Tag Archives: North American Aviation P-51D Mustang

13 February 1923

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired), at Edwards AFB, 14 October 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of his Mach 1 flight. (Photograph © 2017 by Tim Bradley Imaging. Used with permission.)

13 February 1923: Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Myra, West Virginia.

Who is the greatest pilot I ever saw? Well, uh. . . Well, let me tell you. . . .

The following is from the official U.S. Air Force biography: (Photographs from various sources)

“The world’s first man-made sonic boom told the story. On Oct. 14, 1947, over dry Rogers Lake in California, Chuck Yeager rode the X-1, attached to the belly of a B-29 bomber, to an altitude of 25,000 feet. After releasing from the B-29, he rocketed to an altitude of 40,000 feet. Moments later he became the first person to break the sound barrier, safely taking the X-1 he called Glamorous Glennis to a speed of 662 mph, faster than the speed of sound at that altitude. His first words after the flight were, ‘I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off neither.’

Captain Chuck Yeager on Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.
Captain Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, at Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.

“Yeager was born in February 1923 in Myra, W. V. In September 1941, he enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps. He was soon accepted for pilot training under the flying sergeant program and received his pilot wings and appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 at Luke Field, Ariz.

Aviation Cadet Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

“His first assignment was as a P-39 pilot with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, Tonopah, Nev. He went to England in November 1943 and flew P-51s in combat against the Germans, shooting down one ME-109 and an HE-111K before being shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944. He evaded capture by the enemy when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border. That summer, he was released to the British at Gibraltar and returned to England. He returned to his squadron and flew 56 more combat missions, shooting down 11 more enemy aircraft.

First Lieutenant Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, “Glamorous Glenn II,” at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

“Returning to stateside, Yeager participated in various test projects, including the P-80 Shooting Star and P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated all the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. This assignment led to his selection as pilot of the nation’s first research rocket aircraft, the Bell X-1, at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.). After breaking the sound barrier in 1947, Yeager flew the X-1 more than 40 times in the next two years, exceeding 1,000 mph and 70,000 feet. He was the first American to make a ground takeoff in a rocket-powered aircraft. In December 1953 he flew the Bell X-1A 1,650 mph, becoming the first man to fly two and one-half times the speed of sound.

Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (© Bettman/CORBIS)
Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (Bettman/CORBIS)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, USAF, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 1958. (Stars and Stripes)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, 413th Fighter Day Wing, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Yeager became Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, 23 July 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Stars and Stripes)

“After a succession of command jobs, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School), where all military astronauts were trained.

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)

“On Dec. 10, 1963, he narrowly escaped death while testing an NF-104 rocket-augmented aerospace trainer. His aircraft went out of control at 108,700 feet (nearly 21 miles up) and crashed. He parachuted to safety at 8,500 feet after battling to gain control of the powerless aircraft. He thus became the first pilot to make an emergency ejection in the full pressure suit needed for high altitude flights. Yeager has flown more than 200 types of military aircraft and has more than 14,000 hours, with more than 13,000 of them in fighter aircraft.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force, July 1969. (Stars and Stripes)

“Yeager retired from active duty in the U. S. Air Force in March 1975, after serving as the United States defense representative to Pakistan and director of the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, Calif.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard A McDonnell F-4C Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

“Retirement was never part of his plans. He remains an active aviation enthusiast, acting as adviser for various films, programs and documentaries on aviation. He has published two books, entitled Yeager, An Autobiography and Press On: Further Adventures in the Good Life.”

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 January 1957

The last North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs in squadron service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Bomber Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, 27 January 1957. This airplane, F-51D-25-NA 44-72948, is on display at the WV ANG headquarters, Yeager Regional Airport, Charleston, WV. (U.S. Air Force)

27 January 1957: The last North American Aviation F-51D Mustang fighters in operational service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Bomber Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. The squadron was based at Shepherd Field, Martinsburg, West Virginia (now known as Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, MRB).

The United Press news service reported:

Aviation Era Ends With Last Official Flight of P51 Mustang

     DAYTON, Ohio (UP)— An era in aviation has ended with the last official flight Sunday of a P51 Mustang fighter, pride of American’s [sic] World War II air arsenal.

     The flight made by a former Canadian Royal Air Force ace, Major James L. Miller in a P51D, also marked the end of propeller-driven fighter planes in the U.S. Air Force.

     Miller took off from nearby Wright Field at 1:30 p.m. Sunday and landed at Patterson Field several miles away 45 minutes later.

     Henceforth, the Air Force will use nothing but jet-powered fighters.

