We see a rather rare photo here: a pre-war P-36 sporting a bare metal finish with national insignia on its fuselage. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that in late 1940, the Air Corps was conducting experiments with camouflage as well as the placement of the national insignia. This P-36 is assigned to Maxwell Field’s 23rd Composite Group – the unit that carried out such testing.
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.
Back in the 1920s, almost any routine event was automatically far more interesting when it was done in an airplane. Take a fashion show for instance. Appealing as such a venue would be on terra firma, it became much more newsworthy when it happened 5,000 feet in the air. That brings us to the photo. The aircraft is, of course, a Ford Trimotor. The location, Hollywood (also, of course). The woman is famed fashion designer Peggy Hamilton – and she was famed: Hamilton was the designer for all the big movie studios and top names in the film industry.
So, why is Madam Hamilton about to board the Trimotor? According to the photo’s caption, she is going to perform the “World’s first” fashion show in an airplane. Once airborne, she will model eight “gorgeous gowns” to an appreciative audience of club presidents from various organizations. Given that Hamilton was married at least 6 or 7 times (no one is exactly sure which) the gowns in question might be leftovers from her numerous matrimonial endeavors. Whatever the case, I am sure the club presidents were vastly entertained.
Note: Given the Trimotor’s low altitude and lack of insulation, I would venture to say that this event also set the record for the world’s bumpiest and noisiest fashion show.
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 This aircraft was withdrawn from service in 1962 and was then displayed for decades at Lackland AFB, Tx.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.
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.
When this photo was taken May 28, 1934, Major Muse was commanding officer of Crissy Field, San Francisco. A somewhat stout gentleman, Muse must have found the P-12 cockpit (or those of most pursuit ships of the day) a rather tight fit. There is what appears to be a pole or staff protruding from the aft fuselage – no idea what it’s for.
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.).
Although a latecomer to La Première Guerre mondiale, the Letord bomber (first flown in 1917) nevertheless saw a great amount of service in the Aéronautique Militaire of France. I am not certain which version of the Letord this is, but it is possible that it is the Let.7, a bomber intended for night attack. Also, note the camouflage paint.
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.
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.
The 26th Bomb Squadron scoreboard and Roll of Honor.
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.
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.
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.
Meteor WH169 is pictured on its home turf of RAF Cranwell in the late 1950s. As a two-seater, it was used primarily for training and in such a scenario the aircraft crashed and ended up in the scrapyard in 1960. Lurking behind it are two other Cranwell mainstays of the 1950s: a de Havilland Vampire and a Vickers Valetta (WJ462).
Bearing the light blue markings of the “friendly forces” during the maneuvers, this P-40 of Hamilton Field’s 77th Pursuit Squadron readies for another mission against the bad guys of the red force.
One of the “bad guys” – a P-38 of Selfridge Field’s 27th Pursuit Squadron.
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.
Starting life as P-51 44-73097, this Mustang was transferred to the RCAF in 1947 where it acquired the serial no. 9566. It sported the original blue and red RCAF roundel when this photo was taken at (probably) RCAF Station Chatham. Also noteworthy is the original USAAF data stenciled on the side. This aircraft crashed in 1953.