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Much More About the Great Navy Birds of Lake Michigan

28 November 2019

Taras Lyssenko’s unique book The Great Navy Birds of Lake Michigan: The True Story of the Privateers of Lake Michigan and the Aircraft they Rescued is continuing to climb into public consciousness. An excellent podcast by Veterans Radio interviewed Lyssenko interviews Lyssenko and is an excellent way to learn from him as he is engaging, entertaining and accurate with his talks. A quick mind which can enlighten as well as ignite—and all without notes, as I’ve witnessed.

Additionally, NBC out of Chicago produced this hi-res video sequel to a recent report detailing the recovery plan for an Operation Torch veteran SBD Dauntless by A & T Recovery with the cooperation by restoration by Kalamazoo’s Air Zoo as wonderfully explained by Troy Thrash (President and CEO). Both Troy and Taras are wonderful to listen to on, as well as off, camera. The Air Zoo has joined with A & T Recovery in the past and have produced spectacular results—so this is an opportunity to see a future success in the making though with some real drama (not that Cheese Whiz reality show pap manufactured drama).

Amelia Earhart: the Truth At Last (2nd Edition)

13 November 2019

Amelia Earhart: the Truth At Last (Propaganda versus Fact in the Disappearance of America’s First Lady of Flight), Mike Campbell, 2016, ISBN 978-1-62006-668-3, 370 pp.

Amelia Earhart: the Truth At Last (Propaganda versus Fact in the Disappearance of America’s First Lady of Flight by Mike Campbell

Campbell’s book satisfies on three counts:

  • It seems all the facts pertaining to this unfortunate mystery are laid out clearly and in chronological order
  • The book unwraps long held theories point by point—helping to clear the way towards Campbell’s conclusion
  • The author’s conclusion is well thought out and logical as well as intriguing—well worth its read

Mike Campbell’s writing as well as his investigation work is welcome as both are highly professional. At times sarcasm and opinion are interjected within but the facts are clear enough and make for a read more interesting than a pure report—there are 370 pages of information so this type of writing promotes continuity making for an easier read.

Amelia Earhart: the Truth At Last is thoroughly cited and referenced with pertinent appendices. Verifying Campbell’s work is quite easy because of this. Especially informative are the descriptions of the preparations as well as the 16 days of search by the U.S. Navy for Earhart and Noonan—including the addition of two major assets in the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and the battleship USS Colorado with its three Corsair floatplanes. These two ships alone quickly placed a multitude of aircraft into favorable weather for SAR operatIons. It seems that if Earhart and Noonan put down on land the wreck would have been easily as well as quickly found. Campbell also notes the documentation of the weather to the northwest as heavily clouded which the aviators would have been flying through.

Since Earhart and Noonan failed to spot the USCGC Itasca (placed there as a navigation aid/picket ship near their destination of Howland Island) and in turn were not spotted by the ship’s lookouts—it is hard not to agree with Campbell that this is NW area is where the aircraft went down. The oil fired signal smoke from the ship was not observed by Earhart in likelihood since she did not report such a siting (Itasca was in clear weather). Not specifically mentioned, but if the aircraft did make an island or atoll it in itself provided enough flammable material for easily making smoke as a signal to be observed by SAR parties. Therefore, Campbell makes the reasonable supposition of a forced landing onto the water.

At this point the book becomes highly interesting as Campbell analyzes the various theories, dispatching most of them, in detail. Perhaps most notably TIGHAR’s search to the southeast near the island of Nikumaroro (Gardner Island back in the day) as an obvious error. Thankfully, Robert Ballard’s searching (as of 2019, two years after the book’s publication) there will solve that question conclusively.

An added and welcome facet to the author’s work is his delving into the personalities of the witnesses and theorizers. This is vital to verbally, not physically, based information. Motivation and how individuals interpret events is vital in these types of investigations lacking hard fact. Campbell also does an excellent job separating fact from emotive appeals to give objective assessments. It is tempting to hold to emotional and tantalizing remembrances as they appeal most to story listeners as well as story tellers…politicians thrive on this basic human trait…kudos to Campbell for not falling into the age old trap.

