Carl Ben Eielson, aviation pioneer

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Carl Ben Eielson earned his wings during World War I with the Army Air Service, became a post-war barnstormer, then headed north to Alaska and began making a name for himself. He flew the mail to remote towns where only dog sleds had gone before, started an airline, became a polar explorer, and made the first flight over the North Pole from Alaska to Norway. He died on a rescue mission in 1929, but his legacy lives on (Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, is named in his honor).

Eielson’s aircraft of choice during his bush pilot days in Alaska was a Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny”, seen here. Weathered and beaten with the faded name “Fairbanks” emblazoned on its olive-drab fuselage, this aircraft (AS 47358) managed to survive and is now on display at Fairbanks Airport in Alaska.

His passenger is Mrs. Ladessa Nordale, wife of Fairbanks newsman Hjalmer Nordale. Mrs. Nordale later became a prominent Alaska judge. One her more interesting cases involved her ruling on whether an automobile constituted a whorehouse. Despite such establishments being illegal, a young lady (of easy virtue) was plying her trade in the back seat of her Cadillac (business must have been good). Judge Nordale ruled the Cadillac was indeed a den of ill-repute and put the motorized entrepreneur out of business. This provided some comedy given that the judge herself drove a Cadillac.

The R.34 comes to America

 

When the British airship R.34 crossed the Atlantic in 1919, she and her crew became instant celebrities. Taking off from Britain on July 2, the crew battled winds, storms, freezing conditions and a rapidly dwindling fuel supply before arriving 108 flying hours later. Hovering over a field in Mineola, NY, the airship discharged its first cargo – Major John Pritchard – who parachuted down in order to organize the landing party below. This was necessary due to the fact there was no one in the United States who had any experience in handling such a craft. As the photos illustrate, obviously Pritchard was successful. He also became the first man to arrive in America by air (and parachute).

The first photo shows R.34 resting after its journey. Scattered and stacked all around are hundreds of hydrogen cylinders to provide gas for the trip home. Why the whole place wasn’t blown to kingdom come is probably a miracle in itself.

Photo #2 is interesting in that the men of the 278th Aero Squadron decided to use the R.34 as a backdrop for their group photo. At this time, the 278th was being disbanded at Mineola, and the arrival of R.34 was obviously inspiring. This is the only explanation because the 278th certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with airships (other than trying to shoot them down, should the opportunity present itself.).

The last photo is an example of how the R.34 compared to the Woolworth Building in New York City. It being, in 1919, the tallest building in the world Woolworth’s was always a handy prop for comparison (ocean liners, airships, etc.).

26th Bomb Squadron, 1942

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Pekoa Airfield, New Hebrides Islands, in the autumn of 1942. A duo of B-17Es of the 26th Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group, await another mission. Note the wing and nose antenna of the SCR-521 radar.


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Ground crew reinstall a critical airframe component – the rear half of the aircraft. One can still see on the national insignia that its red center was painted over.


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The 26th Bomb Squadron scoreboard and Roll of Honor.


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This came with the photos: a hand-drawn version of the same scoreboard. The stars denote action at Hickam Field (the 26th was there December 7), Midway, and the Solomon Islands.


F-89D, 58th Fighter Interceptor Squadron

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The year is approximately 1955 (The F-89, 53-2568, was written off in 1956), and it’s one of those great airshows of the era. We can only guess at what other aircraft graced the ramp of this unidentified base, so we will have to content ourselves with this gaggle of birds. The 58th FIS Scorpion is from Otis AFB, the B-29 (45-21800), from Langley. A well-known aircraft, this B-29 did the air drops of big name test airplanes way back when (The X-1, Chuck Yeager, being just one of many).

C-123 (54-577) brings up the rear. Scarcely visible behind the F-89 are F-84s of the USAF Thunderbirds. Like I said, one of those great old time airshows.

27th Pursuit Squadron, 1939

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Sporting some rather bizarre camouflage paint schemes, P-36 Hawks of Selfridge Field’s 27th Pursuit do some fancy flying for the camera. Contrary to popular belief, the camo paint was not part of some war game exercise but rather for display – the 1939 National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. In theory, the water-based paint could be easily removed. In practice, that was not quite so: broad areas were washed clean, but the paint adhered itself into every panel seam and rivet head.

Fast forward: In the early 1980s, a pair of A-10s from my base in Alaska were given a water-based “Arctic white” paint job over their normal dark green. Used only for a one week exercise, the white paint was then given a rinse. Same results as in 1939. Every place that was not a smooth flat surface had white paint clinging to it. Every panel, rivet, and screw head was highlighted making for two hideous-looking A-10s. Eyesores that they were, the two aircraft were parked together at the far end of the ramp.

 

Open house, Langley AFB, 1962

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Naturally, one sees this photo and says “F-4 Phantom.” However, the picture is early enough to where the sign in front of the aircraft says otherwise: “F-110A Phantom”. That is a bit of a misnomer. While the Air Force did designate their version of the Navy’s F4H Phantom as the F-110, they chose the name “Spectre” instead. Carrying the Navy bureau number of [1]49406, this aircraft’s USAF serial number was 62-12169.

The F-105 alongside (59-1755) is from Seymour Johnson AFB’s 336th Tactical Fighter Squadron. This aircraft was shot down while engaged in a dogfight with a MiG 17 on July 19, 1966. The pilot, Stephen W. Diamond, was seen to eject, but was never found.


