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 – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//9/media-9244/large.jpg 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.

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.  

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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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

A visit to the Doc

Well this is exciting. I’ve written a lot about B-29s before and about 44-49972 Doc on a few occasions. I saw it gleaming over in the distance when I visited the wonderful Kansas Aviation Museum a couple of years ago. Now it appears that the aircraft is actually accessible to the public in its new dedicated hangar.

The YouTube video below is from the Doc’s Friends website https://www.b29doc.com/

News about the hangar opening is at https://www.b29doc.com/spend-spring-break-with-doc-b-29-doc-hangar-education-center-launches-public-open-hours/

From the Doc Website and YouTube

The B-29 Doc Hangar and Education Center is located at Eisenhower National Airport 1788 S. Airport Road, Wichita, KS

Apparently you can visit the airplane (admission prices are all on the site) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays each week starting on March 12 when Doc isn’t on tour.

I think I know where I’ll be going when the Kansas weather improves.

Gary’s Pictures

To say my friend Gary Allman is pretty good with a camera is like saying Yehudi Menuhin could play the fiddle a bit.

Standard J-1 at the NMUSAF, October 2018.
Photograph by Gary Allman – breakfastinamerica.me Used with permission

Gary visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Envious, moi? But of course. However, I knew he would bring back a number of terrific images and he has not disappointed.

I scooted through the Early Years gallery way too quickly when I was there in 2002, so some of his photos are a revelation especially in the light of recent studies.

The Standard J-1 pictured above was supposed to be a supplement or replacement for the JN-4 “Jenny,’ but the fact that the J-1 was more difficult to fly must have blighted its career as a primary trainer. According to the NMUSAF website this one has a 100hp Curtiss OXX-6 engine. They still made about a thousand of these types although a number were cancelled after the Armistice

Other items from the Early Years gallery are at: https://www.breakfastinamerica.me/2018/early-years-gallery/

In the Cold War gallery I was amused and interested to see the B-57 Canberra lurking behind the F-104 and F-106. I don’t remember seeing it before, but I was in complete sensory overload by the time I got into this area of the museum.

Cold War Gallery at the NMUSAF – October 2018
Photograph by Gary Allman – breakfastinamerica.me Used with permission

I had no idea, but now I know, the F-106 on display (58-0787) is the so-called “Cornfield Bomber” which landed sans pilot in a Montana field in February 1970. The trainee pilot had ejected after the aircraft went into a spin, and for whatever reason the force of his ejection caused the aircraft to right itself and make an uncontrolled soft landing in the field, which advantageously happened to be covered in snow. February in Montana? Yes, I would say snow cover would be quite likely. The aircraft was repaired and returned to service. The museum acquired the aircraft in 1986.

I just noticed by the way that the F-104C (56-914) in Gary’s pictures has roughly the same scheme and appearance as the example used in the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” which was the subject of a recent blog post.

Gary’s other images of the Cold War gallery can be found at https://www.breakfastinamerica.me/2018/cold-war-era-gallery/

I haven’t been to Dayton for more than 15 years and a few things have clearly changed. The new fourth hangar now houses the Presidential and research aircraft collection. This saves a bus ride with an armed guard across Wright-Patterson AFB which was a little edgy back in the day. A few of the odds and ends which I was telling Gary about before his visit seem to have been removed from display. Whether this is long-term or short term given the collection shuffling that occurred when Memphis Belle was installed is another question. I certainly enjoyed finding, and gibbering at, the tail of B-17G 42-97683 and the engine and other artifacts recovered from B-24D 41-24301 Lady Be Good when I was there. The Museum certainly looks much more spacious although Gary said that a number of artifacts were pretty crammed in there.

A certain B-17F 41-24485 Memphis Belle at the NMUSAF, October 2018
Photograph by Gary Allman – breakfastinamerica.me Used with permission

I think I came to my own conclusion about why the powers that be have Memphis Belle up on jacks in the flying position. I wonder if it’s because they don’t want a whole load of greasy fingerprints on their new restoration and so have out it mostly out of reach? I know that was something of an issue with the nose of the NASM’s B-26 Flak Bait, to the extent that there was some debate as to whether the bare spot which had been worn in the paintwork should be left alone in some future restoration, but at least I have an answer to satisfy myself. I will go and have a look to see if there is any news on the B-17G 42-32076 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby which was displaced to make way for Memphis Belle

It was a very enjoyable experience looking at those photos. Sometime I hope to go back there again myself.

