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Peashooter—Oh! What could have been!

27 February 2021

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

The United States had a design idea from Boeing to greatly advance fighter aircraft performance but the powers that were denied most of the design to “protect our assets” by ensuring the wings would not fall away or pilots damaging aircraft while landing by forgetting to lower the landing gear. Many pilots of the day also wanted to have open cockpits retained even though wind blast was getting increasingly louder as airspeeds quickened to greater than 200 mph. The P-26 first flew in 1932 with a similar design by Nakajima (Allied codename of Nate) first flying in 1936. Yes, much more advanced aircraft (no externally braced monowings, more heavily armed, closed cockpit, retractable gear and 100+ mph speedier) quickly followed-on, eliminating the P-26’s what-could-have-been-headstart and within a matter of a few years:

  • Curtiss P-36 Hawk and Hawker Hurricane in 1935
  • Supermarine Spitfire in 1936
  • Messerschmitt Bf 109, Macchi C.200 Saetta, Seversky P-35 and Grumman F4F in 1937
  • Bell P-39 and Curtiss P-40 in 1938
  • Mitsubishi Zero in 1939
  • Macchi C.202 Falgore and North American P-51 Mustang in 1940

So…for the P-26A…Boeing was forced to drop the retractable gear as well as install redundant external wing braces (cable stays)—and made pilots happy with an open cockpit. Yes, all the parasitic drag of biplanes that could be retained were retained! Armament was puny at two machine guns, and odd at that since one was 0.30 caliber and the other 0.50. Boeing modified the headrest into the P-26’s (nicknamed “Peashooter” for its timid firepower) dorsal hump trait after a pilot was killed with a neck injury in a not unusual end over landing accident. Though, it was a monoplane when biplanes were the paradigm and it was all metal construction not the fabric and wood norm of the time. It is these few positive traits which are usually emphasized with this aircraft but, nonetheless, it was a design obsolete by the time it entered service.  Like the period prior to World War I, the USA had let an aeronautics headstart fritter away going into what became World War II. This Boeing P-26A is displayed in the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

The FAST Lady of the Night

25 February 2021

51° 16′ 56″ N / 00° 45′ 12″ W

This unique 1955 vintage Hawker Hunter is known as Hecate (the goddess of the night in Greek mythology) since it was the aircraft utilized to trial a pair of HUDs (heads up display, one each for each of the crew) as well as LLTV (low light television) and FLIR (forward looking infrared). Also trialed was the Penetrate pod which was a terrain database that provided visual cues in the HUDs (an earlier version is mounted on the port wing). This Hunter was meant to rule the night by way of all weather, low-level, high speed flying. Amazingly, this airframe accumulated 3,670.3 hours before ultimate retirement and can be seen at FAST (Farnborough Air Sciences Trust)

Hawker Hunter WV383 “Hecate-Lady of the Night” at FAST (Farnborough Air Sciences Trust) in Farnborough UK (the Penetrate pod is white and on the reverse side of the drop tank)©2017 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

Is the Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum MIA?

24 February 2021

03º 07′ 01″ N / 101º 42′ 13″ E

Of concern is the most recent Google Map satellite and street imagery indicating the aircraft I expected to see in the open are now absent. The grass field they were on is now a concrete ramp area, as well. Additionally, the de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou as well as the Grumman HU-16 Albatross are present but seem to be in an out-of-the-way corner of the overall grounds. However, a handful of additional buildings have been added, since 2013, so the remaining aircraft may have been relocated within some of them—but who knows? A bad omen, though, is the disappearance of the aircraft on a plinth (part of a memorial) which marked the museum’s entrance.

FYI—here is the museum review post from my visit to this museum.

Most of the outside display area of the Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum in Kuala Lumpur—©2013 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

A view of Kuala Lumpur’s landmark Petronas Towers (about 4 miles distant) from the Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum grounds—©2013 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

To Rule the Skies—what you didn’t know about SAC

23 February 2021

To Rule the Skies: General Thomas S. Power and the Rise of Strategic Air Command in the Cold War, Brent D. Ziarnick, 2021, ISBN 9781682475874, 280 pp.

To Rule the Skies: General Thomas S. Power and the Rise of Strategic Air Command in the Cold War by Brent D. Ziarnick

General Power? Who is he? Was he  important?

Ziarnick? Who is he? Does he know what he is doing? Can he write?

Why is there a photo of a YB-52 on the cover—the only Stratofortress model to fly with a tandem cockpit and a sole example, as well?

