Sunday, April 19, 2015

Amelia's First Speed Record (of Sorts)

Vega NC-538M somewhere over the San Fernando Valley
4/19/2015-This post was originally published on August 9, 2013, but has been rewritten and updated.

During the famous 1929 Women's Air Derby, billed by the press as the “Powder Puff Derby”, Amelia Earhart flew the only Lockheed Vega (NC-31E, c/n 36) that had been entered entered to a respectable third place, which garnered yet more positive media publicity for Lockheed.

Following the Derby, Earhart flew her race Vega back to Los Angeles, and there stayed with friends Jack and Helene Maddux (of Maddux Airlines and subsequently T-A-T Airlines fame). While in LA, she decided to visit Lockheed and shop for an upgraded Vega, taking several test flights in Wasp-powered Vega 5A Executive NC-538M. Earhart recorded in her logbook that on November 18, while test flying the plane over a closed course, she flew one leg at a blazing 197 mph. “Hooray!” was her commentary.

In the Derby a few months before, Louise Thaden had won the race. Thaden also happened to hold the women’s speed record, at a paltry 156 mph. It occurred to Earhart that in the Vega, she could easily beat that. On November 21, Earhart flew the one mile course set up at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport - what is now known as Van Nuys Airport – with Detroit Aircraft’s chief test pilot, Lt. Carl Harper, to confirm the potential. Lockheed recognized a great publicity opportunity when they saw it, and offered to loan her the plane for the record attempt.

NAA rules specified a 24-hour notice for any record attempt, and Earhart fulfilled this obligation, indicating that on the following day she’d attempt to break Thaden’s record.

The NAA sent their official timer, a Mr. Joe Nikrent, and over four laps Earhart’s average speed was 184.17 mph, with one lap clocked by Nikrent at 197.8 mph. And yet, despite the use of the official timer, who used two calibrated chronometers, the NAA refused to recognize the achievement as an official record. The reason? The NAA informed her that the FAI did not have a category for the one-mile straightaway. They only recognized the 3-kilometer closed course, and only for absolute world records, meaning there wasn’t a separate women’s record to be claimed for that distance.

Frustrated, Earhart continued shopping for a new plane, settling on serial number 22, NC-7952 (she also took a ride in the Sirius, serial 140, that had been custom built for Lindbergh). She also began petitioning the FAI to establish a category for women’s speed records, and at length they acceded. Finally, on July 5, 1930, flying another borrowed Vega (serial 94, NC-974H), Earhart set the 3-km closed course speed record at 181.18 mph. It still took another year of fighting the FAI to get them to officially recognize the attempt as an official record, but in the end the determined Earhart prevailed.

Meanwhile NC-538M stayed on with Lockheed, who used it as a demonstrator aircraft. On October 14, 1931, the Vega crashed in Greencastle, Indiana. Supposedly, at least one of the wings was later used to rebuild another Vega, s/n 99.

The photo itself is back stamped "Grand Central Air Terminal Photo Services", and came from R.C. Talbot's camera.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Grace's Mystery Ryan

Here’s one that has stumped me. This is a 1920s press photo (the back has a file date of July 14, 1927), and the caption pasted to the back (a common practice for press photos) consists of two words: “Grace’s plane.”

So who was “Grace?” During that era, it would not have been proper to use a woman’s first name in this manner, so presumably it is a last name. There is no one by that name in the Who’s Who in Aviation History, there is no one by that name listed in the Early Birds of Aviation. However, in the list of early movie stunt pilots, one name stands out at the top: Dick Grace.

Grace had been a combat pilot during WWI, and following the war, hit the barnstorming circuit. From there he found his way into the movies, and carved out a niche for himself as the go-to person for airplane crashes. Grace approach crashes with more science than bravado, learning to understand how a plane comes apart in a crash, and thus how to add safety features so that a crash can look devastating on-camera and yet be survivable for the stunt pilot. He invented his own safety equipment, including a chest harness that was designed to break away at a certain point in order to absorb some of the energy.

Through his career, he managed to crash upwards of 50 planes, although he didn’t always walk away. During the filming of the 1927 Gary Cooper film Wings, Graces safety equipment failed him, and his head smashed into the instrument panel. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, he had broken his neck and crushed four vertebrae. The doctors told him to expect to stay in a neck brace in the hospital for a year, but he checked himself out six weeks later, and returned to crashing planes. In all, Grace claimed to have broken over 80 bones during his career.