Tantalizing examples explored and debased are:

  • Seeing the aircraft in 1944 after seven years disappearance (and in apparently in excellent condition)—then saving a note about the N number in a wallet only to have the wallet stolen that very night. As if the note was evidentiary and its loss part of a dark conspiracy.
  • The investigation of a grave purportedly holding the bones of a caucasian woman who had been blindfolded prior to her execution in 1944 and then the unceremonious dumping of the body into a prepared grave, blindfold first however—followed by an attempted grave excavation finding the blindfold without unearthing any bones decades later (the blindfold should have been beneath any skeletal remains).

Campbell also delves into the bios, personalities and abilities of Amelia Earhart—and of Fred Noonan but to a lesser extent. He notes Earhart’s poor generally radio expertise as well as her incredible decision to turn the opposite direction from that recommended by Noonan on an earlier transatlantic flight. Why a pilot would ignore Noonan is not fathomable given his premier accomplishments navigating Pan Am’s clippers across the Pacific Ocean. Campbell also readily dispels Putman’s (Earhart’s publicist husband) attempt to smear Noonan’s character to infer the loss was his error alone due to alcoholism.

A curious question is left unanswered in that the radio message received near the end of the flight which stated the aircraft was flying along the 157/337 line of longitude. Flying back and forth along such a line is good practice when lost and seeking help via radio communication—in keeping with not getting further lost. Howland Island lies on 176.6 degrees west longitude—quite far off from 157° W longitude and the point of this discrepancy was not and, to be fair likely, cannot be addressed. Yet much is made of this message as it is the last confirmed fact in the mystery.

He also goes quite well into the theory of a U.S. government cover up as to these aviators’ fates and his arguments are intriguing. In the end Campbell, of course, does not solve the mystery of Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance. He does go through the facts, statements and accounts in detail and concludes with an implicit train of logic that is more than reasonable to accept as excellent argument. Admirably, he also gives the reader the tools for their own investigation.

Mike Campbell maintains a website regarding the loss of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan here and Amelia Earhart: the Truth At Last will bring you to his book.

The curious case of the Coronado’s mixed propellers

8 November 2019

The sole example of Consolidated’s PB2Y Coronado is displayed within Pensacola’s National Naval Aviation Museum. And it is a monster! Four radial engines mounted on a high wing over a deep hull with no less than three fuselage decks. Each engine is a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp which is a two row piston engine of which the 14 cylinders of each radial powerplant could collectively deliver 1200 hp. They were also employed in B-24 Liberators, C-47 Skytrains, PBY Catalinas and Short Bros. Sunderlands—among others.

The National Naval Aviation Museum’s Consolidated PB2Y-5 Coronado—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

But the Coronado was different than the other aircraft with which it shared its engine and not because the PB2Y’s engines dispensed with superchargers (redundant since the aircraft was not flown at altitude). The outstanding difference is the inboard engines possessing 4-blade reversing propeller blades while the outboard engines utilized 3-blade non-reversing propeller blades.

Clearly the Coronado’s inboard Twin Wasp radial has four propeller blades yet the outboard Twin Wasp radial has three—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Such a difference! Asymmetric propellers and likely unique.

But why?

There isn’t anything definitive I could find but Ron Lesch and I have found that:

  • The outer propellers have a 6-inch greater diameter than the inner propellers
  • A pilot’s report stated the engines produced the same thrust when set at the same the rpm
  • The same pilot noted the inner props were smaller in diameter to reduce backspray from the fuselage eroding the propeller blades. He also noted that the inboard engines had to have the rpm less than 800 prior to reversing the blades.

Our hypothesis is the inboard engines could be used for braking (obviously) while keeping the outboards available for maneuvering while on the water. Also, the aircraft could pivot using the inboard engines without dipping the wingtips as easily.

