Friday, July 31, 2015

Flight of the Pterodactyl

Photographs are fragile things, and some of the ones I come across have almost succumbed to age and elements. It's always a joy to find a unique one and digitize before it completely crumbles to dust, and such is the case with this photo, of the very unique 1932 Westland-Hill Pterodactyl Mark V.

A lot of people died in stall-spin-crash accidents in the early decades of aviation, making the idea of a safe, stall-proof airplane something many inventors strove for. (It still is a goal today - for instance, that's the primary reason Burt Rutan pursued his early canard designs). British inventor Captain Geoffery T. R. Hill believed that the answer lay in the concept of a flying wing, as opposed to the more traditional aircraft configuration. Hill was, no doubt, influenced by the earlier development of the Dunne flying wings, which sought the same safety goals, and which ultimately led to a Curtiss attempt at developing a safe "everyman's" airplane in 1930 (See our April blog post The Birth of the American Flying Wing).

Hill began small, and called his series of aircraft the Pterodactyl. The first one was initially tested as a glider in 1926, and then modified to incorporate a 30 hp engine. The British Air Ministry was suitably impressed, and offered to fund the development, as long as Hill worked through Westland Aircraft, where he then hired on. Subsequent versions, beginning with the Westland-Hill Pterodactyl Mark I, refined the concept through the beginning of the 1930s, but all were relatively small, low-powered aircraft. 

This all changed with the Mark V. The Air Ministry specified a fighter plane based on the concept, to be powered by a huge (given the size and weight of the plane) 600 hp Rolls Royce V-12 Goshawk engine. The tailless design allowed for a defensive machine gun turret to be mounted behind the pilot (missing from this photo), and there were plans to build a complementary version with a pusher prop and a turret in the nose.

Unlike the previous models in the Pterodactyl series, the Mark V included a stubby, straight sesquiplane lower wing. Roll and pitch control was through elevons and yaw control was through wingtip fins, each of which could only move outward. Initially, the fins were almost all rudder, but this design evolved to include a lower fixed fin.

The contract was awarded by the Air Ministry in 1931 with serial number K2770 being assigned to the project, and work started in 1932. By fall of that year, the plane was put through its paces in taxi tests and during one of these, the Pterodactyl hit a bump in the turf which caused the left wing to crumple due to a miscalculation in the structural stress analysis. By the time the wing structure was redesigned, another sixteen months had gone by, and the plane finally took its maiden flight in May, 1934.

The Mark V failed to impress the Air Ministry, however. It suffered from excessive pitch sensitivity inherent in flying wing designs, and was not nearly as fast as had been expected, turning in a top speed of only 165 mph. The RAF's Hawker Hart light bomber was a good 20 mph faster than this supposed fighter. The nose and engine were then extended forward in order to try to solve the pitching issues, and additional vertical fences were added to the bottom of the wings. The problems continued, however, and work on the Mark V was finally cancelled, after which plans for larger versions, including a twin-engine sea plane and a four-engined airliner capable of transatlantic flights, were abandoned.

YouTube has some footage of the earlier Mark 1A, which is the only plane of the Pterodactyl to survive, now preserved in London's Science Museum.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Remembering the Marshall Mars

I have to confess, I’m a sucker for flying boats, and especially really big ones. So when my brother showed up with these three original US Navy 8x10 prints of the Marshall Mars from 1948, I was ecstatic. As the Navy’s largest flying boats, with two that have survived into the 21st Century, the Mars story is one that’s been well-told, but even so, I figured these three photos were worthy of a post, especially since none of them show up in a Google image search.

This official US Navy photo is dated May 26, 1948 and per the handwritten notation on the back, shows "Refloating the Mars after engine change".

At the time they were built, the Martin Mars were the world’s largest production aircraft, and they continued to hold that title until the first flight of the Boeing 747. The Navy had originally ordered the type as an armed patrol bomber three years before America was drawn into WWII, but when war materialized, the Admirals realized that their needs in the Pacific were different - there just wasn’t the demand for a big, slow bomber, but there was a lot of logistics supplies to move over a lot of wide ocean. In addition, with the constant threat of U-Boats in the Atlantic, planners were intrigued by the idea of a large cargo plane that would be immune to German torpedoes.

