More about Shapes

“If it looks right, it flies right. It’s a polite way of saying that anything that looks under-powered or short of lift-generating aerodynamics probably is.”
(, June 2016)

For me, this is the definitive shape of the F-100. This example, F-100D-30-NA 55-3754 was used by the USAF “Thunderbirds” from 1964 until 1968 and later by the South Dakota Air National Guard. Following its retirement from the ANG 55-3754 was restored to its original team appearance by Thunderbirds maintenance personnel at Nellis AFB. The aircraft was flown to Dayton, OH and presented the National Museum of the United States Air Force in July 1977 (NMUSAF)

There are several aircraft shapes that please me immensely, although I can’t explain why. The Spitfire, the T-33, the T-38 (both more than their single-seat ancestors the F-80 and the F-5). The T-38 still says “modern” to me despite having first flown in April 1959. I also find the quirky functional shape of the A400M Atlas weirdly pleasing. Here is an aircraft that looks suited to the job in hand.

The North American F-100 Super Sabre is another one of those aircraft. I like its lines, but until quite recently I didn’t realize what a comparatively ugly duckling it was at first, and that several problems resulted from that very ugliness.

The first of the so called “Century” Series of fighters (F-100 to F-106), the F-100 was the first jet fighter capable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight. It was introduced to the United States Air Force in 1954, and wasn’t retired completely until 1979 when the last Air National Guard units gave up their aircraft.

Three North American F-100A-5-NA Super Sabre fighters (s/n 52-5770, 52-5773, 52-5778) at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1955. On the left is NACA High-Speed Flight Station’s F-100A (52-5778) with a modified vertical fin. On the right is the USAF F-100A (52-5773) with the original vertical fin configuration. NACA added a larger vertical fin to the airplane in December 1954, adding 10 percent more surface area. Later North American installed an even larger fin, having 27 percent greater area, as well as wingtip extensions. These modifications solved the dangerous directional stability and roll coupling problems that the F-100 was experiencing.
(text: NASA. Image NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

North American Aviation submitted an unsolicited proposal to the USAF at the beginning of 1951. NAA referred to its proposal as the Sabre 45 as a hat-tip to its earlier F-86 and because of the 45 degree sweep of the new design’s wings. The Air Force accepted North American’s proposal after some modifications. Two YF-100A prototypes and 280 production F-100As were ordered by the end of 1952, so clearly the Air Force must have liked what they had seen.

First YF-100A prototype 52-5754 in flight (USAF, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The story starts to get a little odd after that. The first production F-100A flew in October 1953. The USAF operational evaluation ran from November 1953 until December 1955. The first F-100A unit was equipped in September 1954 but was not operational until September 1955. The evaluation found the F-100A to have superior performance, but also said that it was not ready for wide-scale deployment due to various deficiencies in its design.

Those deficiencies were pretty serious. The Wikipedia article on the F-100 talks about yaw instability, in which the aircraft would yaw and roll in flight so quickly that the pilot would be unable to recover the situation. This could result in over-stressing and the eventual disintegration of the airframe. A different control problem was caused by the handling characteristics of the swept wing. Loss of lift on the wingtips near stalling speed caused a violent pitch-up which became known as the “Sabre Dance”. The consequences of this could also be disastrous.

January 10, 1956. F-100C-20-NA, 54-1907 displays yaw instability and the pitch-up known as the “Sabre Dance” while attempting to land at Edwards AFB. First Lt. Barty Brooks, United States Air Force Reserve, aged 27, was killed.

In early October 1954, North American’s chief test pilot George Welch was killed when his F-100A (52-5764) disintegrated attempting to recover from a dive from 45,000 feet at Mach 1.55 over the Mojave Desert. By November 1954, F-100As had suffered six major accidents due to flight instability, structural failures, and hydraulic-system failures. The Air Force responded by grounding the entire fleet until February 1955. It seems that the deficiencies were never fully rectified and the F-100A was withdrawn from service starting in 1958, with the last aircraft leaving active duty in 1961. In that time, 47 aircraft had been lost in major accidents.

However, as students of history and those dwindling few who lived through the time will recall, the Cold War reached new heights in the late 50s and early 60s. The Berlin Crisis of 1961 forced the USAF to recall as many operational aircraft as possible. Operation Stair Step saw the deployment of 200 ANG aircraft (aging F-84 and F-86s) to Europe. As a result the F-100A fleet was recalled to service (along with the recently-retired F-84F Thunderstreak) in early 1962. The F-100A acquired a new lease of life and was finally retired in 1970.

While the F-100A was designed as an interceptor, Tactical Air Command (TAC) had requested that all future versions of the F-100 should have fighter-bomber capabilities including the ability to deliver nuclear weapons The F-100C entered service in this role in 1954. Operational testing in 1955 revealed that the F-100C shared all the flaws of the F-100A despite (or just simply even with) an uprated engine. However the because of its high speed the F-100C was regraded as an excellent platform from which to “toss” nuclear weapons

The “definitive” Super Sabre, the F-100D was intended to be a ground attack aircraft first and a pure fighter second. The “final” (and most pleasing for me) shape was achieved when the aircraft’s wingspan was extended by more than two feet, and the vertical tail was increased in area by more than 25%. Even then there was considerable tinkering. Various post-production “fixes” created a significant diversity of capabilities between individual aircraft. Joe Baugher says

“By the early ‘sixties, the F-100D had been subjected to so many in-service modifications to correct its obvious deficiencies that no two F-100Ds were alike, making for a maintenance and spare parts nightmare”

Joe Baugher –

Around 700 F-100D and an unspecified number of C and F models underwent system modifications under a program known as Project High Wire which ran continuously from 1962 to 1965. Another modification program saw the original afterburners of the F-100’s J-57 engines replaced with more advanced units taken from retired F-102 Delta Daggers.

Through the early sixties, the United States had committed itself to fighting a conventional war in Vietnam. Joe Baugher notes that by June of 1967, only five squadrons of F-100s remained at home in the USA. Most of the rest had been transferred to Vietnam as the war escalated. The F-100D was surprisingly adaptable to rough-field operations in Southeast Asia and had an excellent maintenance record.

Unusual heraldry for SE Asia before camouflage paint became standard. F-100D Super Sabre (s/n 56-3101) of the 429th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 474th Tactical Fighter Wing, on temporary duty at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, in 1965. (USAF – Public Domain)

The two-seat F-100F also saw combat in Vietnam. The F-models supplemented or replaced the Cessna O-1, O-2, and North American OV-10 in the Forward Air Control (FAC) role following heavy losses of the lighter aircraft in well-defended areas. Detachment 1 of the 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flew F-100Fs in the FAC role. The unit was better known by its radio call sign “Misty” – the favorite song of its commander, Medal of Honor recipient Major (later Colonel) George “Bud” Day.

Much larger fin, and that characteristic tail with its paint burned off. A U.S. Air Force North American F-100F (s/n 58-1213) of the 352nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, Phan Rang Air Base, South Vietnam, in 1971. (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

F-100s served with the USAF and the air forces of France, Denmark, Turkey and the Republic of China. Denmark and Turkey kept their F-100s in service until 1982.

Over the lifetime of its USAF service, 889 F-100 aircraft were destroyed in accidents, involving the deaths of 324 pilots. The worst year for F-100 accidents was 1958, with 116 aircraft destroyed, and 47 pilots killed

Of the 2294 F-100s built, a large number still survive. The F-100 seems to be the “must-have” airframe of aviation museums around the world. Apart from those in the United States, examples can be found in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

YF-100A 52-5755 photographed in 2016. This is the second prototype ‘Hun’ and still has the original short fin. The fact that it has survived at all is quite remarkable. Part of the AFFTC Museum, it can be found on display in ‘Century Circle’ at the West Gate to Edwards AFB, CA, USA. Photo and caption information by Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK
CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally around the world the viewer can find 17 x F-100A, 15 x F-100C, 38 x F-100D, (thirty-eight!?!) and 20 x F-100F.

The F-100 is not confined to museums, however. There are four privately owned F-100Fs (F-100F 56-3948 shown below) which are kept in airworthy condition and make star appearances at air shows around the United States.

I recalled seeing an F-100 with a US civil registration on TV years ago. My British VHS cassette won’t play over here, but a memorable segment on jet engines in the TV series Coltrane’s Planes and Automobiles showed the late Robbie Coltrane being persuaded by his director to toast a marshmallow (on a VERY long stick) in the afterburner of a jet aircraft. This aircraft turned out to be 56-3844 aka N415FS, an F-100F formerly of Flight Systems and now owned and flown by the Collings Foundation in Stow, MA.

