Single-Seater Baby B-17
While there are plenty of 7/8-scale and even 3/4-scale flying fighter replicas—the latter would give an F4U Corsair look-alike a wingspan of just under 30 feet—nobody has ever tried to shrink a four-engine bomber down by two-thirds and still make it flyable. Nobody but Jack Bally, of Dixon, Ill., that is. Bally is building a 1/3-scale Boeing B-17 replica that will be about the size of a Cessna 152, and it’s well on its way to completion. “I’m about 90 percent done, with 90 percent to go,” says Bally, obviously a wise old aircraft homebuilder. He has in fact built three other sportplanes already, though not nearly of his current project’s complexity.“This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” he admits. “I bit off two mouthfuls when I started this project.”
Bally began with a detailed set of plans for a 1/9-size radio-controlled model B-17, scaled them up, and loosely based his all metal airframe on the model’s wooden components. The pilot’s seat, instrument panel and controls fill the entire B-17 cockpit and are fully enclosed by the multi-paned canopy and cockpit roof, now a single piece hinged at one side for entry. The airplane will remain a single-seater at least for awhile, though Bally is considering putting a tandem passenger seat directly behind the pilot’s.
The faux B-17 is a remarkably accurate replica externally, and Bally can think of few compromises he’s had to make.“The gear-retraction mechanism is hydraulic and not through jackscrews, and the engines aren’t radials,” he points out. “They’re Hirth F30s, four cylinders opposed, 2-stroke, detuned from 80 hp each to about 60 because I’ll run them direct-drive.” (In order to put out the full 80 hp, the engines would have to turn so fast that a gearbox would be needed to keep prop speeds reasonable, but a total of 240 hp should be plenty for an airplane this size.)
Bally hasn’t logged the time he’s spent on his baby B-17, but he calculates that 40 hours of work on it every week for 12 years comes to just under 25,000 hours. Does he know when it will finally fly? “Oh, hell no. I once thought it should have been five years ago; now it’s still probably two or three years in the future.”
RAF Museum Rolls Out Restored Dolphin
Original Sopwith “Flying Zoo” fighters are rare breeds these days, with only a handful of Camels and Pups and two Snipes known to exist. Fittingly, the RAF Museum in London has a Pup and a Camel, and it just added an even rarer gem to its collection— a partially original Sopwith Dolphin, perhaps World War I’s most underrated fighter. Though more than 2,000 Dolphins clogged airfields at the war’s end, almost all of them were scrapped within a few years of the Armistice. The U.S. Army Air Service canceled an order for 2,000 Mk. IIs, and only a single Dolphin was converted for civilian use. Just bits and pieces remained in warehouses and private collections.
So it’s taken several generations, significant resources and some fortuitous finds for RAF Museum restorers to complete the Dolphin. Beginning in 1967, the process has involved cobbling together parts from three and possibly more Dolphins, creating what the museum calls a “complex composite.” The largest original piece is a 6-foot length of rear fuselage from a Mk. I variant, C3988. A test officer declared C3988 a dud during proving flights in March 1918, perhaps due to the Mk. I’s Achilles’ heel—its unreliable geared 200-hp Hispano-Suiza 8b engine. The reduction gears would often strip, resulting in propellers shearing off during run-up. The horizontal tail surfaces and elevators are from a Mk. III donated by the Shuttleworth Collection, a much safer version that featured a direct-drive Hispano-Suiza. The museum decided to restore the Dolphin to the reduction-geared Mk. I variant, a sure sign that it won’t be flying anytime soon.
To complete the composite, the restorers machined and fitted ash longerons and most of the attachment jigs. The resulting mishmash of completed parts suits a plane that was not much to look at—its overly long back-staggered wings led some pilots to call it “Hunnish”—but proved to be an effective late-war fighter, serving in four RAF squadrons.
True to RAF paint schemes, C3988 is decked out in utilitarian, factory-finish metallic gray and dull green. It is currently on display at the Graham White Hangar, next to the museum’s Sopwith Pup. Several posts on Internet message boards suggest taking the Sopwith Camel down from the ceiling of the main Milestones of Flight gallery and installing it next to the Dolphin and Pup, to reunite the Flying Zoo menagerie—not a bad idea. For more information, visit the museum website at rafmuseum.org.uk.
For the hundreds of outdated warplanes parked in the desert at Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, Ariz., the final resting place is generally the scrap yard. But an international team of street and graffiti artists has given a few of these “Boneyard” planes a second option. Pushing the concept of nose art beyond the nose, the Pima Air and Space Museum’s Boneyard Project exhibit, which opened in January, displays three brightly painted Douglas Super DC-3s, along with a Beechcraft C-45, Lockheed VC-140 Jetstar and C-97 Stratofreighter cockpit. The artists’ styles range from folksy to 1930s art deco to postmodern.
