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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.

 

 

Aviation News Rundown: NTSB investigates fire, FAA reviewing ATC at Houston's Hobby Airport

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The video above is from Dude Perfect, the same group of guys at Texas A&M that threw a basketball into a goal from the top of a football stadium. This time they took to the air for what probably was an equally challenging shot.

 

Links to news stories are at the bottom of the post, but first we relay this release from the NTSB, which is investigating a fire on a Boeing 757 that caused the plane to divert 30 minutes into its flight.

 

In its continuing investigation of a fire aboard a Boeing 757 that diverted to Dulles Airport (IAD) enroute to the Los Angeles International airport (LAX) from New York’s John F. Kennedy International airport (JFK), the National Transportation Safety Board has developed the following factual information:

 

On Sunday, May 16, 2010, about 9:17 pm (EDT) the pilots on United Airlines flight 27, a Boeing 757, N510UA, noted a strong acrid smell and observed smoke from the Captain's lower front windshield.  The incident occurred about 30 minutes into the flight while the aircraft was level at 36,000 feet MSL. On board the aircraft were 7 crewmembers and 105 passengers.

 

The Captain and First Officer reported that they donned their oxygen masks and smoke goggles immediately after observing the smoke and fire. The Captain then gave control of the airplane to the First Officer and discharged a halon fire extinguisher.

 

The smoke and fire dissipated but then re-ignited. The Captain obtained a second bottle from the Purser.  The fire remained extinguished after this second

bottle was discharged. At approximately 500 feet MSL on final approach to Runway19L at IAD, the Captain’s windshield cracked. The landing was uneventful. The airplane cleared the runway, after which ARFF (Aircraft Rescue Firefighting) entered the aircraft to check for residual heat and fire. None was found and the airplane was towed to the gate for deplaning. There were no evacuation and no injuries to the flight crew or passengers.

 

Preliminary examination of the cockpit area revealed that the inner pane of the Captain’s windshield had cracked. One of the five terminal blocks attached to the inside of the lower left windshield was consumed by fire and the portion of the wire harness associated with this terminal block was significantly damaged by fire. There was significant sooting and paint peeling to the left hand side of the windshield airframe support.

 

The Captain’s windshield was moved and will be examined by Board investigators at the manufacturer.

 

Two previous windshield fire events on B757-200 aircraft prompted the NTSB to issue Safety Recommendation A-07-50 https://www.ntsb.gov/recs/letters/2007/A07_49_50.pdf.  The Safety Board investigators will look closely at the recovered hardware to determine if this latest event is related.

 

Other news worth noting:

A second near miss at Houston’s Hobby Airport (HOU) has led to the FAA launching an investigation into how ATC is handled there.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two has flown to its launch altitude of 51,000 feet, pressurizing and powering up for the first time. How much longer until there is a single-engine Piper than can reach the moon?

Finally, be sure to check out the Google homepage today, which honors Pac-Man’s 30th birthday by altering its logo into a level of ghosts and power pellets that you can play. (Press the button to the right of the search button to get extra credits or to challenge a friend in two-player mode.)

The people at Google are the second-smartest group on the Web, right behind your friends here at GlobalAir.com.

TGI Fly-Day!

 

WSJ: Two commuter jets did not start second engine prior to takeoff

As we mentioned earlier today, the NTSB is in the process of hearing advice from experts on how to ensure pilots receive proper training and to ensure safety.

On the heels of this comes a report in the Wall Street Journal that two commuter airlines did not start a second engine prior to takeoff.

The pilots avoided emergencies in each case by turning off the runway before accelerating to takeoff speed.

In the wake of the Colgan and Comair crashes, these incidents further prove at the very least that such discussions are crucial to ensure competent pilots are behind the yokes.

At the most, combined with the warning in the earlier release from the panel that experience and integrity could decline, it sends an alarm that more must be done sooner than later to enforce proper training, whether by airline company mandate, FAA mandate or any guideline in between.

Sound off on what you think about the situation in the comments section below.    

Aviation News Rundown: Beware of future airline pilots? and Learn to Fly Day (maybe one can fix the other)

A panel of experts at an aviation safety forum this week issued a scary scenario for the sky in future commercial aviation. They told the NTSB that future pilots at airlines could be, in general, less experienced and ethical amidst an industry in which the workers will be in high demand as airlines begin hiring again.

The Associated Press reports in its coverage of the forum that the hardest hit will be regional airlines, which employ pilots with less experience at lower salaries. Fewer college students and military pilots are looking for work at airlines, as 42,000 pilots will need to be hired over the next 10 years. Flights will still need to be made, and some fear that this could compromise qualifications.

In other news, the FAA says widespread NexGen upgrades will come a little more quickly than initially anticipated. Quoted in the Dallas Morning News, Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt told the American Association of Airport Executives that the bulk of improvements will have occurred by 2016 rather than the forecasted 2018, as airlines rush to be competitive with advanced gear as the transition snowballs.

The first-ever International Learn to Fly Day (website) appears to have been a smashing success, as 40,000 people attended 450 events nationwide, according to the EAA. Check out coverage of events in Gainesville, Fla., Austin, Minn., and Fitchburg, Mass., where a flying car drew a crowd. 

Perhaps programs like this will help ensure the next generation of pilots are, in fact, experienced and ethical.  

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