That silhouette would be him. A screen grab showing Robbie Coltrane getting very close to the business end of F-100F 56-3844 aka N415FS during the filing of Coltrane’s Planes and Automobiles in 1996/7 (Screen grab – Fair Use – educational or commentary purposes)

I must have seen the two F-100s at the National Museum of the United States Air Force during my visit in 2002, but I don’t have any pictures. I must go back and look again next time I am in Ohio. During my 2015 scavenger hunt in Nebraska I was unreliably informed (by a Google book viewed on my cellphone) that there was an F-100 at the municipal airport in Fairbury, NE, but all I saw was a very beaten up T-33. Wikipedia informs me that there is an F-100F (56-3825) at the Municipal Airport at Aurora, NE. Is this the example that was at Fairbury or did a compiler just get the locations wrong? I have no idea. Ironically Aurora is not very far from York NE, where I spotted my RF-84F. 56-3825 will remain the one that got away. I missed it by 25 miles. Maybe some day I’ll retrace my steps in Nebraska.

Dakota Noses in London

I was watching a DVD of “The Lavender Hill Mob” again recently, and noticed something I had previously forgotten. There is a scene in which Stanley Holloway (playing “Al” Pendlebury) returns from France by air. “Dutch” Holland (played by Alec Guinness) meets his flight, presumably at Croydon. Visible briefly is a Dakota with the British Civilian registration G-AGYX.

Frame grab from my DVD. Alec Guinness in “The Lavender Hill Mob” – G-AGYX in the background.

Naturally enough I thought I’d look it up. I assumed it would be an ex-Transport Command aircraft and wondered about its history. Naturally, again, I discovered the path had been well beaten before me. My interest was piqued when I read that the nose of G-AGYX still exists. I thought I’d seen it on a visit to London, but it transpired that what I’d examined was a different Dakota, at a different museum.

Bomber Command Museum, Hendon

The “Lavender Hill Mob” Dakota was Douglas C-47A-10-DK c/n 12472, built at the Douglas Plant at Oklahoma City, OK and given the US military serial 42-92648. It passed directly to Britain where it became Dakota Mk.III KG437 with 233 Squadron at RAF Blakehill Farm in Wiltshire. KG437 saw action in September 1944 as part of operation MARKET III – the resupply of British Airborne forces at Arnhem. I had a quick Google for 233 Squadron and found the photograph below.

Douglas Dakotas of No. 233 Squadron RAF (and who knows if KG437 is one of them) lined up on the perimeter track at Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire, for an exercise with the 6th Airborne Division, 20 April 1944.
Bridge (F/O), Royal Air Force official photographer – This is photograph CH 12833 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I also happened to find a photograph of a 233 Squadron Dakota.

Douglas Dakota C.III (FZ692, ‘5T-UK’ “Kwicherbichen”) of No. 233 Squadron RAF based at Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire (UK), in flight, returning to the United Kingdom with wounded from the Normandy battlefront. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Post war as we know KG437 became G-AGYX when it was sold to BOAC in 1946. Its British career also included a stint with BEA (in whose markings it was filmed), then charter airline Autair (an ancestor of Court Line) and then to United Libyan Airlines when Autair disposed of its piston-engined aircraft in the mid 1960s. Its final flying engagement was as 5N-ATA somewhere in Sudan. It was noted as being derelict in Malta sometime later. I’m not clear how, but seemingly someone intended to refurbish the derelict Dakota as a restaurant, club, or bar. This clearly didn’t happen and eventually KG437 was passed to the RAF Museum, who sent the nose section to be restored by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society in my hometown of Rochester. The nose was returned to the Bomber Command Museum at Hendon in 2006. I assume the rest of it (depending on what actually existed by then) was scrapped.

After restoration by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society in my hometown of Rochester. The nose of KG437/G-AGYX was returned to the Bomber Command Museum at Hendon in 2006.

Science Museum, London

When I heard that the nose of KG 437 had been preserved, I thought “oh, that’s the one I walked through several years ago.” I was of course wrong. Firstly, the nose of KG437 wasn’t installed in Hendon until 2006, and I was long departed from Britain by then. Secondly, I remembered that the Dakota nose I had looked at was located in a completely different Museum. The colourful and slightly larger remnant below is located in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London.

There is a lot more nose here, and the paint scheme shouts “Royal Canadian Air Force” to those who recognize it from countless other post-war C-47s and Lancasters – so whose nose are we looking at here?

The Science Museum Dakota is C-47B-30-DK Dakota, originally allocated AAF serial 44-76586. This aircraft was also a product of the Douglas plant in Oklahoma City, OK.

Joe Baugher says “(MSN 16170/32918) to RAF as Dakota IV KN448 Mar 1945. Transferred to RCAF Apr 8, 1946.” Baugher doesn’t note it, but apparently 448 was scrapped at Trenton, Ontario, sometime after 1968. The front fuselage was acquired by the Science Museum, where it went on display in 1970. All records suggest that it was owned and operated by the the RCAF until its demise, so the truncated word suggestive of “AIRLINES” is a bit of a mystery although the font is a pretty good match for the “ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE” legend frequently seen on RCAF C-47s. Go figure. People in museums wield paint brushes in strange ways. I don’t have any information relating to 448’s RAF or RCAF service, but I’ll keep looking.

Postscript and Digressions

RAF Blakehill Farm, where KG437 was based, is located just to the South-West of Cricklade in Wiltshire. To the North-East of Cricklade, over the border, lies RAF Down Ampney in Gloucestershire. The village of Down Ampney, besides giving its name to a well known British hymn tune (written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and familiarly set to “Come Down O Love Divine”), was also the location of a Transport Command base, housing 48 and 271 Squadrons and a number of other service units.

On the afternoon of 19 September 1944, at the same time that KG437 was flying from Blakehill Farm, Flight Lieutenant David Lord, DFC, of 271 Squadron flew from Down Ampney in Dakota KG374 “YS-DM” as part of operation MARKET III. The squadron had been ordered to fly at 900 feet to ensure proper delivery of supplies to the embattled troops below. Very shortly before the drop, KG374 was hit by Anti-Aircraft fire which started a fire in the starboard engine and wing. Lord apparently decided to proceed with the drop, and had completed one pass with his despatchers dropping supplies from the burning Dakota. Lord was making a second pass to get rid of a couple of containers which had hung up when the aircraft broke up and crashed. Lord’s navigator was thrown clear but the rest of the crew perished. David Lord was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

No photographs exist of Lord’s aircraft, although the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Dakota ZA947 was painted to represent Lord’s aircraft some years ago. Coincidentally it’s now painted to represent “Kwitcherbitchen” of 233 Squadron (see above!)

Researching MARKET III I happened to come across this photograph, complete with crop marks, from the IWM collection:

Operation MARKET III: air re-supply of British airborne forces in the Arnhem area, 19 September 1944. Burnt-out Douglas Dakota Mark III, KG401, of No. 48 Squadron RAF based at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, which crash-landed in a field near Kessel, Holland, after parachuting supplies over Arnhem. The aircraft had just dropped its supplies from 700 feet when it was met with intense anti-aircraft fire. The tail unit, rudder, port aileron and engine, the starboard auxiliary fuel tank and all the gyro instruments were either damaged or put out of action, and one of the Army despatchers was mortally wounded. The captain, Flying Officer L R Pattee RCAF and his co-pilot, Flying Officer A C Kent RAF, flew the crippled aircraft back to the British lines, through three more areas of enemy flak, where they sustained further serious damage, including a five foot hole in the starboard wing which caught fire, and complete electrical and communications failure. Once over the British lines, Pattee gave the crew and despatchers the opportunity to bale out, but they refused and the pilots then made a successful belly-landing in the field. No sooner had they all quit the Dakota, than it was engulfed by flames. The unfortunate despatcher died soon after the landing, while the others were taken to Brussels and the crew returned to Down Ampney. Sixteen aircraft of 48 Squadron participated in MARKET III, flying through intense flak with no fighter escort. Many aircraft were hit and two, (KG401 and KG428), failed to return. Over the following four days the Squadron lost another six Dakotas on re-supply missions to Arnhem. This is photograph CE 165 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t

Last year I looked at a few aircraft which were at or around Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack in 1941. I ran across another one on the Web as I carried out one of my stored searches.

It’s not this one, but one (or two) of its siblings which may have been in the air at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 . Waco UIC NC13702 seen in July 2012. Photo by FlugKerl2, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Our story concerns a Waco UIC biplane with the registration NC13408. In 1941 it was owned and operated by a company called K-T Flying Service in Honolulu. The substantial version of the story says that Robert ‘Bob” Tyce, (part owner of K-T, being the “T” part) was flying in NC13408 when he and another individual in another Waco were bounced by Japanese aircraft on the morning of December 7th. The second Waco was hit and the pilot bailed out. Tyce, so the story goes, managed to evade the attackers and landed, although he was killed on the ground following the landing, becoming one of the first, if not the first civilian casualty of the Japanese attack. It gets a little complicated because some sources say it wasn’t Tyce flying the aircraft, and yet another source disputes the claim that NC13408 was in the air at all on December 7th.

Whatever the truth is about NC13408, records that Robert Horatio Tyce, born 11 May 1903 at Częstochowa, Śląskie, Poland, died on 7 Dec 1941 at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu County, Hawaii, United States of America.

Geek Heaven in Dorset

My wife Susan is a highly engaged Twitter user and finds all kinds of interesting articles being tweeted, some of which she forwards to me in email.  I am not a highly engaged Twitter user, so email is always a good way to find me.  We spent a couple of very pleasant vacations in Dorset before I moved to the USA. We did the Hardy sites and tours, visited the Dorchester Museum and Maiden Castle, all those things.  When Susan found a picture of a Hurricane being exhibited at the Borough Gardens in Dorchester in 1943 I took a quick glance and more or less filed it away, thinking “Second line Hurricane, 1943, armament removed, I wonder what the serial number is, I’ll have a look sometime.”

Yes, It’s a Hurricane. But which one? From Dorset Museum’s Twitter Feed: @DorsetMuseum Dorchester’s Borough Gardens is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year! From our archive is this image of a Hawker Hurricane Fighter in the gardens taken by a Mr. Collins during the “Wings For Victory Week” which was a national fund raising event in 1943

That time came fairly quickly.  I discovered the photo is a little more puzzling than at first sight.  I can’t make out the rest of the serial number from the scanned photo the museum tweeted, so looked for features to give some clue as to what production mark it was.  And that’s where the fun started.  

Keen eyed readers and viewers may assume like me, that given the C and C1 style roundels that this is a Hurricane IIc with the wing cannons removed and faired over.  That’s what I thought.  But there is precious little evidence of that removal.  It’s a bit too neat.  Then I looked at the nose.  What struck me was that there is no oil-deflector ring on the cowling behind the propeller spinner.  I have just read a huge article on the Web about the various propellers and spinners fitted to Hurricanes. Thus bewildered I can say I have no idea which kind of propeller and spinner is fitted (although my personal guess is Rotol), but there is no oil deflector ring.

This detail alone suggests that this may be an older Hurricane which has been out to grass for a longer time than previously imagined.  The real kicker for me is the wireless antenna post behind the cockpit canopy.  It’s not one of the angular blade type antennae you see on most of the later Hurricanes and Spitfires. It’s stocky and squared off. That rang a bell somewhere in the subconscious, so I went and looked at Francis K. Mason’s authoritative book on the Hurricane and lo, he said in a comment on another picture, that the stubby squared-off wireless antenna post was a common feature of the first production “L” serialled Mark I Hurricanes.  Really?  Could it be this is a very early Hurricane taking part in a Wings for Victory exhibition in 1943?   This was exciting, so I set to work on trying to match the visible digits of the serial number with the list in his book and one of my highly arcane and beloved reference works, Bruce Robertson’s British Military Aircraft Serials 1911-1971.  And that’s where my research came unstuck.

The only visible portion of the serial number are two digits, and their position within the serial number is open to question.  If this is an early Hurricane, its 5-character Air Ministry serial number will be formatted “A0000” rather than the later format “AA000”  

As in all the best puzzles, someone is standing in front of the tail of the aircraft concealing another digit, perhaps two.  All we therefore see are the digits “25” and what may be the front edge of a 7 or a 3.   The first production batch of 600 Hurricanes were in the serial range L1547-2146,  so even allowing that the missing digit is a 7 there is no possibility that the combination “257” appears anywhere in that production batch. The Dorchester example can’t be one of those.  

Not to lose heart, the next production batch of 300 Hurricanes were in the serial range N2318-2729 so it’s possible that the serial is N257x.

The next production batch of 500 Mark 1 Hurricanes were built by Gloster Aircraft used serials in the range P2535-3264.  Robertson notes that aircraft up to P2681 had a wooden, fixed pitch, two-bladed Watts propeller – after 2681 they were fitted with Rotol propellers.    If the Dorchester Hurricane was P257x it may have been originally endowed with a Watts propeller and converted later in life.

There are no contenders in the rest of the P, R,  T (Canadian), V and W serial combinations so the remaining possibility for the single letter / four digit combination is Z2308-4018 – a massive order for 1000 Hurricanes Mark IIA . IIB and IIC from Hawker.  Z257x is therefore a feasible identity, occurring as it does in the range Z2560-2594. I need to cross check what marks these 30 aircraft were, simply because the oil deflector ring was seen as early as the summer of 1940 on operational Hurricanes and clearly this aircraft doesn’t have one.  It’s quite possible that this could be a later Hurricane with a serial in the BN, BP or later ranges, but by this time I’m certain none of them would have omitted the oil deflector ring and certainly none would have had that short stumpy wireless antenna post.

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc PZ865 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight seen in July 2005 in the markings of the Czechoslovak night fighter ace Karel Kuttelwascher. Note that where the (red) propeller spinner meets the nose there is a flared ring of metal to defect any leaking oil from the propeller hub away from the windscreen of the aircraft. Notice the size and shape of the radio antenna mast behind the cockpiy, which is slightly longer and pointed in comparison to the Dorchester Hurricane. Photo by Kogo GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

This little exercise in delving around reference books and pictures on the Web always amuses me.  I am quite aware I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.   I think what I must do is email someone at the Dorset Museum and ask them nicely if they can have a look at the original print and see if any more of the serial number is visible. Especially whatever lies aft of the Sky band on the tail.  

Another 90th Anniversary – Knute Rockne and the Crash of NC999E, March 31st 1931

In 2015, and again in 2020, I wrote about an air crash which influenced the investigation of civilian air crashes in the United Kingdom. July 21, 2020 was the 90th anniversary of the Meopham Air Crash / Meopham Air Disaster.

March 31st 2021 sees the 90th anniversary of another famous air crash. The death of a notable personality in this crash, along with seven other souls, may have caused a shift in the culture of air crash investigation and reporting in the United States in much the same way that the Meopham Air Disaster did in the UK. The crash had a subtle but distinct influence on aircraft design and development, and represented a watershed in civil aviation. The story was so fascinating that I started to write a blog article, and then shelved it. As today is the 90th Anniversary of this crash, I can’t let the event pass without a mention.

The individual who died on March 31, 1931 was Knute Rockne, the Norwegian-American Coach of the University of Notre Dame football team. The aircraft involved was a Fokker F.10A belonging to Transcontinental and Western Air, and the crash location was close to the township of Bazaar, in Chase County, Kansas, not a huge distance from where I live.

Knute Rockne (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Knute Rockne was born in Voss, Norway in March 1888. He emigrated to Chicago with his parents when he was five years old. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1914 with a degree in Pharmacy, but soon passed on a career in science when he was asked to help coach the football team. After a short career in professional football, he returned to coach Notre Dame in 1918, and the rest is history. Rockne is held up as one of the greatest coaches in college football history and brought the “Fighting Irish” to preeminence.

Rockne was a hero of the early depression, embodying the All American spirit, despite (or because of) his Norwegian roots. Always an astute publicist and an early advocate of commercial air travel, he was on his way to Los Angeles to take part on the production of a movie The Spirit of Notre Dame.

He was flying on a Fokker F.10A, registration NC999E belonging to Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA), which was making the line’s Flight 5 from Kansas City, Missouri to Los Angeles with intermediate stops at Wichita, Amarillo, Albuquerque, and Winslow.

Fokker F.10A NC999E which crashed on March 31st 1931, seen here at Glendale, California in the earlier livery of Western Air Express, March 1930. (Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives, Huntington Digital Library)

NC999E departed Kansas City at approximately 0915 on the first leg to Wichita. Weather conditions were poor with snow falls, clouds, mist, drizzle and icing. At 1022, the copilot reported they were south of Emporia, Kansas and were turning back to Kansas City. However on hearing that Wichita’s weather was clearer they may have attempted to turn round again in order to complete their first leg. Their position near Bazaar, slightly west their usual course, indicates the crew were following the aviator’s friend the “iron compass” – in this case the tracks of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

It’s entirely possible that the crew needed to open the throttles and gain altitude to execute another 180 degree turn. A couple of witnesses saw NC999E emerge from cloud diving almost vertically, its engines backfiring – perhaps as the pilots throttled back and fought to lessen the impact they knew was inevitable.

Crash site of NC999E in Chase County, Kansas. The tail is the only identifiable part of the wreckage – the port wing was found half a mile away (

Five of the eight occupants were thrown clear of the wreckage. The aircraft’s port wing was found half a mile away. Small pieces of ice were to be found around the wreck, indicating that key instruments may have iced. Subsequent investigations found clear signs of wood adhesive failure in the main spars and plywood covering following prolonged exposure to moisture. An article in the British journal Aeroplane theorized that if the pilots became disoriented in cloud, and with key instruments inoperable through icing, it is highly possible the aircraft entered a spiral dive, during which the weakened wing separated.

Embed from Getty Images
Original Caption – This is a view of the wreckage of the Transcontinental Western Air Transport Liner in which Knute Rockne and seven others died, when it crashed near Bazaar, Kansas. Sections of the plane and some of the victims were scattered over an area of over a hundred yards. The plane plowed deeply into the soft soil by the force of the crash. (Getty Images)

President Herbert Hoover called the crash a ‘national disaster’. The King of Norway sent a delegation to the funeral and knighted Rockne posthumously. United States Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur sent condolences, as did several state legislatures.

Embed from Getty Images
Another view of the wreckage of NC999E (Getty Images)

The public outcry and the demand for answers which followed the crash had a profound effect. The Aeronautics Branch of the US Department of Commerce followed its accustomed policy and made no public announcement about the crash. This would not satisfy the press, and so a number of implausible theories about pilot error, stress and propeller fracture were advanced, none of which stood up to investigation. Wood-framed aircraft were suspect. Every Fokker Trimotor in U.S. airline service was temporarily grounded. The expense of new more rigorous safety checks, and the bad publicity associated with Rockne’s death caused the reputations of TWA and Fokker to sink considerably. Fokker’s would never recover.

For TWA, the only way out of the morass, occurring at the outset of the worst depression in American history, was to look for new aircraft. The Ford Trimotor was an early beneficiary but it looked too much like the “Plane that killed Knute Rockne” even if its metal construction was entirely different. Boeing produced the semi-legendary Model 247 which was widely regarded as the forerunner of modern commercial aircraft, featuring de-icing, a metal construction, and supercharged engines. TWA wanted Model 247s, but Boeing were fully committed to manufacturing 60 for its United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UAT) subsidiary company United Airlines – TWA’s arch rival. Boeing couldn’t supply TWA for some time, if at all.

In the summer of 1932, a TWA Vice-President contacted Donald Douglas and four other manufacturers to bid for construction of an all-metal three-engined, 12-seat aircraft capable of landing and taking off with one engine out from any of its operating airports. TWA asked who would be interested in a manufacturing job and how long would it be before a prototype could be evaluated.

Donald Douglas was at first hesitant, but after hammering out a few details with TWA such as persuading them to drop their trimotor specification, Douglas’ corporate response was the Douglas Commercial 1 (aka DC-1), which flew a year after the initial letter of interest from TWA.

Douglas DC-1 on its handover to TWA in December 1933 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

TWA accepted the aircraft and subsequently ordered 20 examples of the production model, the DC-2.

You can see where this is going. From the DC-2, Douglas produced the improved DC-3, and a legend was born. The Boeing 247 was outperformed by the DC-2 and relegated to a sideline in commercial aviation history, albeit a sideline that arguably gave birth (via the four-engined, pressurized Model 307) to the B-17.

Air crash investigation was brought into the public arena. The aviation industry in the United States took a leap forward with the development of the DC-2/3 series and made the USA the predominant force in airliner construction for four decades. Even Boeing would re-enter the lists with considerable effect.

Would things have been different had Knute Rockne landed safely in Los Angeles in 1931? I think it’s true to say, as the Aeroplane article suggests, that without the market created by the Rockne crash, airline development might have progressed at a slightly different pace. The Junkers 52 and the venerable Ford Trimotor demonstrated the safe developmental route. Without the timely impetus to develop the DC series, the DC-2 and later DC-3 / C-47, the speculation starts to go off the scale. Had the DC-3 emerged a couple of years later, what would the legions of paratroopers have jumped from in the Second World War?

And we haven’t even begun to think about college football. 🙂

Among other sources, see the following:

A Tale of Two (or Three) Kitties

On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor I was searching for a picture of the Pearl Harbor survivor Curtiss P-40B 41-13297.   I was riffling through Wikipedia looking at all the surviving Warhawks / Tomahawks / Kittyhawks when my geeky eye lit upon an entry for a Kittyhawk 1A

What it said was:
ET573 – based at Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Here it is – Jerry Yagen’s Military Air Museum is the owner of this Curtiss P-40E (Kittyhawk1 1A) painted as Tex Hill’s P-40E 41-5658 ‘108’ of the 3rd Fighter Squadron, American Volunteer Group. The MAM Kittyhawk never flew with the Flying Tigers, being an RAF example that was re-exported to the Soviet Union in 1942. Seen here on November 28, 2008. Photo by Michael Rehbaum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wikipedia page for the MAM says:

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk – This particular aircraft, serial number 41-35918, was built in 1941 and sent to the UK as a Lend-Lease item; it was passed along to the Russians in April, 1942, and lost in action while protecting Murmansk. It stayed on the tundra where it had landed for almost 50 years, and was recovered in 1992; acquired by the Museum’s founder in 1996, it finally flew again in 2003

Those of you who know me, know what a sucker I am for registration and serial numbers.  It is a talent I have acquired over the last fifty-something years.  Bear with me when I say I suddenly got interested, because I knew there had been another ET-serialled Kittyhawk in the news recently.

Oh yes dear reader, it is ET574, the 260 squadron P-40E (Kittyhawk 1A)  which was discovered in the Egyptian desert in 2012 by a group of Polish oil company workers.   As a Wikipedia author quite succinctly puts it: “As of 2018, displayed at a museum in El Alamein in a faux paint scheme.”  See another blog entry.

It’s a romantic or sentimental thought that two neighbors on the Curtiss production line could be survivors, in very different forms. Emboldened, I went to consult Joe Baugher’s database, and found the following:

41-35927 (MSN 18448) to RAF as ET573 but delivered to USSR.  Lost in action near Arctic Circle where it lay on frozen tundra for 50 years.  Recovered from crash site near Murmansk c.1992.  Brought to USA at Griffin, GA and underwent restoration.  There is an RAF record card which has this plane as going to the RAF as ET573 and later becoming an instructional airframe Oct 1943 as 4181M.

41-35928 (MSN 18449) to RAF as Kittyhawk IA ET574.  Missing during ferry flight Jun 28, 1942 from LG.85 (Amriya South, Egypt) to an RSU near Wadi Naturun which was used as a maintenance group facility (53RFU).  The aircraft flew with its undercarriage locked down due to damage.   An incorrect course was set and the aircraft was thought to have crashed in the Egyptian desert due to fuel exhaustion. Pilot listed as missing.  The aircraft wreckage that was located in March 2012 by oil company workers in nearly intact form may be this plane.   Pilot still missing,

Something is wrong here.   This is very much a geek point,  but the former USAAF identity for ET573 is unlikely to be 41-35927 (Joe Baugher) and 41-35918 (MAM / Wikipedia).  I think the first (and easiest) theory is that someone at Wikipedia has got their wires crossed.  It would not be the first time that erroneous or misleading information had been posted on Wikipedia, after all. Alternatively the confusion may lie somewhere else.

So what about 41-35918? Back to Joe Baugher, who clarifies the question of RAF identity.

41-35887/35925 (MSN 18408/18446, ET533/ET571) were to have gone to RAF as Kittyhawk IA but diverted to USSR Apr 1942

41-35918 (MSN 19751, production no. 1025 on data plate) to RAF as ET564.  To USSR Apr 4, 1942.  Shot down Jun 1, 1942 in area of Pyal-Yavr Lake.  Recovered in 1992 and brought to USA and restored by the Fighter Factory. Now on display at the Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA

Whoa – hold on. So Joe Baugher seemed to be saying the MAM example is actually ET564 whereas someone else in Wikipedia thinks it’s ET573. Joe Baugher’s record says ET573 did return to the States and was being restored in Georgia.

A little further riffling around the Web retrieved an article and a photo from which seems to answer my question: [my additional notes in square brackets]

Military Aviation Museum – Ex USAAF 41-35927, RAF ET573. Gerald Yagen acquired two P-40E Warhawks, both recovered from Russia in 1992. Both aircraft had gone to the Soviets in 1942 on lend-lease. They were c/n 18439 (ex USAAF 41-35918, RAF ET564 and Soviet AF 1025) and this one [c/n 18448 ex-USAAF 41-35927].   [Yagen’s flyer was assumed to be 41-35918, but] research, confirmed by the company in New Zealand that did the actual restoration in 2001-2003, showed that it is in fact the other one, 41-35927.

So it’s not a matter of one recovered P-40, It’s two. No doubt this is where the confusion arises. The question which remains in my mind is this. If the flyer really is the former ET573, (as the restorer in New Zealand seems to confirm) are there any substantial remains of ET564 or were they consumed in the restoration of the other one?  How did the identities get swapped? In the words of an old TV series: “Confused? – You will be!”

If you look up Jerry Yagen’s P-40E on the Web you’ll see histories of both of his machines with photographs of the same aircraft.   They’ve both been to the USA, and possibly both to a restoration facility in Griffin, GA. They’ve both been to New Zealand (or have they?) but seemingly only one has emerged from restoration to flying condition. I suppose I could always email someone out there and ask them. No doubt some of you are saying “why didn’t you do that in the first place?”

In conclusion.  I first had a romantic thought about the survival of two neighbors on the Curtiss production line in Buffalo sent to very different destinations. Then my little internet paper trail made me wonder if the identity of the Soviet P-40 was correct, but now it seems possible that, after all, the P-40s in Virginia Beach, USA and El Alamein, Egypt really are construction numbers 18848 and 18849, 41-35927 and 41-35928, ET 573 and ET 574.   One is considerably better preserved than the other – neither look very much the way they did when flying in the Second World war, but each have a story to tell. 

A footnote about Lend-lease P-40s in the air forces of the USSR

An assembly plant for American fighter warplanes destined for Russia, somewhere in Iran. March 1943 – Public Domain via Wikimedia – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID fsa.8d29407.

There is a fascinating article written in 2019 by Valery Romanenko entitled The P-40 in Soviet Aviation

I was curious as to how the two Soviet P-40s probably went to the USSR. Romanenko says that the southern lend-lease route began (through Abadan, Iran and/or Basra, Iraq) began to operate in June 1942, but Kittyhawks were received from this source starting in November.  This means Yagen’s  P-40s probably arrived in the USSR on one of the (in)famous Arctic Convoys to Murmansk, possibly either PQ13 (arrived Murmansk 3/31/1942)  or PQ14 (arrived Murmansk 4/19/42).  See

On a related literary meander, if you haven’t read Alistair MacLean’s 1955 debut novel HMS Ulysses or Paul Lund and Harry Ludlum’s PQ17 – Convoy to Hell you might consider a visit to your local library or bookstore.

Mark Sheppard’s article on P-40 recoveries from Russia on the same site Mentions that 47 Tomahawk IIBs arrived in the USSR  in September 1941. They probably arrived in the test Convoy “Dervish” which arrived at Archangel on 8/31/1941. The P-40s were assembled by an RAF detachment at Yagodnik and flight- tested by a couple of American USAAC officers by the names of Lts. Allison and Zemke – the latter better known later as as Colonel  ‘Hub’ Zemke, 56th  Fighter Group. The timing is a little interesting since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was still three months away. It’s interesting to know that ‘Hub’ Zemke was getting involved even before the USA was officially at war.

Lady Be Good

I am grateful to the social media presence of the National Museum of the United States Air Force for a reminder.  I would never have realized that November 9th  is the anniversary of the day in 1958 when some British oil prospectors, flying over the Calanscio Sand Sea in Libya, spotted the wreck of an aircraft lying on the surface of the desert below.  It would take another four months to confirm that what they had seen, as they suspected, was the wreck of a B-24 Liberator, but what galvanized the US Air Force was the fact that the Liberator on the desert floor had been reported missing in April 1943 from a raid on Naples, Italy.

The ill-fated crew of the Lady Be Good photographed in front of a different B-24. From the left: 1st Lt. W.J. Hatton, pilot; 2nd Lt. R.F. Toner, copilot; 2nd Lt. D.P. Hays, navigator; 2nd Lt. J.S. Woravka, bombardier; Tech Sgt. H.J. Ripslinger, engineer; Tech Sgt. R.E. LaMotte, radio operator; Staff Sgt. G.E. Shelley, gunner; Staff Sgt. V.L. Moore, gunner; and Staff Sgt. S.E. Adams, gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Wreckage of Lady Be Good discovered in Libya, November 1958
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lady Be Good was a Consolidated B-24D-25-CO Liberator with AAF serial 41-24301, allocated to the 541st Bomb Squadron / 376th Bomb Group based at Soluch Airfield, Libya (also known as Benina, after the adjacent town) 12 miles east of Benghazi. Having been ferried across the Atlantic by a brand-new crew, the B-24 arrived at Soluch on March 25th 1943.  The crew which would fly it on the raid to Naples, commanded by 1st Lt. William J. Hatton, had arrived a week earlier, on March 18th.  The Naples raid would be the Hatton crew’s first combat mission.  

The attack was intended to be carried out by two formations of twelve aircraft. A sandstorm caused eight aircraft from the second wave to turn back to Soluch, leaving four aircraft, including Lady Be Good to complete the attack.  Visibility over Naples was poor.  Two aircraft bombed a secondary target and the other two jettisoned their bombs while heading back to North Africa. 

Hatton apparently radioed his base around midnight asking for directions and reporting his Direction Finder was inoperative.   People on the ground at Soluch reported hearing an aircraft flying overhead which continued South.  It was assumed that Hatton’s B-24 had crashed in the Mediterranean on its way back from Naples. A brief search launched over the sea from Soluch the following day failed to find any wreckage or other indications. Strangely, no connection was made between the aircraft flying overhead and Lady Be Good.

The discovery of the wreck in 1959 upset this narrative.   In March 1959 a British oil exploration crew examined the wreckage and the surrounding area, and started taking souvenirs from the aircraft. The B-24 was in a remarkable state of preservation, and there was enough evidence in the form of maintenance records and logs to name the crew members, but no trace of the crew themselves.  One of the oilmen was on friendly terms with the USAF officer commanding  Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli, and wrote a long letter detailing the discovery. This information was passed to USAF Europe in Frankfurt. The wheels of officialdom ground into motion.

Wreck of the Lady Be Good in the Libyan Desert – from “History and Units of the United States Air Forces In Europe”, CD-ROM compiled by GHJ Scharringa, European Aviation Historical Society, 2004. Image source listed as United States Army Air Forces via National Archives (via Wikimedia) This photograph is said to date from “approximately 1957” but the tire tracks around the wreck suggest the photograph was taken sometime after March 1959 when the first ground exploration located the remains of the aircraft.

In February 1960, the U.S. Army conducted a formal search of the area for the remains of the crew.  The search discovered piles of discarded equipment and trail markers cut from parachutes, weighed down with small rocks, indicating the presence of a group of people, specifically the crew of the Lady Be Good.

Five bodies – those of Hatton, Toner, Hays, LaMotte, and Adams – were found on February 11, 1960 at a location 81 miles from the crew’s post bail-out assembly site.  The searchers found evidence, specifically diaries,  which recorded the crew’s suffering on the walk northward. None of the men were aware they had been flying over land when they bailed out, or how far inland they had flown. As they walked, the group left behind footwear, parachute scraps, Mae Wests and other items as markers to show searchers their path.

A prayer service at the location of the bodies of the “Lady Be Good” crew members in the Libyan Desert provided a simple but solemn commemoration. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William G. Woods, Chief of Wheelus Chaplains, conducts the service while members of the US Air Force investigating party and oil exploration personnel listen in silence. Local ID: 342-B-ND-075-4-92672AC (National Archives)

The diaries also recounted that the group survived for eight days with only a single canteen of water, a few energy sweets, and no other survival equipment.  Three of the strongest surviving crew members – Ripslinger, Shelley, and Moore – continued walking. The ninth crew member, Lt. Woravka had never joined up with the other eight.  Significantly they had also never found the wreckage of the B-24 which had continued south after they bailed out. 

In the summer of the 1960 the U.S. Army and Air Force commenced a joint operation – Climax – to search for the remaining bodies, although ironically it was another British oil crew who discovered the body of Sgt. Guy Shelley on May 11.  Shelley’s body was found 37.5 miles beyond the group of five.  Sgt. Ripslinger’s body  was discovered 26 miles from the main group on May 17th by the US search teams.

Image from Operation Climax. Local ID: 111-CC-17245 (National Archives)

Operation Climax never found the body of Sgt. Moore. However, it is possible that a body which was discovered by a British Army patrol on a desert exercise in 1953 may have been his.  Since the patrol had no inkling that allied aircrew were missing in the area, the remains were recorded, photographed and buried.  The photographs came to light in 2001 but no conclusive evidence could be drawn from them.

The body of Lt. Woravka, the Bombardier,  was discovered in August 1960, 16 miles North East of the crash site of the B-24 by yet another British oil crew and recovered from its resting place by officers from Wheelus Air Base. Woravka’s parachute had failed to open and the body was covered in shroud lines and the partially deployed parachute when found. While in the area, the recovery team almost literally stumbled upon a pile of discarded parachute harnesses, flight boots and signal cartridges. This was the crew’s assembly point after the bale-out, whose location was previously unknown.   It was less than half a mile from the point where Woravka’s body had been lying. By a cruel twist of fate one of the items on Woravka’s body was a canteen of water which was still more than half-full after 17 years in the desert.

Propeller from Lady Be Good – ex Wheelus AB,Libya, now at Lake Lindon, MI. June 2020. Photo by Kairotic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the years that followed, the wreck of the Lady Be Good became a navigational point and target for military and civilian explorers.   The wreck was systematically stripped by numerous visitors over the intervening years and no doubt hundreds of individual pieces are in the hands of private individuals around the world. Several pieces were removed by the US Air Force during its examination of the wreck, which are now mostly to be found in the NMUSAF and the Army Quartermaster’s museum in Fort Lee, VA. One of the propellers was taken to Wheelus Air Base.  Another was said to be at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  The propeller which had been at Wheelus was sent back to the USA and is now outside the village hall in Lake Linden, MI which was the home town of Robert LaMotte  

In 1968 an RAF team removed one of the engines from the wreck. Following examination my McDonnell Douglas it was passed to the NMUSAF where I photographed it in 2002. It has since been joined by another propeller although I’m not sure which one this is.  

Fascinating picture of an RAF Vulcan overflying the wreck of Lady Be Good which I believe was taken in the late 1960s in a navigation exercise. It is worth noting that the tail of the aircraft has been re-aligned with the fuselage, all the engines have been removed – the left horizontal stabilizer (tailplane) is partly missing and the port vertical stabilizer / fin is missing entirely. The nose of the aircraft is now also completely severed from the rest of the fuselage.

The B-24’s broken tail section was moved and re-aligned with the rest of the fuselage by visitors to the wreck, and in some of the last photographs I saw, the entire port vertical stabilizer had been hacked off and removed. Its location is a mystery.   Finally, in 1994 the wreck was sectioned and removed from the crash site by a team of Libyan archaeologists.  It sat for a while in a compound in Tobruk, although it may have been moved again to another location in Libya, which I believe to be Gamal Abdel Nasser Airbase (aka RAF El Adem in a previous life).  I don’t suppose anyone is going over there to take a look in the foreseeable future.  

Sectioned wreck of Lady Be Good is removed from its resting place by Libyan Archaeologists, 1994. The wreck by this time had been thoroughly stripped with only the bare frame remaining. Even one of the vertical stabilizers had been removed by souvenir hunters.

In Memoriam:
1st Lieutenant William J. Hatton, Pilot – Whitestone, NY
2nd Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, Copilot – North Attleboro, MA
2nd Lieutenant Dp Hays, Navigator – Lee’s Summit, MO
2nd Lieutenant John S. Woravka, Bombardier – Cleveland, OH
Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, Flight Engineer – Saginaw, MI
Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, Radio Operator – Lake Linden, MI
Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelley, Gunner/Asst Flight Engineer – New Cumberland, PA
Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, Gunner/Asst Radio Operator – New Boston, OH
Staff Sergeant Samuel E. Adams, Gunner – Eureka, IL

Meopham Redux

At least two people realized that Tuesday July 21st 2020 will mark the 90th Anniversary of the Meopham Air Disaster / Meopham Air Crash. One of those is me. I thought about it a few weeks ago and completely forgot.

The other is Samuel (Sam) Supple from BBC South-East who emailed me this week and said “It’s the 90th Anniversary of the Meopham Air crash next week and I just read your blog article – I’m going to do a piece for BBC News and can I interview you?”

A blurry picture of G-AAZK at Meopham, July 1930 from

I am stunned to find I wrote that blog article in February 2015. I am also stunned to find how little I actually put in the article. I’ve been collating information on and about the crash ever since my parents told me about it when I was quite young. You may or may not know but my great-grandfather Lewis Powell (1884 – 1956) was one of two village policemen in Meopham (apparently reporting to Sergeant Charles Eve, based in Cobham) at the time of the crash.

Pathe news footage of the aftermath of the crash

As we know, the aircraft involved was Junkers F.13ge G-AAZK, Werk Nr 2052 named Bartgeier. Built in 1929, the aircraft had only flown about 100 hours since new. It had been registered in the UK on 26 May, 1930 and received its Certificate of Airworthiness on June 4th.  

Despite the appearance of being the property of an airline, G-AAZK seemingly was owned by its pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel George Lockhart Piercy Henderson. Henderson loaned the aircraft to the Walcot Air Line to operate a charter flight between Le Touquet and Croydon, picking up a society party who had spent the weekend at Berck. The flight was the third round trip that day. First Henderson had flown his wife from Le Touquet to Croydon. He returned to France for four more passengers, and after they had disembarked in England had gone back again for the remaining four. It was on the final leg, at 2:35 pm, flying at at an altitude of about 1000 feet, above Meopham, when witnesses reported a rumbling noise and that the aircraft emerged from a cloud and then broke apart in mid-air.

All but one of the occupants were thrown from the aircraft and fell into an orchard.  The fuselage and one wing of the aircraft fell close to a bungalow, (see the picture at the top of the page) while the other wing was found a mile away. The tail was found 300 yards from the crash site in a field. The engine fell into the drive of an unoccupied house, just missing a gardener working nearby.  

Screenshot from the Pathe News film on YouTube, showing the tail of G-AAZK found some distance from the major portions of the wreckage and attracting the attention of the local populace. Notice how shiny the metal is, and also notice that half the port (left) tailplane is missing. This has not been removed by souvenir hunters – this was the first structural failure which triggered a number of others, notably the separation of the tail from the aircraft, causing a violent downward pitch which may have thrown the passengers through the roof of the aircraft.

The co-pilot, Charles Shearing, was pulled from the wreckage and carried inside the bungalow. Shearing died soon afterwards.

Screenshot from the Pathe News film on YouTube showing the engine of G-AAZK with what seems to be some of the nose structure attached, having fallen in the driveway of a house in Meopham on July 21st 1930

Family history holds it that my great grandfather was told to gather up the personal effects which had been scattered widely at the time of the crash and keep them at his cottage in Meopham. It is alleged that some items of jewellery were never recovered. Similarly the Air Ministry investigative team reported that some pieces of the wreckage had been taken by souvenir hunters.

The passengers who died were certainly an aristocratic group.

I forgot I had a Pinterest Account – thanks Sam! Passengers and Crew aboard G-AAZK on July 21st 1930 L-R Mrs Sigrid Loeffler; Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 3rd Marquess of Dufferin and Ava; Sir Edward Ward Bt. The smallest picture is Viscountess Ednam (formerly Lady Rosemary Sutherland-Leveson-Gower). Then Lt. Colonel George Henderson, Pilot, and on the right I assume this is Charles Shearing, Co-Pilot. Given the passage of time I can’t believe that any of the portraits are not in the Public Domain

Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood (Lord Dufferin) was born on 26 February 1875 in Ottawa, during his father’s term as Governor General of Canada. He joined the 9th Lancers as a second lieutenant on 11 August 1897 and served with his regiment during the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1901. He retired from the Army in 1913 with the rank of Captain, but rejoined his old regiment following the outbreak of the First World War. He was seriously wounded when serving on the Western Front in October 1914. He subsequently transferred to the Grenadier Guards and was again seriously wounded in the autumn of 1915 having returned to duty for only three days. He served as a staff captain in the Guards Division in 1916 and was seconded to the Machine Gun Corps as an instructor in 1918. After the war he was president of the Ulster Ex-Servicemen’s Association. Lord Dufferin’s eldest brother Archibald, Earl of Ava, had been killed in action at Waggon Hill in the Boer War in January 1900, while his other brother, Lord Basil Blackwood, was killed attacking German trenches in July 1917. Lord Dufferin was elected to the Senate of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1921, where he served as Speaker from 1921 to 1930. He was sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland on 16 September 1921 and of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland on 12 December 1922. He was an RNVR (Royal Naval Reserve) aide-de-camp to King George V and was appointed Vice-Admiral of Ulster by the King in 1923.

Captain Sir Edward Simons Ward, 2nd Baronet Ward of Wilbraham Place was born on 1 July 1882. He was the son of Colonel Sir Edward Willis Duncan Ward GBE KCB KCVO (1853 – 1928), 1st Baronet. and Florence Caroline Simons. Colonel Ward (1st Baronet) was a career British Army officer and de facto founder of the (Royal) Army Service Corps. He also served as Permanent Secretary of the War Office. Edward was educated at Eton College and married Lois Jefferson on 29 April 1908 at  the Royal Military Chapel, St James Park (Guards’ Chapel) in London. They were divorced in 1916. Having apparently lived in British Columbia for some time, the Wards returned to England and Edward fought in the First World War, as a Captain in the Grenadier Guards and was wounded in action. After his death at Meopham, Captain Ward was succeeded in the baronetcy by his younger brother, Melvill Willis Ward (1885–1973), as the 3rd Baronet. The title became extinct on Melvil Ward’s death.

The story of Lady Rosemary Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower (1893-1930) is one of the great “what if?” stories in recent British history. Lady Rosemary was the daughter of Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, The Duchess of Sutherland (1867 – 1955) who was a British society hostess, social reformer, author, editor, journalist, and playwright, often using the pen name Erskine Gower. The Curious Life of Rosemary Leveson-Gower describes how, when working as a volunteer nurse on the Western Front, presumably in one of the field hospitals organized by her mother. Lady Rosemary was particularly concerned about a shell-shocked young officer, who, when he regained his speech (“he pointed at Rosemary and said darling“) turned out to be none other than Edward, Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne. Edward and Rosemary fell very much in love and were romantically attached for some time, but apparently George V put a stop to any thoughts of the marriage simply because there were too many skeletons in Sutherland-Leveson-Gower family closet. There were suggestions of alcoholism, gambling, and perhaps worst of all (in George V’s view) Lady Millicent’s unfortunate cycle of marriage and divorce. One can only speculate how British History might have changed if Rosemary Sutherland-Leveson-Gower had married Edward and become Queen Rosemary to Edward VIII?

Lieutenant-Colonel George Lockhart Piercy Henderson (1888-1930) while not aristocratic is an interesting and possibly neglected character in British aviation history. More about him in another blog article

It is suggested that the loss of so many members of the aristocracy in one accident prompted the British Government to launch an extensive investigation into the cause of the crash. The report of the inquiry into the accident was made public, the first time in the United Kingdom that an accident report was published. Whether this was the result of Establishment or political pressure is a matter for conjecture.

The final report (issued in January 1931) concluded the cause of the crash to be the “failure of the tailplane under severe buffeting from air eddies produced by the centre section of certain low-wing monoplanes when the aircraft approaches the stalling attitude”. This was the first time that the term “buffeting” had been used in such an investigation. The report further stated that the aircraft, flying in clouds, may have been thrown into an unusual attitude. This resulted in buffeting of the tailplane, causing the port tailplane to fail, and that the aircraft then entered a dive.

