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.

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.

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.

The BT-9 and BT-14

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.

A visit to Selfridge Field, c. 1932

Mississippi National Guard, 1939

The Mississippi National Guard was just starting out in the aviation world when these photos were taken back in ’39. The newly-minted 153rd Observation Squadron took to the skies with a gaggle of decidedly well-worn O-38s, but they were no doubt happy to have something to fly.

By request… (2)

Several people have asked me for the full photo of the image that appears on the header for this site. Nice guy that I am, here it is: The 6th Pursuit Squadron at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, circa 1935. The 6th Pursuit (later Night Fighter) Squadron was inactivated in 1947, and despite being one of the older units (activated in 1917) it entered a long post-war slumber*. This was rectified in 2017, and once again the 6th is an active component of the USAF.

*Note: Wikipedia states that the 6th was reactivated in 1968, assigned to the 11th Air Force, and flew F-4 Phantoms for 25 years at “Alberts Air Base” in the “San Francesco Islands”. Not a word of this is even remotely true thus serving as a helpful reminder why Wikipedia is not an accepted source at any college or university.

Aloha from the 4th Observation Squadron

The location is Luke Field, Territory of Hawaii. The date, oh, sometime in the 1930s. The aircraft, the Thomas Morse O-19. The 4th had obviously just done something worthy of the sizable trophy held by the officer in the middle. Given the sedate performance of the O-19, it is safe to assume the trophy does not reflect the squadron’s establishment of a new world record for airspeed.

Y1B-7 pilots of the 31st Bomb Squadron

Taken at March Field, California, in about 1933, the pilots are as follows: Front row, left to right, Squadron Commander Lt. Ralph A. Snavely, Lieutenants Lewis, Allison, and Eaker. Top row, Lieutenants Stone, Messer, Gardner, and Skaer. Although the number of B-7 (and its variants) were small (14 built in total) it marked a revolution in Air Corps bombers: all-metal, and a monoplane to boot. This revolutionary aspect can be seen when one compares the Y1B-7 with another 31st Bomb Squadron bird lurking in the background – a Keystone B-4 – which looks right out of World War 1.

Aloha From the 1930s

A-3 Falcons of the 26th Attack Squadron, Wheeler Field.

Keystone B-5s of Luke Field’s 72nd Bombardment Squadron pay a call to Wheeler.

P-12s of the 18th Pursuit Group warming up at Wheeler Field.

The photo’s caption says the crew of this DH-4 was “O.K.”. Well, that’s good, but despite having survived the crash, their troubles were not over: They have ended up in a field full of Opuntia ficus-indica, also known as the prickly pear cactus (“Panini” in Hawaiian). This no doubt caused a lot of cursing and swearing as the crew worked their way out of the field. Additional blasphemous language was supplied by the mechanics who arrived later to haul the wreck out of there.

The propeller shop at Randolph Field was a busy place in the 1930s… (7) (8) (6)

One would be forgiven when seeing these photos for laughing at what appears to be multiple views of one pilot’s misfortune. Unfortunately (for the taxpayer, that is) these are different aircraft on (I assume) different days. Same plane – the BT-14 – and, same place – Randolph Field. The invention of the tricycle landing gear was a welcome addition to the world of flying, especially for those who were just getting started.

Shooting Stars