Coming Soon to a Museum in Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

B-17G 42-32076

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

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

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

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

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

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

B-17D 40-3097 "The Swoose"

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

 

 

 

Stars In The East

I was perusing a couple of news articles earlier in the week relating to the Word Trade Organization’s latest intervention in the Boeing / Airbus spat.

A sentence or two hiding at the very bottom of an article by Simon Jack in the BBC News website caught my eye.  The United States and Europe, he says, are not the only countries who are giving questionable subsidies to aircraft manufacturers.  Bombardier, he says,  receives governmental subsidies from the Canadian government. An even bigger threat to the A+B (Airbus and Boeing) duopoly is making itself known, not necessarily for the right reasons, in the east.  It’s a company I’d never heard of previously, but I’m not terribly familiar with the highly competitive world of commercial civil aviation.

Jack thinks the least regarded threat to A+B comes from COMAC, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd.  Established in 2008, COMAC is currently engaged in the production of a couple of aircraft, which are intended for China’s rapidly expanding internal airline market.

COMAC ARJ21

COMAC ARJ21 Xiangfeng “Flying Phoenix”
By Peng Chen (Flickr: China ARJ-21)
CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The first jet to be marketed is the ARJ21, originally developed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China, and which looks very much like a scaled down (some sites less charitably say “warmed over”) DC-9 / MD-90. This may be partly due to the fact that the factories producing the ARJ21 are the same factories that participated in the abortive attempt to build the MD-90 in China, which ceased after two examples (of the 40 proposed) were completed in 2000.  COMAC’s claims for the ARJ21 as a wholly indigenous product are further undermined by its wing, which is a product of the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine, and the engines and avionics, which are are predominantly American.

The ARJ21 was a key project in the 10th Five-Year Plan of China which began March 2002. The fact that by December 2016 only six aircraft have been produced, and only two of these are in airline service in China, is perhaps indicative of the struggle that the project has encountered. COMAC has been trying for several years to gain American FAA type approval for the ARJ21, a necessary step for its products to operate globally, and that this has not been forthcoming.

COMAC’s other product, The 168-seat C919, is intended to be a direct competitor with A320 and venerable Boeing 737 families.  Although looking good at its roll-out  (see the YouTube video below) with a projected first flight in 2017, the development path may conceivably be as rocky as the ARJ21.

It’s certainly very tempting to think COMAC is waiting in the wings for some kind of coup, but one also needs to consider that the competition is in some cases very well established already. Embraer and Bombardier, while admittedly competing for third place behind A+B. demonstrate that COMAC has a longer march to market than our amorphous fear of Chinese business may suggest, however justified we may feel considering their near stranglehold on multiple sinews of world manufacturing.

A quick look through Wikipedia will produce the following figures of aircraft which its editors (reasonably) feel to be comparable with the ARJ-21 and C919.

Boeing 737 family (9,247 units produced) – 737 MAX forthcoming
Airbus A320 family (7,297 units produced) – A320neo forthcoming
Embraer E-Jets (1158 units produced)
Bombardier CRJ700 series (788 units produced)
Bombardier CSeries (10 units produced)
Sukhoi Superjet 100 (114 units produced)
Antonov An-148 (39 units produced)
Mitsubishi Regional Jet (4 units produced)
Irkut MC-21 (1 units produced)

Of particular interest are the recognizably Russian types produced under the umbrella of UAC, the United Aircraft Corporation.

Sukhoi Superjet 100

Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B EI-FWA of Irish regional airline CityJet crew training at Prestwick Airport, UK, June 2016. The Sukhois are intended to replace the airline’s Avro RJ85s
By Mark Harkin (EI-FWA Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Vladimir Putin created UAC in 2006 by merging governmental holdings of Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev into a new company in which the Russian government holds a majority stake. UAC effectively consolidates Russian private and state-owned companies engaged in the production of commercial and military aircraft. While some western journalists may perceive a commercial threat from COMAC, it would seem to be that a star rising slightly nearer in the east might also bear scrutiny.

