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Category Archives: Historic Aviation

THE COMMANDO

COM#1

 

My dad told me a number of stories about flying in an aircraft during World War II, in which the aircrews could transport their gear by driving a jeep up a ramp into the plane.  That plane, the Curtiss C-46 Commando, played a pivotal role in World War II, as well as Korea and Viet Nam.  During the course of this blog, we’ll follow the service of the Commando in a number of tasks for which it was uniquely suited.

Development of the C-46 began in 1937 by Curtiss-Wright as the CW-20 airliner.  The CW-20 was initially developed through private funding for the purpose of competing with the four-engine Douglas DC-4 and the Boeing Stratoliner by offering a pressurized cabin.  However, the CW-20 cabin provided an edge in pressurization over the previous two aircraft due to a figure-eight or double-bubble fuselage, which enabled it to better withstand the pressure differential at high altitudes.  This was accomplished by having the sides of the fuselage creased at the level of the floor, not only separating the two sections, but sharing the stress of each, rather than merely supporting itself.  This concept allowed the main spar of the wing to pass through the bottom section, which was designed for cargo without disturbing the upper passenger compartment.  The emphasis in the design of the CW-20 was one of simplicity coupled with economy, which dictated a twin-engine concept as opposed to a four-engine one.

After an intensive series of wind tunnel tests, the CW-20 in its final form had a streamlined fuselage with the cockpit area blended as a glazed dome.  In spite of its aerodynamic appearance, the aircraft had a large capacity for its day and could comfortably seat thirty-four passengers.  The engines featured a unique nacelle tunnel cowl, in which air was ducted in and expelled through the bottom of the cowl, reducing turbulent airflow and induced drag across the upper wing surface.  Though Curtiss-Wright approached a number of airlines to sign contracts for the CW-20, only 25 letters of intent were received.  However, CW management decided there was enough potential to begin production.  The initial configuration of the CW-20 included twin vertical tail surfaces with the aircraft powered by two 1,700 hp. Wright Cyclone engines.  After a successful test flight in March 1940, the aircraft was fitted with a large single tail to improve performance at low speeds.  As a result of tests later that year, General Henry “Hap” Arnold became interested in the potential of the twenty as a military transport and ordered 46 CW-20As  in September 1940. This order was later increased to 200 planes.  Now designated the C-46, the aircraft received enlarged cargo doors, a more durable load floor and a convertible cabin, which allowed ease of change in carrying freight and troops.  Perhaps the most important modification was the upgrade to the 2,000 hp. Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines, giving the C-46 the ability to fly on a single engine for extended periods.

By December 7, 1941 only two of the proposed two-hundred aircraft of the 1940 order had been delivered to the USAAF.  The Commando was well suited to operations in the Pacific Theater, due to its heavier payload, longer range, faster cruising speed and higher altitude over the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.  The surface area of the Commando’s wing was also greater than either the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress or the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, the largest USAAF bombers in service at the time. With a service ceiling of nearly 28,000 ft., the C-46 was the prime mover in flying cargo over the Himalaya Mountains to troops and bases in China in desperate need.  This effort gained importance during the early phases of B-29 operations from China launched against the Japanese home islands.  While other transports had been employed in the area, the C-46 proved the most versatile and durable aircraft, in overcoming adverse weather conditions, heavy cargo loads, mountain terrain and poorly equipped runways, which remained a constant challenge.  During the course of its service in the China, Burma, India and Pacific areas, the Commando experienced a number of mechanical problems, primarily with the Curtiss-Electric pitch control mechanism on the propellers.  However, once the pitch control mechanism had been removed the incidence of mechanical problems began to decrease.  The US Marines found the C-46 (R5C) useful in both flying supplies to island bases and evacuating wounded personnel from unimproved runways.

Though the Commando played a vital role in the CBI and Pacific areas, it was not deployed in significant numbers to Europe until March 1945, when it complemented existing C-47 Skytrain transports during Operation Varsity, the airborne effort in support of Allied forces crossing the Rhine.  Though the C-46s sustained a twenty-five per cent loss rate, this was largely due to delayed upgrades of self-sealing fuel tanks with the aircraft particularly vulnerable during low altitude air drops.  While the plane overall had been successful during World War II, after undergoing a number of modifications, its airline service after the war became limited due to both higher fuel and maintenance costs over the C-47/DC-3.  However, a number of surplus C-46s were used by small airlines, such as the Flying Tigers and World Airways to carry both cargo and passengers over mountainous and jungle areas of South America, where vehicle transport would be impractical.  C-46s were flown in support of Israel’s war for independence in 1948, flying both cargo and bombing missions.  Commandos flew resupply missions for Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in the civil war against Mao’s Communist forces in China.  In the early 1950s, C-46s flew clandestine missions in both Korea and French Indo-China, dropping both agents and supplies behind enemy lines. The CIA formed its own airline for these operations, Civil Air Transport, later renamed Air America.  The C-46 also flew supplies in support of the Bay Of Pigs invasion in 1961, as well as counterinsurgency operations in Viet Nam until being replaced in that role by the C-130 in 1968.

While the Commando experienced a number of mechanical problems during its service, such as fuel system and fluid leaks, these were primarily solved by maintenance in the field.  Though the C-46 required about 50% more maintenance hours over the C-47, the Commando was both a larger and a more capable aircraft, performing a variety of missions for our nation at a critical time.

 

COM#2

 

 

 

THE LIBERATOR

LIB#1

In 1938 Consolidated Aircraft was approached by by United States Army Air Corps to augment the Boeing plant in Seattle in the production of B-17 bombers.  However, after touring the Boeing plant Consolidated engineers submitted a design of their own, which would be the most versatile bomber of World War II – the B-24 Liberator.  During this blog we’ll trace the development of the Liberator, as well as the many roles it played during the war.

Capitalizing on its success in building large flying boat aircraft in the 1930′s, Consolidated based the design of the Model 32 upon a shoulder-mounted Davis wing.  This concept proved highly efficient, giving the Liberator a high aspect ratio, in addition to greater speed, load and range.  The fuselage of the Liberator was structured around its bomb bays, with the forward and rear bomb bay compartments split lengthwise with a center line ventral catwalk, which also served as the fuselage’s structural keel beam.  A unique feature of the Liberator was it’s bomb bay doors.  Instead of having flap type doors, as with the B-17, the Liberator had a set of four tambour-panel metal bomb bay doors, which retracted up the outside fuselage of the plane, closing similar to the slide action of a roll top desk.  The reasons for this concept were retraction of the doors along the fuselage minimized drag, allowing the plane to fly over the target area at a high rate of speed, while maximizing ground clearance since the Liberator design was too low to allow the use of conventional bomb bay doors.  The aft fuselage was mated to a small wing with two tails, as with the earlier Model 31 flying boat.  The Liberator also had the distinction of being the first USAAF bomber to incorporate a tricycle landing gear system.

