Monday, April 26, 2010

Go Fly a Kite, Some More on That Cat, Good Ideas That Really Weren't, An Earlier Cat, a Zip, And Some Thoughts On Hoarding

What Are Those Kids Doing This Time?

OK, here it is; a major diversion from our normal fare. No, I'm not running out of material and no, I'm not changing focus or direction. What I'm doing is rambling a little bit more than normal, and this is one of those childhood "there I was" stories, so feel free to skip down to something more to your liking should that prove necessary.

I spent several years of my childhood at Sheppard AFB, which is located in Wichita Falls Texas, otherwise known as The Tornado, Hail, and General Bad Weather Capitol of the Known Universe. If you've ever lived there you'll understand. If you haven't you probably won't. We aren't going to talk about any of those Bad Weather things, though, interesting though they are. Instead we're going to discuss another moderately common phenomena of the weather up there, which is wind.

Wichita Falls and, by association, Sheppard AFB, is a windy place, particularly in springtime. Kids like to fly kites in springtime, and a lot of wind is a Very Good Thing if you're of that kite-flying inclination. Most of my friends and I were so inclined, and each and every spring would see us out in the open areas behind our quarters (I don't know about you guys but we always lived on base) flying kites of every kind, mostly home-made out of newspapers and dowel sticks because it was tough to find pre-fabbed kites on base, besides which they tended to live short and relatively exciting lives at best so why spend the money. The base civil engineers probably hated them, since they were always having to pull them out of power lines, but we didn't care about that too much; we were kids, remember?

Our family arrived at Sheppard in late 1956, when ATC still flew T-28As and TB-25s; it wasn't anything unusual to have Mitchell's thudding overhead even though T-33s were becoming far more prevalent in The Friendly Skies of Air Training Command. Let's leave the T-Birds alone for now, though---this is a B-25 story.

One fine March day back in 1958 some friends and I were flying kites in the street in front of our quarters, this being the best way to ensure the undivided attention of the Air Police (they had yet to be re-named Security Police) at some point in the festivities. It was a blustery kind of morning, perfect weather for kites, and even the heaviest of newspaper-and-dowel contraptions became a graceful flying machine, albeit briefly, in the gale-force winds that prevailed that day. My friends and I were talking about that wind and what it might do to a kite when someone wondered aloud how high you could get a one to fly.

That sort of thing's not really the sort of topic of conversation you want 9-year-olds to indulge in, because sooner or later (it was sooner in this case) somebody will get the notion to Do Something About It, which is what we did. And what we did was pure genius, at least in our minds---we hauled down all the kites except for the one we adjudged to be the best flyer, and began tying the string from all the other kites to the string of that one until our chosen kite was all but invisible, way up there someplace with seven or eight rolls of string tethering it to the ground by way of the biggest kid in our group. It was a thing of beauty. (The kite, not the big kid.)

That was when the TB-25 came slogging across the base, right into the kite as near as we could tell. The airplane briefly shared space with our newsprint wonder, and then it (the kite, not the airplane) was gone, the only remnant being a thousand feet or so of cotton string that was rapidly coiling its way back to earth. We looked at that string, briefly discussed the event and our options, then executed that honored childhood tradition known as Going Home Right Now.

The APs got to our street about twenty minutes later, seems they were cruising base housing looking for kids flying kites. I think there may have been Statutory Ramifications for somebody later on, although I honestly can't recall what they might have been because nobody actually involved in that particular transgression got caught.

It was, in retrospect, a Seriously Bad Idea, maybe even a stupid one, although we couldn't have known it at the time. I do know that as a result of that day my kids had a rigidly-enforced one-spool limit on kite string while they were growing up; those Mitchells are long gone and most jet engines are highly allergic to kites. (Kids, don't try this at home!) It was a Lesson Learned and it provided a fond memory to boot. Ah, the ignorance of youth...

So much for mindless rambling! Let's move on to something you might be more interested in!