Articles mentioned in the text are listed below.

Simon Jack at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38131611 Exclusive: WTO rules Boeing’s state subsidies illegal (28 November 2016). The article discussed the subsidies paid by the State of Washington to encourage Boeing to build the wings of the 777x aircraft there.

A later article (in the same day) http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38131617 Boeing tax break ruled unlawful by WTO said that the United States government has been given 90 days to drop the special tax exemption or subsidy.

The New York Times mentioned http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/business/international/world-trade-organization-rules-against-boeing-tax-break-for-new-jet.html? that this was the latest volley in a spat between Airbus and Boeing dating back 12 years in which each side has accused the other of raking in millions of dollars in special governmental aid.

Forbes’ article http://www.forbes.com/sites/scotthamilton5/2016/11/28/wto-boeing-ruling-gives-airbus-good-pr-but-its-meaningless/#1a1e8c0c4a3c was interesting in that it pointed out that
the WTO has no enforcement powers, the United States was likely to appeal the ruling and that this particular case will be echoing round the courts for at least two more years.

Farewell to Bobby

Just occasionally,  my casual browsing dredges up something unexpected, interesting, and aviation-related.

A couple of days ago, on Saturday (October 29th) it seems that Lufthansa flew their last commercial flights using the Boeing 737.  The 737 is known as ‘Bobby’ or ‘Bobby Boeing’ by Lufthansa, who were the launch customers of the type in the late 1960s. ‘Bobby’ is being replaced by what Lufthansa describes as “quieter and more fuel efficient” equipment produced by Bombardier and Embraer. Lufthansa press releases also mention the present and future line of Airbus products as replacements for ‘Bobby’ on some routes.

This Ken Fielding photo from 1972 shows a Lufthansa 737 in an early livery and, as Ken says,  it’s notable for the logo of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games  on the aft fuselage.

Lufthansa Boeing 737


Lufthansa Boeing 737-130 D-ABEA Seen at Manchester airport (UK) on July 31st 1972. 
It first flew on May 13th 1967 and was delivered to Lufthansa on April 24th 1968.
After later service in the USA and New Zealand it was scrapped in the USA in 1995.
(Photo by Ken Fielding http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfielding CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Should you desire to brush up on your German,  here’s a YouTube video from a group of German plane-spotters commemorating the event.  Its is, as they say a slightly sad event as an original customer retires a machine that was once the backbone of its short-haul fleet This is not simply auf wiedersehen, it’s farewell, Bobby.

Another Anniversary – Crash of a “Killer”

Another Anniversary – Crash of a “Killer”

Whenever I get a spare moment,  I look through the pages of  This Day in Aviation in case there is something that catches my eye.  Today I saw an item about the crash of the second prototype DH.108 “Swallow” TG306,  which occurred 70 years ago today on 27 September 1946.   Test pilot Geoffrey de Havilland Jr. (son of Geoffrey senior,   the founder and owner of the  de Havilland Aircraft Company Ltd.) was killed.

DH. 108 Swallow TG283

The first DH. 108 Swallow, TG283, at Hatfield on 30 May 1946 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The DH. 108  was the first British swept-winged jet aircraft and the first British tailless jet aircraft.  It was intended to test the low speed handling of swept wing jets and  in that respect was a design study for the future Comet airliner.   Its resemblance to the Messerschmit Me163 “Komet”  is striking but appears to be coincidental.   The Ministry of Supply gave the DH 108 the “Swallow” name,  which  was never officially adopted by the company.

Second Prototype DH.108 TG306

Second Prototype DH.108 TG306 (airwar.ru)

I hadn’t realized, until looking closely at pictures of TG283 and TG306,  that the forward fuselage is that of a Vampire, slightly extended, with swept wings attached.   (Train spotters will note the Air Ministry serial of the prototype Vampire F.1  was TG274 – the fuselages of the first two DH.108 prototypes were taken from the production line at English Electric).   Eric “Winkle”  Brown described the DH.108 as  “A killer. Nasty stall. Vicious undamped longitudinal oscillation at speed in bumps”.

