AIR ARMADA WITNESS

In reference to “The Great Air Armada,” which appeared in the July 2005 issue, I witnessed part of that flight in May 1931 as a 5- year-old. When the aerial flotilla passed near Whitewater, Ind., I happened to be standing in the front yard of my home there with my dog. It was a large red brick house.

When my dog started whining, I looked to the east and saw that the sky was filled with biplanes. Frightened, I ran back to the house for protection as the first wave of planes began passing overhead. I remember that the windowpanes rattled as the aircraft passed over. After that my mother managed to calm me down, and I was able to enjoy the spectacle as the rest of the planes passed by. It was my first experience at an airshow.

It seemed to me that as they passed over our house, they changed headings from west to west-northwest. This happened as wave after wave of planes passed over. Given the size and color of our house, maybe it served as a good landmark.

Thanks for refreshing my memory.

Ruskin D. Moore

Eaton, Ohio

‘ALONE, UNARMED AND UNAFRAID’

Terry M. Mays’ September article “Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid,” about Vietnam War reconnaissance aircraft, hit home when I read on P. 51 about the crash of a Martin RB-57 on September 19, 1966, near Chu Lai, South Vietnam, and the Marine rescue helicopter sent in to try to find its crew. For me, that was one unforgettable mission—in part because of the rest of the story.

I was the crew chief of that helicopter, a Navy Sikorsky UH-34D, Bureau No. 150557, christened Teri E and assigned to HMM-362, operating out of Ky Ha. On September 19, we were assigned search-and-rescue duty at Chu Lai airstrip, with Captain R.E. Moser serving as the pilot. I have long since forgotten the names of the co-pilot and gunner that day.

When we located the downed RB-57, one crew member apparently lay in thick underbrush, but the body of the other crewman was still strapped into his ejection seat. My gunner and I managed to muscle the seat into position so that I could cut him loose with my K-Bar. We carried him back to Teri E. We thought at the time that, given his proximity to the plane, the impact of the bomber on the ground had set off the seat, which had ended up crushing its occupant. There was no sign of a parachute having deployed.

En route back to Ky Ha, we passed an Air Force Kamen H-43 inbound to try to find the other crewman. After dropping off the body, we returned to the search-and-rescue pad at Chu Lai. Following shut-down, we discovered an amazing and unsettling thing. Evidently, we had unknowingly hit something either on landing or on takeoff from the crash site, because two of the main rotor blades had bent spars, and the other two had a couple of pockets ripped off each one. The damaged spars and pockets just happened to be on blades that were exactly opposite each other— so the damaged portions had apparently balanced out while Teri E was flying home.

A test pilot brought a replacement chopper from Ky Ha and flew Teri E back there, where its rotor head and all four main blades were replaced. Teri E —in my opinion one great H-34— survived the Vietnam War. Shortly before HMM-362 was decommissioned as the last active H-34 squadron in the Marine Corps, Teri E was shipped off to Japan for an overhaul. When it returned to the States, it went on to fly with the Marine Reserves. Teri E was in Detroit, Mich., when the last of the Reserves to fly H-34s was decommissioned. It was flown from there to the bone-yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in January 1972, where it was sold for scrap for the grand sum of just $500.

Richard L. Houghton Jr.

Jacksonville, N.C.

SOUTHERN CROSS FOLLOWED SMITH-BRONTE

In David H. Grover’s article “Smith-Bronte Flight: Between Triumph & Tragedy,” which appeared in the September 2005 issue, there is an incorrect statement: “After the ill-fated Dole race, no one would even try to fly the Pacific to Hawaii for almost a decade.” In fact, Australians Squadron Leader Charles E. Kingsford-Smith and Flight Lt. Charles T.P. Ulm would fly from Oakland to Hawaii the year after the ill-fated Dole race.

Kingsford-Smith and Ulm had arrived in America in 1927 just before the Dole race and were offered a spot in that competition. But they opted not to participate, deciding that they were not sufficiently prepared at that point. Nearly a year later, piloting Southern Cross, a Fokker F. VII trimotor, and joined by navigator Harry Lyon and radio operator Jim Warner, they took off from Oakland on May 31, 1928, and made it to Hawaii in 27 hours, 27 minutes. They would go on to Suva, Fiji, and Brisbane, Australia, arriving there on June 9. Their goal was to prove the feasibility of a commercial route across the Pacific.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about this feat and their other adventures, I recommend The Flight of the Southern Cross, published in 1929 by Kingsford-Smith—who was later knighted for his services to aviation. As a former overwater navigator, I am in awe.

George Crowl

Via e-mail

I’m researching the Dole Race for one of my forthcoming Historical Aircraft Digests, to document the details, color schemes and markings of all 14 aircraft that were ready to fly the race. With regard to David Grover’s article, there are a few corrections you might want to pass on.

  1. The distance was more like 2,400 miles not 2,100.
  2. The real name of the race was the “Trans-Pacific Air Race.” It quickly became known as the “Dole Race” because it was James Dole’s idea; he backed it with his personal funds, and the tragic outcome made a lasting impression connected with Dole.
  3. Bay Farm Island was not Oakland’s airport; it was a private operation adjacent to Oakland’s property run by W.A. Sanders. It was also called Alameda Airport because it was within the city limits of Alameda. Oakland’s Port Commission was fully funding and working all out on Oakland Airport to provide a takeoff run of 5,280 feet plus another 2,000-foot extension. The U.S. Army Air Corps inspected Oakland’s efforts on May 27, 1927, liked it and selected it as the takeoff point for the planned transpacific flight by Lester J. Maitland and Albert F. Hegenberger. Smith and Bronte also took off from Oakland Airport.
  4. Smith’s Travel Air was a Model MA, essentially an earlier model that evolved into the Model 5000, which both Art Goebel and J.L. Giffin modified for their entries in the race.

Warren Eberspacher

Orchard City, Colo.

David Grover responds: I don’t know how I overlooked the flight of Southern Cross in saying that no one would do any Pacific flying for a long time. I am fully aware of that flight, and very appreciative of the preparations by Kingsford-Smith, including taking along a merchant marine captain who served as a navigator—which is why Smith took Bronte with him.

Certainly trimotors such as Southern Cross did not have the same difficulties with crossing the Pacific as single-engine aircraft such as City of Oakland, the one piloted by Smith and Bronte. Perhaps that is why I overlooked mentioning Kingsford-Smith and Ulm. In any case, I apologize for the oversight.

TOP SPITFIRE ACE

In Jon Guttman’s otherwise excellent article on the outstanding career of Johnnie Johnson, “Britain’s Top Spitfire Ace,” in the September 2005 issue, reference is made to the Royal Air Force Veterans Reserve. RAFVR stood for Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, under which most hostilities-only Royal Air Force personnel served during WWII. Its naval equivalent was the RNVR, encompassing most Fleet Air Arm aircrews.

Derek O’Connor

Via e-mail

STINSON L-5

I’m sure you’ve received many letters scolding you for the editorial flub in the September 2005 “Art of Flight” department, where mention is made of a Piper L-4 and a Taylorcraft L-5. The L-5 was actually a Stinson.

A tough and agile little bird, the L-5 had what few other observation planes had at that time: performance. It was the military version of the Stinson 105 Voyager, with much increased power. Of course, when the Cessna L-19 “Bird Dog” came to us in Korea, it was almost like going from the P-51 to the F-86.

I get a new treat of nostalgia with your every issue. Thanks.

Bob Rieland

Juno Beach, Fla.

 

Originally published in the January 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.