America’s Healthiest Girl and Miss America Finally Meet

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I do not know the identity of the Healthiest Girl in America, but I do know that “Miss America” was a young beauty by the name of Margaret Ekdahl. It should be mentioned that the quotation marks bracketing her title are not solely for the purpose of appellation: Miss Ekdahl was not the Miss America but rather Miss Florida. However, when this photo was taken in 1930, there had been no Miss America Pageant for several years. This did not deter the City of Miami from creating their own contest of the same name and, after conveniently disqualifying the frontrunners Miss Texas and Miss California, Florida girl Margaret Ekdahl took the prize.

The goggled fellow on the left is indeed the pilot, Mr. Jerome Waterhouse (He was also president of Maas Bros. Department Stores). His aircraft of choice looks to be a Brunner-Winkle Bird with a Kinner B5 engine.

Pity the poor sash-less woman next to Mr. Waterhouse – she is the female in the photo who does not wear a title.

No Secrets Here

The Air Force/U.S. Government has long insisted that the U-2 is a reconnaissance aircraft, not a “spy plane”. That sounds very nice and pretty too. But back in 1957, the U-2 seen here belonged to the CIA and that meant it was very much in the business of spying. No doubt the CIA would call that “intelligence gathering”, but to scoop up such info, they still needed to do what is known as the age-old act of “spying”. 

Thanks to Max Pashnev for this photo taken from the original negative.

The “Hoppi-Copter”

On this Pentecost Day, it is only fitting we mention a man whose name is linked with taking to the heavens and returning to earth: Horace T. Pentecost. In the postwar era, Pentecost toiled on what he thought was sure to be an invention of great value to the people and the military, a lightweight/personal helicopter. A fine idea, but their were difficulties.  Among those challenges confronting Pentecost and his HX-1 backpack helicopter was the fact anything less than a perfect takeoff or landing resulted in a disastrously dangerous event involving shards of rotor blades screaming in a hundred different directions.  The HX-1 was also very difficult to control, so much so, the only flights made had the machine and its pilot tethered to the earth.

Later models were more stable due to the incorporation of wheels and place to sit, but the late 1940s public (and military) were drawn to the helicopters that were coming off the line from such big name companies such as Bell and Sikorsky.

Mr. Pentecost was no crank inventor; he was an educated man, a wartime Boeing engineer. His dream of a small, lightweight personal means of flight was no different than those who later invented the Ultralight.

The HX-1 was donated to the Smithsonian, and is now on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona.

Boeing’s Forgotten Bomber, the B-50

Although a solid aircraft in every respect, the B-50 was overshadowed (figuratively and literally) by the giant B-36, and the newer and more exciting jet aircraft then taking to the skies.  

World War 1 USN Airship Operations

Boeing Model 40

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Skyraiders Before The Storm

Pictured in peacetime, none of these Skyraiders survived the 1960s or the Vietnam War.

The “Flying Whale”

Despite its unflattering name, the Martin B-10/12 was an absolutely outstanding aircraft for its time. This is especially so when one considers the bombers it replaced: The Keystone series with its (standard for the period) fabric-covered, open cockpit and double-winged aircraft. Whereas most aircraft eased into the transition from the earlier designs (thinking of the P-26), Martin dispensed with the in-between and went next generation.

“Miss Sonic Boom”

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According to this photo’s caption, actress Debra Paget was in Las Vegas and when asked if she would like a tour of nearby Nellis AFB, she couldn’t resist. (Obviously, she told them that she would only take part in the tour if she could wear a bathing suit and high heels.) Upon her arrival, the Nellis pilots immediately named her “Miss Sonic Boom.” 

Miss Paget/Sonic Boom was quite the starlet back in the day, featuring in films like The Ten Commandments, and did a movie opposite Elvis. She is now 89 years old. 

The “Ideal costume for Aviator”

Dreadnaught Safe Suit 1919

Such survival suits are still in use today with the Air Force, Navy, etc. (“Poopy Suits,” we called them). This ad poses a bit of a question: what type of mechanical difficulties might necessitate “getting into cold water” some “10 miles off coast” to effect repairs to your aircraft? You would be in the open sea; what are you going to fix bobbing around like a cork?  But this ad dates from 1919; flying machines had a bad habit of suddenly not working, and one had to be ready for anything.

The “Aluminum Overcast”

An aluminum suppliers dream, a single B-36 rolled and flattened to the thickness of household aluminum foil, would cover over 20 million square feet of property. Many thanks to Mr. Del Chasteen, a good ol’ Texas boy, who supplied most of the photos.


General Frank Lackland

“Lackland” – anyone who has ever served in the USAF knows that name. Billed as the “Gateway to the Air Force,” Lackland AFB in Texas is home to USAF basic training and a host of academic and technical schools. The base’s namesake is seen here, Brigadier General Frank D. Lackland. Like many Air Corps generals, Lackland got his start as a pre-WW1 infantry officer before switching over to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. After serving in various capacities, General Lackland became commander of the 1st Wing at March Field in 1939. These photos date from that period. He was likable and friendly, and regardless of rank, he inspired everyone he commanded. It is, therefore, only fitting that the base which introduces recruits to the Air Force is named in his honor.

XB-15 Bomber Bedecked with Bathing-suited Bronx Beauties

Update: Thanks to Paul Martin, author of the multi-volume history Beneath The Shadow of Wings, Untold Stories from Mitchel Field, Long Island, we now learn how dozens of bathing suit-clad women came to be pictured cavorting atop the XB-15. The year is 1940, and Major Caleb V. Haynes and his crew had just been awarded the Mackay Trophy for their exemplary 1939 XB-15 flight that brought relief supplies to an earthquake-devastated Chile. Capitalizing on that fame, the XB-15 made numerous well-publicized visits, including one to Mitchel Field on September 13, 1940.

Enter “Billy Rose’s World’s Fair Aquacade” and his “beautiful aqua-belles”. The “Aquacade” had been a smash hit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair (Johnny Weissmuller of “Tarzan” fame was one of the stars), and in a massive public relations/recruitment event, dozens of these “aqua-belles” were invited to join Mitchel Field officers for a day of fun in the sun while standing atop the Air Corp’s most giant bomber.

Want to learn more about Mitchel Field’s history? Visit Paul Martin’s website hundreds of great photos and information (you can order his books there too).