American Pilgrims Find New Homes

One of the least-known U.S. airliners was the nine-passenger American Pilgrim 100, 16 of which were built for American Airways—soon to become American Airlines—in 1931. The Pilgrim was actually a Fairchild, but during the time it was being built, Sherman Fairchild had, in a bankruptcy dodge, briefly reorganized his Farmingdale, N.Y., company as the American Airplane and Engine Corp. (The factory also produced the famous Ranger inverted-6 engines.) Another four of the sow-bellied Pilgrims went to the Army Air Corps and became even more obscure Y1C-24 aerial ambulances, which soldiered on until 1939.

American Airways crashed fully a quarter of its Pilgrim 100 fleet—four airplanes with eight fatalities—and sold the rest in 1934, when it bought Curtiss Condors. Some of the surviving Pilgrims ended up in Alaska and in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where more crashed, were parted out or flew out their useful lives.

So it is surprising that today there is a Pilgrim 100 renaissance underway. What may well be the only three relatively intact survivors are all undergoing complete restorations, in Anchorage, Alaska (at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum); Port Townsend, Wash. (at the Port Townsend Aero Museum); and near San Francisco (at a private facility, Marginal Maintenance Associates). The Alaska museum plans to have its Pilgrim ready for static display by July 4, and hopes to begin flying it soon thereafter.

The Port Townsend airplane, then operating as a Pan Am mailplane, crashed in Alaska between Nome and Fairbanks in the mid-1940s. The pilot and his mechanic hiked out 80 miles in the snow and were eventually found camped by a river. Restoration of the airplane, which was recovered from the crash site in the early 1990s, is a long-term project, with much work still to be funded.

The California Pilgrim has the most unusual provenance. After American sold it, it was lent to Admiral Richard Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition and was the airplane (the expedition had several) used in 1934 to rescue Byrd when he began to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning at Little America. It was later sold to Mexican racer and entrepreneur Francisco Sarabia, who died in his record-setting Gee Bee Q.E.D. in 1939, after an engine failure while taking off from Bolling Field, near Washington, D.C.

-Stephan Wilkinson

Austrian to Challenge Kittinger’s Record

On August 16, 1960, U.S. Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger jumped from a helium balloon at 102,800 feet, falling for four minutes and 35 seconds before he landed. For 50 years no one has managed to break that record. The last try, by Michel Fournier in 2003, was thwarted by a runaway balloon.

This past January Austrian Felix Baumgartner announced he would challenge Kittinger’s records, planning a jump of 120,000 feet. A team of scientists, including Kittinger, hopes they can help Baumgartner avoid some problems Kit – tinger faced, including uncontrollable spins and pressurization failures. But it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen when Baumgartner reaches speeds over Kittinger’s record 614 mph, let alone surpasses Mach 1. Baumgartner will wear a pressurized suit and have a drogue chute—which should keep him from spinning and open automatically if he becomes unconscious.

At press time the location and date of the jump had not been released.

-Megan Wiseman

Top-Secret Talons Retire

Every aircraft has a story to tell, but some aren’t at liberty to speak. After more than 40 years of clandestine operations, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command is retiring four of its MC-130E Talon 1s. Three will be flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, to be stripped for spare parts, and one (64-0567) will go to the Special Ops Museum at Hurlburt Field, Fla. These Talon 1s, plus the remaining 10 still conducting classified assignments (four have been lost in combat), are to be replaced by the C-130J Super Hercules starting in 2011.

The Talon 1s started life as C-130Es, and were modified for their special role—infiltration, resupply and exfiltration of special ops forces—in the mid- 1960s. In Vietnam they participated in Project Stray Goose, dropping leaflets over North Vietnamese positions and inserting and resupplying CIA agents, Special Forces and indigenous units throughout Southeast Asia.

The museum-bound plane, which was dubbed Wild Thang, served in the failed 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran and landed Army Rangers into Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989. It also airlifted Panamanian General Manuel Noriega back to the U.S. for imprisonment.

-Stephen Mauro

Legends of Aerospace Tour

The first and last men to walk on the moon toured U.S. military bases this spring. Joining Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan were Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, SR-71 Black – bird pilot Bob Gilliland and noted ace Steve Ritchie, among others.

