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Aviation History: January '99 From the Editor

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: September 23, 1999 
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From the Editor
From the Editor
Aviation History
Aviation History

Marine ace Marion Carl survived WWII combat only to die as a result of a random act of senseless violence.

An editor is expected to be able to summon at will the best phrase to describe any situation. But the news that one of aviation's great heroes lost his life not to combat action or test flying but to cold-blooded murder at the hands of a robber who kicked in the door to his home and shot him leaves this editor at a loss for words.

Retired General Marion Carl had earned his relaxation, having had a busy and illustrious career as a pilot. He was the first Marine fighter ace during World War II and went on to achieve double-ace status. He became a Navy test pilot after the war and set a world speed record of 651 mph in August 1947. He set a world altitude record of 83,235 feet in 1953. Two years later he was flying reconnaissance missions over China, followed by a return to combat when he commanded the 2nd Marine Air Wing during the Vietnam War. General Carl retired in 1973, having amassed 13,000 flying hours and a chestful of decorations. His senseless death at age 82 by a random act of violence leaves us saddened.

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Mega-artifact Needs an Angel

When I was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, in the mid-1950s, I would look up every time the one-of-a-kind Convair XC-99 flew over on its way to and from its home at adjacent Kelly Air Force Base. This huge airplane was the cargo version of the Convair B-36 Peacekeeper bomber–no midget itself. By the time I saw it, ambitious plans to produce it for military cargo transportation and even as the first civil jumbo airliner had already evaporated. It was retired in 1957, placed on public display just outside its previous home until 1993 and then passed through the hands of several owners. Gradually falling into disrepair, it became a home for vagrants and innumerable birds. The Air Force re-acquired the airplane after several years and towed it back to Kelly. Broken windows were replaced, missing skin panels were fabricated and the aircraft was stabilized against the effects of corrosion. Now, however, the XC-99 is about to become homeless again. Kelly Air Force Base is slated to be closed, so the airplane must once more be moved.

"No benefactors have stepped forward to support the nearly $2 million needed to disassemble, move and reassemble the aircraft, in addition to restoration costs down the road," said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles D. Metcalf, director of the U.S. Air Force Museum, the airplane's present owner. Metcalf would like to see the airplane moved to the Air Force's "boneyard," the aircraft storage facility at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, near Tucson, Ariz., where it can be preserved, intact, in a dry climate until restoration can someday be financed and carried out.

We have seen the B-15 and the Northrop Flying Wing, other airplanes "too big to keep hanging around," scrapped before future generations of aviation history enthusiasts had a chance to see and appreciate them. Yes, the XC-99 is "just" a cargo hauler, not a sexy combat plane, but it represents a step in the evolution of aviation technology and should not be allowed to fade away like an old soldier.

Anybody got any practical ideas–or a source of bucks to stave off the guillotine for a deserving old dowager?

Sequel to the XC-99?

A company named CargoLifter, Inc., has announced plans to build a cargo-carrying airship that at 786 feet long will dwarf even the XC-99. Its diameter of 201 feet alone will almost match the XC-99's wingspan of 230 feet, and it is expected to carry a payload equivalent to a containerload of up to 150 unassembled mid-size automobiles.

Hmmm. Shades of the Aeron II airship, with a helicopter main rotor attached at the rear for propulsion and a combination of helium and hot air for lift–and the Piasecki Heli-Stat airship, with four suspended helicopters to provide propulsion and heavy lifting capability. Will this be "déjà vu all over again" or is it time for the airship to make a comeback on a commercial basis? Plans are to christen the first CargoLifter on July 2, 2000, the 100th anniversary of the first flight of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's LZ-1 airship.


Arthur H. Sanfelici, Editor, Aviation History

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