Friday, August 31, 2012

Junked Junkers

In the first of the two photos, an Iron Annie sits forlornly
Ok, so today's photos aren't the highest quality, as photos go. These are two very quick snapshots from the end of WWII, of what's described on the back of one as a "Plane grave yard just outside of Berlchisgarden". Yes, that's how it was spelled. I suspect that the photographer meant Berchtesgaden, but this scene is a lot flatter than most of the photos I've seen of the Berchtesgaden region.

Among other planes, there appears to be at least a couple of Junkers Ju-52 Iron Annies in the pile of wreckage. One has to wonder what happened to the wrecks...did they get salvaged, or did they just get buried? A tantalizing question for those interested in aviation archaeology! If anyone has information on a more accurate location for this site, or recognizes any of the other airframes in the pile, please comment below!

The second of the two, showing a pile of German aircraft wrecks from a distance. The images below are closeups of various parts of this image.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stearman's Odd-Man Out

In the late 1930s, the Army Air Corps solicited designs (to be built at the manufacturer's own expense) for a new light attack aircraft from five manufacturers. Stearman, which was a subsidiary of Boeing but operated independently, proposed a design which they called the X-100. The Army bought the prototype for testing, re-designating it the XA-21.

In its original form, as seen on the right, the pilot sat behind and above the bombardier under a common green-house style canopy. First flight took place in 1938, but initial testing showed that the pilot's forward visibility was less than ideal, and so the aircraft was returned to Boeing (who by then had re-absorbed Stearman) where it was modified with a more traditional nose, giving the pilot a regular windshield (you can see the difference in this photo from the Museum of the US Air Force). While the pilot gained better vision, the aircraft suffered a slight loss in airspeed from the added drag.

The Army still didn't bite, and only this one aircraft was built. The NA and the Douglas prototypes both crashed during testing, and Bell's proposal was withdrawn early on, before any hardware was built. Eventually, the Army cancelled the competition, but then revived it again, and all the originally competing designs were resubmitted, without hardware being required to be built. The winner of this paper competition was Douglas' Model 7B, which became the A-20 Havoc. The North American NA-20 design eventually was upgraded and entered into a medium bomber competition, to became the B-25 Mitchell. Martin went on to sell their Model 167F to the British to become their Maryland. Boeing chose, instead, to focus on the really big bombers.

Our image, an 8x10 glossy, apparently was a press publicity photo, and it ran in the June 1939 edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine (scroll down to pg 827).

A much more detailed history of the XA-21 can be found here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Kinner and his Sportster

When Bert Kinner was growing up, he was known as "the kid who could fix anything". As a young adult, he owned a Cadillac dealership, until he caught the aviation bug.

First setting up shop at "Kinner Airport" in Los Angeles County, he later moved to the bustling Glendale airport, designing both aircraft and the engines that powered them.

Today's photo shows a man who I presume to be Kinner (reference photos are very hard to come by) standing next to his first monoplane, the Sportster Model K. The photo is hand-inscribed on the back "Aug 21-'32 The first Kinner aeroplane going up to stunt."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Voodoo of Operation Firewall

Operation Firewall was an attempt to set a world record with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. The aircraft used was the unique JF-101A, which had been modified to use the more powerful engines being tested for the proposed two-seat F-101B (visually distinguished by the longer afterburners), so it had a better thrust-to-weight ratio than standard single-seat F-101As. On December 12, 1957, 426 was flown by Major Adrian Drew and set a world speed record of 1,207.6 mph over a ten-mile course at Edwards AFB, beating the previous record held by the British (the Voodoo's record was later beat by a Lockheed F-104). Drew was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for the effort. A video documenting the flight can be seen here (clearly shot in those primitive days before ground crew wore ear protection!).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Los Angeles to Tokyo, the Hard Way

Zensaku Azuma in his Travel Air 4000, presumably in Japan. The hand-written
text translates roughly "Mr. Zensaku Higasihi 'Tokyo OT' likes this small
airplane very much," with "Tokyo OT" referring to text painted on the
airplane itself. The last line, on the far left, seems to indicate the name of the
airport, but it isn't clear.
Back in December, in my blog post commemorating the Voyager's round-the-world flight, I noted that Dick Rutan's clearance request on takeoff asked for "Edwards to Edwards, the hard way." He wasn't the only one to think in traveling from one place to another "the hard way."

