Friday, April 27, 2012

Lightnings After the Dance

Handwritten on the back of this small snapshot is "1946, Memphis Tenn."
During World War II, over 10,000 P-38 Lightnings were produced by Lockheed, and was the only US fighter that remained in continuous production throughout the entire duration of America's participation in the conflict. But as soon as hostilities ceased, the Army Air Corps had a huge number of surplus aircraft on its hands, ones that were quickly made obsolete by the new-fangled jets. The last P-38 was retired from US military service in 1949, and some were transferred to friendly foreign governments, some were sold on the civilian market and used as air racers, but most were scrapped to recover the aluminum.

Today's post features two photos that came from unrelated sources, but both of which show P-38s in 1946. The first shows a plane at a Memphis open house. In the background can also be seen a C-46, B-24 and C-54.

A mix of P-38s and B-24s at a scrapyard in Ontario (presumably Calif.).
The second shows what became of so many of the machines that brought America and her allies victory. The caption written on the back reads, "From atop the Ford, scene at Ontario, May '46." The P-38 in the foreground is tail 213377, which makes this one of 548 Block 10 P-38Gs that were built.

It's scenes like this that make me extra thankful that at least a handful of these old vets were save and still fly!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Celebrating 50 Years of Blackbirds

This week, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the first of the Blackbird family of aircraft, Lockheed A-12 serial 60-6924. Because it was designed as a spy plane for the CIA, the A-12 stayed secret - as did its first flight - for many years. As far as the public knew back then, it was the YF-12A interceptor version that was the new and exciting program, and so the first media photos of a Blackbird were of the fighter. The Archive owns four original AP wire photos, shown here.

SHOW - The Air Force's speedy new interceptor, the YF12A, flashes across
Edwards Air Force base, Calif., today in a low-level pass during the first public
demonstration of the plane. The plane was flown at low speeds, in contrast to its
better than 2000-miles-per-hour capability.
The impetus for the A-12 program, the “parent” project for the later YF-12A and SR-71 programs, came from the inability to make the Lockheed U-2 a more stealthy aircraft. Lockheed instead started a series of design proposals for the CIA that would result in a reconnaissance aircraft that would fly higher, farther, faster and, most importantly, more invisible. As the U-2 had carried the internal code name “Angel”, the successor program was known as “Archangel”, and iterations of the design were then numbered A-1, A-2, through A-11. The design was in competition with one proposed by Convair known as Kingfish (or simply Fish), which showed a smaller radar cross section. In response, Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson tweaked the design one more time, resulting in the A-12, and the designation was carried over to use by the customer, who gave the project the codename Oxcart.

UNVEILED - Air Force technicians prepare the 2000-mile-an-hour YF12A
interceptor for a flight today during the top secret plane's first public
appearance. Officers, without revealing the maximum speed and range, said
the plane is many times superior to current interceptors such as the F106.
The first A-12, 60-6924, was trucked from Burbank to Groom Lake and had three different maiden flights. The first, on April 24, 1962, occurred during a high speed taxi test when pilot Lou Schalk inadvertently became airborne for a few seconds. The "real" first flight took place two days later, April 26th, when the aircraft was flown for about 33 minutes; because of the unproven nature of the design, speeds were kept under 300 knots. This was followed by a 59-minute flight on April 30th which was witnessed by a delegation of CIA and USAF officials, and became known as the plane's first "official" flight.

SECRET INTERCEPTOR - The top secret YF12A interceptor, capable of
flying three times the speed of sound (over 2000 m.p.h.), stands on a ramp
at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., today in its first public appearance. The
plane was called the A-11 when President Johnson first disclosed its
existence last Feb. 29.
With the cancellation of the XF-108 program in 1950, Lockheed convinced the USAF that a fighter variant of the A-12 would be an economical alternative for a high-speed bomber interceptor, since the majority of the design and development work was already paid for by the CIA. The Air Force bit, and the 7th, 8th and 9th A-12 production slots were converted to the new version, then called the AF-12 (and code named Kedlock), and later YF-12A. The first YF-12A flight took place on August 7, 1963. Only three were built.

On February 29, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the existence of the program to the world, but it was done with a certain amount of subterfuge. He said, "The United States has successfully developed an advanced experimental jet aircraft, the A-11, which has been tested in sustained flight at more than 2,000 miles per hour and at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet. The performance of the A-11 far exceeds that of any other aircraft in the world today. The development of this aircraft has been made possible by major advances in aircraft technology of great significance for both military and commercial applications. Several A-11 aircraft are now being flight tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The existence of this program is being disclosed today to permit the orderly exploitation of this advanced technology in our military and commercial program." Later in his remarks, Johnson said, "the A-11 aircraft now at Edwards Air Force Base are undergoing extensive tests to determine their capabilities as long- range interceptors."

PUNCH - Newsmen are dwarfed by by [sic] the Air Force's new YF12A
interceptor, a javelin-like bomber killer designed to speed at more than
2,000 miles an hour, as it was unveiled at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.,
yesterday. The plane had been announced by President Johnson last
February - it was then known as the A-11. It carries a 12-foot rocket that
can be armed with conventional or nuclear warhead.
Notice that he called it an "A-11"! There are two schools of thought as to why Johnson said this. The first claims that the use of the earlier Lockheed development model number was deliberate, in order to preserve the secrecy of the A-12 designation. The second says that the written text of the speech used the acronym AMI (for Advanced Manned Interceptor), and that Johnson mis-read it as A11, just as he later accidentally said SR-71 when the text said RS-71.

While Oxcart would continue in secrecy, the YF-12A test program would be done with a certain amount of media openness, which brought the benefit that if someone happen to spot an A-12, it could just be attributed to the YF-12A program. Also, at the time of Johnson's announcement, there actually were no YF-12As at Edwards, and the timing of the announcement actually caught the program folks a bit off guard. Two aircraft were then hastily flown to EDW, and according to local lore, the aircraft were shoved into the hangar so quickly after landing that the residual radiant heat set off the hangar's fire protection sprinklers.

Then five months later, on September 30, 1964, the media was invited out to Edwards to watch a YF-12A fly as well as to see one up close, and the four AP shots were taken on this visit. While the wirephoto of the low pass isn't clear enough to distinguish the tail number, the display aircraft was the last YF-12A built, 60-6936; this plane was lost on June 24, 1971 due to an inflight fire. Both crewmen ejected safely near Edwards.

If you want further information on the history of the Blackbird program, check out this amazingly detailed timeline PDF.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Invaders and Hornets

Sometimes, I get photos that are a complete mystery. That would be the case with this 8x10 glossy that I picked up a while ago at a flea market...and the seller had no idea of where it came from. There are no markings on the back. But a mixed gathering of Royal Navy Sea Hornets and a U.S. Navy JD-1 Intruder is certainly a curiosity, and hints of an interesting story to tell.

The Sea Hornet on the far side of the Intruder, aircraft 534, also appears in this 1954 photo from Wikimedia Commons which notes that it is an F Mk. 20 operating with No 728 Fleet Requirements Unit, based in Hal Far, Malta, hence the "HF" tail code. Could Hal Far be the scene shown here?

Originally designated the DH.103, the Sea Hornet was a derivative of the RAF's Hornet fighter, which had started out as an in-house attempt at de Havilland to develop a long-range fighter for the Pacific theater. Based on the Mosquito design, the Hornet was primarily a wooden airplane, using a mix of balsa wood and spruce plywood, with some metal structure mixed in (the tail was metal, as were the wings' lower skins). The naval version didn't make it into production in time for the war, only entering service in 1947. The standard F.Mk 20 version saw 77 (some sources say 79) airframes built. The Sea Hornet's career lasted ten years, with the last one being retired in February, 1957.