Grace was an active member of the Associated Motion Picture Pilots guild, and was involved in the 1932 film Sky Bride in which stunt pilot and AMPP president Leo Nomis was killed. During WWII, he re-enlisted and flew combat missions as a B-17 co-pilot (one has to wonder what the rest of the crew thought about flying with a guy who’d deliberately crashed so many planes!).

Not satisfied with merely being a stunt pilot, Grace also tried his hand at acting, with his first lead role in The Flying Fool (1925; not to be confused with 1929 flick of the same name). In the July 1930 issue of Modern Mechanix, Grace wrote an extensive article, which can be read online, on how he accomplished the movie crashes (it’s well-worth the read!). He also wrote a number of books on his exploits, including Squadron of Death and Crash Pilot. Unlike most movie stunt pilots of his era, Grace didn’t die in a plane crash, but rather of emphysema at the age of 67 (possibly suggesting that smoking is more dangerous than being on board a crashing airplane!).

So what’s the plane? It’s hard to identify it because there’s no registration number: such numbers weren’t required until after 1927. But by configuration, it appears to be a Ryan M-1 mailplane with some unusual modifications. In comparing this photo to the M-1, there are many striking similarities, including the engine cowling (and lack of top cowling), engine bracing, landing gear, wing struts, horizontal stab braces, and tail shape. But there are two unusual aspects to this plane. The first is that the wings and the horizontal stab fabric skin appear to be translucent.

The second is the cockpit: the standard M-1 had an open, two-person cockpit, with the wing being a parasol configuration, so that the pilot had visibility underneath it. It appears that the fuselage has been built up to the bottom of the wing, and the cockpit has been enclosed. This same configuration was used on Lindbergh’s NYP, which was based on the M-1 and M-2, and on the NYP, the space was used to house the extra-large fuel tank required for the trans-Atlantic trip. It’s entirely possible, then that this plane was similarly modified, possibly for an endurance flight attempt, although I have found no record of such an event.

I can find no indication that Dick Grace owned an M-1 (his name doesn’t show up in the old registration lists, but then again it wouldn’t if this plane crashed and didn’t make it into the age of aircraft N numbers). One possibility for the mods, of course, was movie work. As mentioned above, Grace was famous for carefully modifying aircraft so that the drama of the crash would be enhanced on-camera, while he would be protected during the shoot. Could this have been a plane modified to look like a different one for a movie shoot?

But maybe this plane has nothing to do with Dick Grace at all. If so, whose was it? And why was it so modified?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gilmore's Electra

Note: Since this was original posted in late 2014, it has been rewritten and expanded, so is being re-posted.

During the 1930s, the Bureau of Air Commerce had been trying hard to promote the advancement of aviation in general, and airline travel in particular. After Lockheed successfully introduced their 10-passenger Model 10 Electra airliner in 1935, the Bureau saw the need for a smaller yet modern aircraft to be used by "feeder" airlines, and so sponsored a contest to promote the development of such a plane.

Lockheed scaled down the Electra airframe (but kept the same 450-hp engines) and introduced it as the Model 12 Electra Junior. Because the other two competitors (one of which was the Beechcraft Model 18) weren't ready by the June 30, 1936 deadline, the Electra Junior won by default.

NC18130 is a Model 12A, serial 1226, and rolled off the assembly line at the end of June, 1937. It was bought by oil tycoon F. C. Hall as the successor to his Winnie Mae and named Villa. Hall decided to sponsor its entry into the 1937 Bendix Trophy race from Burbank to Cleveland. The Electra Junior was flown by airshow pilot Milo Burcham (who in 1933 had established a world record of sorts by flying inverted for just over four hours), and Lockheed modified the plane with an extra internal fuselage fuel tank, allowing Burcham to fly the course non-stop.

For the race, Hall and his wife flew onboard with Burcham, and even though the plane carried passengers (not a normal thing in an air race!), the Lockheed airliner was so fast that they came in only a few minutes after a Seversky racer flown by Frank Sinclair. The effort resulted in a fifth place finish.

In November 1937, the plane moved over to Gilmore Oil, where it received the company’s trademark cream and crimson colosr scheme, and lion logo. Gilmore then used it as their executive transport plane.

