Daily Archives: March 18, 2017

18 March 1945

LaVerne Brown, Director of Flight Test, Douglas Aircraft Company, in the cockpit of the first XBT2D-1 Dauntless II prototype, Bu. No. 9085. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
LaVerne Ward Browne, Director of Flight Test, Douglas Aircraft Company, in the cockpit of the first XBT2D-1 Dauntless II prototype, Bu. No. 9085. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

18 March 1945: At the Naval Airplane Factory, El Segundo, California (at the southeast corner of Los Angeles Airport, now best known as LAX), Douglas Aircraft Company Director of Flight Test LaVerne Ward (“Brownie”) Browne took the prototype XBT2D-1 Dauntless II, Bu. No. 9085, for its first flight.

He later commented, “I wish I could tell of some dramatic incident that occurred. There wasn’t any. I just floated around up there for an hour and a half and brought her down. But I did do something that’s unprecedented, I believe, for a first trip. The airplane handled so well that I put it through rolls and Immelmanns to check it for maneuverability.”

The first prototype Douglas XBT2D-1 Dauntless II, Bu. No. 9085. In this photograph the airplane has a propeller spinner. (San Diego Air and Space Museum archive)
The first prototype Douglas XBT2D-1 Dauntless II, Bu. No. 9085. In this photograph the airplane has a propeller spinner. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The XBT2D-1 would be ordered into production as the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider.

Designed by Douglas’ Chief Engineer, Edward Henry Heinemann, the XBT2D-1 was a single-place, single-engine attack bomber capable of operation from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. The prototype was 39 feet, 5 inches (12.014 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, ¼ inch (15.246 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 7½ inches (4.763 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 10,093 pounds (4,578 kilograms) and maximum weight of 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms).

The first four XBT2D-1 prototypes were powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R3350-8 (Cyclone 18 779C18BB1) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine rated at 2,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,400 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., for takeoff. The next 20 airplanes built utilized the R3350-24W (Cyclone 18 825C18BD1) which had a takeoff power rating of 2,500 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m.

Test pilot Brown in teh cockpit of Douglas XBT2D-1 Dauntless II Bu. No. 9085 during a test flight. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Test pilot LaVerne Brown in the cockpit of Douglas XBT2D-1 Dauntless II Bu. No. 9085 during a test flight. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The XBT2D-1 had a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at 13,600 feet (4,145 meters) and normal cruise speed of 164 miles per hour (264 kilometers per hour).

The first XBT2D-1, Bu. No. 9085, was sent to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland for further testing. The second, 9086, went to NACA Ames at Moffet Field, California, where it underwent testing from 11 March 1946 to 4 September 1947..

The second prototype XBT2D-1, Bu. No. 9086, was tested at the NACA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California, from 11 March 1946 to 4 September 1947. (NASA)
The second prototype XBT2D-1, Bu. No. 9086, at the NACA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California, 18 June 1946. (NASA)

3,180 Skyraiders in 11 variants were built at the Douglas Aircraft Company’s El Segundo, California, plant from 1945 to 1957. The attack bomber was widely used during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It was utilized for many purposes but is best known for its close support missions during combat rescue operations. After 1962, the AD-series aircraft still in service were redesignated A-1E through A-1J.

Douglas XBT2D-1 Dauntless II at Los Angeles Airport, circa 1945. (Douglas Aircraft Company via Tommy H. Thomason)

The most numerous Skyraider variant was the AD-6 (A-1H), of which 713 were produced by Douglas. The AD-6 was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, 9 inches (15.469 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 8¼ inches (4.782 meters). Its empty weight was 11,968 pounds (5,429 kilograms) and gross weight was 18,106 pounds (8,213 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) for the AD-6 was 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms).

Douglas AD-4 Skyraider of VA-195 taking off from USS Princeton (CV-37) circa 1950–52 (U.S. Navy)
Douglas AD-4 Skyraider of VA-195 taking off from USS Princeton (CV-37) circa 1950–52 (U.S. Navy)

The Douglas AD-6 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-26WA (Cyclone 18 836C18CA1) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine, with water/alcohol injection. This engine has a compression ratio of 6.71:1. The R-3350-26W has a Normal Power rating of  2,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of 2,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m., using 115/145 aviation gasoline. The engine drives a four-bladed Aeroproducts constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 6 inch (4.115 meters) through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The engine is 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 6.81 inches (2.002 meters) long. It weighs 2,848 pounds (1,292 kilograms), dry.

The AD-6/A-1H Skyraider had a cruise speed of 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour). The ceiling was 29,400 feet (8,961 meters) and its combat radius carrying 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of ordnance was 275 miles (443 kilometers).

