Testing the Sidewinder
The article about the AIM-9 Sidewinder [“Fox Two!” in the March issue] brings to mind my Navy service at Naval Air Ordnance Test Station, based within a fenced-off area at NAS Chincoteague, Va. In 1956 I was a newly designated pilot and a commissioned ensign without a “need to know,” but I had eyes. NAOTS Chinco also tested the Sidewinder, and F6F drones operated by a Guided Missile Group at Chinco were shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by NAOTS aircraft using the Sidewinder.
As a supply officer, I was allowed to venture into a shack where the Sidewinder was being ground tested. I saw a piece of plywood that had been cut to form a circle, 4 to 6 feet in diameter. The plywood, mounted on a device the way a propeller is mounted on a propeller shaft, contained a single tiny light on the periphery. The plywood was rotated very, very slowly a few feet away from a Sidewinder that was strapped to a stand. As the plywood turned, the canard wings on the Sidewinder flexed, indicating the missile was tracking the light, which was not as big as a grain of wheat.
I have wondered to this day why no one ever gives credit to NAOTS for its role in testing new ordnance, while plenty of credit is given to China Lake. NAOTS also tested the Petrel anti-ship missile, among other new inventions.
I very much enjoyed the “Fox Two!” article by Don Hollway. In the fall of 1984, I reported to NAS Millington for aviation anti-submarine warfare operator “A” school. Before school began, however, we were all required to complete a two-week enlisted basic aviation training course. Our instructor was a Marine sergeant who didn’t strike me as being especially bright. One day during a lecture on weapon systems, he asked us why the AIM-9 missile was called a “Sidewinder.” I replied: “The sidewinder snake is a pit viper, meaning it hunts by sensing the heat of its prey. Like the snake, the Sidewinder missile homes in on the heat source of an aircraft to destroy it.” The sergeant wrinkled his brow and said: “Huh. Good guess, but that’s not it. The Sidewinder missile works by flying alongside an enemy aircraft, and when the warhead detonates, it sends out a sheet of metal that cuts the aircraft in half.” He was serious. Fortunately, that was the dumbest thing I ever heard during my four years of active duty in the Navy.
Don Hollway responds: Actually, the “annular-ring fragmentation” warhead referred to in the article isn’t that far off from the sergeant’s description. As I recall, it’s a coil of pre-cut metal wrapped around the explosive. In the event of a near miss, the proximity fuze sets off the warhead and the expanding ring of frags slices the target open.
The feature on Vincent Burnelli and Maurice Hurel [“Recycling the Visionaries,” March] was very enlightening. I have attached a photo [see May 2013 issue, “Mailbag”] of the Burnelli CBY-3 that I took about six years ago at the New England Air Museum. The Hurel-Dubois HD.10 is still around too. I took a photo of it two years ago at the French aerospace museum at Le Bourget.
Thomas A. Geisler
Smilin’ Jack’s Arup S-2
Having grown up in the 1930s and ’40s, I was hooked on Zack Mosely’s comic strip Smilin’ Jack—not so much for the story line but for the great airplanes he drew. In one episode he depicted a strange plane I thought was his own creation. Come to find out, it was the Arup S-2 mentioned in Robert Guttman’s “Extremes” article, “Flying Heel Lift” [March]. Thanks for setting me straight.
When my son and I visited the New England Air Museum some time ago, we were sorry to see the Burnelli CBY-3 in such a sad state. But we were pleased to hear it was the next restoration project on their schedule.
We enjoy your fine magazine and read it cover to cover each issue—and look forward to your “Flight Tests.”
Don Van Dusen
Owls Head, Maine
I was happily surprised to see the Lone Star Flight Museum’s former F3F in my March 2013 issue [“Briefing”]. I have volunteered at LSFM for 10 years now and fondly remember the “flying barrel.” Believe me, it was a very sad day when I got down to the museum following Hurricane Ike and saw what it had done. The F3F was one of a number of aircraft that couldn’t be flown out. It’s great to see that it is flying again. I have attached a photo of the aircraft [above] that I took a couple of years prior to Ike. Thanks for a fantastic magazine. I look forward to receiving each one.
John E. Babcock
League City, Texas
Decimal Points Matter
Robert Guttman, author of “Extremes” in the March issue, wrote to apologize for a typo: His article stated that the Arup S-2’s wing had an “aspect ratio of 1-to-132,” but that should have read “1-to-1.32.” Guttman was trying to make the point that the S-2’s length and wingspan were nearly equal, sort of like a flying saucer.
Send letters to Aviation History Editor, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176-6500, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.