Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Great Artiste

Back in August 2012, we featured a snapshot photo of B-29 Enola Gay, and today we have another of the Silverplate B-29s, The Great Artiste (serial 44-27353). This image is a contact proof that's been cut down, and was originally printed backwards (I've flipped it for use here).

The Great Artiste was named for bombardier Capt Kermit Beahan, who supposedly was quite skilled with the ladies, and with putting bombs on target. The nose art, though, was added to the plane after the Nagasaki mission. Of all the Project Silverplate B-29s, this one was the only one to directly participate in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. For the Hiroshima raid, The Great Artiste was the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft, and was flown by its normal crew, commanded by Maj. Charles Sweeney.

For the second nuke sortie, The Great Artiste was originally supposed to carry the bomb, but the mission was moved up two days to avoid some forecast bad weather, and the instrumentation from the first raid couldn't be removed in time. So, Sweeney swapped planes with Capt. Fred Bock, and Bock's Car, flown by Sweeney, dropped the weapon while The Great Ariste, flown by Bock, served once again as the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft. The primary target for this mission was the Japanese city of Kokura, but poor visibility from smoke was encountered over the target, and after three target runs, with fuel running low, the mission moved to its secondary target, Nagasaki.

After the war, The Great Artiste, like the other Silverplate B-29s, were relocated to Roswell, NM, where our photo was taken in November, 1945 (there's no indication from the inscription on the back of the photo who the young man was; the photo was acquired by the Archive in Albequerque NM). In July, 1946, the plane was used during the nuclear blast tests at Bikini atoll, and on September 8, 1949 it was used for a polar navigation training flight to the North Pole. On the return trip, the B-29 developed engine problems and a landing was attempted at Goose Bay, Labrador. The plane ran off the runway and was too heavily damaged to be salvaged, and was scrapped on-site a year later.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Batcat: Secret Connie in Camo

Today's photo is a large, rather faded color print of Lockheed EC-121R Constellation, 67-21486 (serial 1049A-4478), also known by its program name "Batcat", which was assigned to the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing.

With the combined cover of jungle, darkness of night, bad weather and traveling through neutral Laos, the North Vietnamese truck convoys traversing the Ho Chi Minh trail and penetrating into South Vietnam were nearly impossible to detect by the Americans. To overcome this obstacle, the highly classified IGLOO WHITE program, initially known as MUSCLE SHOALS and also known as "MacNamarra's Electronic Fence", was developed in 1967.

The idea was to create a long electronic barrier against NVA infiltration into the south. Long lines of small sensors (which looked and acted like oversized lawn darts) were dropped by OP-2E Neptunes and specially-equipped F-4 Phantoms, down through the jungle canopy, where they then stuck into the earth. There were a number of different types of sensors, from acoustic microphones to radio receivers to units that picked up the seismic signatures of trucks moving over the dirt roads. High overhead, an EC-121R Batcat from the 553rd would be orbiting, picking up the return signals from the sensors, and forwarding them on to the Infiltration Surveillance Center, operated by Task Force Alpha based at Nakhon Phanom Air Base in Thailand. Information gleened from this surveillance network would then be used to target strike aircraft.

The 553rd RW was stood up in 1967 to support IGLOO WHITE and was based at Korat AB, Thailand, and operated all 30 of the EC-121R BATCATS. The EC-121Rs were converted from Navy WV-2/EC-121K and EC-121P aircraft, both from in-service aircraft and planes repurposed on the assembly line (the airframe in our photo was originally a WV-2, BuNo 143204).

A Batcat mission flew with a crew of 17-19 and typically lasted 18 hours, which including 8-11 hours in orbit on station. There were 11 different orbits, all color-coded, and ranging from the Gulf of Tonkin to over Laos and Cambodia.

With the end of the winding down of the IGLOO WHITE program, the EC-121s were replaced by the optionally-manned, Beech 36-based UC-22 single-engine aircraft. Batcat 67-21486 was evidently transferred to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, also at Korat, for a short time before being sent to Davis-Monthan in Tucson (where our photo was taken), Arizona on 17 December 1970. The airframe was declared surplus on 18 May 1971 and was finally scrapped in May 1973.

Tip o' the hat to Brother Eric for giving me the photo!

Some pertinent links:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fits Like a Glove

Greetings, fellow aviation historians, the Blog is finally returning to (somewhat) active duty! For now, my posts won't be quite as frequent as they once were, but we're back up and running. And as you might expect, the first post back is something of a mystery....
This photo is an original Douglas Aircraft print (stamp on the back says it's from the El Segundo plant), and there's a hand-written notation that reads "Laminar Flow Airfoil Glove". The plane shown, Northrop A-17A serial 35-122, at some point was turned over to NACA for a laminar flow reseearch program, which was operated out of Langley.

Unfortunately, I could find very little information about the test program (and no other photos of the plane in this configuration), and there are only a few snipets of information about it on the web, one of which mentions that the small added propellers were intended to add airflow over the wing. The primary source for information on NACA's history of laminar flow research is the paper A History of Suction-Type Laminar-Flow Control with Emphasis on Flight Research. Written by pioneering researcher Albert Braslow (who has since, sadly, passed away), this paper makes no mention of tests using the A-17A. The paper, on page 3, implies that the first laminar-flow flight tests took place in 1941 and utilized a surplus B-18 bomber. Either Braslow was unaware of the use of the A-17A (improbable, in my view), or this particular part of the larger research effort yielded little or no data of note. Joe Baugher's database indicates that 35-122 was returned to the Army in August of 1943.

If anyone has additional information on the modifications, when the test program took place, and any data that resulted from it, I would very much like to hear from you!