The first drawing on this page depicts the ulitmate Beech Staggerwing, the D-17G. The final version of the famous Staggerwing series (the first of which was built in 1932) was beautifully appointed and considered one of the finest examples ever of private business aircraft. Capable of more than 200 mph, the Staggerwing transported the busy executive of the WWII era from place to place faster than the airlines could get him there. Powered by the Pratt and Whitney R-985 of 450 hp, the rare Staggerwing today can bring thirty times or more its original asking price, or about $350,000. The D-17G pictured here belongs to Larry Beck of Canby, Oregon. It is one of the nicest in the world and it appears quite at home among the peaks of the Cascade range of mountains.
de Havilland Aviation became a well known name in the 1930's, noted for their innovative designs and dependable flying machines. It was during the early part of the decade that the company developed the DH-88 "Comet" racer that you see below to compete in the England to Australia international air race competition for the MacRobertson cup in 1934. Dubbed "Grosvenor House" for its owner's hotel, GACSS brought home the trophy in grand style. Here it is shown during trials off the south coast of England, near the white cliffs of Dover.
As airline passenger service grew in popularity during the 1930's, visions of vacations or business in locations across the seas convinced lines such as PanAm to incorporate large seaplanes to deliver the goods. Because there were few paved runways in the more remote parts of the world, and for the obvious safety factor, the seaplane was the answer. Among the most famous was the Boeing model 314 Clipper. Capable of delivering a couple of dozen passengers almost anywhere in the world in first class comfort, the Clippers were indeed a sign of airline oppulence at the time. In this drawing the Clipper lies at rest, awaiting a new load of pampered passengers bound for another exotic location.
During WWII the US Navy depended heavily upon Grummann Aircraft to supply them with fighter aircraft. The Grummann "Cat" series of dependable fighters began with the F-4F "Wildcat" and the F-6F "Hellcat" culminating in the ultimate prop driven fighter from the fabled Grummann "Ironworks," the F-7F "Tigercat." Powerd by twin Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engines, the last of the WWII era cats was capable of speeds over 450 mph and although the big fighter arrived too late to see action in WWII, this cat was a formidable animal indeed.
While the word epitome is tossed around all too often, if such a description could be attached to a WWII fighter, everyone's favorite the P-51 "Mustang" would likely bear the label. In the early stages of the war the British desperately needed additional fighter support and sought out North American Aviation to build them fighter aircraft. Challenged to engineer a prototype within 120 days, Dutch Kendelberger and the NA crew did exactly that launching the XP-51 and demonstrating its versatility to the Brits. Thus began a production run that would total nearly 15,000 airplanes before the end of the war that bore both the colors of the USSAF and the those of Great Britain. The P-51D illustrated below over the Hollister California area was owned and flown until recently by my friend Hugh Bikle. It bears the markings of the 334th fighter squadron which was formed in England by American volunteers before the start of the war. This particular aircraft was flown by Colonel Jack Oberhansley who was the squadron commander and later became an ace.
Most advances in aviation technology during the early years, as opposed to today, were achieved by the creative aeronautical engineers in the private sector, most of whom embraced air racing enthusiastically. Among the most notable were the Granville brothers who brought their series of Gee Bee racers to the show in the 1930's, air racing's golden era. Pictured below is perhaps the most famous of them all, the Gee Bee R-1 "SuperSportster." The stubby winged wonder that resembled a flying barrel had a reputation for killing pilots due to its unpredictable handling characteristics. But one of its more famous pilots, Jimmy Doolittle of Tokyo raiders fame, had no such problems and flew the R-1 to a victory in the 1932 Thompson Trophy race at an average speed of more than 256mph.
As the world progressed into the jet age fighter designs grew ever more sophisticated. Perhaps no other organization in the aviation community reflected these technological advances as much as the famous Lockheed "Skunk Works" under the direction of the renown Kelly Johnson. Johnson's team listened to the fighter pilots of the Korean war era and their needs, developing the F-104 "Starfighter," an example of which you see below. Called by many the missle with a man it, the 104 was built for speed. This early '50's design with its GE J79 engine of nearly 16,000 lbs of thrust in afterburner, was capable of speeds greater than mach 2.2. The Starfighter soldiered on for nearly 18 years active duty in the Air Force and it served in the Air Forces of the world much longer than that. The Italians were the last hold-outs retiring them in 2004.
The sporty little Ryan STA caught the eye of the Army Air Corps brass in 1941 and an initial order for several of the STA's, labeled PT-16, launched the military's first monoplane trainer. The original inverted in-line engine ultimately gave way to the Kinner R-540 of 160 hp, and a sturdier PT-22 was the result. Before production ceased late in the war more than 1200 Ryan PT's would be employed by the Air Corps and the Navy, as well as a couple of foreign nations as primaty trainers. The little Ryan was capable of 125 mph and at less than 1900 pounds gross weight, had a somewhat limited range of just over 200 miles. There are still about 85 PT-22's flying today across the country.
Below you will see a flight of two McDonnell Aircraft F-4J Phantoms from Navy fighter squadron VF-103 about to go "feet wet" on the way out to Saratoga (CV-60) for duty in southeast Asia in 1972. The Phantom was among the fastest (mach 2 plus) fighters deployed during the Vietnam War, and among the most effective all-around weapons platforms as demonstrated by the both the Navy and the Air Force.
Perhaps no other WWII fighter was as deeply appreciated by its pilots as the Vought F4U series of aircraft since virtually every aspect of the Corsair's performance equaled or bettered anything else flown by the allied forces during the war. Even the vaunted P-51 was outclassed except when it came to range. Nicknamed the "Whistling Death" by the Japanese due to a shrill whistle that resulted from the slipstream passing through the cooler veins on the leading edges of the wings, the wise eneny infantry took cover when they heard it coming. The Corsair was also known as the "Bent Wing Widow Maker" for its extremely difficult carrier landing characteristics. For this reason, the bulk of the Corsair production went to the shore based Marines who flew it admirably from the captured forward locations throughout the western Pacific.
Thousands of Navy and Air Force cadets flew the nimble North American T-28 during the '50's and '60's. the "A" model, as used by the Air Force and depicted below, was to a large extent underpowered for an aircraft of its size with only 800 horsepower, but it represented well the performance AF cadets would experience when they moved on to the T-33. The Navy versions, models "B" and "C," were much more capable performers with Wright R-1820's of 1,425 horsepower and climb numbers closer to those of the venerable P-51 of WWII days. But my oh my what sweet ailerons. The T-28 was a delight to fly and an aileron roll, as our fictional aviator below has begun, was an exercise of pure enjoyment.
Between 1937 and 1969, over 8000 Beech model 18's were built, a large share of which went to the military. Pictured below is an SNB-2 "Navigator" that was delivered to the Navy. Also known by the Army as the C-45, UC-45, AT-10 and AT-11, the venerable "Twin Beech" trained thousands of fledgling bombardiers, navigators, and pilots among all branches of the services, and served as a utility transport as well. Two Pratt and Whitney R-985 radial engines with 450 horsepower each powered the Twin Beech to cruise speeds of about 200 miles an hour and had a useful range of 1000 miles.