That 'Cat Revisited

You may recall the Sparrow-equipped F6F photos we ran last time. Here's a comment from Tommy Thomason:
The reason the F6F tail wheel looks odd is because it's a drone and the reason a drone F6F was used was because of concern that when the Sparrow was fired, the F6F wing/aileron might be damaged.* There is a pilot flying it in the airborne picture you included but my understanding is that the first Sparrow shot was from a remotely controlled F6F.

Given the difference in markings and the marked tonal differences in paint schemes between this aircraft and the one shown in our last installment, I've got my doubts that this particular airframe was involved as a shooter in the Sparrow evaluations, but it's a colorful represntative of its type and well worth including today. It was photographed while with the Naval Air Development Unit at Johnsville, PA.  That's a gas bag and not a documentation pod attached to the belly.  USN via Tommy Thomason

It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time

The late 1940s and early 1950s were an interesting time for the US Air Force. That service had just helped to win the War and had learned a lot of lessons in so doing, with most of them learned the hard way. One of those lessons was that it was next-to-suicidal to send large formations of bombers against defended targets if part of that defence included hostile fighters, and the USAF spent more than a little time and money trying to figure out how to get short ranged first-generation jet fighters enough range capability to provide a viable escort to those bombers. That requirement would go away once SAC began to integrate high-performance jet bombers into the inventory, but their B-29s, B-50s, and B-36s all required escort if any degree of survivability was to be incorporated into the basic mission. That escort thing led to a number of somewhat odd projects, several of which actually flew. Most of them involved the carriage of some sort of existing jet fighter by a mother aircraft; a parasite fighter, if you will. The folks at McDonnell tried an approach that was somewhat different from the norm, the results of which are shown below.

Here's XF-85  46-0524 perched on its ground-handling dolly. Although intended for use with the B-36, most if not all flight testing was done with a B-29. Wake turbulence from the mother ship made coupling in flight a challenge that was never fully overcome. Although the airplane was a fairly good performer for what it was, it was no match for the Soviet fighters of the day.  Greater St Louis Air & Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Another view of 524. The anti-glare panel is OD, while the airframe is in natural metal. One of the Czech specialty manufacturers did a kit of the Goblin a few years ago. I don't have it and am told it's a tough date, but it's also the only game in town in 1/48th scale should you be interested in such things. The XF-85 was underarmed and possessed of poor performance when compared to virtually anything The Bad Guys would have fielded against it. It's probably for the best that it never saw production or active service!  Greater St Louis Air & Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Yet Another Good Idea That Really Wasn't

Then there was the problem of airfield availability, something that couldn't always be depended on in advanced basing situations when the major potential enemy had The Bomb and, presumably, the will to use it. An STOL/VTOL fighter such as the Harrier (which was never considered to be a fighter anyway, but rather a strike aircraft) was still a couple of decades away, which meant that any sort of basing scheme that didn't depend on the availability of a fixed base concrete runway would have to be of a fairly primitive nature. That thought process in turn led to the developement of the Zero Length Launch System, or ZELL concept. This one actually worked after a fashion but the climb to the cockpit, coupled with a really scary launch and probable lack of anyplace to land once the mission was completed, made the concept marginal at best. The Air Force tried it with several different types of fighters, then quietly dropped the whole thing.

F-84G-15-RE configured for ZELL and on public display during the mid-50s. The concept just looks wrong; a notion that most program test pilots were in agreement with. It must've been quite a ride! This airframe (sans ZELL gear) ended up on display at the Evandale Community Center in Ohio during the 1970s.  Greater St Louis Air & Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Ode to a Simpler Time

Grumman's "Cat" family of fighters got its start with the F4F series of carrier fighters (the F2Fs and F3Fs were never given an official name and are therefore outside the scope of the "cat" theme); the early F4F-3s were the first to reach active service and did so in the "classic" painted aluminum fuselage/yellow wings/colored tail scheme, followed shortly thereafter by Wildcats in the more subdued overall lilght gray. Here's an example of the latter.

