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Aviation History: November 2000 Letters

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: September 23, 2000 
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Aviation History
Aviation History

Correction

The painting used on the cover of the July 2000 issue of Aviation History, Robert Taylor's Home Run, was incorrectly credited in the table of contents. The cover credit should have read: The Military Gallery, Ojai, Calif. (detail). We regret the error.

P-40s Defended

Robert Guttman did a good job on the P-40 story in the May issue. I didn't think the "far from the best" subhead was really called for, but then he never flew the bird.

I flew every model but the F and L, several in combat. That includes the notorious "alphabet soup" P-40 put together from wrecks by 75th Fighter Squadron mechanics in 1944. As I recall, the fuselage was from a P-40E, one wing from a K and one from an M. Other components represented yet other marks. It was a bit cranky, but it flew. I put two or three missions on it.

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Mr. Guttman denigrates the P-40 because the Japanese Zero could out-turn and outclimb it. He fails to mention that the Zero could out-turn and outclimb any Allied fighter whatever, even including the fabled Spitfire. RAF guys had to swallow their pride and learn from Claire Channault, of the American Volunteer Group, how to fight the Japanese.

I do think some mention should have been made of the P-40 as a fighter-bomber. In that capacity it was the best the U.S. Army Air Forces had, right up to the end of the war. Sure, the P-47 could carry more weight and take more punishment–but it used twice as much gas and needed twice as much runway.

The P-40 could carry anything you could hang on it, and was a solid dive-bombing and strafing platform. Unlike the P-51 (let alone the P-39!), the Warhawk could absorb unlimited groundfire from the cockpit back, where the great majority of hits occurred. And unlike the P-51, the P-40 could be safely bellied in when the chips were down and the wheels weren't.

For me, the real thoroughbred quality of that airplane showed through in the intangibles. The old Warhawk always had that little bit extra to give you when you had to have it.

Please don't take this letter as carping criticism. You do a great job and put out a great magazine. Keep up the good work.

David Rust
Woodville, Texas

The editor responds: Thanks for writing. I particularly like to hear from those who "were there." And it's great to have a letter from a P-40 pilot who sticks up for one of our great warbirds.

As a historian who has a special interest in the air war of World War II, I would like to compliment your fine magazine. I especially enjoyed Robert Guttman's article concerning the Curtiss P-40. It is my belief that aviation writers have shortchanged the P-40. This led me to think that the P-40 was the best Army Air Corps fighter at the beginning of the war but was inferior to the RAF Hurricane. But when I was doing graduate work on my master's thesis on the American RAF ace Lance Wade, I found that both the British and the Germans considered the P-40 superior to the Hurricane. In an effort to cut pilot losses, the RAF wanted to replace the Hurricanes of No. 33 Squadron with P-40s. German pilots commented that the P-40s were more dangerous in turning combat than the Hurricane.

Michael D. Montgomery
Haughton, La.

The editor responds: Thank you for your kind comments about our magazine and Robert Guttman's P-40 piece. The P-40 has always been a favorite of mine, and I never did like to hear it being knocked. Glad to hear your findings about how it was respected by the enemy.

The Wildcat's Guns

On page 12 of the May issue of Aviation History ("People and Planes"), Captain Swede Vejtasa relates that "he especially appreciated the higher firepower [of the Wildcat (F4F)]–six .50-caliber machine guns that could be fired together or in pairs." I have flown both the F4F and the General Motors FMs, none of which had more than four guns.

I feel positive that, with its short, stubby wings plus the additional weight, the Wildcat could not be fitted with six .50s. Further, if it had, I do not believe it would have had the capability of firing together or in pairs, nor do I see any sense in it. I flew the Hellcat (F6F) in combat, and it of course had six .50s, which did not have the capability of firing together or in pairs.

I enjoyed the captain's article thoroughly.

Commander Dick Kreider
U.S. Navy Reserve (ret.)
Lancaster, Pa.

The editor responds: With all due respect, you must have missed flying the Grumman F4F-4, which did have six .50-caliber machine guns in the wings. Aside from Vejtasa, most F4F-4 pilots thought the six guns were unnecessary, only adding weight and hurting performance. Therefore, the Eastern Aircraft (GM) FM-1 and FM-2 reverted to the four guns of the F4F-3.

Setting the Record Straight

Really good May issue! I especially enjoyed the article on Lores Bonney. However, having been an Amelia Earhart admirer all my life, I immediately noticed that the story contains an impossible date: "With no news of Earhart, Bonney finally left Khartoum on July 10, 1937. Earhart and Noonan arrived two days later." Miraculous, since Earhart and Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937. I was 8 years old at the time, and I have never stopped hoping that NR 16020 would be found.