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F-104 Starfighter (56-0899) of the 479th TFW, George AFB. The F-106 alongside (56-0462), is from Langley’s 48th FIS. This aircraft suffered engine failure while on a high altitude (70,000 feet) intercept mission on June 6, 1975. The pilot, Captain Stephen Damer, made aviation history when he safely ejected at great altitude and descended some 12 miles or so to the Gulf of Mexico.


 

Mixed bag of B-29 Superforts

Starfighters of the 83rd FIS, 1959

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Despite its sleekness and speed, the F-104 was not well-suited to the needs of the USAF. Lacking the range and weaponry of the other interceptors of the day, the 104 never formed the backbone for America’s air defense. Though it served the Air Force for about twenty years, it typically never served in one interceptor squadron for long. Hamilton AFB’s 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron as seen here is typical: they flew the F-104 from 1958-60. On average, a USAF Starfighter squadron operated the type for only four years. This is in sharp contrast to the service the F-104 provided to air forces abroad. This was especially so in the skies of Europe where it was flown by a host of nations and was a familiar sight for decades.

Aircraft seen here are 56-0788 and 56-0819. In keeping with the Starfighter serving abroad theme, 788 was soon transferred to the Republic of China Air Force.

The Boeing 247-Y

 

 

A one of a kind aircraft if there ever was one. When this Boeing 247 began life with United Airlines, I doubt many believed it would end up being converted into a warplane but that is exactly what Boeing itself did. NC 13366 earned money for United until they retired the 247. Boeing then reacquired the aircraft in order to fulfill a rather unusual request to turn it into a militarized airliner for China. This Boeing obviously did.

Remembering Pearl Harbor

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It is late November, 1941, and the men of Hickam Field’s 50th Reconnaissance Squadron pose for a photo to send home for Christmas.

These men could not possibly imagine that even as they smiled at the camera, plans were already underway for their demise. Nor could they imagine that some of them have less than two weeks to live. For those who do survive, it will be an event that will mark them for the rest of their lives.

One man who lived through the attack was PFC William P. Stroud Jr. (4th row, 4th from right in the group photo). A flight engineer in the 50th Recon Sq., Stroud was in the barracks when the attack began. (That barracks, just across the street from the flightline and hangars, bears to this day the scars of the attack.) Despite the madness of that morning, William Stroud kept his cool. Knowing where he was needed most, he raced across the street to the flaming flightline to lend assistance. The squadron’s aircraft were already destroyed, so he grabbed a rifle to get in the fight. And a fighter he was. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Stroud won his pilot’s wings, flew B-24s, and in his numerous combat missions earned the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Stroud, soon to be tested in battle, was identified in the group photo by his granddaughter, and it is a pleasure to single out and salute such a courageous young man.


It is well that we remember both those who lived and those who lost their lives that fateful morning. As the original owner of this photograph indicates with his annotations, some would not survive December 7th, but they were never forgotten by those who did. 

~”They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.” ~

Willis B. Haviland – Pioneer American combat pilot.

 


Willis Bradley Haviland (1895-1944) was the 16th aviator to join the famed Lafayette Escadrille, the result of which is that he is one of the first Americans to engage in aerial combat. Joining the navy after America’s entry into World War I, he is seen here during World War II when he served as the first Executive Officer of NAS Whidbey Island, and then its second Commanding Officer.

In these photos, Haviland is seen standing on the left in front of a SB2C Helldiver, and center, before a JRF Goose during a visit to NAS Seattle. In honor of the former skipper, a hangar is named for him at NAS Whidbey.

 

1942: The first PBY arrives at NAS Whidbey

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The date is December, 1942, and this is the first PBY to arrive at the brand new NAS Whidbey Island seaplane base. (Note the construction material littering the ramp in the background.) The installation was intended to be a support facility for PBYs from NAS Seattle, but even before work began the plan was altered to where Whidbey would be its own base.

This PBY’s arrival was not without some apprehension. The pilot, Lt. Morrison, stated that he circled the area for quite some time before spotting the “red girders of the seaplane hangar under construction.” Even then he had to land four or five miles out due to an abundance of logs floating in the harbor. After carefully picking his way through the debris he was met by a boat that succeeded in clearing a path for the incoming aircraft.

This hangar (minus the ordnance carts parked alongside) still stands today, but with a different mission: It is now the Navy Exchange (NEX) department store. From this angle, the former hangar looks pretty much the same now as it did then.

“Lone Ranger” – The XPBB-1

 

 

The XPBB-1 “Sea Ranger” was Boeing’s effort at fulfilling the Navy’s need for a better long-range flying boat. Such aircraft are always a battle between aero and hydro dynamic engineers, but the XPBB was a remarkably streamlined and efficient design. Internal bomb bays with sliding doors were incorporated into the wing were one such aerodynamic feature.

First flown on July 7, 1942, the XPBB proved a winner from the start and seemed to have a bright future, but…other forces were at work. Despite the Navy’s satisfaction with the project, Boeing’s talents (and factories) were needed for the B-29 program. This was given priority, and, with only one example built, The XPBB project was cancelled. The B-29 program, coupled with the Navy’s growing lack of enthusiasm for the future of large flying boats, caused the one and only XPBB-1 Sea Ranger to became known as the “Lone Ranger”.

Oddball Aircraft

 

 

Hahn Air Base, 1956