Designated by Consolidated as the B-24 in 1939, the Liberator began operations with the RAF the following year as a transport flying equipment and civilian ferry pilots between Canada and Britain.  The Liberators serving inPB4Y P this role were modified with the removal of armament and the placement of passenger seats and a revised cabin oxygen and heating system.  Liberators also tipped the scales in the Battle Of The Atlantic.  The delivery of Very Long Range (VLR) Liberators to the RAF Coastal Command in 1941 drastically increased the range of the RAF patrol force, closing the Mid Atlantic Gap, an area of the Atlantic in which U boats could operate free from air attack due to the limited range of existing patrol aircraft.  These B-24s were stripped of non-essential armament in order to save weight and carried additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay to extend the range of the plane.  By 1942 these Liberators carried ASV  (Air to Surface Vessel) radar, which coupled with the Leigh searchlight mounted under the wing, achieved a stunning rate of success against the U boats, with many U boat crews choosing to charge their batteries during daylight when they could see approaching aircraft.

The B-24′s first combat missions as a bomber were flown by the RAF in the Middle East in early 1942.  Though the missions were successful, the RAF never deployed the Liberator in a strategic role over Europe.  While the first combat for the Liberator with the USAAF was a failed mission against Wake Island in June 1942, within a week B-24s from an Egyptian base launched a raid against the Ploesti oil fields in Romania.  Though small in scope, this raid was a precursor of things to come.  This effort was followed up by another mission against Ploesti on August 1, 1943.  Operation Tidal Wave was the B-24′s most costly mission.  In June 1943, three B-24  groups were detailed from the Eighth Air Force in England to train with two B-24 groups from the Ninth Air Force to conduct the mission.  Flying from bases in North Africa, the joint force was to approach the Ploesti complex at low altitude in order to gain surprise over enemy fighters.  However, the attack became disorganized after a navigational error alerted the defenders, lengthening the bomb run.  Though much of the refinery was destroyed, it was producing at total capacity within a few months.  This was achieved at a loss of 54 Liberators of the 177 assigned to the mission.  It would take several missions flown by B-24s of the newly formed Fifteenth Air Force to completely destroy the Ploesti refinery the following year.

In 1943 the B-24 received a significant update with nose turrets installed on the H and J models, which were just entering production.  This was a marked improvement over the earlier D model, introduced in USAAF service in early 1942, having a web type front housing with two poke guns.  The powered Emerson turret enabled the Liberator to reduce vulnerability to head-on attacks.  The H and J models also featured an improved bomb sight and fuel transfer system.  The J model offered slight improvements in the bomb sight and autopilot over the H model and became the primary B-24 production model from August 1943 through the remainder of the war.  The Liberator became the dominant heavy bomber in the Pacific due to it’s greater range, payload and speed over the B-17, which was phased out by mid 1943.  Unlike the operations of the European theater, little strategic bombing was conducted in the Pacific by the Fifth and Seventh Air Forces, with the majority of the missions flown in support of ground forces.  As with the RAF, Liberators in the China, Burma, India (CBI) area were used in a transport role.  The converted cargo version, designated C-87, was used to airlift cargo over the Himalayas from India to China.  This was of critical importance early in the war, as the Liberator was the only USAAF transport immediately available which could fly over the Himalayas fully loaded.  A tanker model of the B-24 was also utilized in the CBI area.  The C-109 became operational in the summer of 1944 as a support aircraft for Boeing B-29 Superfortress operations launched from Chinese bases.  Unlike the C-87, the C-109 was not built on the assembly line, but converted in the field from existing B-24 production.  These modifications included the addition of several storage tanks, giving the 109 a capacity of 22,000 lbs. of fuel.  When fully loaded these aircraft proved difficult to fly, which dictated leaving the forward tanks empty.  While plans originally envisioned a fleet of 2,000 C-109 tankers to support 10 B-29 groups operating from China, the capture of the Mariana Islands offered a much easier location from which to supply raids on mainland Japan.

During its service the Liberator played a number of roles.  A dedicated naval version, the PB4Y Privateer, a single-tailed aircraft, was used by the navy in both the Atlantic and Pacific areas.  The B-24 was one of the first aircraft to use a precision-guided bomb, as well as jamming radar in flight.  From service as a VIP transport to bombing U boats in the Atlantic, the Liberator was there.  The B-24 was used by at least six Allied nations with more than a dozen versions produced.  When production ended in 1945, the Liberator was both the most diverse and the most produced USAAF aircraft of World War II-with more than 18,500 examples built.

 

DEDICATED TO JON GARVIS

 

 

LAST HORIZON

MARINE AIR

MAR#1

 

Over the past 100 years, Marine Aviation has grown in both numbers and variety of missions.  During this blog, we’ll trace the history of USMC aviation from its inception to the many roles it plays in defense of our nation today.

The beginnings of Marine Aviation date back to 1912 when First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham reported for aviation duty at the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis, Maryland.  The camp was composed of two officers, six mechanics, and three aircraft.  Cunningham soloed on August 20. 1912 after a mere two hours and forty minutes of instruction.  During the next four years, Lts. Bernard L. Smith, William M. Mcllvain, Francis T. Evans and Roy S. Geiger were assigned to the school.  Each pilot had his own concept of how this new arm could enhance Marine Corps. operations.  This resulted in two rival concepts of Marine Aviation, one in which the sole mission of the air arm was combat support of ground forces, while the other emphasized combined operations in which Marine Aviation supported the Navy.  A training exercise in 1914 proved the value of USMC aviation.  This exercise was a test of the ability of a Marine force to occupy, fortify and defend an advanced base and hold it against hostile attack.  The air contingent was composed of two officers with ten mechanics, one flying boat and one amphibian.  As the exercise progressed, two pilots took brigade commanders on reconnaissance flights over the battle area.  The brigade officers were impressed with the speed and field of vision of the aircraft and recommended doubling the size of both the pilots and ground crew.

With the US declaration of war against Germany in 1917, Marine Aviation entered a period of rapid growth in both manpower and equipment.  The Marine Corps entered the war with 511 officers and 13,214 enlisted.  By wars end the Corps. commitment totaled 2,400 officers and 70,000 enlisted.  While the initial concept of Marine deployment to France was to send a brigade to fight alongside the Army, Marine Aviation began to assert itself to ensure that the new arm got its share of Corps. manpower, additionally providing air support for the brigade.  However, Marine Corps. Aviation found itself split between two competing missions.  Land-based planes provided artillery spotting and reconnaissance for the brigade deployed to France, as well as a seaplane unit flying antisubmarine patrols.  In addition to flying cover for ground forces, Marine Air units carried out fourteen bombing missions against railway yards, canals, and supply dumps, resulting in the destruction of four German aircraft.

After World War I ended, the Marine Corps., along with the other services, began a desperate struggle to persuade Congress to maintain prewar levels of bases, personnel, and equipment.  As a sidebar to the overall battle for military appropriations, Lt. (now Maj.) Cunningham fought for a permanent status for Marine Aviation.  He appeared before a number of military organizations, in addition to Congressional Committees.  Cunningham also wrote a number of articles emphasizing the role of aviation in future military conflicts.  As a result of his efforts and those of other military leaders, Marine Aviation had survived with Congress authorizing Marine Corps. strength at twenty percent of total Navy strength in 1920.  The Corps. found it necessary to conduct a number of well-publicized exercises in order to garner further support from both Congress and the American public.  One such exercise was conducted in 1922 in which a force of 4,000 Marines marched from Quantico, Va. to Gettysburg, Pa.  Three heavy Martin MTB bombers were assigned to support the march.  The Marine aviators flew a total of 500 hours and 40,000 air miles, carrying passengers and freight, as well as executing simulated attack missions.  Marine aviators tested both new equipment and techniques, with the first successful dive-bombing conducted in 1919.  They also made several long-distance flights, in addition to participating in a number of key air races.   Overseas deployments to the Carribean, China, and the Western Pacific in the 1930s proved the flexibility of Marine Air.

Marine Aviation experienced a phenomenal growth during World War II.  In 1936 there were only 145 Marine pilots on active duty with a gradual increase to 245 by mid-1940.  By the end of that year, it had swelled to 425, augmented by the Marine Corps. Aviation Reserve.  At the time of Pearl Harbor, Marine Aviation was composed of 13 squadrons and 204 aircraft.  By the end of the war, its strength had increased to 145 squadrons and approximately 3,000 aircraft.  To support this expansion, new bases were required in the continental United States.  New and larger bases such as Cherry Point, NC replaced the original base at Quantico Virginia, while El Toro, CA replaced the older base at San Diego on the West Coast.  The location of both bases was in close proximity to the major Marine ground bases at Camp Lejune, North Carolina and Camp Pendleton, California.  The location of these bases facilitated the doctrine of close air support of Marine ground units by Marine Aviation.  Though outnumbered, Marine pilots performed admirably in the defense of Wake Island, sinking the destroyer Kisaragi and shooting down seven Japanese aircraft.  While sustaining heavy losses at Midway, Marine aviators nevertheless played a vital role in the victory there.  They plowed their way up the Solomons from Henderson Field at Guadalcanal to Okinawa, providing dedicated ground support.  Marine aviation ended the war with 2,335 aircraft destroyed, producing 121 aces.

After World War II, Marine aviation began to emphasize operations from aircraft carriers, which actually began late in that war.  The development of the helicopter also broadened the horizons of Marine Aviation.  When the Korean War began in 1950, Marine Aviation units were alerted for combat duty.  Within six weeks, a carrier-based squadron was flying ground attack missions.  Marine air gave a good account of itself flying ground support missions for UN forces in the Pusan Perimeter, as well as providing valuable close air support for the Inchon landing from carriers and later Kimpo Airfield.  Along with the Navy and Air Force, Marine aircraft supplied the 1st Marine Division and evacuated more than 5,000 casualties during the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir.  By the end of the war in July 1953, Marine aircraft flew more than 118,000 sorties, of which 29,500 were close support missions.  Marine helicopter squadrons evacuated approximately 10,000 ground troops during the course of the war.

Marine Aviation was at the forefront during the Viet Nam War, and both Gulf Wars.  It has a long tradition of providing close air support and material support of ground forces.  Though its missions have changed in recent years, it remains a force of readiness for the nation.

 

MAR#3

 

SAVED BY THE SABRE

F-86#1

 

In late 1950, as USAF B-29s were bombing North Korean supply lines in support of UN ground troops, they encountered a swept-winged North Korean aircraft capable of great speed.  While the introduction of the MIG-15 caught United Nations forces by surprise, its counterpart would prove to be a legend among jet fighter aircraft.

As early as 1944, North American Aviation had proposed a jet aircraft design to the US Navy, as a result of combat against the early German jet fighters, such as the ME-262.  This design, the FJ-1 Fury was, in essence, a jet version of the P-51 MUSTANG.  Though its speed was impressive compared to piston-powered fighters, its overall performance failed to meet expectations.  However, within a few months, the USAAF approached North American with a requirement for a medium-range, single-seat, high-altitude, jet-powered day escort fighter/fighter-bomber.  In early 1945, North American submitted four designs to the Air Corps with North American granted permission to produce three examples of the XP-86 (Experimental Pursuit) aircraft.  While the XP-86 was a lighter plane than the Fury, and could attain 582 mph, as opposed to 547 for the FJ-1, the XP-86 could not meet the Air Corps requirement for a top speed of 600 mph.  Furthermore, two rival designs, the XP-80 and XP-84 having speeds in the range of the XP-86 were already under development and might result in cancellation of the contract for the XP-86.

North American was able to solve this problem with a leapfrog in technology.  The XP-86 was the first American aircraft to take advantage of captured German test data at the end of World War II, which indicated a thin swept wing could greatly reduce drag and delay compressibility problems when an aircraft approached the speed of sound.  Further study of the tests revealed a swept wing would solve the speed problem, while a slat on the wing’s leading edge would enhance low-speed stability.  Since the 86 was approaching an advanced stage of development, North American’s senior management was hesitant to incorporate a swept wing design.  However, after a series of wind tunnel tests, a 35-degree sweep offered the best performance with automatic front slats and an electrically adjusted stabilizer based on the ME-262.  As a result of combat experience gained in Korea, the front edge wing slats were phased out in favor of a leading edge chord extending 6 inches from the wing root to 3 inches at the tip.

Though much of the design work was delayed until after the end of World War II, the first F-86 SABRE was completed on August 8, 1947, with the first flight occurring on October 1 of that year.  The SABRE was first assigned to the USAF Strategic Air Command in 1949 prior to its deployment to Korea in late 1950.  The F-86 set a number of speed records during its early years, an official world speed record of 671 mph in September 1948, a 1951Bendix Trophy for an average speed of 553.76 mph, as well as the first woman, Jacqueline Cochran, to break the speed of sound in May 1953.

