The F6F Hellcat

I realize I haven’t done a true aviation weekly post in a while and this actually won’t be a true one either. I wanted to talk a little bit about the Hellcat today since, one, I haven’t yet and two, there is actually an important date that coincides with today and the history of the plane.

The Hellcat was a Grumman engineered and built carrier based Navy fighter that saw action in WWII and was retired from frontline service in 1954. It was still used for other roles in the Navy though. While the first XF6F-1 flew on June 26th 1942, the first Double Wasp R-2800 XF6F-3 first flew on July 30th 1942. The first production model with the Double Wasp engine first flew on October 3rd 1942 with combat readiness from aircraft carrier USS Essex in February 1943. But on this day seventy five years ago, XF6F-3 (O2982) crashed landed in Bethpage, NY after engine failure occurred. Test pilot Bob Hall makes a dead stick landing and walks away with heavy damage to the airframe. While this did setback the Hellcat, over 12,000 were built in the three years of production.

May is for Douglas

There are a few important dates to remember in May when it comes to aviation history but one of the ones that doesn’t get looked at as much is the first flight and first acceptance of the Douglas DC-2. The DC-2 first flew on May 11th and was accepted by Trans World Airlines May 18th 1934. The DC-2 was the precursor to the DC-3, as seen below, and while the DC-3 made a very large name for itself since it’s first flight December 17th 1935, the DC-2 had an impressive history in its own right.

The DC-2 was bigger, faster and could carry more people then the DC-1. Most importantly it was the first commercial plane to fly from coast to coast and not loose a business day. The DC-2 was the first Douglas plane to fly in an international airline when it competed in the 9,000 mile London to Melbourne race. It came in second even after picking up a stranded passenger. 198 examples were built between 1934-1939. A few examples still exist today but only a handful in the United States.

Five More Years Have Gone By

While the post is early, this weekend at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio along with Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio will be honoring the men of the famous Doolittle Raid which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Tuesday the 18th.

Seventy five years ago a daring and bold plan was conceived that would have a profound affect for the rest of WWII. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. After he had he then asked his advisers to come up with a plan to attack Japan to show that they are vulnerable and that the Pacific was not just theirs. Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare, who reported to Admiral Ernest King, came up with the idea to use US Navy carriers and US Army Air Corps Bombers to attack Tokyo and other industrial capitols on the Japanese home island of Honshu. The mission was approved and Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle was selected to train and lead the men of the raid. On April 18th, 1942 sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers took off of the USS Hornet towards Tokyo. The mission was later called the Doolittle Raid.

After the disaster at Pearl Harbor, America needed a serious morale boost and the idea of bombing Tokyo was believed to achieve that need. Not only would it help the American public but it would also put doubt into the minds of the Japanese who were told by their leaders that they were invulnerable. The Doolittle Raid or Tokyo Raid achieved both of these goals and helped to force Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s, commander-in-chief of the combined fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, to attack Midway later that year in order to gain a strategic stepping stone towards America’s west coast as well as a stronger defense for their home islands which were now proven to be vulnerable. Many variables helped to turn the Battle of Midway in America’s favor including the breaking of the Japanese naval code. Midway turned into a dismal defeat for the Imperial Navy and brought much needed time for the US Navy to build up its strength.

In preparation for the mission many issues had to be solved. The first was deciding which medium bomber would be used. Many planes including the Martin B-26 Marauder, Douglas B-18 Bolo, Douglas B-23 Dragon, and the North American B-25B Mitchell were consider under the qualifications that it had a range of 2,400 nautical miles and a bomb load of 2,000lbs. The B-26 had takeoff characteristics not suitable for a carrier and the B-18 and B-23 had a much longer wingspan raising concerns about damaging the ships main island. Also the greater wingspan meant less planes available for the raid. The B-25B Mitchell Bomber was selected with a crew of five. The mission called for the planes to land in friendly territories after making their bomb runs, no return to the carrier or fighter protection was available for the bombers. Originally the plan called for landings in Vladivostok but Russia had a neutrality pack with Japan and thus was not an option. However, Capt. Edward York and his crew (eighth off—AC #40-2242) had to land in Russia after engine problems and low fuel levels. The crew was interned for fifteen months and eventually escaped into Persia where they returned home in May of 1943.

