Fly By Wire Air is a one-stop shop for the aviation enthusiast. You will find aviation apparel, RC hobby planes, items for the historic aviation buff and even products and services for amateur pilots. We hope you will enjoy visiting our site. When you think of flying – Fly By Wire.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article is the last of a series about the heroes of aviation.
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.
This blog is the fifth of a series about the heroes of aviation.
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.
This blog is the fourth in a series about the heroes of aviation.
The early pioneers of aviation sometimes branched out from other fields before realizing their ultimate success. For example, Glenn Curtiss raced motorcycles and developed small engines prior to his fame in aviation. Both Wiliam Boeing and his family were in the timber business before he founded the Boeing aircraft company. The hero of this blog was no exception, although he achieved his success by a more indirect route.
Andrei Nickolaevich Tupolev was born in Pustomozovo, Russia in 1888. The sixth of a family of seven children, Tupolev developed an early interest in building models and small pieces of furniture – a hobby his parents encouraged. After his graduation from the Tver secondary school in 1908, Tupolev applied to the Moscow Imperial Technical High School (IMTU) pursuing a technical degree. During his time at the technical school, Tupolev met Nickolai Zhukovski, who introduced the subject of aeronautics at IMTU. Zhukovski would serve as both an instructor and a mentor to Tupolev. Perhaps Tupolev’s most significant project at IMTU was the construction of a wind tunnel, one of the first in practical use, from which to test aerodynamic designs. Tupolev was arrested in 1911 for involvement in a subversive student organization. Though Zhukovski interceded on Tupolev’s behalf, he wasn’t successful and Tupolev was placed under house arrest, only allowed to leave to attend his father’s funeral later that year. He was finally released in 1914 and resumed his studies, graduating in 1918 with the degree of Engineer-Mechanic.
In 1918 Zhukovski and Tupolev petitioned the Soviet government to establish an aerodynamic research organization. In December 1918 their request was granted and the Central Aero/Hydrodynamics Institute or TsAGI was established. TsAGI grew rapidly from an initial staff of six to nearly thirty engineers and technicians by mid 1919. In 1921 Tupolev was elected by the staff at TsAGI to be Zhukovski’s deputy or Comrade To The Director. The following year he began work on his first aircraft, designated the ANT 1, using Tupolev’s initials for the name. Because he advocated the use of light metals in aircraft, such as duraluminium, pioneered by Junkers in Germany, Tupolev met with opposition from the timber industry, promoting the construction of wooden aircraft. Although he won the battle for an all-metal aircraft, the ANT 1 was built of mixed metal and wood. It was a single seat cantilever monoplane, with a 25′ wingspan. The ANT 1 first flew in late 1923 and was a successful design. In 1927 the ANT 2, the Soviet Union’s first all-metal plane flew, proving both the durability and practicality of light metal construction. The ANT 2 was powered by an air cooled 100 hp. Bristol Jupiter engine and could accommodate two passengers in the cabin with an open cockpit for the pilot.
In the 1930′s Tupolev traveled to Germany, France, Britain and the United States to gain insight into the aircraft technologies of those nations. He encouraged the Soviet government to purchase a license to manufacture Wright Cyclone engines, which were the basis for a series of Soviet built air-cooled engines, as well as the liquid-cooled Hispano Suiza engine from France. Tupolev’s design bureau produced a number of large scale aircraft, such as the ANT 20, named after the famous Russian poet Maxim Gorky. The ANT 20 was an extremely big plane for its day, having a fuselage 107′ long with a wingspan of 207′. The Maxim Gorky was powered by eight engines, six in the wing and two above the fuselage. The passenger compartment was subdivided into four cabin areas. The ANT 20 first flew in 1934 and made several foreign tours, of great propaganda value to the Soviet state. However, the Maxim Gorky crashed in May 1935 as a result of a mid air collision with a fighter performing aerobatic maneuvers during a Moscow airshow. Tupolev’s next major effort was the development of the ANT 25. The ANT 25 was first proposed in 1931 as a long range bomber. The 25 plane was somewhat smaller than the Maxim Gorky, with a 44′ long fuselage coupled with a 112′ wingspan. It had a crew of three: pilot, copilot, and a navigator who doubled as a radio operator. The long tapered wings of the plane contributed to its range by storing its fuel tanks, which accounted for 52 % of its take off weight. After several test flights in 1934-36, two ANT 25s made transpolar flights from Moscow to Pearson Field, Oregon and San Jacinto, California in June 1937. Both planes had enough fuel to reach Panama, but were denied permission by the Mexican government to overfly its territory.