     The ravages of age prevented a battle-worn Mustang from taking part in decommissioning ceremonies at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so a substitute flight had to be arranged.

     The Mustang grounded at Cheyenne, Wyo., for repairs, could not take off as scheduled Friday because of bad weather.

     The flight to Kansas City on Saturday and to Wright-Patterson on Sunday, had been scheduled for Lt. Col. Joseph T. Crane, commanding officer of the 167th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron [sic] of the West Virginia National Guard.

     A quick switch in plans followed, and the Air Force requisitioned the only other P51 available from an airport at Charleston, W. Va. The plane had been earmarked for a city park there.

The Daily Republican, Monongahela, Pennsylvania, Vol. 111, No. 174, Monday, 28 January 1957, Page 3, Columns 5–6

“Wham Bam!”, the last Mustang in U.S. Air Force service, North American Aviation F-51D-25 NA 44-72948. (“wwiiafterwwii”)

44-72948 had just completed repairs at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and was returned to Charleston by the 167th’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Crane, Jr.

44-72948 (North American Aviation serial number 122-39407) had been delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, in February 1945, but with the war drawing to a close in Europe, the Mustang never flew in combat. According to contemporary newspaper reports, during its career -948 was assigned to sixteen different Air Corps/Air Force units. It underwent nine engine changes and flew a total of 1,555 hours during nearly 12 years of service.

North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA 44-73574, 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-73574, 122-40033, 167th Fighter Bomber Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane in the photographs below, North American Aviation F-51D-30-NA 44-74936, was was flown from Charleston to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, by Major James Miller. It was transferred to the United States Air Force Museum (renamed National Museum of the United States Air Force in 2004) where it is on display. The fighter is painted with the markings of another Mustang, P-51D-15-NA, 44-15174, Shimmy IV, of the 325th Fighter Group, Fifteenth Air Force, which served in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

On 2 June 1944, the actual Shimmy IV, flown by Colonel Chester L. Sluder, commanding officer of the 325th Fighter Group, led the fighter escorts for the first Fifteenth Air Force “shuttle bombing” mission to attack a railroad mashaling yard at Deprecan, Hungary, before flying on to land at Piriatyn, Ukraine. The name “Shimmy” was from the name of Colonel Sluder’s daughter, Shari, and the nickname of his wife, “Zimmy,” formerly Miss Louise Zimmerman.

On 9 December 1944, 44-15174 was flown by Lieutenant Norval W. Weers, 318th Fighter Squadron, when it ran low on fuel because of adverse weather. Weers crash-landed south of the Neusiedler See, Austria. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation single-place, single-engine, fighter, 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 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

Like the P-51B and C variants, the P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 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 engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The 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 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (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 with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry six Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were 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. 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.

North American Aviation, Inc., produced a total of total of 8,156 P-51D Mustangs at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas. Another 200 were built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia.

North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, “Shimmy IV,” is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, marked as “Shimmy IV,’ of the 325th Fighter Group, Fifteenth Air Force, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

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13 October 1942–15 January 1943

Captain Joseph Jacob Foss, United States Marine Corps
Captain Joseph Jacob Foss, United States Marine Corps Reserve

13 October 1942–15 January 1943: During a 95-day period in the early days of World War II, Captain Joe Foss, United States Marine Corps, shot down 26 enemy aircraft. He was the first American ace of World War II to match the World War I record of Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker.

Admiral William F. Halsey, U.S. Navy, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain Foss for heroism and extraordinary achievement for having shot down seven enemy airplanes (six fighters and a bomber) from 13 October to 30 October 1942.

Joseph Jacob Foss was born near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 17 April 1915. He was the oldest son of Frank Ole Foss, a farmer, and Mary Esther Lacey Foss. He was educated at Washington High School, Augustan College, Sioux Falls College and the University of South Dakota, graduating in 1940, having majored in Business Administration.

Beginning in 1938, Joe Foss began taking flight lessons. Through a Civil Aeronautics Administration course at the university, he gained additional flight experience, and received a private pilot certificate from the C.A.A.

2nd Lieutenant Joe Foss, USMCR, Naval Aviator
Lieutenant Joe Foss, USMCR, Naval Aviator

Foss had enlisted in the South Dakota National Guard in 1937, serving as a private assigned to the 147th Field Artillery Battalion until he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 14 June 1940. Because of his prior service, the following day, Private Foss was promoted to private first class, and assigned to active duty as a aviation flight student. He successfully completed elimination flight training and qualified as an aviation cadet.