When the Soviet MIG-15 was introduced in November 1950, it outperformed all UN aircraft, such as the straight-winged F-80 and F-84.  The MIG was clearly a generation ahead of both types, as well as the F9F PANTHER, flown by the US Navy from carriers offshore.  Three squadrons of F-86s were dispatched to the Far East in December 1950.  Though the F-86 and the MIG-15 were evenly matched and based on similar design concepts, there were a number of differences.  SABRES were more aerodynamically stable and could turn, roll and dive faster than the MIG.  The F-86 could also go supersonic in a dive, while the MIG would experience structural damage attempting to do so.  The SABRE was also equipped with a radar gunsight, which allowed pilots to quickly aim their .50 caliber guns more accurately-even compensating for speed.  The MIG-15s key advantages were faster climbing and acceleration rates, effective handling at high altitudes and being somewhat more maneuverable.  Firepower between the two aircraft was a tradeoff, with the SABRE firing more smaller rounds more accurately aimed and the MIG firing less accurate but larger bore (23mm and 37mm) ammunition.  Perhaps the deciding factor in the air war over Korea was the quality of pilots.  Many of the MIGs were flown by Soviet pilots for about the first year of their deployment.  Many of these were aces from World War II and were thus capable pilots.  The USAF followed the same philosophy, sending a number of World War II aces to Korea as well.  While the Soviet pilots were well trained, the USAF training program at Nellis AFB was both more broad and intense.  As Soviet pilots were rotated home, they were replaced by less capable Chinese and North Korean pilots.  As the war progressed, this was reflected in the loss ratio between the two aircraft.  While the overall loss ratio was in favor of the SABRE of about eight to one by wars end (78 to 687), the loss ratio against Soviet pilots has been disputed in recent years, with a number of former Soviet pilots stating a loss ratio of two to one in favor of the SABRE.  The most hotly contested battles were fought over an area near the mouth of the Yalu River known as MIG ALLEY.

After the Korean War, the SABRE was exported to a number of nations to include NATO allies such as the United Kingdom, Canada, West Germany, Greece, Spain, Norway and Turkey, as well as Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  The last SABRE was retired from the Bolivian Air Force in 1994.  Though the SABRE was in service for many years, the high point of its career was in Korea-in which a few brave pilots and planes made the difference in saving a nation.

 

F-86#2

 

 

THE CONNIE

CON#1

 

In 1939 Trans World Airlines was becoming a major competitor with Pan American Airlines for the emerging overseas route service.  While TWA contracted with Lockheed to develop an aircraft to rival the performance and capacity of the Boeing Stratoliner, a major stockholder of TWA requested Lockheed to build an even greater plane-one which would ultimately define both an airline and an era of aviation.

Though Lockheed had been working on the L-044 Excalibur since 1937, Howard Hughes, the majority stockholder of Trans World, requested Lockheed develop an even more capable aircraft with a forty passenger capacity and a range of 3,500 miles.  The new design, the L-049 Constellation, was a radical departure from previous airliners.  The tripletail configuration kept the aircraft’s height low enough to fit in existing hangars.  The wing layout was similar to another Lockheed plane, the P-38 Lightning.  The L-049 featured such innovations as hydraulically boosted controls and a de-icing system used on wing and tail surfaces and mounted tricycle landing gear.  The Constellation had an impressive performance for its day, being able to attain a maximum speed of 375 mph. with a cruising speed of 340 mph. – faster than many fighters of the era, with a service ceiling of 24,000 ft.

While intended for use as an airliner, the L-049s which entered service for TWA in January 1943 were quickly converted to military transports with the USAAF ordering 202 aircraft.  The military designation, C-69, was used primarily as a long-range troop transport.  Though the C-69 was successful in its role, only 22 aircraft were produced during the war.  A number remained in service with the USAF into the 1960s, ferrying relocating military personnel.  Lockheed even had plans to develop the L-049 as a long-range bomber (XB-30), but the design was never pursued.

 

CON#2

 

Following World War II the Constellation began its heyday.  USAAF C-69 transports were completed as civil airliners with TWA accepting its first aircraft in October 1945, initiating its first transatlantic flight from Washington DC to Paris in December of that year.  During the late 1940s, the Constellation was upgraded several times to increase fuel capacity and speed.  Finally, in early 1951 the Super Constellation was introduced.  The Super Connie was extended 18.4 ft. over the L-1049 (L-049).  to expand passenger capacity to ninety- two seats with a cruising speed of 305 mph. and a range of 5,150 miles.  With auxiliary wing-tip fuel tanks, the Super Constellation could fly non-stop between New York and Los Angeles.  Some pilots used to shorter runs began to complain about long days.  An early problem with the 1049 Model was excessive exhaust gas flaming-sometimes past the trailing wing edge.  Once the exhaust problem was corrected, the Super Connie became a highly successful airliner.

In 1955 the Constellation underwent additional updates.  Though still called the Super Constellation, the Model 1649 aircraft was first designated the Super Star Constellation, finally evolving into the Starliner name by Lockheed.  The Starliner was the most extensive modification of any Constellation models.  The Starliner had features such as fully reclining seats for long flights, a more precise cabin temperature control, and ventilation, as well as state of the art noise insulation.  The Starliner had outside improvements which included a longer and narrower wing, nearly doubling the capacity of the original Connie with twice the range at maximum payload-enabling it to reach any major European air hub non-stop from US airports.  The Model 1649 also has the distinction of being the fastest piston-engined airliner flown at ranges of over 4,000 miles.

The Constellation served a number of military roles, in addition to a troop transport.  In 1948 the USAF placed an order for ten Constellation transport aircraft (C-121).  Several of these were deployed in support of the Berlin Airlift later that year.  Six of the planes were later reconfigured to VIP transports (VC-121), one of which was used by Dwight Eisenhower as NATO Chief Of Staff.  Eisenhower was so impressed with the plane, he named it Columbine.  When he became President he was assigned another VC-121, which he named Columbine II.  In the early 1950s, the US Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps ordered C-121s mounted with radar domes on top to provide long-range radar for surface ships, as well as surveillance radar for command and control of aircraft.  In the early 1960s, EC-121s briefly performed an anti-submarine role for the US Navy.

By the end of the 1950s, the Constellation became an aviation icon.  It was in service with more than a dozen airlines, quickly becoming the flagship of Trans World Airlines.  The Connie was in service with both the US military and several other government agencies, with duties ranging from tracking smugglers to hurricanes.  Though expensive to build due to its tapered fuselage, the Constellation was a graceful aircraft.  While being rapidly phased out by the major airlines in 1961 in favor of newer jetliners such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, the Connie was still in use with a number of regional airlines with 856 examples built.  Howard Hughes gamble in 1939 had paid off in a big way.

 

THE BUFF

B-52#1

 

In late 1945 the USAAF was at a crossroads.  While the B-29 Superfortress was a capable platform in carrying the war to Japan, future requirements dictated an aircraft of intercontinental range, in excess of five thousand miles.  The Convair B-36 Peacemaker met this requirement, but would not enter service for three more years.  Further complicating matters, General Curtis LeMay and several other forward thinking generals were considering a jet powered bomber.  However, within a few years, the generals and engineers got together and designed a truly great jet bomber – the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.  During this blog we will tell the story of the B-52, its development and its long service record with the USAF.

In addition to the range requirements of the aircraft, other performance characteristics specified by the Air Material Command in 1946 were a cruising speed of 300 mph. at an altitude of 34,000 ft., with a minimal payload of 10,000 lbs with five or six 20mm. gun turrets.  The AMC issued bids later that year with Boeing, Glen L. Martin and Consolidated Aircraft submitting proposals.  The Air Force accepted the Boeing proposal, an aircraft powered by six turboprop engines with a range of 3,110 miles.  The Boeing plane, designated Model 462, was a straight-winged aircraft with a gross weight of 360,000 pounds – a heavy plane for its day.  As a result of the weight issue, the Air Force began to have doubts about the ability of the aircraft to successfully perform its mission.  Boeing then offered a smaller follow-up design, Model 464, having four engines and a 230,000 pound gross weight.  While the 464 aircraft was deemed acceptable, the Air Force changed its requirements within a few months to a plane having a 400 mph cruising speed, with a 300,000 pound gross weight.  Additionally, the Air Force wanted an aircraft with a range of twelve thousand miles, capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.  These modifications increased the gross weight of the plane to 480,000 lbs.

Boeing responded by proposing two bombers, Model 464-16 and Model 464-17.  Both planes were four engine turboprop designs, with the Model 16 being a nuclear only aircraft carrying a ten thousand lb. payload.  The Model 17 bomber was a conventional bomber, able to mount a 9,000 lb. payload.  By mid 1947 the Model 17 aircraft was deemed acceptable by the Air Force, except for the range requirement.  By now, designated the XB-52, the aircraft offered only marginal performance in speed and range over the Convair B-36, which was about to enter service.  The Air Force then postponed the project for six months in order to evaluate its potential.  After a series of intense discussions between Boeing and the Air Force, the XB-52 project was back on track in January 1948, with Boeing urged to include the latest aviation innovations in the bomber design such as jet engines and aerial refueling.  In May 1948, jet engines were substituted for turboprops which satisfied the Air Force.  However, the Air Force still wanted a turboprop design, since jet engines of the era lacked fuel efficiency.  October 1948 proved to be a crucial month for the XB-52 project.  Boeing engineers George Schairer, Art Carlsen and Vaughn Blumenthal presented a refined turboprop design to Colonel Pete Warden, Director of Bomber Development for the USAF.  After reviewing the proposal, Warden asked the Boeing design team if they could prepare a proposal for a four engine turbojet bomber.  The following day Colonel Warden scanned the design, requesting an improved version.  After returning to their hotel room, Schairer, Carlsen and Blumenthal were joined by Ed Wells, Boeing Vice President of Engineering, in addition to two other Boeing engineers, Bob Withington and Maynard Pennell.  After eight hours of intense deliberation, the Boeing team had designed an entirely new airplane.  The new concept of the XB-52 had 35 degree swept wings, based on the B-47 Stratojet, with eight engines paired in four pods below the wings with bicycle landing gear and outrigger wheels underneath the wingtips.  The XB-52 also had flexible landing gear, which could pivot 20 degrees from the aircraft centerline to compensate for crosswinds upon landing.  Warden approved the design the following week and the Air Force signed a contract with Boeing in February 1951 for an initial production run of 13 B-52As.

When the B-52 entered service in 1955, it was assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to deliver nuclear weapons under the doctrine of massive retaliation.  Carrying a 50,000 lb. payload coupled with the capability to fly nearly half way around the globe, the Stratofortress was ideally suited for its role and soon became the standard for future bomber aircraft.  Three B-52s from March AFB set a record around the world flight in 1957.  However, it had its share of teething troubles, as with all aircraft.  For example, the split level cockpit had climate control problems, while the pilot and co-pilot had sunlight exposure on the upper deck, the navigator and observer nearly froze on the lower deck.  Early B-52 models were often grounded due to both electrical and hydraulic issues, with the Air Force assigning contractor teams to B-52 bases, troubleshooting problems as they arose.

By the late 1950s, advances in Soviet surface to air (SAM) missile capabilities brought about a major upgrade in the electronic countermeasure capabilities of the B-52.  This situation also caused SAC to change its philosophy from high altitude bombing to low level penetration.  The switch to low altitude bombing required a number of modifications to B-52 component parts.  Such features as an updated radar altimeter, structural reinforcements, modified equipment mounts, an enhanced cooling system, as well as terrain avoidance radar were necessary to support missions flown at altitudes as low as 500 ft.  By the end of the decade, B-52 capabilities increased with the addition of the Quail and Hound Dog missile systems.  The Quail, a decoy missile, was carried in the aft bomb bay of the B-52 and launched while in flight to the target.  The missile was programmed by the crew to match the speed and altitude of the B-52, thus confusing Soviet radar.  Each Stratofortress carried four of these, in addition to the regular nuclear payload.  North American’s entry, the AGM-28 Hound Dog was an offensive missile launched from the B-52 to carry a nuclear warhead to its target.  With a mach 2 speed and an altitude variance of from 500 to 60,000 ft., the Hound Dog was able to penetrate enemy air defenses to a range of 600 miles.  The primary drawback of the Hound Dog was its weight.  At 20,000 lbs. each, the B52s could only carry two of them with a corresponding fifteen per cent loss of range.

The 1960s saw a change of doctrine for SAC.  With the emergence of both land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), as well as sea-launched (SLBM) missiles from submarines, the manned bomber force became a leg of a nuclear triad.  The primary advantage of the missile legs were their relative invulnerability to enemy attack.  They were also cheaper to operate than a manned bomber fleet.  Both ICBMs and SLBMs offered a quick response to an enemy attack, while a response from manned bombers was more time sensitive.  The growing threat from Soviet ICBMs was another factor countering the effectiveness of the manned bomber leg.  Due to the potential for conflict in Berlin, Cuba and a number of third world countries, the Kennedy Administration decided to scrap the policy of massive retalation, replacing it with the doctrine of flexible response.  Instead of having a large nuclear umbrella with small conventional forces, those forces were increased in order to keep any potential war from escalating to the nuclear threshold.  Under the flexible response doctrine, nuclear weapons were to be used in a limited role against selected targets.  Thus, the B-52 had a new mission, to loiter on patrol at the edge of Soviet airspace, ready to strike designated targets in a retaliatory role.  The Stratofortress was the ideal plane for the job, having the range, speed and payload, as well as an aerial refueling capability.

While the B-52 was designed as nuclear weapon delivery system, it served an entirely different purpose in Viet Nam.  In 1964 seventy-four B-52s were modified with external bomb racks, which could carry an additional twenty-four 750 lb. bombs.  The following year Operation Rolling Thunder began, in which the USAF commenced bombing missions in both North and South Viet Nam, with the primary role of the Stratofortress to support ground operations in the South.  The first mission, Operation Arc Light was conducted by B-52s in June 1965, bombing a suspected Viet Cong stronghold in the Ben Cat District in South Viet Nam.  Twenty-Seven B-52s participated in the raid, bombing a one mile by two mile box.  Though only partially successful, the raid proved the potential of the B-52 as a ground attack weapon.  Later that year, a number of B-52s underwent modifications to increase their capacity for carpet bombing.  These raids were devastating to anyone in or near the target areas.  B-52s bombed North Viet Nam in late 1972 during Operation Linebacker II.  These missions were successful in leading to the peace talks which ended the war, although at a loss of 15 Stratofortresses.  During that campaign, B-52 gunners claimed two North Vietnamese Mig-21s  – the first hostile aircraft shot down by the plane.

The Stratofortress went on to provide ground support in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Operation Allied Force in Serbia in 1999, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.  During its career, the B-52 has proven itself both a durable and an adaptable plane, receiving a number of modifications during its 63 year career.  It has dropped bombs, launched missiles, served as an experimental platform, in addition to launching the X-15 rocket plane.  Current efforts by Boeing to re-engine the Stratofortress are projected to extend its service life through 2040.  One could say of the B-52, it’s the plane that keeps on flying.

 

B-52#2

 

 

ON MISSION

Mission (A)

 

From the journeys of the Apostle Paul to the twenty first century, missionaries have been on the move, proclaiming the gospel as well as meeting the physical needs of the communities they serve.  During the course of this blog, we will trace the development of mission aviation from its earliest days to its global reach of today.

While missionaries were flown into Central America and the Caribbean region as early as the 1920′s, it wasn’t until after World War II that mission aviation developed into its own unique ministry.  One of the the first air ministry organizations was the Mission Aviation Fellowship. The MAF was formed in 1946 as a result of several World War II aviators who envisioned a role for aviation in spreading the gospel.  The Mission Aviation Fellowship was initially established from three branches, with Jim Truxton of the United States, Murray Kendon of the the United Kingdom and Edwin Hartwig of Australia.  The earliest MAF efforts were in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador with Betty Greene flying two Wycliffe Bible translators to a remote location in Mexico in 1946.  By 2010 the MAF  supported missionaries in 55 countries, transporting over 200,000 passengers, meeting global mission and humanitarian needs with 130 aircraft.

As a result of the increased global outreach of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship and other aviation ministries, a need for pilot training programs became evident.  In 1975 the Mission Aviation Training Institute (MATI) was formed.  Upon retiring from the Air Force, Davis Goodman was approached by the President of Piedmont Bible College to establish a flight training program for missionaries under development by the college.  Flight training began the prior year, with a single instructor, a borrowed aircraft and nine students at a local airport.  Later in 1975, Davis became the program director and purchased a Cessna 150 dedicated for training purposes.  Within four years, the program leased space at a larger airport, followed by the addition of an Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic School in 1981.  In 1984 Goodman ceded both ownership and operational control of Sugar Valley Airport and MATI (now Missionary Aviation Institute) to Piedmont Baptist College.  With more pilots than planes for mission efforts, Goodman founded Aviation Ministries International (AMI) in 1984 with the primary tasks of fundraising and aircraft acquisition.  By 2015 AMI (now Missionary Air Group) was providing both mission and medical services to outlying areas in more than a dozen countries.

With the steady growth and progress of mission aviation over the past seventy years, as well as improvement in transport systems in underdeveloped areas, some have questioned if mission aviation is relevant.  However, when one considers the perspective of a pilot, a different picture arises.  While the major cities of the world are easily accessible by jetliner, reaching remote local areas remains a problem.  Transportation is not uniform within many of these countries with highways turning into back roads within a fifty mile radius of urban areas.   A journey of a few hours by plane could take a day on foot.  Secondly, roads are actually disappearing in some of the remote areas of the world.  For example, in a number of African countries, when one could travel across the country in a couple of days, is nearly impassable today with bridges and roads in disrepair being replaced by jungle growth due to political instability and inadequate funding. Also, in many instances air transport remains a cost-effective means of travel.  A mission organization in Brazil chartered a motorized canoe for a trip up the Amazon river only to find out they could have chartered a Cessna 206 float plane for an identical rate.  National aviation organizations now exist fully staffed and funded by local mission groups.  The Asas de Socorro in Brazil manages five bases along the Amazon in addition to operating a flight school in Anapolis, training students from other Latin-American countries.  Finally, mission aviation remains the most flexible and responsive tool to reach otherwise impassable areas.  In Morocco, where mission work has thrived for years along its populated coastal cities, the Berber tribesmen of the Atlas Mountains remain without a church due to the ruggedness of the terrain and relative isolation.

 

 

100 And Growing

boeing1

When one considers prominent German-Americans, names such as Eisenhower, Nimitz, Kaiser and Kissinger come to mind.  However, another German-American, not often cited, may leave perhaps a greater legacy.

William E. Boeing was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1881 to Wilhelm Boing from Hagen-Hohenlimburg Germany and Marie M. Ortmann from Vienna, Austria.  The senior Boeing was a mining engineer, who became wealthy as a result of holdings of timber lands and mineral rights near Lake Superior.  After study abroad in Switzerland, Boing added an e to his name, to make it sound more Anglo.  He then entered Yale, but left before graduating to join the family timber business in 1903. Buying a large tract of forest on the Pacific side of the Olympia Peninsula in Washington, Boeing began building  boats as well as acquiring several lumber operations.