The World War II era was a difficult one for both Tupolev and his design bureau. He was arrested in 1937 for passing aviation secrets to foreign governments, a charge which was totally baseless. Both he and his staff were imprisoned until released in July 1941. Tupolev and his team worked round the clock designing and improving Soviet aircraft for the demands of war. In 1945 Tupolev was given the demanding task of reverse engineering the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Though the Soviet Union was not yet at war with Japan, four of the Boeing planes could not make it back to their Marianas bases and were forced to land near Vladivostok, on the Soviet Pacific coast. Stalin ordered three of the planes sent to Moscow with the fourth unit retained for quality control purposes. Tupolev was to have direct control of all aspects of engineering and production. Any requests made by his staff were given top priority, which greatly reduced production time. In just 20 months, the first Soviet B-29 (TU-4) flew above the 1947 May Day parade, to the astonishment of western observers.
Tupolev went on to produce a number of other Soviet aircraft, such as the TU-16 Badger, the Soviet Union’s first major jet bomber, the TU-104 jetliner, a civil variant of the Badger, as well as the TU-95 Bear, the world’s only turboprop bomber. Tupolev’s crowning achievement came in 1968, when, as promised, his design bureau flew the worlds first supersonic transport (SST) on December 31 of that year – some two months ahead of the Concorde. Though Tupolev experienced many hardships throughout his life, his dedication to the field of aviation produced some of the worlds premier aircraft.
This blog is the third of a series about the heroes of aviation.
While the success of an air force in wartime is based upon air superiority in the respective area of operations, the success of air operations in peacetime may yield a number of outcomes, ranging from nuclear deterrence to humanitarian missions around the globe. In 1948 the USAF was faced with just such a mission. This blog is dedicated to that mission and the man who led it.
The son of Austrian immigrants, William Henry Tunner was born in Roselle, New Jersey in 1906. Tunner entered the United States Military Academy in 1924 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in field artillery in 1928, transferring to the Air Corps later that year. In 1929 he earned his wings, graduating from Advanced Flight School at Kelly Field, Texas. Ironically, it was during Tunner’s first assignment as pilot of a bomber group in California, which sparked his interest in air transport. Between training missions, Tunner was assigned to ferry a Fokker Tri-Motor transport with passengers to Sacramento. As a result of this flight, Tunner began to develop a keen interest in the potential of air transport.
During the 1930′s Tunner served in a variety of assignments, ranging from pilot instructor to command of a recruiting unit. Though many of these duties were of a routine nature, he gained valuable experience as a staff officer – experience which would serve him well in the future. After promotion to Major in 1939, Tunner was assigned to the Military Personnel Division, Chief Of The Air Corps. His duties included assigning officers and crew to the newly formed Ferrying Command. When the Ferrying Command was later consolidated into the Air Transport Command (ATC) during World War II, Tunner was placed in command of the Ferrying Division. In a relatively short time, the division was ferrying upwards of 10,000 aircraft per month from their factories to overseas embarkation points. With a shortage of ferry pilots due to the demands of combat units, Tunner organized the first female auxiliary pilots unit, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron or WAFS. These women were civil service pilots, who ferried aircraft from their factories to various air bases around the country. The WAFS were merged with the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) in 1943, the new organization designated the Women Air Force Service Pilots or WASPS.
In March 1942, the Burma Road, by which the Chinese received a major portion of their war material, was in Japanese hands. The only means of direct supply to China was by airlift from India. This effort involved supplying the Chinese by flying through the Himalayas – a hazardous route at best. Both man and plane were stretched to the limit of endurance. Tunner was assigned to India in 1944 with the dual purposes of increasing airlift tonnage to China, as well as cutting an alarmingly high loss rate of aircraft, due to the narrow (3 mile) corridor in which they had to fly between the mountain passes. After piloting the lead aircraft on an mission to China, Tunner began to introduce the four-engine C-54 Skymaster, which had three times the capacity of the twin-engine C-46 Curtiss Commando and Douglas C-47 Skytrain, resulting in fewer missions. He also established maintenance and flight safety programs, which nearly doubled tonnage flown while decreasing the accident rate by 75 %. Tunner also redirected a number of flights through a wider (200 mile) corridor to increase efficiency.
