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).

Mather Field, April 1930

The Air Corps loved staging mass aerial demonstrations where – not content with a variety of aircraft in large numbers – entire squadrons (or a major portion of them) would oftentimes take part in the festivities. Such is the case at Mather Field, California, April 3-4, 1930, where flightline promenaders are treated to the sight of eight O-1 Falcons of the 14th Bombardment Squadron and a host of P-12s. The next day came the great fly-by with Keystone LB-6s and Curtiss B-2s.

Rhein-Main Air Base, 1952-53

A few photos from a USAF air policeman during his tour at Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, during the early 50s. The Ceskoslovenské Aerolinie DC-3 was flown by Mira Slovak when he defected to the West in March 1953. Later, a famed air racer, champion hydroplane skipper, and all-around dare-devil, Slovak was piloting this DC-3 on a routine flight when he locked his copilot out of the cockpit, dove beneath radar coverage, and slipped into West Germany. The aircraft sat at Rhein-Main while the diplomatic niceties were worked out before returning home to Czechoslovakia. (It crashed a few years later.)

The photos of aircraft wreckage are sad reminders of a fateful day in May 1953, when an F-84 of the 22nd Fighter Bomber Squadron plowed into a formation of C-119s, causing two of them to crash as well as the F-84. Although the Thunderjet pilot who caused the mayhem parachuted to safety, eight of the 10 crewmen in the two C-119s were not as fortunate. 

North to Alaska

Climbing out of Seattle-Tacoma Airport on its scheduled late afternoon departure time in the Spring of 1959, Pacific Northern Airlines Constellation wings its way over downtown Seattle. Its final destination is Anchorage, but with a few stops along the way: Ketchikan, Juneau, Yakutat, and Cordova. Cost of the ticket from Seattle to Anchorage: $165.

Peter O. Knight Airport, 1938

Still busy today with general aviation, Peter O. Knight opened in 1935 as Tampa’s principal airport and remained so until 1945. One of many airports built under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the field boasted multiple paved runways, could handle seaplanes, and had a very nifty art-deco terminal seen in the foreground (unfortunately, now long-gone). When this photo was taken in March of ’38, the main attraction was the bevy of Air Corps planes dotting the field: B-18s, P-26s, P-35s, and a lone B-10.

92nd Fighter Squadron, 1947

As the jet aged dawned other USAAF squadrons were transitioning from props to “stovepipes” (as the jet engine was commonly called), the 92nd in Hawaii was defending the islands with the tried and true P-47 Thunderbolt. In fact, the “Jug” provided Hawaii’s air defense until well into the 1950s. This is not at all surprising: jets were needed in Korea, and besides, were someone to launch an aerial attack on Hawaii, it could not have been with jets (there were as yet no Soviet jet bombers, and the MiG-15 posed no threat to far-off Hawaii).

The BT-9 and BT-14

Post-War Props

The USAF’s first decade

U-2 in Panama, 1966

Men of the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) on deployment to Albrook AFB, Panama Canal Zone, pose for a group photo before heading home. The reason for their trip to Albrook was classified: they were monitoring French nuclear tests in the South Pacific. When this photo was taken in ’66, the 100th SRW was new to the “spy plane” world – they had just gained the mission, personnel, and aircraft of the deactivated 4080th SRW (the men are wearing that patch, not the 100th).

Thunderjets and Streaks

“Miss Bombshell of the 65th”

The lucky dogs of the 65th Bomb Squadron pose with the individual they have ascertained to best represent the unit’s interests, Miss Myrna Dell. The date is July 21, 1950, the place, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, the aircraft, a Boeing B-50. When not fulfilling her role as “Miss Bombshell”, Myrna Dell was a regular in Hollywood films of the era (she once co-starred with Ronald Reagan).

This week in aviation history: “Operation Power Flite” in 1957 – 45 hours and 19 minutes around the world

1st Pursuit Group, 1937

Here we have one of those fantastic panoramic photos that was widely popular back in the day. Taking such a shot was not in the realm of most photographers and so one had to call on the experts: the National Photo & News Service of San Antonio, Texas. It was one of their photographers (E. L. Rothwell) that made the journey to Selfridge Field, Michigan in the summer of ’37. His tool of choice was a “Cirkut” camera, a truly ingenious device that, while pivoting on a level axis, exposed a roll of film which advanced in synchronised movement to the horizontal action of the camera. Capturing for posterity the 1st Pursuit Group required five feet of film (the photo measures 5 feet x 10 inches).

 As stated, the photo was taken in 1937. Summer time, if one takes in to account the many open windows and the fully-leafed trees (and, according to the clock on the operations building, it was 9:10 AM). The squadrons are the 17th, 27th, and 94th Pursuit, the aircraft, of course, is the P-26.

Most of these buildings seen 84 years ago are still in use today.