Monday, November 30, 2009

Classic Racer Replicas

Here are a few of Dick's photos of American racing planes of the 1930s, most of them modern replicas but some original. Although many of these replicas have been built, it's a little surprising that there aren't more of them. They have much of the beauty and romance, and some of the performance, of World War II fighter planes, but are much smaller, simpler to build, and use less thirsty, more parts available engines. I guess two reasons why these racers are not more popular with amateur builders are, first, that it is often not clear how to build them, because the originals were one-off products and complete construction drawings have not survived or never existed; and second, they were never made to be easy to fly and all of them are demanding, even dangerous under some conditions. Fortunately, enough intrepid builders have completed them to give us all an insight into what air races of the 1930s were like.

Finally, a picture of Matty Laird, builder of the originals of a couple of the airplanes above, shortly before his death in 1982.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

P-51 Mustangs

The North American P-51 Mustang was not the most successful of WWII fighters by all metrics, but if success is measured by enduring popular fame, it stands above all of its contemporaries. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mustang was still in service with several smaller air forces worldwide, and in the United States, surplus Mustangs were moderately popular sport aircraft -- "moderately" because although its acquisition cost was not high, the expenses of fuel and maintenance limited its affordability. These photos were taken in those last few years before Mustangs and other WWII fighters came to be regarded as precious artifacts of military history. They are a few of the dozens of Mustangs that Dick photographed in those years.

This P-51 was based in Illinois in the 1960s. In the years since then, it has been involved in at least four serious accidents, each time being repaired or rebuilt. The last, in 2007, killed its owner, but the plane was repairable and will fly again.

Owned by an aircraft broker during the 1960s, this P-51 was destroyed in a 1971 crash.

The "STP Special" was a Mustang modified for air racing, and is seen here at the 1969 national air races at Reno, Nevada. For few heady years, it looked like air racing might attract the kind of major sponsors and public prominence associated with stock car racing, but during the 1970s this dream gradually died, and air racing became a niche interest until revived by the current Red Bull series under a very different formula. This machine raced into the 1970s, was retired to a museum, and is currently under restoration.

This Mustang has been more or less continuously airworthy since the 1960s, and remains so to the present day.

Owned by North American Rockwell, the corporate descendant of the company that built the P-51s, this airplane was displayed at airshows by test pilot and legendary aerobatic performer Bob Hoover. In 1970, it was damaged when an oxygen bottle exploded on the ground. Hoover switched to a new Mustang, and this one was repaired and flown by other owners. Today it flies in France.

I'll probably post another installment of Dick's photos of this popular aircraft in the next few weeks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

707s of the 70s

The Boeing 707 wasn't beautiful like the Comet or Caravelle, nor a leviathan like the 747. But it was handsome in its own way, and through its commercial success, it taught the world what a jet airliner should look like.

The airliner paint schemes of the 1970s, when it was neither fashionable nor feasible to make large jets look like killer whales or wilderness post cards, often flattered the lines of the aircraft with their clean "cheat lines" (i.e., those stripes along the fuselage) and understated logos.

This American Airlines 707 was caught landing at Lambert Field in St. Louis in 1977. American's aircraft wear this paint scheme to this day, although not as much of the plane is silver nowadays, as so many parts are not made of metal.

Pictured at Lambert on the same day, a 707 in what was then the new Trans World Airlines paint scheme.

From Toronto, a 707 in the classic "speedbird" livery of BOAC, the British Overseas Airways Corp., pictured in 1973.

Taken a few years earlier (1968), this Pan Am 707 was visiting the U.S. Air Force base at Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, during wartime. The involvement of the airlines in southeast Asian military operations during that period remains largely an untold story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Keep It Simple and Stupid

The expression "K.I.S.S. -- Keep it simple and stupid" -- is attributed to Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a famous aeronautical engineer and designer with the Lockheed company. It is often misquoted as "Keep it simple, stupid" by individuals who, for some bizarre reason, think it is a good idea to insult someone they are giving advice to. In telling his junior designers to keep it simple and stupid, Johnson was advising them not to create overly complex, unnecessarily clever and sophisticated designs that would become problematic in service, when the aircraft needed modification or maintenance.

Johnson, and his company, did not always heed his own advice. Some of the Lockheed designs in which he participated, including the P-38 Lightning fighter and the Constellation and L-1011 airliners, were prevented by inordinate complexity from being as successful as they deserved to be on the basis of their performance. But the Lockheed F-80, America's first successful jet fighter plane, was a perfect expression of Johnson's philosophy. Small, light, and effective, it was just what the first, underpowered generation of jet fighters needed to be.

Dick was one of the first mechanics on F-80s, and served as crew chief on the type in Panama and Europe from 1948 to 1950. These photos are of the planes he worked on during those years. He spoke and wrote fondly of the ease of maintaining this simple, stupid, wonderful airplane.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last Flight of the Strawberry Bitch

The B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber used in World War II. It was built in greater numbers than any other American combat aircraft in history, amazingly considering that it was one of the largest and most complex World War II aircraft. In May 1959, the B-24D Strawberry Bitch, having been prepared for display at Davis Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona, was flown to the U.S. Air Force's museum at Dayton, Ohio, where it has been displayed ever since. The Strawberry Bitch saw combat in the Mediterranean theater and was restored in the configuration, colors and markings it wore during that time.

Dick was involved in preparing the Strawberry Bitch for its final ferry flight to the museum, and took several 6x9 cm photos of the final preparations. The black-and-white negatives have survived in better shape than the color transparencies, but people like color, so I have scanned and corrected the color shots for this post.