Letters From Readers – May 2011 Aviation History

A reader's pic of a China National Aviation Corporation DC-3, which crashed in March 1943 and is currently on display in Pianma, Yunnan Province. (Courtesy of Robert L. Willett)
A reader's pic of a China National Aviation Corporation DC-3, which crashed in March 1943 and is currently on display in Pianma, Yunnan Province. (Courtesy of Robert L. Willett)

American Airmen Memorials in China
On a recent trip to China, my wife and I along with members of the China National Aviation Corporation Association visited some of the Yunnan province sites used by CNAC “Hump” flights during World War II. We went to Pianma, where locals had taken CNAC No. 53 [above], a DC-3, for restoration. That plane, which had crashed in March 1943, was piloted by James Fox, who was killed with the rest of his crew.

During a visit to Nanjing we toured the new Anti-Japanese Aviation Memorial Hall, adjacent to the Martyrs’ Monument, a hillside setting for 75 black marble stones engraved with the names of more than 2,000 American airmen who died fighting for China. Both of those memorials are well worth visiting, and serve as a reminder that many Chinese people and organizations still remember America’s help during World War II.

Robert L. Willett
Merritt Island, Fla.

See “Ambush by the China Blitzers” in this issue for a story about some of the American pilots who defended China during World War II, and the locals’ grateful response.

The Mustang’s Faults
General F. Michael Rogers’ article “Breaking in the Mustang” in the March 2011 issue sparked memories. The vast majority of my own 70 combat missions were flown in the Mustang.

 The P-51 was a great airplane, but straight out of the box it was not without its problems. While I was participating in a panel at the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends, a former North American employee boasted that the P-51 was delivered with no serious defects. I raised his ire by relating three pilot-killing faults found in Mustangs received by the “Checkertail Clan,” the 325th Fighter Group, flying out of Italy as part of the Fifteenth Air Force.

First was a faulty electric motor that controlled the damper on the oil cooler. Occasionally it failed to open the damper, resulting in an overheated engine. Our maintenance officer, Captain Warren Cook, designed a spring-loaded rod, with a cable extending into the cockpit. When excessive oil temperature indicated a damper motor failure, the pilot pulled the cable, which pulled a pin from the rod, permitting the spring to pop open the damper. Cook received a Bronze Star for his fix, which no doubt saved many lives.

Second was “rudder lock,” the name we gave to a condition sometimes resulting from air flowing in a peculiar pattern around the bubble canopy of the P-51D when it was flown in an uncoordinated way. It caused the rudder to seemingly lock in either full right or full left position. Sometimes both feet were required on one pedal to bring the rudder to center position and control the plane. A ventral fin kit solved the problem on existing Mustangs, and the fin later became a standard addition to new planes. We encountered the same problem with the P-47 Thunderbolt when bubble canopies replaced the “razorback” canopies on that plane, and it was solved the same way.

The third problem was revealed in mid-1944, when Captain Art Fiedler and his flight were practicing dives. The P-51D picked up speed rapidly, making sharp pullouts necessary. I was watching four planes taking turns in dry runs on a bridge when I saw the left landing gear on one drop down slightly as it recovered from its dive. The Mustang slewed sideways and disintegrated. I understand that North American subsequently installed mechanical locks to hold the landing gear in a retracted position.

Barrie Davis
Zebulon, N.C.

Remembering the Travel Air
Your article about the restoration of a Travel Air 2000 (“Restored,” November 2010 issue) brought back memories. I flew that particular aircraft a few times in the mid-1930s, when it was owned by Jack Hamilton and based at the Kingston Flying Club field. At the time it still had the original OX5 engine and could no longer be licensed for commercial operation because of the single ignition, but was available for private flying. Enclosed is a photo of CF-AFG taken around 1935, with me in the cockpit.

Note that there were several other aircraft built in the 1920s that used the surplus OX5 engines, such as the Waco and Eaglerock. They were all pretty slow. The Travel Air could only manage about 75 mph in level flight, and the Eaglerock was even slower.

Roger C. Hodgins
Kingston, Ontario

Future UAV Pilot?
I am a 14-year-old boy from Wichita, the “Air Capital of the World,” with aspirations of going to the Air Force Academy. Both my parents have been involved in aviation their entire lives, and have surrounded me with it. Your magazine has really helped me see what airplanes were like in the past, and how the military is creating new aircraft for future generations.

I really enjoyed Lawrence Spinetta’s article “The Rise of Unmanned Aircraft” (Janu­ary 2011). I think it’s amazing that a person many miles away can safely destroy targets. If the USAF someday becomes a “pilotless force,” it could save money and lives. But I do not believe that manned aircraft should be completely abandoned, since having a person in the situation and able to evaluate what is happening can make a difference in terms of results.

Baylee Ladner
Wichita, Kan.

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

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