Another US Navy photo, with the same date and caption as the one above.

The prototype XPB2Y-1R Mars, dubbed The Old Lady, had been delivered about a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but little was done quickly for the follow-on production order. When it finally came, it was for twenty aircraft configured to haul large amounts of cargo and troops across the Pacific, and the first production JRM-1 Mars wasn’t delivered until July 27, 1945, a month and a half before VJ Day (this was the first Hawaii Mars; she sank in the Chesapeake Bay during a landing accident only two weeks after delivery).

This official US Navy photo is dated May 25, 1948 and depicts "Beaching the Marshall Mars".

The Archive also has a couple small snapshots showing a Mars
at Pearl Harbor, but unfortunately these small prints are not
clear enough to tell which Mars is seen.

With the war over, the Navy cancelled most of the order. Six planes had been built, with several more in various stages of production. Unlike other Navy aircraft, the Mars were treated more like ships, and were given individual names, after various Pacific islands. The Marshall Mars (BuNo 76822) was the fourth production bird by serial number, but the second one delivered when it arrived in early February 1946, but would only serve for just over four years. Assigned to squadron VR-2 and based at Naval Air Station Alameda in California, the Marshall Mars set a new world record for payload lifted on her second flight, carrying 27,427 pounds from California to Hawaii (the previous record was held by the prototype, The Old Lady; it would later be broken by the last aircraft delivered, the Caroline Mars).

Another snapshot from Pearl Harbor, again not clear enough
to tell which Mars is shown.
While building the JRM Mars, Martin also considered the idea of offering a derivative model as a civilian airliner, which would have been powered by the larger R-4360 Wasp Major engines, the most powerful production piston engines built. Martin went so far as to order the long-lead-time components for the first airliner, including the engines. But the demand for large airliners simply didn't materialize after the war, and when Martin delivered the Caroline in 1948, they used the R-4360s, and the plane was designated a JRM-2. The bigger engines allowed for heavier loads to be carried farther, which pleased the Navy, and so shortly thereafter, the other JRM-1s were upgraded with the Wasp Majors as JRM-3s. I have not found a specific date for when this was accomplished on the Marshall Mars, but since our three photos are dated May 25 and 26, 1948, and the occasion for the operation shown was an "engine change", it's entirely possible that this is when the more powerful engines were installed.

On April 5, 1950 the Marshall was flying near Oahu when a fire broke out in one of the engines. On-board fire suppression systems did little to stem it, and the crew set down in Ke’ehi Lagoon, just off of Oahu, and then abandoned ship. The fire continued to spread until it reached one of the fuel tanks, which then exploded in rather dramatic fashion, and the airframe broke apart and sank.

The nose of the Marshall Mars as it looked in December 2004.
Courtesy NOAA/HURL
The Marshall Mars was rediscovered in 2004 by a joint survey team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), University of Hawaii and the National Park Service who set out to document various ocean-floor wreck sites off of Oahu, near the final resting spot of a Japanese midget sub which had been rediscovered in 2002.

Pieces of the Marshall Mars were first spotted in August, 2004, and then early the following December, over a two-day period, archeologists from the joint team explored various wreck sites using two submersibles from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL; operated jointly by UofH and NOAA), the Pices IV and Pices V, documenting the sites’ location and condition and creating an inventory of surviving artifacts.

Courtesy NOAA/HURL
The Marshall Mars was found at a depth of about 1,400 feet, and although five and a half decades has led to a lot of marine creatures claiming the old plane as home, the name Marshall could still clearly be read on the nose section, which rests inverted on the ocean floor. The site, along with other similar flying boat wreck sites, are considered protected cultural resources under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

No post about the Mars would be complete, of course, without at least mentioning the current state of affairs with the two surviving Mars airframes, Hawaii Mars II and Philippine Mars, and a couple of fabulous photos of the former.

While not vintage photos, these two images, courtesy of my friend and fellow Antelope Valley aviation photographer Jim Mumaw, are destined to become classics. Jim traveled to Southern California’s Lake Elsinore in 2007 where the Hawaii was being used to fight a series of severe wildfires burning in the San Diego area, and he found that the Coulson crew had to use just about every foot of the lake for their operations, necessitating this rather dramatic approach over a hill to the edge of the water.

