I read E.R. Johnson’s article in the September issue about the Curtiss C-46 Commando, “The Airliner That Went to War,” with great interest and enjoyment. I have been a C-46 buff for over nine years now, but had not seen any of the photographs and schematics contained in Johnson’s article.
I responded with a somewhat ironic smile when I got to the paragraph stating that “Today few if any [C-46s] are operating commercially in the United States.” The reason: I had the privilege of reading that article while seated at the controls of a C-46 at 10,000 feet, loaded with 12,000 pounds of priority mail, en route from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska. Our company, Everts Air Cargo, operates the only two C-46s currently in scheduled airline service in the United States, as well as two more in an affiliated fuel-hauling business, Everts Air Fuel. Following military tradition, all our C-46s are adorned with nose art, including names like Dumbo, Maid in Japan, Hot Stuff and Salmon Ella.
During the last nine years I have accumulated over 4,500 hours in this impressive aircraft. Learning to fly the beast was a truly humiliating experience. With 800 hours in the Beech 18, the civilian version of the Army’s AT-11 advanced multi-engine trainer during WWII, I had felt prepared. I was wrong. As stated in Johnson’s article, crosswind takeoffs and landings are always a true test of one’s airmanship. I can only take my hat off to the brave wartime pilots who were thrown into the cockpit with only a few hundred hours’ total time before being “in charge.” I don’t know whether I could have done it.
Thanks again for dedicating such a comprehensive article to this often unrecognized aircraft (“Uh, actually, no sir, it’s not a DC-3!”).
Eagle River, Alaska
A Better Look at the B-1
I was frustrated by an omission in your September issue, in which the “Restored” department covered the restoration of the B-1A bomber now on display at the Strategic Air & Space Museum. The article was fascinating, and did provide some photos. But although it explained that this particular plane has some unique aspects, including being displayed with its wings fully swept, there weren’t any pictures of the completed aircraft.
We often can’t fit in as many photos as we’d like to. But we agree that the Strategic Air & Space’s B-1A, shown above, is an eye-opening treat.
Dick Smith’s article on the refurbished B-1A, aircraft number 4, in Omaha reminded me that I not only saw it fly into Wright-Patterson Air Force Base some 20 years ago but also served as the escape system engineer on the team that evaluated the safety of the aircraft and crew prior to that last flight. One minor nit: The first three B-1A aircraft were fitted with a crew escape module, not a crew escape capsule. In the escape system business, the term “capsule” applies to an individual encapsulated seat as flown in the SB-70 and B-58. The original B-1A escape system ejected all four crew members in a single integrated compartment that allowed the crew to retain their normal positions. The F-111 also employed an escape module for its two-man crew.
Walter Boyne’s “Reflections on the U.S. Air Force” in the September issue, focusing on Curtis LeMay, Bernard Schriever and Bill Creech, made for compelling reading. Each man—all of them so vitally important to the development of today’s Air Force— was a “ring-knocker,” an Air Force Academy man. But it also makes me wonder why, since there is a Schriever AFB, there is no LeMay AFB or Creech AFB?
Walter Boyne points out there is a Creech Air Force Base near Indian Springs, Colo., renamed in Creech’s honor in 2005.
MOH Mustang Pilots
I enjoyed the “Flight Test” quiz in the November issue, but I knew there were other Medal of Honor recipients. Yes, Lt. Col. James Howard earned the MOH while flying a P-51 on January 11, 1944, over Germany (the only fighter pilot in the European theater to earn that honor). But two Fifth Air Force Mustang pilots also received the MOH, one in WWII and one in Korea: Major William A. Shomo, 82nd Tactical Recon Squadron, for his actions over Luzon on January 11, 1945; and Louis J. Sebille, 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Group (posthumous), for his actions on August 5, 1950, over Hanchang, Korea.
East Haddam, Conn.
Thanks to you and several other readers for setting the record straight.
Originally published in the January 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.