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Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Ground Up: Early Years of Flight Week

It’s one of the first hangers most visitors at the National Museum of the Air Force start with. You walk in and the feelings of nostalgia take hold, as you gaze upon the gravity defying aircraft that changed history. The delicate contours of the fabric frame the airplane like a painting and you wonder how perfection could ever be rivaled.

For those of us that weren’t able to experience this time in history, seeing the slew of planes during the early years of flight up close, can be just as inspiring and quite overwhelming.

This week I’ll be featuring some of the world’s earliest airplanes and aircraft. Instead of bombarding your brain with hundreds of fighters, flyers, monoplanes and biplanes, I decided to break it up a bit and let you enjoy all of the early years of flight throughout the week.

Wright 1903 Flyer

Wright 1903 Flyer
The Wright 1903 Flyer was the first heavier-than-air, manned, and controllable aircraft, which made four successful flights on December 17th, before a gust of wind overturned it and caused extensive damage. Instead of building the same model the Wright Brothers improved upon the design. The 1903 Wright Flyer was sent to the Science Museum in London, England for preservation. After WWII, the Wright Flyer was sent to the United States for permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute.

I was fortunate enough to see a very significant, at least I believe, part of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The fabric preserved by the Wright Family came from the left half of the lower wing. The piece of fabric was presented by the Wright Brother’s Family Members on December 17, 1981, in celebration of their historic flight.

Curtiss 1911 Model D

Curtiss 1911 Model D Curtiss 1911 Model D plane
It appears it could never fly, built like matchsticks glued together or basal wood used in shop class in high school. This is our perception. In 1911 however the U.S. Army Signal Corps developed the Curtiss Model D Type IV. The Curtiss Model D was based on Glenn Curtiss' aileron using Curtiss Golden Flyer design of 1909, itself derived from his prize winning June Bug of 1908 . A pilot flying the Curtiss Model D operated the ailerons with his shoulders, and the front elevator and rear rudder with the wheel mounted on a column in front of him. Also, rather than sitting next to the pilot, the observer sat behind the pilot.  Like other Curtiss aircraft of the time, the Model D was a pusher, meaning the rear-mounted propeller "pushed" the aircraft. The military used a version which was often transported on Army wagons prior to assemblage.

On April 27, 1911, the Signal Corps Airplane No. 2 was accepted at Fort Same Houston, Texas to be used by the Army. The aircraft on display at the National Air Force Museum is a reproduction, completed in 1987. The original drawings weren’t available therefore details were gathered from an existing factory-built Curtiss pusher and from recent drawings. “Except for the engine, which is made of wood and plastic, all materials used in the reproduction are essentially the same as those used in the original.”

Wind Tunnel

Wind Tunnel Wind Tunnel 
Wind Tunnel Airplane wing testerWind Tunnel Airplane wing tester 1
Designed at McCook Airfield in 1918, this wind tunnel was designed to recalibrate airspeed instruments and testing airfoils. An item was placed in the choke-throat and the tester would observe through a glass window at the end. Air was drawn into the small area of the wind tunnel and exhausted from the larger area where the fan was located. In the wind tunnel’s 14 inch choke-throat area wind speeds could reach up to 453 miles per hour.

Fokker Dr. I Triplane

Fokker Dr. I Fokker Dr. I 2
Fokker Dr. I airplane
Fokker Dr. I plane
The illustrious flying ace of the sky, Fokker Dr. I Triplane, has often been linked with the career of World War I's highest scoring ace, Germany's Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen (the "Red Baron"). The Fokker Dr. I Triplane was one of the best ”dogfighters” of the war.  The first Fokker Dr. I appeared over the Western Front in August 1917. Pilots, their nature of being competitive, were impressed with the Dr. Is agility, and several scored victories with the highly maneuverable triplane.
Von Richthofen score 19 of his last 21 victories were achieved while he was flying the Dr. I. By May 1918, however, the Dr. I was being replaced by the newer and faster Fokker D. VII. Although Fokker built a total of 320 Dr. Is, none have survived. This reproduction is painted to represent the aircraft flown by Lt. Arthur Rahn in April 1918 when he served with Jagdstaffel 19. Lt. Rahn is credited with six confirmed victories.

Sopwith Camel F-1

Sopwith F-1 Camel
Sopwith Camel F-1
© ksr8s
The Sopwith Camel F-1 first went into action in June 1917 with 70 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, and 4 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service. The 17th and 148th U.S. Army Air Service squadrons flew the Camel in combat while assigned to British forces in 1918.
Such famous U.S. pilots as George Vaughn (America's second-ranking Air Service ace to survive the war), Elliot White Springs, Errol Zistel and Larry Callahan were members of the 17th and 148th. A third U.S. unit, the 185th Aero Squadron, used the Camel as a night fighter on the American Front during the last month of the war. 

