Two Harpoon Twins
The PV-2 Harpoon was the last in a long line of Lockheed double-fin twins that started in 1934 with the Model 10 Electra (Amelia Earhart’s mythic airplane) and included the RAF’s Hudson bomber, the Lodestar transport and the PV-1 Ventura U.S. Navy patrol bomber. The Harpoon was a beefier Ventura with greater wingspan, more fuel and longer range. Its range, in fact, allowed some of the few that were delivered to the Navy before the end of World War II to make the 3,000-mile round trip from Attu, in the Aleutians, to bomb Japan’s Kurile Islands. It was a mission intended to make the Japanese think that the U.S. might invade the Home Islands from the icy north rather than via the more obvious island-hopping route to Kyushu, and it succeeded: Japan diverted a substantial number of troops, ships and aircraft to guard against this possibility.
It was the Harpoon’s sole star turn, for the rest were used as trainers, flew coastal-defense missions from the U.S. and the Caribbean or were shunted to Naval Reserve squadrons as soon as the war ended. Ultimately some were converted into borate bombers and cropsprayers. In 1959 one was even rebuilt and stretched by business plane entrepreneur Dee Howard as the Howard Super Harpoon, one of the fastest and fanciest piston-engine corporate airplanes ever built. (“Big Red” still exists, abandoned in El Mirage, Calif.)
So the Harpoon has been a largely ignored warbird, with none of the glamour and combat provenance of even its ungainly Navy predecessor, the PBY Catalina. But that has suddenly changed, with the appearance of not one but two nicely restored Harpoons—Attu Warrior, resurrected by Dave Hansen in Heber City, Utah, and the American Military Heritage Foundation’s Hot Stuff, in Mount Comfort, Ind. Search for “Lockheed Harpoon” on YouTube and you can see videos of both planes flying. Hot Stuff actually first flew in 2005 but made news this past April when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a distinction usually reserved for houses, buildings and locations somewhat less mobile than a 4,000-hp, 170- mph warplane.
Hansen brought his Lock – heed back to life as a flying history lesson for generations that know nothing about this rare bomber and probably aren’t even aware that WWII stretched to the Aleutians. Some day he’ll sell it, if he can get the $450,000 he feels it’s worth, but first he wants to spend a season or two displaying it at airshows. Go to davescustomsheetmetal.com to see an album of photos of the project.
Another Lake Michigan Wreck Recovered
Guadalcanal’s Ironbottom Sound outdoes Lake Michigan in a wreck-per-square-acre count, but the Navy’s own files show that 41 Grumman Avengers, 38 Douglas Dauntlesses, 37 Grumman Wildcats, 17 North American SNJs and smaller numbers of Hellcats, Corsairs, Vindicators and even three experimental TDN twin-engine drones went into the lake somewhere off Chicago during World War II, plus perhaps another 170 or so non-Navy aircraft. Not because it was a domestic Bermuda Triangle but because most of the Navy’s wartime carrier-qualification training was done there. And it was done, surprisingly, on two of the fleet’s oddest ships: Sable and Wolverine, converted sidewheel Great Lakes steamers with 550-foot-long flight decks and little else—no hangar deck, no elevators, no armament, just a primitive island. They served as floating wooden runways with some basic arresting gear.
A number of World War II aircraft have been retrieved from Lake Michigan—31 by a single Chicago company, A&T Recovery—and they have been relatively well preserved by the cold, dark freshwater yet accessible because in many places the lake isn’t particularly deep. Some of them also have interesting combat records, since most of the airplanes used for carrier training were weary or obsolete examples brought home from war zones. One recovered Dauntless actually flew, and got thoroughly shot up, during the Battle of Midway.
Last June 19, yet another “Slow But Deadly” SBD Dauntless was brought back to the surface by A&T Recovery, this one an early example that operated out of Pearl Harbor only weeks after the Japanese attack and that later was part of the carrier Enterprise’s air wing. The airplane had ditched in 1944, after severe carburetor ice choked the engine (the pilot survived), and its location was well known, 315 feet below the surface and some 25 miles from the lake’s western shore. Brought up slowly over two days by an air bag strapped to the airframe, the airplane was towed, just below the surface, to Waukegan, north of Chicago, where a crane was attached to the still-submerged SBD and it was winched onto a wharf.
One overenthusiastic observer referred to the recovered Daunt – less as “pristine,” an exaggeration widely spread by the media, but the airplane was in fact tattered and battered though reasonably intact. It will be restored by the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.—a job expected to take three years—and then sent on loan to the Pacific Aviation Museum, on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, returning after seven decades to its 1941 base.
