Tag Archives: World War II

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 Olouse and Mary 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
2nd 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. On 8 August 1940, he was accepted as an aviation cadet and sent to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for pilot training. After graduating, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve and received his wings as a Naval Aviator, 31 March 1941.

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

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 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.

A Grumman F4F Wildcat parked at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F4F Wildcat parked at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. The Wildcat shows 19 Imperial Japanese Navy ensigns, indicating the number of enemy aircraft destroyed in combat. (National Archives)

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.

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.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

 

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11 January 1944

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, United States Army Air Corps, with his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, “DING HAO!” (Imperial War Museum)

11 January 1944: Major James Howell Howard, United States Army Air Corps, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, led fifty P-51 Mustangs escorting three divisions of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a raid against Oschersleben, near Berlin, Germany.

As defending Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bomber formation, Major Howard immediately went on the offensive and shot down a twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer long range fighter. During this engagement, Howard became separated from his group, but climbed back to rejoin the bombers.

More that thirty German fighters were attacking the bomber formation and Major Howard single-handedly went after them. He shot down two, probably shot down two more and damaged at least another two. He continued to attack even after he had run out of ammunition and was low on fuel. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang had just a single bullet hole.

For this action, James H. Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz. He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to have received this Medal. Howard was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Before the War, Howard had been a U.S. Navy pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor. In June 1941 he went to join the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—in Burma, fighting for the Chinese against Japan. He is credited with shooting down 6 Japanese fighters.

The Mustang that he flew on the day of the aerial battle near Oschersleben was named DING HAO! and carried the victory marks from those AVG actions. [“Ding Hao” was an American World War II slang term based on the Chinese phrase, 挺好的 (“ting hao de”) meaning “very good” or “number one”.]

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

HOWARD, JAMES H.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944.

Entered service at: St. Louis, Missouri. Birth: Canton, China.

G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany on 11 January 1944. On that day Colonel Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long range mission deep in enemy territory. As Colonel Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Colonel Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME-110. As a result of this attack Colonel Howard lost contact with his group and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Colonel Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than thirty German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some thirty minutes, during which time he destroyed three enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement three of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Colonel Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the Armed Forces of the United States.

Major James H. Howard, center, with a group of pilots of the 354th Fighter Group, with a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, at RAF Boxted. (Imperial War Museum)

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

North American Aviation P-51B Mustang with identification stripes. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were 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 were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. 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.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four 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.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

DING HAO!, James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. At the time of this photo, the Mustang had been modified with a sliding “Malcom hood” canopy. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 January 1943

Lockheed XC-69 NX25600 landing at Burbank Airport. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) landing on Runway 26 at Lockheed Air Terminal, now known as the Bob Hope Airport (BUR). (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed L-049 Constellation NX25600 in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Edmund Turney Allen
Edmund Turney Allen (SDASM)

9 January 1943: At the insistence of the Army Air Forces, Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot, Eddie Allen, made the first flight of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation prototype, NX25600, from Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, California, to Muroc Army Airfield (today known as Edwards Air Force Base). Lockheed’s Chief Test Pilot, Milo G. Burcham, was the co-pilot.

When the flight ended after 58 minutes, Allen said, “This machine works so well that you don’t need me anymore!” With that, Allen returned to Seattle.

The Lockheed Model 49-46-10, company serial number 049-1961, was designated XC-69 by the U.S. Army Air Forces and assigned serial number 43-10309.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four: two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 3 inches (29.032 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.490 meters) and an overall height of 23 feet, 8 inches (7.214 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 42-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype was powered by four 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 745C18BA3 (also referred to as the Duplex Cyclone), a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff, (five minute limit) burning 100/130 aviation gasoline, and drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289 kilograms). 41 of these engines were built by Wright.