Japanese-American aviator Zensaku Azuma (1893-1967) had that idea as well. In the words of the Indiana Evening Gazette for Wednesday, June 25, 1930, "Evidently the Oriental mind reasons that 'the longest way around is the shortest way home,' so Zensaku Azuma, a Pasadena, Calif, chop suey restauranteur (a Japanese, nevertheless) plans to fly from California to Tokio via New York, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Siberia, China and Korea. The trip across the Atlantic would be made by steamship, the rest by air."

Azuma was born in Minami-Omi, Hakui County, Ishikawa (what is now known as either Nakanuma or Takamatsu - depending on the Japanese source - in Kahoku), and as a young newspaper reporter in Japan, had reported on some of the earliest aircraft, and found himself attracted to aviation. Wanting to learn to fly, he traveled to the US in 1916, at the age of 23, and earned his pilots license by 1922. He also earned a reputation for being somewhat flamboyant. In 1923, after the Great Kanto earthquake in Japan, Azuma painted "Help Japan" in large letters on a biplane and barnstormed in an effort to raise relief funds.

To earn a living, Azuma opened a Chinese restaurant (a "chop suey house" in the parlance of the age) in Pasadena. When Lindbergh made his historic flight in 1927, it inspired Azuma, who considered a similar "stunt" as a means of visiting his homeland. The feat earned him the nickname "the Japanese Lindbergh" in contemporary media.

Meanwhile, Travel Air 4000 NC4835, serial 419, first shows up in the records, as an entry dated April 30, 1928 in the register from the old Davis-Monthan Airfield, when it was flown by Santa Barbara orthodontist Dr. J. Bert Saxby, on a trip from El Paso, TX to Santa Barbara. Before Dr. Saxby acquired the plane, it apparently had been owned by cowboy actor, rodeo star and stunt pilot Ken Maynard. (As an aside, after owning the Travel Air, Maynard bought a Steaman, and at the 1933 National Air Races, he flew it in a grudge race against actor Hoot Gibson. Rounding one of the pylons, Maynard crashed, and while he survived, his airplane was destroyed).

Azuma purchased the Travel Air in April 1930, and had it modified from a typical two-seat configuration to a single seater, with the rest of the space being used for additional fuel tankage for the flight to Japan. As such, it was re-registered in the restricted category as NR4835. Then, from June through August 1930, he fulfulled his dream and flew the Travel Air across three continents enroute to Japan. He first across the U.S. from Los Angeles to New York, before having the plane disassembled and loaded onto a steamship for the voyage to England. There, he had the aircraft reassembled in Hanworth by National Flying Services, Ltd. He repositioned from Hanworth to Croydon and then left for the trip east on July 22.

After spending the night of August 30th in Seole, Azuma finally landed at about 5:22 pm (local) on Saturday, August 31, 1930, at Tokyo's Tachikawa Aviation Grounds, where he and the City of Tokyo were greeted by a large crowd. All tolled, Azuma logged 70 flying days and over 11,200 miles during his journey. He was celebrated as both a local and a national aviation hero, and was even presented with a "trophy" by the Japanese Emperor.

Buoyed by success, Azuma began planning and attempting to raise funds for a one-stop California to Japan trans-Pacific flight, but it does not appear that he never actually attempted the flight. Years later, in 1955, Azuma once again entered the spotlight of history as the first person to discover the mineral uranium in Japan, and became a vocal proponent of the "health benefits" of uranium - going so far as to plant a "uranium garden" from which he harvested and ate vegetables.