In November 1941, Gilmore sold the plane to the Free French Air Force (FAFL), and she headed to war in Europe. The FAFL used the plane in various roles, from anti-submarine patrol to troop transport, to VIP transport for Generals Maréchel LeClerc and De Gaulle. Amazingly, she survived, and spent the next 65 years in Europe, principally in France, England and Ireland, owned for much of that time by the British Earl of Granard.

NC18130 is one of only ten or so Electra Juniors to have survived into the 21st century, and is the lowest time airframe of the bunch. In September 2007, after sitting for many years in storage in France, the Lockheed was restored to flying condition and returned to America, where it was once again registered as NC18130.

As of this writing, the plane has received a complete restoration in Monroe, Washington, and is currently for sale! If you want to purchase (or just oogle the restoration pics), you can see its listing on the Warbird Connection website. A very detailed history (in PDF form) can be seen here.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Heavy Lifting Zenith Albatross at Glendale

Another day, another photo with a cool, forgotten story, and some mystery to it. This is an Acme Newspictures 8x10 press photo, taken at Glendale Grand Central Air Terminal. The plane is the one-off Zenith Z-12 Albatross.

The caption pasted on the back reads:
CALIFORNIA PLANE TO MAKE PACIFIC FLIGHT - The “Albatross”, a tri-motored plane built at Los Angeles, is being prepared for a flight over the Pacific Ocean this spring or early summer. Photo shows the size of the wings --90-foot spread--as compared with the people who came to look at the plane.
This photo is very similar to one - just at a slightly different angle - of the Z-12 which is available online as well as in John Underwood’s book on GCAT, Madcaps, Millionaires and “Mose”. The grandstands behind the plane were built specifically for GCAT’s dedication festivities in February, 1929, which suggests when this photo was taken.

In 1927, Zenith was a southern California manufacturer of farm equipment and machinery, but the sudden national obsession with aviation after Lindbergh’s flight sparked the owners of the Midway City, California company that there might be some money to be made building airplanes. As Lindbergh proved, making a record flight in spectacular fashion in front of the media was a surefire means of instant success. So, for their first project, started on October 1, 1927, Zenith decided to build a mammoth plane (“largest plane on the west coast”, as it was billed at the time) and try to set some records with it; both the mission and the plane’s giant wings seem to have suggested the name Albatross.

Zenith was founded by, John Willingham, Maurice Price, Sterling Price, Albin K. Peterson and Charles Rocheville (the latter being a rather interesting US Navy officer; this EAA webpage has a fascinating bio of him). Peterson, who had also served in the Navy, and Rocheville were the design engineers for the project. Their goal was a large parasol-wing monoplane capable of carrying at least 12 people (hence the Z-12 designation), and able to fly for an extended amount of time.

During the building, the naysayers expressed concern that the large airplane was woefully underpowered, and likely wouldn’t be able to get off the ground. Usefulness - the ability to carry a load and actually accomplish something useful - had been a major challenge for aviation design for the first three decades of the industry, for the same reason that flight itself was delayed longer than it should have been. Flight didn’t happen until the Wright Brothers’ success not because airplane builders didn’t have the basic concepts, it didn’t happen because there weren’t any engines that were powerful enough yet light enough to get a plane off the ground. And even when that threshold had been crossed, it was only barely so. For the first couple of decades of aviation, planes could fly and fight (a bit), but could do little more of practical value.

That’s one of the things the Zenith team set out to change with their Z-12 project, and they succeeded. The Albatross took merely 90 days to build, and flew for the first time on January 2, 1928 (another source lists the date as January 9), with Rocheville and Peterson at the controls, and carrying the registration NX-3622. Despite the naysayers, performance was actually surprisingly good. The plot of land that the initial testing took place on measured 2,000 feet by 1,200 feet, but that was plenty: in a no-wind condition, the takeoff roll was a mere 150 feet, and the climb to 2,000 feet altitude took only four minutes; landing speed was 25 knots...all a testimony to what such a large wing could do.