It is said the four German experts from Junkers disagreed and blamed pilot error.

The crash and its aftermath generated a small number of technical reports, all of which are probably still in the collections of the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri. I looked at them some years ago when I worked there. Both the Russian and American research papers mention the accident to G-AAZK at Meopham in July 1930.

  1. Accident Investigation Sub-Committee: Accident to the Aeroplane G-AAZK at Meopham, Kent, on 21st July, 1930. R. & M. No. 1360, HMSO 1931
  2. Abdrashitov, G., Tail Buffeting, NACA TM-1041, February 1943 (Translated from Russian. Report 395 from the Central Aero-Hydromechanical Institute, Moscow, 1939).
  3. White, J. A. and Hood, M. J.: Wing-Fuselage Interference, Tail buffeting and Flow about the Tail of a Low Wing Monoplane, NACA Report 482, 1933.
  4. Hood, M. J. and White, J. A.: Full Scale Wind Tunnel Research on Tail Buffeting and Wing-Fuselage Interference of a Low Wing Monoplane, NACA TN-460, 1933.

And then, as we love these things, I found the image below, only today. In the front row are the four passengers of G-AAZK standing in front of the ill-fated aircraft. Col Piers Legh is hidden behind Mrs. Loeffler – Mrs Legh is the lady not wearing fur in the middle of the picture, partly hidden behind the two other ladies.

Meopham Air Disaster; Sir Edward Ward Hon. Walter Piers Legh Mrs Henrik Loeffler Hon Mrs Piers Legh Viscountess Ednam And The Marquess Of Dufferin And Ava (l-r) Pictured Minutes Before Ill Fated Flight From Le Touquet. Col Piers Legh And His Wife Did [not travel] Stock Image by Associated Newspapers for editorial use, Jul 23, 1930 (Shutterstock Social Share)

Grant, O Lord, to all who are bereaved the spirit of faith and courage, that they may have strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience; not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance of your great goodness, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love.  (Book of Common Prayer)

Aviation Spirit

Douglas DC-2 PH-AKL “Lijster” – which crashed at Croydon in December 1936 and whose unfortunate pilot is said to have haunted the airfield into the 1950s – seen here in happier times at  at Alor Setar, Malaysia.
Photo by Juxy2 – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Starting the Sixth year of this blog – somewhat late – I found some inspiration to start writing here again, courtesy of to my sister who posted a note on Facebook about apparitions and hauntings at Manchester Airport in the UK. It’s fascinating stuff, and I have an article about a couple of famous aviation events and their connection with spiritualism on the back burner. I thought to myself “I wonder what other airfields have a ghostly connection?” Since I’ve seen various “ghost hunter” documentaries some of which mentioned hantings and visitations at historic airfields and bases. Some of the stories including the two or three related here have been repeated across websites and bulletin boards so many times that any factual basis has been seriously mangled. However, one or two hauntings can be cross-referenced with well documented accidents at British airports.

Croydon – 1936
Despire a perception of being a fairly prosaic place, “Haunted Croydon” is quite a popular Google search. If you’re an aviation history buff you’ll be thinking of something very specific. Wikipedia says Croydon Airport was the UK’s only international airport during the interwar period. It opened in 1920 and (unsurprisingly since it was the only international airport) handled more cargo, mail, and passengers than any other UK airport at the time. Innovations at the site included the world’s first air traffic control and the first airport terminal. In 1943 RAF Transport Command was founded there. The airport closed in 1959. In 1978, the terminal building and Gate Lodge were granted protection as Grade II listed buildings In May 2017 the Gate Lodge was classified as “Heritage at Risk” by Historic England.

On 9 December 1936, a KLM Douglas DC-2 registered PH-AKL and named Lijster crashed shortly after taking off from Croydon in foggy conditions on a scheduled flight to Amsterdam. According to common practice in bad weather, the DC-2 started its takeoff run following a white line painted on Croydon’s grass landing area, but veered to the left and headed south towards rising ground instead of the normal westerly direction. The aircraft hit the chimney of a house in Purley and crashed into an empty house on the opposite side of the street. Two (mercifully empty) houses and the DC-2 were destroyed by the crash and ensuing fire. 14 passengers and crew were killed. Notable passengers who perished were Arvid Lindman, a former Prime Minister of Sweden, and someone familiar to aviation buffs, Juan de la Cierva, the Spanish inventor of the autogiro. A flight attendant and radio operator survived. The official investigation into the accident was ended on 16 December 1936 without reaching a verdict.

Wreckage of DC-2 PH-AKL in Hillcrest Road, Purley, Surrey. December 1936
Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

Until its closure, Croydon airport was said to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate Dutch pilot who walked around the surrounding area, warning people of the fog. A 2008 article in a local newspaper said that a fortnight after the crash another pilot was plotting his course when a voice behind him said: “You can’t take off, the weather is just the same as when I did.” The pilot turned to see a figure of the dead pilot standing behind him.

There are several variations of this story – another tale recounts a female aviator in the 1950s seeing a pilot in old flying gear illuminated by a lightning flash.

Croydon – 1947
11 years after the crash of PH-AKL, an accident with several twists and a supernatural postscript occurred on 25 January 1947. A C-47A Skytrain, (aka Dakota) belonging to Spencer Airways (owned and flown by Edward Spencer) failed to get airborne from Croydon on a flight to Salisbury, Rhodesia via Rome. 11 passengers and one crew member – Edward Spencer himself – were killed. 11 people survived, seven of whom were taken to Croydon General Hospital although only two were detained.

The Spencer Airways aircraft was an ex-USAAF C-47A-85-DL construction number 19979 originally with the AAF Serial 43-15513. Evidence from the American Air Museum in Britain suggests that 43-15513 may have served with the 44th Troop Carrier Squadron, 316th Troop Carrier Group, 9th Air Force USAAF based at RAF Cottesmore, UK. Subsequent civil registrations for this aircraft were NC32975 and VP-YFD. On a side note I don’t see this aircraft listed in Joe Baugher’s website so I ought to email him.

It was cloudy and snowing when the aircraft took off shortly before noon. The starboard wing was seen to drop, then the aircraft turned to the left and the port wing dropped. The pilot apparently applied full starboard aileron but the bank angle increased to 40 degrees with the port wing tip only a few feet from the ground. As it reached the perimeter track, the aircraft levelled out and swung to the right. It then stalled, impacted the ground and crashed head-on into a parked C-47 OK-WDB belonging to Czech airline CSA. Both aircraft caught fire, and were subsequently destroyed. Two or three mechanics carrying out an inspection on the Czech C-47 escaped with minor injuries.

The British Ministry of Civil Aviation investigated, and found that Spencer’s aircraft did not have a British Certificate of Airworthiness, nor a valid Certificate of Safety. None of the crew held a Navigators license nor a license to sign a Certificate of Safety

The Chief Inspector of Accidents opened a Public Inquiry on 24 February 1947.  The co-pilot gave evidence that the aircraft had just been delivered from the United States following purchase by Spencer. It had been ferried to Croydon the day before the accident. The long-range fuel tanks used for the ferry flight had been removed and the passenger seats fitted. Preparing the aircraft had taken all day and night and Spencer was said to have had only two hours’ sleep.

Crash of Spencer Airways Douglas C-47A-85-DL VP-YFD in Croydon: 12 killed. Notice that the Spencer Airways C-47 still carries the American civil registration NC32975 on its fin. The tail and port wing of the Czech C-47 is visible in the top right of the picture. Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

A witness gave evidence that the wings of the C-47 were covered in snow, and that he had not seen any attempt to defrost the aircraft before takeoff. Another witness stated that Spencer did not smoke or drink and had many hours flying experience since the early 1930s.  Counsel representing the next-of-kin of Captain Spencer made a formal protest that they had not been able to question the statement about Spencer’s lack of sleep. The inquiry was closed on 28 February following technical evidence. An aircraft engineer stated that the starboard engine had been in “a bad state” and was “popping and spluttering” before the aircraft had taken off. The accident was determined to be the result of loss of control by the pilot while attempting to take-off in a heavily loaded aircraft in poor visibility, and “an error of flying technique by a pilot who lacked Dakota experience” Other factors may have been snow and frost on the wings and pilot fatigue.

Among the dead were Mother superior Eugene Jousselot and sisters Helen Lester and Eugene Martin of the Congregation des Filles de la Sagasse (Daughters of Wisdom  – a Catholic religious institute of women founded in 1707) who were travelling to Nyasaland (today part of Malawi). A contemporary newspaper report suggested that the nuns held South African passports.

The ghosts of the three nuns were reported walking around the Roundshaw estate in the mid-1970’s. Roundshaw was built on the site of the first Croydon Aerodrome (originally named ‘Plough Lane’) which was demolished in 1928. It is alleged that on one occasion a nun was seen in the bedroom of a new house and was said to have told a little boy a bedtime story. In 1976 a woman on the estate was so distressed at the sight of a nun in her living room that she asked the council to transfer her to another house.