With the growing militaristic nature of Japanese society in the 1930s, the City of Tokyo wound up in the hands of the Japanese Army, but since it was clear that the Travel Air 4000 was by no means a combat-worthy aircraft, they disposed of it. It was subsequently re-registered as J-BAOJ; old registration records show the ownership as being Nippon Demppo Tsunshin, while other records identify the owner as Nippon Denjo Communications Company, which today is known as Dentsu.

This organization apparently acquired the aircraft in November 1931 as a result of the Manchurian incident, in which a Japanese-instigated act of sabotage was used as a pretext for the wholesale invasion of the Chinese region of Manchuria. The Travel Air was used in China to transport news reports and photographs of the fighting. When the Japanese established the puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 in the territory which they occupied, they mounted a showy Declaration of Independence ceremony. News photos of the ceremony were being flown out in the Travel Air when the aircraft was severely damaged at Ulsan air base near Pusan. There is no record of it being repaired.

There is one really good photo of the Tokyo on the internet, at the Japanese Aeronautic Association website (the page is in Japanese, but if you open it with Google Chrome, you'll get a machine translation of it).

In Zensaku's hometown, there is a monument to him, and the town annually hosts a paper airplane contest in his honor. With that in mind, as a small footnote to the story, the City of Tokyo shows up on a paper model airplane hobbyist website as a downloadable plan...and apparently it was painted red.

(Huge nod to Ann A., Jayne and her mom for the translation of the handwriting on the photo!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Blessed are the Peacemakers..."

"...For they shall find peace." For the B-36 Peacemaker, which had be conceived in the midst of fear of war, this biblical prophecy came true. In early 1941, with the real possibility of a Nazi invasion of the United Kingdom, and the potential loss of friendly landing fields for American aircraft, U.S Army planners decided that what was needed was an extremely long-range, intercontinental bomber that could reach enemy territory from bases in America. What this represented was an almost incomprehensible leap in technology - keep in mind, this was only ten years after the Keystone and Condor bombers that we've seen in other posts recently. And despite being developed during one war and in service during another, the B-36 never dropped or fired a weapon in anger. Our official Consolidated Vultee photo (the print is stamped on the back) shows the very first Peacemaker, the one and only XB-36 built, presumably on its first flight.

And as large of a leap in bomber state-of-the-art that B-36 represented, it still wound up pretty much obsolete by the time it came on line. There were some glaring design issues. The plane had the longest wingspan of any military aircraft ever built (even to this day), and the wing flexing resulting in persistent metal fatigue and cracking issues. The plane was powered by six P&W R-4360 radial piston engines (the largest production piston engines built), but they had issues, including chronic overheating, and if you weren't careful about starting them exactly correctly, all 56 (!) spark plugs (yes, that's in just one of the engines) would foul and have to be removed and cleaned. Later production aircraft supplemented the radials with four turbojet engines, paired in pods under the outer wings.

The XB-36 was an astoundingly huge aircraft, and there were some aspects of it that make you wonder what the engineers were thinking. For instance, the plane was designed with a single huge tire on each main landing gear. At that time, these were the larges tires ever manufactured, each was nine feat in diameter, three feet wide and weighed 1,300 pounds (you could manufacture 60 automobile tires with the rubber in just one of these bad boys). With the majority of the weight of the aircraft concentrated on just those two tires, the runway loading was so high that there were only three airports in the world which could handle the XB-36. Needless to say, this was re-designed for the production aircraft, and these were later retrofitted onto the XB-36 as well.

