Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Dauntless' Daddy, A Dart, Fox Peter 2, and Another Cat

The Dauntless' Daddy

Everybody knows about the Douglas SBD, and most people are also aware that it turned the tide of the war in the Pacific almost single-handedly. That's a bold and perhaps even rash statement (I'm no stranger to that sort of thing; it's part of my charm.), but think back for a minute. The first significant reprisal strikes on the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor were made with air groups that counted two SBD squadrons (one scouting squadron and one bombing squadron on each ship) in their complement of aircraft. Then came Coral Sea, what amounted to a command performance at Midway, and finally Guadalcanal and the Solomons. The Dauntless was obsolescent at the beginning of the war and lasted so long in the Fleet primarily because its designated replacement (the Curtiss SB2C series) experienced so many technical problems that it was months after its initial deployment before it finally became a viable weapon. As a result the Navy had to use the SBD far longer than they had ever wanted to do, but it proved itself up to the task right to the end. It was a classic weapon, and a pretty good looking airplane too.

There are probably still folks out there who don't realize that it was a development of two other aircraft; it's immediate parent, the XBT-2, and it's true sire, the Douglas BT-1. The XBT-2 wasn't all that far from being a Dauntless, and you can recognize the lineage without any trouble at all. It was, in point of fact, designed and built to correct the shortcomings (poor speed and handling during flight deck operations, which is to say that it was scary to fly around the boat) of the original design, the BT-1. In fact the BT-1 looks more like a Northrop design than anything by Douglas, which isn't unreasonable when you remember that Jack Northrop was heavily involved in the BT-1's conception. A great many of the BT-1's technical problems were sorted out by a relative newcomer named Ed Heinemann (first with Northrop and then with Douglas), but the design's Northrop parentage is extremely obvious.

A couple of kits have been issued of the BT-1 over the years, but they've been difficult to obtain and required a fair dose of modeling skills (That keeps coming up, that modeling skills thing...) to produce a good replica. It would be really neat if somebody would give us a more user-friendly kit and up-to-date kit, and maybe someday somebody with a Czech last name will do just that, but for now we pretty much have an Empty Bag. Here's a photo to whet your apetite, just on the off-chance that some day some one will produce a kit for us.

Here's BuNo 0615 as it appeared when it was assigned to VB-5 aboard the USS Yorktown. It's a classic study in pre-War colors, with silver fuselage, yellow upper wing surfaces, colored tail, and a section leader's colored cowl. Bombing Five's leaping ram is visible in black under the windscreen. This shot leaves no doubt that the BT-1 was a Northrop design.  Douglas via Harry Gann

It's Funny Now, But I Bet That Guy Was Pretty Scared

We've touched briefly on the Air Force's Air Material Command and the various repair and overhaul depots under that umbrella. The Late, Great Kelly AFB, now part of the Lackland AFB complex (an Odd Thing, since Lackland was originally created out of a wartime expansion of Kelly; funny how the circle is a wheel...) used to be prime on the Convair F-106 interceptor back when it was still San Antonio Air Logistics Center. Besides the normal overhaul and repair they also did developmental work (the frameless semi-bubble canopy and M61 Vulcan installation were both done there) and sometimes provided aircraft for special purposes. To that end the depot "owned" an F-106A and an F-106B, and they could be frequently seen overhead during the 80s if you were anywhere near Kelly.

As for the Funny Story, it's one of those deals that's funny because everything turned out all right in the end. It was almost a tragedy, the sort of thing that you'd see on the national news at 5 o'clock. It could've been Real Bad.

I used to work at a company that had its production facilities immediately off the north end of Kelly's runway, and I made a practice of looking skyward any time I was outdoors. I was involved in materials management at the time, and some of our raw materials were stored outside, so that was an easy thing to do, just in case you were wondering. You can always find a reason to chase airplanes, right?

Anyway, I was out there one fine, sunny morning, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of Tactical Aviation approaching from the north. I looked up and there was F-106A AF 59-0061 in lead, with an F-101B (maybe from Ellington ANGB, but I'm not sure on that) on its starboard wing, tucked in really tight and looking good. They were at 500 feet, give or take, and the Six snapped into a break immediately after they crossed the Kelly perimeter, immediately followed by the Voodoo. Therein lies The Rub, and also the crux of this story.

The F-106 was designed as a true delta-winged fighter, and was possessed of an initial turn rate that few of its contemporaries could match. The F-101, on the other hand, had little-bitty wings and a tee-tail that was easily blanked off by the rest of the aircraft during certain flight parameters; things like high angle of attack or in the course of a really tight turn. Our Six was apparently living large that day, and cranked in what could only be described as The Mother of All Really Tight Turns. The Voodoo driver followed. The Six turned. The F-101 had what some folks might call "issues" as the airplane effectively masked the empennage surfaces, creating an immenent stall. At 500 feet, over a heavily-populated Air Force base. You could see that F-101 shudder, even from my vantage point about 300 yards away, and then watch it as it dropped like a stone heading for Mother Earth.

