CFM-56 – Politics, Exports and More.

I was wondering whether to blog anything about the CFM-56 engine following its recent appearance in the news headlines.  The media coverage following the in-flight failure of an engine on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on April 17, 2018 dredged up several stories going back through the years, one of which piqued my attention and made me want to fill in some of the gaps in the narrative.   I have no doubt my teaching inclination influences my thinking, but the back story of one of the more common jet engines is a lot more interesting than I had imagined.

The CFM-56 is also known by its military designation F108 (I had no idea about this – I need to look at the F101 and F110 too to clarify which is which) and is joint project of Safran (formerly Snecma) and GE Aviation under the name CFMI (CFM International).  According to its Wikipedia page, the CFM-56 one of the most common turbofan engines in the world, with 30,000 units built by July 2016.

The project might have met an early (one might say premature) demise which was not of its own making. The first example ran in June 1974,  but for the next five years there were no orders for the engine. Two things saved the CFM-56. Firstly,  a contract with several American operators of the DC-8 to re-engine their aircraft, and secondly the decision by the US Air Force to re-engine the KC-135 fleet.

The origins of the CFM-56 are truly mundane and can be traced to two men meeting in Paris.  Gerhard Neumann from General Electric (GE) and René Ravaud from Snecma introduced themselves to each other at the 1971 Paris Air Show. In the 1970s GE and Snecma saw some potential in collaboration to rival Pratt & Whitney, and a partnership was born. I didn’t know this, but Snecma (Société nationale d’études et de construction de moteurs d’aviation) is the result of the nationalization of the Gnome & Rhône aero engine company in 1945.  Snecma and Sagem SA merged in 2005 to create the Safran Group, but I’m getting ahead of the narrative

US President Nixon and French President George Pompidou

Lobbying at the highest level.  US President Richard Nixon and French President Georges Pompidou prior to the U.S – French summit conference in Reykjavik, Iceland on 31 May – 1 June  1973, at which the production and export of the CFM-56 was discussed.  (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The politics behind the partnership and the marketing of the engine may be one of the reasons why no-one ordered any of them in the first few years. GE’s application for an export license was denied on national security grounds by Henry Kissinger in 1972. Lobbying continued at the very highest level,  and the matter appeared on the agenda of the US-French summit between Richard Nixon and Georges Pompidou in Reykjavik on May 31 – June 1 1973.  Chronologically this is a rather fascinating time in the former US president’s career.  A month previously, on April 30, Nixon had announced the resignations of H.R Haldemann, John Ehrlichmann and Richard Kleindienst, and the firing of John Dean. By the end of June 1973 a Gallup Poll found that 98 percent of Americans had “heard about” Watergate.

It would appear that the diplomacy involved with “French-made” engines involved GE sending engine cores from its plant in Ohio to the Snecma plant in France, at which point American GE technicians would mount the French components to the cores, and would release the engine for finishing. I assume that nothing as convoluted as this happened with American engines assembled in Ohio. The strict controls were related to the fact that the engine core for the CFM-56 was also being used in the development of the B-1 and thus was a fairly sensitive national security issue for the United States.

Orders for the CFM-56 started to come when aggressive marketing resulted in the contract to re-engine the DC-8 for three US Airlines (Delta, United and Flying Tiger). Boeing was prepared to offer a CFM-56 powered 707 named the 707-700, but no civilian orders were forthcoming. The research on the 707-700 project (and the prototype itself)  did however convince the US Air Force of the viability of the CFM-56.  The USAF promptly ditched the allegedly dirty and inefficient Pratt and Whitney J57 from the KC-135 fleet and replaced it with the CFM-56, calling the new type the KC-135R.

Boeing later announced that a CFM-56 would power the 737-300 series airliner.  Some re-design work  was necessary to accommodate such a large engine on an aircraft with a low wing and minimal ground clearance.  The CFM-56-3 for the 737  has a characteristic flat-bottomed engine nacelle which many of us have noticed on our travels around the world.

CFM56-3 engine

CFM56-3 engine, with its recognizable non-circular “hamster pouch” inlet, installed on a Boeing 737-400 . (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In a gesture of European solidarity,  Airbus have also joined the CFM-56 user community for large and small Airbus products.

The full list of applications for the CFM-56 according to its Wikipedia article is as follows.