Copyright 2007 by Jim Mumaw, used with kind permission

Now, after a career as firefighting air tankers in Canada, a career which lasted much longer than their original one, time and technology have caught up with the two boats, and owner The Coulson Group has retired them from active service. One, the Philippine Mars, was destined for the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola and has been beautifully repainted in her original US Navy blue livery.

Copyright 2007 by Jim Mumaw, used with kind permission
The fate of the other, the Hawaii was a bit more uncertain (at the time of this writing, a spate of wildfires has made it possible to bring the Hawaii out of retirement, and Coulson has secured a contract for its operation from the Provincial government), but since their contribution to Canada has been so long and so significant, there is a lot of interest in making sure she ends up in a Canadian museum. This past May, politics reared its ugly head when Canadian Heritage Minister Shelley Glover put the brakes on the transfer of the Philippine to the Florida museum, in order to ensure that the Hawaii would be staying in Canada. As of this writing, it doesn’t appear that the impasse has been stay tuned.

More information and resources

  • A well-filmed recent documentary:
  • A Coulson-produced promo video:
  • A video of a water-drop demo and flyby:

Friday, June 19, 2015

From Air to Wax: Remembering Logan Fleming

Ed Note: Readers of Vintage Air may have, from time to time, noted that the Archive enlists the assistance of my brother and fellow historian Eric Radecki to dig up and procure aviation related antiques and photographs – it helps that he and his wife own the Vonrad Trading Post, an antiques and collectables business, with locations both online and traditional a “brick and mortar” affair at the Hanford Antique Emporium located in Hanford California. Today's story is not only resourced by Eric, but for the first time written by him as well.

Every collector, dealer, historian, or archivist’s dream is to stumble across a treasure trove or horde of items belonging to one single person, and even better when that person can be identified or recognized by the public. While obscure stories and people are always interesting to dig up and research, it is truly fascinating to find something previously unknown which belonged to a public or notable figure. Such is the case with today’s post.

Fleming's original “Stateside” dog tags, private purchase 
sterling silver ID bracelet, and ID fob from Long Beach AAF.  
This trove was found in a typical Army-issue WWII footlocker purchased at the Long Beach antiques show, in the shadow of the old McDonnell Douglas hangar, which is rather ironic, as you'll see in a minute. Contained inside was the discarded bits and pieces of a US Army Air Force Sergeant who served in WWII. At first, the name Logan Mills Fleming didn't mean anything to me, and was merely another long forgotten name from a different time. Many pieces of uniforms, insignia and paperwork were stuffed into the footlocker, and of course, photographs. While not all too interesting or historic in nature, these were filed away as the rest of the contents were inventoried.

What really caught my attention and triggered this story, however, were a few rather high-quality hand drawn cartoons, the kind that you don't see anymore, the kind that graced the wartime pages of such magazines as Yank, Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as many other publications of the time. These cartoons were pen and ink on paper and looked to be mostly unfinished. There was even a rejection letter from Yank Magazine for what I can only assume to be a cartoon submitted to the editors for consideration. The quality of the cartoons in the trove and the rejection letter led to a cursory internet search of Logan Fleming, to see if his cartoons had ever actually been published.
An original, unpublished Fleming cartoon
Short and sweet rejection letter!
As it turned out, Fleming was not to be a cartoonist, and that part of his brilliant artistic career may have faded, but following the war years with (presumably) the use of the GI Bill, Logan attended the short lived Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles, which was open from 1945 to 1953. A commercial artist's living was made by Logan as he found employment with Pacific Outdoor Advertising, one of the Los Angeles area's largest billboard advertising firms at the time. In 1962 Fleming sought out a new career as art director and sculptor/designer for the now-defunct (but nevertheless famous) Movieland Wax Museum, located just north of Knotts Berry Farm on Beach Avenue in Buena Park California. The Wax museum closed on October 31, 2005 after 43 years and over 10 million visitors. Logan had worked the wax for over twenty years sculpting countless celebrity likenesses, and many of his works live on today at other Wax museums and private collections, since most of the inventory was sold at auction in 2006.

