Remembering “The Few”
Seeing the photo of the Spitfire F Mark 24 in the article “‘The Few’ Live on at Duxford,” on P. 60 of the November issue, reminded me of the airshow at Camarillo, Calif., this past August, where the Commemorative Air Force flew their Spitfire F Mk. XIV. Attached is a photo (above) of that Spit during its fly-by there. Without a doubt, the Spitfire and Seafire never fail to arouse deep emotions, especially when they’re in the air, allowing folks to listen to and see them!
I also enjoyed the “Classics” review on Fahey’s U.S. Army Aircraft 1908-1946 (P. 63). I purchased a copy for a dollar when I was 12 or so—from an ad in Air Trails magazine, most likely. Mine had an insert titled “U.S. Air Force Aircraft, 1947-1949” attached to the inside back cover. I almost wore it out from referring to it for information, and yes, it is still in my library for reference (and nostalgia value).
In perusing the article titled “‘The Few’ Live on at Duxford,” I noticed that the picture on P. 56 shows a Spitfire with a two-bladed prop, which surprised me. I had always thought that was a three-bladed plane. Was the one in the photograph an early issue of the Spitfire?
Martin A. Snyder
Research director Jon Guttman responds: The first 78 production Spitfire Mark Is were powered by the 1,030-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III engine, driving an Aero Products Watts two-blade, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. It was replaced thereafter with a de Havilland three-blade, two-position metal propeller and, from the 175th plane on, with a Merlin III with universal shaft that could mount the de Havilland or the Rotol three-blade, variable-pitch airscrew more commonly seen on Battle of Britain Spitfire Mark Is and IIs.
Having had the good fortune of visiting Duxford on two occasions, I must point out that James Ullrich’s statement that the American Air Museum opened there in 1987 is incorrect. My first visit there was in August 1993, when ground had not yet been broken for the museum. At that time there was only a model of the building and requests for donations. The groundbreaking occurred in 1995, and on August 1, 1997, Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the museum. I visited Duxford again in 2000 and had the opportunity to visit the American Air Museum. As Ullrich correctly points out, it was rededicated on September 27, 2002, by Prince Charles, with former President George H.W. Bush in attendance.
Redwood City, Calif.
Definitely Too Hard to Handle
Stephan Wilkinson’s article “Too Hard to Handle” in the November 2010 issue recalled to mind a conversation with my late father about his stint at Muroc Dry Lake (now Edwards Air Force Base) just after Pearl Harbor, when he took leave from developing radio-controlled drones to test-fly experimental aircraft that had been delivered there by eager, patriotic inventors. Apparently the U.S. Army Air Forces hadn’t given these designs even a cursory evaluation, assuming that the Muroc test pilots would do it for them.
One day my father was assigned to test-fly a dubious-looking aircraft, whose designation I have since forgotten, that proved to be a handful even on the ground. In the air it was downright lethal. Almost as soon as Dad broke ground, he wished he hadn’t. He said the aircraft bucked like a bronco and evinced no desire or ability to fly straight and level.
Somehow Dad wrestled the ship back to the base, where it was disassembled and shipped off to Wright Field for evaluation. The conclusion was that at least one aerodynamic surface would always be in a stall regardless of airspeed or flight attitude.
While I was on a tour of duty at the Pentagon in 1954-58, word spread of “an event,” and I joined a hundred or so curious staffers at the river entrance. There on the roadway was a flatbed trailer with a Convair XFY-1 Pogo pointed skyward. It quickly roared off—and made a straight line for Bolling Field.
The next time I saw it was at Wright Field, in the U.S. Air Force Museum.
Senior Master Sgt. Paul S. Evans
U.S. Air Force (ret.)
Silver Spring, Md.
More Fallout From ICBM
As Mark Wolverton points out in “Valkyrie’s Little Brother” (“Extremes,” September 2010), the development of the ICBM was one factor that killed the F-108 Rapier. But there were other weapon systems that were ultimately doomed by this same threat. One was the Air Defense Command’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a system of remote radars connected to blockhouses by telephone landlines.
The heart of each SAGE site was an IBM vacuum tube computer, the largest and heaviest computer ever built. These computers were designed to direct manned fighters and missiles to intercept Soviet bombers coming in over the pole. Of note is the Boeing BOMARC, an unmanned supersonic turbojet missile carrying a tactical nuclear warhead.
Most people have never heard of SAGE, and not many these days are familiar with the BOMARC. But I remember both quite well, since my father, Lt. Col. John J. Simon, served as Air Force liaison to System Development Corporation, developer of the software that controlled the BOMARC.
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