Or, could it be that only two reversing propellers were required?

Another Aviation Loss

7 November 2019

Joe Masessa MD, the driving force of Mohawk Airshows, died piloting his Grumman OV-1 Mohawk last Friday while practicing for that weekend’s air show in Stuart FL. NTSB will investigate, of course, to determine the cause of the crash. Experienced Mohawk pilots suspect a single engine failure quite naturally. The Mohawks are infamous for fatal torque rolls when an engine goes out at low air speeds—a great aircraft but warily termed a widow maker due to this trait.

Joe Masessa MD stands with his Grumman Mohawk—courtesy Mohawk Airshows

NTSB will find the cause or causes—of that I’m certain—and the report will be detailed in its explantations. The report will also note he had a special type certifications to fly not only the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk but the BAC 167 Strikemaster, as well, with 5000+ flight hours. What won’t be in the report is knowledge of who the man was. That belongs elsewhere and this post is a small start.

I learned of him only recently, a few months ago, and I didn’t make the time quickly enough to ask for an interview. He not only flew aerobatic routines with his Mohawk—a most gorgeous and greatly unsung aircraft—he flew it to honor those who remain MIA from the Vietnam War. The names of the 1636 remaining Vietnam War MIA were placed on the fuselage for air show visitors to view during static display periods. His YouTube presence shows him to be a Mohawk enthusiast, warm and engaging.

Joe Masessa MD piloting his Grumman Mohawk which he also transformed into an aerial memorial to the 1636 Vietnam MIA. Each of the 1636 were named on the aircraft—courtesy Mohawk Airshows

Another of aviation’s great losses.

The Beaumont Hotel—fly to it Americana, drive to it Americana

4 November 2019

Traveling and exploring are exciting as well as challenging endeavors most of us enjoy—many even relish. But where to go? Where to go that is unusual? An out-of-way-escape that is easy to get to and depart since time can be a factor?

A bucket list candidate for these questions is the Beaumont Hotel and RV Park in Beaumont KS which is within the unique Flint Hills region—going on 150 years old, near one of the last remaining North American buffalo grazing prairie ecosystems and (some say) visited by a ghost (i.e., Zeke) from the cowhand-railroad days.

Viewing the Beaumont Hotel from its aircraft parking area—©2019 Taras Lyssenko

This is Americana at its best. The hotel (10 rooms and a cottage—plus 11 RV gravel pads with tent camping sites) had its stone foundation laid in 1879 can be driven to, naturally, as it is less than an hour’s drive east from Wichita KS. The viewing decks provide for outstanding vistas of the Flint Hills landscape. Quite handily, as well as charmingly, it is also a fly-in destination with its natural turf airstrip (2600′ x 80′ 18/36) with aircraft parking directly across from the hotel (a short taxi down SE 116th Terrace, taking care to obey the mandatory stop at Main Street to immediately finding yourself turning south onto the reserved aircraft parking area). Private aircraft pilots have been taxiing there since1962.

As a Bed & Breakfast the Beaumont Hotel is open year round with its restaurant/café (they share the same menu but are separate eating spaces) providing breakfast 365 days each year to its overnighters. The restaurant/café is open to others Friday through Sunday.

Regulars (fly-ins, aircraft clubs, car clubs and motorcycling clubs) on weekend visits—gather throughout the year except in the low season of January through mid March. Regular visitation implies good food as well as service with the Beaumont not providing disappointment in price, quantity or quality. Recently AOPA published Pilots Pick Top 10 Airport Restaurants of 2019 with the Beaumont Hotel and RV Park solidly in place on the list.