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

Prototype Lockheed Constellation at Muroc Dry Lake, 1942. (Unattributed)
Prototype Lockheed L-049 Constellation NX25600 at Muroc Dry Lake on the high desert of southern California, 9 January 1943. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at the Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California. The airplane is shown with a natural metal finish, without national insignia or civil registration number. The military radio call number, “310309,” appears on the outboard vertical fin. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson (left) with Chief Engineer Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69 . (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Chief Research Engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson (left) and Chief Engineering Test Pilot Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed publicity photograph by W.J. Gray.
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation publicity photograph by W.J. Gray. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
In this photograph of the Lockheed XC-69 prototype, the civil experimental registration numbers, NX25600 are visible under the left wing. (Unattributed)
In this photograph of the Lockheed XC-69 prototype at Lockheed Air Terminal, the civil experimental registration numbers, NX25600, are visible under the left wing. Looking northeast, the Verdugo Mountains of Southern California are in the background. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
This is a rare color photograph of the prototype Lockheed XC-69 Constellation, 43-10309, (L-049 NX-25600) with a Lockheed UC-101, 42-94148 (ex-Vega 5C NC14236) at Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank California. This picture represents 15 years of technological advancement. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The prototype XC-69 was later re-engined with Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC14-G (R-2800-83) engines and designated XC-69E. These had a Normal rating of 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., to 7,300 feet (2,225 meters), 1,500 horsepower at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters), and 2,100 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for Takeoff.

After the war, the Constellation prototype was sold to Howard Hughes’ Hughes Aircraft Company for $20,000 and registered as NX67900. In May 1950, Lockheed bought the prototype back from Hughes for $100,000 and it was again registered as NC25600. It had accumulated just 404 flight hours up to this time.

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 42-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at Lockheed Air terminal, with engines running. Looking northwest across the San Fernando Valley. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at Lockheed Air terminal, with engines running. Looking west northwest across the San Fernando Valley. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Lockheed then converted 049-1961 to a prototype for the L-1049 Super Constellation with another registration, NX6700. In 1952, it was once again converted, this time as an aerodynamic test aircraft for the U.S. Navy PO-1W radar early warning aircraft (later redesignated WV-1 and EC-121 Warning Star). It was also used to test the Allison YT56 turboprop engine by placing it in the #4 position.

Finally, in 1958, the first Constellation was purchased as a source of spare parts by California Airmotive Corporation and was dismantled.

Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation prototype, NX6700, ex-L-049 NX25600. (Lockheed Martin)
The prototype Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation NX6700, formerly L-049 NX25600 (XC-69 43-10309), flying above an inversion layer. The San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California are in the background. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

Lockheed built two XC-69 prototypes. Twenty-two C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were produced. The Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

A production Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation, 43-10315. (U.S. Air Force)
A production Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation, 43-10315. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 January 1941

BT308, the Avro Lancaster prototype, at RAF Ringway, 9 January 1941. (Avro Heritage Museum)
Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, OBE. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

9 January 1941: Test pilot Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, OBE (1896–1953) makes the first flight of the Avro Lancaster prototype, BT308, at RAF Ringway, Cheshire, England, south of Manchester.

Throughout World War II, 7,377 of these long range heavy bombers were produced for the Royal Air Force. The majority were powered by Rolls-Royce or Packard Merlin V-12 engines—the same engines that powered the Supermarine Spitfire and North American P-51 Mustang fighters.

The bomber was designed by Roy Chadwick, F.R.S.A., F.R.Ae.S., the Chief Designer and Engineer of A. V. Roe & Company Limited, based on the earlier twin-engine Avro Manchester Mk.I. because of this, it was originally designated as the Manchester Mk.III, before being re-named Lancaster. Chadwick was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 2 June 1943, for his work.

The first prototype, BT308, was unarmed and had three small vertical fins.

Avro 683 Lancaster prototype BT308, shortly after the first flight at Manchester, 9 January 1941. (A.V.Roe via R.A.Scholefield) Photograph used with permission.
Avro 683 Lancaster prototype BT308, shortly after the first flight at RAF Ringway, Manchester, England, 9 January 1941. (A.V.Roe via R.A.Scholefield) Photograph is from The R.A. Scholefield Collection and is used with permission.