Members of the 556th AAF Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command pose for a group photo with C-47B 43-16371 (c/n 20837), presumably at Long Beach AAF. Logan standing to the right of the propeller blade wearing an A-2 flight jacket and brimmed visor cap. Of interest is the woman, presumably a squadron civilian secretary as she is not wearing a Woman's Service Corps uniform.

US Army Air Force C-47 B s/n 43-16371, presumably taken at 
Long Beach Army Air Field circa 1945. This aircraft shows the 
Military Air Transport insignia on its nose and an unknown 
crewman posing for a “Kilroy” impersonation.  The C-47 was 
involved in a couple of postwar indications of incidents, one on 
October 18, 1952 and another on Jun 22, 1953 at White River 
Junction , VT flown by Nathaniel H. Lebish, while based at 
Mitchell AFB, NY   
Logan was born at Seaside Hospital in Long Beach, CA on September 25 1923 to Albert and Ethel Fleming, and on January 18, 1943 he joined the US Army Air Force and served until February, 8 1946, when he was separated at Camp Beale, CA. Fleming served as a Flight Traffic Clerk with the Military Air Transport Command. He was assigned to the 556th AAF Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command, Long Beach Army Air Field.

According to his Army separation Qualification Record, his duty description was: “Made up manifests for passengers, worked stop stick to arrive at proper weight and balance of plane, filled out weight and balance form, kept track of priority of cargo, acted as steward to passengers in flight, also acted as alert crew to airplane at times, filled out log of airplane, and ties down cargo." In addition, he also spent time working at Douglas Aircraft's Long Beach plant where he produced blue prints, and as well worked on the B-17 final assembly line, installing oxygen equipment. It seems that while Fleming was destined to never leave the US during the war, his service, along with many other veterans who never deployed to foreign shores, was vital to the war effort.

Flemming passed away in December, 2011 in Long Beach at the well-lived age of 88. He was survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren. If any family members happen upon this blog post, drop us a line via the comments below...we'd love to hear more about the life of Logan. It seems quite fitting that this man was born and died in Long Beach, served at Long Beach AAF and worked in the Douglas Factory. And his trunk full of memories was rescued in Long Beach as well. It certainly is a small world, sometimes!

More info and reading about Logan Fleming:

  • A biography written by Suzan Sumner Ferry entitled The Day the Stars Stood Still on Logan Flemings life and accomplishments as a wax artist is available on Amazon.
  • A good video outlining Logan's work at the Museum can be found here on YouTube.
  • A general documentary on the Museum is here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Teenie Weenies and their Silver Trimotor Adventure

It's not everyday that the world of vintage children's books, Sunday comics and aviation history collide, but today, the 101st anniversary of the debut of the Teenie Weenies, is one such day.

The Teenie Weenies are all-but-forgotten in busy 21st century America, where Facebook memes have replaced Sunday morning newspaper comics as childhood entertainment fare. But 75 years ago, they were household names, everyone knew the characters, and children all over America looked forward to the next Sunday morning comic adventure of these miniature people who lived in a town built out of old food containers safely hidden under a rose bush in the garden.

Created in 1914 (they made their publishing debut on June 14th of that year in the Chicago Tribune) by children's writer and illustrator William Donahey, the adventures of the Teenie Weenies populated kids' books, school readers and of course the Sunday comics until Donahey's passing in 1970. In 1924, though, the Tribune discontinued the comic series for a time, and with Donahey still needing to make a living, and with their popularity and the nature of their architecture, it was a natural progression for him to license the characters for commercial promotions and advertising.
One of the companies to quickly take advantage of the opportunity was Reid, Murdoch and Company, owners of the Monarch Foods brand. Many of the "buildings" in the Teenie Weenies' town were recycled food containers, so it was a perfect branding opportunity for Monarch Foods - if a bunch of delightful, family-friendly miniature people are going to make a soup can their new home, why shouldn't it be a Monarch soup can?

