Tuesday, May 29, 2012

California Patrol: August 6, 1930

Somewhere over California, 3:30 pm, 8/6/30: "Asst. Sect. of War Directing
Operations from Bomber"
The MojaveWest Vintage Photograph Archive was privileged to be able to recently acquire this amazing set of four 8x10 photographs from 1930, featuring stunning images of U.S. Army Air Corps fighters and bombers on patrolling maneuvers over California.

The four images have no markings on their reverse side, but came from an estate along with a large number of aerial survey photos showing landmarks and features in California, and these had a purple rubber stamp on their back that says "Official Photo, 15th Photo Section, Air Corps, U.S. Army, Crissy Field, Presidio, San Francisco Calif." It is presumed, then, that our four photos also were taken by the 15th.

The four images are all dated 8/6/30, and even have the time taken detailed in the hand-written captions. The first, taken at 3:30 pm, is of the Curtiss B-2 Condor bomber (right), which was carrying Assistant Secretary of War Frederick Huff Payne, who was directing the exercise.

Payne, who was described as a "Lt. Colonel of the Ordnance Reserve" by a contemporary newspaper, had just been appointed by President Hoover to the post in May, filling a spot vacated by Col. Patrick J. Hurley, who had been promoted to Secretary of War upon the untimely death of James W. Good.

Curtiss built 13 Condors (an XB-2 prototype and a dozen production aircraft) from 1929-1930, and all were flown by 11th Bomb Squadron, 7th Bombardment Group, based at Rockwell Field, at the far southern end of California. The Condor normally carried a crew of five, the two pilots, a bombardier, and two gunners, who manned aft-facing Lewis machine guns mounted in the back of each engine nacelle (obscured by the upper wing tip in our photo). When you consider the noise and exhaust from the Curtiss Conqueror V-12 engines, the gunner's position had to be less that comfortable!

At 3:45, this pursuit formation was photographed high over a marine layer of clouds on the California Coast. The planes are Boeing P-12s.

At 4:00 pm, a formation of five B-2 Condors fly just off the coast, visible at the right edge of the image.

The fourth image, taken at 4:35pm, shows a dozen P-12s in a "D" formation. The caption identifies them as from the 95th Squadron, which was also based at Rockewell Field. The 95th started out in WWI, and was the unit that Quentin Roosevelt was serving in when he was killed.

The big question with this photo is its location: it appears to be shot over a river where it empties into the Pacific (note the surf at the upper edge of the image). There appears to be a military base under the planes.

However, I have yet to find a corresponding river that appears this way today. The closest I can figure, this is either the San Pedro or Long Beach area before the huge reclamation projects that resulting in fill-land which changed the entire appearance of the area. If anyone has a better idea, please comment below!

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