03 August 2012

The Coming Kamikaze Threat in World War II We Never Faced

The USS Callaghan, the last Allied ship sunk by kamikazes.
As the American fleet began to become proficient at meeting the kamikaze threat during the Second World War, night time was usually a period when sailors got a respite from the waves of suicide attackers- the vast majority of kamikaze attacks that took place were during the daylight hours. At night the fleet could repair damage from the day's attacks, sailors could get some rest, and ammunition and supplies for the next day's battles could be stocked. By the time of the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945, the Japanese were already in full swing preparing the Home Islands for the anticipated Allied invasion. Operation Olympic was the code name for the invasion of the southernmost of the Home Islands, Kyushu, and it was scheduled for November 1945. The size of the invasion fleet would dwarf not only what was used at Okinawa, but it would also dwarf the Allied landings at Normandy on D-Day in 1944. Approximately just over 2,700 ships and landing craft participated at Normandy; the invasion of Kyushu would have required over 4,000 ships. In twelve days, over 300,000 American troops came ashore at Normandy; on the beaches of Kyushu during Operation Olympic, it was planned that the same number of American troops would storm ashore in just the first *three* days. Therefore in Japanese defense planning for the defense of Kyushu, called "Ketsu-Go", kamikazes were a key part of disrupting the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force/Task Force 51. Little known to most, though, is that the planned kamikaze threat would have been of a level of ferocity and technique not widely faced by the US Navy in the Pacific War. 

Through most of the war, the kamikaze threat consisted of primarily front-line aircraft. However, the submarine blockade of Japan made getting strategic materials like the ores used in metal increasingly difficult. Bauxite, for example, is an ore that is the main source of aluminum and the Japanese aircraft industry's main source for bauxite were open pit mines near Singapore. As early as 1943 thoughts began to shift towards the use of wood in new aircraft designs and the Germans had even provided the Japanese with plans for the De Havilland Mosquito, the Royal Air Force's "Wooden Wonder". Mosquito components that had been captured were even shipped to Japan aboard the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-29, but it was sunk in July 1944 near Japan. While the Japanese were aware of wood's natural radar defeating properties, any consideration at this point in using wood in aircraft designs was more a practical matter with the ore shortages; any benefits against Allied radars was seen rather remarkably as a secondary and less important benefit. 

Yokosuka K4Y1, probably the type that sank the Callaghan.
By the time the Battle of Okinawa was winding down, "Ketsu-Go" was in full swing on Kyushu and a key part of the defense was the use of massed kamikaze attacks. But the state of Japanese aircraft industry was in disarray with the B-29 attacks and the ongoing ore shortages. In July 1945 to meet the required numbers of kamikaze aircraft, all of the training units were converted to kamikaze units which added thousands of experienced pilots but over 5,000 antiquated biplane trainers made of wood and fabric. But again, at this point in the war, no one in Japan had realized that an elderly biplane trainer was a lot harder to spot on radar- plans at that point were to offset the slow performance of the biplane aircraft by shifting the kamikaze attacks to the night time, the traditional sanctuary period for the American fleet. However, somewhere in the Japanese command structure connected all the dots- on the night of 28 July 1945, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Callaghan was on radar picket duty off the coast of Okinawa. In a time before the advent of airborne early warning aircraft, radar picket destroyers patrolled the edges of the fleet to search for inbound kamikazes. On this night, an elderly biplane floatplane, most likely a Yokosuka K4Y1 trainer, was warded off on its first pass, but it came around undetected for a second pass and struck the destroyer, sinking it with the loss of 47 sailors. The following night, another elderly biplane struck another radar picket, the USS Cassin Young- though not sunk, 22 sailors were killed and the ship had to withdraw from action for repairs. A third destroyer, the USS Prichett, was aiding the stricken Callaghan, was very nearly sunk by another elderly biplane on a kamikaze mission.

Yokosuka K5Y biplane trainer.
The destroyers had difficulty on downing the attackers for three reasons- it was night, not the usual time kamikazes attacked, secondly, the wood and fabric biplanes were difficult to spot and track on radar, and lastly the wood and fabric construction threw off the proximity fuses of the anti-aircraft guns- the proximity fuse's sensor that triggered the detonation of the round was optimized for metal aircraft; against the old wood and fabric biplanes, the proximity fuzes detonated the round too late, or in some cases, not at all. The action that night against those three radar picket destroyers changed thinking on the role of the 5,000+ elderly biplane aircraft that were going to be used as kamikazes for "Ketsu-Go". Here was an unexpected weapon that could counter the American technological advantages in radar and proximity-fuzed shells fired by anti-aircraft guns. American intelligence analysts had seen the massive change in the air forces of Japan in the summer of 1945 and were well aware of Japanese interests in wood, but it hadn't occurred to the Navy that this was a possibly game-changing combination that would have threatened initial phases of Operation Olympic. It was assumed that fuel shortages would keep most Japanese aircraft grounded and this misconception was reinforced by the increasing lack of air action against the B-29 raids and that US warships even managed to get close enough to the Home Islands to shell coastal targets without getting attacked. In fact, the Japanese had stockpiled fuel just for the use of the kamikazes in "Ketsu-Go". 

Tachikawa Ki-17 trainer aircraft.
At Okinawa, only one of the US Navy's carrier air wings was trained and equipped for night combat, that being Night Air Group 90 embarked aboard the USS Enterprise. By November 1945, only one additional night air group would be available for Operation Olympic, giving only 50 aircraft to defend the invasion fleet at night against well over 5,000 night kamikazes that would have been difficult to spot on radar, using the mountainous terrain of Kyushu to mask their approaches to the invasion fleet, and be of a construction that would probably render a large portion of the proximity-fuzed shells ineffective. 

It is perhaps a blessing that the Japanese surrender following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place. The kamikaze plans for "Ketsu-Go" alone would have well resulted in significant casualties on the shores of Kyushu, but instead history is left with the USS Callaghan as the last Allied ship to be sunk by kamikazes- and that night on 28 July was a small preview of the storm facing the US fleet in the waters of the Home Islands.

Source: Hell to Pay- Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 by D.M. Giangreco. Naval Institute Press, 2009, p125-137. Photos: Wikipedia.

21 July 2012

The Indian Night Air Mail Service

The Indian Night Air Mail Service network.
In the late 1940s the rail and road infrastructure of India was already inadequate for the task of linking the newly-independent nation. While the sub-continent had a fairly dense rail network as a legacy of its time under the British crown, its reliability was sketchy at best and with the growing demands of the Indian commercial sector for better mail service, on 30 January 1949 the government inaugurated the Indian Night Air Mail Service- the world's first overnight air mail service- keeping in mind, that FedEx as Federal Express launched its overnight package delivery service in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1973. Since space was a premium at daytime flights, it was decided that air mail would move at night and this had the added advantage of making overnight delivery possible in what may very well be also the world's first example if not one of the earliest examples of a hub-and-spoke operation. Under this system, the four main cities of India also happened to form each of the four corners of a diamond- New Delhi to the north, Bombay to the west, Calcutta to the east, and Madras to the south. Connecting these cities was a central location at the city of Nagpur in central India. 