Of the 12 astronauts who walked on the moon, only one can lay claim to having a second career as an artist. Alan Bean, Apollo 12 lunar module pilot and the fourth man to set foot on the moon, quit his day job as a NASA astronaut in 1981 to pursue his passion for painting. Over the course of the next 28 years, he painted more than 160 Apollo-themed acrylic works, 43 of which are now on display along with related artifacts in the National Air and Space Museum’s new exhibit “Alan Bean: Painting Apollo, First Artist on Another World.”
The July 16 exhibit opening coincided with several NASM events celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 first moon landing. “This is amazing,” Bean said at a preview of the exhibit. “It will blow you away.” The astronaut-artist’s impressionistic takes on lunar landscapes, Apollo equipment and moonwalkers are indeed impressive, more so because some of them incorporate bits of his spacesuit patches—given to him by NASA as mementos—embedded with moon dust.
“Some day when they have art galleries on the moon—and they will—some of these paintings will be there,” predicted Bean. Until then, you can view them at NASM’s Washington, D.C., exhibit through January 13, 2010, or in Bean’s gorgeous new book with the same title as the exhibit.
British Flight Centennial
The British public celebrated the centenary of the first all- British flight on July 12, when Eric Verdon-Roe unveiled a working replica of his grandfather’s Roe I Triplane at Walthamstow Marshes near London. On the same spot 100 years earlier, Alliott Verdon-Roe flew his triplane a distance of 150 feet at 25 mph, a 4.2-second journey. He was the first Briton to design, build and fly a plane constructed of all-British parts— spruce, wire and paper, with a 9-hp JAP engine.
The Roe Heritage Group—former employees of Avro and Hawker Siddeley—constructed the replica, relying on Alliott’s original at the Science Museum in London. Because museum staff had reassembled the old triplane from storage and without technical expertise, replicating a flyable version took three years. “Some of the detail had to be worked out by the team as they went along, much as Alliott had done,” Eric said.
In 1909 his grandfather, recently evicted from the Brooklands Motor Club because he fell out with the track manager, installed a workshop under a railroad bridge at Walthamstow Marshes. He strove to make his triplane as lightweight as possible while also maintaining stability, using wrapping paper to cover the surfaces and achieving in-flight lateral control by warping the fragile wings. By July 23, he had pushed his travel time to 25 seconds and distance to 900 feet. Alliott went on to found A.V. Roe and Company and build the Avro 504 trainer, World War I’s most-produced plane.
Eric and the Roe Heritage Group plan to team up with pilot Ken Ellis to take the replica on test runs at RAF Woodvale airfield. They hope to get airborne and reenact the original flight.
A Red Tail Returns
To restore a World War II–era airplane to flight status takes a minor miracle of dedication, technical expertise and steady funds. The P-51C Mustang received two such restorations, the second after it crashed Tuskegee Airmen has due to engine failure near Red Wing, Minn., in May 2004, killing pilot Donald Hinz. The Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force has spent the last five years re-restoring it to operational status.
The CAF’s Red Tail Project—named for the distinctive colors of the 332nd Fighter Group—returned Tuskegee Airmen to the skies on July 22 at Wahpeton, N.D. Donald’s son Marine Captain Ben Hinz, an F-18 fighter pilot, witnessed the event. The restored Mustang flew again one week later at the EAA AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisc., where retired Tuskegee Airman Colonel Charles E. McGee, survivor of 136 sorties including 54 high-altitude combat missions, gave a short speech honoring Hinz. “Don Hinz started something we’re proud to be a part of,” McGee said.
During the war P-51C 42-64129 had served as a trainer in Pinellas and Venice, Fla. It entered the CAF’s fleet in 2001, painted in the colors of four different squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group. After the tragic crash, Red Tail Project volunteers salvaged 40 percent of the wreckage and solicited donations amounting to more than $760,000. The group plans to create a traveling exhibit that, together with Tuskegee Airmen, will teach students about the African-American pilots and their service. For more info visit redtail.org.
Maid in the Shade Takes Wing
The North American B-25J Mitchell bomber Shade department, returned to flight at Falcon Field in Mesa, Ariz., on May 29. It was the culmination of a 28-year , featured in the January 2009 issue’s “Restored” Maid in the restoration project by volunteers of the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, who named the bomber Maid in the Shade for its extensive stay inside the hangar.
Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.