In 2010 gallery owner Eric Firestone and art critic Carlo McCormick approached Scott Marchand, director of collections and aircraft restoration at the Pima museum, with the idea of using retired aircraft for contemporary art.“It was just such a unique offering,” Marchand said, adding that he was hoping for “a project that challenges peoples’ ideas and perceptions.” Firestone and McCormick started collecting nose cones—one of the few parts industrial designers and DIYers leave behind after picking through the Boneyard’s scrap heap—and sent them to well-known street artists. The result was “Nose Job,” an exhibit that ran at Firestone’s East Hampton, N.Y., gallery last summer and is now at the Pima museum. This time the artists have been rewarded with entire airplanes, which are on display just outside the museum.
According to McCormick, the concept is a tribute to American and European folk art that decorated war machines in World War I and II.“This is meant to be a popular show,” McCormick said. “The artists really engaged it as eye candy, saying, you know,‘This is something my granddad might like, even though he doesn’t get everything I do.’ There’s a generous sense of sharing visual invention.” For more on the project, visit theboneyardprojects.com.
Collier Trophy Goes to 787
The National Aeronautic Association awarded the 2011 Robert J. Collier Trophy to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first time that a commercial jet has won since Eclipse Aviation’s Eclipse 500 light business jet took the trophy in 2005. The Dreamliner was one of four finalists for the trophy, along with the Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy, Gamera human-powered helicopter and Pipistrel Taurus G4 electric-powered airplane. “The men and women of Boeing, working with our partners around the world, poured their hearts into designing, building and delivering the 787 Dreamliner,” Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh said at the award ceremony. According to Albaugh, 60 customers have so far ordered close to 900 Dreamliners.
Bob Hoover to the Rescue
Ninety-year-old aviation legend Bob Hoover received an extraordinary phone call on February 26 from Doug Jeanes, director of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas, who needed Hoover’s advice on a sticky situation: The main left landing gear on the museum’s vintage P-51D The Brat III was stuck halfway down, and pilot Chuck Gardner, circling over Mobile, Ala., couldn’t free it. To make matters worse, the malfunction occurred with a paying passenger onboard. The Brat III was offering what were supposed to be 30-minute rides out of Mobile in conjunction with the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29 Fifi tour.
Hoover, who for decades flew Mustangs at airshows and served as the official starter at the Reno Air Races, knows a thing or two about getting planes out of trouble. “Somebody would have a problem almost every other race, and over the years I must have talked down 30 or 40 airplanes that were in real trouble,” he told the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Hoover knew that since the main wheel was not locked inside the fuselage, Gardner had a chance to free it through maneuvers. Jeanes relayed Hoover’s advice to his pilot—“Just slip it, skid it, yaw it, whatever you have to do to get some air under the door”—and after about an hour of mid-air rocking and rolling the landing gear at last dropped down and locked into position. A smooth landing followed.
“I was so pleased we could save the airplane,” Hoover said. “Or that I had anything to do with it.” After mechanics fixed the problem—a bad valve controlling the pressure in the shock and strut assembly—The Brat III went on to offer flights at Sun ’n Fun in March.
Allen and Rutan Aim for Orbit
Taking a flight into space without mortgaging the house may seem a long way off, but it just got a step closer to reality with the groundbreaking of the Stratolaunch Systems production facility and hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company could one day compete with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, driving down the price tag for commercial human spaceflight. The first phase of production has also just begun on the aircraft that will serve as the delivery system for Allen’s spaceship: a 1.2-millionpound behemoth with a wingspan larger than a football field.
Allen has teamed up with Scaled Composites owner Burt Rutan to develop the mothership, an updated version of Rutan’s WhiteKnightOne and WhiteKnightTwo designs. The aircraft will be capable of carrying a SpaceX-designed rocket ship up to 1,300 nautical miles to the launch point, where the rocket would detach and blast into the stratosphere. But this time out Rutan is going really big: The Stratolaunch aircraft would be the largest plane ever built, with a 380-foot wingspan—60 feet longer thanHoward Hughes’ “Spruce Goose”— and six Boeing 747 engines. In February the first of two 747s arrived at Mojave to begin disassembly of its engines, landing gear and hydraulics for use in the new plane.
“By the end of this decade,” says Allen, “Stratolaunch will be putting spacecraft into orbit,” helping restore America’s leadership role in space. Flight-testing is scheduled to begin in 2015, and the first rocket should be launched in 2016.
Originally published in the July 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.