The system was quite simple- letters postmarked for overnight air mail were delivered to each of the corners of the NAM system in the evening and loaded on aircraft. These aircraft, all then flew in the first part of the night to the central processing and sort facility at the Nagpur Airport. Mail would be offloaded and sorted to waiting aircraft that would return to their origin airports in the second half of the night. The following morning, the mail would be delivered- a speed and convenience not only unheard of an India's business environment of the day, but probably in just about any business center worldwide in 1949! For an aircraft like the Douglas DC-3 that was ubiquitous in those days, each leg would take about four hours, making overnight delivery possible. To facilitate the sort process, any aircraft leaving any of the cities already had the mail sorted and stowed aboard in batches, minimizing the ground sort and loading time at Nagpur. 

Indian Airlines Douglas DC-4s were popular on the NAM.
To operate the NAM, the Indian government took bids from the domestic airlines of the day. First off the block to run the NAM was Indian Overseas Airlines which flew the inaugural services on the night of 30-31 January 1949. Even though Indian Overseas was based in Nagpur, it probably got the rights to operate the NAM with an unrealistically low bid and it quickly found it couldn't keep up the pace required. The dominant domestic airline, Indian National Airways, was called in to take over the NAM from Indian Overseas for most of that year until Himilayan Airways took over operation of the NAM on 15 October 1949. Two years later Deccan Airways moved its base from Hyderabad to Nagpur as part of its bid to run the NAM and did so for two years. In 1953 when the Air Corporations Act was passed which nationalized the Indian airline industry, Deccan would be one of eight airlines (including prior NAM operators Himilayan Airways and Indian National Airways) that were amalgamated into the new domestic airline, Indian Airlines. By default, the NAM which at the time was in the hands of Deccan Airways, went over to Indian Airlines which would pretty much operated the NAM for the rest of its history. 

Indian Airlines postcard featuring the Vickers Viscount.
By 1958 passengers were also carried on the NAM- the "red eye" flights of the day. With the DC-3s being too small for both the mail loads and passengers, Indian Airlines used Douglas DC-4s on the routes from Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. For the New Delhi route, two aircraft were used on each flight- a Vickers Viscount would carry the passengers and a DC-3 (sometimes a DC-4 based on need) carried just the mail. With the Delhi passengers flying on the faster Viscount, they got to Nagpur earlier and had a few hours layover before boarding their connecting flights to Bombay, Madras, or Calcutta. The terminal in Nagpur boasted facilities for passengers to freshen up and get a snack and even watch a movie while waiting for their connecting flights. The ground operation in Nagpur was honed down to precision, being accomplished only 90 minutes' time. An average night would see 11,000 lbs of mail, 9,000 lbs of freight, and up to 200 passengers pass through Nagpur. As some of the ground handling personnel at Nagpur were illiterate, colored labels were used to identify each destination. To facilitate the collection of the overnight air mail in each of the four destination cities, mobile post offices in specially marked vans were set up at specific locations in each city. Each van would receive mail until 8:30pm when it would then deliver the mail to the airport for the flights to Nagpur. On some nights in the 1960s, there would be as many as 10 flights headed to Nagpur over the course of the night.

The Indian Night Air Mail Service ran continuously until 1973 (ironically when Federal Express launched its overnight package delivery service). The low postal rates provided by the Indian government were cited as not being enough to warrant continuation of this historic service. Various attempts were made up into the 1980s to restart the NAM, but were never profitable enough to last long. 

Sources/Photos: Airlines of Asia Since 1920 by R.E.G. Davies. Palawdr Press, 1997, p29-32. "Nagpur Junction: Speeding India's Night Air Mail" by Patricia Stroud. Flight, 12 September 1958.

18 July 2012

The Mach 3 Phantom

In the 1960s the development of high-performance reconnaissance cameras offered greater resolution, but at a price- many of these systems were large and heavy and the current high-altitude spyplane of the time, the first generation variants of the Lockheed U-2, were unable to carry them. One of the premier recon optical systems developed at this time was the General Dynamics HIAC-1- a long range, oblique camera with a focal length of 66 inches that allowed stand-off reconnaissance from high altitudes. The first examples of HIAC-1 were heavy- the prototype camera system weighed over 3,500 lbs, much more than any other camera system in use at the time (excepting the very big Boston Camera carried by the B-36 and C-97 in the 1950s that weighed 3 tons and had a focal length of 240 inches). The only aircraft in the USAF inventory that could carry the HIAC-1 was the RB-57F, a modification of the Martin B-57 Canberra. In 1962 General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas, had the contract to maintain the RB-57D fleet which suffered from wing spar fatigue. Since General Dynamics had acquired quite a bit of experience in working on the long-span RB-57Ds, they were asked by the Air Force for an evolved version of the D that could fly higher, carry a heavier load (like the HIAC-1) and not have the same wing spar problems that plagued the RB-57D. The RB-57F was the result- with a longer wing, more powerful TF33 turbofan engines and auxillary J60 turbojets, it was what the USAF needed until the later generation of U-2 spyplanes entered service. In fact, two RB-57Fs are still used today by NASA. 

USAF RF-4C with the large G-139 pod.
Over the course of the RB-57F's operational career, Israel had made repeated requests of obtaining the RB-57F and the HIAC-1 for its own reconnaissance needs, but the requests were always denied by the US State Department and the Defense Department on the grounds that the technology used in the RB-57F would upset the strategic balance in the Middle East. However, a compromise was reached- by 1971 the HIAC-1 had been steadily improved and lightened to the point that it weighed just under 1,500 lbs and that a pod-mounted HIAC-1 carried by the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom, already in the Israeli inventory, would be permissible. Also developed by General Dynamics, the pod-mounted HIAC-1 was designated G-139 and underwent an intensive flight test program with a USAF RF-4C aircraft and the first G-139 pods were delivered to Israel in October 1971. The Israelis found the G-139/HIAC-1 system useful as it allowed the Phantoms to get imagery of Egyptian defenses along the Suez Canal without having to enter the SAM umbrella. But there was a significant issue, the pod was still a heavy store and it generated a significant amount of drag- it limited the Phantoms to a maximum speed of Mach 1.5 and a maximum altitude just under 50,000 feet, not to mention the challenge of handling a G-139-laden F-4E at high altitude. As a result, the special projects division of General Dynamics began work in January 1972 on ways to improve the F-4E's performance to offset the burden of carrying the pod. 

Overview of the modifications to make the Phantom Mach 3-capable.
The first improvements came with getting the most out of the Phantom's J79 engines. Engineers found that the Phantom's intakes were limiting the performance possible from the J79. A new inlet was designed that was not only larger than the standard F-4 inlet, but it featured a new shape that better managed the airflow to the engines with series of new variable-geometry ramps. The standard Phantom inlet did have a variable geometry ramp, but it was much simpler than the General Dynamics design which also featured a large bypass door downstream from the inlet to help manage the internal shockwaves that helped slow the air down before it reached the engines. A series of vortex generators down the inlet also helped improve engine performance. The second improvement was based on 1950s research done by NASA's predecessor agency, NACA, called pre-compressor cooling (PCC). PCC was a form of water injection but used the water to cool in the inlet air before it reached the engines. By reducing the inlet air temperature, it increased the mass of the air akin to taking off on a cold day- engine air flow and thereby thrust would be increased. At high altitudes, PCC would boost engine performance starting at Mach 1.4 as the inlet air started to heat up due to friction. 

