Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Norwegian Northrop

A Northrop N-3PB, probably airframe 304, sits on the shore of Lake Elsinore
in Southern California, where the type was flight tested, in this official Northrop
photograph (the particular copy in our archive is a film positive). Even though the
design was quickly made obsolete by technological advances, its clean lines
and overpowered engine made it a favorite of crews and fans alike.
The Northrop N-3PB was a seaplane derivative of the Northrop A-17 Nomad (itself having roots in the Northrop Gamma line). With the threat of German expansionism on the horizon, Norway was scrambling in the late 1930s to moderize its military, and it was decided that a float-equipped coastal reconnaissance aircraft was one element that was needed.

Northrop built 24 of the aircraft for Norway, which carried internal airframe designations 301 to 324, but world events and Nazi troops overtook the delivery schedule, and there wasn't a Norway left. With the Norwegian government-in-exile established in England, a training base for Norwegian pilots who had escaped ahead of the Nazi invasion was set up in Canada, and became known as "Little Norway".

When the N-3PBs were ready for delivery, the aircraft were put under the control of the UK's Royal Air Force's Coastal Command and six were stationed at Little Norway in Canada, and 18 of the "Northrops", as they were called by the Norwegian crews, were shipped to Iceland, and based at Badueyri, Reykjarvik and Akueyri. The aircraft in Iceland were manned by Norwegian pilots as a part of RAF 330(N) squadron.

Ten of the aircraft were lost to accidents in Iceland, all but one while trying to land in rough seas. An additional four crashed in training accidents in Canada.

Only two aircraft, airframes 306 and 322, finally made it to Norway after the end of WWII, and one was scrapped in 1949 and the other in 1956, after being used as a training device for Norwegian aircraft mechanics.

The whereabouts of only two N-3PBs are known. One was a wreck that was salvaged from the Thjorsa River in Iceland. It crashed in 1943 and was recovered in 1979 and transported back "home" to Northrop's Hawthorne plant, where employee volunteers worked to meticulously restore the aircraft. After a rollout ceremony at Northrop on November 10, 1980, the aircraft was first displayed at the San Diego Air & Space Museum before being transported to Norway, where it is on permanent display at the Gardermoen Airport as a part of the Forsvarets Flysamlingen (Aircraft Collection of the Norwegian Armed Forces).

A second one, believed to be airframe 317, has been found in the water about a half mile off the end of one of Reykjavik's runways. Although it has not yet been salvaged, plans are being considered.

(An alternate view of the same aircraft in our featured photo, taken on the same day, can be seen here, as the 6th image down the list.)

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