Meanwhile, Monarch's ad men, ever in the quest of building brand recognition and popularity, realized that the best way to build brand recognition was to find a way to bring the people to you, and in the process expose them to the wonders of your product line. The trick, then, was to attract the people in droves. And what better way than with an airplane? A year earlier, Lindbergh had electrified America with his trans-Atlantic flight, and his subsequent national tour had drawn throngs of people out to the local airfield (or merely farmer's field) to see his plane. Likewise, shows like the Inman Brothers' Flying Circus attracted huge crowds of people. The airplane was the perfect magnet to draw the people in to hear how wonderful Monarch's food line was.

So Reid, Murdoch & Co. picked up the 48th Ford 4-AT Tri-Motor (NC-7863) off of the assembly line, and named it the Independence, in a nod to all the independent grocery stores in the midwest that Monarch distributed to. Instead of the normal plush passenger interior, they built a custom "showroom" where their canned and packaged foods were neatly lined up for display (presumably they were secured in place for flight ops!). When the plane would arrive in a town, a wooden platform would be set up next to the fuselage so that the curious could peer in through the cabin windows at the food.

With the popularity of the comic and the success of Monarch's magazine advertisement campaign, it was a natural extension to make sure that a couple of live Teenie Weenie characters went along on some of the flights as ambassadors. Two characters, the General (who was the leader of the tiny village, and thus the natural spokesman to sell the public on the wonders of Monarch's foods) and the Police Officer (the symbol of trust and protection), were played by two children in costume, and were also featured in a number of Monarch publicity photos with the Ford, including our old 8x10 press print. The children sometimes actually traveled with the Ford as it visited towns large and small. Given the dates when this took place, it's possible that these two little boys are still around, although they'd likely be in their 80s. If anyone knows anything about who they were and their story, please share via the comments section below!

The advertising gimmick didn't survive the Great Depression, though, and in 1931 Reid, Murdoch & Co. sold the Ford to a gentleman named Vernon Jones, who based it in San Diego. On April 28, 1935, the plane was wrecked in Gadsden, Alabama, and parts were salvaged and used on other Tri-motors.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Newbie Pilots of Randolph Field

So there I was with my brother, Eric, in a Fresno antique store and saw this photo, a framed vintaged 8x10. I ditched the frame and bought the print, and since Eric's been bugging me to update this blog, I thought this would be an appropriate photo. Not much of a back-story to tell, just a cool lineup of North American BT-9B primary trainers at Randolph Field, Texas. Plane in the foreground is 37-151.

Did you fly BT-9s during your training days? I'd love to hear from you and learn your story! Comment below or email me at airphotoservices at gmail dot com.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

High-Flying Cameraship

NC858E was originally built as a standard five-place Vega 2, in May 1929. Lockheed kept the plane in-house for almost a year and a half, then sold it in September 1939 to Van de Mark Flying Service of Lockport, NY. Lt. Allen W. Van de Mark was prone topublicity stunts, including one with the local newspaper, the Union Sun & Journal, in which he would deliver bundles of newspapers by plane to the paperboys who’d then deliver them around their neighborhoods. Each boy was instructed to lay out a bedsheet in a nearby field, and Van de Mark would fly over and drop the papers. It’s unclear, though, whether this stunt was performed in his Ryan B-1 Brougham or in the Vega.

Van de Mark had the plane modified at Lockheed into a seven-place 5B, which replaced the Wright Whirlwind J6 with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp, giving it a 50% increase in horsepower. It was later upgraded a step further to a 5C.

On November 11, 1935 Van de Mark sold the Vega to Columbia Airways of Bloomsburg PA. Though a relatively small town, Bloomsburg was a hubbub of aviation activity, centered around the Bloomsburg Flying Club. In June, 1934, the club saw opportunity in their hobby, and organized themselves into Columbia Airways, providing twice-weekly service from Bloomsburg to Philadelphia. Their service proved popular, and they expanded to eleven destinations, including Pittsburgh and New York. The airline few their Vega for a year and a half, selling it (or possibly trading it) to Beech Aircraft in April 1937.