General Electric, the manufacturer of the J79, was less than enthused about General Dynamics' work on PCC, but did provide some consultations. Work had already been done with PCC on another of General Dynamics' products, the Convair F-106 Delta Dart, but it never was incorporated into the design. In addition, the USAF's Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee had tested PCC in engine test cells with both the J57 and J75 engines. One J75 engine was run at maximum afterburner for 40 hours with PCC! It had also been looked at by Vought for the aborted F8U-3 Crusader III design (though never flown) and McDonnell had used a rudimentary PCC system in 1962 to break several world speed records with the pre-production F-4 Phantom. Based on all this body of work, General Dynamics refined the PCC system so that the water droplets were very fine at 10 microns to cool the air without having any pooling of water in the engine. Two large water tanks were installed on external blisters along the sides of the F-4E, each blister with three tanks. Each blister could carry 2,500 lbs of demineralized water- since the interior of the Phantom was pretty packed as it was, scabbing these blisters on the fuselage eased the modification and engineering process. 

GD wind tunnel model of the RF-4X.
General Dynamics' modifications led to this version of the Phantom being unofficially designated the F-4X- at this point still carrying the large G-139/HIAC-1 pod underneath on the centerline station. With Israeli funding supplementing internal corporate, work on the F-4X continued through 1972 and refinements to the PCC system and inlets led to a calculated increase in the J79 thrust at high altitude well over 150 percent! On 12 April 1973 the company formally submitted the F-4X proposal to the USAF. Additional funding for more work then came from the USAF which was using the podded HIAC-1 system for stand-off reconnaissance in Korea and were encountering the same issues the Israelis were having in using standard Phantoms with the large camera pod. The following year the design was further refined, but with the Israelis having continued misgivings about using the HIAC-1 in a pod, the design leap was made to incorporate the HIAC-1 into F-4X's nose- with the latest HIAC-1 versions getting even lighter than the 1,500 lb version used in the G-139 pod, integrating the camera into the nose improved performance by eliminating the drag-inducing pod. Designated RF-4X, this version of the Phantom was now capable of cruising at Mach 2.4 at high altitude with burst capability to Mach 3.2. This level of performance now began to alarm the US State Department- up to this point Mach 3+ aircraft were the sole purview of the United States and Soviet Union and in some diplomatic circles there were concerns about the Israelis integrating nuclear weapons delivery with the RF-4X. To allay the State Department's concerns, General Dynamics removed the AN/APQ-120 radar from the nose which would now only house the HIAC-1 and its associated environmental control systems. Permission to sell the RF-4X to the Israelis was approved and on November 1974 an Israeli F-4E was flown to General Dynamics in Fort Worth for a mock up study. For five months engineers used the F-4E as the basis of a full-scale mock-up created with cardboard and tape- both the Mach 3 intakes and the PCC water tanks were mocked up on the Phantom on one side as well as the modified nose housing for the HIAC-1 camera. 

Israeli F-4E with the PCC and intake mock-up on one side.
By 1975 several factors were now working against the RF-4X, the biggest of which was time. The Israeli Air Force wanted the system as soon as possible but it was clear that the integration of the camera, intakes and PCC system was going to take more time than originally estimated. With the McDonnell Douglas F-15 winding up its flight test program and soon to become operational in the following year to replace the Phantom in USAF service, it was politically unpalatable to keep funding the RF-4X which offered a level of performance that exceeded that of the Eagle in some flight regimes. The USAF insisted upon further studies of the PCC system despite the fact that there were already nearly 20 years of data on pre-compressor cooling, some of which done by the USAF itself. Compounded with the engineering delays, Israel and the RF-4X proponents in the USAF lost interest and it was quietly canceled later that year.

Despite the cancellation of the RF-4X, General Dynamics did continue work on just the nose-mounted HIAC-1 component of the design for Israel. Three F-4E Phantoms were modified as F-4E(S) aircraft and delivered to the Israeli Air Force from late 1975 to early 1976. It turned out that the Israelis were unable to fund the RF-4X in its entirety and were only able to afford the HIAC-1 component. As a result, the three F-4E(S) aircraft had standard J79 engines. In IDF service the HIAC-1 was code-named "Shablul", the Hebrew word for "snail". The first operational flights began in 1976 with the aircraft capable of flying at 60,000 feet at Mach 1.9. The pilot and systems officer wore full pressure suits from the David Clark Company which also made the pressure suits used by USAF U-2 and SR-71 crews as well as Space Shuttle crews. Many of the missions flown still remain classified but it is known that Iraq was a frequent target through the 1980s. One of the aircraft is now on public display at the Israeli Air Force Museum. 

Source/Photos: Israeli Phantoms- The 'Kurnass' in IDF/AF Service 1989 Until Today by Andreas Klein and Shlomo Aloni. Double Ugly Books/AirDOC, 2009, p44-70.

11 July 2012

The Birth of Indian Commercial Aviation and Its Father

The pre-war network of Tata Air Lines.
Rather curiously amongst Britain's possessions in the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s, commercial aviation remained neglected in India in comparison to what was taking place elsewhere in the Empire. Some of this was due to perceived stereotypes of the day that the vast majority of India was made up of illiterate peasants and that the British government through New Delhi conducted business with select members of the Indian aristocracy. Some of this was also due to the perception that India already had an extensive rail network that made airlines superfluous. And for many in the main British overseas airline of the day, Imperial Airways, the priority interest in the region was the development of a route connecting the United Kingdom with Australia with India being more of a refueling stop along the way. Whatever the misconceptions and prejudices of the day, development of commercial aviation in India prior to the Second World War became the purview of the country's growing merchant class who saw commercial aviation not just as a tool for business, but also as a business opportunity in a modernizing nation. Foremost amongst these individuals was J.R.D. Tata, the youthful head of the Tata Sons conglomerate which by the 1930s was already the largest business enterprise in India with holdings in manufacturing, textile mills, iron works, and even hydroelectric plants. J.R.D. Tata was so enamored with aviation that he himself learned to fly, earning the first pilot's license to be given to an Indian. 

Unlike Europe, the New Delhi government expected any airline established to be self-funded without any subsidy or assistance. This proved to be significant barrier for any sort of entry into the market, but given that Tata Sons Limited was the largest business in India, funding would be no issue at the start. In July 1932 J.R.D. Tata established an aviation department in the company as private enterprise and on 15 October 1932 launched services connecting Karachi (Imperial Airways' main gateway to India at the time) to the southern city of Madras via Ahmedabad, Bombay and Bellary with a very modest fleet of two De Havilland Puss Moths which could carry two passengers plus the pilot. Tata himself flew the inaugural flight. It was quite an investment for Tata Sons Limited- the New Delhi government didn't just refuse to provide any subsidies, any investment in landing fields and navigational aids was non-existent as well. However, Tata's early success resulted in a ten-year air mail contract that did help offset the investment costs. Over the next several years Tata embarked on route expansions within India along with progressively larger aircraft like the De Havilland Dragon. By 1938 Tata Air Lines served every major city in southern India with connections to Karachi, New Delhi, and Colombo.