Incidentally, I am a member of TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) #0982, and I think we're just about to finally solve the mystery.

Grace J. Hale
Raleigh, N.C.

The editor responds: Thanks for setting us straight. You are not the first, or the only, reader with sharp eyes.

More on the B-17F Restoration

Mr. Friedman's letter in the May "Letters" department states that "The B-17F was restored for the Museum of Flight by members of the Boeing Management Association at the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash. The Museum of Flight had little to do with the restoration. The airplane was test-flown by Boeing and then delivered to the museum. Since then it has resided outside the Museum of Flight and has not flown again."

Those facts are incomplete and inaccurate. While the Renton branch of the BMA sponsored the restoration (underwrote much of the effort), many of the museum's volunteers were responsible for the actual restoration work. And not all of these retirees were members of the BMA Gold Card Chapter. Several of these same folks had also labored on the restoration of the museum's Boeing 247D under the sponsorship of the Everett chapter of the BMA.

Pat Collucio and the BMA deserve a big thank you for their efforts in spearheading the work, but it is a disservice to the many museum volunteers who worked hard to complete this first phase of the work to say that the museum had little to do with it.

Yes, the airplane was test-flown by Boeing engineering test pilots (two of whom are also flying our 247D). The plane has been flown on at least three occasions to my knowledge since that delivery to Boeing Field, the most recent of which was back to some hanger space at Renton Airfield, which is where the work to recertify the airplane will be done.

Frank Leathley
Mill Creek, Wa.

Jungle A-20s

I have just read the article by Terry Gwynn-Jones about the recovery of the two Douglas A-20s from Papua New Guinea in the May 2000 issue ("Enduring Heritage").

I was fascinated to read the story of Hell 'N Pelican II and to see the photo of it in its jungle location. It was in mid-1972 that two agricultural officers of the Department of Agriculture Stock & Fisheries in Madang actually stumbled across this plane while trying to locate a cattle route from the remote Aiome Patrol Post in the Ramu valley to Madang. One of the officers was seriously ill with malaria and dysentery, and there was no time for them to examine the aircraft because of his urgent need for hospital treatment.

I was also an agricultural development officer. With two companions, I walked into the site of the crash two weeks later. If my memory serves me correctly, it was approximately six hours from the nearest mission station, which itself was two to three hours' drive from Madang. The Gogol valley was very sparsely populated in that area and the nearest village was some four to five hours' walk away.

I remember the plane as being more complete, although my memory may be wrong. I removed the bank turn indicator, which I have to this day and am looking at as I write this. I can distinctly remember the boxes of ammunition stored near the upper machine gun. When opened, the ammunition was almost like new, the brass cartridges still shiny although they quickly tarnished after some months' exposure. The shells had different painted points (red, black and blue).

In 1984 a group of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) crewmen, together with an employee from the hotel where they were staying in Madang, stopped by. The employee had recollected that I had walked to the plane in the early '70s and said that the RAAF team was in fact looking for this same airplane but did not want to have to do an extensive airsearch. The RAAF leader showed me a map on which I indicated where I thought it was. I did have a number of photographs taken that day, but those have been lost over the years.

Robert Wilson
Kalgoorlie, Australia

Blériot Confusion

I would like to add a follow-on to Sanford Solarz's letter in the September 2000 issue of Aviation History concerning confusion between the Blériot XI and XII. In Solarz's letter he states that, to the best of his knowledge, the Blériot XII was only flown by one person, Louis Blériot himself. While I don't want to flog this horse to death, this isn't quite true.

Joshua Stoff, in his Picture History of Early Aviation, 1903-1913, states that a Blériot XII was the first airplane owned by the English sporting pilot, Claude Graham-White. On page 31 of the same book Graham-White is seen leaning against an airplane that certainly looks like a Blériot XII; just as clearly, it is not the Blériot XII usually shown in photographs. In Contact!, Henry Villard writes that Graham-White was one of Blériot's first pupils, and was taught to fly at Issy in a duplicate of Blériot's model XII. Graham-White then took his Blériot XII from Issy to Pau.

Wallace, in his Flying Witness, agrees that Graham-White managed to convince Blériot to build for him a duplicate of Blériot's "big 60-hp monoplane." He then adds that, on the day Graham-White was to take delivery (of the Blériot XII) at Issy, Blériot was detained elsewhere.

Growing impatient, Graham-White essentially taught himself to fly in his machine on the way to Pau. It was there in Pau that the machine crashed with Blériot at the controls and Graham-White as a passenger. After that, Blériot decided that the XII was not worthy of further development, and he gave Graham-White two Blériot XI airplanes as compensation for his lost model XII.

I hope this fleshes out one more of those interesting footnotes in early aviation history.

Colin Green
via e-mail

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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