The XB-36 was used for flight testing and later a limited amount of flight training. It was judged too expensive to convert it to production standards, and so it ended up as a derelict at Carswell AFB as a fire fighting trainer.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Eyes of the Idaho

An O2U-1 is craned onto the Idaho. And,
yes, both these photos are tall and skinny.
This isn't how I've cropped them, it's how
Kodak marketed photography as it moved
from being a specialty to a consumer-based
industry...they figured the most popular
subject to shoot would be your friends and
relatives - and people are tall and skinny,
so the pictures should be, too.
Before the advent of sea-going radar during and after World War II, battleship commanders relied on Naval Aviators and their fragile seaplanes to be their eyes, patrolling over the horizon for the lurking enemy. The USS Idaho serves as an example of the small but vital contribution that non-aircraft carrier based naval aviation made to America's fleet. Through coincidence, the Archive has obtained three different images from three widely separated sources, all three showing elements of the Idaho's air eyes.

A mechanic works on the engine of
one of Idaho's Corsairs, while mounted
on the fantail catapult.
When she was launched in July 1917, the Idaho (BB-42, the fourth ship to bear the name) was referred to as a "superdreadnaught" rather than a battleship, and was, in the words of the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, the "heaviest fighting craft afloat". Between late 1931 and 1934, she was extensively modernized, a process that included the removal of the removal of her original masts. She, like other battleships of her class, were typically assigned three scout aircraft, with two of them stationed on the catapult of the No. 3 turret, and the third one on the fantail catapult.

Up until about 1936 (I can't find a definitive date for the transition, input is invited), the planes used by Observation Squadron 3 (VO-3) were Vought O2U-1 Corsairs; after this, they transitioned into SOC-3 Seagulls. This suggests that the photos here were all taken between October 1934 and sometime in about 1936.

The O2U-1, built from 1930 to 1936, was a pontoon-equipped variant to the wheel-equipped O2U Corsair. It could fly at over 160 knots and had a range of 680 miles, so it was ideal platform for finding enemy ships and directing over-the-horizon fire from the Idaho's twelve 14-inch guns.

If you look carefully, in the center of the water, the old 8x10 has been stamped
- once upon a time in gold lettering - with "USS Idaho". 
A detailed photo history of the Idaho can be found here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gremlin Hotel

I'm continually amazed at how, in my hunt for vintage photos to feature here, I can find related prints in very different locations. Today's pair of photos is a case in point: one came from an antiques store in Long Beach, one from a store in Cambria. No connection, yet they are of the same plane, from what appears to be the same photo chase flight.

The plane shown is XB-29 serial 41-18335, the third of three prototype Superfortresses, which also carried Boeing Model No. 345. The first two aircraft had been ordered by the Army Air Corps in August, 1940, with the order for the third prototype being placed that December.

There is a tradition at Boeing, which continues to this day,  of shooting portraits
of all their new models with Mount Rainier in the background. Note the three-
bladed props - production aircraft were equipped with four-bladed propellers.
The first flight of an XB-29 (41-002) took place on September 21, 1942. Early in the test program, there were numerous problems with the R-3350 engines, and some of these resulted in small fires. Then disaster befell the program on February 18, 1943 when the second prototype (41-003) developed a fuel leak just eight minutes into the flight and caught fire, crashing into a meat packing plant while trying to get back to the airfield. At that time, the existence of the B-29 was still a secret, so press accounts of the crash and fire only referred to the plane as a "bomber".

Killed in the crash were all eleven on board, including Boeing Chief Test Pilot Edmund "Eddie" Allen (who also served as chief of Boeing's research division), test pilot Bob Dansfield, and a number of other senior Boeing flight test engineers and senior staff. Another 21 people on the ground, including a firefighter, were killed as well.

After the crash, a congressional investigation led by Senator Harry S. Truman resulted in a scathing report which revealed that Curtiss-Wright, the manufacturer of the engines, was using substandard parts. As a result of the report, the Army took over the flight test program from Boeing, with the two XB-29s and fourteen YB-29s soldiering on.

Also as a result, 41-18335 received upgraded engines and a number of other improvements to help prevent future fires. When originally ordered, the plane was given the name The Flying Guinea Pig, but at some point, she was affectionately named Gremlin Hotel by her crews (in the photo at this link, from the Museum of the U.S. Air Force, you can just barely make out that name painted in small letters on the nose of the plane).