Disembarking from a Tata Air Lines DC-3.
During the Second World War, Tata Air Lines proved vital to supporting the war effort and with more contracts in hand, aircraft as large as the Douglas DC-2 were acquired along with further investment in the airport facilities at each of the cities it served, all under J.R.D. Tata's guiding hand. By the end of the war in 1945 not only had Tata expanded services to include every major Indian city, but had earned a position of prominence and reputation that would enhance India's aviation status in the world. The experience of running a scheduled airline to meet the exacting demands of the Allied war effort gave not just Tata valuable experience, but a whole host of other Indian carriers as well, the most prominent of which after Tata Air Lines was Indian National Airlines. By the time of India's independence in 1947 with the subsequent formation of Pakistan, Burma and Sri Lanka, Tata Air Lines found itself not just India's largest domestic airline, but also India's primary international airline as well. Tata Air Lines was on sound financial ground with surplus Douglas DC-3s now filling its fleet needs. On 29 July 1946 J.R.D. Tata took his airline public, raising a significant amount of capital for modernization of the airline's fleet. As part of the airline becoming a publicly-traded corporation, the name was changed to Air India with Tata himself at the helm. One of his first acts as head of the new Air India was an agreement with Howard Hughes' TWA whereby Air India acted as TWA's agent in India in exchange for technical assistance and training and an interchange link to the United States via TWA's own route network. In April of that year, Air India received its first postwar aircraft, the Vickers Viking. Given Air India's status as India's premier airline, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Tata for Air India to be the nation's "chosen instrument" for international expansion (the fact that Tata had already ordered Lockheed Constellations undoubtedly helped). In March 1948 Air India was organized as a joint corporation split between J.R.D. Tata and the Indian government and the first two Lockheed Constellations were delivered to what was now branded as Air India International. On 8 June of that year, "Rajput Princess" and "Malabar Princess" would inaugurate Air India International's first Constellation services to London. 

Air India's early fleet were former Tata Air Lines DC-3s.
Significantly behind the new Air India International were a motley group of domestic carriers, of which the most prominent was Indian National Airways. The other seven airlines were of varying fiscal health and some even were still operating pre-war aircraft. Seeking rationalization in the airline industry of the nation, the Air Corporations Act of 1953 was passed which, in essence, nationalized the airline industry of India. J.R.D. Tata's Air India International obviously shoed-in for the all international services and the remaining seven airlines were merged into one entity named Indian Airlines which would have responsibility for all domestic services- the model being that of BOAC and BEA in the Great Britain. The nationalization of Air India International took place in June 1953 and it was allowed to keep two domestic trunk routes, Bombay-Calcutta and Bombay-New Delhi, in a complex pool agreement with Indian Airlines. The infusion of government capital allowed Air India to order not just Lockheed Super Constellations, but also the new De Havilland Comet as well in order to compete on a more even footing with BOAC's Comet services to the region. Ultimately the Comet order was canceled following the Comet tragedies that struck BOAC, but Air India's Super Constellations stretched its network throughout Asia to Africa and even to Moscow and the rest of Europe. By this time Air India had the clout to join the pooling agreement that BOAC and QANTAS had on the London-Sydney route. Beginning in December 1959, revenues between London and Sydney were split with BOAC getting 51%, QANTAS getting 28% and Air India getting 21%. But the most important aspect of the agreement was Air India getting Fifth Freedom rights from London- in the early 1960s this allowed Air India to launch Boeing 707 services to New York JFK via London Heathrow. 

For over forty years J.R.D. Tata remained at the helm of Air India from its first incarnation as a private company in his business conglomerate to its rise as an international carrier operating Boeing 747s across the globe (South America excepted). He would retire from Air India in 1980 and in 1982 at the age of 82 he re-enacted his inaugural Tata Air Lines flight from Madras to Karachi in a restored De Havilland Leopard Moth- and he did it solo. 

J.R.D. Tata
As an interesting footnote to the story, a few years before J.R.D. Tata retired, he gave a speech to a conference of Pacific area travel agents in New Delhi. After his customary review of the trends in the airline industry, he offered up a few predictions for the future of the airline industry that today are remarkably accurate:

-He anticipated the need for jetliners bigger than the 747, specifically pointing out opportunities for a 750-seat twin-deck jetliner.
-He accurately had predicted the pace of long-term growth in passenger numbers.
-He praised Sir Freddie Laker and his ideas on low-cost fares to stimulate more passenger traffic and was convinced that such budget fares were the wave of the future for the industry.
-He bemoaned the lack of foresight by the Indian government in investing in its aviation infrastructure, predicting that lack of capacity would be the biggest threat to the airline growth in India in the future.
-He questioned the economics of the Concorde and felt that supersonic flight would have little bearing on the future of jetliner development. 

Source: Airlines of Asia Since 1920 by R.E.G. Davies. Palawdr Press, 1997, p6-59.

09 July 2012

The Cessna 310 as a U-2 Trainer

The Cessna U-3A "Blue Canoe"
In 1957 the United States Air Force selected the Cessna 310 twin as its new utility transport for light cargo, liaison, and administrative missions to replace the Beech C-45 which was a military adaptation of the stalwart Beech 18 transport. Eighty were ordered and originally designated L-27 (in 1962 the rationalization of military aircraft designations led it to be redesignated the U-3). That first group of 80 aircraft were delivered within the year thanks to Cessna's already high production output to meet the civilian market. Another 80 were ordered later that same year and in 1960 came the final contract for another 35, this time of the swept fin version of the 310. The older version with the straight vertical fin became the L-27A, later U-3A, and that last group of aircraft were designated the L-27B, later the U-3B. The distinctive blue and white colors used by the USAF on the aircraft led to its nickname, "Blue Canoe" and even though the US Army and the US Navy ordered the aircraft and used their own service specific color schemes, personnel still referred to the aircraft as the "Blue Canoe". But one of the most unique uses of the U-3 was also its most little-known and in the smallest of numbers by the military- that of a trainer for the early U-2 program!

At the time, Lockheed U-2 pilot training was the responsibility of the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. The first-generation U-2 spyplanes didn't have a two seat trainer version in use at the time, which made every pilot's first flight in the U-2 a solo flight- and even back then, the U-2 had the unenviable reputation as one of the most difficult aircraft to land properly. The 100th SRW had already been using a souped vehicle, the "Mobile", which back then was a Ford El Camino modified with a big-block engine which would sprint down the runway alongside the landing U-2 to assist the pilot with altitude information as the U-2's long span wings meant that the only way to land was to land in a full-stall. The Mobile called out altitude down in single foot increments until the aircraft was only a foot above the runway at which point speed was bled off to stall the aircraft into a touchdown. Needless to say, it was a completely counter-intuitive way to land an aircraft and was just one of many idiosyncrasies of the "Dragon Lady". But an aircraft was needed that could help train novice U-2 pilots to the point before the Mobile took over assisting with the landing. The 100th SRW evaluated different types of aircraft and quite surprisingly, found the Cessna U-3 ideal for the role. It was inexpensive, available, dual control, and it had a yoke which the U-2 also had as well. With most U-2 pilots coming from the fighter community, many hadn't used a yoke since basic flight training. The instructors at the 100th SRW specifically selected the straight-fin U-3A as the later swept-fin version was more unstable at the low approach speeds needed to train novice Dragon Lady pilots. 