However, Tunner’s next airlift operation would be on the other side of the globe. After World War II, Germany, as well as Berlin, was divided into four occupation zones between the Soviets and the Western Allies. By 1948 relations became strained between the former wartime allies, with the Western Allies seeking an economic and political reunification of the country while the Soviets, fearing the military implications of a unified Germany, were opposed to such efforts. In reaction to the introduction of a unified currency in both the western zones of Germany and Berlin, the Soviets imposed a blockade of the city in June 1948, attempting to force the western powers out of the city. With all rail, road and canal traffic cut off, the only choice was an airlift. Fortunately, a December 1945 agreement among the allies allowed three 20 mile wide air corridors from which Berlin could be supplied from the western zones of Germany.
Tunner, now a Major General, began to direct the airlift in July 1948 from his newly established headquarters in Wiesbaden. An airlift of such capacity had never been done before, as Berlin’s daily requirements were approximately 4,500 tons per day. Tunner had only about 54 C-54 Skymasters along with a number of older C-47 transports to begin the airlift. In a month, he was able to increase the number of C-54s by a third, along with missions flown by RAF and French transports. Within a few months, Tunner had two-thirds of all USAF C-54s flying the airlift to Berlin along with transport planes of the U.S. Navy, due to the newly formed Military Air Transport Service (MATS), a unified command of military transports from all U.S. air services. He also organized the airlift into a 24 hr. operation, utilizing the north and south corridors for incoming flights to Berlin, with the central corridor designated for return flights. All flights were on a rigid schedule, with flights both landing and taking off at three minute intervals. There were routinely in excess of 24 aircraft in flight per corridor at all times, flying at 500 ft. altitude increments. Tunner was again able to both increase tonnage flown as well as flight safety, supplying 50 % more than Berlin’s daily tonnage requirement in April 1949. A month later the Soviets ended the blockade.
Tunner went on to direct air transport operations in Korea, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Douglas MacArthur in 1951, then taking command of MATS before his retirement in 1960. While Tunner is known for a number of achievements, the Berlin Airlift was perhaps his finest effort. He not only fed a city, but formed a nation.
DEDICATED TO A FUTURE TRANSPORT PILOT
This blog is the second of a series about the heroes of aviation.
We often define the pioneers of aviation in terms of pilots, such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Chuck Yeager. While being the first to set a record or fly a new type of aircraft carries a certain glamour, such efforts would not be possible without a large number of unsung heroes in the form of designers, engineers and technicians to take a plane from a mere drawing to it’s first flight. During this blog, we’ll follow the life of one of these heroes.
William Guy Redmond Jr. grew up in Dallas, earning a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Methodist University in 1944. Mr. Redmond then served as a Radar Electronics Officer in the United States Navy, receiving advanced radar training at both Bowdoin College and the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) in 1945. After his discharge from the navy in 1946, Guy worked as an engineer designing and maintaining pipe organ systems. The following year, he went back to SMU, serving as a faculty member until 1949, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering from the university the same year. Guy then left SMU in order to pursue a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering, which he received from MIT in 1951.
The 1950s was a time of intense development for both aviation and rocketry. Jet aircraft were now capable of flying faster than the speed of sound while rockets were able to reach the fringes of space. Mr. Redmond began his aerospace career with Vought Corporation in 1951 as a servo engineer. He both designed and invented a number of flight servo relays, inventing a servo trim system used in the F4J Fury and RA5C Vigilante naval aircraft and later the popular Lockheed L-1011 jetliner. He later served as Electronics Project Engineer on the F-8 Crusader, the predominant naval fighter aircraft of the era. In 1958 Guy’s career branched out into missile development, serving as head of advanced missile controls. During that time he created a flexible rocket engine flight control system, which provided both thrust vector control off the launcher, as well as aerodynamic control with airspeed. Subsequent tests led to Vought producing the Lance missile for the US Army.
In 1960 Guy became Chief Of Automatic Flight Control Systems for Vought, which proved to be an assignment of historic proportions. The following year President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress with the stated goal of sending astronauts to the moon and safely returning them by the end of the decade. Many technical issues loomed from this announcement, most notably a propulsion system which could function in an airless environment, in which the aerodynamic features of an aircraft were of no use. Also, a sophisticated guidance system was necessary to achieve a precise landing on the lunar surface, in addition to docking with the lunar orbiter. Mr. Redmond began work on such a guidance system, utilizing automatic throttles and electrical system monitors actuated by computerized signals – a fly- by- wire system. A fly-by-wire control is a purely electrically signaled control system, necessary in the environment of space. The FBW system is interposed between the astronaut/pilot and the control surfaces of the spacecraft/aircraft. The computer is able to modify the manual inputs of the pilot in accordance with programmed control parameters. Gyroscopes fitted with sensors are mounted in the spacecraft to sense movement changes in the pitch, yaw and roll axes. A fly-by-wire system also utilizes several backup computers, in case of failure of the main guidance system. Guy’s efforts bore fruit with first successful flight of the Lunar Module in 1964. He later contributed to the design of digital fly-by-wire systems.
Mr. Redmond served as Avionics Engineer on the Space Shuttle program, both designing and developing a number of innovative solutions. He retired from the Lockheed Martin Missile And Fire Control Division at the age of 89. During his 65 years in the field of engineering, he received 12 patents, as well as a Technical Innovation Award from NASA, in addition to recognition from both Congress and the Governor Of Texas – making him a true hero of aviation.
I wish to express my appreciation to Nicole Van Schaick, granddaughter of Mr. Redmond, who provided valuable documentation in preparation of this blog.
This blog is the first of a series about the heroes of aviation.
The recent discovery of an aluminum panel on Nikumaroro atoll in the South Pacific has renewed interest in the search for the Lockheed Electra flown by the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. During this blog, we will follow the development of the Electra, as well as its civil and military roles.
In spite of the Great Depression, the early 1930s was a time of expanded air traffic, in both the passenger and cargo categories. Lockheed developed the Electra to compete with the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC 2. The Electra was the first all metal plane built by Lockheed and complied with a 1934 federal requirement that all aircraft carrying mail had to be powered by more than one engine, due to a series of crashes with single engine planes. It was also Lockheed’s first major move toward becoming a key manufacturer of transport aircraft. The Electra was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders. The prototype was first flown in 1934, with the Model 10 entering service later that year. By the late 1930s the Electra was flown by eight major airlines, resulting in a production run of 148 aircraft.
However, it began to decline in both the cargo and passenger roles by the beginning of World War II, due to the introduction of larger aircraft types such as the Boeing Stratoliner. The Electra was relatively easy to fly and could be modified for a variety of tasks. A modified Electra was used to conduct wing de-icing tests with a system that utilized hot gasses from the engine exhausts. Sidney Cotton, an Australian executive who used an Electra Model 12 for business trips, modified the plane to carry cameras, taking clandestine photographs of German and Italian military installations over a three month period just before the beginning of World War II. Perhaps the two most famous flights of the Electra were that of Amelia Earhart, in her attempted around the world flight in 1937 and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler.
While civil interest in the Electra began to decline, the military potential of the plane increased. Lockheed, in an effort to promote foreign sales, sent cutaway drawings of the plane in 1937 to various publications, displaying the aircraft as both a civilian airliner and a converted military bomber. The following year, the British purchased a modified version of the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra airliner to supplement its Avro Anson maritime patrol aircraft, the Lockheed planes designated as the Hudson Mk I. The aircraft quickly entered production with 78 aircraft available to the RAF by the start of the war in September 1939. The RAF received an additional 410 planes via the Lend Lease program. The Hudson was originally armed with two fixed Browning machine guns in the nose along with two .30 cal. machine guns in a dorsal turret. As the war progressed, the Hudson’s armament increased with the addition of two waist guns and a single ventral gun.
Operationally, the Hudson achieved a number of firsts. It was the first aircraft deployed from the British Isles to shoot down an enemy aircraft in October 1939. A Hudson was the first US plane to sink a German U boat (U 656) and the first Canadian aircraft to do the same (U 754), both in 1942. In 1941, an attack by an RAF Hudson based in Iceland forced U 570 to surface, causing the submarine’s crew to display a white flag and surrender – the aircraft being the first to capture a warship. In the Pacific, the Hudson was equally effective, with an RAAF Hudson being the first to make an attack on the Japanese Troopship Awazisan Maru off the Malayian coast, an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Saburo Sakai and other Japanese aces have praised both the durability and maneuverability of the Hudson in protracted aerial combat.
While outclassed by larger bombers later in the war, the Hudson was available at a time when it was most needed. Although difficult to take off and land, it was easy to fly. It was a versatile aircraft, performing a variety of missions ranging from antisubmarine patrols to transporting agents behind enemy lines, as well as a trainer aircraft for bomber pilots. The Hudson was noted by its pilots for exceptional agility for a twin-engine plane. Perhaps the most enduring tribute to the Hudson was it spawned the development of two other successful Lockheed aircraft, the Ventura and the P-38 Lightning.