With flight achieved, the team immediately set out to garner the kind of media attention that only record flights can bring, and the team had their sights set on endurance. They moved their flight test operation to the barren wastes of the Imperial Valley and set up shop on the shore of a dry lake. The Z-12 was equipped with two 400-gallon wing fuel tanks, as well as a 900-gallon one in the fuselage. In early February, the Albatross was topped off with just over 200 gallons of Richfield Oil's donated gasoline for the first try at endurance flying. Peterson and Rocheville were joined by Jack Reid as radio operator and relief pilot (replacing W.L Shields, who served in that same position during earlier testing). After less than an hour in the air, though, one of the fuselage fuel tank seams split open, forcing the crew to land.

After repairs were accomplished, a second attempt was made, with much better results. After 27 hours, fourteen minutes, one of the engines (which had been operating at full-throttle) began to overheat, and the crew called it quites. The plane was powered by three Ryan-Siemens 125-horsepower 9-cylinder radials, but in reality they only put out around 90 horses, necessitating the full-throttle operations. One more attempt was made, and this time the plane carried even more fuel than before, for a total takeoff weight of 13,898 pounds. The third try was definitely not the charm, as after nine hours, 45 minutes, more engine problems - traced to a rocker arm failure - forced the flight down, and no further attempts were made.

However, in the process of making this last attempt at an endurance record, the team set two other records, which might not be so glamorous to the press and aren't tracked by the FAI, but had tremendous meaning to the aircraft design community. In order to fly for a really long time, one has to carry a lot of fuel and a lot of oil (engines of that era actually consumed large quantities of their lubricating oil), which means that the plane would have to lift a lot of weight, and therein lies the real "gold" of the team's record efforts - the two records that the team accomplished were ones that had some practical value.  The first was for lift. Up to this point in the history of aviation, the most any plane had lifted was only a small fraction of its own weight. The Albatross, however, was shown to be able to lift a stunning 2.47 times its own weight, with its immense wing area.

The second record was also one that would appeal especially to engineers: lift-to-horsepower. Up to that point, the most that had been achieved was about 25 pounds per horsepower, and aviation technology was only improving in very small percentage increments. The Albatross, however, smashed that with a record book figure of 38.3 pounds per horsepower (based on actual power output, not the rated power of the engines), a remarkable leap of over 50% improvement. That the Zenith team was able to achieve these kinds of numbers was nothing short of an engineering breakthrough. What this showed, too, was that the team's original goal, 60-70 hours of endurance, was achievable based on carrying the needed weight of fuel and oil. What they lacked was engine reliability.

A planned fourth flight was dropped, and Rocheville parted ways with Zenith to set up his own company (along with brother Henry), possibly because as an engineer, he wanted to focus on continuing to develop aircraft for endurance records, and the rest wanted to focus on commercial production. Peterson and the rest of the crew worked on and saw modest success with the smaller Z-6 airliner (one of these has been gorgeously restored to flying condition, as documented in this Air & Space article).

As the Z-12 and the endurance records had been Rocheville's passion more than Peterson's, NX-3622 and the rights to build production models (contemporary media had claimed that several orders had been placed, but how accurate this was is doubtful) were sold off to Schofield, Inc., headed by G. L. Schofield and Harry Miller, which accounts for the company’s name being blazoned across the bottom of the wing in our photo. Schofield and company clearly had the idea that the endurance potential of the design promised an opportunity for a go at making the first trans-Pacific flight, if only the engine reliability could be addressed. The Z-12, now known as the Schofield Albatross was re-engined first with Axelsons (probably the 150-hp Axelson B) and then with the 170-hp Western Enterprise Engines L-7. However, there is no record that I could find of any successful endurance test flights, and certainly no record (other than several publicity photos) of a serious attempt at the trans-Pacific flight.

Meanwhile, in 1928 the Zenith company was replaced by Albatross Aircraft Company (aka American Albatross), although the personnel remained the same (less Rocheville, for the moment), and the work was moved to Long Beach, California. This move suggests a change in financial backing as the company struggled to both make a name for themselves and to start selling production Z-6 aircraft. Rocheville still maintained some involvement with the new company, and worked on the design of the Albatross B, or B-1, which was very similar to the Z-12 but with a single engine, and the two airframes that were built were both used in endurance record attempts (we did a blog post back in 2013 on one of these, The Pride of Hollywood.)

