Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gilmore's Electra

Just this past weekend, the Archive was privileged to acquire several old 8x10 prints from the estate of a Lockheed employee, and this is perhaps my favorite of the bunch, partly because this is such a storied aircraft.

After the successful introduction of the Lockheed Model 10 Electra 10-passenger airliner in 1935, the Bureau of Air Commerce saw the need for a smaller 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 Beech 18) weren't ready by the June 30, 1936 deadline, the Electra Junior won by default.

NC18130 rolled off the assembly line at the end of June, 1937, and was flown by Lockheed test pilot Milo Burcham in the 1937 Bendix Trophy race from Burbank to Cleveland, taking fifth place. Lockheed had modified the plane with an internal fuel tank, allowing Burcham to fly the course non-stop.

Right after the race, Gilmore Oil took delivery of the plane and used it as their executive transport. It is shown here in a Lockheed publicity photo (probably taken in November or December 1937) over the San Gabriel Mountains (the Cajon Pass and Mormon Rocks can be seen in the upper right corner, and the line across the upper middle is the Pearblossom Highway). Gilmore used the plane for four years, until November 1941 when it was sold to the Free French Air Force. It served the French through WWII, including, for a time, as the transport of General Maréchel LeClerc and General De Gaulle. Following the war, it bounced around Europe, including being owned for a while by the Earle of Granard.

The best part of all, though, is that this illustious Lockheed has been returned to the US, 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.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Great Artiste

Back in August 2012, we featured a snapshot photo of B-29 Enola Gay, and today we have another of the Silverplate B-29s, The Great Artiste (serial 44-27353). This image is a contact proof that's been cut down, and was originally printed backwards (I've flipped it for use here).

The Great Artiste was named for bombardier Capt Kermit Beahan, who supposedly was quite skilled with the ladies, and with putting bombs on target. The nose art, though, was added to the plane after the Nagasaki mission. Of all the Project Silverplate B-29s, this one was the only one to directly participate in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. For the Hiroshima raid, The Great Artiste was the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft, and was flown by its normal crew, commanded by Maj. Charles Sweeney.

For the second nuke sortie, The Great Artiste was originally supposed to carry the bomb, but the mission was moved up two days to avoid some forecast bad weather, and the instrumentation from the first raid couldn't be removed in time. So, Sweeney swapped planes with Capt. Fred Bock, and Bock's Car, flown by Sweeney, dropped the weapon while The Great Ariste, flown by Bock, served once again as the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft. The primary target for this mission was the Japanese city of Kokura, but poor visibility from smoke was encountered over the target, and after three target runs, with fuel running low, the mission moved to its secondary target, Nagasaki.

After the war, The Great Artiste, like the other Silverplate B-29s, were relocated to Roswell, NM, where our photo was taken in November, 1945 (there's no indication from the inscription on the back of the photo who the young man was; the photo was acquired by the Archive in Albequerque NM). In July, 1946, the plane was used during the nuclear blast tests at Bikini atoll, and on September 8, 1949 it was used for a polar navigation training flight to the North Pole. On the return trip, the B-29 developed engine problems and a landing was attempted at Goose Bay, Labrador. The plane ran off the runway and was too heavily damaged to be salvaged, and was scrapped on-site a year later.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Batcat: Secret Connie in Camo

Today's photo is a large, rather faded color print of Lockheed EC-121R Constellation, 67-21486 (serial 1049A-4478), also known by its program name "Batcat", which was assigned to the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing.

With the combined cover of jungle, darkness of night, bad weather and traveling through neutral Laos, the North Vietnamese truck convoys traversing the Ho Chi Minh trail and penetrating into South Vietnam were nearly impossible to detect by the Americans. To overcome this obstacle, the highly classified IGLOO WHITE program, initially known as MUSCLE SHOALS and also known as "MacNamarra's Electronic Fence", was developed in 1967.

The idea was to create a long electronic barrier against NVA infiltration into the south. Long lines of small sensors (which looked and acted like oversized lawn darts) were dropped by OP-2E Neptunes and specially-equipped F-4 Phantoms, down through the jungle canopy, where they then stuck into the earth. There were a number of different types of sensors, from acoustic microphones to radio receivers to units that picked up the seismic signatures of trucks moving over the dirt roads. High overhead, an EC-121R Batcat from the 553rd would be orbiting, picking up the return signals from the sensors, and forwarding them on to the Infiltration Surveillance Center, operated by Task Force Alpha based at Nakhon Phanom Air Base in Thailand. Information gleened from this surveillance network would then be used to target strike aircraft.

The 553rd RW was stood up in 1967 to support IGLOO WHITE and was based at Korat AB, Thailand, and operated all 30 of the EC-121R BATCATS. The EC-121Rs were converted from Navy WV-2/EC-121K and EC-121P aircraft, both from in-service aircraft and planes repurposed on the assembly line (the airframe in our photo was originally a WV-2, BuNo 143204).