Airbus  – A320 family, A318, A340.
Boeing  – 707-700 (prototype only), KC-135R Stratotanker, E-3D Sentry, E-6 Mercury, RC-135,  737 Classic, 737 Next Generation, 737 AEW&C, C-40 Clipper, P-8 Poseidon, Business Jet.
Douglas – DC-8 Super 70.

CFM-56 installation on a NASA DC-8

Never seen this before. CFM-56 installation on a NASA DC-8 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sadly,  the CFM-56 has had its share of bad publicity.  The most notable failure (notable to me, anyway) occurred in the UK in January 1989. A fairly new British Midland 737-400 on a flight from London to Belfast crashed at Kegworth while trying to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport, following a fan blade failure in a CFM-56-3.   Two other fan blade failures occurred in British 737-400s shortly afterwards, resulting in the type being grounded world wide while modifications were carried out to the engines.  The recent failures on Southwest Airlines 737s (Flight 3472 from New Orleans to Orlando in August 2016, and Flight 1380 from New York LaGuardia to San Francisco in April, 2018) indicate that fan blade fatigue is an ongoing issue.

There have been incidents of CFM-56 engines flaming out in heavy rain or hail.  The most dramatic incident  involved  TACA Flight 110 from Belize to New Orleans in May 1988. Both engines on the 737-300 flamed out while passing through hail and heavy rain, and the crew was forced to carry out a deadstick landing on a grassy levee adjacent to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans near the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.  Only one minor injury was sustained among the the 38 passengers and seven crew.

The story of TACA 110 is pretty amazing as this YouTube clip may show.  The hail damage on the nose cone of the 737 is visible in the thumbnail below and is indicative of the strength of the storm through which the aircraft inadvertently passed.

As a result of this and other flameout instances,  CFMI made modifications to improve the way in which the engine handles hail ingestion. The pilots of TACA 110 selected continuous ignition for the engines as their training advised in the weather they experienced. CFMI have added a sensor to the CFM-56 to start continuous combustion automatically in conditions of heavy hail or rain.

I was tempted to give some click-bait title to this blog entry and play up the Watergate connection, but that would be a little dishonest.   However it is interesting that a turbofan engine which we find so commonplace today has its roots in a meeting of two executives the early 1970s, and featured on the international summit agenda of a US President who was, to say the least, looking a little beleaguered politically by this time.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Amelia

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020 in which she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in July 1937.
(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

It started quietly,  but the mainstream media have picked it up now.  TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro thesis on the fate of Amelia Earhart received a significant boost with the publication of a 16-page paper in the March 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Forensic Anthropology (not Forensic Pathology as stated in some sites), published by the University of Florida Press. See the article itself at this link: http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/fa/article/view/525

The author of the article is Richard L. Jantz, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, and Director Emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Jantz’ research focuses primarily on forensic anthropology, skeletal biology, dermatoglyphics, anthropometry, anthropological genetics, and human variation, as well as the development of databases to aid anthropological research. Jantz is a prolific author,  and his research has helped lead and shape the field of physical and forensic anthropology for many years.   In the paper in question, he concludes that the bone fragments found, analyzed and subsequently lost in the 1940s are most probably those of Amelia Earhart.

The paper is a significant work, drawing on Jantz’ own expertise and a re-evaluation of the data recorded in Fiji in 1941, the last (and probably only) time that the bones were subjected to scientific analysis. Jantz says that additionally, information concerning Amelia Earhart’s body dimensions came to light in 2017 through a new study of Earhart’s clothing,  held in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University.

The article challenges two assertions. Firstly that the bones were those of a stockily built male about 5’5″ in height.  Secondly,  notwithstanding speculation at the time, the skeletal remains were not considered to be those of Amelia Earhart because she was always thought to be tall, slender, and gracile (a word I have never used or read until now). The re-evaluation of the bone data, and measurements taken from her clothing, suggest that despite being 5’7″ tall and presenting a fairly elfin figure, Earhart was apparently a little more stocky in build, and around 20 pounds heavier,  than contemporary accounts and the evolving legend (courtesy no doubt of George Palmer Putnam)  would have us believe.

Jantz states in his conclusion: “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers”

UTK (University of Tennessee at Knoxville) wrote a news release on the article here:  https://news.utk.edu/2018/03/07/researcher-new-forensic-analysis-indicates-bones-were-amelia-earharts/

It’s comforting to this part-time academic that the article itself was received by the journal in August 2017, was revised in October, and accepted for publication in November 2017, finally appearing in Vol.1, No. 2 in March 2018. The academic publishing process is as tortuous as ever.

