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.

Chang’e is Coming

Most of the time this blog gets written when I completely stumble upon things about which I had no idea, and feel the urge to share. This is one of those moments.

Earlier today the China National Space Administration (CNSA) broadcast the launch of its latest lunar exploration mission – Chang’e 5 – from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan. I have to say I hadn’t heard about any of the five Chang’e missions, and so was fascinated to find that the last two have actually landed robotic probes on the moon. This latest mission is scheduled to bring back some samples of the lunar surface for the first time since 1976.

Launch of Chang’e 5 – 23rd November 2020 on a Long March 5 heavy lifter rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, Image by China News Service, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chang’e (or 嫦娥 or Chang-o, although she was originally known as Heng’e) is the Chinese goddess of the Moon and so is a logical choice of name for the China Lunar Exploration Project.

“There are many tales about Chang’e, including a well-known story about her that is given as the origin of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. In a very distant past, ten suns had risen together into the skies and scorched the Earth, thus causing hardship for the people. The archer Yi shot down nine of them, leaving just one Sun, and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward. He did not consume it straight away, but let Chang’e keep it with her, as he did not want to gain immortality without his beloved wife Chang’e. However, while Yi went out hunting, his apprentice Fengmeng broke into his house and tried to force Chang’e to give him the elixir; she refused and to prevent him from getting it, drank it. Chang’e then flew upward toward the heavens, choosing the Moon as residence, as she loved her husband and hoped to live nearby him. Yi discovered what had transpired and felt sad, so he displayed the fruits and cakes that Chang’e had liked, and gave sacrifices to her.”


Chang’e 1 and 2 were orbiters launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively. They mostly carried out reconnaissance and mapping missions for future robotic and other landings. Chang’e 3 was launched on 1st December, 2013 and landed in (or on) the Mare Imbrium on December 14th, deploying a small lunar rover called Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”). Chang’e 4 was a backup for Chang’e 3 but acquired its own mission following the success of Chang’e 3. Chang’e 4 landed in January 2019 at the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin (far side of the moon, the first lander to touch down on the far side) and deployed a rover called (yes, you guessed) Yutu-2.

Video grab of the launch of Chang’e 5 on 23rd November 2020 on a Long March 5 heavy lifter rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, Image by China News Service, CC BY 3.0

Chang’e 5 is the next step in the program, and will attempt to place a lander at or near Mons Rümker sometime after November 27 and return to Earth around December 16–17. The mission will collect up to 2 kilograms of lunar samples. If returned successfully, these samples will be the first to be brought back since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Part of the rationale for the mission is reminiscent of Harrison Schmitt’s book Return to the Moon. Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) is described as a geologist and chemical cosmologist, and has been advocating the exploitation of metals such as titanium from the moon, but also the extraction of Helium-3 for future nuclear fusion power plants.

Three future Chang’e missions are slated. Chang’e 6 may have its mission profile changed depending on how well Chang’e 5 performs. Chang’e 7, scheduled for 2024 may deploy a small flying probe, while Chang’e 8, scheduled for 2027, may include a lander, a rover, and a flying detector, as well as a 3D-printing experiment using in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to test-build a structure, which will test the technology necessary for the construction of a lunar science base. If that isn’t enough, it may also transport a small sealed ecosystem experiment.

Recently there has been a certain amount of speculation that the Russian space program may consider re-aligning itself with China rather than the United States, especially if the Chang’e project is successful. In 2017 the two countries signed an agreement on deep space and lunar cooperation It appears that the Chinese program is seriously considering establishing a crewed base on the moon in the foreseeable future.

In 1969 the following conversation took place between the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first Moon landing:

Ronald Evans (CAPCOM): Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

Michael Collins (Command Module Pilot): Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”


The Moon Goddess Chang’E – Ming dynasty (1368–1644) Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Unknown artist, after Tang Yin (1470–1524), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

50 Shades of Standard

It’s been a while, dear reader, so let me apologize. Not only have I been getting ready for the new college semester, but I’ve also been having a lot of fun building tiny models of Panavia / BAe Systems Tornadoes in 1:144 scale (more of that anon, maybe) and very soon I’m going to build a couple of examples of the Eurofighter EF-2000 (Typhoon in RAF naming).

In this endeavour, one question has frequently arisen in my mind. It appears there is no completely satisfactory answer, depending on your degree of geekiness or need to adhere to exact specification. The question is this: Just how many pots of grey paint does one person need?

(Above) They tell me that’s BS381c/626 Barley/Camouflage Grey. 11 Squadron RAF Typhoon takes off during Green Flag 08-07 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, USA June 2008.
Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery, USAF (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I started off with my fairly big F/A-18 and so had a good stock of American Federal Standard grays available. Tonight I was reading up on the colours necessary for my RAF Typhoons (which is apparently BS381c/626 Barley or Camouflage Grey – not that Barley is grey, the colour was apparently invented by Mr. Barley.) The questions came to me again. Have I got the right paint? How many pots of grey paint do I need? A more dangerous question flitted across my mind. Does Barley Gray or Camouflage Grey really look like FS36314? How about Light Aircraft Grey or Medium Sea Grey? (Hint: there are usually two answers to all of these questions which are diametrically opposed.)