The answers to all the above are fascinating. Perhaps surprisingly so since most have not heard of either Power or Ziarnick. Thomas Power not only finished shaping what Curtis LeMay forged, SAC (Strategic Air Command), he developed innovative rocket and aviation systems, aerospace strategy as well as being one of the prominent leaders for the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also has an underserved reputation as a single minded-war-mongering-bomb-them-all general but Ziarnick dispels this undeserved rap and investigates how it came to be. He served over 36 years—from the days of open cockpit aircraft to silo based Minuteman missiles!

Brent Ziarnick is well educated and well qualified on his subject. He is an assistant professor at the USAF’s Air Command and Staff College and has studied the Air Force’s evolution and role as a continuing strategic force in the Cold War—an expansive and complex subject if there ever was one—as well as Power, the man and the general. The two are as intertwined and inseparable as are science and da Vinci.

As for the YB-52? I cannot say, but it’s aptly intriguing since it fits in well with the SAC/Cold War vibe that is  throughout the book.

Early: as you’d expect in a well written biography as this one is, the early life of Power is sought after to determine events and clues to the personality which became one of our most influential USAF generals. Interestingly, fate did not allow for completion of college but six months of nightly library study yielded a superb grade in a test many college engineering graduated did not pass.  This enabled him to begin his career as a military pilot and the early flying day stories are complex and a bit wild.

Construction and Power: Thomas Power’s early career evolved into becoming an extraordinarily capable administrator with a keen ability to see potential (both in people as well as technology) where others were myopic. He investigated rockets for use in aircraft as early as World War I as well as many other technologies. He was influential in developing the firebombing tactics against Japan in World War II which he began to formulate after leading conventional bombing raids with resulting dismal effects. Power investigated and ran the numbers realizing these tactics would save many B-29 Superfortress crews through lessening the engine loads by not climbing to high altitudes with their heavy loads (more B-29 crews were lost to engine failure with ensuing fire then by enemy action). LeMay had the concept but Power made it happen though LeMay got all the credit. As LeMay’s right hand man Power did not mind as he sought only results and not fame.  LeMay handed the reins of SAC to Power and it was Power who honed SAC into an instrument so overwhelmingly capable it ensured peace during the most frigid periods of the Cold War. He brought in ICBMS, morale, leadership, the B-52 as well as other high speed strategic bombers. Always seeing into the future he advocated a space force with Project Orion (not the NASA program of today but more of a space based multiple aircraft carrier/battleship concept) with orbits ranging from low Earth to Lunar. Ziarnick covers these aspects as well as many more in great detail and with clear insights. Costs quite often come into Ziarnick’s dialogue, as well as lack of SAC funding, which are important but it is disappointing he did not bring into his discussion a mention that the United States was also financing NASA’s Moonshot as well as the Vietnam War at the time. There is only so much money and SAC dod not exist within a bubble.

Cuban Missile Crisis: perhaps most singularly in the career of Thomas Power was the Cuban Missile Crises. As posited by the author, SAC’s overwhelming capability to destroy the USSR’s ability to wage war against the U.S. left the issue in no doubt, from the USSR perspective, as to the ultimate outcome of the Cuban Missile Crises. This is not the general considered opinion but it is a less dramatic one as well as one for thought. Ziarnick emphasizes SAC’s other contributions which are generally unheralded but interesting such as marine surveillance with RB-47 Stratojets as well as EB-47 and RB-47 aircraft reconnaissance flights along Cuba’s coastline which he credits with identification of all missile sites and strategic bomber locations (though he does not mention their collection of the Radar Order of Battle as radar sites would have to be eliminated should a strike against the missiles and bombers occur—as well as ignoring the USAF RF-101 Voodoo and USN RF-8 Crusader recce flights). Ziarnick details the U-2 Cuban overflight missions ordered by Power and, quite interestingly, informs the reader how the crisis’s sole KIA U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson was killed—as it is not how one might expect.

This book is a must read for Cold War history as well as Strategic Air Command history. Ziarnick has provides readers with a plethora of citation and endnotes to satisfy deeper questions or further research. It is a pleasant read and the author has an ease of explaining his depth of knowledge that comes with his years of experience and practice as a lecturing professor at a top school.

Douglas Skyhawks Which Were Peculiar To Malaysia?

