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The Millionaires’ Unit—much is given much is expected—how 18 university students changed history and naval aviation

10 March 2018

The Millionaires’ Unit: Privilege, Duty, Sacrifice, Darroch Greer and Ron King, 2014, 120 minutes

The Millionairs’ Unit—a film by Darroch Greer and Ron King

Do not view this film if you want to see some of combat aviation’s earliest history.

Do not see view film if you do not want to experience combatants war experiences.

Do not view this film if you have tired of the 1%.

But do view The Millionaires’ Unit if you want to discover an almost forgotten though hugely significant piece of Americana involving its fledgling naval aviation combat capability. Also, to be awed and inspired by a clutch of ivy league university students who stepped into the breach to not only serve but shaped both naval and air force aviation. An endeavor taking them from World War I through the Cold War—nearly a century of self-less service.

Not the usual story of ivy leaguers.

Not the usual 1 percenters we read of today.

Yale University produces much of the USA’s leadership and has done so for quite some time. Phrases abound in its legacy. Phases like, “…ideals held sacred…” and “…much is given, much is expected..” as well as “For God, For Country. For Yale.” Perhaps unlike today, but perhaps not, in early 1900s these tenets were taken to heart almost religiously. Yale students Frederick Trubee Davision and Robert A. Lovette began the Yale Flying Club which quickly became more commonly called “The First Yale Unit” as it entered service in the U.S. Navy.

Inspiration came from FT Davison after his summer break volunteer service as an ambulance driver in Paris during early World War I, 1914. There ,he became aware of the lethal threat German U-boats presented to the USA in terms of lost lives as well as dire economical stranglehold. He saw aviation as a way to protect conveys, to put it plainly and he set about to accomplish the feat.

Back in the day, units in the armed forces of the USA were often privately funded and so began the First Yale Unit with just 18 charter members. Their initial service meshed well with their social lifestyles—practice flying for submarines off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard while based out of poshy  The Breakers in the Town of Palm Beach. Comfortable duty any service member would envy though rarely experience.

Greer and King’s wonderful film masterfully blends vintage film footage with restored/replica World War I aircraft video (often first person) aircraft flying over the bucolic lands of New Zealand. Actors recite passages from letters, diaries and telegrams so that we learn how service people meld into a unit and undergo the eventual coping with injury as well as death in war time. What has become known as the Ken Burns Effect is widely used in family or yearbook images to bring the personal dimension home to feel what the actual persons were experiencing.

The story is primarily based upon the World War I experiences and storied accomplishments of the First Yale Unit after they were deployed to France in 1917. Often these aviators were loaned to the RAF so the unit flew fighter sweep missions to U-boat patrols as well as much in between. The U.S. Navy’s sole ace of World War I was a First Yale Unit member and it was the unit which lost the first American aviator of the war. Robert “Bob” Lovett’s influence is well told in the film as his influence on strategic bombing was insightful, early and has been commonly uncredited though it lasted through the Cold War.

What began with 18 sons of the USA’s most wealthy produced a mature naval aviation program in a matter of two years, more than making up for lost time, which has continued to serve to this day. Several men of this “Millionairss’ Unit” continued to serve their country for decades after Armistice Day 1918. Greer and King tell their stories quite well and the sum of it all is an amazing contribution to the country—enheralded save for this film by Darroch Greer and Ron King—based upon Marc Wortman’s book. This film wonderfully and warmly tells the take of a few of America’s best making history while pioneering and serving during World War I—not because the had to, or wanted to, but because of honor and duty to more then themselves. Greer and King honor these men, and their families, with a film that could not be produced or filmed better.


AirFish-8—a refined design ready for the 21st Century

4 March 2018


A brace of Airfish-8 ground effects craft on the fly—Wigetworks image

Coming from Singapore by way for Germany is the ground effects craft AirFish-8. Using lightweight contraction and low maintenance tech (e.g., a 500 hp automobile V-8 power plant) the AirFish-8 can be flown in ground effect at high speed for 250–300 miles with no need for a runway and attendant crowded airspace as well as gate availability. Just the need for a beach, a dock or a lighter. Wigetworks, a company based in Singapore, using technology originated in Germany, has two AirFish-8 prototypes flying since 2008.

They are onto something.

The Royal Aeronautical Society just published an article on the resurgence of seaplanes, especially noting the Dornier Seastar written about in this blog here. And why not? Recreation and economies are expanding in island locales. Island locales often do not have nearby airports with miles long runways but an AirFish-8 can efficiently and rapidly ferry six to eight passengers to any water world location at nearly 100 mph without threat of mal de mar (AirFish-8s can fly as much as 7m above wave height). The Philippines or the southwest Pacific with their thousands of islands, for examples, could open up for tourism, homes or increased routine medical attention to endemic populations.

The AirFish-8 is as low maintenance as it is in neediness for infrastructure being powered by a conventional (non aviation rated) V-8 using automotive grade gasoline (95 octane). Indeed, the AirFish-8 could be used as its own sporting  or research platform while afloat with its deck space marked by a substantial degree of openness.

