Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Portrait of the XF-11

Towards the end of WWII, the Army Air Forces decided that they needed a new high-speed, long-range photo reconnaissance aircraft, and so a competition ensued between Republic’s XF-12 Rainbow and the Hughes XF-11 (Hughes apparently didn’t give a name to his design). As I’ve mentioned before in the post (here) on the XR-12, the competition and the aircraft are covered in detail in Mike Machat’s book World's Fastest Four-Engine Piston-Powered Aircraft: Story of the Republic XR-12 Rainbow.

Because the first of the two XF-11 prototypes crashed – and almost killed Howard – during its maiden flight on July 7, 1946, Machat comments that “Any photograph of the first XF-11 should be considered rare.”
So I was delighted when the Archive had the opportunity to acquire an original Air Force print of the aircraft, taken during an official “portrait” session with the aircraft, when the plane was posed and shot from all angles on the ramp at Hughes Aircraft. The back of the 8x10 glossy is stamped, in blue ink, “Hughes XF-11 3/4 front view on ground. Please credit: Official U.S. Air Force Photo” (which indicates that the print was made after the USAF became a separate service in 1947. The print paper is 8x10, but the actual image is of the aspect ratio shown in the scan here).

The XF-11 was an extremely innovative design, and was one of the fastest aircraft of its day. With a pressurized cabin and a wingspan of over 100 feet, this high-altitude recon ship was equivalent in size and mission (if not range and endurance) to today’s Lockheed U-2 and Northrop Grumman Global Hawk. Unfortunately for Hughes, as good as the XF-11 was, the Republic offering was better (it had inflight access to the cameras, and even an on-board darkroom!), and the high-expense of both aircraft doomed them in a post-war era of shrinking budgets and impending jet age.

The crash of the first XF-11 was dramatized in the bio-pic The Aviator, and additional photos of the incident can be seen at this Check Six website. Wikimedia also has a copy of newsreel coverage of the crash. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Imperial Goose

Note they guy hanging from the telephone pole on the right...
Last fall's move of the Space Shuttle Endeavour over the streets of Los Angeles to its new permanent home at the California Science Center created quite a stir, but it wasn't the first time that an aeronautical behemoth carefully inched through LA in that manner.

In 1946, Howard Hughes had a bit of a problem...he was building the components of the world's largest (at the time) airplane in a factory in Culver City that was 28 miles from where it would be assembled and flown, in Long Beach Harbor. Getting it to the water was a job done by a Company called "Star House Movers, Inc." who hauled the enormous H-4 Hercules in pieces over city streets, using specially designed dollies. The two wings were moved first (their journey took two days to cover the distance), followed by the 220-foot, 60-ton hull and then shipments of the ailerons, tail and wing floats.

The August 1946 edition of Popular Science carried a feature on the move (you can read it at this link, but you'll have to manually scroll down to page 65 and then to page 94), which included this insight: "The piecemeal method of moving and the route to be followed were decided upon after engineers had devoted two years to surveying possible ways of making the transfer." It also said, "The hull was supported on a steel cradle, which in turn rested on massive girders of Douglas fir. Towering 36 1/2 feet above the highway, its bulk required 23 utilities companies to raise telephone and power lines in the seven towns through which it passed on its 28-mile trip."

Our two amateur-taken photos from the fuselage move were shot as the plane slowly made its way down Imperial Highway.

The Spruce Goose (which is actually constructed of birch, rather than spruce; and Howard hated the term, by the way) would make a similar, though shorter overland journey in 1993 when it was moved on its final leg of the journey from Southern California to its new home at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinneville, Oregon.

And since I led this piece off with mention of the Shuttle Endeavour's trip through LA's streets, it's only fitting to include a photo of it from about the same angle as the above...courtesy of Mr. Kevin Helm.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grumman's Big Boats

C/n G-144, aka 51-0065 was originally delivered in 1952 as a short-wing SA-16A,
but was modified with a long wing and ended up as an HU-16B. It's ultimate fate
is not known, but was probably scrapped.
I was originally considering a sensationalistic title for today's post, something like "Nuclear Strike Albatross Revealed"...after all, there's something nuclearly sinister about SAC's sash art, and something slightly non-sequiter about it appearing on an Albatross.

Grumman’s Albatross series was, in many ways, the culmination of years of flying boat development, starting at the Company’s inception. As we’ve discussed before, what launched Grumman’s fortune was the incorporation of retractable landing gear into amphibian hulls, and a modified version of this system was used, albeit in a larger form, on the Albatross as well.

The Coast Guard had two aircraft with the serial 2125, a Dassault HU-25, and 
this Albatross, c/n G-352, which was originally ordered by the USAF as 
52-125 and which was subsequently transferred to the USCG, keeping its AF
tail number as its new serial. It was then modified with a long wing, becoming 
a UF-2G (re-designated HU-16E in 1962). It was transferred to MASDC in 1973
and has presumably been scrapped. Can anyone ID the lighthouse?
The plane was developed from the Grumman Mallard and Goose, and was designed to handle the rough environment of operating in the open ocean in order to rescue downed aviators. It was designed to handle up to four-foot seas in normal operations, and up to ten-foot seas when takeoff was supplemented with JATO bottles. The Navy originally solicited design proposals, and Grumman answered with their Model 64. Two original prototypes, designated XJR2F-1, were built for the Navy, but by 1947, when they finally flew, the war was over and the service wasn’t really interested in a new aircraft program.

In an odd twist, though, the Air Force was, and ultimately became the largest operator of the flying boat. Eventually, the Navy and the Coast Guard realized the value of this rugged aircraft as well, operating them into the 1980s. Our photos are both official Grumman-issued 8x10 glossies, one of a USCG aircraft, and one from a service that you wouldn’t expect to see flying an amphibian: the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, who used their Albatrosses primarily for executive transport.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Retro American Airlines and their Vultee

NC13768 was the fifth production Vultee V1-A
With American Airlines' announcement yesterday of their first major livery change since 1968, I thought it would be fun to take a look back almost 80 years at one of their first really modern monoplane airliners, the Vultee V1-A.

Designed by Gerard Vultee and Vance Breese, the V1 prototype was developed by the Aircraft Development Division of Cord Manufacturing at Glendale, California. It first flew on February 19, 1933. The design was soon followed by the slightly larger production version, the V1-A, also built at Glendale.

There is no date or location information on this fabulous amateur snapshot
of three American Airlines Vultee V1-As. It is possible, though, that this is
Moline IL. Detail scans of the three planes are below. 
American Airlines had been flying the Curtiss Condor bi-plane, a genuinely good airplane, if not state-of-the-art, and needed something faster, so they purchased between ten and twelve (depending on the source you reference) of the production V1-As along with the prototype.

The new aircraft were the fastest in the business when they entered service in 1934, but didn't last long. Within two years, new rules promulgated by the Bureau of Air Commerce (forerunner of the CAA and FAA) limited single-engine aircraft used in commercial service, so American sold the V1-As.

Note that the engine is running!
At least seven of the former American Airlines aircraft (including NC13768, the plane in the photo above) ended up being fitted with machine guns and bomb racks, and flown by the Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War but carrying French registration (this one became F-AQAM).

A fascinating and detailed history of the V1A can be found at Aerofiles here, including information on the numerous speed records set by V1-As.

Monocoupe was based in Moline, IL, and the Monocoupe lettering on the
hangar in the background of this detail scan suggest Moline as the location.

Not related to the Vultee photos, but when I saw this
sitting in an antique store, it intrigued me, and I thought
this was as good an opportunity as any for posting.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Recruit

When Claude Ryan started his second aircraft manufacturing company (his first, the builder of the Spirit of St. Louis had been sold to his business partner), the first plane he and his team built was the Sport Trainer, or ST, followed by an aerobatic version, the STA.

With military aviation advancing at a blinding pace, the Army Air Corps recognized the need for a new modern, monoplane trainer. So, in 1939 the USAAC bought a single civilian STA-1, NC18907, and redesignated it as the XPT-16 (39-717; c/n 306, it is sometimes listed as a YPT-16) and set about evaluating it.

While the plane in our two photos has no visible markings, my research indicates that this is 39-717, the XPT-17. These were Ryan factory photos, taken over the San Diego area. In the photo on right, note the cross-controled side-slip configuration (ailerons to the left, rudder to the right) and the pilot presents a planform view to the photographer. Another blog, Replica in Scale, has an entry (here) that includes a photo that must have been taken a fraction of a second later, as the tail has dropped just slightly.

What the USAAC found in the little two-seater pretty well met their needs, and so they ordered an additional 15 aircraft as YPT-16s. Only five of these were delivered (40-040 - 40-044) before the USAAC knew they had a winner, the order was converted and the rest were delivered as production PT-16s (40-045 - 40-054). These were operated by Ryan Aeronautical in San Diego under contract, training Army Air Corps pilots.

It soon became evident, though, that the one weak link in the design was the use of the 125-hp Menasco L-365 inline engine. To try to correct the problem, 39-717 was re-engined with a Kinner B-54 five-cylinder radial engine, redesignated the XPT-16A and shipped off to Wright Field for evaluations. This was followed by two Ryan-built, Kinner-powered prototypes (c/n 1000 and 1001) which carried the Ryan model STK; testing clearly showed that the Kinner engine significanly improved the aircraft's reliability and performance. Further aircraft were built under the PT-20 and PT-21 designation before the final PT-22 Recruit version, with which Ryan hit the jackpot, building over a thousand of them.

Sadly, 39-717 was scrapped in March, 1945.

For comparison, here is an amateur snapshot of a generic production PT-22.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Jenny Project

Sometimes, the photographs that I come across are in really poor shape, but no matter how bad they are, there's something inside me that wants to try and save them. Add to their physical condition the problem that many of these photos have absolutely no context information accompanying them, or discernable within them.

Because the Airco DH-4, Standard J-1 and Curtiss JN-4 Jenny were such popular trainers during and after WWI (keep in mind, there were almost 7,000 Jennys built!), there are a lot of photos of these aircraft still existing that fall into this category. The quantity of photos taken of trainees with their planes, plus the poor quality and lack of information, means that unless there's something special, many of these nearly century old photographs are shunned by collectors and assigned little value.

This first photo, of a group of guys working on an Airco DH-4, is a good case in point. By the subject and by the paper, this print was probably made sometime before 1920, making it nearly a hundred years old. When I found it, it was extremely faded, and you could barely see any detail in it. By scanning and essentially over-processing it, a surprising amount of detail can be brought out, but at the sacrifice of the sky (which in the original print doesn't look nearly as "dirty" as it does here).

I have no clue as to where this was shot, or the circumstances surrounding the scene, but it appears that the small group of men are standing around two who are knelt down, possibly over an open tool box.

The second set of photos, all three of which came from the same collection and appear to be of the same plane on the same day, show several Army trainees and a civilian standing with a JN-4 Jenny. Two of the photos are in fairly decent condition, but the third has become so dark with age that it is difficult to make out much with the naked eye. Again, with over-processing of contrast along with tone mapping can bring out a lot, though at a price.

Without any kind of historical context to give them meaning, are prints like this even worth saving? I'd like to think so, so I'm starting "The Jenny Project", which will actively seek out photos of this sort. If anyone has such prints that they don't want, and can't find anyone else who will value them, send them my way!

The top view shows the photo as it looks to the eye, the bottom 
shows some of the additional detail discernable with overprocessing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Los Al Bearcat

Today's photo is an official U.S. Navy 8x10 glossy of a Grumman F8F Bearcat sitting in front of the control tower at NAS Los Alamitos.

NAS Los Alamitos was one of the busiest Navy training bases during and after WWII., and even today, as an Army Airfield, Los Alamitos is one of the busiest airports in SoCal.

While there is no date information included on this print, the fact that the F8Fs didn't come online until after hostilities ceased, and were quickly replaced with jets when Korea heated up, it is likely that this photo was taken in the late 1940s or very early 1950s.

Big thanks to reader Logan Hartke who helped id the airfield after my first abbreviated post of this entry, along with this link to a history of Los Al: http://www.calguard.ca.gov/sli/Pages/History.aspx

Friday, January 4, 2013

Southwest Pilots Having Fun

Long before Soutwest Airlines' blue 737s became a ubiquitous sight at Los Angeles International Airport, LAX had a different name, Mines Field, and there was a company called Southwest Aviation based there.

The airfield was named after the real estate agent, William Mines, who arranged for the city to buy the farmland that became the airport. The land was acquired in 1928, the first hangar built in 1929 and the airfield officially opened in 1930. It kept the name until it became Los Angeles Airport in 1941.

Somewhere during those ten years, then, these two photos were taken. I have not, however, been able to find out any information on Southwest Aviation (for instance, the most complete list of companies based at Mines that I could find is on the Davis-Monthan web page about the field). From the photos, I'd guess that it was at least a flying school...because these two characters posing with a WACO GXE certainly look like an instructor and student!

Any information on the company would be appreciated!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Stratofreighters à trois

To start 2013 off, here is an uncaptioned, undated Air Force 8x10 glossy showing three C-97s in formation over the water (probably the Pacific) somewhere.

The lead aircraft is C-97A 49-2599, on the left wing is C-97C-35 50-0694 (both in California Air Guard markings) and on the right wing is 50-0691, a C-97C-35, which doesn't have any fuselage markings (presumably it was CA Air Guard, too).

According to the records I could find, the only two CA Air Guard units to fly the C-97 were the 115th and 195th Air Transportation Squadrons (Heavy), both a part of the 146th Air Transport Wing based at Pt. Mugu near Ventura, California.