Gary’s other galleries from this visit are at:

Thorny Questions of Restoration

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk ET574, which was discovered untouched in 2012 following a crash in the North African desert in 1942, has shown up at the El Alamein Museum in Egypt,  wearing some very dubious camouflage and markings after a fairly crude restoration job, as some pictures from Classic Warbirds on Facebook show.

The British press was up in arms over the affair in 2015, after it was discovered that the RAF Museum had handed over Spitfire F.22 PK664 to Kennett Aviation as payment for Kennet’s services in recovering the Kittyhawk and returning it to the UK.  The recovery part of the deal was undertaken and completed, but the Egyptian government decided they wanted to keep the aircraft and display it at the museum.  The Kittyhawk’s 2017 discovery or revelation at El Alamein has spurred the popular press anew, and a few historical websites lament the rather amateurish restoration carried out by the local museum. The aircraft is wrongly identified as a P-40B and there appears to be little or no acknowledgement that this is ET574.

ET574 At the El Alamein Museum, 2017

It is indeed unfortunate that the Kittyhawk could not have been recovered to the UK and restored or conserved sympathetically. The RAF Museum spokesperson said that almost as soon as the wreck was discovered, it was being stripped for scrap metal by the local population, so there was a necessity to remove it. This is how apparently it ended up in a shipping container at El Alamein. The uncertainty of the Arab Spring and the unsettled nature of middle eastern politics did the rest.

I personally don’t have a problem with ownership of PK664 having passed from the RAF to Kennet Aviation. There is a reasonable chance that Kennet may actually take some care of it and it’ll go into the restoration queue, although I understand that PK664 was not a complete airframe.

There are concerns concern about some remains found about 5 kilometers from the wreck of ET574. The RAF Museum and the British government say they are not those of  the pilot, Fight Sergeant Dennis Copping, and that his body has never been found. I have also read reports of conflicting stories about DNA tests, (even whether DNA testing has been carried out at all, and what the results were) which can only add to the anguish of Flight Sergeant Copping’s remaining relatives, which is regrettable to say the least.

The slightly thorny issue for trainspotters like me is the nature of the restoration of ET574. Certainly  the opportunity to conserve the wreck as a time capsule has been lost.  Yes, the paint job and markings are pretty amateurish, including the awful national markings and the 112 squadron “sharkmouth” which ET574 never wore during her service life with 260 Squadron. It’s an amateurish job, but cries that the machine has been “ruined” smacks of people in glass houses throwing stones.

Let’s look, for example, at the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The NMUSAF has in its collection Bristol Beaufighter Mk 1c A19-43 which was flown in combat in the south-west Pacific by 31 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.  It was something of a basket case when recovered from Australia, although it had a known RAAF identity.  A19-43 is however painted as USAAF T5049 of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron in Italy.

Bristol Beaufighter Ic

Bristol Beaufighter Ic originally A19-43 in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)


Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863

Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force,  Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Also at Dayton is Spitfire Vc Trop MA863.  This aircraft also served with the Royal Australian Air Force, and was acquired in a swap with the Imperial War Museum in March 2000 which resulted in a B-24 going to the UK.   MA863 is painted as a machine of the 308th Fighter Squadron,  31st Fighter Group,  USAAF in the Mediterranean theatre, where many “reverse lend-lease” Spitfires served.  However as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) A58-246, the Spitfire served with 54 Squadron (RAF) in early 1944 as the personal mount of Squadron Leader E M Gibbs (wearing the codes DL-A) and later served with 452 Squadron (RAAF) coded QY-F. When I saw the machine in 2002 it was wearing the markings of 71 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF  and was situated in a Battle of Britain diorama looking very odd indeed with its tropical filter sticking out. My companions at the time were wondering what I was gibbering about.

I suppose here I could mention B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” (that’s her behind MA863 in the picture above) resplendent in an Olive Green and Neutral gray paint scheme she never wore during her service with the 91st Bomb Group. The reason given was that so much remedial sheet metal work was carried out on the Fortress during its restoration that they felt obliged to paint her to hide it.

Also very close by is Spitfire PR XI PA908 which was handed over by 681 Squadron RAF to the Royal Indian Air Force in 1947 and which eventually found its way to the NMUSAF where it now wears the scheme of a USAAF PR XI with the serial MB950.

The restoration “proposal” which horrified me a few years back was the Brewster F2A-1 BW-372, a combat veteran of the Finnish Air Force. Flown by Lt. Lauri Pekuri it was damaged by a Soviet Hawker Hurricane and crashed in 1942 on Lake Big Kolejärvi, about 30 miles from Segezha, Russia. BW-372 was rediscovered in 1998.