A Batcat mission flew with a crew of 17-19 and typically lasted 18 hours, which including 8-11 hours in orbit on station. There were 11 different orbits, all color-coded, and ranging from the Gulf of Tonkin to over Laos and Cambodia.

With the end of the winding down of the IGLOO WHITE program, the EC-121s were replaced by the optionally-manned, Beech 36-based UC-22 single-engine aircraft. Batcat 67-21486 was evidently transferred to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, also at Korat, for a short time before being sent to Davis-Monthan in Tucson (where our photo was taken), Arizona on 17 December 1970. The airframe was declared surplus on 18 May 1971 and was finally scrapped in May 1973.

Tip o' the hat to Brother Eric for giving me the photo!

Some pertinent links:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fits Like a Glove

Greetings, fellow aviation historians, the Blog is finally returning to (somewhat) active duty! For now, my posts won't be quite as frequent as they once were, but we're back up and running. And as you might expect, the first post back is something of a mystery....
This photo is an original Douglas Aircraft print (stamp on the back says it's from the El Segundo plant), and there's a hand-written notation that reads "Laminar Flow Airfoil Glove". The plane shown, Northrop A-17A serial 35-122, at some point was turned over to NACA for a laminar flow reseearch program, which was operated out of Langley.

Unfortunately, I could find very little information about the test program (and no other photos of the plane in this configuration), and there are only a few snipets of information about it on the web, one of which mentions that the small added propellers were intended to add airflow over the wing. The primary source for information on NACA's history of laminar flow research is the paper A History of Suction-Type Laminar-Flow Control with Emphasis on Flight Research. Written by pioneering researcher Albert Braslow (who has since, sadly, passed away), this paper makes no mention of tests using the A-17A. The paper, on page 3, implies that the first laminar-flow flight tests took place in 1941 and utilized a surplus B-18 bomber. Either Braslow was unaware of the use of the A-17A (improbable, in my view), or this particular part of the larger research effort yielded little or no data of note. Joe Baugher's database indicates that 35-122 was returned to the Army in August of 1943.

If anyone has additional information on the modifications, when the test program took place, and any data that resulted from it, I would very much like to hear from you!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A break...

Due to the need in "Real Life" to photographically document new aviation history being made, my time is limited and so this blog is going on hiatus till December. Blue skies, all!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Great Lakes in the Lake

Great Lakes 4-A-1 NC850K in the midst of an engine power run. It appears that
this was being performed by company personnel rather than after-market maintenance
crews, based on the logo on the back of the coveralls facing the camera (see below)
When you mention "Great Lakes" as an aircraft manufacturer, most people think of the Model 2-T-1 Sport Trainer that was introduced in 1929, and which has remained one of the favorite sport biplanes of all time, going in and out of production ever since (even now, another iteration of the company is trying to get the plane back into production). But the company built other airplanes back in its heyday, and one of the most obscure of these was the 1929 twin-engine 4-A-1 amphibian. Only three were built, and there is very little information available on them (for instance, at the time of this writing, a Google search came of with a grand total of zero photos of the 4-A-1).

Compare with the logo on the left.
The company was established in an old Martin plant in Cleveland, Ohio by president Col. Benjamin Castle. According to Aerofiles, the prototype, NC851K was powered by a pair of 115-hp Cirrus Hermes inline engines, and was severely underpowered and crashed on takeoff, while be flown by Holden C. Richardson, who was the Navy's first engineering test pilot. His presence suggests that Great Lakes was developing the 4-A-1 with hopes of marketing it to the Navy.

To solve the problem, the next aircraft, NC850K (the subject of our two photos), was equipped with two Wright J-6 Whirlwinds; Aerofiles describes these as 300-hp engines, but that would make them the 7-cylinder R-760 or 9-cylinder R-975, and these are clearly only five-cylider engines, which would make them R-540s, in the 165-hp to 175-hp range. So either what is shown in our photos is an interim re-engining, or the 300-hp claim is overstated.

The original company was a victim of the Great Depression, like so many other small aircraft manufacturers. While the 4-A-1 amphibian, for what ever reason, was not built in quantity, Great Lakes built 264 Sport Trainers during the short time they were in business, and subsequent companies using the same name have continued to build more.

Readers with additional information on the 4-A-1 are invited to comment below!



Friday, October 4, 2013

Mamer's Famous Trimotor

I'm not sure which town this photo was taken in, but something special must
have been going on, based on all the cars lined up!
Airplanes can be a lot like celebrities...the more famous they are, the more photographs exist, floating around in collections and museums, not to mention the internet. The few of the Ford Trimotors that have survived the years and gone on to post-restoration careers tend to fit into this category, and photos of a few important airframes are very common - at least modern photos. Finding original shots of such aircraft from before they came famous is another matter entirely. Such is the case with the plane in today's featured photo, Ford 4-AT-E serial number 55, registration NC9612, which is shown flying with its original owner, Mamer Flying Service.

