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Letters From Readers - January 2012 Aviation History

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: November 04, 2011 
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The Boeing XB-39 prototype tested experimental Allison V-3420 engines as a potential replacement for Wright R-3350 radials in case they didn't pan out in the B-29. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing XB-39 prototype tested experimental Allison V-3420 engines as a potential replacement for Wright R-3350 radials in case they didn't pan out in the B-29. (U.S. Air Force)

Forgotten XB-39
Congrats on another stellar issue (September 2011). It was interesting timing—or good planning—to have articles on the issue-plagued Jumo 222 and the problematic R-3350 in the same issue. Robert Guttman alludes to the Allison V-3420 but doesn't mention the Boeing XB-39, and Stephan Wilkinson doesn't mention it in his article about the R-3350. The XB-39 [shown above] was a hedge against the 3350 not panning out and putting the B-29 program in jeopardy. What a providential alignment of the stars that Chrysler's Dodge division was selected to build and develop the Double Cyclone; if not for their dedicated engineers, the 3350 would be just another "coulda-been" piece of aviation trivia.

 

The V-3420 was another huge disappointment. Aside from the XB-39 and Fisher XP-75 Eagle (another big smokin' pile of disappointment), it wasn't tried in any other airframe. After the war, Edgar Kaiser tried the 3420 in his unlimited hydroplane, but all it did was blow up or sink during its brief, unhappy career. The Olympic Air Museum in Olympia, Wash., has a 3420 on display.

Bill Downing
Mt. Vernon, Wash.

More B-29 Memories
Some comments on the B-29 ["Superbomber's Achilles' Heel," September 2011] from someone who served as a flight engineer with the 6th Bomb Group. It's true that we feared an engine failure on takeoff more than anything the Japanese might throw at us, as this was almost certain death and it occurred all too often. On North Field, Tinian, where I was based, it seemed to occur on nearly every maximum-effort mission. Since it usually involved impact in the ocean just off the runway's end, takeoffs were not stopped on our four parallel runways, as the water usually absorbed the flames and wreckage within a minute or two. And, yes, it was due to the infamous R-3350 engines. It took full takeoff power from all four engines to get airborne by the end of the runway, so there was no way to avoid a crash in the ocean if you lost one too late to stop.

We reduced engine overheating during extended taxiing, which from our position at the far end of the taxiway took upwards of 20 minutes of slow rolling, by starting initial taxi on the inboard engines and at midpoint starting the outboards and shutting down the inboards, thus cutting idling time in half. At the takeoff end of the runway the inboards were then restarted, and one prayed that the takeoff would not be delayed enough for all four engines to then overheat.

At the end of the war a large reader board was posted with various statistics for the 6th BG. One I distinctly remember was an average engine life of 90-plus hours for our operations. This did not surprise us, as we were really working those engines. Almost every takeoff meant a ground roll to the very end of the runway, and there was no way to stop once we were beyond the halfway point. Since we were based on a hardstand at the strip's far end, we could see the first planes take off and judge how they were doing. If it looked really tough, we might elect to go to excess boost from the start of the roll, although this really pushed up the cylinder head temps. One modification we made on our ship was to wire in a bypass of the landing gear squat switch so we could have retracted the gear even though there was a load on the gear. This would have allowed us to retract the gear if normal or emergency braking failed while still on the ground. Desperate people take desperate measures.

Thank you for a fascinating article.

Virgil Morgan
Morgan Aero, Everett, Wash.

Sabre Dance Lives on
Your story "Deadly Sabre Dance," in the September issue, brought back memories of my service as an F-100C pilot with the 45th Fighter Day Squadron, based at Sidi Slimane Air Base in Morocco in 1957. The film of the tragic Super Sabre accident, which our pilots viewed many times, still sticks with me all these years later.

I always look forward to interesting reading in Aviation History, but I have a minor beef with that article. Author Alan Cockrell states that on January 10, 1956, "the three members of the 1708th Ferrying Wing… would be flying the 'Huns'…." No one, in my recollection, ever called the F-100 the Hun in those days; that term came into use much later. For one thing, in the '50s WWII was still fresh in our memory. It hadn't been long since the Germans—the "Huns"—were our enemy. We often flew to bases in Ger­many. Can you imagine a noisy bunch of American pilots at the bar in the officers' club in Fürstenfeldbruck, a former Luftwaffe o-club, with several Luftwaffe pilots sitting nearby. Would we brag about flying Huns?

On another point, the F-100 had a tiny rudder. I can't imagine that full left rudder would have been much help at low speed, with the nose cocked up 30 degrees or more, and airflow over the rudder blocked by the nose-high attitude.

Tom Chase
Barrington, N.H.

Great article by Alan Cockrell on the Sabre Dance crash. I would, however, like to correct an error in the sidebar, "Waltzing Into Hollywood," which points out that footage of the accident was included in the Korean War movie The Hunters.

The character who died in the crash, 1st Lt. Corona (played by John Gabriel), de­picted by the Brooks footage, was not "annoying and undisciplined." That description fits the Lieutenant Ed Pell character (played by Robert Wagner), who finished the film as a good guy. Pell was modeled after Korean War ace James F. Low, with whom the author of the source book, James Salter, had flown in the 4th Fighter Inter­ceptor Wing in Korea.

Truett Guthrie
Hobart, Okla.

Send letters to Aviation History Editor, Weider History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176-6500, or e-mail to aviationhistory@weiderhistorygroup.com.

 



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