Brewster B-239 BW-372

Brewster B-239 BW-372 in the Aviation Museum of Central Finland. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The aircraft was transported to the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida in 2004.  In 2008 it was displayed at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland for the 90th anniversary of the Finnish Air Force. Fortunately,  apart from conservation work,  it doesn’t appear to have been touched.  A few years ago I read an article (which I sincerely hope was a piece of inaccurate reporting at the time), that the NNAM was proposing to restore and display the F2A-1 as a US Navy Buffalo, which generated shrieks of puritanical horror from me, at least.

I don’t want to imply that the restorations carried out by the NMUSAF or NNAF are not of a high standard. They do have resources far in excess of a small military museum in Egypt.  Even top-level museums are prepared to make exceptions  or reserve the right to display their collection in whatever way  they consider best according to their polices or other exigencies.  If the museum owns the exhibits, it can paint them any way they choose.  People like me can (and will) complain about the loss or originality,  but that’s just unfortunate.

One could go on. I do remember a quotation of Spencer Flack on the subject of his bright red Spitfire XIV NH904 / G-FIRE (now resident in Palm Springs and itself painted in a lurid approximation of a Korean War Spitfire 24). Flack said something on the lines of “If they give the the money they can have it any color they want” Most of his house fleet at the time was bright red, and having seen G-FIRE at displayed in the 1980s it didn’t look any the worse. What was more important was that it was there, it had been restored and in that particular case it was flying.

The RAF Museum spokesperson said that a quick recovery  of the Kittyhawk was necessary to stop it being destroyed.  We’ve seen pictures of the extent to which the ill-fated B-24 41-24301 Lady Be Good was systematically stripped between its discovery in 1958 and its removal from the Libyan desert in 1994. Bearing this in mind,  we can at least say that most of ET574 has been preserved even if the restoration fell well below the standards we expect in western museums.  Some people have pointed out that a lot of restoration expertise would have been available had the Egyptians asked, but that this doesn’t seem to be their process with regard to museum exhibits.

The social media comments on the various newspaper articles have ranged from the near sensible to the shockingly insensitive. I was going to make some comment on Facebook earlier when Susan shared the article about ET574 from Archaeology News but I thought I should probably just keep my thoughts in a quiet place on the deep web. Here they are, and here they will probably stay well hidden except from my dozen or so readers. Until of course I share this blog post on Facebook.

More Pictures from Tulsa – Spartan Aircraft.


This gallery contains 2 photos.

I wrote about the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium) last time, and only one of the four photos in the blog article came from my July 2017 visit. So here is another post, with some pictures from TASM, … Continue reading

Fairey Delta 2

When I was very young, and even at that age fairly air-minded,  there were two or three almost contemporary aeroplanes which inspired and enthused me, and seized the imagination of another childhood friend.  These were the English Electric / BAC Lightning,  The Bristol 188,  and the Fairey Delta 2.   All of these machines were highly angular, aggressive looking but sleekly beautiful silver birds which we could imagine ripping though the sky at enormous speeds no matter what the defence white papers of the late 50s and early 60s might have said.

Only two Fairey Delta 2s were built and, it transpires, I must have seen both of them, long after they were relegated to museums.  The first to fly, WG774  was extensively modified (and renamed as the BAC.221) as part of the aerodynamic research into the Concorde’s ogival delta (ogee) wing.  (Ogee BTW is trotted out by me in Words with Friends much too often!).   It is now preserved in the Fleet Air Arm museum in Yeovilton, Somerset and looks a lot different from the picture below.     WG777 is apparently preserved in the RAF Museum at Cosford near Wolverhampton. I have visited Cosford and looked at the research collection and have no memory, sadly.

Fairey Delta 2 WG774

Fairey Delta 2 WG774 in its original polished-metal finish. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The first Fairey Delta 2 WG774 - 1956

The first Fairey Delta 2 WG774 in original form landing at the 1956 Farnborough Air Show using its ‘droop snoot’. (RuthAS [Own work] CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)


My reasons for blogging the FD2 today are partly because I was reading about the anniversary of the Bell X-1 and its supersonic flight.   I thought about saying something about the Miles M.52,  whose technology was offered to the United States and which went in part into the X-1,  – a proposed exchange which, it is alleged, the American side did not reciprocate.   This is all too well written, and I don’t particularly want to keep blogging about anniversaries when Bryan Swopes does more frequently than me and much better.