About a year later, the whole operation was sold to E. M. Smith & Associates of Long Beach (a manufacturer of asbestos products), which then changed its name to EMSCO, and moved to Downey, California. EMSCO brought Rocheville back as a Vice President and designer, and he continued to build aircraft based on lessons learned with earlier attempts. The Z-12 was thus reborn, albeit somewhat scaled down, as the EMSCO B-2 Challenger, two of which were built.

NX-3622 appears to have made at least one motion picture appearance, when it played the part of a wrecked Fokker in the 1928 show Conquest, directed by Roy Del Ruth; according to IMDb, this film has been lost.

The fate of NX-3622 is also documented historically, as can be seen in this circa 1939 image from the California Historical Society that resides in the USC Digital Library, and in this image managed by Corvis. The Albatross, now with “Royal” appended to it, appears to have become part of a service station in Studio City, and shows a fair amount of alteration. Besides the obviously fake (and way too small) engines, the outboard wing struts have been shortened and are at a much steeper angle (probably done so that cars pulling up to the pumps wouldn’t hit them, and the forward fuselage seems to have been covered over with sheet metal.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Clues from Everybody's Sweetheart

Almost every photo has a story to tell, but getting it to speak is sometimes harder than at other times. Sometimes, a little bit of sleuthing can reveal a bit about a photo that initially looks like it contains no usable information, and that chase is part of the fun of finding and preserving these photos. Take, for instance, this group photo of at least some of the personnel from a B-24 Liberator squadron. Found in a pile of snapshots at an antique store, there is no information written on the back, so very little to go on, especially since the plane shown is seen nose-on. But if you look close, at the far right of the image, you’ll see a B-24 vertical stabilizer, and it’s lower than one would expect, meaning that it’s been removed from the aircraft.

While I can't say with 100% certainty, this is probably the 345th Bombardment Squadron at Lecce, Italy

The number on the stab, 264372, means that this came from aircraft 42-64372, a B-24J which was known as Everybody’s Sweetheart. After returning from a bombing mission against the Steyr Walzlagerwerke (or Steyr Ball Bearing Factory; this facility was responsible for 10-15% of Germany’s ball bearing production capacity, and thus was a critical target) in Austria on 2 April 1944 (yes, there’s a reason this post is running on April 2nd!), Everybody’s Sweetheart was shot up by ME109s and badly damaged, with four of the crew injured. The right tire had been hit, so the plane ran off the runway on landing.

There are two photos on the internet that show the wreck of Everybody’s Sweetheart, one here and one here. The photos show that the left vertical stabilizer had been pretty well shot up, but the right appears unscathed. Army records show that the plane was “salvaged” on 4 April 1944, and it would make sense, then, that the maintenance crews would save a perfectly good stabilizer and rudder that then might be able to be used on another aircraft, later.

Everybody’s Sweetheart was assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force, and during this timeframe, the 345th was stationed at Lecce Airfield, Italy (way down in the “heel” of the country), so it’s likely that this is the squadron and location where our photo was taken.

There is also a first-person account of the landing by waist gunner Gene Robinson that has been preserved online, here.

Sadly, though, the identity of the main Liberator in our photo remains a mystery.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Plight of the First Air Force One

4/11 update: The Archive just acquired a second photo of 8610, which has been added to the article below.
3/27 update: Looks like there's hope after all! Be sure to read the addendum at the end of the article.

Our story starts like so many others around here...a little snapshot in a booth at an antique mall for a buck. A closer look showing that this might be something a bit more special, and some preliminary research that reveals a very cool story that's very relevant to today!

This photo is dated November, 1953 by the processing lab.

In the store, I showed this to my brother, and he noted the honor guard and the platform. "Must be someone important," was his comment. It occurred to me that President Eisenhower had used Connies as his presidential aircraft. So I paid the buck. The photo isn't as clear as I'd wish, but it's clear enough to make out the tail number, 8610 (aka 48-610), the very first Air Force One, and clear enough to see a man in black standing at the top of the stairs waving his hat to the crowd...presumably this is Ike.

The plane has a remarkable story (and I find it ironic that it's probable that this snapshot was taken by someone capturing the moment of Ike's arrival, with little or no interest in imaging the airplane itself), with the Air Force One aspect just a part of the story...and this is a story that's continuing today.