I have already dipped my toes into the murky waters of equivalency when painting a couple of the Tornadoes. The Tornado F3 started its RAF life in two shades of grey, and then changed to a different shade of grey. The Tornado Special Interest Group of the International Plastic Modellers’ Society says:

Upper surface: Barley Grey (BS4800.18B.21) now known as Camouflage Grey (BSC381C:626)  (satin) Undersides: Light Grey (BSC381C:627) (satin) Radome: Medium Grey (matt) In the mid 2000’s F.3’s were repainted in overall Medium Sea Grey with a slight variation in the radome colour.

So that’s easy enough then, right?

(Above) Was this picture taken after it had been repainted in BS 381C Medium Sea Grey (637) overall. Or is that Barley Grey deceiving us again? RAF Tornado F3 ZE342 taxiing for take off at the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone on July 17th 2006 and released to the public domain.

There are two broad schools of thought on the topic of equivalency. One school will not compromise and insists on the exact standard colour for the subject. The other school looks to see if certain American colors match certain British colours (see what I did there?) in the sure and certain hope that you can get something that looks about right, without having to own more than the legendary 50 shades of grey. Some of the modelling purists appear to despise the compromisers to the extent that I have seen the acronym TLAR (That Looks About Right) used in somewhat disparaging terms in Internet discussions. “There is no way a British manufacturer would use or specify a Federal Standard colour for their products!”

(Above) Wearing the “new” Tornado GR scheme of BS381c/626 Barley/Camouflage Grey. Does it look the same colour as the Typhoon in the top picture? I know the Typhoon was in Nevada and this is in England so the light’s different. RAF Tornado GR.4 of IX(B) Squadron training somewhere in NW England prior to deployment to Afghanistan, 12 October 2012. Photo: Corporal Mike Jones/MOD OGL Via Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe not, but how close is it? Coming from the world of Hex colours on the Interwebs I suppose that it might be the way of establishing whether or not there is commonality.

Ugh. So I’m no closer tonight although I have a few more ideas. I still have two Tornado GR.4 models (which are probably BS381c/629 Dark Camouflage Grey but see above) and then onto the Typhoons. Or the other way round.

Heaven help me when I get to the Dassault Rafales. 🙂

As a footnote. I was cruising around the Web, and came across an explanation of how FS 595 numbers actually work. I had no idea there was such an explanation, and I’m happy to present it here just in case anyone else wonders.
The colors in the Federal Standard set have no official names, just five-digit numbers.

The first digit indicates the level of sheen:
1 = gloss
2 = semi gloss
3 = matt

The second digit indicates a general color classification group:
0 = Brown
1 = Red
2 = Orange
3 = Yellow
4 = Green
5 = Blue
6 = Grey
7 = Other (white, black, violet, metallic)
8 = Fluorescent

The remaining digits indicate the intensity. Lower values indicate a darker color and vice versa.

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

Kangnam Style

I know I’m not the first to make this joke and I won’t be the last. It is not my intention to turn this into a blog about aircraft modelling, but I wanted to record an update on my F/A-18 model situation. I thought about it long and hard. I considered. I dithered. In the end I took the cheap plunge and bought the Kangnam F/A-18 kit from Sprue Brothers Models via Amazon.

On the cutting mat: the bits of the Kangnam F/A-18 I actually wanted to complete my 15-year old Testors model (on the right). In the box: the bits I don’t want.

To correct any impressions which have been circulating – the kit isn’t Chinese. It comes from South Korea – hence the very awful joke in the title of this article. It has acquired something a reputation on the web for being a terrible kit. There are no serious reviews, in fact just one that I found saying it’s the worst kit the reviewer has ever seen and stay away. I dunno, I made some fairly awful ones when I was growing up. There was a 1:48 scale Spitfire which had a total of about a dozen parts. In the late 80s I made a Japanese 1:48 scale P-51 that I ended up throwing away (after I’d finished painting it!) because the forward fuselage where it met the canopy looked too stunted, and the canopy itself looked way too big. This at least looks something like an F-18 and has more detail than my infamous 1960s Spitfire.

Sadly, the instructions and painting guides are pretty confusing, especially as one painting option is for a two-seat TF-18 (as it was then) which this thing very definitely isn’t. The decals supplied are pretty cringe-worthy and are going in the spares box once I’ve taken a closer look at the warning tabs and triangles.

All this having been said. If you’re a parent, shopping for a young modeler, and don’t want to flash out the huge sums of money that go with the mainstream F/A-18 kits ($75 easily), then this might be the way to go. Compared with some of the tat I put together in my younger years it has a little bit going for it.