On February 3rd, 1943 a test of 2 B-25’s flew off of the USS Hornet in Norfolk Virginia and was approved for the mission. The 17th Bomb Group was chosen with the most experience with B-25’s and a call went out for volunteers for the mission. Even up to the very last minute of the operation, every crew member was given the option to drop out. Doolittle wanted this to be entirely optional not knowing if any would make it back at all. 24 crews flew to Eglin Field in Florida and trained for three weeks in March. At the same time the 24 planes were being adjusted for the weight restrictions and fuel needed for the long trip at Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On March 25, 1942 twenty two B-25’s flew to McClellan Air Field in California where sixteen were then flown to NAS Alameda, California for loading on March 31st.

The USS Hornet and Task Force 18 left port on April 2nd and rendezvoused with Task Force 16. Task Force 16 consisted of the USS Lexington which housed the only available fighter cover as the Hornet’s fighters were below deck to make room for the B-25s. Up to the point of launch the crews of both Task Forces were at total readiness. An order was placed that if at any point they came under attack of enemy fighters the B-25’s would be pushed overboard, this included at the point of launch if there was any trouble or delay, the plane would be removed. With a combined strength of only two carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers and two fleet oilers, no extra chances could be taken. The entire mission was held under secrecy all the way until they were out at sea.

On the morning of April 18th, still 650 nautical miles away from Japan, the Task Force was discovered by the Japanese picket boat No. 23 Nittō Maru, a 70-ton patrol craft, which radioed their position back to Japanese headquarters. The Nittō Maru was sunk minutes later by the USS Nashville. Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch 10 hours early and 170 miles further away then planned. As a last minute decision due to the surprise of being spotted, Doolittle included the sixteenth aircraft even though it was never meant to be part of the bomb run. All sixteen aircraft managed to get off of the flight deck in the 467ft available with Doolittle in the lead plane. Each crew had targets throughout the island of Honshu, not all bound for Tokyo. Strict orders were given to not bomb civilians or the Imperial Palace. The targets were to remain industrial complexes only. Due to the nature of precision bombing, even at low altitude, civilians would be killed no matter what.

All sixteen bombers had successful bombs runs and flew onto their intended landing zones. Due to bad weather and darkness fast approaching, the crews had a hard time finding their intended landing areas in the Zhejiang province. The plan had been to land, refuel and head to Chongqing, where the planes would then be used in land based operations. Fifteen of the Sixteen aircraft either crashed or bailed out over China. York’s plane, low on fuel, landed in Russia where the plane and crew were interned. The rest of the crews had a perilous journey ahead of them.

Of the 80 men who took part of the raid, sixty nine were able to escape capture or death. Three men were killed in action, KIA, due to the crashing of the plane except for Corporal Leland D. Faktor, flight engineer/gunner, who died during bailout over China. Eight men were captured by the Japanese and whose fates were unknown until 1946. During the war crime trials held in Shanghai, four Japanese officers were charged with the mistreatment of the eight men. On 28 August 1942, pilot Hallmark, pilot Farrow, and gunner Spatz were charged with war crimes of strafing civilians and were executed. In April of 1943 the five remaining men were moved to Nanking, Lieutenant Robert J. Meder died in December of that year, and the rest remained there until they were freed in August of 1945 by American troops. The sixty nine crew members that did survive capture fought there way to freedom with the help from the Chinese people who ended up paying severely for helping the Americans. After the raid the Japanese started the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign where they took over all eastern coastal provinces in order for no more raids to be carried out against their home islands. As result many Chinese people were killed during this campaign.