An early generation U-2 from the U-3 chase plane
The U-3 had a turn rate, descent profile and pattern airspeed very close to that of the U-2; given that airspeed management was critical in the U-2 given its very narrow handling envelope, the "Blue Canoe" could be used as both a training aid and chase aircraft for a U-2 on approach. On training missions out of Davis-Monthan AFB, the pair in formation was known as the U-2 and "Me-Too". The U-3 would intercept the approaching U-2 at 15,000 to 18,000 feet at 160-180 KIAS and stay on the spyplane's right wing through the descent and traffic pattern until the landing was handed over to the Mobile. In addition, the sightlines from the student's seat in the U-3 were similar to that of the Dragon Lady and it was used as a pre-solo trainer. In preparing U-2 pilots for their first flight in the spyplane, the U-3 was known as the "Dragon Lady Pattern". The instructor would manage the flaps and throttles on the simulated approach to mimic the flying characteristics of the U-2 while the student in the left seat concentrated on the approach. Because the U-2 was stalled one foot above the runway in order to land, the student was required to level off and float the Cessna U-3 one foot starting over the numbers and to maintain that one foot altitude the entire length of the 12,500 foot runway at Davis-Monthan. If the student completed this exercise several times to the satisfaction of the instructor, the U-3 would then land and taxi to a waiting U-2 where the student would climb in for their first solo flight with the U-3 flying chase. For the first solo flight, the wing pogo gears were locked into place. 

Note the pogo landing gear still in place as seen from the U-3A.
The instructor in the U-3 then took off and waited at 15,000 feet for the student in the U-2. Once they had rendezvoused, the instructor by radio then walked the student through various approach-to-stall exercises as well as manually trimming the aircraft for landing by pumping fuel amongst the wing tanks to even the aircraft out. With a 100+ foot wingspan and a wet wing, it was critical that the fuel be evenly distributed through the wing tanks before landing. If the student had done this satisfactorily, it was time to shoot some approaches in what was called the "Dragon Lady Checkout". With the U-3 flying as "Me-Too", the student completed three traffic patterns with touch and gos with the Mobile participating in the final touch down. Completion of this exercise meant the newly minted U-2 pilot could proceed with advanced training. Only two Cessna U-3As were assigned to the 100th SRW at the time and the pace of training meant that no more aircraft than that were needed and only three instructors were checked out to train and fly chase in the U-3. The U-3As also flew chase in emergency situations to assist pilots in getting the U-2 back to the base and often flew chase for pilots returning from long-duration missions who were at their most vulnerable due to exhaustion. 

Source/Photos: Cessna Warbirds- A Detailed & Personal History of Cessna's Involvement in the Armed Forces by Walt Shiel. Jones Publishing, 1995, p127-132. Additional photos from the USAF Museum.

03 July 2012

The Complexities of Aiding the Free French Air Force in World War II

Free French Air Force pilot wings with the Cross of Lorraine
With war clouds in Europe looming on the horizon, the British were first to send a mission to the United States in 1938 to determine if their aircraft needs could be met by the Americans since British industry was still barely getting spooled up on a war footing. Encouraged by the British, the French also sent a mission in the same year that resulted in the order of 100 Curtiss Hawk 75 fighters (P-36 being the US Army Air Corps equivalent). In the following year further contracts were finalized for more aircraft which also included the first orders by any nation, including the United States, for the Douglas DB-7 light bomber which would later enter US service as the A-20 Havoc. With the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939, deliveries temporarily ceased according to the terms of the US Neutrality Acts, but an amendment was quickly put in place that allowed British as well as the French to "carry" their own war materiel on their own ships. Following the fall of France and the signing of the French-German armistice in June 1940, the outstanding contracts with the United States were transferred to the British. The unoccupied portion of France became Vichy France with Marshall Petain as its leader. As part of the armistice agreement with the Axis, a German-Italian commission was put in charge of the activities of the Vichy Air Force that were full of restrictions and disbandment of French units as the Axis powers feared continued defections of French pilots to the Allies. French units in North Africa, however, were not under the jurisdiction of the German-Italian commission and continued to operate their US-built aircraft and it was these forces loyal to the Vichy regime that briefly resisted the Allied landings during Operation Torch. 

British Blenheims were some of the first aircraft given to the Free French.
A nucleus of French forces under General Charles De Gaulle (made up mostly of those evacuated from Dunkirk and other defections from the Vichy regime) tried to get Allied support as the "Free French", but this proved to be complex given that the legal French government at the time was Marshall Petain's Vichy regime which signed the armistice following the fall of France. And if that wasn't hard enough determining how to support a group fighting what was recognized as the legal government of France, the Roosevelt Administration even had recognized the Vichy regime as the legitimate French government! De Gaulle's efforts weren't helped any when despite a promise to Roosevelt to not seize the Vichy-controlled islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon off the Canadian coast, he did anyway. But on a perhaps moral level, aid would have to be provided to the Free French forces. Initially aircraft for the new Free French Air Force were diverted from British deliveries with the approval of the Roosevelt administration. In 1941 the Free French formed the French National Committee with General De Gaulle as its head to represent French interests independent of the Vichy regime. 

The Cross of Lorraine was used in addition to the French roundel.
With the coming of the landings in North Africa during Operation Torch, the Roosevelt Administration tried to develop an alternative to De Gaulle as he was seen as too difficult to work with for the war in Europe. Secret contacts had been made with dissidents within the Vichy government and General Henri Giraud was seen as an altnerative to De Gaulle- General Giraud had been captured by the Germans during the fall of France and sent to a prison camp, from which he had escaped back to Vichy France. This dissident element in the Vichy regime were promised large infusions of American aid if they could get the Vichy forces in North Africa to not contest the Torch landings, the idea that this group would then be put under Giraud's command as an alternative to De Gaulle. It would have worked as there were many French personnel who were loyal to Giraud and considered De Gaulle a traitor for having escaped to Britain before the fall of France. On the day of the landings on 7/8 November 1942 the Allies found themselves juggling three French factions- De Gaulle's Free French forces, Giraud and the dissidents in Vichy France, and Marshall Petain's defense minister, Admiral Francois Darlan, who was in North Africa at the time of the invasion and lobbied to halt Vichy resistance to the Allied landings. In exchange, Darlan would be made head of the new French government. This ended up enraging De Gaulle. Vichy resistance did end and Darlan ordered the French fleet at Toulon scuttled to prevent their takeover by the Germans. Darlan would later by assassinated in December 1942 and replaced by General Giraud, but by this point De Gaulle managed to emerge as the uncontested leader of the Free French following a 1943 agreement between Giraud and De Gaulle to unify their forces with Giraud as commander in chief and De Gaulle as the political head of the Free French. 

French B-26 units had their Cross of Lorraine on the nose in blue.
On 3 July 1943 De Gaulle's Free French Air Force was formally merged with Giraud's forces in North Africa with the set up of a joint commission with both US and British representatives in addition to the Free French to determine the aircraft needs of the Free French Air Force. By this point most aircraft used by the Free French could be identified with the use of the Cross of Lorraine in addition to the French roundels. Perhaps symbolically, the Escadrille Lafayette would be the first Free French unit to be re-equipped with American aircraft, Curtiss P-40 Warhawks diverted from USAAF stocks that were North Africa already. Over the next several months more aircraft arrived direct from US factories, from Bell P-39 Airacobras, Lockheed F-4/F-5 Lightnings for reconnaissance duties, to Douglas A-24 Dauntless dive bombers and C-47 transports. French trainees were sent to to the United States for flight training and completed their operational training with French units in North Africa prior to the liberation of France. The French Navy also received American aircraft to include Consolidated PBY Catalinas, Lockheed PV-1 Venturas and Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, but rather than operated under De Gaulle's command like the Free French Air Force, the French naval air arm units were placed under US Navy command. 

