Tag Archives: Browning Machine Gun Caliber .50 AN-M2

26 July 1944

North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs, "The Bottisham Four", 26 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs, “The Bottisham Four,” 26 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

26 July 1944: This iconic World War II photograph, The Bottisham Four, is one of a series depicting a flight of four North American Aviation P-51 Mustang fighters—three P-51Ds and one P-51B—of the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, based at Air Force Station F-374 (RAF Bottisham), Cambridgeshire, England, as they flew formation with a B-17 Flying Fortress camera ship from the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy).

None of these aircraft would survive the war. Fourteen days after this photo was taken, 9 August 1944, the number two plane, 44-13926 (E2 S), crashed during a training flight near Stalham, Norfolk, killing the pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Donald D. Dellinger.

Three days later, 12 August 1944, at 1505 hours, 361st Fighter Group commanding officer Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., flying the lead plane, Lou IV, was killed and his Mustang destroyed in a dive-bombing attack against the Arras railroad marshaling yards in Boisleux-au-Mont, France.

The number four plane, the P-51B Suzy G, crash-landed following a combat mission and was destroyed, 11 September 1944.

Sky Bouncer, the number three P-51D, crashed on takeoff, near Cambron Casteau, Belgium, 3 April 1945.

Lead: P-51D-5-NA 44-13410, E2*C, named Lou IV after the pilot's daughter. (U.S. Air Force)
Lead: North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13410, E2 C. (U.S. Air Force)

Lead: P-51D-5-NA 44-13410, E2 C, flown by group commander Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., and named Lou IV after his wife, Marjorie Lou Ashcroft Christian.

Jack Christian was a 1939 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He served as a B-17 pilot with the 19th Bombardment Group at Clark Field, Philippine Islands. After the B-17s were destroyed in the attacks of 8 December 1941, Christian was at Bataan before being evacuated to Australia.

While ferrying a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, he was shot down over Timor and listed as Missing in Action. He eventually made his way to Allied territory.

A few months later, Christian, while flying a Bell P-400 Airacobra with the 67th Pursuit Squadron, was the first U.S. Army Air Corps pilot to land at Henderson Field, on the island of Guadalcanal, 12 August 1942.

On 10 February 1943, Major Christian was given command of the 361st Fighter Group at Richmond, Virginia. The group arrived in England in November 1943.

For his service in World War II, Colonel Christian was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster (two awards), Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards) and the Purple Heart.

There is a Special Memorial in honor of Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., United States Army Air Corps, at the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas-de-Calais, France.

Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson ("Jack") Christian, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson (“Jack”) Christian, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)

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Number two P-51D-5-NA 44-13926, E2*S (note the dorsal fin fillet at base of vertical fin). (U.S. Air Force)
Number Two: North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13926, E2 S. (Note the dorsal fin fillet at base of vertical fin for increased longitudinal stability). (U.S. Air Force)

Number Two: P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13926, E2 S, assigned to another pilot but flown on this day by Lieutenant Urban L. (“Ben”) Drew. (Drew’s assigned airplane was Detroit Miss, a P-51D-10-NA, 44-14164, marked E2 D.)

Urban L. Drew joined the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1942 and trained as a P-51 fighter pilot. He joined the 361st Fighter Group in England in October 1943. He flew 75 combat missions with the 361st and shot down six enemy aircraft in aerial combat, two of which were Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters, destroyed 7 October 1944. Nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross, the medal was denied because his gun camera failed and the shoot-downs were not recorded. His wingman was shot down during the air battle and captured, so Drew’s claims could not be verified. However, the kills were later confirmed with German records, and in 1983, Major Drew was awarded the Air Force Cross. In addition to scoring the first kill of an enemy Me 262 by an Allied pilot, Drew also destroyed the Blohm & Voss BV238-V1, a prototype six-engine flying boat, the world’s largest airplane at the time.

In 1945, Ben Drew was transferred to the 413th Fighter Squadron, 414th Fighter Group, 10th Air Force, in the western Pacific, flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts from the island of Iwo Jima. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, twice, and fifteen Air Medals.

Following World War II, Ben Drew joined the Michigan Air National Guard in which he served until 1950.

Major Drew died in 2013 at the age of 89 years.