During a business trip to Seattle in 1909, Boeing saw his first plane and soon developed a keen interest in aviation. Within a few months, Boeing was taking flying lessons at the Glenn L. Martin Plant in Los Angeles and had ordered a Martin TA Hydoraeroplane.  Martin even sent one of his test pilots up to Seattle to give Boeing lessons on site.  When the test pilot crashed the aircraft during a test flight, he informed Boeing replacement parts would not be available for months. The problem frustrated Boeing, who had just received his pilot’s certificate.  After studying both the plane and the parts distribution at Martin, Boeing approached a friend of his, Commander George Conrad Westervelt, USN.  When Boeing suggested to Westervelt that they could build their own plane in less time, Westervelt agreed and they formed their own aircraft company – B&W.  Their first aircraft, the B&W seaplane was an instant success with Boeing purchasing an old boat factory on the Duwamish River outside Seattle.

When the United States entered World War I, Boeing and Westervelt received a government contract for fifty of the B&W seaplanes, with Boeing changing the name of fledgling company to Pacific Aero Products Company.  By the end of the war, Boeing began to emphasize commercial aircraft, in addition to providing a government sponsored air mail service.

The air mail service was a result of the commercial aviation market flooded with surplus World War I aircraft, which were relatively inexpensive compared with the cost of new models.  Boeing had to diversify at this point, selling furniture, and a series of flat-bottomed boats called sea sleds.  Within a few years, Boeing began to realize a profit from the overhaul of government aircraft and the sale of a few new models.  During the 1920s and early 1930s, Boeing would become a major producer of fighter planes for the Army Air Corps.

In 1925 federal law allowed public bid for air mail contracts.  Boeing received the contract, but needed a fleet of twenty six planes to serve the Chicago to San Francisco route by July 1, 1927. As a guarantee, Boeing drew $500,000 of his own money to serve as a bond for the effort. These aircraft were composed of Boeing’s latest design, the Model 40, which had an open cockpit for the pilot with an enclosed cabin for two additional passengers.  The mail service proved to be an unexpected market coup for Boeing, allowing him to haul passengers for a fee and start a new airline, Boeing Air Transport.  It wasn’t long before Boeing cornered the market in both aviation sectors.

In 1929 Boeing acquired Pacific Air Transport, merging it with both the Boeing Airplane Co. and Boeing Air Transport. The new company was named United Aircraft And Transport Company. Later the same year, United purchased both the Pratt&Whitney engine and Hamilton Standard Propeller companies, as well as Chance Vaught Aircraft.  To expand its airline service, Boeing acquired National Air Transport the following year.

By 1934 Boeing’s success began to draw the attention of the federal government.  In June of that year the Air Mail Act was passed by Congress, by which aircraft manufacturers had to divest themselves of any airline services.  As a result of this split, Boeing’s holdings were formed into three companies:  United Aircraft Corporation, which manufactured aircraft in the eastern United States (now United Technologies Company), Boeing Airplane Company, manufacturing aircraft in the western United States and United Airlines, which served the air routes.

A week after the Air Mail Act was passed Boeing resigned as chairman and sold his stock in the firm.  However, shortly after his resignation, William Boeing received the coveted Daniel Guggenheim Medal for achievement in the field of aviation.  During World War II, he came out of retirement to act as an advisor to the company to meet the demands of combat aircraft development.  The company he started in 1916 went on to develop such influential aircraft as the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress, B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress.  Boeing produced an equally impressive series of airliners, starting with the Stratoliner in 1939, the world’s pressurized airliner, the jet powered 707, 727, 737, and the Boeing 747, the world’s first Jumbo Jet.  A recent first for Boeing was the successful development and production of the 787 Dreamliner, the first jetliner in service made of carbon-fiber materials.  Boeing is now involved in the space technology sector, in addition to the production of aircraft.  Not bad for someone who made the decision to build his own plane in 1916.

boeing2

 

This article is the last of a series about the heroes of aviation.

 

 

 

 

MIG JOURNEY

MIG#2

 

While many of our ancestors arrived in this nation by ship – the only practical means of mass transit at the time, the subject of this blog chose a different but no less dangerous path to freedom.  In his case, timing made the difference between life and death.

Kenneth H. Rowe (No Kum-Sok) was born in Sinhung, Korea on January 10, 1932.  When Rowe was twelve years old, Korea was a part of the Japanese Empire and both Japanese culture and companies dominated the peninsula.  Though Korean traditions and culture were officially shunned, Rowe’s father worked for a Japanese corporation and made a relatively good living, providing Ken with both material and social advantages.  By his teen years, Ken could speak both Korean and Japanese fluently.  In 1944 the Japanese military began sending its pilots on suicide missions against the American navy in the Pacific and requested Korean volunteers. Although Rowe was only twelve, he asked his father if he could volunteer to serve as a kamikaze pilot.  The father was able to discourage Rowe, and conveyed an attitude that the United States would ultimately win the war.  This aroused a curiosity in Ken about the United States and its people.

While Rowe began to express pro-American sentiments to his classmates, he had to be careful about them since the Soviets occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel after World War II and installed a Communist regime.  After several years of dictatorship under Kim ll Sung, Ken became convinced he had to leave North Korea but ironically decided being an ardent Communist would give him the means to do so.  Rowe’s zeal caught the attention of the North Korean military and he soon trained to become a fighter pilot.

Ken began flying combat missions in Soviet-built Mig-15 jet fighters in 1951.  Although he flew nearly a hundred missions during the course of the war, he sought to avoid dogfights with USAF jet fighters, which enjoyed both qualitative and quantitative advantages.  In September 1953, two months after the end of the Korean War Rowe (No) saw his chance.  Rowe’s squadron was on a training mission from Sunan Air Base, just outside of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.  With near perfect flying weather, Rowe was able to veer away from from his unit and set a course for the 38th parallel into South Korea.  He knew the odds were against him to land safely at an American air base, but after a fifteen minute flight Rowe landed safely at Kimpo Air Base, just outside the South Korean capital of Soul.  He later discovered the USAF radar was shutdown for maintenance work that morning, though he barely missed a collision with an American jet fighter landing on the same runway from the opposite direction.

Rowe (No) spent the next six months on Okinawa as a consultant to both the USAF and CIA on the capabilities of the Mig-15, as well as providing insight about North Korean air combat strategies.  Ken arrived in the United States in 1954, working as a paid contractor to a number of US intelligence agencies.  During that time, he often traveled by rail between Washington DC and New York, passing through Newark, Delaware – home of the University of Delaware School of Engineering.  Intent on pursuing his education, Rowe enrolled in the UD engineering program, earning degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering.  He was well situated upon graduation, with the $100,000 reward received for defecting with the Mig (of which Rowe was unaware) invested for him and yielding a high rate of return.