A U.S. Marine Corps Douglas AD-2 Skyraider of VMF-121 parked at airfield K-6, Pyongtaek, South Korea, 1952. The hard points under the wings are fully loaded with bombs.
A U.S. Marine Corps Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, Bu. No. 127874, of VMF-121 is parked at airfield K-6, Pyongtaek, South Korea, 1952. The hard points under the wings are fully loaded with bombs. The aircraft is painted overall glossy sea blue. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Douglas AH-1H Skyraider 52-137593 (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas AH-1H Skyraider 52-137593 of the 602nd Special Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force)

The AD-6 Skyraider was armed with four 20mm AN-M2 autocannons, with two in each wing. The guns fired explosive projectiles with a muzzle velocity of 2,850 feet per second (869 meters per second), and had a rate of fire of 600–700 rounds per minute. The AD-6 could carry 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms) of bombs, rockets, gun pods and external fuel tanks from the 15 hard points and pylons under the wings and fuselage.

A Douglas A-1H Skyraider of the 6th Special Operations Squadron dive bombing a target during a close air support mission, Vietnam, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
A Douglas A-1J Skyraider, 52-142016, of the 6th Special Operations Squadron dive bombing a target during a close air support mission, Vietnam, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

Many United States Navy and Marine Corps Skyraiders were transferred to the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force retained the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers (“Bu. No.”) but added two digits corresponding to the fiscal year in which each airplane was contracted. This resulted in serial numbers similar, though longer, than customary in the Air Force and Army numbering system.

The oldest Skyraider in existence is XBT2D-1 Bu. No. 9102. Formerly on display at NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia, the airplane was transferred to The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City for restoration and preservation.

This is the Douglas A-1H Skyraider flown by LCOL Jones, 1 September 1968. Though it was extensively damaged by anti-aircraft gunfire and the subsequent fire, 52-139738 was repaired and returned to service. On 22 September 1972, -738 was shot down over Laos. It was the last Skyraider shot down during the Vietnam War.
Douglas A-1H Skyraider 52-139738, 1st Special Operations Squadron. Lieutenant Colonel William A. Jones III, commanding the 602nd Special Operations Squadron, flew this airplane on 1 September 1968 during a Combat Search and Rescue mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. On 22 September 1972, -738 was shot down over Laos. It was the last Skyraider shot down during the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force)

LaVerne Ward Browne was born at Orange, California, 9 December 1906. He was the third child of Edwin J. Brown, a farm worker, and Phebe Alice Proctor Brown. He studied law at the University of Southern California (USC).

“Mystery Plane” poster. (Monogram Pictures Corporation)

In 1928, Brown learned to fly at the Hancock College of Aeronautics, Santa Maria, California. He then worked as a pilot for Transcontinental and Western Airways, flying the Douglas DC-2. He was also commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps Reserve.

Browne married Miss Dorothy Leonore Bach at Los Angeles, California, 28 January 1926. They had a daughter, Barbara May Browne, born 6 December 1926, but later divorced. One 12 June 1933, Browne married Harriette Fitzgerald Dodson at Norfolk, Virginia.

From 1931 to 1941, under the pseudonym “John Trent,” Browne performed in sixteen Hollywood movies, including “I Wanted Wings,” with William Holden, Ray Milland and Veronica Lake. He played the character “Tailspin Tommy Tompkins” in four: “Danger Flight,” “Sky Patrol,” “Stunt Pilot,” and “Mystery Plane.”

Browne worked for Douglas Aircraft Company from 1942 to 1957. He died 12 May 1966 at Palos Verdes, California, at the age of 59 years.

“John Trent” (LaVerne Ward Browne) portrayed “Tailspin Tommy Tompkins” in four Hollywood movies. (Monogram Pictures Corporation via IMDb)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 March 1943

1st Lieutenant Jack Warren Mathis, United States Army Air Corps

MEDAL OF HONOR

FIRST LIEUTENANT JACK WARREN MATHIS

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 359th Bomb Squadron, 303d Bomb Group.

Place and date: Over Vegesack, Germany, March 18, 1943.

Entered service at: San Angelo, Tex. Born: September 25, 1921, San Angelo, Tex.

G.O. No.: 38, July 12, 1943.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy over Vegesack, Germany, on 18 March 1943. 1st Lt. Mathis, as leading bombardier of his squadron, flying through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire, was just starting his bomb run, upon which the entire squadron depended for accurate bombing, when he was hit by the enemy antiaircraft fire. His right arm was shattered above the elbow, a large wound was torn in his side and abdomen, and he was knocked from his bomb sight to the rear of the bombardier’s compartment. Realizing that the success of the mission depended upon him, 1st Lt. Mathis, by sheer determination and willpower, though mortally wounded, dragged himself back to his sights, released his bombs, then died at his post of duty. As the result of this action the airplanes of his bombardment squadron placed their bombs directly upon the assigned target for a perfect attack against the enemy. 1st Lt. Mathis’ undaunted bravery has been a great inspiration to the officers and men of his unit.

The Medal of Honor and Purple Heart awarded to 1st. Lt. Jack W. Mathis are displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Jack Warren Mathis was born 10:30 p.m., 25 September 1921, at San Angelo, Texas. He was the second of three children of Rhude Mark Mathis, a salesman, and Avis Cannon Mathis.

Mathis enlisted as a private in the United States Army, 12 June 1940, t Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, and was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After six months service, he was transferred to the Air Corps as an aviation cadet and sent to at Goodfellow Field, southeast of his hometown of San Angelo. He trained as a bombardier, as did his older brother, Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr.

