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Aviation History: March 2001 Letters

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: September 23, 2001 
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Aviation History
Aviation History

Leaking, Not Leaping

There are a couple of errors in your November 2000 story on the photographic B-24 Peeping Tom (see "People and Planes"). While in St. Joseph, Mo., the B-24 was not called Leaping Lucy as you stated, but Leaking Lucy, because she leaked oil like a sieve. No doubt the first of the three engine changes you mentioned occurred before she started her new career.

And also since St. Joe was an Air Transport Command OTU, she was not used in training bomber units there, but instead was utilized in long-range navigation training flights. Her nose art was a Pony Express rider mounted on a galloping horse with an ADF loop on its head and a sextant flying back. (St. Joe was the home of the Pony Express.) My late husband was a check pilot there, and while I never saw Lucy myself, I heard the guys talking about her–you know how men gossip about a troublesome gal!

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Anna F. Pennington
Wilmington, N.C.

Lockheed P2V

Lockheed test pilot Jay Beasley was aware that he was not in jeopardy when he demonstrated the ability of the P2V-6 to make turns into a dead engine (see "P2V Neptune: Forgotten Warbird" in the November issue). Here's how I can be sure of that. Sometime during the late 1940s, the Lockheed P2V structural test airplane was at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Md., for its official structural limits demonstration prior to its release for Navy tests. Stan Beltz, a Lockheed engineering test pilot, was expounding on the P2V's flying qualities and capabilities to some of the Navy pilots. He claimed that the P2V could do any maneuver the Grumman F7F twin-engine fighter could do. One of the Navy pilots questioned its ability to slow-roll into a dead engine–a no-no even for a fighter airplane.

Beltz picked up the challenge and invited the Navy pilots and everyone else in the vicinity to "just watch." He had all the loose equipment in the P2V removed or secured. Then, with a minimum crew, he made an unscheduled and unauthorized flight. As he made a shallow dive to no more than 100 feet above the Patuxent River in full view of a crowd of observers, we all saw that he had one engine shut down. True to his word, he slow-rolled into the dead engine. He did it twice, once left and once right. Upon his return to the flight line, the Navy pilots were incredulous. They agreed that the P2V had unexpected flying capabilities but didn't think much of the exposure to risk.

By that time the word had spread all over the base. The commanding officer let it be known that he had missed seeing the maneuver. Consequently, Beltz repeated the demonstration, this time right over the field. I saw both demonstrations.

In 1953, when I joined Lockheed as a flight test engineer, I met Stan Beltz and flew with him on many Constellation test flights. I also learned that Lockheed management did not appreciate the extent to which Beltz went to demonstrate the P2V's flying capabilities.

Martin A. Snyder
Dublin, Calif.

'Soapy' Lord Quest

I have enjoyed my subscription to Aviation History, especially the articles profiling notable aviators. One whom I've not seen profiled and often wondered about is Major Frederic Ivery "Soapy" Lord.

As a lad, I used to read some of the articles in a pulp periodical of the '30s and early '40s called Flying Aces in which Lord related some of his adventures and opinions. In my very young eyes, he cut quite a figure, telling of fighting with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. If the printed word is to be believed, he shot down 23 enemy planes, was shot down twice himself and wounded. In 1919, he joined up with the White Russians fighting the Bolsheviks, was shot down again and evaded capture, making it back to his own lines. The major next surfaced in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War flying for the Loyalists.

During WWII, I spied a short note in a magazine saying that the major was ferrying cargo/transport planes across the Atlantic to England. Then, seemingly, he dropped from sight. I'm surprised so little has been written about such a colorful character. Do you happen to know how the good major ended his days?

James Bassett
Toledo, Wash.

