 climbing out of RAF Alconbury  and watched as best I could while I was driving down the M11 Motorway at the time. I believe I did see the NMUSAF example (basking in the sun in the picture above)  at Dayton some years ago.   I’m looking forward to going again sometime soon.

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

Interlude – Pardon my Intruder

There is comfort in listening to familiar pieces of music and also, in my view, from re-reading a favourite book.  From time to time I re-read Stephen Coonts’ Flight of the Intruder, and when I do, I’m always a little bit impressed with the laconic style and its evocation of life as a US Navy A-6 pilot in 1972. I’ve never read any of Coonts’ other novels, and only realized a few days ago there was actually a sequel (Final Flight, published 1988) and a prequel to the sequel – (The Intruders, published 1994!) to Flight of the Intruder.  I should have a look at them when I have time.

I’ve had two or three copies of Flight of the Intruder in paperback, one of which came free with the computer game of the same name,  and all have continued their journeys in life  – i.e. I never got any of them back.  I decided to buy a cheap copy from Alibris a few months ago, and ended up to my delight with a 1986 first edition, published by the the Naval Institute Press, for the grand total of 99 cents (plus shipping, which was more than the cost of the book.  No matter.)

Having read it again a few days ago, I was thinking a little bit more about A-6s and aircraft carriers, and cast my mind back a little.  It occurred to me that almost exactly forty years ago, in February 1977,  I found myself in the Bay of Naples,  standing on the flight deck of the USS John F Kennedy (CV-67) with a few of my secondary school friends.  It was an amazing experience, and how we got there is probably best left to another blog entry.  I still don’t know how one of the teachers wangled the visit – it was certainly more interesting to me than a free afternoon dodging the citizenry of Naples.  My visit was not long after the incidents of September 1976 in which the destroyer Bordelon collided with the JFK during night replenishment, and an F-14 dropped off the ship after a catapult issue. The resulting race with the Soviet navy to recover the aircraft and its AIM-54 Phoenix missiles was redolent of Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy.

USS John F. Kennedy , 1968.

USS John F. Kennedy (at that time designated CVA-67) underway in the Atlantic Ocean during her shakedown cruise in November/December 1968. Visible on the flight deck are EA-3B, A-4, RA-5C, and F-4 aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1).  I’ll have a look at a bigger picture another time and try to identify the helicopter. 
(U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo)

I remember that one of our guides on the tour was a Bombardier-Navigator (BN) from one of the A-6 Squadrons embarked on the JFK.  He had a fairly marked accent from one of the Southern states, and when one of the teachers asked him what would happen if the proverbial balloon were to go up,  he replied “This is all for one Nucular Strike” –  Cue stunned silence from group of English school kids.

Grumman A-6E Intruder, 1976

Typical of what I might have seen at the time – US Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder Bu No 154142 “AB-504” of Attack Squadron VA-34 “Blue Blasters” aboard the USS John F Kennedy, 1976.
By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking back, it was quite an experience.  I sorely regret that I ran out of 35mm film for my camera and hadn’t had a chance to stock up before the excursion.  There were F-14s,  S-3s, A-6s of different kinds, (they didn’t want us to photograph an EA-6B on the flight deck), A-7s, a couple of E-2s and apparently a C-2A Greyhound which one of the guides said looked like “something Jimmy Doolittle would have flown”.  One of our hosts was an S-3 pilot (I think) who seemed like the archetypal well groomed ROTC youth transposed into uniform on his first tour – he didn’t seem much older than us, although he clearly was. The A-6 guy was much older and a little more grizzled, and it pains me when I think back, that no-one asked him if he or any of the A-6 crews had been in action in South East Asia.  I am sure some of them must have done so.  This was only 1977 after all,  and even Steven Coonts was still serving in the US Navy – he was honorably discharged in 1977 with the rank of Lieutenant.

Now, CV-67 has been decommissioned and the new Gerald R Ford Class CVN-79 will take the JFK name in 2020.  The A-6, A-7 and F-14 are all retired from the US Navy.  The S-3 retired from front-line service in 2009 although there is some unconfirmed speculation that mothballed S-3s could be returned to USN service in 2019 as tankers, in the face of perceived ballistic missile threats from the naval forces of the People’s Republic of China.

I’ve said in some other piece of writing, familiar books and familiar records are a time machine.  Listening to a piece of music I first heard in 1981 transports me instantly to the location where I first heard it because of some vivid memory.   I hadn’t quite made the connection between Flight of the Intruder and my cruise round the Mediterranean in 1977, but I have now. I tip my hat in a little salute to that day 40 years ago.

Coming Soon to a Museum in Ohio

I happened to be perusing Facebook a couple of days ago (as you do these days, “ubiquity” being the watchword) when I saw this little item from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

I wondered about the date, but May 17, 2018 is the 75th anniversary of the Belle’s last mission.  It’s very fitting and I shall be on of the throng making their way up to Dayton to take a look. I missed it on the only occasion I was in Memphis, I was catching a connecting flight and there wasn’t enough time to go and take a look.  It was also some time in the evening and pelting with rain, which wouldn’t have helped.