The gremlins had their time with this plane as well. On May 23, 1943, during a high speed taxi test in which Col. Leonard "Jake" Harmon intended to take the plane to flying speed, but not leave the runway , it was found that plane tipped to the right when he moved the control wheel to the left, with the right wingtip scraping the runway. He managed to use engine power to recover, and the plane became airborne for a short time before Harmon set it down on a parallel taxiway. After an investigation, it was found that the aileron cables had been connected backwards, causing the ailerons to move in the opposite direction as intended. The "official" first flight didn't come until late June, after the first of the YB-29s had taken to the air.

After the initial phases of flight testing were complete, Gremlin Hotel was also used to set up the production line at Boeing, and later crashed during further flight testing.

The Museum of the U.S. Air Force also has another photo of the plane with Mount Rainier, at this link.

A fascinating article about the crash - and the art museum that came to be as a result - can be found at this Seattle Times link.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Enola Gay on Tinian

The Enola Gay, with Necessary Evil (No. 91) on the far right. Because the aircraft
received its Circle R disguise on August 1 and the aircraft name on August 5th, it
can be concluded that this photo was taken after the mission, when the tail had
been painted back to its 509th identification.
There is probably no more well-known, iconic and controversial aircraft from WWII than the B-29 Enola Gay. So to find an original, non-official 1945 photograph of her on Tinian Island in a tiny, dark antique store, buried in a pile of other mundane photos, was a surprise indeed. In fact, when I picked up the photo, my brain registered simply "B-29", and I handed it to the owner to ring up. He took a closer look and recognized it for what it was (and raised the price, too).

Enola Gay (B-29-45-MO 45-86292) was one of 15 B-29s that were modified during construction under a program code-named Silverplate, and which included special provision for carrying nuclear weapons.

Enola Gay was assigned to the 509th Composite Group (which consisted of a single squadron, the 393rd), assigned at the time to the 313th Bombardment Wing, 20th Air Force. The group's aircraft identification symbol was a large arrowhead within a circle painted on the tail, but when flying active missions, the tails of its aircraft were repainted with the symbols of other B-29 combat units, for security purposes (it was suspected that there were Japanese spies on Tinian who were reporting activities of the 509th's aircraft back to Tokyo). Thus, for the Hiroshima mission, Enola Gay carried the circle-R of the 6th Bomb Group, as did B-29 Victor No. 91, Necessary Evil, which can be seen in the far right of the photo with its 6th BG disguise still on the tail. Enola Gay was originally assigned Victor number 12, but this was later changed to 82 so that it would not conflict with one of the 6BG aircraft.

The aircraft arrived in theater on July 6, 1945, and carried out a series of conventional bomb missions, including raids on Kobe and Koriyama, and practice atomic sorties. On these missions, the aircraft was commanded by Capt. Robert A. Lewis, and the plane hadn't been given a nickname. On August 5, 1945, Victor 82 was selected to be the weapons aircraft for OPERATION CENTERBOARD I, and as part of that assignment, 509th Group Commander Paul W. Tibbets Jr. elected to command the aircraft, bumping Lewis into the co-pilot's position. Tibbets then named the plane after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets, over the objections of Lewis. The crew and the newly christened Enola Gay took off for their fateful mission at 0245 the next morning.

Enola Gay's last combat mission was as a weather scout plane three days later for the Nagasaki bombing mission. The 509th returned to the US on November 6, 1945, and was stationed at Roswell Army Airfield, New Mexico, where the unit eventually became the core of the new Strategic Air Command. Enola Gay was donated to the Smithsonian on July 4, 1949, and her last flight was on December 2, 1949, when she landed at Andrews AFB.

A color photo of Enola Gay in almost the same spot from the Joseph Papalia collection can be seen here.

In 2008, while writing a newspaper article on the number of aircraft from the Mojave area that are preserved at NASM, I had the privilege of spending a lot of time at the Hazy Center shooting just about everything that was there, including Enola Gay as she looks today.