French Lend-Lease deliveries would continue for most of the war but were cut off prematurely in April 1945 by order of President Harry Truman before war's end due to a diplomatic dispute started when French units chose to obey orders from General De Gaulle instead of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower. De Gaulle had agreed earlier to Eisenhower's overall command and those deliveries outstanding were never released due to the German surrender on 7 May 1945. These issues would continue to simmer between De Gaulle and the United States in the post-war period that would complicate matters in French Indochina and ultimately result in France's withdrawal from NATO in 1967. 

Source: Air Arsenal North America- Aircraft for the Allies 1938-1945 Purchases and Lend-Lease by Phil Butler and Dan Hagedorn. Midland Publishing, 2004, p17, 105-114.

01 July 2012

The First B-25 Mitchell Executive Transports

General Eisenhower's personal B-25 transport in its later years.
Until the arrival of the Grumman Gulfstream I in 1958, the Lockheed Jetstar in 1960 and the Hawker Siddeley HS.125 in 1962, there weren't any aircraft that were designed specifically as business transports. From the end of the Second World War until the 1960s, most companies had the option of buying up surplus Douglas DC-3 or C-47 aircraft, getting a small piston-engined aircraft from the likes of Cessna, Beech, or Piper, or a refitted surplus bomber- this latter option was clearly the high end as ex-bomber aircraft usually had a speed and range advantage over both the DC-3 and smaller piston aircraft. These executive conversions were the cream of the crop of business aviation in those days, the 1950s and 1950s counterpart to today's Gulfstreams and Global Express bizjets. A whole new industry developed in the postwar era to cater to this high-end market. 

One of the more common executive conversions from any several companies in those days used the North American B-25 Mitchell as the base aircraft- they were inexpensive to acquire, readily amenable to modification, and had a reputation as good-handling aircraft (which was why there were so few B-26 executive conversions after the Second World War). But years before the 1950s boom in the market, North American Aviation itself pioneered the concept of using the B-25 as an executive transport. 

The very first B-25 Mitchell to be converted just so happened to be the very first B-25 Mitchell with the serial number 40-2165. That's right. The prototype production B-25 that made its maiden flight in 1940. It had been modified in several ways as the flight test program proceeded and by 1942 it was deemed to have cost too much to have had it modified to the standard that was being delivered to the USAAF in those days, so it sat in a corner of the North American Aviation's facility at Mines Field (today's LAX). At this point in the B-25 program, North American now had two plants running at full capacity turning out Mitchells- the Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kansas, and one at Hensley Field in Dallas (which later became NAS Dallas). In addition, North American executives and engineers were regularly moving amongst the suppliers nationwide as well as Washington DC and Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where the USAAF's technical division was located. During the war, airline service wasn't dependable as most of the air capacity was used by the military to support the war effort and travel by train was too slow. Dutch Kindelberger, president of North American Aviation, ordered the stored prototype to be converted into an executive transport. Seven passengers seats were installed, two ahead of the bomb bar and five  in the aft fuselage. The bomb bay became a baggage compartment and bunks were installed above it. Four windows were installed in the aft fuselage for the passenger cabin and the glass nose was made solid with a smooth aluminum skin. Carpeting, upholstery and extensive soundproofing were also added as well as a small bar- something not highlighted or admitted to by North American- which got the aircraft the nickname "Whiskey Express". It was used extensively by the North American corporate brass until January 1945 when it had to be scrapped after a runway overrun at Mines Field. 

The second B-25 modified by North American belonged to USAAF General Henry "Hap" Arnold- visiting the Inglewood facility at Mines Field one day, Arnold got to see the Whiskey Express and as the Chief of Staff, he decided he needed one, too. This was 1943 and production was rapidly accelerating in the B-25 program, so it was easy to divert a B-25C from production to be fitted out by North American to a similar standard as Whiskey Express. After the war, General Arnold's personal transport was purchased by Howard Hughes who used for another twenty years before it was retired. 

The same year Arnold got his own B-25, a B-25J was taken off the production line in Kansas City and flown to Inglewood on a "secret" mission. Tail number 43-4030 was fitted out to become the personal transport for General Dwight Eisenhower. Unlike Arnold's B-25 which had olive drab upholstery, Ike's Mitchell had a more stylish blue interior. Clamshell doors were fitted to the nose for easy access to the extra communications and navigation equipment and more floor space in the aft fuselage was created by moving the gunner's aft hatch further back, giving the rear cabin more seating and a drop leaf table. Overhead luggage racks were also fitted and extra fuel tanks were fitted to the bomb bay to give it more range. Officially it was designated an RB-25J to hide its true nature as Ike's personal transport, but as the war in Europe progressed, it was redesignated CB-25J and when Eisenhower moved up to larger aircraft as the Supreme Allied Commander, the CB-25J was passed on for use by lower ranking generals and was used by the USAF postwar until it ended up in the possession of the South Dakota Air and Space Museum where it can be seen today. 

In 1944, General Arnold traded up to a newer Mitchell transport. Maybe it was knowing Ike had a nicer one than him, who really knows, but tail number 44-28945 was taken from the production line and fitted out identically to the Eisenhower's aircraft. Arnold used it until 1946, but it remained in USAF use for a number of years flying colonels around well into the 1960s. 

When the Whiskey Express got scrapped, the North American brass decided a replacement was needed. The same month that the Whiskey Express had its accident, a B-25J was pulled from the production line and fitted out to nearly the same standards as Eisenhower's aircraft and Arnold's second aircraft. But knowing the war was soon over, North American decided to go the extra mile thinking there might be a postwar market for the company in such a conversion (years before any such companies specializing in such conversions were in that business!). Extra navigational equipment as well as a cabin heater were added and it entered service in March 1945. Between flying for North American executives, it was flying a test program to get certification as an executive transport. But on 27 February 1946 during a test flight out of Mines Field over the Pacific, the flight crew radioed a mayday that a wing was on fire before the aircraft tragically exploded. 

N5126N, North American's last shot at a business transport
North American decided it had had enough of the conversion market after that tragic loss, but in 1950 with the rise of aftermarket companies that were doing the very same thing North American had done during the Second World War, they decided to take a second shot at the executive transport market. A surplus B-25J was used and this time a new nose that was 14 inches wider was added which allowed room for four passenger seats ahead of the bomb bay but behind the flight deck in addition to the aft fuselage cabin. The bomb bay was permanently closed and replaced with an baggage door and an electric lift at the front of the former bomb bay. Because of the wider nose, a new windshield was needed and the windshield from the Convair 240 worked perfectly. To reduce noise, a circular exhaust collector was used on the engines instead of having several separate exhaust stacks. Nicknamed the "Bulbous Nose B-25", it had the tail number N5126N. Flight testing began, but ended tragically a second time on 25 March 1950 when N5126N broke up in a thunderstorm over Arizona, killing seven North American flight crew and engineers. With that loss, North American decided to abandon the project. 