Captain Urban L. ("Ben") Drew, United States Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Captain Urban Leonard (“Ben”) Drew, United States Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)

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Number three P-51D-5-NA 44-13xxx, E2*A, Sky Bouncer. (U.S. Air Force)
Number Three: North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13568, E2 A. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Bruce W. ("Red") Rowlett, U.S. Army Air Corps, Operations Officer, 375th Fighter Squadron. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Lieutenant Bruce W. (“Red”) Rowlett, U.S. Army Air Corps, Operations Officer, 375th Fighter Squadron. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Number Three: P-51-D-5-NA Mustang 44-13568, Sky Bouncer, flown by Captain Bruce W. (“Red”) Rowlett, U.S. Army Air Corps, Operations Officer, 375th Fighter Squadron.

Sky Bouncer, flown by Jared M. Lundin, crash-landed after an engine failure on take off at Cambron-Casteau, Belgium, 3 April 1945. The airplane was destroyed.

Colonel Bruce W. Rowlett, United States Air Force, enlisted as a private soldier in the 36th Infantry Division (then part of the Texas National Guard) in 1940, lying about his age. (He was seventeen). He appled for flight training as an aviation cadet in 1942. After earning his wings as an Air Corps fighter pilot, Lieutenant Rowlett was assigned to the 375th Fighter Squadron, initially flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. After completing a 50 mission combat tour, Rowlett volunteered for a second tour, just as the squadron was transitioning to the P-51 Mustang. Nearing the end of the second tour, and after flying 109 combat missions, Captain Rowlett was sent back to the United States.

Red Rowlett remained in the Air Force following World War II. He  later flew in the Berlin Airlift. From 1964 to 1967, Colonel Rowlett was Chief of Air Defense Operations, North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), then was assigned to the Pentagon, as Director of Studies and Analysis, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, 1968–1971.

Colonel Bruce W. Rowlett, United States Air Force, died at Wichita, Kansas, 28 January 1998, at the age of 74 years.

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North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106xxxx, SUZY-G. (U.S. Air Force)
Number Four: North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106811, SUZY-G. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Francis T. Glankler (American Air Museum in Britain)
Lieutenant Francis T. Glankler, U.S. Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Number Four: P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106811, E2 H, flown by Captain Francis T. Glankler and named Suzy G after his wife. The underlined letter H indicates that this airplane is the second in the squadron identified with that letter. Lieutenant Glankler was flight leader of D Flight, 375th fighter Squadron.

Lieutenant Glankler and Suzy G crashed-landed in a farm field at Thorpe Park, near Clacton, Essex, in following a mission on 11 September 1944. The Mustang was damaged beyond repair.

(Some sources indicate that another pilot was flying Suzy G, and that the crash occurred following a dog fight with a P-47 Thunderbolt.)

Wreck of North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA 42-106881, Suzy G, in a farm field, Essex England. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreck of North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA 42-106881, Suzy G, in a farm field, Essex England. (U.S. Air Force)

North American Aviation P-51D Mustangs, The Battisham Four, 3

The P-51D was the predominant version of North American Aviation’s legendary World War II fighter, with a total of 8,156 produced by North American at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas, and 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. It was a single-seat, single engine fighter, which had first been designed for the Royal Air Force. The most visible difference between the previous P-51B and P-51C Mustangs was the cut down rear fuselage and the one-piece bubble canopy.

The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463.2 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,488.5 kilograms).

The P-51 B, -C and -D Mustangs were powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, either a V-1650-3 or V-1650-7. These were right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter), single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines, rated at 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were Packard’s versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. This engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D was slightly slower than the P-51B/C. It had a maximum speed was 437 miles per hour (703.3 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the maximum range was 1,650 miles (2,655 kilometers).

The P-51B and P-51C were nearly identical, with the B built in California, and the -C in Texas. North American built 1,988 P-51Bs at Inglewood and 1,750 P-51Cs at Dallas. They had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and their maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707.5 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was also 41,900 feet. With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

The P-51B/C Mustang’s armament consisted of four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard. The guns were installed leaning outboard from the vertical to reduce the overall height. This arrangement sometimes lead to ammunition feed problems.

The P-51D was armed with six AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. In a change from the earlier airplanes, the guns were mounted vertically to improve ammunition feed. (This resulted in the requirement for a thicker wing.) 400 rounds of ammunition was provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pairs of guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition.

The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing, in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 July 1941

Fortress Mark I, AN521 ‘WP-K’, of No. 90 Squadron RAF based at West Raynham, Norfolk, preparing for take off at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, during an inspection of newly-arrived American aircraft by the Chief of the Air Staff and the US Air Attache. (Photograph by Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry, Royal Air Force/CH 2873, Imperial War Museum)
Boeing Fortress Mark I AN521, ‘WP-K’, (U.S.A.A.F. serial number 40-2052) of No. 90 Squadron R.A.F., based at West Raynham, Norfolk, preparing for take off at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, during an inspection of newly-arrived American aircraft by the Chief of the Air Staff and the U.S. Air Attache. Photograph by Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 2873)

00DD3437_5056_A318_A85F9DA3980B669B8 July 1941: Three Royal Air Force Boeing Fortress B.I heavy bombers departed from their base at RAF Watton to attack Wilhelmshaven, Germany. This was a daylight bombing mission, with the airplanes flying at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). One bomber diverted to a secondary target because of engine trouble, while the remaining two Fortresses continued to the primary target.

At the very high altitudes flown, the defensive heavy machine guns that gave the airplane its name froze due to the low temperatures and could not be fired. (In standard atmospheric conditions, the temperature at 30,000 feet would be -45 °C., or -49 °F.)

"Vertical aerial reconnaissance of Wilhelmshaven." © IWM (HU 91201)
“Vertical aerial reconnaissance of Wilhelmshaven.” © IWM (HU 91201)

All three aircraft returned safely to their base. The mission was completely ineffective, however.

This was the very first use of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in combat.

Fortress B.I WP-F
Fortress B.I AN530, WP-F (U.S.A.A.F. B-17C 40-2066) (Royal 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 for the U.S. Army Air Corps, but 20 were transferred to Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, designated Fortress B.I. (Boeing Model 299T.) They were initially assigned to No. 90 Squadron, Bomber Command. (A 1941 book, War Wings: Fighting Airplanes of the American and British Air Forces, by David C. Cooke, 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.)

Of the 20 Fortress B.I bombers, 8 were lost in combat or in accidents.

The Boeing B-17C/Fortress B.I 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).

The B-17C was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.13-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone C666A nine-cylinder radial engines (R-1820-65). They were rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 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, 9.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

Crew members of a No. 90 "RAF Fortress crew at RAF Polebrook July 19, 1941." (IWM CH 3090)
“RAF Fortress crew at RAF Polebrook July 19, 1941.” © IWM (CH 3090)

The B-17C had a maximum speed of 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 Fortress B.I could carry 4,800 pounds (2,177 kilograms) of bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of one Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber air-cooled machine gun at the nose and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns in dorsal, ventral and waist positions.

Fortress I AN528 (Getty Images/Three Lions)
Royal Air Force Fortress B.I AN528 (B-17C 40-2064) prior to being camouflaged. (Getty Images/Three Lions)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 July 1943

Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Forces
Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Corps

2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Army Air Corps, of the 99th Fighter Squadron (which was briefly attached to the 324th Fighter Group) was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield on the coast of Tunisia and was patrolling the island of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.

On 2 July, however, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano, Italy. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.

“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”

Lieutenant Hall was officially credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II. Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first for the squadron, but it was also the only enemy airplane to have been shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1943.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190¹ that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L differed from the majority of P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine instead of the Allison V-1710.

The P-40L was a lightened version of the P-40F, with fuel tanks removed from the wings. Armament was reduced from six to four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with only 201 rounds of ammunition per gun. Identifying features of the P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The P-40L was 33 feet, 4 inches (10.160 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,340 pounds (2,576 kilograms) and the gross weight was 8,200 pounds (3,719 kilograms).

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, flew this Curtiss P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895, when he shot down an enemy airplane, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, flew this Curtiss P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895, when he shot down an enemy airplane, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The V-1650-1 was the first version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin to be built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was developed from the Merlin XX and designated Merlin 28. The Packard V-1650-1 was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine. This engine was rated at 1,385 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., and produced a maximum of 1,435 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed  propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-1 weighed 1,512 pounds (686 kilograms).

The P-40L had a maximum speed of 368 miles per hour (592 kilometers per hour).

Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major general John K. Cannon. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major General John K. Cannon, Commanding General, 12th Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Blakesly Hall was the second child of Franklin Hall, a 30-year-old kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, 25 years old, and also from Mississippi. Charles was born 25 August 1920 at his parents home, 742 N. Columbia Street, Brazil, Indiana. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1938 and then attended Eastern Illinois University. He majored in Pre-Med, and was active in sports. Hall worked as a waiter while attending college.

After three years of college, on 12 November 1941, Hall enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. Military records indicate that he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall (170 centimeters) and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).

Aviation Cadet Charles B. Hall, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1941 (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, catalog number 99-15449)
Aviation Cadet Charles B. Hall, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1941 (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, catalog number 99-15449)

Charles Hall was part of a group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which had been established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away, and the cadets transitioned into operational aircraft at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Additional flight trained took place at Cochran Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.

On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on 3 July 1942. (Serial number 0790457)

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

Hall was the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.

Major Hall transferred to the Air Force Reserve. From 1949 until 1967, he worked at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, as a civil service employee until retiring in 1967. He then worked at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Hall was married for several years to Maxine Jesse Payne. He later married Miss Lola Delois Hall of Oklahoma City. They had two children and remained together until his death, 22 November 1971.

Captain and Mrs. Charles B. Hall (Maxine Jesse Hall) William R. Thompson Digital Collection, Ilinois Heartland Library System 2007-1-526-27)
Captain and Mrs. Charles B. Hall (Maxine Payne Hall), circa 1945. (William R. Thompson Digital Collection, Illinois Heartland Library System 2007-1-526-27)

¹ A study of U.S. Army Air Force claims of enemy aircraft destroyed (Andrew Arthy and Morten Jessen, 2013) indicates that no Focke Wulf Fw 190s were present at the time, however, Messerchmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 were defending the target against B-25s and P-40s. Two were lost on that day. The authors suggest that opposing aircraft were often misidentified.

This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Sculptor Joel Randall)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 June 1942

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981.
Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (U.S. Navy)

26 June 1942: The Grumman XF6F-1, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 02981, prototype for the Navy and Marine Corps F6F Hellcat fighter, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and Test Pilot Robert Leicester Hall flying, made a 25-minute first flight at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation plant, Bethpage, Long Island, NY.

The first Hellcat was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Twin Cyclone GR2600B676 (R-2600-10) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.9:1. The R-2600-10 was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff,burning 100-octane gasoline. It turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-2600-10 was 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 2.91 inches (1.903 meters) long. It weighed 2,115 pounds (959 kilograms).

Beginning with the second prototype, Bu. No. 02982, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) 18-cylinder engine became the standard powerplant. The R-2800-10 was an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-ocatne gasoline. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

The first prototype was quickly re-engined to the Pratt & Whitney radial and redesignated XF6F-3. Bob Hall flew it with the new engine on 30 July 1942. A few weeks later, 17 August, the Hellcat’s new engine failed and Hall crash-landed at Crane’s Farm. The airplane was moderately damaged and Hall was seriously injured.

Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane's Farm, Long Island, New York, August 1942. (Grumman)
Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane’s Farm, Long Island, New York, 17 August 1942. (Grumman)

The airplane was rebuilt and continued in the test program. It was eventually converted to XF6F-4 with a two-speed turbocharged Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-27) which produced 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. It was armed with four 20 mm cannon.

The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4, seen here at NACA, langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)
The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4, seen here at NACA, Langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)

The Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook.

The F6F-5 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters). It has an empty weight of 9,238 pounds (4,190 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,740 pounds (5,779 kilograms).

A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F6F-5 Hellcat was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) engine with water injection, rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The normal power rating was 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at  22,500 feet (6,858 meters). The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943.(U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F6F-5 had a maximum speed of 276 knots (318 miles per hour/511 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 330 knots (380 miles per hour/611 kilometers per hour) at 23,400 feet (7,132 meters). It could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7 minutes, 42 seconds. The service service ceiling was 35,100 feet (10,698 meters). It had a combat radius of 340 nautical miles (391 miles/630 kilometers) at 173 knots (199 miles per hour/320 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range is 1,330 nautical miles (1,531 miles/2,463 kilometers).

The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.

The Grumman Hellcat was the most successful fighter of the Pacific war, with a kill-to-loss ratio of 19:1. It was in production from 1942 to 1945 and remained in service with the United States Navy until 1956. A total of 12,275 were built by Grumman at Bethpage. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.

High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F Hellcat prepares to takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)
High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat prepares to takeoff from USS Yorktown (CV-10), November 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Robert Leicester Hall was born at Taunton, Massachussetts, 22 August 1905. He was the son of Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.

Hall attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1927 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.).

In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie, a secretary at the plant. They were married in 1930, and lived in a rented home on St. James Avenue, Chicopee City, Massachusetts. Their son, Robert Jr., was born 5 November 1931.

Also in 1931, Hall began working for Granville Brothers Aircraft at Springfield, Massachusetts. He designed the Gee Bee Model Z Super Sportster air racer. He left Granville Brothers in 1933 to go to work for the Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio. There he designed the Stinson Reliant.

In 1936, Bob Hall became the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. He designed the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, and F8F Bearcat fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. As corporate vice president, he supervised the design of the F9F Panther and Cougar jet fighters.

Hall married his second wife, Rhoda C. Halvorsen, 18 January 1939, at New York City, New York.

Hall retired from Grumman in 1970. Two of his sons, Eric and Ben Hall, founded Hall Spars and Rigging of Bristol, Rhode Island.

Robert Leicester Hall died at Newport, Rhode Island, 25 February 1991 at the age of 85 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 June 1946

The Navy Demonstration Team Hellcats taxi out for their first public performance, Craig Field, Jacksonville,Florida, 15 June 1946. (Butch Voris collection)
The Navy Demonstration Team Hellcats taxi out for their first public performance, Craig Field, Jacksonville,Florida, 15 June 1946. (Butch Voris collection)

15 June 1946: At Craig Field, Jacksonville Florida, the United States Navy’s Navy Flight Demonstration Team made its first public appearance at the municipal airport’s dedication ceremony. A flight of three lightened Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters, led by Officer-in-Charge Lieutenant Commander Roy Marlin Voris, flew a fifteen minute aerobatic performance.

The team had been formed for the purpose of raising public political support for the Navy. Their fighters were painted overall glossy sea blue with “U.S. NAVY” on the fuselage in gold leaf. A single numeral, also gold leaf, on the vertical fin identified each individual airplane.

Five weeks later, 21 July, the team would first call themselves The Blue Angels.

The pilots of the Navy Flight Demonstartion Team with one of their Grumman F6F-5 Wildcat fighters. (Butch Voris Collection)
The pilots of the Navy Flight Demonstration Team with one of their Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters. Left to right: Lieutenant Al Taddeo, Lieutenant (j.g.) Gale Stouse, Lieutenant Commander Roy “Butch” Voris, Lieutenant Maurice N. Wickendoll, and Lieutenant Melvin Cassidy.  (Butch Voris Collection)

In addition to Lieutenant Commander Voris, other pilots in the original demonstration team were Lieutenant Commander Lloyd G. Barnard, Lieutenant Melvin Cassidy, Lieutenant Alfred Taddeo, Lieutenant Maurice N. Wickendoll and Lieutenant (j.g.) Gale Stouse.

Flight leader Lieutenant Commander Roy W. "Butch" Voris with his F6F-5 Hellcat, circa May–August 1946. (U.S. Navy)
Flight leader Lieutenant Commander Roy W. “Butch” Voris with his Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, Bu. No. 80097, circa May–August 1946. (U.S. Navy)

The Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook.

The F6F-5 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters). It has an empty weight of 9,238 pounds (4,190 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,598 pounds (5,714 kilograms).

The F6F-5 Hellcat is powered by a 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each. The engine weighs 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

The F6F-5 has a maximum speed of 330 knots (380 miles per hour/611 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 37,300 feet (11,369 meters). Its combat radius of 820 nautical miles (944 miles/1,519 kilometers). The maximum ferry range is 1,330 nautical miles (1,531 miles/2,463 kilometers.)

The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Between 1942 and 1945, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, New York, built 12,275 F6F Hellcats. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.

Four Grumman F6F-5 Four Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters of the Navy Flight Demonstration Team, circa May–August 1946
Four Grumman F6F-5 Four Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters of the Navy Flight Demonstration Team, circa May–August 1946

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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