Tag Archives: Air Force

The Memphis Belle – Her Final Mission

I’m watching a wonderfully produced program on YouTube on the Memphis Belle. Beautifully made because it goes from the restoration crew at Wright-Patterson doing the restoration, telling you how they refabricated parts, to voices of the now-gone crew talking about certain missions, to general information on her missions first to France, then Germany.

The Belle was famous – became an iconic piece of American history, for finishing 25 missions and boosting the morale of a war-weary American public.

Among the things I learned during her 6 month combat tour was that 10 engines were replaced, major wing parts, and the vertical stabilizer.

That a flight crew had only a 28% chance of surviving though the magic 25 combat missions and the ticket home.

How A-List Hollywood Director William Wyler, in Europe as an Army Major, picked the Belle as the B-17 he would use to document the war.

How every day in the War, the Pentagon sent 297 telegrams to the families of the 8th AAF crewmen giving them the worst news.

When I reviewed the book by Erik Larson on Churchill’s first year as PM, I came to the realization to get those fantastic recollections of family members, they had to have kept diaries.

Apparently many people in the 40s kept diaries, including the co-pilot of the Belle and a waist gunner.

We are the richer for it.

“After 13 years in the restoration hanger, the Memphis Belle was ready for her final mission. She would tell a story of valor and sacrifice for those whose voices are now silent”

It is well worth the hour it takes to view it.

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Filed under Air Force, Army Aviation, History, Movie Review

My Small Moment With Chuck Yeager

Since his retirement from the Air Force in the late 70s, General Yeager lived just “up the hill” in Nevada County, in part of our historic gold rush region.

He certainly was an American Icon. Not only for what he did, being the first person to break the sound barrier, but the way he did it.

Which started the evening before in the desert at Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club. By the way, do you know how this legendary place, long since gone, got its name? I didn’t know for years, and as is my nature kept looking until I found the answer.

Pancho rented horses, horses allegedly so gentle, that the rider was guaranteed a “happy bottom” in riding them!

I’ve had an Internet friend for years, who is a retired Air Force test pilot, who remembered for years seeing the ruins of Pancho’s on the edge of Edwards (called Muroc in its early days).

Anyway, the icon part of the story started the evening before that historic October morning, when Yeager fell off one of those gentle horses and broke some ribs.

And since he didn’t want the mission to be cancelled the next morning and in all probability lose his ride, kept this news from the powers-that-be.

Sidebar: If someone else had taken his place next morning, would he have survived? Yeager encountered extreme buffeting in that Bell, and nearly lost control. One of the reasons they learned later on was because of the conventional elevators on the horizontal stabilizer. The fuselage was shaped like a .50 caliber bullet, but the empennage was like all empennages at the time. With a conventional horizontal stabilizer.

A typical subsonic empennage, with elevators and horizontal stabilizer. Whether on the simplest Cessna or the largest Boeing 747, this is the empennage.

What they learned from this flight, with help from our cousins the British (OK, full disclosure – I think from their own experiments into supersonic flight, they contributed this design for us!) A stabilator made the transition to supersonic flight almost seamless. Unlike the illustration above a stabilator uses the entire horizontal stabilizer as an elevator, and pivots on the fuselage.

Since this site is dedicated to Hizzoner, here is the stabilator from an F/A-18 Hornet:

From Yeager’s flight on an early October morning in 1947 to the Hornet – a stabilator to ease the transition at the sound barrier.

So anyway, back to the making of an icon. Despite the pain of broken ribs (alas, no happy bottom the previous evening!), Yeager shows up at the appointed time and because of the pain, asks his friend to help him by giving him a lever to close the lock on the hatch, which was a broom handle.

On that cold crisp desert morning, those on the ground heard a shock wave, and assumed the worst. And Yeager flew into aviation history.

I remember some passages from his autobiography I read years ago. How many airline pilots of the 50s, in talking on the passenger intercom, wanted to imitate that West Virginia drawl. How in training at Tonopah in an Aircobra, witnessed terrible attrition from new pilots.

How over in Germany, and seeing an overwhelming number of 109s and Focke-Wulfs, would just dive into the melee.

How in one of those melees, he became an ace – shooting down 5 planes- in a matter of minutes.

Part of his secret, he would admit, was his vision which was 20-10.

For a fighter pilot, particularly one before all the electronic days, being able to see enemy planes first could mean the difference between life and death.

Chuck was the epitome of cool.

I would like to think that there is some party at Pancho’s now.

Oh, and about my own small moment? It was so small I think I can say with certainty that Chuck wouldn’t even remember it.

It was probably during the time during the 80s he was associated with AC-Delco.

I was going south down Hwy 99, a rather boring and desolate highway running down the middle of the Central Valley, in my Toyota. And as was my nature at the time, trying to eck out a few MPH over the limit, while hoping not to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol.

Anyway, somewhere below Galt, I saw a metallic blue Corvette just ambling along in the right lane.

Which caught my attention because, well, most Corvette drivers wouldn’t putt along at 55 on the highway.

As I got closer I saw the license plate – “Bell X1A“. I was wondering at that moment if the driver was who I thought it might be.

As I passed, sure enough it was General Yeager, driving with nothing to prove.

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Filed under Flying, Heroes Among Us, History

It Wasn’t The Most Beautiful Plane…

in WW2, but its pilots loved it – considering it to be a flying tank. Of course, I’m talking about the P-47 Thunderbolt.

I’ve just come across a fantastic video – on order from General Hap Arnold it was shot in color during the closing months of WW2 in the ETO with the 362nd Fighter Group.

Coupled with the color film are interviews with former squadron members many years later, on what it was like in those days.

A few things I learned:

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Filed under Air Force, History

Beale AFB Airshow 2018

Over the years, I have had some great times up at Beale, usually by invitation of our car club. One of our members was in years past a squadron commander of the then-mighty SR-71. Started out in WW2 flying P-38s.

Then we got an invitation to see the inside story – that which wasn’t classified – of their U2s. What a fascinating day that was.

And lately they are flying the UAV Global Hawk – we went up to see that. What a day that was.

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Filed under Air Force, Funny Stuff

An Afternoon Chasing U2s

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A few years ago, members of our car club got an invitation to come to Beale AFB and learn about their U2 program. One of our club members is a retired Air Force officer, and knew (I think) the squadron commander.

What a memorable day that was.

The U2 – actually called a TR-1 now – about 40% bigger, is considered one of the toughest planes in the Air Force inventory to fly. It’s certainly not the fastest but difficult to land.

Pilots are carefully selected, and only after a distinguished career flying other planes, such as the F15.

We first sat in for a seminar to learn the history – a quick tour of the suit up facilities – where they are fitted with – I’d call it a space suit – (the same area where the SR-71 “Black Bird” pilots were fitted) – then off to the runway.

Because the U2 (everyone still calls it the U2) – has only 2 main gears on the fuselage – it is basically a jet-powered glider – they use a chase car driven by another  pilot to call out the distance of a landing plane of its  rear wheels to the ground.

For this day they really rolled out the red carpet for us – there was an actual chase car but they used a second following behind the first, just to show us how the procedure works.

The cars have changed over the years, they used Chevy El Caminos years ago, Ford Mustangs, Camaros, the later Pontiac GTOs – and I believe they have just ordered some new replacement.

While the cars don’t have many miles on them they get a good work out – from 0-120 thousands of times before they are retired.

So how does this system work?

The chase car stays off the runway, on the tarmac, until the U2 crosses the numbers. Then the fun begins – full acceleration doing a long sweeping left turn until we are going 100-120 about 150-200 feet behind the plane.

The driver is on the radio calling out the final altitude of the rear wheel – 10 feet – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 -1 to help the pilot.

With a bit of flying that impressed me, the pilot slows down and keeps the wings level until the plane has stopped.

Then an Air Force crew in a truck comes out, puts temporary wheels on about midway up the wing – and the pilot then can taxi normally to the hanger.

Incidentally the wing tips have titanium “runners” to protect them should the tip hit the ground .

We sat in the pilot’s “inner sanctum” – their bar – and I got to talk to one or 2. I mentioned to one, “You guys have to be pretty good to fly one of these”, to which he replied “If you have to tell people how good you are – you aren’t very good”.

A sentiment with which  Lex would no doubt concur.

I asked a few technical questions that he could answer (not classified) – the rate of climb? – 10,000 fpm. Once the  plane leaves the runway it seems to leap into the air.

Obviously crosswinds are a factor to consider – and he said that if they are over 15 kts, they find another runway.

It was a memorable day.

I’ll see how  WordPress lets me insert multiple pictures, and you too can have a vicarious tour.

…an early suit

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It looks like WordPress gives me the choice of inserting  pictures or a video…but not both. If you’d like me to post a short video of chasing the U2 let me know…

06-21-18 Video is here.

 

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