Through the 1950s, though, the USAF still had quite a few B-25s flying as transports on strength and contracted the Hayes Aircraft Company in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Tucson, Arizona, branch of Hughes Tool Company to carry out conversion work on the B-25s. While not as extensive as the Bulbous Nose B-25 aircraft, they definitely drew upon North American's work. Many of these converted B-25s became trainer aircraft with the military through the 1960s, not just with the USAF but also the Royal Canadian Air Force. 

Source/Photos: Deadly Duo- The B-25 and B-26 in World War II by Charles A. Mendenhall. Specialty Press, 1981, p101-111.

28 June 2012

The Genesis of the B-25 Mitchell Strafer-Bomber

The first strafer package installed on a B-25 Mitchell.
The first half of 1942 in the Pacific were dark days for the Allies. With the loss of the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies and the fall of Singapore in February, Allied forces fell back in the face of the Japanese, seeking refuge in Australia to regroup for the offensive. Australia would soon become the base of operations for General Douglas MacArthur's South Pacific offensive as war materiel from the United States along with personnel began to flow in via a logistical supply line stretching from California via Hawaii and Fiji. It was via this route that the first North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers began to arrive in Australia- rather unusually, though, the first B-25s to arrive were earmarked for the Dutch and were accompanied by Jack Fox, North American's field service representative. With ten brand-new B-25s present, it wasn't long before some back room dealings resulted in the B-25s along with Jack Fox being transferred to the US Army Air Forces at their new base in Charters Towers which was built in only six weeks by the Australians. Arriving at Charters Towers, Fox saw "his" B-25s arriving with American crews which was unusual as few pilots had been checked out in the new bomber. Fox queried one of the arriving pilots who gruffly responded "Who needs checking out? The damn thing has a stick and throttle, doesn't it?"

That was the legendary Captain Paul "Pappy" Gunn that Fox had just met. A retired Navy flight instructor, Gunn was living in the Philippines working for Philippine Air Lines when the Japanese invaded. Managing to assist the ultimately futile battle against the Japanese, Gunn managed to fall back to Australia where his intimate knowledge of the Philippines was put to use with an immediate commission in the USAAF. Gunn's initial meeting with Fox would be the start of the development of some of the most lethal aircraft fielded against Japanese forces in the South Pacific, the "strafer-bombers". But before we move on, we have to back track a little bit to January 1942 and back to the United States when the tactics of a minimum altitude bombing attack on ships and troops were being discussed within the USAAF. Soon tests were underway at Eglin Army Air Field in the Florida panhandle to develop the technique. By this time the USAAF in the South Pacific under General George Kenney, head of the Thirteenth Air Force, recognized the low-level attack virtues of the Douglas A-20 Havoc and North American B-25 Mitchells, roles they were not originally designed to perform. But Kenney was dissatisfied with the armament and bombs of the two attack aircraft as they weren't completely suited to how he wanted to employ them. 

With flight tests at Eglin AAF and with Kenney's own aircraft in Australia, skip bombing was developed which involved a low level approach against the heavy defensive fire of the Japanese ships. Lacking proper American fuses to perform skip bombing, Kenney had Australian fuses which were longer substituted on the bombs. With A-20 and B-25 crews training locally on skip bombing, the first attacks were found to be more successful if combined with Australian Beaufighters which strafed the ships to kept the defensive fire to a minimum. It was at this juncture that Pappy Gunn enters the picture. He had come up with a field modification for the A-20 that put a battery of four fifty-caliber guns in the nose since a bombardier wasn't needed on low level attack runs. This way skip bombing and strafing could be combined in a single aircraft. The results were better, but extra fuel tanks had to be installed in the Havoc's bomb bay to increase its range, which in turn reduced its bomb load. By by the summer of 1942 A-20s were in short supply as A-20 deliveries to the Russians were increasing.

"Pappy's Folly" with Pappy Gunn at the helm.
And that's when the B-25 entered the picture. It had longer "legs" than the Havoc and could carry a heavier load. Early skip bombing missions had already shown the B-25 eminently suitable for the role. Gunn and Fox come up with a field modification with General Kenney's blessing that put four fifty-caliber guns in the nose section with plenty of ammunition as well as an additional two pairs of fifty-caliber guns on external blisters on each side of the forward fuselage. By the summer 1942 Jack Fox issued a memo to all the other North American field reps in the South Pacific on how to modify the B-25 into a strafer-bomber. North American dispatched an engineering team to the field depot which was located at Eagle Farms in Brisbane to further assist Pappy Gunn and Jack Fox in their development work. The first B-25 Mitchell modified as a strafer-bomber was aptly named "Pappy's Folly" and personally flight tested by Gunn himself as well as Jack Fox. Working out the bugs, General Kenney then sent the two men and "Pappy's Folly" up to Port Moresby closer to the front lines for more testing. By February 1943 the North American team at Eagle Farms converted twelve more B-25s which were then assigned to crews with the 90th Bombardment Squadron in Port Moresby. Tactics were worked out and crews trained on a wrecked ship off the coast of Port Moresby- a pair of B-25s would approach enemy ships at 1,000-1,500 feet and then drop to 500 feet or lower on the final run in to the target. One Mitchell would open up with its gun battery to suppress the defensive fire while the other Mitchell would drop a string of three 250-lb bombs in a skip bomb attack. After the first pass, the pair returned for a second run, this time switching roles. 

During the first half of 1943 General Kenney's "commerce destroyers" wreaked havoc on Japanese shipping in the Bismarck Sea that supported the Imperial war machine. Soon airfields also came under attack by the strafer-bombers dropping 23-lb fragmentation bombs slowed by parachutes- "parafrag" bombs. They would soon be a decisive force in the campaign in the Southwest Pacific on the road back to the Philippines. 

Source/Photos: B-25 Mitchell: The Magnificent Medium by Norm L. Avery.  Phalanx Publishing, 1992, p95-103.

26 June 2012

How Jack Steiner and Joe Sutter Defined the Boeing 737 Configuration

The Boeing 737-100 prototype
Reading aviation history books is one thing but to read about aviation history from one of the view point of someone who played a vital role can sometimes be more enjoyable. One of those books is Joe Sutter's book 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation from Smithsonian Books. Long employed by Boeing, Sutter led the team of engineers that developed the Boeing 747. But before the 747 came along, Sutter was tapped by his boss, Jack Steiner, to assist with the development of the Boeing 737. The 707 was well on to insuring its place in aviation history and Steiner was flush with success with the creation and introduction of the Boeing 727. It was Steiner who realized that Boeing could create a family of airliners across sizes that could span different market segments in the growing airline industry. By 1964 many of Boeing's competitors were well ahead in the short-haul jet market with the Sud Aviation Caravelle in France having been in service since 1959, the BAC One-Eleven was in flight test in the UK and Boeing's main US rival Douglas was two years head on the development of the DC-9. At a heated and divisive 1964 meeting, half of those present wanted to proceed with the 737 and the other half felt that Boeing's energies were better focused elsewhere given the state of progress of the competition in the short haul market. According to Sutter, the decision was deferred and Jack Steiner was told to keep refining the concept in the interim. 