The British Sopwith Camel F-1 shot down more enemy aircraft than any other World War I fighter. The Sopwith was difficult to defeat and highly maneuverable, yet it still has substantial drawbacks. More men lost their lives while learning to fly it than died while using it in combat. There are very few Sopwith Camel F-1s in existence today therefore the museum constructed a model from the original WWI factory drawings, completing it in 1974. The aircraft is painted and marked as the Camel flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr., 17th Aero Squadron.

Kettering Aerial Torpedo “Bug”

Kettering Aerial Torpedo “Bug” Kettering Aerial Torpedo “Bug” 1
The Kettering Aerial Torpedo, nicknamed the “Bug”, was invented by Charles F. Kettering of Dayton, Ohio. The “Bug” was launched from a four-wheeled dolly that ran down a portable track. Quite similar to the carnival rollercoasters of today.

The Bug's system of internal pre-set pneumatic and electrical controls stabilized and guided it toward a target. After a predetermined length of time, a control closed an electrical circuit, which shut off the engine.The wings would then be released and the Bug plunged into the earth-- where its 180 pounds of explosive detonated on impact. Although an innovative war weapon, the Bug never saw combat.  The reproduction of the “Bug” on display at the museum went on display in 1964.

G-3 Target Glider

G-3 Glider 
McCook Airfield was not only home to the wind tunnel which was designed to recalibrate airspeed instruments and testing airfoils, but was also the testing site of a series of target gliders in the 1920s like the G-3.   The first model was designed in December 1922 by J.A. Roche, the GL-1, as a target for anti-aircraft gunners of the U.S. Army Coast Artillery. These early targets were the first and only gliders (manned or unmanned) used by the U.S. Army Air Service.
The G-3 operated as “live-fire aerial targets” for fighter and attack aircraft into the early 1930s. Because it could be adjusted to fly a straight, circular or random course, the target glider provided a more effective training tool than the traditional towed target sock. For aerial gunnery training, a pilot carried his target glider aloft. After release, the glider took several minutes to reach the ground. During this time, the pilot could make several gunnery passes against it.

Curtiss P-6E Hawk

Curtiss P-6E Hawk G-3 Target Glider

Curtiss built a long series of fighters starting in 1925. The P-6E remains the best known of the series of fighters carrying the name "Hawk."  Originally designated the Y1P-22, the U.S. Army Air Corps redesignated this aircraft the P-6E because of its similarity to the other P-6s. Curtiss delivered 46 P-6E Hawks, the last biplane fighter built in quantity for the Air Corps.

The Curtiss P-6E Hawk was never used in combat and is considered one of the most beautiful aircraft of the 1930s. The P-6E on display is the only original still in existence. The colors and markings of the airplane assigned to Capt. Ross G. Hoyt, Commanding Officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, based at Selfridge Field, Mich. in 1933.

Edward S. Perkins of Anniston, Ala., donated it to the museum, and the Department of Aviation Technology at Purdue University restored it in 1963.

Caquot Type R Observation Balloon

Caquot Type R Observation Balloon 1 Caquot Type R Observation Balloon

We’ve seen the balloons at football games or watched video footage of the Hindenburg, but these tethered balloon aircraft used during World War I had a somewhat different purpose.

The Caquot Type R Observation Balloon on display allowed observers to see as far as 40 miles behind enemy lines to spot troop movements, chart trench systems and direct artillery fire. During WWI, American balloon observers directed artillery fire at targets, noted more than 1,000 enemy airplane sightings, 1,000 instances of military traffic on railroads and roads and 400 artillery batteries. Named after French engineer Lt. Albert Caquot and used mostly by Americans, this hydrogen-filled balloon could lift two passengers in its basket to heights of up to 4000 feet on a good weather day.

Nearly 1,000 Caquot balloons were manufactured in the United States in 1918-1919. During World War II, the British produced Caquots but in limited numbers. The Caquot Type R Observation Balloon  displayed at the museum was manufactured in 1944 and is believed to be the only survivor.
The British used it for parachute testing and noncombat aerial observation and photography until 1960. The British Ministry of Defense, Royal Aircraft Establishment, presented the Caquot to the museum after it was located with the aid of American and British WWI balloon veterans in 1975. Assisted by the Goodyear Aerospace Corp. of Akron, Ohio, which had produced these balloons during WWI, museum personnel mended and sealed the balloon fabric and prepared it for inflation. It was placed on display in May 1979.