This Ford has one of the most colorful histories of any surviving Trimotor, and in January 2009 was sold at a highly publicized auction to auto collector Ron Pratte and his Collectible Aircraft LLC for $1.1 million, and it is now kept in Chandler AZ. (The auction company's website has a lot of recent photos of NC9612, and is well worth checking out. Incidently, at the same auction, Pratte bought Ford Thunderbird #1 for a cool $600K)

Nick Mamer had been a WWI pilot and served with distinction, downing three German Fokkers at Dun sut Meuse; during the battle of Argonne, he himself was shot down, surviving the inflight fire and crash due to his skillful airmanship. The French awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his service. After the war, Lt Mamer continued flying and went on to barnstorm around the Pacific Northwest. He tried his hand at air racing, and took third in the 1927 New York-Spokane Air Derby. He then started the Mamer Flying Service, providing flight instruction and charter service as well as forest fire spotting for the Forest Service. Mamer gained a bit of fame during August 1929 by flying, along with Art Walker, non-stop for five days, covering more than 7,200 miles in a Buhl while periodically being aerially refueled. 

MAT logo from this website.
On March 30, 1929, Mamer Flying Service took delivery of the first of two brand new Ford Trimotors, NC9612 and named it West Wind (the second, 4-AT-65, NC8403, followed that July). A year earlier, Nick had started scheduled airline service between Spokane and Portland under the name Mamer Air Transport, flying Buhl Air Sedans. Flights from Spokane to the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, and when the two Trimotors came online, he added service to Seattle, now advertising MAT as a "transcontinental line". Mamer had determined to establish airline service in the Pacific Northwest despite the fact that the US Postal Service had declined to award any Contract Air Mail routes. Without those routes, though, it was tough to make enough revenue during the Great Depression to stay in business.

When Northwest received a CAM route from the Twin Cities to Billings, MAT ceased offering service east of Spokane, and soon after stopped serving Portland. When Northwest started serving Spokane in 1933, Nick gave up on MAT, sold its assets to Northwest, and hired on as a pilot with them. On January 10, 1938, Nick Mamer was flying a Northwest Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra when it crashed after structural failure of the tail due to flutter, killing all aboard.

Meanwhile, in 1936, after MAT went out of business, NC9612 was passed from owner to owner for several years until it was bought in August 1940 by Charles Knox and Robert Tyce, who together owned K-T Flying Service, based in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Trimotor was at Pearl Harbor during the surprise Japanese attack, and though it was shot at, the venerable plane came through with only minor damage from a few bullet holes, which were quickly repaired. In 1945, it was shipped back to the mainland and put into storage until 1949. 

With the 20th anniversary of TWA, the carrier leased NC9612 and painted it in TWA and TAT markings and sent it on a cross-country promotional tour, resulting in thousands of people shooting snapshots of the famous Trimotor. The celebrations over, the plane was converted in 1952 into an agricultural sprayer, then in 1957, the famed Johnson Flying Service of Missoula MT turned the plane into a fire-fighting air tanker, and it spent the next decade traveling across the country from fire to fire. 

With newer and more capable air tankers available, the time of the Trimotor was over, and in 1969 it was purchased by Korean War ace Dolph Overton III, restored to pristine condition as part of Overton's Wings and Wheels collection, and was for a time put on display at the Virginia Air Museum.

The Barrett-Jackson auction listing for the aircraft includes this description of the restoration effort: "This was a no concession, no compromise restoration in which the airframe was reworked, a new interior installed and the exterior completely re-skinned, with most work being performed under the supervision of Master Restorer Bob Woods of Woods Aviation in Goldsboro, NC. The wings were reworked and re-skinned by expert craftsman Maurice Hovious of Hov-Aire in Vicksburg, Michigan. The landing gear, including the unique Johnson bar braking system, is complete and original. The original straight-laced wire wheels have tires that were re-sculpted to replicate the correct profile and tread pattern of the period. The wood paneling of the interior has been skillfully re-created. There are no modern avionics or communications gear - just what came with the plane when it was delivered from the Ford factory in January of 1929. Exhaustive efforts were made to ensure originality in every detail with assistance from Tim O'Callaghan of the Henry Ford Museum and American Aircraft Historian Bill Larkins, author of The Ford Tri-Motor book."

On the plane's last flight as part of the Overton collection, it was flown to the auction site by legendary pilot Jimmy Leeward, who was on the podium as the gavel fell and the auctioneer declared the plane "sold".

An extensive collection of photos of NC9612, both modern and vintage, can be found here.

As the plane was prepared for auction by the Overton Family Trust, this homepage for the plane was set up.