On 8 August 1940, Aviation Cadet Foss was sent to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for pilot training. After graduating, 31 March 1941, Joseph Jacob Foss was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and received the gold wings of a Naval Aviator.

Lieutenant Foss remained at Pensacola, assigned as a flight instructor. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, 10 April 1942, with date of rank retroactive to 31 March 1942. His next assignment was to the Naval School of Photography, also located at Pensacola, and then to Marine Photographic Squadron 1 (VMD-1) at NAS North Island, San Diego, California, July 1942.

Lieutenant Foss requested training as a fighter pilot but he was considered to be too old. (He was 26.) While at San Diego, though, Foss was able to transition to the Grumman F4F Wildcat. He was promoted to the rank of captain, 11 August 1942. He was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 121 (VMF-121) as the unit’s executive officer.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, circa 1942. (U.S. Navy)

VMF-121 was sent to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands aboard USS Copahee (ACV-12), a Bogue-class escort carrier. While still about 350 miles away from the island, the squadron was launched for Henderson Field, 9 October 1942. Joe Foss flew his first combat mission 13 October during which he shot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter (Allied reporting name, “Zeke”). His F4F Wildcat was badly damaged by enemy fighters.

Captain Foss and ammo loaders
Captain Joseph J. Foss, USMCR, in the cockpit of a Grumman F4F Wildcat, circa 1943. (Getty Images/Bettmann 515466188)

Captain Foss had extraordinary gunnery skills and frequently shot down more than one enemy aircraft per mission. His combat victories included nineteen Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, a Nakajima A6M2-N “Rufe” (a float plane variant of the Zero), three Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bombers, two Mistsubishi F1M2 “Pete” reconnaissance float planes and an Aichi E13A “Jake” reconnaissance float plane.

During the his three month period, Captain Foss had to make three engine out landings as a result of damage sustained by his Wildcat from enemy aircraft, and was himself shot down near the island of Malaita. He was rescued by local fishermen.

Joe Foss was stricken by malaria and was sent to Australia for treatment. In April 1943 he was returned to the United States and assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps at Washington, D.C.

In a ceremony at the White House, 18 May 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Captain Foss the Medal of Honor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 13.02.26

Captain Joseph J. Foss, United States Marine Corps, with a Grumman F4F Wildcat. (USMC History Division)
Captain Joseph J. Foss, United States Marine Corps, with a Grumman F4F Wildcat. (USMC History Division)

Joe Foss was promoted to the rank of major, 1 June 1943. On 17 July took command of Marine Fighter Squadron 115 (VMF-115), then training at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara, Goleta, California. The new fighter squadron was equipped with Chance Vought F4U-1 and Goodyear FG-1 Corsairs. The squadron departed San Diego, California, 13 February 1944 aboard USS Pocomoke (AV-9), a seaplane tender, and arrived at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides on 4 March. The fighters flew to a new base at Emirau in the Bismarck archipelago on 2 May and VMF-115 was assigned to Marine Air Group 12. The unit was in combat the following day. In the last half of the month, the squadron was visited by Col. Charles A Lindbergh. He flew four combat missions with VMF-115, 26–30 May.

Marine Fighter Squadron 115 (VMF-115) at MCAS Santa Barbara, Goleta, California, 1944. Major Joe Foss is in th e center of the back row, wearing flight helmet with goggles, standing in front the of Corsair's propeller blade.
Marine Fighter Squadron 115 (VMF-115) at MCAS Santa Barbara, Goleta, California, 1944. Major Joe Foss is in the center of the back row, wearing flight helmet with goggles, standing in front the of Corsair’s propeller blade.

Major Foss had a recurrence of malaria. On 21 September 1944, he was relieved of command of VMF-115 and returned to the United States for medical treatment, assigned to NAS Klamath Falls. In February 1945, he was back at MCAS Santa Barbara as an operations and training officer.

Major Joe Foss was released from active duty on 8 December 1945. On 20 September 1946 Foss was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota Air National Guard. His resignation from the Marine Corps, dated 29 January 1947, was accepted as effective 19 September 1946. He commanded the 175th Fighter Squadron, which was equipped with the North American P-51D Mustang.

North American Aviation F-51D Mustang, 175th Fighter Squadron, South Dakota Air National Guard.
North American Aviation P-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-73564, 175th Fighter Squadron, South Dakota National Guard, 1946. (U.S. Air Force)

The 175th was redesignated as a Fighter Interceptor Squadron in 1951. Colonel Foss was recalled to active duty in the Air Force during the Korean War. He served as Director of Operations and Training, Air Defense Command, and was promoted to brigadier general, 20 September 1953. The 175th FIS began re-equipping with the Lockheed F-94A Starfire in 1 November 1954. In 1958, the squadron shifted to the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, and then the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger in 1960. Ten years later, North American Aviation F-100D Super Sabres came to the 175th.