Jack Mathis was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 4 July 1942. He deployed to Europe in September 1942. Mathis was promoted to first lieutenant in January 1943.

Capt. Harold L. Stouse’s combat crew, June 1942. 2nd Lt. Jack W. Mathis is in the back row, far right. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Mathis was assigned to the combat crew of a Boeing B-17F-25-BO Flying Fortress, 41-24561, of the 359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303d Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Molesworth. The ship, named The Duchess, was under the command of Captain Harold L. Stouse. It carried fuselage identification markings BN T.

Because of the severe effect that German submarines were having against transatlantic merchant convoys, U-boat pens and construction yards were a high-priority target for bombers of the 8th Air Force.

On 18 March 1943, the 8th launched Mission No. 24 against the Bremer-Vulkan-Vegesacker Werft submarine construction yard on the River Weser at Bremen-Vegesack, Germany. The attack force consisted of 76 B-17s and 27 B-24 Liberators. Each bomber was loaded with six 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) M44 high-explosive bombs. The plan called for bombers to drop from 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). Each squadron would release their bombs simultaneously.

Mission No. 24 was Jack Mathis’ fourteenth combat mission. He was the lead bombardier of the 359th, the second element of seven B-17s of the 303d Group. The bombardier controlled the heading of the B-17 through adjustments to his Norden bomb sight. The squadron’s bombing accuracy was dependent on the skill of the lead bombardier.

As the American bombers approached the target, Mathis took careful aim at the target 24,000 feet below and opened the bomb bay doors. With his eye pressed to the Norden bombsight, Mathis was less than one minute away from releasing his bombs when an antiaircraft shell exploded near the right nose of his B-17, named The Duchess. Fragments from the shell shattered the Plexiglas nose, nearly severed his right arm above the elbow, and caused deep wounds in his side and abdomen. The concussion threw him to the rear of the nose section. Nevertheless, Mathis went back to his bombsight and accurately dropped his bombs before collapsing dead over his bombsight.

—Excerpted from A Test of Courage: 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis, an article from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, 1 May 2015

Reconnaissance photographs later revealed that seven enemy submarines and two-thirds of the shipyard had been destroyed in the attack. For his extraordinary effort, 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the first awarded to an 8th Air Force Airman.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers leave contrails at high altitude. (United States Air Force)

Jack Mathis’ older brother, Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., was at RAF Molesworth awaiting his brother’s return from the mission. He was present when The Duchess landed. Mark Mathis requested a transfer to the Captain Stouse’s crew with 359th to take his brother’s place. Tragically, on his fourth mission, he too, was killed.

First Lieutenant Jack Warren Mathis was buried at Fairmount Cemetery, San Angeleo, Texas. His brother, First Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., is buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Netherlands.

Mathis Field (San Angelo Regional Airport, or SJT) was named after the two Mathis brothers.

Lieutenant Jack W. Mathis’ Medal of Honor is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Duchess survived 59 combat missions. It was returned to the United States after the war in Europe came to an end. It was scrapped in August 1945.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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18 March 1937

Amelia Earhart arrives at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 18 March 1937. The airplane is Lockheed Electra 10E Special NR16020. (Hawaii's Aviation History http://hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation)
Amelia Earhart arrives at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 18 March 1937. The airplane is Lockheed Electra 10E Special NR16020. (Hawaii’s Aviation History)

18 March 1937, 5:40 a.m.: Amelia Earhart and her crew sighted Diamond Head on the island of Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. The Electra landed at Wheeler Army Airfield, Honolulu, after an overnight flight from Oakland, California, completing the first leg of a planned around-the-world flight in 15 hours, 47 minutes.

Also aboard were Paul Mantz, Amelia’s friend and adviser, as co-pilot, navigator Captain Frederick Joseph Noonan, formerly of Pan American Airways, and Captain Harry Manning of United States Lines, acting as radio operator and navigator. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, registration NR16020.

About an hour after takeoff from Oakland, California, the Electra overtook the Pan American Airways Hawaii Clipper, which had departed San Francisco Bay an hour-and-a-half before Earhart. She took photographs of the Martin M-130 flying boat.

In her log, Amelia Earhart described the sunset over the Pacific Ocean:

“. . . golden edged clouds ahead, then the golden nothingness of sunset beyond. . .  The aft cabin is lighted with a weird green blue light, Our instruments show pink. The sky rose yellow. . . Night has come. The sea is lovely. Venus is setting ahead to the right. The moon is a life-saver. It gives us a horizon to fly by. . . .”

Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer, by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, Brassey’s, Wahington and London, 1997, Chapter 18 at Page 171.

On arrival at Hawaii, Earhart, saying that she was very tired, asked Paul Mantz to make the landing at Wheeler Field.

Amelia Earhart, with flower leis, on her arrival at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 18 March 1937. (Hawaii’s Aviation History http://hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation)
Amelia Earhart, with flower leis, on her arrival at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 18 March 1937. (Hawaii’s Aviation History)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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