As for the Intruder, after the war, about 150 A-26s were transferred to the Navy, which redesignated them as JD-1, for use as general transports, target tugs and, in the case of a few of them, drone directors.

This photo also shows an interesting contrast...many A-26s have survived the years, while there are no known complete Sea Hornet airframes, partly owing to the temporal nature of wood. However, there is an effort to build a new aircraft, using the original drawings and what few pieces that have survived. The project's website is here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Burned Out Sea King

Being an ex-helicopter mech, I found this image quite interesting. The pile shown is what's left of a Sikorsky H-3. But, I have no idea when or where, other than obviously, it's in the South Pacific or Southeast Asia.

The H-3 series served in the Navy from 1961 to 2006, and the tail code, UP, indicates that this aircraft was flown by HC-1 (Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One; you have to admire the subtle humor of giving the Navy's first vertical-lift squadron that particularly descriptive tail code!), aka Fleet Angels, and they operated H-3s from 1970 to 1994. So, sometime in that 24-year period, this ship met with an untimely end.

There are a few things that can be discerned from a close look at the image, however. First, it wasn't running when it burned up...the tail rotor is undamaged, so it wasn't turning. Second, the two blades seen pointing towards the camera are right next to each other, while others aren't. This would tend to indicate that the blades were probably being folded, or unfolded, when the incident happened. And folded is more likely...the engines would still be hot, and leaking liquids could easily have ignited.

But that's all just speculation on my part. If you recognize this pad, or this particular helo, please let me know in the comment block below!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Untiring Avengers

Sometimes, when you're searching for old photos, it helps to ask, and then to not take "no" for an answer. I had canvassed this one particular antique store and found nothing, and when that's the case, I always make a point of asking the proprietor if they happen to have any photos that I may have overlooked. "No", the kind, elderly lady answered, "I don't have anything like that." At that moment, I just happened to glance down into the glass display case between us, and there was a stack of photos labeled "WWII". "What about those?" I asked. She looked surprised, as if they had appeared out of thin air. Buried in the stack of images of various ships was this one, which caught my eye: Avengers!

This is the British carrier HMS Indefatigable, the seventh and (so far) last Royal Navy vessel to carry that name (not including C.S. Forester's fictional vessel). She was launched on December 8, 1942, but not commissioned until May 3, 1944. Because of the delay, the Brits successfully carried out Operation Bijou, in which disinformation was spread that the ship had entered service shortly after being launched. Code-breaking of Japanese communications showed that the ruse had been successfully, so much so that the enemy believed that Indefatigable had completed an entire cruise to the far east and back to Clyde for refitting at the time that she was actually commissioned. While she missed most of the action of the war, she did have the honor of being present in Tokyo Bay for Japan's surrender. She was scrapped in 1956.

The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm operated over 1,000 Grumman Avengers  (initially they called them "Tarpons", but soon dropped that name for "Avenger"), in various series, or "marks". Since our photo isn't dated, though, I have no idea which version is shown here.

One thing is clear, though, and that is this photo was taken in the Pacific theater of operations, since the FAA insignia on the Avengers' wings is an alternate one used only in the Pacific, and which doesn't have the center red circle, since that color could be mistaken for the Japanese insignia.

And if anyone can tell me what squadron is represented by tail code "S", I'd be much appreciative!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Greyhound's First Run

As you can see by the inscription, today’s photo is from the first flight of C-2A ship #20. Like me, you might ask, what in the world is so special about the 20th aircraft? The first one, I can understand, but the 20th?

The C-2A Greyhound, or more commonly the COD (for Carrier Onboard Delivery), was originally derived from the E-2 Hawkeye in 1964 with the intent of replacing the older C-1 Trader piston-powered aircraft. Grumman’s engineers took the wings, engines and tail from the E-2 and built a new, wider fuselage capable of rear-loading cargo. Two YC-2A prototypes were built, with first flight taking place on November 18, 1964. These were followed by 17 production aircraft built between 1965 and 1968; twelve additional aircraft that had been envisioned were cancelled, so the lives of the C-1s were extended. In the 1980s, the original Greyhounds were pretty much coming to the end of their useful lives, despite going through a major retrofit.