The last thing that Doolittle said to his men before departing the Hornet was that he would throw a party in Chongqing when everyone was back together. It took several years before he could hold true on that promise as many would not return until after the war. However, a celebration was had once the sixty nine made it back to the states and ever since that inaugural party one has been held in honor of the raiders. That reunion has been going on for over seventy years when in November of 1943, with only four members remaining they held their final celebration. They opened the bottle of brandy that had been left for the last man and toasted their fellow comrades in their memorial silver goblets, one for each crewmen. Today only one man, Colonel Richard E Cole, is left of the original eighty raiders. He lives on, as will the memories of his companions as a monument to the bravery of their mission. This Tuesday marks the 75th anniversary of the raid and their contribution to changing the outcome of WWII.

Images in this post came from the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Reunion held in Dayton, Ohio in 2012.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II

I don’t often photograph much modern military aviation but every now and then I get the chance to at airshows and one of my favorites from day one is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, also known as the Warthog. Built by Fairchild-Republic the Warthog in many ways is the successor of the P-47 Thunderbolt. It was the only close air support (CAS) production built aircraft in the USAF specifically built for CAS. It entered service in 1976.

The Warthog was designed as a low level, ground attack aircraft for supporting ground troops. With this purpose in mind they were built with very specific safety measures. The plane was built around the front 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon along with 1,200lbs of titanium armor for protection. The plane was built to take hits and keep flying. With this premise in mind the mechanics of the aircraft are rather simple making for easier repairs at maintenance facilities.

The first combat seen by the A-10’s was the Gulf War where it distinguished itself in it’s CAS role. While the USAF had always planned on removing the A-10 from service with it’s replacement the F-35, plans for this have not gone through. How long will it remain in service is debatable.

Celebrating the American Volunteer Group

This weekend at the Atlanta Warbird Weekend hosted by CAF Dixie Wing in Peachtree, GA the 75th Anniversary of the American Volunteer Group is being honored. It’s not the actual date when President Roosevelt signed the unpublished executive order to help the Nationalist government of China fight Japan during WWII but this weekend we will have 9 P-40’s and two surviving AVG members to honor. The American Volunteer Group was made famous by General Claire Lee Chennault and the 1st Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers.

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The Flying Tigers did not go into combat before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. Afterward, in their 100 P-40B’s they were instrumental in the defense of Burma and China. The unit was only active from April 1941 until July 1942 when it was replaced with the USAAF 23rd Fighter Group. Only five of the original members joined the new unit. The original plan called for three groups, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd AVG. Both the Second and Third AVG were recalled after the United States declared war on Japan and before they reached China. The 1st AVG held the fort down before more men and supplies arrived with the 23rd Fighter Group. The Flying Tigers created many hero’s and those men went on to inspire many more to join the cause and fly fighter planes. With an intelligent and charismatic leader like Chennault and the style of the infamous Shark Jawed P-40’s, the legends of the Flying Tigers will never cease.

An Important Day For the Free French Air Force

Today marks a little less known day in the history of the air war during World War II. Five Curtiss H75 Fighters of the French Air Force engage German Bf 109’s and shoot down two. This was the first French air to air victory during WWII and also marks the first for the allies, although the United States hadn’t entered the war at this point. After the German occupation of France the government and thus the air force operated out of England and North Africa. On June 17 1940, five days before the Franco German Armistice, the first airmen took off towards England to help form the new Free French Air Force.

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While not many representations of the Free French units exist here in the United States, one example is the Texas Flying Legends Museum’s Spitfire MkIX, a true combat vet and one that served with 329 Free French Squadron RAF unit based out of Merston, England. The Spitfire came off of the assembly line in March 1944, it went to the 302 Polish Unit based in England, it then went on to a couple other units before ending up with the 329 nine days after the invasion of Normandy. MK959 fought bravely throughout the war and represents only one of many allies that fought.

First Flight of the P-64

Today marks the first flight of the North American P-64. While this plane is an upgraded version of the NA-50 which went to the Peruvian Air Force. The P-64 was originally designated the NA-68 which was supposed to go to the Royal Thai Air Force but didn’t ship out at the last minute. Today only two examples are known to survive this one, this one belonging to the EAA Museum and was flown for the first time in three years at EAA AirVenture last July.