TG306 suffered structural failure while flying over the Thames Estuary on September 27th 1946 in a dive from 10,000 ft at Mach 0.9 and crashed in Egypt Bay. The subsequent accident investigation “centered on a structural failure that occurred as a shock stall placed tremendous loads on the fuselage and wings. The main spar cracked at the roots,  causing the wings to fold backwards immediately.” (Wikipedia edited by me)

I found some interesting YouTube footage of the three Swallows including TG306 and Geoffrey de Havilland.

Egypt Bay has a personal significance for me,  since it’s located a few miles from where I grew up. The North Kent marshes have always been fairly atmospheric. They certainly inspired Charles Dickens, especially in Great Expectations, (the grave that provided Dickens with his inspiration for Pip’s dead siblings is located at Cooling church. Cooling village is visible on the map here),  but they also have their share of aviation lore too.  The last resting place of Amy Johnson is somewhere in the Thames Estuary – her Airspeed Oxford crashed in mysterious circumstances there on January 5th,  1941.

The little red Google location indicator on the map below shows roughly where I grew up, across the River Medway from Rochester, and Egypt Bay is also shown. Just to the east of Egypt Bay is  St. Mary’s Bay (not to be confused with many similarly named bays in Kent). Interestingly, searching for “Egypt Bay”  in Google Maps elicits no results at all.

The wreckage of TG306, according to Bryan R. Swopes, was found on September 28th.  Another ten days passed before Geoffrey de Havilland’s body was recovered. He had suffered a broken neck and fractured skull, probably as a result of being thrown around the cockpit as the aircraft entered its “vicious undamped longitudinal oscillation at speed”  as Brown described it.

egypt-bay

 

Battle of Britain

I read somewhere that Trafalgar Day (21st October) has decreased in significance as the Battle of Trafalgar fades from collective British memory. We’ve just seen the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (18th June), the centenary of ANZAC Day (April 25th)  and now the popular press has seized on the fact that it’s the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain.   On a personal tangent, I can remember exactly what I was doing on May 10th 1980, which was the 40th anniversary of the start of the Blitzkrieg. I was just about to finish my undergraduate studies and on this day (it was a Saturday as I recall)  I was waiting for my parents to visit me and hoping that I had dispersed the usual male student smells from my room in the college residences.  I have no idea what I was doing two months later, which is a shame. July 10th is a significant date, and not just because it’s my wife’s birthday. It commemorates the ‘official’ start of the Battle of Britain, and is a bone of of contention with pilots who were wounded immediately before this date and failed to qualify for the Battle of Britain “Battle Clasp” on their medals.

“This was their finest hour” – the last page of Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on June 18th 1940

I have collected books on the Air War since I was quite a small boy, but only in the last 20 years or so did I get a copy of Francis K. Mason’s Battle Over Britain, which for me is the definitive history of the period.  Even so I was dimly aware that 10th July was a fairly arbitrary date plucked out by the Air Ministry to give a firm date for the commencement of the conflict.  I don’t think the period itself can be so neatly divided, considering the headlong rush of the Wehrmacht on May 10th and the events at Dunkirk.  Winston Churchill stood up in Parliament on June 18th 1940 and delivered the speech which gave a name to the coming conflict.   Churchill had already promised “blood, toil, tears and sweat” on May 13th, and gave the assurance that “we will fight them on the beaches” on June 4th.

Francis K. Mason suggests, and who am I to disagree, that the Battle of Britain proper began at the end of June 1940 when German forces landed in the Channel Islands and commenced a direct offensive against the United Kingdom.  He also says that the suggestion of a lull in air operations after Dunkirk and through June 1940 are also inaccurate – elements of the RAF were extracting themselves from France until mid-June, and the units which had disengaged were utterly exhausted and lacking in equipment, spares and ground crews.