An overall light gray F4F-3A Wildcat photographed at Lambert Field. The Navy would begin the war with this subtype and use it through the first few months of 1942. It proved surprisingly versatile and that versatility, combined with the Navy's sound grasp of aerial tactics and outstanding training syllabus, made it an extremely viable fighter that more than held its own against technically superior Japanese types. The overall pristine condition of this specimen, coupled with its lack of squadron designators, would indicate that it was brand spanking new and had yet to be delivered to an operational unit. Take a look at the deflected elevators; that's not how the aircraft was supposed to be parked, but sure as you're born some modeler will build one that way!  Greater St Louis Air & Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Did Anyone Mention Lambert Field?

Lambert was a hummin' kind of place way back when. Here's more proof:

B-29A, s/n 44-62044 in the chocks at Lambert during 1949. Two short years later the type would prove its vulnerability as a bomber when pitted against Soviet-flown MiG-15s in Korea, but was still considered to be adequate for the job when this shot was taken. This Superfortress is really clean and bears only an 8th AF emblem on the vertical stab. Greater St Louis Air & Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

Many thanks to Mark Nankivil for these images. If you're interested in contributing to this ongoing project of mine (the blog, that is), please drop me a line at . I'd love to hear from you.

An Aussie Spit On Display

Old friend Rick Morgan has been bouncing around outside the country again and sent a couple of shots from a sidetrip he took to a couple of Australian museums. I kinda like this one:

This Spitfire Mk Vc has been preserved at a museum in Port Adelaide, Australia. (Rick didn't give me the name and I'm too lazy to go surfing the 'net to find it---any of you folks know the name of this place?) I can just hear the Internet Experts jumping up and down about the colors. Me, I'm happy to see that somebody's restored and preserved an Aussie Mk V, and this one's a beauty!  Where'd I put that Special Hobby kit? Thanks, Rick!   Rick Morgan

This Zipper's a Tub

The Federal Luftwaffe used to train its F-104 drivers at Luke AFB way back when. (It doesn't seem that long ago, but it was!) The airplanes were all owned by Germany but bore USAF markings in deference to the fact that the training was being done inside the United States. Here are a couple of photos of TF-104G 61-3076 as she appeared during the 1976 BiCentennial.

The 69th TFTS operated the TF-104G while training German pilots to fly the "Zipper". This one's AF61-3076 in all her BiCi glory. Of interest are the white-painted upper wings and the similarly-painted underwing tanks.  Don Jay

A closeup of the tail. Don incorporated both the tail and drop tank markings in this view---what a gorgeous airplane!  Modelers might want to take note of the discoloration evident on the aft fuselage. It's not nearly as severe as it's normally represented to be on most models.  Don Jay

A Glimpse Back To a Simpler Time

It's been mentioned before by me; I read the boards. There are a handful of modeling sites that I visit almost daily, and I read the forums on most of them (which is why you'll never find a forum here!). One of the recurring topics is aftermarket stuff, resin, photo-etch, decals, etc., and sometimes folks are complaining about that aftermarket stuff because nobody's making exactly what they want for a particular project. While I feel their pain, I also have to laugh (in a kind, gentle, and completely understanding way, mind you), because I started trying to do Serious Modeling back in the mid-60s and I'm here to tell you that we never had it so good as we've got it today. Never. Not even once.

Nowadays there must be a hundred or more companies producing aftermarket decals, for example. Back in the 60s there were a dozen or so, maybe, and their offerings were limited; at the end of the day we took what we could get!

One of those decal manufacturers was a small company called HisAirDec, Inc. They producted a limited but surpisingly good (for the day) publication called HisAirDec News, which was usually (but not always) geared to the topics of their decals. They also put decals in their magazine, pre-dating the eastern European crowd by some 40 years, give or take. If you're young, or maybe just younger than me, you may have never heard of HisAirDec, and probably haven't seen any of their stuff either. I was going through some old decals a while back and found one of the few HisAirDec sheets I hadn't managed to cut up for some project or other and I thought you'd like to see what it looked like, so without further ado:

Here's the cover of HisAirDec Sheet 1-72008-39, for the Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War. I seem to recall that most if not all of their decals were in 1/72nd scale; at least that's all I've got. These were, to the best of my somewhat limited knowledge, the very first American-made aftermarket decals available to the serious scale modeler. I'm not sure but I think the -39 in the part number may have referred to the original price. I paid a whopping 49 cents for mine!