Instead of developing a whole new replacement aircraft, the Navy asked Grumman in 1982 if they could re-establish the assembly line. The “new” version would have an extensively modified airframe that would enable it to carry heavier loads farther and faster. Normally, such a change in design would have resulted in the plane being called the “C-2B”, but for reasons only the DoD can understand, they instead called it the “Reprocured C-2A”, or C-2A(R). The first one of these was Ship #20, the maiden flight of which, in 1985, is the subject of our Grumman 8x10 photo.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sikorsky's Clipper

No indication is given on our photo of the location, but if I had to guess, I'd
say Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The Sikorsky S-42 Clipper had a storied beginning. In the early 1930s, Pan Am's Juan Trippe had visions of a flying boat that could span oceans, and Igor Sikorsky came up with an amphibian - the largest of its kind at the time - designated the S-40, and was the first to carry the title "Pan Am Clipper". Sikorsky only built three of these, because despite the advance in the state-of-the-art that these represented, with an 875 mile range, they just didn't meet Trippe's needs.

By the time that the first S-40 flew its maiden flight, on November 19, 1931, Sikorsky was envisioning an even better aircraft. Besides Sikorsky himself, Charles Lindbergh was also on board the S-40 for that first flight. Lindbergh worked for Trippe as a consultant, and as the story goes, the two of them sat in the S-40's lounge and together sketched out the next project, one that would truly be a trans-oceanic airliner.

Close-up of the S-42; this scan has been over-processed in order to bring out details
not easily seen in the faded original image.
What resulted was the S-42, which had the range that Trippe was looking for, 1,930 miles. Ten aircraft were built, and all served with Pan Am and carried Clipper names. The first trans-Pacific flight by an S-42, the Pam Am Clipper, took place in April 1935, which included a stop at Pearl Harbor.

Of the ten built, four were destroyed in accidents, and the remaining six were scrapped.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

School Days in Corpus Christi

Vultee SNV-1 tail number 12947 gets ready to taxi. Note the jaunty angle
to the marshaller's cap....
Today we feature a small collection of 8x10 glossies from the WWII era when the training of Naval Aviators was going full swing at NAS Corpus Christi, the Navy's largest flight training station. Through the war years, around 35,000 navy pilots earned their gold wings here.

A congressional study in 1938 found that the lack of training capacity in the Navy constituted an emergency, and so additional funds were allocated to establish additional Naval Air Stations that were focused on pilot training. The first class of pilots started their instruction at NAS Corpus Christi on May 5, 1941. One of the members of the third graduating class was a young aviator who would go on to garner fame as a torpedo bomber pilot, George H. W. Bush. Oh, and he became the Commander-in-Chief, too.

New Navy pilots went through a three-phase training process. They started in either the Boeing N2S Stearman or the NAF N3N basic trainer, then progressed to the Vultee SNV, which was the Navy's version of the USAAC's BT-13 Valiant (the pilots who flew them preferred the name "Vibrator"). Pictured above is an SNV-1, the equivalent to the BT-13A; 1,350 of these had been transferred from the Army Air Corps to the Navy.

In the third stage of training, the pilots transitioned to the North American SNJ, the Naval version of the AT-6 Texan. The ones in our photo are SNJ-5s, which is what the Navy called the 1,573 AT-6Ds that were transferred from the Army.

To put the first two photos in perspective, check out this aerial view of the same hangars.

Anyone recognize any of the sailors or Naval Aviators shown in these class photos? Unfortunately, no one at the time thought to hold up a sign indicating which graduating class was being shown. (And, yes, I've looked carefully to see if George Bush is in the images...if he is, I didn't recognize him!)