Beech flipped it the next month to Standard Aerial Surveys, in whose colors our photo shows the plane. Standard was established by George J. DeGarmo, Jr., who was a pioneer in developing aerial photography and photogrammetric engineering techniques. When WWII broke out, DeGarmo joined the Navy, and the service utilized his expertise. DeGarmo developed the syllabus used for the first aerial photography course given to Navy cadets, and commanded an aerial survey squadron based in the Pacific, earning an Air Medal for his efforts. When the Korean conflict broke out, he was back, again commanding an aerial photography squadron. Standard was based at Hackensack, New Jersey until 1938, when the company moved to Newark. As our photo has “Newark” including in the company name painted on the side, it’s a safe bet to assume that it was taken after 1938.

The Vega was modified yet again to accommodate large-format survey cameras looking down through a port in the belly. In addition, DeGarmo had the engine modified with a 10:1 supercharger, which allowed the plane to operate quite well at altitudes as high as 26,000 feet (they didn’t bother with a cabin heater, however, and pilot and cameraman had use arctic-style cold-weather suits. The Vega was used primarily for aerial mapping, including producing the first complete set of aerial photographs of the State of Rhode Island in 1939. Before this, all maps of the state relied on surveys performed in the mid-1800s.

Standard kept the plane busy until selling it off in 1943 to well-known broker Charlie Babb. It then drifted through several different owners until being picked up by pilot-adventurer Jimmy Angel in 1944. By this time in his life, Angel was spending most of his time in South America, looking for gold, and using planes to do so. Angel was credited by the media in “discovering” Angel Falls, the highest waterfalls in the world, though he was far from being the first to discover them...they were well-known to locals for years.

Angel and partner Jack Baker took the Vega to Nicaragua, where it was re-registered AN-ABL. It’s uncertain if they used the mods incorporated by Standard for photo surveys for their search for gold, or just used the plane for transport. The end came on February 19, 1945 when the plane was wrecked, and was subsequently written off.

Note: This article was developed from a number of sources, but the chief source is the extensive article at the D-M Register website on this plane. The site includes several technical articles on Standard and their photogrammetric techiques.

A Stout Ford

The history of Bill Stout's business efforts are deeply interwoven with those of Henry and Edsel Ford, which is reflected in today's photo of this Stout Airways Ford Trimotor.

Inscribed on the back: Mr. Jos. Andrews, Chicago, 8-1929.

Stout Air Services, established by William Stout in 1925, operated under a number of names, including the Detroit-Grand Rapids Airline and Detroit-Cleveland Airline as well as Stout Airways, Bill Stout originally designed the "Air Pullman", the forerunner to the Ford Trimotor, and then sold his aircraft manufacturing operation to Ford, while retaining his airline operation. And it shouldn't be confused with the Ford Air Transport Services, Ford's own airline, also established in 1925 and which started off flying Stout-built planes. Stout carried passengers, while Ford carried Ford car parts (at first) and then airmail starting in 1926. In 1928, Stout bought Ford's airmail contracts (CAM-6, Detroit-Cleveland and CAM-7, Detroit-Chicago).

On April 29, 1929, Bill Stout cashed out, selling the line to United Aircraft and Transport Corp, who was going around the country gobbling up small carriers left and right. United continued operating the service under the Stout brand, however. In September 1930, as part of the big corporate shell game that United was playing, another carrier they'd just purchased, National Air Transport "bought" the Stout division from the parent company. A year later, all these little airlines were rolled up into the new United Airlines.

Because this photo doesn't show the plane's registration number, it's hard to know which plane it is, as Stout operated at least six 4-AT Trimotors (as well as several later 5-ATs, but this photo shows the 4-AT windshield configuration). According to Larkin's The Ford Trimotor, the planes were:

  • 4-AT-5, NC-1879, which carried Stout fleet tail number 3. It operate from 6/23/27 to 5/12/31.
  • 4-AT-8, NC-880, tail #6, from 2/18/28 until it crashed on 10/13/28 at Detroit.
  • 4-AT-9, NC-1076, from 10/6/27 to 1/16/29 when it crashed near Toledo, OH.
  • 4-AT-18, NC-4806, from 5/10/28 to 11/7/30.
  • 4-AT-28, NC-6892, from 8/17/28 to 11/7/30.
  • 4-AT-34, NC-7120, tail #9, from 9/14/28 to /1/13/31
Since 4-AT-8 and -9 both crashed before our photo was taken, the plane shown is either 4-AT-5, -18, -28 or -34.