The period July 1- July 9  saw mixed weather conditions and a series of small attacks against coastal and other targets by the Luftwaffe . It should also be noted that in the first week of July a number of raids were mounted by Hampdens and Whitleys of Bomber Command against targets in northern Germany.

There is some indication according to Mason, that the pace of Luftwaffe operations increased on Sunday July 7th against convoys in the English Channel – and these intensified until Wednesday July 10th when the largest raid so far was carried out against convoy BREAD.  By July 10th, Mason says, the RAF had intercepted about 12 raids of more than 50 aircraft, and had lost eighteen aircraft and thirteen pilots.

I would like to note a trivial item related to this period. Spitfire Mk.1a P9444, still exhibited in the Science Museum, London, was written off the RAF inventory on July 6th 1940 while flying with 72 Squadron. Its pilot blacked out from lack of oxygen in flight. Although he recovered and landed safely the airframe was judged to  have been overstressed and the aircraft was recorded as having sustained Category 3 damage (destroyed) which is happily not the case. The original 1984 edition of Spitfire Survivors indicates it was sent to a Civilian Repair Unit and saw the light of day again, in military terms in March 1941 where it passed through a succession of training units and Maintenance Units until it was allocated for display purposes in 1949. Its 72 Squadron markings were re-applied in 1961.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Ia

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Ia P9444 at the Science Museum, London.
P9444 was written off the RAF inventory on July 6th, 1940. Photo by Hugh Llewelyn
CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

This Day in History – 14th February

This Day in History – 14th February

Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998)

Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998)

I just wondered what might have happened on Valentine’s Day so I looked at This Day in Aviation.  I was rather happy with the results as I got another link to another article about which I’d already written.   You know how I like connections. On this day in 1913, Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier  was born.  Tony LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998) was an air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s, says the “W” website. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_LeVier

I happened to notice that LeVier flew the XP-80 (see the earlier article about XP-80A, 44-83020 Lulu-Belle elsewhere in this blog)  but it’s a little better than that. According to This Day In Aviation,  Lulu-Belle was first flown by LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now  Edwards AFB)  on 8 January,  1944.

As a test pilot for Lockheed, LeVier was also involved with one of my favorite aircraft of the 50s and 60s, the F-104.  I can’t describe why I like it, and certainly in the “missile with a man in it” competition, my heart also belongs to the English Electric Lightning,  (and having said that, I feel another article may be on the way) but the polished silver F-104s with bright USAF markings and heraldry appeal to some part of my aesthetic sense. I’m sorry I never managed to get a big F-104 model from my local Walmart when they were on sale.  Actually I never saw them in my local Walmart.

Here’s Tony LeVier pictured on the XF-104 53-7786

Tony LeVier with the XF-104

Tony LeVier with the XF-104 53-7786 – USAF Photograph

And (below) here is the beast in its element.  I have no idea who’s flying it in this picture but no doubt I will find out.

Lockheed XF-104

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 – USAF

Another couple of F-104 snippets courtesy of “This Day” author Byron Swopes.  XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed on 11 July,  1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot (not LeVier on this occasion) ejected safely.  Tony LeVier died at the age of 84 on February 6, 1998, having  survived eight crashes and one mid-air collision in his flying career.  Today’s post is dedicated to his memory.

Happy New Year

A couple of interesting facts to add to the small amount I knew about Lockheed and the XP-80, which flew for the first time on January 8th, 1944. Here is Lulu Belle aka The Green Hornet at the Smithsonian Institution.

Apparently, at the time that the first Halford Goblin engine was installed in the XP-80 there were only two engines extant in the world. When the intake ducts on the XP-80 collapsed during the first engine run in November 1943 debris was ingested into the engine. The entire project ground to a halt while the second engine was removed from the prototype de Haviland Vampire and shipped across the Atlantic.

I didn’t know the origin of the term “Skunk Works”  which originally described the highly secret development area for the P-80 at Lockheed. I didn’t read enough contemporary comics. “Kelly” Johnson surrounded the development area with crates and a circus tent, and the result was named after the still in Al Capp’s “Lil’ Abner” cartoons.