Northrop F-89D-30-NO Scorpion, South Dakota Air National Guard.
Northrop F-89D-30-NO Scorpion 51-11419, an all-weather interceptor assigned to the South Dakota Air National Guard, at Sioux Falls, 1958. The nose cone of the right wing tip-mounted pod has been removed to show the fifty-two 2.75-inch Folding Fin Aerial Rockets. (John Mollison, SDANG)

While all this was happening, Joe Foss was involved in a political career. After serving two terms in the state legislature, Joseph J. Foss was elected Governor of the State of South Dakota in November 1954. The state’s 20th governor, he was the youngest to hold that office. He was elected a second time and served until 1959. He also served as a commissioner of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Joe Foss was Commissioner of the American Football League and President of the National Rifle Association.

Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss, United States Air Force
Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss, United States Air Force

Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss, U.S. Air Force, Air Chief of Staff, South Dakota Air National Guard, retired from military service, 15 April 1975. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with two 516-inch gold stars (three awards), Presidential Unit Citation (Air Force) with oak leaf cluster (second award), Presidential Unit Citation (Navy and Marine Corps) with bronze star (second award), American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars (three campaigns), the World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star (second award), Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with silver hourglass device (20 years service), and the Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksman Ribbon.

Joseph Jacob Foss died at Scottsdale, Arizona, 1 January 2003. He was 87 years old. General Foss is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 January 1948

Flight of three North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs, 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Flight of North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs, 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., U.S. Air Force. (Kentucky National Guard)

7 January 1948: Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, received a request from the control tower at Godman Army Air Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky, to investigate an Unidentified Object visible to the southwest.

The object was observed by four members of the control tower staff for approximately 35 minutes, from 2:20–2:55 p.m., Central Standard Time.¹

Prior to the sighting by Godman Tower personnel, there had been several telephone calls to the tower from the Kentucky Highway Patrol, reporting numerous sightings by people in two towns which were 147 miles (237 kilometers) apart. The reported sightings were of a large, circular craft, moving at high speed.

Captain Mantell led C Flight, four North American Aviation F-51D ² Mustang fighters, in pursuit. Two pilots broke off because of low fuel, and Mantell became separated from his wingman. He reported that he was climbing through 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) with a large metallic object in sight. He then disappeared. . . .

A flight of North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard, circa 1947. (Kentucky Air National Guard)

It is probable that Captain Mantell lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen. The wreckage of his fighter, F-51D-25-NA serial number 44-63869, was found 5 miles (8 kilometers) southwest of Franklin, Kentucky (Mantell’s birthplace), which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south southwest of Godman Field. Captain Mantell was dead. His wrist watch was stopped at 3:18.

Occurring exactly 6 months after “The Roswell Incident” in New Mexico, “The Mantell Incident” was one of the most publicized “UFO” reports of the 1950s.

The Air Force determined that Mantell was either chasing Venus or a top secret Project Skyhook balloon, and that he had lost consciousness due to hypoxia. The fighter broke up in flight. Looking back with the advantage of 70 years hindsight, the most likely explanation for the Mantell UFO is the balloon.

The wreck of Captain Mantell’s North American Aviation F-51D Mustang, 44-63869.

Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., was born at Franklin, Kentucky, 30 June 1922. He was the first of three children of Thomas Francis Mantell, a traveling salesman, and Claire Morrison Mantell.³ He graduated from Louisville Male High School in 1942.

Mantell married Miss Margarete (“Peggy”) Moseley. They would have two children, Thomas F. Mantell III, and Terry Lee Mantell.

Avn. Cad. Thomas F. Mantell

Mantell enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, as an aviation cadet, 16 June 1942. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Army of the United States, 30 June 1943.

Lieutenant Mantell was assigned as a Douglas C-47 Skytrain pilot with the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group, Ninth Air Force, at RAF Bottesford. He flew in combat operations during the Normandy Campaign, and is credited with 107:00 flight hours of actual combat time.

On D-Day, Mantell’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Vulture’s Delight, was assigned to tow a  Waco CG-4A glider into the invasion zone. The Skytrain was heavily damaged by anti-aircraft fire. He successfully completed his mission and flew the incredibly damaged airplane back to England. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards) by the end of the war.

