Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Departing Neptune

I have very little information about the subject of today's post, Lockheed P2V-5F Neptune 127725. The 8x10 glossy has no information on the back, and Joe Baugher's BUNo listing has no entry for this airframe.

The plane shows up in a couple of 1956 photos taken in Iwakuni, Japan at this VP-6 squadron page; but the nose number doesn't match, nor do the colors, so clearly we're dealing with a different squadron and timeframe.

This Neptune was originally built as a P2V-5, and later modified to the "F" configuration with the addition of the two J34 turbojet engines.

Since the inlet doors on the J34s are open and the gear is in transit, I presume that this is a take-off shot.

If there are any Neptune experts in the house, please share any knowledge you might have on this airframe!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Badger, Badger, Badger!

This is the only photo with discernable markings, with tail no. 94.
I found these three prints of Russian Tu-16 Badgers in the dollar bin at a Norfolk, VA antique store, and they appear (by size and print type) to be non-official, meaning probably snapshots taken by an Air Force pilot while he was intercepting them.

The first two appear to be of at least one Russian Navy Tu-16K-10 Badger C, given the large nose radome. The last photo, below, appears to carry a conventional nose, although the graininess of the image precludes futher identification.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Fairey Named G-AABY

When this article originally posted, I had little information on this aircraft beyound it being a Fairey IIIF, but one of my regular readers wrote and was able to provide some key details to "the rest of the story"...so here's the revised piece, with a big tip o' the hat to Luc!

Given the other aircraft in the background, this snapshot of G-AABY was
probably taken at one of the European airshows attended by the Fairey.
The lack of race number 15 painted on the side would suggest that this
was taken sometime before the plane left for Australia on October 20,
1934 in the MacRobertson Race.
So much of the Archive's collection is focused on American aircraft, I thought it would be a nice break to feature this shot of a British Fairey IIIF.

The F model was the most populous of the Fairey line, and first flew in 1926 and entered active service in 1927. The robust aircraft remained a frontline spotter and general transport aircraft until well into the 1930s, and was finally declared obsolete in 1940.

This particular airframe carried civilian registration G-AABY (c/n F1129) and was used as a Fairey factory demonstration aircraft, starting in 1929. After performing at airshows across Europe, G-AABY was then entered in the 1934 MacRobertson Trophy Air Race from London, England ot Melbourne, Australia, flying with a field of 19 other aircraft, including a Boeing 247 flown by Roscoe Turner. G-AABY was crewed by pilot Flight Officer C. D. Davies and navigator Lt. Cdr C. N. Hill. The race started on October 20, 1934, but unfortunately, the aircraft was forced to drop out of competition in Cyprus, and finally made it to Australia over a month later, on November 24. G-AABY was later sold and re-registered VH-UTT. It was subsequently used as a transport to and from the gold mines in Papua New Guinea.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The First Mystery

R614K posing outside Travel Air's Wichita Hangar when she was fairly new.
Last week we took a look at our newly acquired photo of Pancho Barne's Travel Air Mystery Ship, this week we display the Archive's two prints of the first Travel Air Model R, NR614K, Race #31.

Built to beat the Army's fighters that were perennially winning the National Air Races, #31 stunned even its designers on its first flight with an airspeed that was 15% greater than what they'd predicted from their calculations.

During the 1929 Thompson Trophy race, pilot Doug Davis and the Mystery Ship were in the lead when he accidently cut a pylon, so he had to circle back and re-fly that particular turn. Back on course, Davis found himself at the back of the pack, but the little Model R was so fast that he caught up and passed all the other contestants. His average speed was an unheard-of 194.90 mph. The Army's entry, a Curtiss P3A, was a distant second with an average speed of 186.84 over the fifty mile course. Roscoe Turner in a Lockheed Vega was third, and a Navy Curtiss F6C-6 was fourth.

R614K still in her 1929 colors, but showing some wear (note the paint knocked
off around the tire pressure valve access hole in the wheel pant). An unident-
ified pilot is in the cockpit and the engine is running fast enough that the prop
is completely blurred in this exposure. 
The plane missed the 1930 races, but returned to Cleveland for the 1931 event. During a test flight before the Thompson Trophy race, 614K caught fire and pilot Walter Hunter bailed out. The plane was completely destroyed in the crash. The Type R came with two sets of wings, a short set designed for pylon racing, and a longer set used for cross-country flying. The long set from 614K has survived and are currently displayed at the Staggerwing Museum.