The café is 50’s themed—the overall structure represents the years of 1953 through 1961. After its most recent modernization, by the former owner, the atmosphere is solidly in the 1950s with brick and stucco construction, wooden interior and log common area furniture. 2000 saw ownership change to the current title holder, an accomplished aviator as well as avid aviation history buff. But there is much older human history to see, such as the adjacent Frisco RR (a portmanteau of the St. Louis & San Fransisco Line) all cypress wood built water tower. It is America’s oldest wood construction (since 1885) water tower which remains standing. It possessed a capacity of 50,000 gallons and was erected to provide water for the steam locomotives shipping cattle to market at the time—Beaumont being the local high point on the line. Water was supplied to the tower by the adjacent, as well as artesian, fed Frisco Ponds.

The preserved entirely wooden Frisco Water Tower from 1885 with Barry Seal’s historic Twin Beach sitting to the rear—©2019 Taras Lyssenko

A caboose sitting on a preserved remnant of the old Frisco line—©2019 Taras Lyssenko

Within easy driving distance, or fly over, from the hotel is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This is the ecosystem which provided for the buffalo herds (correctly termed American Bison) which unbelievably numbered in the tens of millions prior to western settlement and conversion of the prairie to farmland. The Flint Hills could not be so converted so it retained the prairie grasses and and ecological niches of old. Especially the big four grasses (Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Switch Grass) that amazingly grow to heights approaching seven feet in the late year, when not grazed, with roots reaching near an astounding ten feet in depth. Incredibly, these roots make their way through limestone and chert which lithified about 250 million years ago from sediments when the area was a shallow sea. More recently four Native American tribes hunted here, back in the day, among the 35 species of mammals and 30 species of fish—as well as collecting the flint/chert for tools and weapons points as the flint/chert edges can be flaked to a mere few microns in thickness (sharper than a razor’s blade). Today’s visitors can also enjoy the 400 wild flower types.

Beaumont KS and its Beaumont Hotel are deep Americana. Beginning as hunting grounds of the Native American tribes to a stage coach stop then railway center for cattle shipment (in the Wild West days), to a bedroom community for workers in Wichita’s tremendous aircraft production facilities (e.g., Stearman, Beechcraft, Cessna, Boeing, Mooney and Lear) and now a portal to heritage ecology and a strategic travel stopover. It’s unsurprising that the Beaumont Hotel offers visitors many examples rooted well into the past, such as:

  • The Frisco Water Tower
  • The former Beaumont State Bank—brick built in 1915 and closed in 1929 with The Great Depression. (More on that later.)
  • Adjacent to the hotel, on the north side, is a brilliant red 1949 Beechcraft D18S “Twin Beech” aircraft with a unique history since it was infamously flown by Barry Seal in several illicit operations. Seal flew for TWA as well as the CIA and later for himself brushing with historical events leading to the Iran-Contra affair of the mid 1980s . His story is remarkably in not one but two movies: American Made (Tom Cruise 2017) and Doublecrossed (Dennis Hopper 1991).

The former Beaumont State Bank, a proud brick structure dating to 1915—©2019 Taras Lyssenko

Beaumont KS architectural relics—©2019 Taras Lyssenko

The Beaumont Hotel is historic and has been written about during the previous decades but it is not resting on its enviable reputation. Plans are to begin substantial enhancements during Spring 2020, such as:

  • Increasing the runway’s length
  • Building a fueling station for cars, trucks and aircraft with convenience store attached
  • Repurposing the handsome brick former bank to an education/engagement center for Beaumont’s and aviation’s history
  • A Frisco Line period steam locomotive to compliment the historic segment of rail line, caboose and Frisco Water Tower

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More information can be found at this link Beaumont Hotel and RV Park and here is the contact information:

Beaumont Hotel and RV Park

37° 39′ 20” N / 96° 31′ 58” W

11651 SE Main St, Beaumont KS 67012

620-843-2422

Flying Alone

24 October 2019

Flying Alone: a memoir, Beth Ruggiero York, 2019, ISBN 978-1-7333996-0-9, 236 pp.

Flying Alone: a memoir by Beth Ruggiero York

Beth Ruggiero York is highly accomplished and admirable for her multiple talents, succeeding in the male centric industry of private as well as commercial aviation, photography and writing.