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The Waco QCF-2

Today I thought I would talk about a classic antique airplane, the Waco. Specifically this is a QCF-2 which is kind of mid range designed between 1927 and the early 1940’s. Most were produced in the 1930’s. The F series was designed to beat the O series and were built by the Waco Aircraft Company. They were a private pilot plane which the company was trying to make available for three people, one pilot and two in tandem. The plane has become so popular that Waco Company is still building the latest version the YMF.

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This particular example lives up in Minot, ND at the Dakota Territory Museum. It happens to belong to Warren Pietsch who flies it quite regularly. This past fourth of July it was brought out one morning and then flown later that afternoon. With the great lines and classic look it shines it flat and bright light.

Images Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 f/2.8, 200-400 VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Beechcraft Model 18

Many aircraft have become iconic over the years due to their historic legacies or years of service. Most of those planes are a little bit more flashy but the Beechcraft Model 18 is one of those planes that has been around since 1937 and today more then 300 are still flying in the US alone. The Beechcraft Model 18 also known as the Twin Beech, C-45 Expeditor, AT-11 Kansan, AT-7 Navigator, UC-45J Navigator, SNB-1 Kansan and many others as it was used by many nations before and after WWII, is a classic civilian aircraft that lead the way for many others.

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The Twin Beech was a very versatile aircraft with roles as a trainer for bomber pilots and navigators, light transport, light bombing, aerial gunnery, passenger plane, cargo plane, utility transport, aerial spraying and so many other functions. The Twin Beech was produced from 1937 to 1969 with over 9,000 built, over 4,500 built during and after WWII alone. Multiple engine, fuselage, tail, landing gear and cabin variations were built in order to accommodate all the needs that were asked of the plane. 32 variations had been created and over 200 modification kits were built in the 32years of production. This British variant is a CAF owned and operated C-45F. It was restored in the early 90’s and painted in the British Royal Air Force with D-Day markings.

AVWOHFT4883One of the civilian roles that the Model 18 was used for was aerial spotting for the US Coast Guard. Throughout the different variations of the Model 18, several were equipped with floats so that the plane could land on water. Few of those examples exist today. This example was photographed a couple of years ago at Wings Over Houston.
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Among the most famous airshow performers over the decades has been the Younkin Family. Matt Younkin has performed over the years in his families Twin Beech providing not only an amazing aerial display of the planes capabilities but also a reminder of the golden age of flight. The black and red aircraft is possibly the most well known Twin Beech in the world.

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The Beechcraft Model 18 was designed for civilian use, went to war and served in many roles and ultimately ended up right back where it started in civilian hands. Today it can seen all over the country and while it is not a as well known warbird it is still a very functional and interesting aircraft.

Images captured with Nikon D3, D4, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The North American P-64

This is a really cool aircraft that I have only had the chance of seeing once at the Wings over Gillespie Airshow a number of years ago. The North American P-64 was an export fighter designed off of the NA-50 which was a single seat fighter for export. The P-64 was the United States designation for the NA-68 the improved version of the NA-50. The NA-50 was designed from the NA-16/BT-9 both were used in the development of some of the best single seat aircraft after 1935, including the T-6 Texan.

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The NA-50 Torito was designed for the Peruvian Air Force based off of the NA-44. It had a 840hp Wright R-1820-G3 engine with a top speed of 295mph at 9,500ft. It was armed with two .30 M1919 Browning machine guns. NA-50 first flew in May of 1939 and the NA-68, which had modified landing gear, new outer wings, heavier armament, and redesigned tail surfaces, first flew in 1940. Seven NA-50’s arrived in Peru in 1939 and were retired in 1950. The Six NA-68’s were ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force but never made it there after their export clearance was revoked. Only one known example of a NA-50 is known to exist outside a museum in Peru and one P-64 of the original six exists now at the EAA AirVenture Museum. This particular plane is a converted Harvard Mk IV. While not an original it is the only flying example that we get to enjoy today.

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