23 February 2021

03º 07′ 01″ N / 101º 42′ 13″ E

Douglas A-4PTM Skyhawk Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum Kuala Lumpur—©2013 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

Eighty-eight Douglas Skyhawks in C and L types were purchased by the Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Air Force) with most to be converted to their particular specifications, or PTM. Commonly PTM is known as “Peculiar To Malaysia” but this is a bit of geographical jest as the acronym was created from the formal Persekutan Tanah Melayu title, which translates to Federation of Malay States (Malaysia has 13 states). The majority of conversion work was accomplished in the early 1980s by Grumman in their St. Augustine FL facility with the ultimate aircraft delivery tally of 34 A-4PTM and 6 TA-4PTM Skyhawks, plus 52 spare Wright J65 turbojet engines (modified Sapphire engines built under license from Armstrong Siddeley).

A brilliant subsonic design small enough to not require folding wings and one which made for an agile, responsive aircraft to fly. An emergency air stream powered turbine electric generator could be lowered in the event of engine failure and the ubiquitous pair of drop tanks were built to be useful in a gear up landing should there be a hydraulic systems failure. Leading edge slats used gravity to deploy at lower airspeeds. The fuselage aft of the cockpit is devoted to the engine with the “dorsal hump” housing avionics.

Particular to the PTM’s specifications are five external stores pylons (each with a 1000 pound capability) with every pylon able to be armed with an AGM-65A Maverick air-to-ground-missile or an AIM-9J Sidewinder air-to-air missile—or a bomb, naturally. A pair of 20 mm Colt Mk 12 autocannon compliment the external stores armament.

Douglas A-4PTM Skyhawk Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum Kuala Lumpur—©2013 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

Douglas A-4PTM Skyhawk Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum Kuala Lumpur (note the deployed leading edge slat which would drop due to gravity at lower airspeeds)—©2013 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

Douglas A-4PTM Skyhawk Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum Kuala Lumpur—©2013 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

 

 

The Prefect Avro 626

22 February 2021

Prefect ≡ a senior student enforcer or a chief officer of a sort.

The Avro 626 was a British made two seat utility trainer but the four purchased in New Zealand around 1935 were three cockpit (all open) with the aft cockpit fitted with a Scarff ring which could mount a Lewis or Vickers machine gun. Power from the Armstrong Siddeley Lynx IVC radial engine (240 hp) typically yielded a cruise speed of 95 mph for 240 miles with a service ceiling of 14,800 feet. This excellent example is displayed in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum which is located in Christchurch NZ.

Avro 626 (Prefect) on display in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum of Christchurch New Zealand—©2008 Joseph May/Slipstream Photography

Grumman OV-1D Mohawk

18 February 2021

The Technical Observer’s side of this Grumman OV-1D Mohawk of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

Grumman’s Mohawk—a most underrated, unreviled and unheralded aircraft! It served for decades flying missions in the Vietnam War, monitoring the Korean DMZ as well as the borders with East Germany and those of Iraq War No. 1—but who knows this? Everything from sophisticated new antiaircraft emplacements north of the DMZ to vehicle movements along the Iraqi border were identified and targeted by Mohawks repetitively drumming along their flight paths.

The D model could do either of the three tasks of the previous models as it had the nose mounted 180° panoramic camera with bays in the fuselage housing either another panoramic downward aimed camera, or IR (infra-red frequencies) camera or the power and control units for the SLAR (Side Looking Radar) of which the 18 foot long fiberglass antenna pod would be installed along the aircraft’s right side. Pick a mission and install the proper gear in less than an hour! Visual and IR missions required a return to base to download and process the acquired imagery. SLAR missions were in real time as the gear could detect moving as well as stationary objects with about a 3 minute latency). SLAR range was well over 150 miles when looking either right or left at mission altitude which was usually around ~16,000 feet. SLAR range was halved if looking left and right simultaneously. Single engine failure on take off was a nasty trait as pilot reaction had to be immediate and powerful since the asymmetric thrust would  create an almost instant snap roll toward the dead engine—drop the wing stores, throttle back the live engine a bit and stomp on the proper rudder pedal with an Olympian’s single leg press record attempt effort.

The United States Army Aviation Museum has SLAR installed on its OV-1B Mohawk (see the OV-1B with SLAR post). This OV-1D is in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Power provided by a pair of Lycoming T-53-L-701 turboprop engines (1400 shp each) made possible the Mohawk’s forte of flying for a bit over 4 hours per mission. Range with a pair of 150 gallon external tanks approached 950 miles and cruising speeds were a bit over 200 mph (although it would get to its never exceed speed of 450 mph much too quickly when in a dive). The service ceiling of 25,000 feet was hardly obtained as the aircraft would have little control authority at those heights and really only be hanging off the three bladed constant speed Hamilton Standard props. The crew sat side-by-side with the pilot on the left and the TO (technical observer) on the right. Mohawks have roomy cockpits for military aircraft which also enjoy unexcelled visibility. There was no provision made for dual controls but ejection seats were standard as were speed brakes.