The tour gave Senior Airman Mark Alexander and other servicemen a chance to talk with the pioneers. “They’ve been outside the world,” Alexander said. “People like me…we look up to people like that.” Lovell commented: “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this opportunity to meet our service men and women on the front lines. They are the real heroes.”

ISS Team Wins Collier Trophy

The 2009 Collier Trophy went to the interna- tional team, made up of members of NASA, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency, responsible for “the design, development and assembly of the world’s largest spacecraft”—the International Space Station. The team began constructing the station in 1998, and expects to complete its assembly by 2011.

Marine Reunited With Lady Satan

Retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Thomas Rozga was reunited on February 19 with Jima 65 years ago. Rozga commanded a 12-plane squadron of Sentinels unarmed recon planes also known as Flying Jeeps Lady Satan, the Stinson L-5B Sentinel that he had piloted over Iwo —on the embattled — island, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for a low-level night mission. Late last year the retired Floridian received a call from Lady Satan’s new owner, Mike Polley, of VictoryGirl nose art studio in Upland, Calif. (www.victorygirl.com), who invited him to come to a reunion at Camp Pendleton honoring the 65th anniversary of Iwo Jima and take a two-hour flight in his old plane—one of only two still extant from his squadron. The retired Marine, who is now 87, took the controls 65 years to the day after U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima. “It was one of the smallest planes I’ve ever flown,” Rozga told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “but it was one of the most important.”

Me-109 Parts for Sale

No fighter has ever been manufactured in greater numbers— well over 34,000 units, including license-built Czech Avia S-199s and Spanish Hispano Buchons—than the Messerschmitt Bf/Me-109. Which means that enough have survived, particularly in Russia, to make 109 res – toration a not-uncommon activity. More than 100 Me-109s and license-built copies already exist in every condition from basket-of-parts to back-in-the-air, and more will surely turn up.

So a small company in Germany, Leichtbau, has set out to create dead-nuts-accurate, brand-new replacement parts for Me-109s. No, not just cosmetic fiddly bits, but entire fuselages, wings, empennages and crucial airframe components. And since 109s are notoriously easy to prang on landing, Leichtbau may also have a crash-parts business model in mind.

Leichtbau is two pilot/metalworker brothers, Hans and Hubert Hartmair, who are currently building two complete Me-109s with original Daimler-Benz 601 engines. Leichtbau will only quote prices “on request.” But if you can afford it they’ll make you either a ready-to-fly Me-109 or a complete kit that you can assemble yourself and power with the engine of your choice. Go to leichtbau-gmbh.de for some stunning photos of the Hartmairs’ work.

-Stephan Wilkinson

Super Connie’s Saga

A painstakingly restored Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation will soon have a home at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. This past spring volunteers were installing its four Wright R-3350 engines—the final step in re – turning the airliner to its original 1950s Trans-Canada Airlines trim. The Super Connie is currently housed at Boeing Plant 2, where it faces a final logistical hurdle—the upcoming demolition of that plant and the need to find temporary space before arriving at the museum.

The L-1049G flew 20,000 hours with TCA from 1954 to 1962 before it was parked and scavenged for spare parts in Montreal. In 1996 an investor brought it to the Toronto airport, then to the nearby Regal Constellation Hotel, where it served as a cocktail lounge.

When the Museum of Flight purchased the airliner in 2005, it seemed destined for greater things—but then in 2006 the Department of Canadian Heritage determined that the plane was “of significant cultural and historic importance to Canada” and refused to issue an export permit, stipulating that the museum must offer the aircraft to museums in Canada. With no Canadian offers forthcoming, in March 2007 the Canadian government finally allowed the Connie to return to the U.S. for the first time since its construction—first to Rome, N.Y., in 2007 for reassembly, inspection, repairs and a new paint job, and then to Plant 2 in September 2009.

Retired Boeing employee and Museum of Flight volunteer Bob Bogash is currently working to extend the plane’s stay at Plant 2 so that a permanent spot in the museum can be secured for the Connie. Boeing’s plans to demolish Plant 2 later this year are part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater along the Duwamish River.

-Stephen Mauro

 

Originally published in the July 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.