Her writing style is easy and smooth without triteness or jingoism—simply a pleasurable read. York wanted to succeed in piloting for an airline as a career and began as a flight line worker at an FOB. Her career had rough patches due to a flight instructor who somehow did not end up first at an accident site as well as flying for shady freight operators (she illustrates aspects of shady Part 135 operators as well as those operating in the clear but York does mention an undesirable system which seems a bit endemic). Her website is https://bethruggieroyork.com for this book, her other titles as well as photography workshops.

Along the way York describes flying Cubs to twins by way of a welcoming mix of a love for flying combined with nitty-gritty authorship. Amazingly, she dealt with multiple sclerosis with a similar mix of not surrendering as a victim with pragmatic realism. She finished her aviation career piloting for TWA until medically retired—and, luckily for us, segued to authorship as well as photography. This is a book is a rewarding read about an unusually accomplished, subtly heroic woman.

HAZARDOUS CARGO IN A “Huey”

18 October 2019

HAZARDOUS CARGO IN A “Huey”

While stationed in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1970 time frame as an Air Force JAG, I did a lot of flying with the U.S. Air Force helicopter unit. The Air Force had the responsibility for Medevacs throughout Panama and as far south as the border with Colombia. The Hueys didn’t have the range to fly to some of the Indian villages and back so the Air Force H-3s took fuel drums and positioned them at some of these remote villages so the Hueys had a fuel supply available for the return trips. They would periodically check these drums to insure they were still full.

On these trips into the jungle, aircrews would barter with the native peoples to get parrots, macaws and Japanese fishing floats. On one of the trips I made, we were getting ready to leave to return to the Canal Zone when one of the aircrew appeared with a big wicker basket that was bouncing around and had a terrible odor. When asked what it contained he told us he had acquired a young jaguar and was going to tame it. When he started to put it in the passenger compartment he was told “no way” in no uncertain terms.

There was a small hatch in the tail boom of the helo so he opened the hatch and squeezed the basket into the tail boom. When we landed at Albrook AFB two hours later, the aircrewman opened the hatch to discover there was one very agitated jaguar loose in the tail boom. He told the pilot he would get a shotgun and shoot the cat, this drew a very negative response: “Hell no, you’re not firing a shotgun in the tail boom of my aircraft!”

It was then decided to get a can of ether from the dispensary, throw it in the tail boom and when the cat was rendered unconscious to remove it. We got the ether, pulled the cork, threw it through the hatch and waited ten minutes. When we opened the hatch, the jaguar was even more agitated. The tail boom had so many holes in it that the ether dissipated quickly and had no effect on the jaguar.

We adjourned to the NCO Club bar, which was up the hill from the air field, to consider our options over a cold beer. There was a slightly drunk fire fighter at the bar who overheard our conversations and volunteered to “…get that damn cat out of the helo.” He proceeded to the fire station and donned a padded silver fire fighting suit with hood and gloves and met us at the helo. In the interim, we acquired a wire cage to put the jaguar in.  

We opened the hatch and the fire fighter grabbed the cat, after a significant struggle, turned around and dropped the jaguar in the cage. Mission accomplished! However, the fire fighting suit looked like it had been through a shredder. As I was the officer that signed off on lost, damaged or destroyed Air Force property, the pilot turned to me and said: ”Ed. That fire fighting suit was destroyed in training. Right?” To which I replied: “Definitely, you never know when you are going to have to get a jaguar out of the tail boom of a helicopter.”

Charles E. (Ed) Ellis

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret)

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Ed Ellis (L) chats with a qualified warbird pilot on the floor of the National Naval Aviation Museum (TBM Avenger on the deck, Interstate TDR-1 drone above and SB2A Buccaneer high to the left)—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

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Ed Ellis is currently serving with the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation (Director of Planned Giving/Membership) and it is more than kind of him to share this unique (hopefully) experience. Ed also has helped in many other ways. For example, touring me through their wondrous National Flight Academy which was reviewed here.