But that wasn't enough to Steiner. He felt that Boeing should build the 737 and he went around Boeing CEO Bill Allen and personally lobbied each of the members of the corporate board of directors. Bill Allen supported the 737 project but Steiner's determination to get the 737 built didn't win him any points with Bill Allen. But the 737 project was given the go-ahead for launch in 1965. But getting a refined project to launch wasn't easy. Conventional wisdom pointed to a rear-engined T-tail design with five abreast seating which was what the competition used as their respective configurations (though to be fair, the Caravelle's tailplane was mounted halfway down the vertical fin). With Joe Sutter assisting him, the 737's initial designs had a very similar layout. But Steiner's ideas of a family of Boeing jetliners led to divergence- the first of which was the fuselage cross-section. By using a 707 fuselage cross section, they could cut development time, but give airlines six-abreast seating which offered more capacity and operating efficiencies not possible with similarly-sized aircraft with five-abreast seating. 

But going with the 707's fuselage cross section and nose meant the 737 got a bit portly in shape and this led Steiner and Sutter to abandon rear-mounted engines for the 737. Because of the short wide fuselage, aft mounted engines would have to mounted further way from the fuselage to allow for smooth airflow into the planned Pratt and Whitney JT8D engines. This resulted in the need for more structure and more weight, which ended up offsetting the efficiencies of six-abreast seating. Sutter recalled in his book taking drawings of the 737 up to his office and cutting the engines out with scissors and moving them around to see if there was a better place for them. The most obvious alternative to Sutter was to mount them on the wings, but to use a 707-style engine pylon meant that the 737 would need a tall landing gear to sit higher off the ground. Sutter's dealing with airlines indicated that ease of loading/unloading and servicing meant that having the 737 low to the ground would be a major selling point for the planned short haul market. Having the jet lower to ground meant it could be loaded, unloaded, and serviced faster without specialized vehicles, platforms or even ladders for engine work. 

Sutter was stumped. Aft mounted engines were out. Pylon mounted wing engines were out. It donned on him there was a third solution as he moved the engine drawing cut outs around on his desk. Why not snuggle up the engines right under the wings? The key concern was safety and this was solved by putting the hot section of the JT8D behind the aft spar of the wings which meant it was behind the main wing fuel tanks in the event of an uncontained turbine failure. Sutter recalled presenting his solution to the intrigued Steiner, so they decided to do a paper "fly off"- Steiner and an assistant would work up a series of numbers on the performance and costs of a rear-mounted 737 design as the "Red Team" and Sutter and an assistant did the same with his 737 configuration as the "Blue Team". Although they gave themselves two months for the study, the answer was obvious after two weeks- mounting the JT8Ds right under the wings meant six more passengers could be carried for the given configuration. With six-abreast seating, this meant Sutter's configuration for the 737 was the clear choice and the design was locked in late 1964 in preparation for the eventual go-ahead given a few months later by the Boeing board and CEO Bill Allen. This was the design Steiner passionately believed in so much that he was willing do end runs around Bill Allen!

Both Jack Steiner and Joe Sutter shared the patent for the layout of the 737 and the design has gone on to be not just the best-selling jetliner in Boeing's product line, but as the most-produced jet airliner in history- as of April of this year, 7,147 Boeing 737s have rolled off the Renton, Washington, production line since 1967 when the prototype 737-100 rolled out.

More pictures that show the unique engine mounting of the Boeing 737-100/200 family:

On Flickr someone has posted an NAC 737-200 undergoing maintenance with an interesting shot of a "naked" JT8D still mounted on the wing. 

On JetPhotos there is a similar shot of a Malev 737-200's JT8D engine.

Source: 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation by Joe Sutter with Jay Spenser. Smithsonian Books, 2006, p74-79.

25 June 2012

The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst: The First Air Rescue Units

Cover of a German history book on the Seenotdienst.

Since the beginnings of military aviation air rescue operations had taken place, but the operations were quite ad hoc and improvised in most situations. That would change with the rise of the Luftwaffe which would be publicly acknowledged for the first time by Hermann Goering in 1935. As the Luftwaffe needed to expand rapidly as part of Germany's expansionist aims, the air arm could ill afford the loss of a highly trained pilot or flight crew member. Given that most of the Luftwaffe's taskings were in support of the Wehrmacht, it was expected that most crewmen would bail out over land. Despite this, the Luftwaffe did have a small number of seaplanes at bases in Baltic Sea and North Sea, both of which complicated the bail out from an aircraft in trouble. In 1935, Lt. Colonel Konrad Goltz, a supply officer based in Kiel, was tasked with organizing a system for recovering downed aircrew from the inhospitable waters of the surrounding seas. His initial command consisted of a flotilla of second-hand, if not run-down, boats with local commanders given authority to seek assistance from Kriegsmarine aircraft and local German lifeboat rescue societies. By the following year his units were designated the Ships and Boats Group- an unusual situation of a Luftwaffe officer commanding a fleet of ships!

By 1938 it was apparent to Luftwaffe planners that war with Great Britain was on the horizon and that Luftwaffe crews would be routinely traversing the English Channel and North Sea to strike British targets. In the following year the Ships and Boats Group acquired twelve old Heinkel He 59 float planes which were painted white with Red Cross markings. The aircraft were modified with a floor hatch and extendable ladders as well as a hoist to help lift injured crews into the aircraft. Medical gear, respirators and electrically-heated sleeping bags were also fitted to the old biplane aircraft. Renamed the Seenotdienst (Air-Sea Rescue Service), the Heinkels went into action on 18 December 1939 not to rescue Luftwaffe crews, but downed RAF crews from a Vickers Wellington force that was badly mauled after a bombing attack on the port of Wilhemshaven.

The Seenotdienst's first aircraft, the Heinkel He 59.
As the Reich conquered the Low Countries and Denmark and Norway, Seenodienst units were established in those countries for the rescue of downed aircrews. With the fall of France in 1940, captured French aircraft were added to the Seenotdienst fleet along with larger and more capable Dornier Do 24 flying boats. With the massing of Luftwaffe units in France for the anticipated invasion of Britain, German fighter ace and commander Adolf Galland stressed the importance of water survival to his flight crews- even single seat fighters were equipped with a survival raft and Luftwaffe crews were trained to ditch their aircraft and use the rafts as opposed to RAF crews who were trained to bail out and rely on their life vests. In addition, Luftwaffe general Ernst Udet had a series of rescue buoys placed throughout the English Channel- the buoys could hold four men and were stocked with blankets, dry clothes, food, water, and flares. Painted bright yellow and nicknamed "Lobster Pots" by the RAF, through the Battle of Britain both British and German patrol boats would check on the buoys and unusually, kept them stocked as they knew the buoys could save any downed aircrew regardless if they were British or German. The Luftwaffe also pioneered the use of fluorescein green dye to stain the waters around downed aircrew so as to make their positions more visible to rescue aircraft. The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst also pioneered the idea of a rescue task force with Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin engine fighters assigned the task of escorting and protecting the Seenotdienst aircraft.

Between February and August of 1941, of the over 1200 air crews from both sides that went down in the North Sea and English Channel, 444 of them were saved by the Seenotdienst. Of those 444, 78 were RAF crews. With painful awareness that British efforts were severely lacking in air-sea rescue during the Battle of Britain, in 1941 the RAF Coastal Command set about improving its air rescue capability and would use the Seenotdienst as a model. With the expansion of the US Army Air Forces in Britain, the RAF Coastal Command in turn assisted the United States in developing its air sea rescue capabilities.

Source: Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia by Earl H. Tilford, Jr. Center for Air Force History, 1992, p3-6.