Thomas Mantell’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Vulture’s Delight, with damage from D-Day. The “6Z” painted on the forward fuselage identifies this airplane as from the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. (Saturday Night Uforia)

Following World War II, Captain Mantell joined the new 165th Fighter Squadron, 123 Fighter Group, Kentucky Air National Guard, which had been established 16 February 1947. The group was based at Standiford Field, Louisville (now, Louisville International Airport, SDF). Mantell transitioned from transport pilot to fighter pilot. In his civilian life, Mantell owned and operated a flight school in Louisville.

165th Fighter Squadron pilots. Mantell is in the front row, second from right. (Find A Grave)

Captain Mantell had flown a total of 2,167:00 hours, with 1,608:00 as first pilot. The majority of his flight experience was in the twin-engine Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport. He had only 67:00 hours in the F-51 Mustang. Studies have shown that pilots—regardless of their total flight experience—who have less than 100 hours in type have the same accident rate as a student pilot.

There were unsubstantiated rumors that Mantell’s body had been burned or had been riddled with bullets. The actual cause of his death was described by the medical examiner as “dislocation of the brain.”

Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., was the first flight casualty of the Kentucky Air National Guard. He was buried at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville.

Captain Mantell’s fighter had served with the 358th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, the “Steeple Morden Strafers,” during World War II. It was assigned to Lieutenant Halbert G. Marsh, who is credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft on the ground, 16 April 1945. This photograph was taken at RAF Speke, Liverpool, following the War. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Mantell’s fighter, North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-63869, was a very low-time airplane, having flown just 174 hours, 25 minutes, since it came off the assembly line at Inglewood, California, 15 December 1944. Its Packard V-1650-7 Merlin engine, serial number V-328830, had the same 174:25 TTSN.

¹ Sources vary as to the time of the incident, with some citing Central Standard Time, others Eastern Standard Time. The EST and CST boundary divides the state of Kentucky, which probably explains the discrepancies.

² The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was redesignated F-51 by the U.S. Air Force in 1948.

³ Some sources identify Mantell’s mother as Elsie Mary Morrison Mantell.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 October 1944

Gertrude Vreeland Tompkins, Womens Airforce Service Pilot. (U.S. Air Force)
Gertrude Vreeland Tompkins, Women Airforce Service Pilots. (U.S. Air Force)

26 October 1944: At approximately 4:00 p.m., Civilian Pilot Gertrude V. Tompkins took off from Mines Field, California (now Los Angeles International Airport, or simply, LAX) in a newly-manufactured North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang, serial number 44-15669, on a flight to deliver it to New Jersey where it would be prepared for shipment to England.

“Tommy” Tompkins was scheduled to make an overnight stop at Palm Springs, California. She never arrived.

Due to a series of errors, it was four days before the military recognized that Tompkins was missing. An extensive search was undertaken but was unsuccessful.

Gertrude Tompkins (Mrs. Harry M. Silver) was listed as Missing, Presumed Dead. She was one of 38 WASP pilots who died in service during World War II. She remains the only Women Airforce Service Pilots member still missing.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. (LIFE Magazine)

The WASPs were not combat pilots. They ferried aircraft across oceans, tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, flew transport missions, and trained military pilots.

The WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts. Some went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.

All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.

“Tommy” Tompkins, wearing her A-2 leather flight jacket and a pilot’s white silk scarf. The “Fifinella” gremlin insignia was designed by the Walt Disney Company. (U.S. Air Force)
“Tommy” Tompkins, wearing her A-2 leather flight jacket and a pilot’s white silk scarf. The “Fifinella” gremlin insignia was designed by the Walt Disney Company. (U.S. Air Force)

Gertrude Vreeland Tompkins was born at Jersey City, New Jersey, 16 October 1911. She was the youngest of three daughters of Vreeland Tompkins, founder of Smooth-On, Inc., and Laura Towar Tompkins.

Gertude V. Tompkins had joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (commonly called the “WASPs”) 12 November 1943 and trained at Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas, as a member of Class 43-W-7. She was assigned to the 601st Squadron, 555th Air Transport Command, as a Civilian Pilot.

On 25 September 1944, Miss Tompkins married Technical Sergeant Henry Mann Silver, U.S. Army, at Bridgewater, New York.

By 26 October 1944, she had flown a total of 753.40 hours.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang 44-15669 had been flown just 3.0 hours since leaving the assembly line at Inglewood, California.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. 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 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The 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.

North American Aviation P-51D-25-NT Mustang 44-84900 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, circa 1945. (NASA)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four 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.

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang, 7 July 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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