No, let me reminisce of the days when my childhood friend Martin let me play with his second shiny metal Bristol 188 model (he’d been given two by mistake, a nice problem at age 6) and we talked of the FD2 and the Lightning.  Martin’s dad Michael, who was a Free-Flight model builder and Radio Ham in his spare time, made a lovely simple balsa wood glider using the Lightning  shape. I thought it was the best thing I’d seen for ages.

if you’re out there, Martin  (I think you are)  – all the best to you.

Nebraska Scavenger Hunt

Last week my wife was up at a conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. Having the afternoon off I decided to see if I could find any old aircraft worth visiting in the area, given that we knew we’d be visiting the Strategic Air and Space Museum the following day. What followed was a slightly delightful odyssey across South-East Nebraska taking in four small municipal airports which had old military aircraft in varying states of preservation on their land.

This is what the drive looked like most of the time – it wasn’t what you’d call crowded. 🙂

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First up was York Municipal Airport, which had this rather nice RF-84F on display – this is Republic RF-84F-10-RE Thunderflash 51-1935  which according to Joe Baugher probably didn’t serve in the USAF or Nebraska ANG but was supplied to a NATO country (others in the production line went to Turkey, West Germany and the Netherlands) before being returned to MASDC for disposal.

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After a long drive and a brief excursion up a dirt road I came to the Municipal Airport at Fairbury,  where I saw this rather sad looking T-33  – Lockheed T-33A-1-LO  51-9111.   It was, as you can see,  in a pretty sorry state. The cockpit canopy has gone, and a section of the vertical stabilizer.   My 10-year old guide book implied there was an F-100 somewhere in Fairbury but I didn’t see it at the airport.
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A little way further on I came to Beatrice (not pronounced the way I say it!) and saw another T-33 in a slightly less sorry state. Lockheed T-33A-1-LO 51-8880, which seems to have had some lights added to the wingtips for signage illumination purposes.

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As things were starting to get late, it was time to head to my last stop at Crete, where I found an interesting F-86D  at the Municipal Airport.  North American F-86D-40-NA Sabre 52-3735.   I couldn’t help noticing the badge of the Seabees on the concrete plinth.

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This was the formal ending of the afternoon’s activity but I had a couple more examples to show over the following days before we came back to Kansas.

I didn’t want to contend with the Lincoln traffic on a Friday afternoon,  but after we saw a KC-135 land at the ANG base adjacent to the airport we had a poke around on Saturday morning and found  57-1495 parked on the fence line. Joe Baugher says it’s a KC-135E which started life as a Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker.  I’m not absolutely sure if this is an active aircraft since the other KC-135s in the background look like KC-135R  models with the re-engine mod done.   No doubt someone can set me straight.  🙂   There is supposed to be an F-86L, a T-33, an F-4 and something erlse at the ANG base but I only caught a faint glimpse and couldn’t work out where to go to get closer.

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Up at Ashland, and at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. A few Aircraft are now being displayed outside.

2015-05-30 11.46.12Chief among them is Rockwell International B-1A Lancer 76-0174, which was previously on display at Wright-Patt and  moved to Nebraska at the end of  2003.  I don’t think the paint scheme is exactly accurate for this specific aircraft, or how much it’s faded, but it looks impressive for now.

Inside the atrium,  I understand actually the Atrium was built around it, is a certain Blackbird. Lockheed SR-71A, AF Serial 61-7964 (c/n 2015).

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And hidden around the back, while the airframes are being reshuffled, is one of my personal favourites,   Avro 698 Vulcan B.2 XM573.  It looks a little folorn, but not as folorn as the wingless EC-135 sitting next to it (just off the left edge of my picture here).   ‘573 sat at Offutt AFB gathering moisture and rust from 1982 until 1998 or thereabouts, (look at the jet pipes if you want your own proof)  and looks likely to gather a little more before they bring it inside again.

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And finally, up a pole on I-80 advertising the Strategic Air and Space Museum we find Republic F-105D-15-RE Thunderchief 61-0069.    As I’ve said in a few places before this machine is a documented Vietnam war combat veteran, having shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 with an AIM-7 missile on June 3, 1967.   0069 was held by a museum in San Bernadino, CA until the Strategic Air and Space Museum bought it and hoisted it up its pylon on the Interstate.   It seems rather an unsuitable end for such a veteran.


All in all it was a very enjoyable weekend even if I do differ with the  Strategic Air and Space Museum on a few of their approaches to preservation and conservation. However they are the ones on the ground doing the work in difficult circumstances, so I’ll save my armchair quarterbacking for some other place.