In my case – with a half-finished F/A-18 sitting on the shelf – I would have easily spent over $50 on an aftermarket ejection seat, underwing pylons, weapons, and wheel well interiors (and I only wanted the undercarriage doors). An aftermarket resin seat alone is $7.99 As it is, I ended up spending about $10 on the Kangnam model and got all the bits I was looking for. The single reviewer had doubts about dimensional accuracy – says the external fuel tanks are too small – but I have nothing against which to compare. If you are reading this article and you have a mainstream manufacturer 1:48 Legacy F/A-18 (not the Super Hornet) in your collection, do me a favor. Measure the length of your external fuel tanks and let me know. 🙂 I am still very interested in modeling a Desert Storm F/A-18C in either USMC or USN livery depending on the availability of aftermarket decals. Some seem to have gone out of print in recent years.

A couple of things have arisen from this foray into modern modelling whihc I might blog about. One is the NACES ejection seat. Naval Aircrew Common Ejection Seat (?) I forget. But it’s an interesting attempt at standardization by the United States Navy getting one type of ejection seat in a number of aircraft. I will read about it.

The other topic is the story of the Hornet and Super Hornet. I kept reading about “Legacy” Hornets and then discovered that the E and F models of the F/A-18 are about 25% bigger than the A, C, and D models. There must be quite the story in there.

Meanwhile I’ve been deploying some of my newly purchased Milliput (thought I’d never see it again when I came here) on the Kangnam ejection seat to give it a more hefty look like the NACES version.

Fun Times Ahead

With the start of the new Academic Year I’ve been a little remiss in posting.  Part of my distraction has been because I’ve been researching the story of Lt. Col. Montagu Reaney Chidson, the pilot of the Vickers FB.5 involved in the very first air combat over the United Kingdom in December 1914.  It’s quite a story, and getting it into any kind of order may take a while.

In the meantime one of my colleagues at Pittsburg State University, Dr. John Daley, is teaching a course on the History of Military Aviation,  which I just had to join, so I’m in there auditing it.   The textbook we’re using is James L. Stokesbury’s  A Short History of Air Power. (London: Hale, 1986).   It’s an entertaining book, and contains a few things with which I have had the luxury of disagreeing.  John Daley calls these texts a “beer and popcorn” read.  So I wanted to show I was ready.    I don’t like popcorn too much but this seems to be less of a problem.

Here we go then.


Accompanied by a few cans of the Tallgrass Brewery’s product, (I hope they can re-commence operations soon), is my copy of Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of Air Power. London: Hale, 1986.

The Other Blog is Back

aged newspaper formation

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

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

Well, it’s back.

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

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

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

Fairey Delta 2 – Part 2

I was torn whether to keep editing my blog article about the FD2 and then realized I could simply write another one, on another occasion.

I’m glad I did because a quick riffle through YouTube revealed this gem of British Movietone News.   A lovely series of shots of the Fairey Delta and an interview with Peter Twiss (1921-2011) who “happened to be the lucky chap in the cockpit”  as I think he put it. I didn’t know Twiss was a former FAA pilot,  so it’s fitting in a way that WG774 is displayed at Yeovilton.


I was also wondering if there were any current Public Domain or Creative Commons pictures of WG774 and WG777,  partly to remind myself what WG777 looked like when I wandered through Cosford in around 1991, and happily of course there are a couple.

WG 774 rebuilt as the BAC221

Former Fairey Delta 2 WG 774 rebuilt as the BAC221. Displayed in the ‘Leading Edge’ exhibition. FAA Museum, Yeovilton, England, May 2011.  Photo by Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Here is WG774 seen at the FAA Museum in Yeovilton in 2011.  You can see the extent of the modification of the wings  and undercarriage.   It’s noteworthy as the original photographer suggests that WG774 was selected for modification rather than WG777.  Was there an operational reason or was there some arcane political reason for modifying this airframe?  We may never know.

Fairey Delta 2, HP.115 abd Concorder 002 at the FAA Museum, 1984

FD2 WG774, “slow delta” HP.115 XP841 and Concorde 002 G-BSST,  Photographed at the FAA Museum, Yeovilton in 1984.  San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1984 photograph is interesting for me as I first visited Yeovilton a year before – during a heatwave in the late summer of 1983,  and this is how I believe these aircraft were displayed at that time.   The extent of the modification to WG774’s wings  is clear.  The HP.115 was a research aircraft which explored the characteristics of delta wings in slow flight in delta configuration and to demonstrate the beneficial extent of extending the delta wing forward along the fuselage.

Fairey Delta 2 WG777 at the RAF Museum, Cosford, in 2007

Fairey Delta 2 WG777 at the RAF Museum, Cosford, in 2007 Photo by Roland Turner from Birmingham, Great Britain CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally,  here is WG777 looking very sleek at Cosford in 2007.  Having seen this picture I understand why I didn’t identify the polished silver machine with WG777 in its later dark blue scheme.  Such is life and memory.    But I salute both aircraft and their pilots.