When Rowe sought assistance from his CIA handlers in securing a green card to work in the US, they refused.  He could only get temporary visas as a result of an agreement between the CIA and the government of South Korea, who wanted him to join their air force upon graduation. From a close relationship with a history professor at UD, Ken was introduced to a Senator from Delaware, who introduced a bill granting him citizenship.  The bill was eventually signed by President Eisenhower.  The CIA was instructed not to interfere if Rowe sought permanent immigration status on his own.

In 1957 Ken was reunited with his mother, who had been living in South Korea.  Though he wasn’t fluent in English, he quickly adapted to life in the United States.  Rowe pursued a varied and successful career in aeronautical engineering, working for a number of key aviation firms such as Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed and Boeing, as well as General Electric, DuPont and Westinghouse.  After leaving the corporate world, Rowe served as an aeronautical engineering professor at Embry-Riddle University, making him a true hero of aviation – both inside and outside of the cockpit.

 

KEN#2

 

 

This blog is the fifth of a series about the heroes of aviation.

 

 

 

LOCKHEED’S VERY OWN

U-2#1

 

Aircraft designers and artists share a common trait – the ability to think out of the box and incorporate new concepts into their works .  While the artist strives to create a pleasing appearance out of their work, whether art or sculpture, the aircraft designer must first meet a set of performance criteria in order to produce a successful aircraft, the artistic form being of secondary importance.  During the course of this blog we’ll trace the career of an engineer who designed a number of aircraft achieving both impressive performance and appearance.

Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in Ishpeming, Michigan on February 27, 1910.  Johnson decided to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering at the age of 12, largely as a result of reading a series of Tom Swift novels.  A few months later, he designed his own small plane, which he named the Merlin 1 Battle Plane.  After seeing a Curtiss Jenny in flight during a local exhibition, he became interested in flying aircraft as well as designing them.  During his high school years, Kelly moved to Flint, where his father had a construction business.  He also worked part time in the motor test section of Buick, gaining a practical knowledge of engineering.  By the time he completed high school, Kelly had saved about $300 to defray the costs of flight school.  When Johnson approached the flight instructor, he persuaded him to use the money to further his education.

While Johnson was surprised at the instructor’s response, he respected him, and after holding a number of odd jobs, graduated from the University Of Michigan in 1932, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering.  After gaining a number of teaching fellowships, as well as serving as a consultant to the university, he received a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering the following year.  Johnson’s first assignment at Lockheed in 1933 was to design tools from which to build aircraft .  However, it wasn’t long before he was involved in the design of Lockheed’s first line aircraft of the era, such as the Model 10 Electra flown by Amelia Earhart. Johnson would later design the military version of the Electra, the Hudson Lockheed, for the British from a set of sketches he made from his hotel room.  By 1938 Kelly was serving as an assistant to Lockheed’s chief engineer, Hall Hibbard.  In 1937 the Air Corps contracted with Lockheed to produce an aircraft capable of speeds in excess of  400 mph., with nearly double the range and firepower of existing fighter aircraft.  Within a year, Hibbard and Johnson designed a twin-boomed plane, a radical departure from current practice, with armament of four fifty caliber machine guns with a 20 mm. cannon in the nose, with a larger internal fuel capacity augmented by detachable drop tanks underneath the inner wing panels.  The aircraft was test flown in 1939 and entered service in 1941 as the P-38 Lightning.  The P-38 proved to be a versatile plane, performing a variety of missions ranging from ground attack to the night fighter role.

In 1943 Hibbard and Johnson were presented with a new challenge.  Both Germany and Britain were developing  fighter aircraft driven by jet propulsion, while the USAAF program efforts lagged.  Another reason for a practical jet fighter was the receipt of intelligence reports in early 1943 about a German jet fighter undergoing advanced testing, the ME-262. Fearful the new German fighter would soon become operational, Lockheed was awarded the contract and Johnson promised the design would be completed within six months.  Hibbard and Johnson decided to build the new jet fighter around the existing British De Haviland Goblin engine, already in use in the Gloster Meteor.  Within a mere 143 days, the new jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star, had completed its first test flight and production began two months later.  While too late to see action in World War II, the P-80 saw extensive action in Korea, in both the ground attack and aerial combat roles.  Variants of the P-80/F-80 were in use until 1997.

Due to a perceived Soviet bomber threat, the CIA issued a requirement in late 1953 for an aircraft capable of scanning large segments of Soviet territory from an extremely high altitude. During the last year of the Korean War, several Convair B-36 bombers flew over Manchuria, taking pictures of Mig bases from a relatively high altitude.  The large bomb bay area, long wings, and a high altitude dash capability from it’s four jet engines made the B-36 a good camera platform for its time.  The proposed aircraft would not be as big, but would have long, glider like wings, coupled with a lightweight fuselage powered by a single jet engine mounted in the fuselage.  The contract was awarded to Lockheed the following year and Kelly Johnson went to work. The initial specifications called for an aircraft capable of operating at an altitude of 70,000 ft. with a range of 1,700 miles.  Johnson shortened the fuselage of an experimental F-104 Starfighter with long, slender wings.  The design was powered by the J73 General Electric jet engine and emphasized weight saving, discarding features such as a landing gear and ejection seats.  It took off from a special cart and belly landed when returning.  The aircraft, designated Utility Two or U-2 , could cruise at an altitude of 73,000 ft. with a range of 1,600 miles. By 1955 the U-2 was in production and CIA operators were flying it over the world’s trouble spots the following year. These flights over the Soviet Union ended in May 1960 with Francis Gary Powers U-2 shot down by a Soviet SA-2 missile.  However, the U-2 continued to serve in other areas, providing valuable intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the aircraft remaining in service for over 50 yrs.

In the 1960s, Johnson designed the successor to the U-2, the SR-71,  The SR-71 was a twin jet, twin tail, delta-winged reconnaissance aircraft, capable of sustained mach 3 speeds with a service ceiling in excess of 85,000 ft. with a range of 2,900 miles.  From the technology standpoint, the SR-71 or Blackbird, was a totally new design made largely of titanium, which was ironically imported from the Soviet Union at the time.  The SR-71 was in service for over 30 yrs. and set a number of world speed and altitude records – many of them still standing.  Kelly Johnson was instrumental in the design of some 40 aircraft during his forty plus years at Lockheed, designing a number of great planes at pivotal times in our nation’s history – making him a true hero of aviation.

Blackbird#1

 

This blog is the fourth in a series about the heroes of aviation.