Most afterburning jet fighters designed during the 1950s were possessed of what's known as a "hard light" when said AB was called into play. This "hard light" produced almost-instant thrust, accompanied by a resounding BOOM. The 101 turned. The 101 shuddered and dropped like a rock. Then the Miracle occured (at least I thought it was one!). The nose of the Voodoo perceptably straightened out, accompanied by an earth-shattering BOOM-BOOM as the pilot crammed the throttles into AB some 350 feet overhead. The F-101 ceased to fall, and began to accellerate, albeit somewhat slowly, into a more normal flight path.

That was the part where I realized I'd been holding my breath the whole time. I watched as the two aircraft made another circuit, executed a far more leisurely break than before, and landed. It's been nearly 25 years since I saw that happen, and I can still see it as though it was yesterday. And, I'm still impressed to this day with the airmanship of the F-101 driver, and with his Abundant Good Luck. True, he got himself into it by trying to follow a Delta Dart in a turn, something that no American fighter could do until the advent of the F-15 and F-16, but he got himself out of it too. That's gotta count for something.

I wonder if it's hard to get stains out of Nomex?

Here's 59-0061 on the ground at Kelly in 1988. At the time the photo was taken it was owned by the SAALC and performing B-1 chase duties, as depicted in the artwork on the vertical stab. It's a pretty airplane and I'll run a shot for you in color once I get a slide scanner. Until then you'll need to be happy with this slightly over-developed (the negs are good; blame my darkroom skills or lack thereof) image of 0061.
Was the Delta Dart a good looking airplane or what?  Friddell

Fox Peter 2

On 4 July, 1952, the 31st Fighter Escort Wing left Turner Field, Georgia, for a air-refueled trans-Pacific flight to Misawa AB, Japan. The deployment, named Fox Peter 1, was successful. Slightly more than 90 days later (6 October 1952) the 31st was relieved by the 27th FEW out of Bergstrom AFB, Texas, who made the same journey and  provided air defense for Northern Honshu until relieved by the 508th Strategic Fighter Wing on 13 February 1953, when they returned to Bergstrom to transition from their F-84Gs to F-84Fs.

I've always had an interest in USAF activities at Misawa, and discovered that Mark Morgan had access to a series of photographs of Fox Peter 2. Mark was kind enough to share them with me, which allows us to view this brief photo essay of the deployment.

Saddling up. It's going to be a long day.  USAF via M. Morgan

The 27th FEW was based at Bergstrom AFB, but this may have been taken at Travis AFB in California immediately prior to the trans-Pacific leg of the flight. Bergstrom was a SAC base at the time and there are a lot of transports in the background of these photos, which would suggest the location to be Travis.  USAF via M. Morgan

The KB-29 provided sterling service as a tanker. This formation is preparing to provide refueling support to the 27th. The aircraft in the foreground (44-83883, presumeably a KB-29) is a bit of an enigma; that serial number was assigned to B-17G-95-DL. Clarification would be appreciated.  USAF via M. Morgan

Getting ready to pass a little gas before going feet wet. The Thunderjet is carrying every tank it's possible to hang on an F-84! The antenna mounted to the starboard nose is presumed to be associated with some sort of navigation equipment; once again clarification would be appreciated! Note the size of the USAF legend on the wing.  USAF via M. Morgan

Of poor quality but great historical interest, this newspaper photo apparently depicts the 27th's arrival in Japan. Bet he's tired!  USAF via M. Morgan

The photos shown above seem to raise more questions than they answer, which in turn leads me to ask if any of you have further information on them. If you do, please drop me a note at . I'd love to find out a little more about them.

And a Cat to End the Day

A while back the folks at Eduard released a model of the F6F-3. It was pretty well picked-over at that time, but the worst anyone could say about the kit was that the tires didn't have any tread and were a little too thin. Well, they don't have tread (certain subsequent releases have included resin tires/wheels to correct the problem) and they may be too thin, but in every other respect the kit lives up to its advance billing. It's an excellent representation of the real aircraft. Let's close out the day with a couple of photos of one I built a year or so ago.

The starboard side. The model was built as Alex Vraciu's VF-6 mount, "Gadget". I wasn't overly concerned about the tires and wheels when this was built so I didn't replace them; mostly I just wanted to see if the kit lived up to its hype. It did, right down to that infamous "Hellcat Grin" that's apparently been such a bugaboo to modelers the past few years. If you'll work on the premise that no model is, or ever will be, perfect, then this offering by Eduard is probably a 9 on a 10 Scale. It sure looks like a Hellcat!

The port side. I don't particularly care for the shade of blue in the national insignia, but that could have been easily addressed by a trip to the decal box if I'd been a little more energetic when I had it in the paint shop. About the only thing that really annoyed me about the kit was the fact that Eduard didn't provide photo-etch for the cockpit consoles, even though PE came with the kit. They later issued a supplementary set of PE to spiff up other areas of the model, and that fret included the consoles. It should've been in the original issue. Fie!

Yesterday's offering was a short one due to circumstances beyond my control. Today's offering is a late one (it's already tomorrow here, for cryin' out loud) but we're going to figure that Late is ok. In the meantime, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again soon.

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