All posts tagged 'aviation history' - Page 2

FIFI, the world's only flyable B-29, returns to the air


After several years of extensive maintenance, the world’s only flyable Boeing B-29 returned to the sky last week.

The Commemorative Air Force’s “FIFI” left a runway at the Midland International Airport (MAF) in Midland, Texas on Aug. 5 for a 39-minute flight.

The CAF Airpower Museum held a public event last weekend to allow spectators to watch pre-flight preparations for the B-29, a World War II-era super bomber. Likely, the most famous B-29 was the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

In the 1960s, the CAF sought out to acquire and fly a Superfortress, the quad-propped predecessor to the B-52 and other bombers.  The United States Air Force said none remained in inventory.

Then a pilot spotted several in the California desert in 1971, run down, vandalized and used for naval target practice. The CAF acquired FIFI and, following three years of restoration, it returned to flight in 1974.

Engine problems again led to the plane being grounded before the CAF and the Cavanaugh Flight Museum put up $1.2 million to reconfigure the aircraft.

Today we salute a giangantic piece of military history that once again is wheels up. Read more about the celebration here.

The Often ‘Under-Appreciated’ Aviators Watching Out For Us All, and The Story of Their Beginning

Unless you are either an Aviation Historian or a career-insider, the name Archie League will probably mean nothing to you. Archie’s career and the career of 30,000 other air traffic controllers in the United States began at Lambert Field, just northwest of St. Louis in 1929. He is credited with being the world’s first air traffic controller.

Picture this: 170 acres of relatively flat grassland kept short. A field that once grew thousands upon thousands of rows of maize, now cleared and flattened after it was rented and then owned by Major Albert Bond Lambert as the new home for the Missouri Aeronautical Society and for the Missouri Air National Guard.

Both the then Majors Charles Lindbergh and Frank Wassall had been flying the U.S. Mail from this patch of countryside to/from Chicago for their pay-master Robertson Aircraft, thus establishing the world's oldest and longest continually running airline route. Before then, the Naval Reserve Unit of St. Louis had also been established here; the National Air Races had been held here; and about one mile away to the East, a now long disappeared fairgrounds and horse racetrack (Kinloch Park) once played host to the first flight ever taken by a U.S. President (Theodore Roosevelt.)

Less than two years after Charles Lindbergh makes history by flying solo non-stop from Long Island, New York to Paris, flight operations activity at the Lambert Field was intensifying, especially now that the City of St. Louis was the new owner. With concerns that a collision was a real possibly, the City decided to add some form of rudimentary air-traffic control at this newly acquired municipal field. This control came in the form of a local 21-year-old St. Louisian, aircraft mechanic and private-pilot-cum-barnstormer, Mr. Archie William League.


So starting in the wintery weather of early 1929, Archie could be observed as a new fixture out on the field at the head of the landing zones, wearing a padded flying suit. The tools of his trade consisted of a wheelbarrow, an umbrella, two flags (one Red for “Hold”, and one checkered for “Go”), a lunch-pail, a water-pail, a note pad, pencil and a stool to sit on. According some of the archives that feature Archie’s story, he lost his three legged stool to a landing accident, i.e. a Stinson paying more attention to Archie, but not to his glide-path, managed to land directly on top of the stool, thus crushing it into oblivion, and what amounted to as thousands of toothpicks.


As traffic and the approach and landing speeds of aircraft in the early 1930’s increased, Archie soon pitched the flags and went instead, to the use of a signal-light system (very similar to what is still in use today, if an approaching aircraft has lost radio contact with the tower, due to equipment failure.


He later got a-then modern tower to direct traffic from in 1933, which was located a-top the new, colonial-style terminal building. This new tower included a 30,000 candlepower landing light, and two-way-radio system. Now that Archie was working inside, instead of having to sit unprotected from the elements mid-field, he started taking classes at Washington University to earn an Aeronautical Engineering Degree.




After graduating, he was no longer content with being tied to one airport location in this country and therefore Archie chose to join the Bureau of Air Commerce (later to become known as the Federal Aviation Administration) to assist them in building the air-commerce network. Soon after he left St. Louis and was developing new air traffic sites around the country for the Bureau; World-War-II struck, so Archie went off and flew for his country for a spell. As soon as VJ-Day was announced, Archie returned back to his duties at the Bureau.


In 1965 Archie became the Director of all Air Traffic Control for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and retired as the Assistant Administrator of the FAA in 1973. In an interview that he gave to the Washington Post in 1973, Archie told that being the World’s first Air Traffic Controller “...wasn't so complex,”...“We had a red flag to tell planes we didn't want them to do what they were doing. And then we had a chequered flag to tell them it was OK.”


Archie passed away in 1986, but He is still remembered by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which annually awards the Archie League Medal of Safety to “air traffic controllers who displayed extraordinary skill to ensure safety in critical situations.”


I just had to share Archie’s story with you all, as it is too good, not to know. Until next month then. Ciou.

The Statistical Analysis of 'Old and Bold Pilots'

A morbid and unwanted world record is the one that which is awarded to an aviation disaster, based upon the number of people that were killed as victims of this event. Tenerife Airport, in the Canary Islands is still the unfortunate holder of this record. I won't go into the gory details other than to remind you that two tourist-loaded B747's collided on a fogbound runway in 1977. Five hundred and eighty-three perished. It can be argued that the World Trade Centre attacks constitute the largest aviation disaster where more than 4,500 unfortunate souls perished on September 11th, 2001.


It has been said by several accident investigators, that it takes between 6 and 9 separate breakdowns, failures, lapses, mistakes, etc to all coincide (i.e. To all occur to together) before disaster can strike (excluding Terrorism.) I have always been intrigued by this number, and therefore thought that we could explore this claim, together both as a reader, and as a writer, therefore here goes:


It appeared to me that the very best place to get these statistics was from the National Transportation Safety Boards’ own website, at their “query” page for the ‘Accident Database & Synopsis’ archive. Go to the following site:


Once there, I only concentrated on ‘Fatal’ accidents that have been investigated, and concluded by the issuance of a ‘Final Report.’ My search was limited to 2009, therefore all of the following are separate ‘Fatal’ aircraft accidents that include my count of causal factors:


December 2009 fatal accident involving an Aztec: Low time pilot, no weather briefing, night time, low ceilings, reduced visibility, uncontrolled airport, gusty winds, no instrument approach, and no runway lights. = 9 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


Another in December: an A36 Bonanza: Elderly pilot, early AM before dawn, low ceilings, fog, poor runway markers, off- course on a Gnav approach.

= 6 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


November accident involving a Moore Skybolt: Low time pilot, showing off to friends, low altitude, slow speed, high bank angle, high nose up attitude.

= 6 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


October accident involving a restored Aeronca: pilot with heart condition (stint installed), sunset-sun in eyes, low level, low speed, and abrupt maneuvering.

= 6 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


Another October accident involved a Robinson R22: Low time pilot, early AM/dark, fatigue, prescription medicine, history of alcoholism, and falsification of records.

= 6 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


A September accident of a Cessna 182 involved fog, a low ceiling, special VFR clearance, rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and prescription medicine.

= 6 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


Another September accident involved two aircraft in a midair collision, a Cessna 152 and a Piper Cherokee 180: Simulated instrument practice with a student look out, foreign language/poor English, busy training area, and poor radio procedures.

= 4 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


In August a Boeing E75 Bi-plane crashed under the following circumstances: the weather conditions were very hot, and the terrain was high above sea level; the pilot was lost (attempting to map read) and had his head in the

 cockpit rather than outside watching for high-terrain, the engine was not producing enough power to clear terrain and a subsequent wing stall.

= 5 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


A post independence day accident in July involving a Czech built ex military jet trainer/attack L-29 crashed during a formation sortie with similar aircraft. The fatal parameters involved were as follows: Low altitude and prescription medicines.

= 2 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


In May an Aero Commander 500 was lost after dual engine failure, caused by the following factors: a faulty fuel indication system, fuel exhaustion, and the decision to turn back to the runway after the engines failed.

= 3 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


A crash of a Cessna 421 Golden Eagle was caused by several preventable factors, which were: Agitation of the pilot, inaccurate and sloppy addition of engine oil to the RH engine, and loose/worn exhaust flange mounts. The RH engine caught fire on climb out. The pilot was 80 years old and suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning due to the in-flight fire. = 4 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


In March a Grumman American AA1B hit terrain in a mountainous region because of: a low time pilot, consumption of alcohol, heavy rain and heavy snow fall, failure to obtain a weather briefing, and inadvertent flight into IMC in darkness.

= 6 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


February brought the industry the controversial issue of flight experience averages of pilots employed within the commuter airline business when a Colgan Air DHC-8 crashed in Buffalo, New York. Even though many readers are very familiar with the circumstances of this accident, it is still worth reviewing what they were, along with how many were involved to culminate in this tragedy: Crew experience, fatigue, night IFR, failure to respond to stall stick shaker alarm, inappropriate flap use, and low speed flight at low altitude. = 7 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


Finally (no pun whatsoever is intended here), we examine the January accident that involved a corporate-2 crew flown 690 Aero Commander: Heavy icing conditions, over gross take-off weight, and out of balance c of g.

= 3 Breakdowns/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes


After collating the Breakdown/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes numbers, the following pattern emerges:


14 separate ‘Case-Closed’ events chosen (unfortunately there are many more listed at the NTSB Website.)


The total number of Breakdown/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes equaled 73.


Therefore 73/14 = 5.2; or…


For every Fatal Aircraft Accident, here in the U.S.A., on average it takes five (5) Breakdown/Failures/Lapses/Mistakes for the accident to occur.


Don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security, because in some of the older cases that I read, it only took one (1) Breakdown, Failure, Lapse or Mistake for the accident to happen.


Physiologically for me, it was quite harrowing, I must say, to have read about all of these horrific reports detailing ‘death and destruction’ in an aircraft. I hope that your sleeping improves over-time after visiting the NTSB site.


As an unknown pilot once stated: “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots.”

Louisville's Seaplanes: History of a landlocked city and its naval aircraft (part 2)

The following is by Louisville historian R. David Schooling. Images are used with implied permission. Read Part 1 here.

The Grumman Widgeon was a large, generously appointed, six-place amphibian that Thompson also owned and kept in the Kentucky Flying Service hanger at Bowman Field (LOU), but he frequently flew it into and out of his personal  seaport on the wharf at 2nd & River.

This plane, along with the Piper J-3 and the two Seabees, presented an unusual visual impact attracting curiosity seekers crossing the bridge or entering Louisville from U.S. 41-River Road or arriving or departing train passengers along the elevated track of the Illinois Central atop the wharf  glancing out of their train windows down at the activities on the riverfront. This was an era preceding modern freeways, newer Ohio River bridges and one in which trains still ran.

The largest amphibian ever to splash into Louisville's wharf was the
massive Curtiss NC-4 four engine plane. This record setter was the
world's first aircraft to cross the Atlantic. The Nov. 11 & 12  Louisville
visit was 
part of the 1919 goodwill tour.
Photo courtesy the Bowman Eagles Flying Club.

There is some historic record of an earlier attempt to start up seaplane operations in Louisville, perhaps as early as the 1920s. Take for instance the intriguingly named firm dating from July 5, 1920 called the "Ohio River Aero Transport Company."

This company likely was directly connected to a short-lived airmail service using small flying boats operating between Cincinnati and Louisville, mentioned in archived newspaper clips. Further detail about  these  operations  are  unavailable. Thompson’s Seaplane Base operated for a number of years during the mid-to-late 1940s and early 1950s. Details of its closure are uncertain, but Louisville's Seaport and Mr. W.C.Thompson were both widely known and fondly remembered.


Without doubt, the largest and most historically notable amphibian aircraft to ever slice her keel through the waters of the Ohio River and pull up to the Louisville wharf was the gigantic, four-engine NC-4 flying boat, which made the first ever Trans-Atlantic crossing.  

Here are some of the impressive statistics for this craft: Wingspan 168 ft.- Power plant- Four 400 h.p. V-12 engines, Fueling Systems Nine 200 gallon fuel tanks with 1,800 gallons of fuel aboard, Operational weight 28,000 lbs. Crew of Six, Dual open-air pilot and navigator cockpits, bow and aft machine gun ports and hatches.

The NC aircraft originally was designed for anti-submarine patrol duties. After its record setting achievement, the NC-4 aircraft was dismantled and shipped back to the States on the USS Aroostook. The crew returned to the United States via the transport USS Zeppelin to the Navy port at Hoboken.

After much pomp and celebratory receptions for the crew’s  achievement, the NC-4 was reassembled and assigned to a schedule of goodwill tours throughout eastern and southern ports. It was flown up the Mississippi to St. Louis, where it officially was transferred by the US Navy to the Smithsonian Institution. After St. Louis, the aircraft made its way to Louisville’s Ohio Riverfront wharf only five months after its achievement at Lisbon, Portugal for viewing by appreciative Louisville citizens at the Ohio River on Nov. 11 and 12, 1919.

Numerous Louisville pilots received water ratings and seaplane training in one of the various Thompson aircraft, flying in and out of the Louisville seaport with W.C."Tommy" Thompson instructing at their side. The wonderful color photo taken under the bridge would have been nothing short of spectacular had all of Thompson’s seaplanes been in a single picture. This story is but one tiny portal into Louisville's long-vanished waterfront, which still holds many similar historic gems.

For posterity sake the research alone has been quiet an adventurous trip.



W.C.Thompson and friends at the  2nd & River Louisville Seaport

R. David Schooling is a freelance author and historian based near Louisville, Ky., with deep interests in little-known aspects of the area's history. He has written numerous articles and has been published widely, in local and regional publications, especially urban-affairs issues.
An Air Force veteran who served in Japan and Europe, he eventually was assigned and detached to the Royal Air Forces in Germany. Now retired and living just across the Ohio River in Clarksville, Ind., he is working on his latest endeavor, historic electric railways. Inter-urbans, elevated’s and rapid transit were all abundant in Louisville years ago.

Louisville's Seaplanes: History of a landlocked city and its naval aircraft (part 1)

The following is by Louisville historian R. David Schooling. Images are used with implied permission. Part 2 will be posted next week.

Piper J-3 Float Plane, photo courtesy Gary J. Nokes co-author of "Wings over the Falls"


During the years following World War II, just in the east shadow of the Second Street Bridge, stood the fully operational Ohio River Seaplane Base, with several aircraft making their fascinating water skimming takeoffs and landings.

The owner-operator was St. Matthews resident W.C. Thompson, nicknamed "Tommy.” Much of the following details are from interviews with William Happel, founder of Haps Aerial Services and Haps Airport in Sellersburg, Ind.

During and prior to the war years, Mr. Thompson was happily providing flying "hops" and flying instructions at Bowman Field (LOU). At the time, he owned a Piper J-5 Cruiser, which was a souped-up version of the Piper J-3 aircraft shown above in the floatplane configuration.

In 1942, U.S. Army air forces took over Bowman Field and converted it to Bowman Army Air Base. The biggest assignment for the field was the training of air-combat glider pilots and combat-air evacuation nurses.

This instantly made Bowman one of the busiest airports in the nation. It was suddenly overcrowded, and its new mission of nonstop training activities practically squeezed out civilian operators who had been using the field for some number of years. This issue led to the total destruction of Thompson’s aircraft.

One of the glider pilot trainees managed to crash his glider into Thompson’s Piper, which ended up destroying both aircraft.   

Mr. Thompson’s government reimbursement was to be stretched out for a long time. He did not receive his payout until sometime after World War II.   

It was during this timeframe that Thompson decided to open his "Seaport" on the Ohio River. At one time, he had at least three water-based planes operating: the yellow Piper J-3 floatplane in the bridge picture and two unique and attractive "Seabee" aircraft, shown below skimming along on a water takeoff.


Courtesy of the Seabee Owners Club

The excitement of water takeoff and landing was a novelty for sure and a big attraction, especially as far inland as Louisville. The business prospered for several years with only one slight mishap.

While landing one of his Seabee’s, Thompson’s aircraft sputtered, gasped and nearly ran out of fuel. He was forced into an emergency downriver flight over the dam and onto narrow turbulent waters. The unexpected ditch landing did some damage to the aircraft, but it is recollected as being minor.

Least you are thinking, "Hey wait a minute. There is something very familiar about that plane." You are correct. You probably remember seeing the same aircraft in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun.

The widespread appeal of this aircraft proved long lasting, not only in the 1940s but years later, as an exciting transport gadget for Mr. Bond. At least after his over-the-dam ditch landing, a dwarf manservant serving up bottle of Dom Perignon didn’t greet Mr. Thompson.

This author's recent discovery that Thompson at one time owned other flying boats such as a Grumman Widgeon and even a second "Seabee" amphibian was a quiet unexpected turn. Most of these were stored at local airports rather that at the river location for logistics reasons.  

Aside from the pier and floating dock, the Louisville Seaport also had a small onshore building used for parts storage and maintenance items. It was nothing elaborate, perhaps one of the Municipal Wharves smaller, unused buildings. The municipal wharves complex, however, was quiet elaborate at one time. William Happel of Haps Aerial recalls buying a propeller at this location from Thompson.


W.C. Thompson’s Republic RC3 "Seabee" amphibian in the Ohio River

R. David Schooling is a freelance author and historian based near Louisville, Ky., with deep interests in little-known aspects of the area's history. He has written numerous articles and has been published widely, in local and regional publications, especially urban-affairs issues.
An Air Force veteran who served in Japan and Europe, he eventually was assigned and detached to the Royal Air Forces in Germany. Now retired and living just across the Ohio River in Clarksville, Ind., he is working on his latest endeavor, historic electric railways. Inter-urbans, elevated’s and rapid transit were all abundant in Louisville years ago.



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