I await with some interest the response of the supporters of the other theories.

On The Trail

I should know better than to read some news articles.  At least I don’t read the public comments since my blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.  Today I read an article that said some of the Chemtrail believers are getting more vocal.   The bit that really got me was one of the prime movers who said “20 to 30 years ago we didn’t have these.”  What?

I’m a Brit so one of the first images that came to mind was this one:

British and German aircraft after a dogfight

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940. Pattern of condensation trails (contrails) left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight. (Public Domain – Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

Last time I looked, 1940 was a bit more than 30 years ago.   Of course I can remember a time when 1940 *was* 30 years ago, but that was 1970.

A little later, aviation historians will remember pictures like this of B-17s and B-24s on bombing missions in the Second World War.

B-17s from the 340BS, 97BG

A formation of B-17Gs from the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group wing their way towards Linz, Austria, while their P-38 Lightning escorts contrail above them. (Public Domain – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons)

Contrails do date to a time before The Second World War. The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine quotes an observer who saw “the condensation of a cumulus stripe from the exhaust gases of an aircraft” over the Austrian Alps in 1915. (Full article at https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/flight-lines-3-18415244

Another early contrail was observed in France in 1918 , according to a 2007 article in Air Power History.  “Wakes of war: contrails and the rise of air power, 1918-1945 Part I – early sightings and preliminary explanations, 1918-1938”  (The URL has been hijacked and leads to some weird page about investments in French – this is why there’s no link). 

I shall have to do a little more image research to see if there are any more early pictures of contrails out on the web.  I remember seeing a picture of a very high flying JU86 observed over Sussex on 18th  August, 1940 leaving a high thin contrail which must have displeased the reconnaissance crew no end. There must be something earlier.

I learn something new today in my searches. Contrails have an opposite.  The dissipation trail, or distrail. Warm exhaust air causes particles of moisture to evaporate and produces the effect of a line being drawn through a cloud with an eraser.  These are much more fleeting than a contrail and have their own strange beauty. I think I may have seen these over the years, although my eyesight is not of the finest. I’d be interested to know if any of the readership have any personal experiences with distrails.

Distrail over Hong Kong, 2012

November 22, 2012. Wikipedia user ‘Earth100’ captured this rare shot of a dissipation trail (distrail), just 10 seconds old, formed by an airplane over Hong Kong. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

OX-5

I had a couple of days off in Oklahoma recently,  and visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium)   which has changed considerably since I visited in 2000.  A lot of things change in seventeen years.   The museum has moved to a new building and has a lot of interesting exhibits.    I’ve  learned a couple of interesting snippets about Oklahoma’s aviation heritage which may not be new to my reader, but to which I hadn’t given much thought.  More of this will follow in other articles.

Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum

I wonder what stories this could tell.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Tulsa, OK – July 2017 (Robert Smith)

I love looking at the stories detailing the early years of aviation.  Tucked away in a quiet corner were the stories of people like Wiley Post and Duncan McIntyre. Also tucked away but neatly displayed was a Curtiss OX-5 engine.  I wasn’t going to write about it, but it’s occurred to me just to what extent the OX-5 made a considerable mark on the early years (some would say the golden age) of American aviation.  The OX-5  was an eight liter (500 Cubic Inch) V8 which first saw the light of day in 1910.  Its ancestors were V-twin motorcycle engines, but Curtiss moved into aircraft engines, and  the OX-5 was the first American aircraft engine put into mass production.  I was surprised to read that more than twelve thousand OX-5s were built.  One of its major uses at the outset was  powering Curtiss’ own  JN-4 “Jenny” trainer.

At the end of the First World War there was a considerable surplus of OX-5 engines,  and this made the OX-5 virtually the default choice for nascent American commercial aviation industry.  The Swallow of 1924 and the Travel Air 2000 (the gloriously nicknamed “Wichita Fokker” because of its perceived resemblance to the Fokker D.VII)  both used the OX-5 and both have surprisingly similar nose designs.    Douglas Corrigan’s 1929 Curtiss Robin  (see previous article) had an OX-5 engine when he bought it, and which he swapped for a more powerful Wright radial. One may speculate if he’d have succeeded crossing the Atlantic with an OX-5 powered Robin.