The plane was born as a Plain-Jane Lockheed C-121A Constellation (model L-749-79-36, c/n 749-2602), one of a lot of nine ordered in 1948. After rolling off the assembly line in Burbank, Lockheed bailed it from the Air Force to be used as a company transport in Alaska for a while, before finally being delivered to the Air Force in 1950, when it was converted to VIP configuration (VC-121A-LO) for use by Eisenhower, who named it Columbine II  (replacing a sister VC-121A, the original Columbine).

Some readers may take umbrage at my title for this post, protesting that there were earlier Presidential aircraft, and indeed they would be right. But this was the first "Air Force One". As most will recall, that title is not given to a specific airplane, it's a radio call sign used for any plane which POTUS is flying aboard. But it wasn't always so. Before 1953, the flight would simply used the plane's tail number, so for Columbine II, the call sign would be Air Force 8610. And this is exactly what happened on one day in 1953 when the Connie, with Ike onboard, was flying over New York. Unfortunately, at that moment also flying over New York was Eastern Airlines Flight 8610, and due to confusion induced by the similar call signs, the two planes almost collided. Eisenhower's pilot, Col. Billy Draper, is credited with finding the solution to the problem, coining the phrase "Air Force One" for use when the President was on board, and the tradition stuck (here's a great bio on Draper). Besides Eisenhower, a whole litany of other VIPs, including Queen Elizabeth II and Richard Nixon, flew on board Columbine II.

Columbine II, which was based on the civilian Constellation airliner, was replaced in November 1954 with Columbine III (VC-121E, 53-7885), which was based on the larger Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation. Stripped of its name and fame, 48-610 was leased by the Air Force to Pan American Airways and given the civilian registration N9907F for a short time, and then transferred to the Government of Thailand. It was returned to the USAF in June 1955, and the service continued to operate it as a normal airlifter until retiring the old gal to Davis-Monthan AFB in April, 1968.

Sometime around 1970, Christler Flying Service purchased several old Air Force Connies out of the boneyard, with the intent of turning them into large pest spraying aircraft. Unfortunately, 48-610 was in pretty rough shape, and Christler decided to simply use it as a source of spares to support the rest of their fleet. Enter the historians of the Smithsonian, who were researching the early presidential aircraft: they contacted Christler, who had no idea of the unique story behind their derelict, which they were getting ready to scrap. That changed everything, and funds were raised and the old gal was refurbished and actually returned to the air in 1990. The plane was flown to Abilene, Kansas, home of the Dwight D. Eisnhower Presidential Library and Museum for Ike's centennial. With fame rediscovered, Christler put the plane up for sale at auction, expecting that it would be picked up by a museum. It wasn't, and in 2005, she was flown back to Marana, Arizona, where she sits to this day. Ten years have taken a drastic toll on the plane and she is quite literally rotting away.

A logical place for the plane to be preserved is in Eisenhower's home state of Kansas, but all the big museums, and even Ike's presidential library, simply down have any desire to do anything to save Columbine II. Recently, the plight of Columbine II has been publicized through social media, as efforts continue to find a way to preserve this unique piece of history; the effort even has a Facebook page. Every seems to think that it's a great idea, at least until the subject of money comes up, at which point the subject politely gets changed. So in a way, the plane itself is a bit like our found photo: simply discarded as forgotten and irrelevent.

There are two short documentaries about the plight of Columbine II, and I would recommend both, as they have a lot of great footage and interviews from key players:

There's an interesting aside to this story, as well. As I mentioned, Columbine II was one of a lot of nine Connies which the Air Force bought in 1948, and of the eight others, five of them have either survived or had a story of their own. Here's a quick overview:

48-609: After a two-decade Air Force career, 609 was retired to Davis-Monthan, and then was part of the group purchased by Christler. After almost a decade and a half doing spray work in both the US and Canada, the plane was purchased by none other than John Travolta, who re-registered it as N494TW, but ended up putting it in storage. It was then sold to aerospace entreprenieur Vern Raburn in 1991, who put the Connie through an extensive restoration before it was then sent to South Korea, where it is part of the permanent collection of the Korean Airlines Museum in 2005.

48-612: Following its Air Force service, 612 was also purchased by Christler in 1970, and then by Raburn in 1993, who oversaw its restoration. The plane then went to the Netherlands, where it is registered as PH-LDF.

48-613: This was General MacArthur's VIP transport, and he named it Bataan. Upon retirement in 1966, the aircraft was transferred to NASA, who used it as a transport for the Apollo program, flying between the west coast, Houston and Florida. When NASA no longer had need of it, 613 ended up at the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, before being picked up by Planes of Fame at Valle, Arizona.