Heathrow Airport
I can imagine that somewhere as busy as Heathrow might cause a certain degree of paranormal activity simply because of the number of individuals passing through it in normal operation. One of Heathrow’s ghosts, however, is from another era and seems to have adapted to new surroundings.

Dick Turpin looking much more like the regency buck than the mid 18th century highwayman and poacher we know. Does his ghost enjoy some sport around London Heathrow Airport? (Public Domain)

The Ghost of Dick Turpin (1705 – 1739)
Dick Turpin? Heathrow Airport? Apparently so. Ghost hunting sights have reported people seeing, hearing, feeling, and in one case, being attacked by the ghost of Dick Turpin at Heathrow. What is now the A4 from London to Bath ran through a locality known at the time as Heath Row. During his career as a highwayman, it is said that Turpin would lurk in the area around Heath Row before holding up coaches on the lucrative London-Bath route. More than 200 years after his execution in York, unfortunate people are supposed to feel warm breath on their neck, and hear strange sounds (barking and yelping of human origin) close by. A ghostly man in a tricorn hat wanders around Heathrow. The trouble is that when I think of people in tricorn hats in Heathrow saying “Stand and Deliver” I’m more inclined to think of 80s icon Adam Ant, or the exorbitant prices charged in the restaurants. As for people standing behind you and breathing down your neck – at Heathrow that wasn’t exactly unusual when I was there.

The Man with the Briefcase
Heathrow’s first major accident happened at 9.14pm on March 2, 1948, when a Douglas DC-3C registration OO-AWH of the Belgian airline Sabena crashed just short of Runway 28R in low visibility while carrying out a Ground Controlled Approach. Of the 22 people on board, 20 were killed.

DC-3C was the catch-all designation for ex-military C-47, C-53, and R4D aircraft rebuilt by Douglas Aircraft at its Santa Monica plant in 1946. These aircraft were given new manufacturer erial numbers, (MSN) and sold on the civil market. 28 new aircraft, completed by Douglas in 1946 with unused components from the cancelled USAAF C-117 production line were given the designation DC-3D. Some commentators mention aircraft that were “built but never delivered to the US Air Force” [sic]

OO-AWH was DC-3C with MSN 43154, and reportedly the last DC-3C refurbished at Santa Monica. Its prior history is a little interesting. It seems to have been built as a C-47A-5-DK (MSN 12276) by Douglas at Oklahoma City and given the AAF serial 42-92472. Joe Baugher’s notes say it went to the RAF as FZ679. Joe further notes: “Engine cut on takeoff, aircraft swung off runway and DBR (damaged beyond repair) when it struck an unidentified B-26 at Lyon-Bron Feb 15, 1945. May have been rebuilt and returned to service. There is a report that it rebuilt by Douglas at Santa Monica as DC-3C MSN 43154 and delivered Apr 9, 1947 to Sabena as OO-AWH”.

“May have been rebuilt” is the key here. It seems more likely to me that a structurally intact C-47 saw the light of day again as a DC-3C rather than a basket case of spare parts that had been written off in France two years earlier. However many websites and reports give a garbled history of the aircraft, mixing the type histories of the DC-3C and -3D together.

DC-3D OO-AUM of Sabena seen at Manchester in 1949
Photo by RuthAS This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

The official narrative of the crash says that the DC-3C’s approach to London-Heathrow Airport was started in reduced visibility. On final, the aircraft hit the ground, exploded and came to rest in flames short of the runway threshold. The pilot had continued the approach below the minimum safe altitude and was unable to see the ground in night and fog. At the time of the accident, [horizontal] visibility was 200 yards.

Workers in a hangar nearby saw the aircraft crash on (or short of) the runway and went to assist. When they reached the aircraft there was utter devastation, only the tail section of the aircraft was left intact. Some badly burned survivors were pulled from the aircraft and sadly died later, but many perished in the wreckage.

Following the crash, the Ministry of Civil Aviation stipulated that ground-controlled approaches would no longer be available to aircraft landing in conditions of less than 150 feet vertical visibility and 800 yards horizontal visibility except in an emergency.

The most common versions of the story say that, as the rescuers worked, a man wearing a dark suit and hat approached them, asking if the team had found his briefcase. As the rescuers were staring at him, he disappeared into the fog – never to be seen again. It is further alleged that the emergency workers later reported finding the same man’s body in the wreckage. The legend of the Man with a Briefcase was born. Other ghost sites allege that he has been seen at different times around the runways at Heathrow and even inside its terminal buildings. Whether or not he’s the man in the suit who’s occasionally seen in the VIP lounge (but only from the waist down) is a matter of conjecture.

One incident which has been conveniently connected with the “Man with a Briefcase” occurred in 1970, when the airport radar office reported a person trespassing on a runway. Officers of the airport police and fire service searched for the intruder, but the police reported that they were unable to see anyone, and the runway was clear. The radar office apparently expressed their disbelief, telling the police officers that as they were arriving at the scene, they had driven right past the person in question. This apparition has been assumed to be another visitation by the Man with (or without) his Briefcase. I’ve watched several TV documentaries in which a police helicopter with a heat-seeking camera attempts to direct police officers to the location of a criminal in hiding, only to see them walk straight past. Driving straight past an individual hiding out on a dark airfield with the only guidance being “you’re right next to him” and missing that individual is not entirely unbelievable. However it always makes a good story better.

There are a number of aviation related hauntings which related to highly publicized crashes in the United States, and probably many more related to military sites around the world. I hope to cover some of those in another article.

Local Hero

Having tootled around a largish chunk of southern and eastern Nebraska three years ago in search of jet aircraft up poles and elsewhere, it occurred to me that there are a couple of much more local aviation memorials which I haven’t looked at in any detail. I hope to rectify this during the summer break.

A few weeks ago (heavens, It was April 3!) I thought I’d take a trip to the aviation memorial nearest my home, and went to see the UH-1 “Huey” helicopter that’s been in the town square in Girard, Kansas since 1995.

UH-1 Huey: Girard, Kansas
UH-1H 64-13632 in Girard. April 2019 – Photo by me.

Most of the preserved historic aircraft you see these days were kept back as trainers or had been stuck in maintenance units until they outlived their usefulness and were crated for a museum. Surviving combat veterans are rare but not impossible to find. If you read my earlier posts you may have read my thoughts on a certain F-105 in Nebraska. It is a genuine Vietnam Veteran with a confirmed air-to-air kill but it’s still stuck high on a pole beside Interstate 80 marking the way to the Strategic Air and Space Museum, or whatever it may be called now. After all the recent flooding up around there I wonder if it still is there (the Museum and the F-105), but that’s another story.

UH-1 Door showing serial number
The UH-1H in Girard showing it’s definitely 64-13632. April 2019 – Photo by me.

I was ready to believe that this helicopter would have led a dull existence before being put out to grass, but the story turned out to be a little different. Having noted its serial number, consulted Joe Baugher’s website and a couple of other sites, it transpires that this very helicopter (UH-1H serial number 64-13632) is a genuine combat veteran from Vietnam.

Wikipedia says that the UH-1H was the result of upgrading the UH-1D to the Lycoming T53-L-13 engine, and relocating the pitot tube from the nose to the roof. The UH-1H was the most numerous variant of the Huey family. 64-13632 was built as UH-1D-BF and upgraded in this manner.

64-13632 seems to have been accepted by the US Army at the end of 1965. The aircraft served in Vietnam from October 1966 until November 1968, firstly with the 498th Medical Company, then the 176th Aviation Company, followed by the 116th Assault Helicopter Company. While serving with the 498th Medical Company in May 1967 it was involved in a couple of incidents, striking a ship’s mast while evacuating personnel in gusty conditions on May 14th (the ship moved), and coming under small arms fire while evacuating personnel on May 31st. The helicopter was hit five times by 7.62mm rounds and some crew members were wounded during this incident, but the aircraft’s mission was completed.

UH-1H 64-13632. Girard, Kansas
UH-1H 64-13632. Girard, Kansas. Front view also showing the Crawford County Courthouse and the Kansas Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. April 2019, Photo by me.

During 1969 and early 1970 64-13632 was transferred to the US Navy and carried the BuNo 413632. much to Joe Baugher’s interest. This seems to have happened a lot to Army UH-1s moving to the US Navy in a temporary capacity.

After a couple of months with the First Army at Fort Knox, 64-13632 was transferred to the Kansas Army National Guard where it served the remainder of its military life, apparently retiring in 1975.

Where it was for the next few years is not all that clear to me, but by early 1995 the aircraft had moved to Girard, where it was dedicated as part of the memorial to Vietnam Veterans, and Veterans of other wars, and where it stands to this day. Long may it continue to do so.

Vietnam Memorial -  Girard KS
Vietnam Memorial – Girard KS. Photo from April 2019 by me.
UH-1 Huey
UH-1H 64-13632. Girard, Kansas. It’s a mobile phone picture. I could have stood closer. I could have photoshopped the flagpoles. I didn’t. This is what I came to see. Photo by me, April 2019.

For a detailed breakdown of the history of 64-13632, visit