The pilot’s side of this Grumman OV-1D Mohawk of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

Excellent view of the nose mounted two faceted viewing glass for the KA-60 panoramic (180° field of view which would photograph with a successive 60% overlap) camera in this Grumman OV-1D Mohawk of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

 

MiG 29 Fulcrum in Oregon

15 February 2021

MiG 29 (NATO Fulcrum) in front at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

The Mikoyan MiG 29 is a 1970s multirole design similar, though smaller than, to the Sukhoi SU 27 (NATO Flanker), and it counters the F-15 Eagle as well a F-16 Fighting Falcon. Twin turbofan engines (Klimov RD-33 rated at 18,340 pound thrust in afterburner) can take the pilot to speeds of 1500 mph (Mach 2.25) and 59,000 feet. It has an impressive thrust-to-weight ration of 1.09:1 and can be armed with the expected bombs, rockets and missiles including an internal 30mm autocannon (Gryazev-Shipunov GSH-30-1) with 150 rounds. Interestingly the MiG 29 is also equipped with an Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) device (the OEPS-29), the sensor of which lies within the glass orb located in front of and to the right of the cockpit canopy. This allows passive detection and tracking—compared to radar the range is more limited but it does not give notice of the fighter’s presence as radar can and angular resolution increases due to the use of shorter wavelengths than the microwave frequencies of radar.

MiG 29 (NATO Fulcrum) in front at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

MiG 29 (NATO Fulcrum) in front at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

MiG 29 (NATO Fulcrum) in front at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR—©2009 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

Trident and VC 10

15 February 2021

52° 05′ 34″ N / 00° 07′ 41″ E

Hawker-Siddeley Trident 2E at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford—©2018 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

This marvelous example of Hawker Siddeley’s Trident, or HS-121 Trident, (the design originated with de Havilland as the DH.121) is in colors of British European Airways. A trio of Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines powered this airliner, the world’s first trijet airliner! And it was speedy, cruising as quickly as 610 mph! It required long take distances for taking off of about 6000 feet. It was a hot aircraft which could climb as well as descend quickly with the landing gear used as air brakes below 320 mph. The 2E was the extended range version with Rolls-Royce Spey 512 turbofan engines, slats replaced leading edge flaps and increased wingspan. This airliner and many others is a possession of the Duxford Aviation Society’s British Airliner Collection, of which several aircraft are on display at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (IWM–Duxford).

Hawker-Siddeley Trident 2E at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford—©2018 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

52° 05′ 35″ N / 00° 07′ 42″ E

BAC Super VC10 at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (the pair of engines on the tail’s port said can’t quite be discerned)—©2018 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

The design began with Vickers Armstrong but became owned by BAC and this BAC Super VC10 is in BOAC-Cunard livery. VC-10s are noted for their rear positioned four engines (Rolls-Royce Conway Mk 301 turbofans) in two pairs. Designed with long legs as well as to be favorable in the hot and high conditions of Africa. Also considering rough runway conditions of many airports in Africa the landing gear was made to be short as well as strong with low pressure tires. It routinely made the quickest transAtlantic crossings of a bit over five hours, beaten consistently in the airliner category only by the Concorde. The Super variety was a stretched version to accommodate 151 passengers which was up from 135. This airliner and many others is a possession of the Duxford Aviation Society’s British Airliner Collection, of which several aircraft are on display at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (IWM–Duxford).

BAC Super VC10 at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (the pair of engines on the tail’s port said can’t quite be discerned)—©2018 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

 

Duxford’s Handley Page Dart Herald 201

14 February 2021

52° 05′ 36″ N / 00º 07′ 44″ E

Handley Page Dart Herald 201 at the Imperial War Museum at IWM Duxford—©2018 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

The Handley Page Herald (wait to get to the Dart Herald) was designed in the 1950s with piston engines and meant to replace the Douglas DC-3. Proven success and reliability over piston engines of the Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop engines demanded their installation on the Herald—voilá, the Dart Herald! This Dart Herald is a stretched version possessing an additional 4½ feet to carry 56 passengers instead of the original 47. Stability throughout all speed regimes and exhibiting a great degree of maneuverability with excellent STOL performance made this an attractive aircraft. However, the height of the vertical stabilizer could make ground handling a challenge at times. This airliner is in the colors of Air UK and, along with many others, is a possession of the Duxford Aviation Society’s British Airliner Collection, of which several aircraft are on display at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (IWM–Duxford).

Handley Page Dart Herald 201 at the Imperial War Museum at IWM Duxford—©2018 Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft