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20 December 1941

Kawasaki Ki-48 Army Type 99 twin-engine light bomber. Allied reporting name, “Lily.”

20 December 1941: For the first time, the 1st American Volunteer Group engaged aircraft of the Empire of Japan in combat. 1st and 2nd Squadrons, based at Kunming, China, intercepted ten Kawasaki Ki-48-I Army Type 99 twin-engine light bombers of the 82nd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai.

Japan and China had been at war since 1937. The Japanese aircraft were based at the Gia Lâm airport, near Hà Nội in occupied French Indochina. They had frequently attacked Kunming, a Chinese city at the northern end of the Burma Road, and had previously been unopposed. For this mission, the bomber squadron initially had a fighter escort, but the fighters turned back at the Indo-China/China border.

The AVG had established a network of observers which would report enemy aircraft in time for the fighters to take off to intercept them. Having received the warning of inbound aircraft, the 1st and 2nd AVG squadrons were ordered into battle.

1st American Volunteer Group fighter pilots run toward their shark-mouthed Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2s, “somewhere in China.” (Defense Media Network)

Sources vary widely as to the number of AVG aircraft involved, but there may have been as many as 16 Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3s from the 1st Squadron, and 8 more from the 2nd Squadron. There is a general consensus that the fighters shot down three of the Japanese bombers, and that a fourth went down while returning to base. Other sources say that only one of the ten Ki-48s made it back to its base. AVG pilots claimed five bombers shot down and two damaged. One Hawk 81 ran out fuel and was damaged beyond repair in a forced landing.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 of the 1st American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
CAMCO assembly facility for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 fighters for AVG (74250 A.C.) (SDASM)
Curtiss-Wright 81-A3, 1st American Volunteer Group, circa 1942.
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN ROYAL AIR FORCE SERVICE: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (CH 17252) The first Curtiss Tomahawks, Marks I and IIA, to enter squadron service with the RAF, in the hands of No. 403 Squadron RCAF at Baginton, Warwickshire. The Squadron operated the Tomahawk for only a short time, yielding them in favour of Supermarine Spitfires in May 1941. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210781
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN RAF SERVICE 1939-1945: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (ATP 10993F) Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184: cockpit interior, port side. Photograph taken at Air Service Training Ltd, Hamble, Hampshire. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127117
Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184, at Hamble, Hampshire © IWM.

RAF order for 100 Tomahawk IIb (Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2 ) was released to be available for AVG. They were built as hybrids of the Tomahawk Mk.IIb and the P-40C Warhawk, though the airplanes intended for the AVG differed in details from either the standard Britsih or American fighters. The airplanes were painted in the standard RAF brown and green camouflage patterns. The completed airplanes were knocked down, crated, then shipped from New York. They were reassembled at a CAMCO facility near Rangoon, Burma.

Two Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIBs on a test flight following assembly at No. 107 Maintenance Unit, Kasfareet, Egypt. Copyright: © IWM.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81 was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit (fighter). It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The Hawk 81 was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters).

The Tomahawk/Warhawk was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun. In British service, the Tomahawk was armed with an additional four Browning .303 Mark II machine guns, with two in each wing. The American P-40, P-40B and P-40C Warhawks had two or four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns as wing-mounted guns.

The “blood chit” was sometimes sewn on AVG pilots’ jackets.

The AVG pilots were employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). Most were former United States military pilots who had been secretly recruited. They were required to resign their officers’ commissions. Importantly, they were all civilians—not members of the Chinese military–nor were they otherwise employed by the government of China. They each had a one year contract, 4 July 1941–4 July 1942. They were paid a monthly salary, more than three times their former military pay, and were also paid a bonus for each enemy airplane they shot down.

(Note: This article is an incomplete draft)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 December 1941

First Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner, USAAC. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

18 December 1941: First Lieutenant Boyd David (“Buzz”) Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, commanding officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) at Nichols Field, Pasay City, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down his fifth Japanese airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Type Zero fighter, with his Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, near Vigan, Luzon. He became the first U.S. Army “ace” of World War II.

On 12 December 1941, “Buzz” Wagner was flying a lone reconnaissance mission over the airfield at Aparri, which had been captured by the invading Japanese. He was attacked by several Zero fighters but he evaded them, then returned and shot down two of them.  As he strafed the airfield he was attacked by more Zeros and shot down two more, bringing his score for the mission to four enemy airplanes shot down.

On 18 December, Lieutenant Wagner lead a flight of four P-40s to attack the enemy-held airfield at Vigan. He and Lieutenant Russell M. Church strafed and bombed the field while two other P-40s covered from overhead. Wagner destroyed nine Japanese aircraft on the ground, but as he passed over the field a Zero took off. Wagner rolled inverted to locate the Zero, then after spotting him, chopped his throttle and allowed the Zero to pass him. This left Wagner in a good position and he shot down his fifth enemy fighter. Lieutenant Church was shot down by ground fire and killed.

Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
A Mitsubishi A6M3 Navy Type 0 Model 22, UI 105, (Allied reporting name “Zeke”, but better known simply as “the Zero”) in the Solomon Islands, May 1943. This fighter is flown by Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, 251st Kōkūtai, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

This fifth shoot down made Buzz Wagner the first U.S. Army Air Corps ace of World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in an air battle, 22 December 1941. He was evacuated to Australia in January 1942.

2nd Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner, Air Corps, United States Army.

Boyd David Wagner was born 26 October 1916 at Emeigh, Pennsylvania. He was the first of two children of Boyd Matthew Wagner, a laborer, and Elizabeth Moody Wagner. After graduating from high school, Wagner enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in aeronautical engineering.

After three years of college, Boyd Wagner enlisted as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 26 June 1937. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 16 June 1938. Lieutenant Wagner received advanced flight training and pursuit training, and on 1 October 1938 his commission as a reserve officer was changed to Second Lieutenant, Army Air Corps.

Wagner was promoted to First Lieutenant, Army of the United States, on 9 September 1940. Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group in the Philippine Islands, 5 December 1940.

1st Lieutenant Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, Philippine Islands, 1 December 1941. (Photograph by Carl Mydans/TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images)
Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner

Lieutenant Wagner was promoted to the rank of Captain, A.U.S., 30 January 1942. On 11 April 1942, Captain Wagner was again promoted, bypassing the rank of Major, to Lieutenant Colonel, A.U.S. He was assigned to the 8th Fighter Group in New Guinea. On 30 April 1942, while flying a Bell P-39 Airacobra, Wagner shot down another three enemy airplanes. In September 1942, Colonel Wagner was sent back to the United States to train new fighter pilots.

On 29 November 1942, Colonel Wagner disappeared while on a routine flight from Eglin Field, Florida, to Maxwell Field, Alabama, in a Curtiss-Wright P-40K Warhawk, 42-10271. Six weeks later, the wreck of his fighter was found, approximately 4 miles north of Freeport, Florida. Lieutenant Colonel Boyd David Wagner, United States Army Air Corps, had been killed in the crash. His remains are buried at Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Curtiss P-40B Warhawks at Clark Field, Philippine Islands, early December 1941.
Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, Nichols Field, Luzon, Philippine Islands, early December 1941. This squadron was under the command of 1st Lieutenant Buzz Wagner. (U.S. Air Force)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

Curtiss-Wright P-40B or C Warhawk, circa 1942. ¹ (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet  (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters). Its range was 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

These Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, are the same type aircraft flown by Buzz Wagner. (U.S. Air Force)
These Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, are the same type aircraft flown by Buzz Wagner in combat over the Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The Warhawk in the photograph may be P-40C 41-13471, s/n 16351.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 December 1941

Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, by Deane Keller, 1942.
Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, by Deane Keller, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

10 December 1941:¹ A single B-17C Flying Fortress heavy bomber, 40-2045, departed from Clark Field, on the island of Luzon, Commonwealth of the Philippines, alone and without escort, to search for an enemy aircraft carrier which had been reported near the coastal city of Aparri, at the northern end of the island. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, of the 14th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group.

Kelly’s Flying Fortress had not been fully fueled or armed because of an impending Japanese air raid. It carried only three 600-pound (272 kilogram) demolition bombs in its bomb bay.

While enroute to their assigned target area, Captain Kelly and his crew sighted a Japanese amphibious assault task force north of Aparri, including what they believed was a Fusō-class battleship. The crew was unable to locate the reported aircraft carrier and Kelly decided to return to attack the ships that they had seen earlier.

A 19th Bombardment Group Boeing B-17C at Iba Airfield, Philipiine Islands, September 1941.
A Boeing B-17C assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group at Iba Airfield, approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Manila on the island of Luzon, Commonwealth of the Philippine Islands, October 1941. (U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency)

Kelly made two passes at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) while the bombardier, Sergeant Meyer Levin, set up for a precise drop. On the third run, Sergeant Meyer released the three bombs in trail and bracketed the light cruiser IJN Natori. It and an escorting destroyer, IJN Harukaze, were damaged by near misses.

“. . . The battleship [actually, the light cruiser IJN Natori] was seen about 4 miles offshore and moving slowly parallel with the coastline. . . A quartering approach to the longitudinal axis of the ship was being flown. The three bombs were released in train as rapidly as the bombardier could get them away. The first bomb struck about 50 yards short, the next alongside, and the third squarely amidship. . . A great cloud of smoke arose from the point of impact. The forward length of the ship was about 10 degrees off center to portside. The battleship began weaving from side to side and headed toward shore. Large trails of oil followed in its wake. . . .”

Narrative Report of Flight of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Air Corps, O-20811 (deceased) on Dec 10, 1947, by Eugene L. Eubank, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding, Headquarters, 5th Bomber Command, Malang, Java, Feb 19, 1942

A Natori-class light cruiser, IJN Yura, photographed circa 1937. (U.S. Navy)

A group of Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighters of the Tainan Kokutai, including the famed fighter ace Petty Officer First Class Saburō Sakai, attacked Kelly’s bomber as it returned to Clark Field, with the first pass killing Technical Sergeant William J. Delehanty and wounding Private First Class Robert E. Altman. The instrument panel was destroyed and oxygen tanks exploded. A second pass by the fighters set the bomber’s left wing on fire. This quickly spread to the fuselage. The two engines on the right wing failed.

坂井 三郎 PO1 Saburō Sakai, Imperial Japanese Navy

Captain Kelly ordered his crew to bail out and though the fire had spread to the flight deck, Kelly remained at the bomber’s controls. Staff Sergeant James E. Halkyard, Private First Class Willard L. Money, and Private Altman were able to escape from the rear of the B-17. The navigator, Second Lieutenant Joe M. Bean, and the bombardier, Sergeant Levin, went out through the nose escape hatch. As co-pilot Lieutenant Donald Robins tried to open the cockpit’s upper escape hatch, the Flying Fortress exploded. Robins was thrown clear and was able to open his parachute.

Boeing B-17C 40-2045 crashed approximately three miles (4.8 kilometers) east of Clark Field. The bodies of Captain Kelly and Sergeant Delehanty were found at the crash site.

“The wreckage was found along a rural road 2 miles west of Mount Aryat (Mount Aryat is about 5 miles east of Clark Field). The tail assembly was missing. Parts . . . were scattered over an area of 500 yards. The right wing with two engines still in place remained almost intact although it was burning when the search party arrived. The fuselage and left side of the plane were badly wrecked and burned. T/Sgt Delehanty’s body was lying about 50 yards north of the wreckage. Capt Kelly’s body . . . was found very near the wreckage with his parachute unopened. . . .”

Narrative Report of Flight of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Air Corps, O-20811 (deceased) on Dec 10, 1947, by Eugene L. Eubank, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding, Headquarters, 5th Bomber Command, Malang, Java, Feb 19, 1942

Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army. (The New York Times)

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., was born in Madison County, Florida, 11 July 1915. He was the first of two children of Colin Purdie Kelly, a fresco artist, and Mary Eliza Mays (“Mamie”) Kelly. He had a younger sister, Emmala Mays Kelly. Kelly attended Madison High School, graduating in 1932.

Kelly was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His stated intention was to become a bomber pilot.

Cadet Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., United States Military Academy, circa 1937. (The Howitzer)

According to his West Point yearbook, “C.P.” Kelly,

“. . . has not devoted all his effort to study and consequently not achieved high academic rank, but he has participated in sports and other activities and has found additional time to enjoy thoroughly West Point. He’s positive in his opinions; vigorous in his actions. All-around ability and a knack for making friends bespeak a bright future for him. . . .”

The Howitzer of 1937, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, 1937, at Page 218.

Cadet Kelly participated in football, boxing, cross country and track, and sang with the Cadet Chapel choir. Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., graduated from West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Infantry, United States Army, on 12 June 1937.

On 1 August 1937, Lieutenant Kelly married Miss Marion Estelle Wick. The ceremony was held in the Cadet Chapel at West Point. They would have a son, Colin Purdie Kelly III, born at Riverside, California, 6 May 1940. In 1963, “Corky” Kelly would also graduate from the United States Military Academy.

2nd Lieutenant Kelly was assigned to flight training at Randolph Field, Texas. He graduated 13 January 1939, was awarded his pilot’s wings and was transferred from Infantry to the Air Corps. Kelly was then ordered to join the 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at March Field, near Riverside, California. He was promoted to first lieutenant 4 June 1940.

A Boeing B-17B Flying Fortress at March Field, Riverside, California, 1940. (LIFE Magazine)

Lieutenant Kelly was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Hickam Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, in April 1941. At about this time, he was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. Kelly served as a squadron operations officer and B-17 check pilot. Nine B-17s of the 14th Bombardment Squadron of the 11th Group were sent to Clark Field in the Philippine Islands, to join the 19th Bombardment Group. Flying to Midway Island, Wake Island, Port Moresby, New Guinea, and Darwin, Australia, they traveled approximately 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers), 5–12 September 1941. For his actions during this transoceanic flight, Captain Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During a reconnaissance mission to Formosa (Taiwan) on 5 December 1941, Captain Kelly observed a large number of Japanese ships steaming toward Luzon. His squadron was then relocated to Del Monte Field on the island of Mindanao.

The Distinguished Service Cross

General Douglas MacArthur later said, “It is my profound sorrow that Colin Kelly is not here. I do not know the dignity of Captain Kelly’s birth, but I do know the glory of his death. He died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with a faith in his heart and victory his end. God has taken him unto Himself, a gallant soldier who did his duty.”

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously. The medal was presented to Mrs. Colin P. Kelly, Jr., by Major General Barney McKinney Giles, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Following the war, Captain Kelly’s remains were returned to the United States, and interred at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, Madison, Florida.

Kelly’s B-17 was the first Flying Fortress in U.S. service to be lost in air combat in World War II.

Boeing B-17C 40-2049, similar to Colin Kelly's 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17C 40-2049, similar to Colin Kelly’s 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299H, designated B-17C, was the second production variant ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps. 38 were built by Boeing, however 20 of these were transferred to Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, designated Fortress B.I. They were initially assigned to No. 90 Squadron.²

The B-17C was 67 feet, 10.6 inches (20.691 meters long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters). The B-17C had an empty weight of 29,021 pounds (13,164 kilograms), gross weight of 39,320 pounds (17,835 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 49,650 pounds (22,521 kilograms).

A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in pre-war natural metal finish. (LIFE Magazine)
A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in natural metal finish, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Photographic Collection, National Air and Space Museum Archives, NASM-XRA-0119)

It was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 C666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines. These engines were rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the B-17C was 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and the maximum range was 3,400 miles (5,472 kilometers).

The B-17C could carry 4,800 pounds (2,177 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of one .30-caliber air-cooled machine gun and four .50-caliber machine guns.

According to one source, all eighteen B-17Cs in service with the Army Air Corps were returned to Boeing in January 1941 to be upgraded to the B-17D configuration.

A Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress, similar to 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress, similar to Colin Kelly’s 40-2045. The Air Corps began camouflaging its B-17s in olive drab and neutral gray during Spring 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ 10 December in the Commonwealth of the Philippines, which is west of the International Date Line. This would have been 9 December in the United States of America.

² A 1941 book, War Wings: Fighting Airplanes of the American and British Air Forces, by David C. Cooke, published by Robert M. McBride & Company, New York, refers to the B-17C in British service as the “Seattle,” which is in keeping with the R.A.F.’s system of naming bombers after cities.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 December 1941

Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George Schwartz Welch, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning of December 7, 1941, very few American fighter pilots were able to get airborne to fight the Japanese attackers. Ken Taylor and George Schwartz were two of them.

Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Cross

Second Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George S. Welch took two Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk fighters from a remote airfield at Haleiwa, on the northwestern side of the island of Oahu, and against overwhelming odds, each shot down four enemy airplanes: Welch shot down three Aichi D3A Type 99 “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighter. Taylor also shot down four Japanese airplanes.

Although both officers were nominated for the Medal of Honor by General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat and recuperating in Australia. When North American Aviation approached General Arnold to recommend a highly experienced fighter pilot as a test pilot for the P-51H Mustang, Arnold suggested Welch and authorized his resignation from the Air Corps.

Aichi D3A Type 99 dive bomber, “Val”. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

George Welch tested the P-51H, XP-86 Sabre and YF-100A Super Sabre for North American Aviation. Reportedly, while demonstrating the F-86 Sabre’s capabilities to Air Force pilots during the Korean War, he shot down as many as six MiG 15s.