There are a lot of familiar pictures of Memphis Belle on the Interwebs,  but thanks to a recent effort by Senior Airman Nathan Clark of the 97th Mobility Air Wing at Altus Air Force base, Oklahoma,  I am able to share a photo of Memphis Belle which a few people may not have seen.  I had never seen it before.  Thank you!!

Students from Altus schools pose with the Memphis Belle, in 1946

Students from Altus schools pose with the Memphis Belle, in 1946 at Altus Army Air Field. The famous World War II bomber was stored in Altus AAF briefly after the war. Altus Air Force Base began as a twin engine training base in World War II and since then has supported many air mobility, missile, and training missions as well as routinely deployed Airmen and aircraft overseas and to humanitarian missions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 97th Air Mobility Wing Historian/ Released)

I think I said in my FB post at the time, that this does raise the question of what the NMUSAF are going to do with their other Combat veteran B-17,  the much-travelled B-17G 42-32076 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby when the Belle is installed.  A page on Wikipedia speculates that Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby will be transferred to the Udvar V. Hazy site in Washington DC  “once restoration of the Memphis Belle is completed in 2015.”

B-17G 42-32076

B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, OH.

B-17G 42-32076 "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" 1944

B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” after her forced landing in Sweden, 1944

Speaking purely personally,  I would love to see her go back into the restoration hangar to try and correct or update some of the cosmetic aspects of the restoration done in the 1980s,  specifically the Olive Drab/Neutral gray paint scheme applied to cover the sheet metal work that was carried out to restore her to her original bomber configuration.   See the pictures above for an idea of how she looks now and how she looked after landing in Sweden in May 1944.

It is my belief that restoration techniques have advanced sufficiently – citing B-29 Doc as an example –  to allow her to be restored in her original unpainted state. I do acknowledge though, that Doc hasn’t undergone the same degree of modification that Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby experienced.   That’s just me. I have no desire to cause any offense to anyone who may have worked on the restoration.  Times were different then, and some techniques were simply not available.

On a positive note, the other delightful prospect is that yet another B-17 is in the works at Dayton,  this being B-17D 40-3097 The Swoose  (seen below in 1944)which was transferred from the Smithsonian Institution to the NMUSAF in 2007.  There are pictures of the two veteran B-17s side by side in the restoration facility at Dayton.  I may be an old romantic but it would be wonderful to see the three combat veterans sitting together somewhere before the illustrious group is dispersed, although I suspect that timing may not allow this to happen.

B-17D 40-3097 "The Swoose"

B-17D 40-3097 “The Swoose” in bare metal finish, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain)

 

 

 

On Another Day in December

Harrison H. Schmitt

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt stands by the American flag during a moonwalk on the Apollo 17 mission. Home, that small dot in the blackness of space above the flag, is a quarter-million miles away. 
Schmitt, Gene Cernan and Ron Evans made the Apollo program’s final journey to the moon in December 1972. (NASA – Public Domain)

I don’t have much to add to this as the picture itself is amazing.   The minute Earth floats just above the American flag, 44 years ago,  as Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan walk on the lunar surface in the final Apollo Mission.  Apollo 17 lasted from December 7 to December 19, 1972, and had many memorable features including the only night launch of an Apollo mission.  Harrison Schmitt,  in a conversation I heard a few years ago said of the launch”Did you see it?  I missed it!”

I was asking my history class last week if they thought 17 was a strange number  for the last Apollo mission.   I will have to read the official history again but I do believe that enough Saturn Vs were built for numbers 18, 19 and 20, but the Nixon administration’s budget cuts of the early 70s put paid to the effort.

On a personal note (since there ought to be one)  I actually met Harrison Schmitt a couple of times a few years ago (I think it was 2009) in a previous job.  Once as a speaker in a series of talks about the Manned Space Program and once again to talk about his book.   I found him to be a very sociable guy  – he has after all been a politician and public figure for many years,  and he chatted easily with his audience, and was very much at ease for a talk he gave.   I dutifully joined the line to purchase and have him sign a copy of his book  Return to the Moon:  Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space. (New York,  Copernicus, 2006) in which he advocates a series of privately funded return missions to re-establish a colony on the Moon for energy extraction and low gravity manufacturing.   Interesting stuff.

Since we saw the tiny blue dot which is the earth floating above the flag in the first picture,  it would be appropriate to note that Harrison Schmitt is probably (I think he says he is) the man responsible for another fairly classic image of the Earth  from any Apollo mission,  this is the picture commonly known as the “Blue Pearl”

Earth seen from Apollo 17

The Apollo 17 crew caught this breathtaking view of our home planet as they were traveling to the Moon on Dec. 7, 1972. It’s the first time astronauts were able to photograph the South polar ice cap. Nearly the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible, along with the Arabian Peninsula. (NASA – Public Domain)