Then I wondered if I had any other OX-5 pictures, and yes, it seems I do.  When I went to visit the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita on a blistering June afternoon in 2015,  they had a shiny OX-5 in their exhibition.  Interestingly this one seems to have a little more of the ignition wiring in place, but not the exhaust pipe.

I’m sure there’s a story here too.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, June 2015

While we’re talking about nose shapes here’s the KAM’s Swallow looking lovely in June 2015 – complete with a rather lovely streamlined cowling covering the Curtiss powerplant inside.  Notice the slab-like radiator underneath.

Swallow Aircraft "Swallow"

The rather gorgeous OX-5-powered Swallow Aircraft “Swallow” at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, KS, photographed in in June 2015 (Robert Smith – Own Work)

And finally,  a picture (not mine) of the “Wichita Fokker”   – the Travel Air 2000,  also with an OX-5 engine. You can see why Howard Hughes wanted at least one example of the Travel Air when he was making Hell’s Angels.   Those balanced ailerons, and the fin/rudder shape are strongly reminiscent of the Fokker design.  With a Ranger engine installed,  the similarity was amazing, but that’s another story.   The nose lines of the Travel Air here are remarkably similar to the Swallow and the OX-powered Waco 9 of the same vintage.  Consider Buck Weaver (founder of Waco) and his Wichita connection with “Matty” Laird and Swallow,  and the coincidence is taken further still.  This is hardly surprising.  There are only a certain number of things you can do to make a streamlined cover for an OX-5.

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine at the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, Dauster Field, Creve Coeur, Missouri, 2006.  By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

79 Years Going The Wrong Way

douglas_groce_corrigan_28afdotmil29

Douglas Corrigan beside his Curtiss Robin aircraft – (Public Domain)

On July 17th 1938,  Douglas Corrigan took off in an easterly direction from Floyd Bennett field and kept on going.   Just over 28 hours later he landed at Baldonnel field near Dublin,  and until the end of his life he maintained he’d been trying to get back to Long Beach, California.  His aircraft was a nine-year old Curtiss OX-5 Robin,  partially re-engined with the best parts from two J-6-5 Wright Whirlwinds, (making it a J-1 Robin, technically)  and otherwise modified for long-distance flight.

Corrigan was a aircraft mechanic and a devotee of Charles Lindbergh.  Corrigan assisted in the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis and it was Corrigan who pulled the chocks away from the Ryan NYP at the start of Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927.  It’s a sad irony that Lindbergh never did acknowledge Corrigan’s Atlantic crossing eleven years later. Other notable Americans from Howard Hughes to Henry Ford congratulated him.

Corrigan retired from aviation in 1950, but apparently on the 50th anniversary of his flight in 1988 allowed a group of enthusiasts to retrieve the Robin from its hangar and start it up.  There is humorous comment on the Wikipedia page that Corrigan himself, by then aged 81, may have wanted to take the aircraft up for a spin.

Douglas Corrigan

“As I looked over it at the Dublin airdrome I really marveled that anyone should have been rash enough even to go in the air with it, much less try to fly the Atlantic. He built it, or rebuilt it, practically as a boy would build a scooter out of a soapbox and a pair of old roller skates. It looked it. The nose of the engine hood was a mass of patches soldered by Corrigan himself into a crazy-quilt design.”
Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941) quoted in Wikipedia.
Corrigan and his modified Curtiss Robin “Sunshine”

Rumours persist that,  later in life,  Corrigan dispersed the parts of the Robin to prevent it from being stolen.  I haven’t managed to track down any references to dispersed Robin parts in the Santa Ana area of California although I have no doubt a few such articles exist.

There are a few nice pictures of Corrigan and the Robin at Baldonnel in the collections of the National Library of Ireland, and Bryan Swopes on This Day in Aviation has a picture of Corrigan and the Robin in 1988 at the 50th Anniversary celebrations. The the card model site Fiddlers Green has a different signed photo of Corrigan and the Robin taken at around that time.

If you’d like to see the man himself explain things,  try this public domain clip from YouTube.

I wonder if some parts of the Robin will emerge in 2018 when we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the flight?

