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Tag Archives: Transport Aircraft

LOCKHEED AND HUDSON

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.

ELECTRA#1

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.

HUDSON#2

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY I

September 18 marked a landmark date for both military aviation and the aviation community at large, for it was the sixty-seventh anniversary of the United States Air Force.  While much has changed during those years, the mission of the USAF remains that of preserving peace.  During this blog, we will review the decisive missions of the USAF since its inception in 1947.

The United States Air Force became an independent armed service on September 18, 1947, as a result of the National Security Act Of 1947.  Previously, military aviation functions were divided between the United States Army Air Forces (land based) and the United States Navy (sea based).  While the Army Air Forces operated as a de facto separate military branch during World War ll, they remained organizationally a part of the U.S. Army.  The success of large scale ground support and strategic bombing efforts during the war gained momentum for a separate air force, co-equal to the army and navy.  By the end of the war, a number of military leaders, such as Douglas MacArthur, favored the creation of an independent air force.

Less than a scant year after its creation, the newly formed United States Air Force faced its first major test in the Berlin Airlift.  After World War II, the German capital was divided into four occupation zones, as was the German nation as a whole.  The Soviets believed if they could deny the Western Allies rail, canal and road access to the city, West Berliners would be forced to accept food, fuel and other material aid from the Soviet Zone, forcing the western powers out of the city.  In June 1948, all land access to Berlin from the western zones was blockaded.  While there was no formal agreement establishing land routes to Berlin, there was a written agreement in 1945 which guaranteed three 20 mile wide air corridors providing free access to Berlin.  Supplying the city’s food and fuel needs was a daunting task, with approximately 1,500 tons of food and 3,500 tons of fuel required daily.  However, the USAF and the RAF pooled their resources and were able to dedicate a force of 1,000 planes to the effort.  In command of the airlift was Maj. Gen. William Tunner, who had reorganized the airlift between India and China during World War ll, doubling the tonnage and hours flown.  Although the lift only provided 90 tons a day the first week, it had reached a 1,000 tons the second week.  By January 1949 over 5,000 tons of cargo were delivered each day – exceeding pre-blockade levels.  In May 1949, the Soviets reopened land routes to Berlin from the west.

BERLIN#2

When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Fifth Air Force fighters were first responders to provide ground support to the beleaguered South Korean forces.  These missions were initially flown from bases in Japan, but once the ground situation stabilized a number of bases were established in South Korea for both ground support and offensive air patrols.  The USAF began the war with the piston engine P-51 Mustang of World War ll.  The P-51 was ideally suited for the close air support role in Korea, as it was an agile aircraft and could operate from the short, temporary airfields near the frontlines, unlike the jets of the era.  Speaking of jets, Korea was the first war in which air to air combat was conducted by jets.  The early jets, such as the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet were adequate in the ground support role, as well as dogfighting the Yak piston engine fighters flown by the North Koreans.  However, this changed in late 1950 with the introduction of the Soviet built Mig-15.  The Mig-15 was a swept wing jet interceptor (unlike the straight winged F-80 and F-84) and a generation ahead of both planes in design and performance.  In order to address the imbalance, North American F-86 Sabres were sent to Korea.  The F-86 had a 35 degree swept wing and was developed from captured German designs at the end of World War ll.  Although the MIg was slightly faster and had a higher service ceiling, the Sabre was an overall better aircraft, equipped with innovations such as a radar gun sight.  F-86 pilots were also better trained than their Chinese and North Korean counterparts, ending the war with an eight to one kill ratio.  Transport aircraft, such as the twin-boomed Fairchild C-119 Boxcar were used extensively not only to supply ground forces, but also to evacuate civilians from the frontal areas.

F-86#1