George Welch was killed while testing a F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21, A1-108, flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, takes of from IJN Akagi, an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

Ken Taylor scored two more victories at Guadalcanal before wounds received in an air raid sent him back to the United States. He remained in the Air Force until he retired in 1971 with the rank of Brigadier General. He died in 2006.

Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters) and range of 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowlingabove the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds per gun, and four Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

A flight of six Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the Territory of Hawaii, August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
A flight of six Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 9:00 a.m., 1 August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 December 1936

Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

2 December 1936: The first Boeing YB-17, U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 36-149, made its first flight.

Although the prototype Boeing Model 299, NX13372, had crashed at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935, the Army had ordered thirteen Y1B-17 service test aircraft, serials 36-149–36-161. Prior to the model’s first flight, this designation was changed to YB-17. (The “-1-” in the original Y1B-17 designation indicated that the service test bombers were ordered using funding other than the normal appropriations for new aircraft.)

Boeing YB-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-17 had several improvements over the Model 299, which was retroactively designated XB-17. There was a long carburetor intake on top of the engine nacelles which visually distinguishes the YB-17 from the follow-on YB-17A. The main landing gear has one strut rather than the two of the Model 299.

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299B, designated YB-17 by the Army Air Corps, was 68 feet, 4 inches (20.828 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 18 feet, 4 inches (5.588 meters). It had an empty weight of 24,465 pounds (11,097 kilograms), gross weight of 34,880 pounds (15,821 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,600 pounds (19,323 kilograms).

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

Instead of the Pratt & Whitney engines installed on the 299, the YB-17 had four air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820G5 (R-1820-39) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.45:1. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction drive, in order to match the engines’ effective power range with the propellers. The R-1820-39 was rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. The R-1820-39 was 45-7/16 inches (1.154 meters) long and 54¼ inches (1.378 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,198 pounds (543.4 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the YB-17 was 217 miles per hour (349 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 256 miles per hour (412 kilometers per hour) at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). Its service ceiling was 30,600 feet (9,327 meters). The bomber’s maximum range was 3,320 miles (5,343 kilometers).

The YB-17 could carry 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber air-cooled Browning machine guns.

Boeing YB-17 36-149 nosed over on landing at Seattle, 7 December 1936. (Unattributed)

36-149 was damaged in a landing accident 7 December 1936. It was repaired and then flown to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 11 January 1937. After testing at Wright Field, 36-149 was delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia. By 1938 the bomber was back at Wright Field for additional tests.

“In the summer of 1938, Bill [Captain William C. Bentley, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, a B-17 test pilot at Langley Field] and his aircrew flew back to Seattle to pick up an additional aircraft, YB-17 tail number 36-149 from Boeing. This aircraft was different from the original thirteen. During its assembly phase at Boeing, it was packed with additional instruments for recording purposes. Once delivered to Langley, the plane was going to be subjected to a variety of stress tests in order to determine how much damage the plane could take and still operate. During its flight to Langley, Bill arrived over the field in a thunderstorm. The strength of the storm flipped the plane upside down, a stress never envisioned by the designers for such a large aircraft, much less one loaded to capacity with measuring instrumentation and a full crew. Using his fighter pilot training, Bill flew the aircraft at its maximum altitude then performed a slow roll to bring the airplane into its proper attitude. After recovering from a harrowing spin, Bill got control of the plane and landed successfully.

“Much to the crew’s amazement, the wings were slightly bent and some rivets were missing. But the measuring instrumentation had recorded all of the stress placed on the plane. . . .”

—The Touch of Greatness: Colonel William C. Bentley, Jr., USAAC/USAF, by Stewart W. Bentley, Jr., Ph.D., AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010, Chapter 2 at Page 45.

(This meant that a fourteenth YB-17, which had been built specifically as a static test article, could be completed as a Y1B-17A, 37-369.)

Boeing YB-17 at Hamilton Field, California. (U.S. Air Force)

In October 1940 36-149 was transferred to the 19th Bombardment Group at March Field, California. Finally, on 11 February 1942, it was transferred to the Air Park at Amarillo Army Air Field, a B-17 training base in Texas. It was written off 11 December 1942.

After several years of testing, the YB-17 went into production as the B-17 Flying Fortress. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island, California, ca. 1939. (Stephen Fisher)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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