Two aircraft that one does not often see in the same photo would be the VC-137 and the Commonwealth Skyranger. Taken at the Renton Airport/Boeing plant in the summer of 1962, VC-137, “SAM 2600”, is undergoing finishing touches before it is delivered to the Air Force for the use of President Kennedy. This photo illustrates the classic adage of “I seen ’em come, I seen ’em go” by virtue of the fact that while SAM 2600 is now retired to the Air Force Museum, the Skyranger (N90682, built in 1946) is still registered and flying today. Really, about the only thing that shows this photo was not taken in recent times are the vintage automobiles.
Flown by 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom Air Base, Thailand, this Skyraider (52-139598) had its picture taken while on display at nearby Korat Air Base in 1970. Unfortunately, time was running out for 598: On 24 December of that same year, the aircraft was lost while escorting rescue helicopters deep into hostile country. The pilot, Major Albro L. Lundy, was killed, his body being recovered and identified decades later. R.I.P.
On Independence day, it is well to remember those who have ensured that such liberty endures. One such man is the immortal General Curtis E. LeMay. General LeMay will be long remembered for his revolutionary concepts on airpower strategy and doctrine. As the absolute boss of Strategic Air Command, he put those theories to the test. He was always willing to find out what worked, or did not. Furthermore, from the B-29 to the SR-71, LeMay always knew a good aircraft when he saw one.
In his day, LeMay’s personality and strong beliefs caused him to be a terror in the minds of many. While he was incredibly firm, he was also incredibly fair. He knew what he wanted, and in case one did not know what that was, he would tell you in no uncertain terms. Intimidating though he was to those in the 1950s & 60s, in today’s juvenile-minded political & societal environment he would cause many of his fellow Americans to wet their pants. That being their sole means of expressing their inability to argue with the man.
44-92060 had, by today’s standards, a brief life. Delivered in 1949, and assigned to the 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild AFB in 1951, it did its part for five years until it was scrapped in 1956. Made for a lot of pots and pans.
The patch of the 92nd during the B-36 days at Fairchild. B-52s arrived in 1957, and, alas, this patch design was done away with.
The patches worn on the hats of these maintenance men tells us they are members of the 30th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Looks like a typical rainy day for Germany, and especially for Spangdahlem.
With its tail number of 47-084, this B-45A was a natural choice for assignment to Langley AFB’s 47th Bomb Group, 84th Bomb Squadron. The unit later moved to RAF Sculthorpe in the UK.
The B-45 was, of course, America’s first jet bomber, and like many of those early jets it had a checkered career (of the 143 B-45s built, almost one-third of them were destroyed in crashes and other mishaps). There are very few survivors, and 47-084 is not one of them: it ended its days in 1958 at Ramstein Air Base as an instructional airframe for training firemen. In other words, a charred and smashed wreck.
Insignia of the 84th
These shots were taken at Graham Air Base, Florida, in the latter half of 1959. The aircraft are the T-34 and, of course, the then new T-37 “Tweet”. Graham was an air force training base, but was operated primarily by civilian contractors and not air force personnel. As such, it did not carry the title “Air Force Base”. By 1959, the era of civilian operated training schools was coming to a close, and Graham Air Base closed the following year.
F-102A on a visit to Paine AFB, WA, circa 1959. Stationed just down the road at McChord AFB, 56-0972 bears the rather simple yet satisfying markings of the 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS).
Another 317th FIS bird (56-0958) poses with a predecessor, a replica Spad.
Early F-102A of the 327th FIS.
Another early bird, 53-1817 of the Air Proving Ground Command, 1956. This aircraft was withdrawn from service in 1962 and was then displayed for decades at Lackland AFB, Tx. It is now on exhibit with the Florida Air National Guard, Jacksonville, Fl.
The Washington Air National Guard’s 116th FIS flew the F-102 for only 3 years, 1966-69. This aircraft, 56-0985, is currently on display at McEntire Air National Guard Base, SC.
Speaking of South Carolina, here are a brace of 102’s from that state’s 157th FIS, 57-0859 and 57-0818.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Born a cargo aircraft, C-97A 49-2591 was soon converted to a tanker configuration as seen here. Her air refueling days were short-lived as she was then reconfigured to once again become a trash hauler. Not the very obvious rear cargo doors where the boom operator’s pod has been attached.
The year 1951 was busy for the Iowa Air National Guard at Des Moines Airport. At the beginning of that year the boys had been flying F-84 Thunderjets, but with the Korean War now in full-swing those F-84s went to active duty units while Iowa reverted to the F-51. Having flown them from 1946-1949, the 124th and the Mustang were old friends. This state of affairs continued until the war ended thus making jets available once again.