48-614: This was the original Columbine, assigned to Eisenhower while he was still an active duty Army General. It is currently part of the collection of the Pima Air Museum.

48-615: Named Dewdrop, this was General Vandenberg's ride. After the Air Force, it was another one of Christler's spray birds. In 1976 she became a movie star, featured in the film MacArthur. Sadly, she then was turned into a freighter and came to an untimely end while flying for the Dominican carrier Aerolineas Argo. While on approach to Harry Truman Airport in St. Thomas, VI during a heavy rainstorm on October 26, 1981, she crashed into the sea; the three crewmembers were killed, but the two passengers onboard survived. The plane sank in 150 feet of water.

3/27/15 update!
After posting, it came to light from a user on Reddit that Karl Stoltzfus and his Dynamic Aviation, along with Scott Glover and the Mid America Flight Museum are currently evaluating Columbine II for purchase and restoration, with a final decision to be announced April 28th. There are three online articles covering this development, and as I learn more, I'll post more updates here.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Maryland's Corsair

Since today is the 95th anniversary of the launching of the battleship USS Maryland (BB-46), it's appropriate that we celebrate with a photo of her. The small print in the Archive's collection isn't dated, but the ship appears to be at rest at Pearl Harbor. Of interest to us, of course, is the Vought O2U Corsair bobbing contentedly behind the mighty ship.
If you look carefully, you can see two men on Maryland's turret catapult, probably preparing it for the hoist-aboard of the Corsair.The ship in the background is the USS New Mexico.

The Maryland, a dreadnaught of the Colorado class, was at Pearl during the infamous December 7th attack, but was only lightly damaged, and went on to lend her eight 16-inch guns to the effort in the Battles of Midway, Tarawa, Kwajalien, Saipan (where she took a torpedo to her bow), Leyte Gulf (hit by a kamikaze) and Okinawa (hit by yet another kamikaze). And yet she survived, at least until 1947 when she succumbed to the scrapper's torch.

Before posting this photo here, I had supplied it to, who used it on the Maryland's web page. There, researcher Alan Moore provided some valuable information on the plane itself. He wrote:
Two aspects of the aircraft's markings are date-indicative. The first is the fuselage markings, 5 / 8, which signify VO-5's (Observation Squadron 5's) eighth aircraft. The symbol for Observation Squadron would later be changed from "/" to "O," making the marking 5-O-8. 
The second is the solid-color painted tail surfaces. Prior to the adoption of this practice, the rudders where painted with vertical Red-White-Blue stripes. The solid-colored tails were to identify the aircraft of a squadron, each squadron having it's own tail color. Each Battleship Division had its own squadron, with the planes distributed among the ships of the Division. Therefore, the planes on the ships of a Division had the same tail color. So this photo was taken after the adoption of painted tail surfaces but before the change of / to O. I can't find a specific date for either practice, only a vague "around 1930" or (in the case of the O) "in 1930." 
A third factor leading to the date is the existence of the squadron, VO-5B. William Larkins, in his Battleship and Cruiser Aircraft of the United States Navy 1910-1949, writes "VO-5B was only in commission for three years, 1927-1930, so planes with these markings are rare." (page 176) 
In the same work Larkins lists BatDiv5's ships as West Virginia (BB-48) (Flagship), Tennessee (BB-43), Maryland and Colorado (BB-45).
From this photo I can't distinguish an O2U-2 from a -3 (Larkins lists both.) but it's definitely not an O2U-1, which had a different rudder. Appended is his aircraft breakdown for Maryland.

Date Division Squadron Aircraft
7/1926 Five VO-1 2 UO-1
7/1927 Five VO-1B 2 UO-1, 1 OL-3, 1 FU-1
7/1928 Five VO-5B 3 O2U-1, 1 OL-6
7/1929 Five VO-5B 11 O2U-1, 1 O2U-2 [These are the aircraft for the entire Division, not just MD.]
6/1930 Five 6 O2U-1, 1 O2U-3 [ditto: aircraft for entire Division]
7/1931 One VO-1B 4 O2U-1, 1 O3U-2 [ditto; (Larkins lists only two ships, MD and ID)]