HisAirDec decals came in a little piece of folded card. Here's the back side of this one showing the directions for use. You'll notice that the only setting solution mentioned is Solvaset; that's because that's all there was back then. Sometimes we had to put a little bit of diluted Elmer's glue in the decal water too, to make sure the decals would adhere to the model once they dried. Sometimes we didn't.

And here's what the decals looked like. The instructions for use are printed on the top of the sheet, and the whole thing is one continuous piece of decal; you could've literally put the entire sheet in water and then applied it, instructions and all, to the surface of your choice. Each individual marking had to be carefully cut from the paper, as close to the edge of the markings as you could possibly get, and the film the decals were printed on was really thick compared to almost anything that's available today. I personally never thinned my Solvaset the way the instructions said to do it; I used the stuff full strength and sometimes that wasn't enough to get them to conform! We had yet to learn about coating the model with gloss prior to decaling and Dull-Cote was hard to find and mostly available in aerosol cans, so there was a fair amount of decal silvering going on. Oh yeah, and most of HisAirDec's decals were printed in black and white, although they eventually did produce a few in color. That said, these guys were true pioneers and innovators and we all owe a tremendous Thank You to them for their pioneering efforts. Long ago and far away...

Some Thoughts On The Preservation and Presentation of Aviation Photography

I've been doing airplane stuff forever, it seems, and actively collecting photography since the early 1970s. (There's not as much of it as there should have been because I was never particularly aggressive about it, but still I managed to acquire a fair number of images.) A lot of my friends were doing the same thing, and many of them were serious about the endeavor, resulting in collections that ran to several hundred thousand images. The mind boggles, right?  Many of the images are the collected work of others ("My dad was in the Air Force and he took these; can you use them?"), while many others are the work of the individual collectors; most of the folks I know who do this sort of thing are excellent photographers too.

That brings us to a rather interesting question: What are they doing with those images?

It would seem that people with pictures come in two distinct flavors; the Hoarders and the Sharers. The hoarders hoard; those are their images and they'll show them to you but that's the end of that story. They probably won't share them with anybody through any sort of publishing medium, saving them instead for some as-yet and quite possibly never-to-be published work that they're going to author someday. The sharers share. They might save back a few photographs for their own projects, but by and large they make their collections available to others. Most of the folks I know fall into the latter category.

This is the part where we need to clear some air. It would be easy to presume that I'm lobbying for any of you who hold unique photography to make it available to me for publication, and I certainly wouldn't mind it if you chose to do that. Then again, I don't really care if you make it available to me specifically or not, as long as you make it available to somebody. There's an interesting philosophical question to be considered here, so let's think about it for just a minute or two.

Each and every historical image is important to the overall recording of aviation history. Each one is to some extent unique. From the standpoint of preserving that history, it's important that some percentage of those images be made available for the widest possible audience to see, enjoy, and learn from. The medium may be a print magazine or book, a specialty web site or an e-zine. It may be a blog such as this one. It may be something else entirely.

The point to all this is simple indeed. We're all mortal. We all get old, and some of us will get sick. Sooner or later we'll all die, and when that happens it's moderately likely that very few surviving family members will really care one way or another what happens to all those old pictures unless maybe they can make a buck off of them. The easiest thing to do is simply pitch them. That's what we're going to term to be A Shame, because once those photos or slides hit the garbage that's it; they're gone forever, and so is that tiny fragment of history.

So exactly what am I saying here? It's simple really, and I bet you've already figured it out. Don't hoard those old pictures of yours. Scan 'em and e-mail them to the publication or organization of your choice. It certainly doesn't have to be me---I'd really like to make that plain because that's not what I'm after here---but it ought to be somebody. History is a fragile thing, easily distorted and easily forgotten. Those of us who have old photos have a resource and, to some extent, an obligation. What we do with those old pictures is our choice. I've made mine. How about you?

Let's Get Off That Ding-Danged Soapbox!

It's time to move on for another day. Be good to your neighbor and I'll see you again as soon as I can!

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