Letters From Readers—November 2013 ‘Aviation History’

Return to Gardenville

I’m writing with reference to “The Gardenville Project,” by Bruce Buckfelder, in the September issue. During World War II, my family and I lived in Lewiston Heights, N.Y., just north of Niagara Falls. There were only a very few young kids living in the area. The only other member of my fourth-grade class was Joan Ross.

One day in the summer of 1943, four other boys and I were playing baseball just off a fairway of the Niagara Falls Country Club when we heard a strange noise. From behind some trees came this “thing.” It was flying, but did not have any wings. It was, in fact, a Bell helicopter minus the bubble canopy. It landed behind the Ross’ home, which backed up to the golf course. When the Ross family came out to view the thing, the pilot offered Joan a ride, and also signaled that one of us could come along. I won the race, and off we went on the ride of my life. Our legs hung out into open space. We flew close, but not over, Niagara Falls, then returned to the golf course.

Joan’s father, who worked for Bell Aircraft Company, was later transferred to the startup B-29 plant in Georgia. As a result, I was the only person left in my grade—hence the school closed down my grade and I was sent to Deveaux Military Academy in Niagara Falls. Later in life, I flew a few hours in a Bell H-13F and G while serving in the Army. The photos in Buckfelder’s article brought back some great memories. Thanks for a great magazine.

Dick Shaeffer
Willowick, Ohio

Great work with the September issue! I found all the articles well-written and interesting, and I had the issue read the same day I received it and was wishing there was more. I don’t normally find helicopter articles particularly interesting, but “The Gardenville Project” was definitely an exception—full of details and personal interest, with great illustrations.

I did find a glitch, though, which I hope you don’t mind my passing along. On P. 38, Bruce Buckfelder mentioned that the “P-39A Airacobra was in production,” which didn’t sound correct to me. I consulted my 1960 copy of Ray Wagner’s American Combat Planes, followed by the P-39 factsheet from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. They basically agree that the YP-39A was to be a one-off variant used for high-altitude testing, but was completed as a basic YP-39. In the meantime, the XP-39 was morphed following NACA testing into the XP-39B, with the first of the production aircraft being 80 examples of the P-39C. A further 60 from the initial batch of 80 were converted to the more combat-ready P-39D, with self-sealing tanks and armor plate. Therefore, the first production model of the P-39 was the P-39C variant rather than the P-39A.

Thank you so much for an outstanding magazine that allows me to escape the usual for a brief few moments to another, more exciting world!

Robert Taylor
Ventura, Calif.

Overlooked Monster Single

Although they may be interesting historical footnotes, the inclusion of a few experimental and limited-production aircraft might have precluded the inclusion of the Grumman TBF/TBM

[Image: National Archives]
[Image: National Archives]
Avenger within your top 10 list [“Monster Singles,” July]. An often-overlooked hero of World War II and highly successful in both theaters, the Avenger has a maximum takeoff weight of 18,100 pounds according to the applicable Technical Order 49-45, although stories by veteran pilots suggest much higher flyable weights. Our flying Avenger of the Commemorative Air Force Rocky Mountain Wing has an empty weight of 10,560 pounds, including the aft gun turret and operable bomb bay, but without the WWII radios. This yields an admirable 41 percent useful load to gross takeoff weight ratio in a tough, battle-proven airframe that performed military duties well into the ’60s.

Great numbers of Avengers worked well after that in civilian life, continuing to haul heavy loads of fire-fighting slurry and insecticides. Attached is a photo [inset] that attests to the Avenger’s durability.

Rob Duncan
Grand Junction, Colo.

More on the Liner Rex

Love your magazine, and enjoyed the article by Evan Hadingham detailing the sinking of the Italian liner Rex [“Wave-Top Marauder,” September]. I didn’t know that’s how she met her demise.

As many who read military aviation history may know, Rex figured importantly in 1938 when the U.S. Air Corps was struggling to get the B-17 program some desperately needed momentum, as there were only 13 in existence at the time. In May 1938, three B-17s successfully intercepted Rex while she was still more than 750 miles from her home port, New York City. The lead navigator was none other than Curtis LeMay. It was a spectacular demonstration of the potential of the B-17 program, and the Air Corps milked a lot of mileage out of it. There was even a radio broadcaster aboard one of the birds to beam the news live to the East Coast.

The Department of the Navy was not exactly impressed; incensed might be more accurate. In fact, for a time it successfully pressured the War Department to limit such flights to no more than 100 miles from land. It looks like Rex’s demise was somewhat foreshadowed by that event.

Reed Petrie
Anchorage, Alaska

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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