Editor's note: Born in Wisconsin on April 18, 1900, Fred Lord served in the 3rd Texas Infantry until he was found to be underage. He then went to Canada and, using a doctored birth certificate, got himself into No. 79 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, in March 1918–a month before his 18th birthday. He scored 12 victories and rose to flight commander before he was wounded on October 17, 1918. He flew RE-8s with the Royal Air Force in Russia in 1919, barnstormed in the United States throughout the 1920s and flew Breguet 19s as a volunteer in the Spanish Republican air force in 1936. Barred from U.S. service because of his time in Spain, he rejoined the RAF and was posted to his old unit, No. 79 Squadron, before the authorities discovered he had used another forged birth certificate–this time to downgrade his age! He then spent the rest of WWII doing transatlantic ferry work. After all those adventures, Fred Lord met a tragic end; he was murdered by a vagrant in California in 1967.

B-24s vs. Zeroes

With great interest I read about the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero's maneuverability problem in Jim Rearden's "Enduring Heritage" article in the November Aviation History. The fact, as noted in his article, that the ailerons froze above 200 knots and high-speed rolls to the right were much more difficult than to the left probably saved my Consolidated B-24 crew one night in 1943 over Bougainville's Kahili Airfield and the huge, strategically important adjoining harbor in the northern part of the Solomon Island chain.

Navy planes were planting mines in the harbor that night. Our 370th Bomb Squadron B-24s were tasked with drawing the Japanese defenders' attention away from the harbor by harassing the enemy from above. We didn't have many planes, so each crew was assigned a target period of about 20 or 30 minutes.

My crew had a 30-minute time span sometime after midnight. We knew the area by heart, having bombed it several times before. The preferred altitude was 10-11,000 feet, which supposedly was a bit too high for their light guns and too low for good accuracy with their heavy stuff. Although their searchlights were strong, they usually seemed to have trouble finding us. But that night they nailed us. We had made four or five passes over the airfield at about five-minute intervals, dropping one or more 500-pounders each time on revetments, gun emplacements, searchlights and any other lucrative target that was visible. We timed our runs so we could draw the lights up to us when they dropped down to the harbor surface, obviously hunting for an intruding Navy minelayer.

We had been briefed about their night fighters. If the anti-aircraft guns suddenly went quiet, it meant only one thing–their night fighters were up and had us spotted in the lights. (They obviously didn't want to hit their own planes closing in.) On several occasions we had seen the terrible effects of this tactic, played in reverse, on Guadalcanal, when friendly fighters had shot Japanese bombers right out of the apex of our lights.

When one of my gunners in the back yelled on the intercom, "Skipper, the guns went quiet," we reacted immediately. My bombardier, Jeff Newman, salvoed the remaining two bombs. I didn't have to ask the co-pilot, "Harpo" Marx, for full power. He had those Pratt & Whitneys at 2,700 and 50 inches in about 10 nanoseconds. We were headed east at the time, so I peeled off to the right toward home. Jeff estimated later that we had about 20 lights on us. All I know is that we were blinded in the cockpit as our B-24 rolled over to the right. When I ducked down and tried to shade my eyes, I noted with some trepidation that the airspeed indicator was in the red and the altimeter and rate of descent were winding off the dials. I saw we were headed south, so I pulled off a lot of power and gradually leveled off as we escaped the lights. As the airspeed dropped back below 300 and the lights lost us, we began to feel we were pretty well out of danger.

The crew checked in "all OK" except the navigator. He reported his airspeed was reading "0." By that time mine was reading normal. That model B-24 had two pitot masts that stuck out about 3 feet on either side of the fuselage above the nose wheel. His mast had blown off. Mine was unharmed. That was the only damage to that wonderful B-24.

We had been briefed that the Zero had problems at high speeds, but we didn't know the specifics as reported in Jim's article. Fortunately, our exit from the target area followed exactly the best possible scenario–a high-speed right turn. The design integrity and superiority of the B-24 saved our lives that night.

Lt. Col. John "Jack" Ralph
Enid, Okla.

Send letters to: Aviation History Editor, PRIMEDIA History Group, 741 Miller Drive., Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175, or e-mail to AviationHistory@thehistorynet.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited.

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