Wigetworks AirFish-8—Wigetworks image

Wigetworks AirFish-8 banking starboard—Wigetworks image

Wigetworks AirFish-8 afloat while demonstrating ample deckspace—Wigetworks image

Wigetworks AirFish-8 flies past—Wigetworks image

Wigetworks Airfish-8 is as gainly in the water as it is skimming over the water—Wigetworks image

Wigetworks AirFish-8 has the remarkable advantage of no runway requirement only a dock, a boat or a beach—Wigetworks image

Vanderkloot and Churchill’s midnight ride to Cairo

25 February 2018


Commando and her aircrew after returning Churchill from the Middle East in 1942 (William Vanderkloot is the center person in the top image)—Canada Wide

William Vanderkloot, born in the USA, grew up and learned to fly during Aviation’s Golden Age. Remarkably he was as competent a navigator as he was a pilot. These skills he honed during World War II, but before the Pearl Harbor attack, flying for the Royal Air Force’s Ferry Command—especially heavy bombers eastward across the Atlantic Ocean. In 18 months of flying he logged over 1,000,000 miles of which some was for VIP transport.

In late 1942 Churchill was required to fly to the Middle East to replace the British Eighth Army’s flagging top command. Flight would be near or over contested airspace and Vanderkloot was asked how it could best be done. He recommended a nocturnal go-around route and was immediately brought to Winston Churchill for introduction. The pair hit it off and before much could be said a modified Consolidated Liberator II named “Commando” was winging Churchill and staff to Cairo with William Vanderkloot as pilot in command—at night and unescorted with little in the way of artificial navigational aids. Vanderkloot would do this once more before Churchill’s air travel was changed to an RAF aircrew and a modified Avro Lancaster.

Vanderkloot continued flying throughout the war and after until retirement. He is interred in Ocala’s Good Shepherd cemetery with his wife Rima (who passed away in 1998 though her stone does not yet indicate that year).

The Vanderkloots (William and Rima) resting place in the Good Shepard Cemetery in Ocala FL—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft


Graham Chandler (July 2009). “Travels with Churchill. A World War II flight engineer dishes on the most “I” of the VIPs he flew with”. Air & Space magazine.

We get to see the video of Vulcan pilot Bill Ramsey on Aircrew Interview!

21 February 2018


Aircrew Interview is a marvelous resource which interviews well experienced pilots over a variety of aircraft. Their latest is The People’s Mosquito’s own Bill Ramsey (retired from the RAF). I can understand why Aircrew Interview interviewed Bill as any pilot who accomplished a quarter of what he has in aviation would be more than pleased. The interview is here, is quite good, and is a flowing 41 informative minutes in length. Bill has done quite a lot so the time is needed but the questions are good and his answering is light yet informative. Most of the interview takes place under the Handley Page Hastings at the Newark Air Museum which is interesting in itself as a post World War II four engine tail dragger design. This one was a marine recce aircraft in service and has cod mission symbols on the nose. Bill Ramsey relates they are mission symbols of the “Cod War” the UK had with Iceland not terribly long ago. The interview segues to the Avro Vulcan bomber which Ramsey flew while in the RAF, along with Panavia Tornados, and takes place under the nose of the Newark Air Museum’s Avro Vulcan, known as XM 594. Ramsey details the strategy of designing airshow routines for both the Grob Tutor—incredibly, his routine in the Grob had 21 maneuvers in 6 minutes—as well as the last flying Vulcan XH 558 with a few amusing anecdotes given for good measure. Those in, or retired from, military service will no doubt wryly be grinning as he recalls his RAF service. Interestingly, he also talks insightfully of the Grob Tutor (Grob 115E in civilian versions). Ramsey also speaks of the The People’s Mosquito project which is not unlike the Vulcan Trust project. Unsurprisingly, the stars of the show are Bill and the Avro Vulcan where the viewers learn what only can be learned by being inside the cockpit and Ramsey tells of it like no other is able.

The interview is excellent and Bill Ramsey is quite good on camera. Aircrew Interview has hit this one out of the ball park. Well done!

Help Bring Her Home!

15 February 2018


FreytagAnderson (a Glasgow based design studio) has brilliant and creative folk are a significant sponsor of The Peoples Mosquito and have produced this powerful message for us—it is all there and in beautiful color.

Become a DH Mosquito supporter—kindly provided by Stewart and FreytagAnderson (a Glasgow-based design studio)



Contemporary Aviation Art

11 February 2018


Contemporary art by Bordalo II as seen in the Wynwood Art District of Miami—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

Falcon Heavy—the newest and biggest space lifter

7 February 2018

SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time yesterday making it the heaviest space lifter in the business today. And what a business niche SpaceX has owning 20% of the world market—a greater share than most countries. The audience not only gets to watch a spectacular launch but also what was reserved for SciFi movie buffs—the booster rockets (SpaceX calls them cores) landing minutes after launch for later refit and reuse.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket liftoff at 3:45 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida—NASA image

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket clearing the launch pad—NASA image

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket soars—NASA image

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket soars—NASA image

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket’s two side cores (boosters) descending for  landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida following a successful liftoff at 3:45 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center—NASA image

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket’s two side cores descend, no longer made to just burn—NASA image