Boeing P-26A

Boeing P-26ABoeing P-26A
Boeing P-26A 1
The Boeing P-26A Peashooter became the first US Army Air Corps all-metal monoplane in service. Pilots bestowed the name “peashooter” upon the plane which could reach faster speeds in level flight and had a faster landing speed due to the lack of wing flaps. The P-26A Peashooter has an open cockpit, external wing bracing, and fixed landing gear. The Peashooter was the last fighter to have these obsolete features. The first P-26A flew in March 1932. In 1934, Boeing sold an export version to the Chinese who flew it in combat against the Japanese. In 1941, the Philippine government used the P-26 against the Japanese.

Douglas O-38F

During World War I, observation aircraft provided ground commanders with vital reconnaissance information, and throughout the interwar years, commanders of U.S. Army ground forces demanded adequate observation support. However, most ground commanders anticipated fighting a static or slow-moving war, and the observation aircraft purchased during the 1920s and early 1930s differed little from those flown over France in 1918.
Douglas O-38F aircraft Douglas O-38F
The Douglas O-38F was the last of a series of biplane observation aircraft begun in the early 1920s.  Douglas built 156 O-38s for the Air Corps between 1931-1934, eight of which were O-38Fs. By the 1930’s, the O-38s were obsolete, what with their meager cruising speed of 128mph. Some  remained in service at the time of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Douglas O-38F on display at the USAF National Museum was the first to land at Ladd Field near Fairbanks, Alaska, in October 1940.
Ladd Field became famous during World War II as the place from where American-built aircraft flew to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. This aircraft flew various missions until it crashed on June 16, 1941, due to engine failure about 70 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Uninjured, the pilot, Lt. Milton H. Ashkins, and his mechanic, Sgt. R.A. Roberts, hiked to safety after supplies were dropped to them. The abandoned aircraft remained in the Alaskan wilderness until the museum arranged for its recovery by helicopter in June 1968. Despite being exposed to the Alaskan weather for 27 years, the aircraft remained in remarkable condition. Only the wings required extensive restoration.

Martin B-10

Martin B-10
Martin B-10 airplane
The Martin B-10 is the first "modern" all-metal monoplane bomber produced in quantity, featured such innovations as retractable landing gear, a rotating gun turret and enclosed cockpits. The Martin B-10 is powered by two 775-hp Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, making it 50 percent faster than contemporary biplane bombers and as fast as most of the fighters. The Air Corps ordered 121 B-10s from 1933-1936 making it the “largest procurement of bomber aircraft since World War I”.
Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, who called the B-10 "the air power wonder of its day," led 10 B-10s on a 8,290-mile flight from Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back in 1934. By the late 1930s,  B-17s and B-18s had replaced the Air Corps' B-10s and B-12s, but the Chinese and Dutch air forces flew export versions in combat against Japan at the start of World War II.
This particular Martin B-10 is the last of the B-10 series in existence. It was sold to Argentina in 1938.  In 1970, the Martin B-10 was donated to the U.S. Air Force Museum by the government of Argentina.

Northrop A-17A

Northrop A-17A Northrop A-17A plane

Northrop A-17A aircraft
The Northrop A-17A series was a direct descendent of the Northrop "Gamma," made famous by the aerial explorer Lincoln Ellsworth. It was the last of the pre-World War II single-engine attack airplane ordered into production by the Army Air Corps. The A-17 was never fully tested in peacetime exercises or in combat. In 1938 the Army Air Corps determined that all future attack aircraft procured would be multi-engine models therefore its fate was sealed. The A-17's design figured prominently in the success of a distinguished line of Douglas aircraft even considering its handicap. The Northrop was able to carry one ton of bombs on external racks which featured vertical chutes. The chutes held up to 20 30-pound fragmentation bombs. “In addition to the bombs, the A-17A was armed with four forward-firing .30-cal. machine guns for strafing, and one flexible mounted .30-cal. gun in the rear cockpit for self-defense.”

In June 1940, all but 20 A-17As were sold overseas and the remaining Army Air Forces A-17 and A-17As were used as advanced trainers and squadron support aircraft, most ending up as ground maintenance trainers. The last A-17A was written off of Army Air Forces records in early 1945.
The aircraft on display at the USAF National Museum is the only A-17 series aircraft known to exist. It was delivered to the Air Corps and assigned to Barksdale Field, La., on June 25, 1937. Following a brief stay at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, the aircraft was assigned in April 1940 to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., and also served as a support aircraft for U.S. Military attaches in Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti. The aircraft was dropped from Army Air Forces records in January 1945.

Read the Entire Series:

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Read More: Ballistic Missiles at Wright Patterson Air Force Base

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All quotes are courtesy and © of the National Museum of United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.


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