The Sign of the Black Horse

The Sign of the Black Horse

Last month Susan and I were getting a few things at the Overland Park, Kansas branch of Whole Foods (a moderately trendy grocery store recently purchased by Amazon.com).    As we piled our stuff in the back of Susan’s car,  I quietly pointed out to her that a white roadster idling to our right in the parking lot was a Ferrari.    This is no surprise in Whole Foods,  and certainly no surprise in Johnson County, Kansas.  Susan paused to take a quick picture with her cellphone, and we pulled away.

Being the aviation geek that I am, I can never resist pointing out to anyone who’s around at the time,  that the prancing horse symbol was presented to Enzo Ferrari by the mother of an Italian flying ace after the First World War.   I first read that in a LION annual sometime in the 1960s, I’m sure.

I could not remember the name of the flyer involved. However, once I looked him up,  I thought a blog post might be in order,  since the story is quite interesting.

Count Francesco Baracca

Count Francesco Baracca, standing by his SPAD XIII fighter marked with the symbol of the the prancing horse. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The flyer in question was Count Francesco Baracca.   He was born into a wealthy family in 1888 in Lugo di Romagna,  in the province of Ravenna. He entered the military academy of Modena in 1907,  and took up equestrianism as a release from academic study.  He was commissioned into a cavalry regiment, and like several cavalry officers in many armies of the period,  got the aviation bug. He went to Reims (France) to learn to fly in 1912.  With his newly-acquired pilot’s license  he returned to Italy and joined the Battaglione Aviatori.

Baracca converted to Nieuport 10s and was a member of the 8a Squadriglia Nieuport when Italy entered the First World War.  He subsequently  switched to the lighter single-seat Nieuport 11 Bébé  and scored Italy’s first aerial victory,  on April 7, 1916

Baracca also flew the Nieuport 17,  SPAD VII and SPAD XIII in combat. The emblem of the prancing black horse (part of his family’s coat of arms) was first seen on his Nieuport 17 in 1917.  He adopted the Griffin emblem for the 91st Squadriglia,  although several pilots used both emblems in deference to their commander.

In early 1918 Baracca was one of a number of pilots, including two other aces, ordered to carry out trials of  the Ansaldo A.1. The A.1 (later named Balilla after an Italian folk hero)  was Italy’s only contemporary fighter aircraft of domestic design and manufacture.  Baracca found his time away from the front extremely frustrating and  after some lobbying managed to return to combat.

His score had risen to 34 enemy aircraft destroyed when he failed to return from a ground attack sortie on 19th June,  1918.  There are a few conflicting stories, some of which were no doubt written for propaganda purposes on both sides,  but following research in Austro-Hungarian archives it seems likely that he was killed by the rear-gunner of an Austrian two-seater Phönix which he was attacking.

After the war, the Francesco Baracca Museum was opened in his former home.  Among other mementos such as uniforms, medals and aerial trophies (including the rudders and guns taken from shot down aircraft)  was a SPAD VII, once flown by Baracca himself.  The SPAD was removed from the Baracca museum and restored several years ago by members of  the GAVS  (Gruppo Amici Velivoli Storici – the Italian aeronautical preservation society).  The Baracca museum has a fascinating website at  www.museobaracca.it  and the GAVS at http://gavs.it/

GAVS volunteers from Turin dismantle the SPAD VII in the Baracca museum for cleaning and restoration (GAVS)

Baracca’s SPAD VII following restoration by GAVS Turin (GAVS)

A young racing driver named Enzo Ferrari had allegedly (according to a couple of websites) met Baracca during the First World War. He certainly met Count Enrico and  Countess Paolina (Francesco’s parents) in 1923.  Baracca’s mother presented the Cavallino Rampante emblem to Ferrari, telling him it would bring him good luck.   Ferrari added the yellow background of Modena, and thus another legend was born.

Since I am a product of that era I find the early 60s Ferrari 250 series racing cars to be things of great beauty, and thus feel no other excuse is necessary to include a picture or two.

I think I still have my old Corgi die-cast model of the 250LM.

Ferrari 250LM 1964

Ferrari 250LM 1964 at the Musée National de l’Automobil (Mulhouse, France)
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Anfd finally, Willy Mairesse charging round the Nürburgring in a 250P in 1963. You can see a certain emblem quite clearly.

Willy Mairesse at the Nürburgring in a Ferrari 250P, May 1963

Willy Mairesse at the Nürburgring in a Ferrari 250P, May 1963
(Lothar Spurzem -CC-by-sa/2.0/de via Wikimedia Commons)

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.