While Travel Air only built five of the Model Rs, a sixth one was built by Jim Youngkin (some sources say that it was built in 1979, the FAA registration lists the manufacture date as 1971, and the registration certificate issued 3/10/1976; a photo and writeup can be seen here). While termed a re-creation or replica, it was built meticulously from the original plans, and carries the registration number N614K. It is currently owned by the Staggerwing Museum Foundation, and appeared in the movie The Rocketeer.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pancho's Mystery

Last Friday, we posted the first photos from the recently-acquired William H. Alman collection. Today we continue drawing on this small-but-amazing set of previously unpublished images with today's first photo, which shows Pancho Barnes' Travel Air Model R, better known by its media-assigned name of "Mystery Ship", sitting on display next to Glendale's Grand Central Air Terminal.

The rest of the photos are original prints that come from the Mojave Transportation Museum collection.

Pancho's Mystery Ship on parade promoting the Women's Air Reserve. If anyone
knows the date of this parade, please comment below!
In the late 1920s, Walter Beech's Travel Air Co. of Wichita, Kansas was the world's largest aircraft manufacturer, and a powerhouse of aviation innovation, and produced a number of record-breaking and race-winning aircraft. In that era, records and trophies were one of the principal ways that aircraft companies promoted their products. On top of that, it was also an era when the US Army sent their best pilots to compete against civilians as contestants in various air races; typically, the Army would stay ahead of the civilians by using fighters with boosted engines, so they were typically the ones to beat.

Throughout the design and construction process, the Model R was a closely-guarded secret. First, Travel Air engineers Herb Rawdon (where the "R" in Model R came from) and Walter Burnham kept the project quiet from their boss until all the design details had been worked out, only ten weeks before the start of the 1929 National Air Races. Once Beech was briefed in, he enthusiastically endorsed the effort, as it showed potential for finally beating the Army at the Nationals.

Initially, Travel Air built two of the aircraft, one (Race 31, NR614K) powered by a 400 hp Wright J6-9 radial and the second (Race 32, NR613K) powered by an in-line 6-cylinder 165 hp Chevrolair D-6 engine (The Arthur Chevrolet Aviation Motors Corp was founded by Arthur, the brother of Louis Chevrolet, who stated the Chevrolet Motor Company, later part of GM). While these were under construction, a blanket of secrecy covered the factory, even to the extent that the building's windows were painted black. As a result, the very curious media (remember, air racing was a popular main-stream sport back then) dubbed the aircraft Travel Air's "Mystery Ships".

Once the aircaft were flown to Cleveland for the races, they were quickly tarped and reporters kept away. In the Thompson Trophy race, Doug Davis in #31 blew away the competition, the first time a civilian aircraft had won (mone on this in next week's post). Meanwhile Race #32 was also a winner at the 1929 Nationals, taking top place in the Experimental Class at 113.38 mph with Doug Davis again at the controls. After the races, the experimental Chevolair engine was removed and returned to the manufacturer, while the airframe was shipped back to Wichita, where it was modified to accommodate a Wright J6. It was then sold to Pancho Barnes.

Pancho used 613K to set a number of speed records, but the most famous of them was when she flew the aircraft over a closed-course at Van Nuys and shattered Women's speed record, previously held by Amelia Earhart, with a blazing 196.19 mph on August 5, 1930.

When her fortunes fell, Pancho sold 613K to Paul Mantz, who first used it in movie work, and then when it was no longer airworthy, displayed it at his Movieland of the Air museum. After Matnz' death, the plane was put up for auction, and when Pancho herself showed up to try to buy it back, she carried such respect from the aviation community that no one else was willing to bid against her. The Mystery Ship sat for years at Barnes Aviation's Lancaster CA hangar, slowly undergowing a restoration by Pancho's son Bill. When he was killed in a P-51 crash, the aircraft was again sold, this time to a collector in the UK, where for quite a while it once again became cloaked in secrecy while undergoing a pains-taking restoration, only recently reappearing, thanks to the efforts of Nick Spark, who produced the bio-pic The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club. An article on how he found the plane, along with some recent photos of it, can be found here.

A nice detailed history of the Mystery Ships can be found here.