Another Movie Star Airplane
“Movie Stars With Wings,” in the May issue, brought back memories. In 1947 I purchased a Meyers OTW biplane, N26481, and flew it for a couple of years. This same model, which was designed as a trainer for the Civilian Pilot Training Program before the war (OTW stood for “out to win”), was used in the 1961 film The Misfits, starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe—with Eli Wallach flying a Meyers to round up wild horses.
The Meyers was an odd aircraft in that the fuselage, fin and rudder were aluminum; the stabilizer and elevator were fabric-covered steel tubing; and the wings were wood construction with fabric covering. My aircraft had the 125-hp Warner, but the Meyers in the movie had a Kinner engine.
Myth of the Zero
Stephan Wilkinson’s article on the Zero in the July 2012 issue summed it up beautifully! I’m old enough to remember when that airplane was the terror of Pacific skies, the subject of endless make-believe combat sorties between my friends and I, as we spread our arms and zoomed around the neighborhood. The “good guys” were always Wildcats, Hellcats and Corsairs, and the “bad dudes” were Zeros (“Hey, you can’t shoot a Zero down from a tight turn like that! You cheated!”).
One of the defining moments of my life was when an A6M2 landed at Seattle’s Boeing field in 1946 and planted itself in a far corner next to an FM-2 Wildcat. From that point on it was weekly bike trips down to the field, where my friends and I jumped into those cockpits (with the acquiescence of amused line personnel) and proceeded to reboot the war. Later those two mounts found a new home at the Edison Technical School as ramp queens and teaching aids, where they continued to see “combat duty” at our young hands. As 7-year-olds we probably acquired more knowledge of the Zero than the majority of American adults at the time. Alas, the last I saw of that old Mitsubishi was in 1960, sitting atop a flatbed truck, with its wings torched off. I almost cried. In fact, as I recall, I did. I don’t think I’ve touched an aluminum pop can since.
Wilkinson made some good points, and I wanted to augment one or two: First, as he intimates, the lack of armor on the Zero and other Japanese aircraft was not the result of an executive order or formal policy handed down by the high command; it was very much a pilot-driven decision. Compared to pilots in other nations, Japanese army and navy fliers had more decision-making leeway when it came to designs, and with one voice they spoke to maneuverability and climb over speed and armor protection. One example is the Ki-43 Hayabusa prototype, which didn’t turn corners well enough to suit army pilots; they rejected it out of hand, and its designers had to begin anew.
As to the assertion that Jiro Horikoshi’s flexible elevator controls were the result either of “luck or engineering talent,” I’ve found—and I think most engineers would agree—that the more blood, sweat, tears, talent and, oh yes, occasional coronaries you throw into a project, the “luckier” you get.
Kudos to Steve Wilkinson for his well-written piece on the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, which nicely summed up the attributes, strengths and weaknesses of this iconic fighter. I liked his summary of the innovative engineering that designer Jiro Horikoshi put into the Zero. There certainly have been few airplanes ever built that rivaled the Zero’s beauty or flying qualities.
Wilkinson states that “the Zero was the best dogfighter in the Pacific theater….” I wonder. I’ve read elsewhere that no fighter could stay with the Japanese army’s Nakajima Ki-43 in a dogfight. Claire Chennault knew that and instructed his Flying Tigers to use hit-and-run tactics with their P-40s. One would think that given the interservice rivalries in the Japanese military, the Zero and Oscar would have gone head-to-head at some point. I wonder if this ever happened, and if it was documented. If there currently is an airworthy Oscar in the U.S. or Canada, it could be flown against the Planes of Fame Zero. Now that would be interesting!
There is one airworthy Ki-43, operated by the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon, so a mock dogfight is not out of the question. –Ed.
Regarding “Tokyo Bay Coronado” in the July issue (“Restored”), my brother Jack served as a radioman on that plane throughout WWII. Our whole family was in Pensacola last June to attend the dedication of the airplane. Three members of the crew are still alive: Jack; Leonard Braswell of Baytown, Texas; and Leonard Cowan of Auburn, Calif. Cowan, the navigator, who plotted the route from Saipan to Tokyo Bay, still has the flight plan, with all the crew members’ signatures.
Our organization, PB2Y Flying Boat Squadrons, has watched this plane since before it was refurbished. If you could see what it looked like before inside and what it looks like now, you wouldn’t think it was the same plane. It’s as beautiful inside now as it is outside.
In July’s “Extremes” article on the Vought F7U Cutlass, a caption erroneously claimed that a Cutlass crash in 1955 on the carrier Hancock killed three crewmen in addition to the pilot. According to Captain Dick Cavicke (U.S. Navy, ret.), who was serving aboard Hancock at the time, only the F7U pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Jay T. Alkire, died in that accident.
Send letters to Aviation History Editor, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176-6500, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.