I read with interest “The Magnificent Merlin,” by Nicholas O’Dell, in the September issue. He concludes, “…the engine’s throaty growl can still be heard at airshows around the world.” If you want to see Merlins really working, go to Reno for the National Championship Air Races, where race-prepared Merlins are turning out some 4,000 hp. I’ve attached a photo I took (above) of a Merlin-powered P-51 Mustang at the 2008 races, Dago Red, flown by Dan Martin, which finished second in the Championship Gold race, with a speed of 474.305 mph. In 45 years of air racing at Reno, Merlins have won 21 championships.
Questionable Connie Engines
As a U.S. Air Force pilot, I flew Constellations at Otis Air Force Base from 1955 to 1961. The EC-121D pictured on P. 30 of the July issue is probably one that I piloted.
The Wright 3350 that powered the Connie had some design flaws. The biggest one that comes readily to mind is that the feathering pump line was routed alongside the master cylinder. When the master cylinder blew, it ruptured the feathering pump line, and attempting to feather the engine often meant pumping close to 55 gallons of oil onto the fire that usually ensued. I witnessed two incidents involving uncontrollable engine fires.
About the maximum we could get out of the Wright 3350 was 1,500 hours, even though the engines were run mostly at long-range cruise. Engines were changed so that no aircraft had four high-time engines.
I take some exception to the flight engineer’s statement that pilots never handled the throttles. The engineer set max power for takeoff, then damn well kept his hands clear in case there was an abort. Pilots also handled the throttles in the traffic pattern and on approach.
Punta Gorda, Fla.
I greatly enjoyed Kirk House’s “Into the Air” in the July issue, on the Aerial Experiment Association. It may interest your readers to know that the same crew that launched Silver Dart contributed to the first manned ascent by a rotary-wing craft in America.
John Newton Williams had gained modest success with his “visible” typewriter design before turning his attention to helicopters. In 1908 he brought his coaxial machine to Hammondsport, hoping Glenn Curtiss would provide him with an engine. Williams’ machine was little more than a wood platform, engine mount and transmission, topped by coaxial rotors constructed of tilted panels. The pilot sat on a chair that slid, allowing for some sort of weight-shifting control. With a Curtiss engine installed, Williams’ helicopter rose “several inches, several times.”
In 1909 Williams partnered with Emile Berliner, collaborating on a design based on Berliner’s Adams-Farwell rotary engine, which supposedly also lifted a man into the air.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bob Bergin’s “Aviators” article on “Herman the German” in the September issue. But I’d like to point out that the Mitsubishi Zero pictured on P. 15 is not actually the aircraft described in the article. According to Koga’s Zero, Jim Reardon’s history of the Zero found on Akutan Island, the Zero pictured was sent to North Island Naval Air Station, arriving on August 12, 1942. It returned to the air on September 20, 1942. The photo purportedly of the Zero recovered in China appears to be a cropped version of the North Island photo, including a U.S. Navy sailor on one wing.
Colonel Marion S. Reynolds Jr.
Chaplain, U.S. Air Force (ret.)
Colonel Reynolds is correct. Shown below is the Zero rebuilt in China, one of two that force-landed near Qian Shan in November 1941. The Chinese captured their pilots, destroyed one Zero, and dismantled and hid the other until Neumann reassembled it in October 1942.
More Emergency Landings
After reading Stephan Wilkinson’s article in the September issue on the 10 best emergency landings, I thought of two other “honorable mentions.” In 1988, when TACA Flight 110 (Boeing 737-300) lost power in both engines as it neared New Orleans, the pilot put it down on a grassy stretch of levee east of the city. There were no serious injuries, and they swapped out the engines and flew it off the levee. In 2001 AirTransat Flight 236 (Airbus A330) ran out of fuel over the Atlantic but landed safely, if a bit roughly, in the Azores after a nearly 100-mile glide, with only minor injuries to passengers and crew.
Following Amelia’s Flight Path
Regarding the September article on Ann Pellegreno, I’d have thought her first stop, like Earhart’s, would be El Dorado, Puerto Rico, at Clara Livingston’s airport. Livingston and Earhart were great friends. During Earhart’s overnight stop there, Livingston advised her not to attempt the flight, as she didn’t think she was qualified for this type of operation.
Look for a feature by Stephan Wilkinson on Amelia Earhart in our January 2010 issue.
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