With the second prototype, DG595, the small center vertical fin was deleted and two larger fins were used at the outboard ends of a longer horizontal tailplane. DG595 was also equipped with power gun turrets at the nose, dorsal and ventral positions, and at the tail.

Avro Lancaster DG595, the second protoype of the Royal Air Force four-engine heavy bomber. This armed prototype has the twin-tail arrangement of the production aircraft. (Unattributed)
Avro Lancaster DG595, the second protoype of the Royal Air Force four-engine heavy bomber. This armed prototype has the twin-tail arrangement of the production aircraft. (Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Air Ministry clearance form for Avro 638 Lancaster BT308. Shown on page 1 are the aircraft's engine type and serial numbers.
Air Ministry clearance form for Avro 683 Lancaster BT308. Shown on page 1 are the aircraft’s engine type and serial numbers.
Air Ministry test flight clearance form, Page 2.
Air Ministry test flight clearance form, Page 2. This form is signed by the airplane’s designer, Roy Chadwick, 5 January 1941.

The first production model, Lancaster Mk.I, was operated by a crew of seven: pilot, flight engineer, navigator/bombardier, radio operator and three gunners. It was a large, all-metal, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was 69 feet, 4 inches (21.133 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet, 0 inches (31.090) meters and had an overall height of 20 feet, 6 inches (6.248 meters). The Mk.I had an empty weight of 36,457 pounds (16,537 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 68,000 pounds (30,909 kilograms).

BT308 and early production Lancasters were equipped with four liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter), Roll-Royce Merlin XX 60° single overhead camshaft (SOHC) V-12 engines, which were rated at 1,480 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). The Merlins drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed airscrews (propellers), which had a diameter of 13 feet, 0 inches (3.962 meters), through a 0.420:1 gear reduction..

The Mark I had a cruise speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 282 miles per hour (462 kilometers per hour) at 63,000 pounds ( kilograms). Its service ceiling was 19,000 feet (5,791 meters) and it had a range of  2,530 miles (4,072 kilometers) with a 7,000 pound (3,175 kilogram) bomb load.

The Lancaster was designed to carry a 14,000 pound (6,350 kilogram) bomb load, but modified bombers carried the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam bomb. For defense, the standard Lancaster had eight .303-caliber Browning machine guns in three power-operated turrets.

According to the Royal Air Force, “Almost half all Lancasters delivered during the war (3,345 of 7,373) were lost on operations with the loss of over 21,000 crew members.”

Only two airworthy Avro Lancasters are in existence.

This Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster B1, PA474, is one of only two flyable "Lancs" in existence. This one was built by Vickers. It is named Phantom of the Ruhr. ( )
This Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster Mk.I, PA474, “City of Lincoln,” is one of only two flyable “Lancs” in existence. This one was built by Vickers in 1945. (Kogo via Wikipedia)
Avro Lancaster Mk.X FM213, of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, marked VR A and nicknamed “Vera.”

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1903–5 January 1941: Amy Johnson CBE

Amy Johnson, CBE, by Sir John Longstaff. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Amy Johnson was born 1 July 1903 at Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the first of two daughters of John William Johnson and Amy Hodge Johnson. She attended The Boulevard school in Kingston before going on to the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. There, she majored in Economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.

Miss Johnson worked as a secretary for a London law firm form 1925 to 1929. She joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane, where one of her flight instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, MC, AFC, a World War I fighter pilot who would later co-found the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight. Johnson was issued a Pilot’s Certificate and License (#1979) by the Air Ministry of Great Britain, 6 July 1929. This was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and in December 1929, became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic).

With the financial assistance of her father and of Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, the founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (better known as Castrol), she purchased a one-year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had previously been owned by Air Taxis Ltd., of Stag Lane (a company formed by G.B.H. “Rex” Mundy and Captain W. Laurence Hope) and first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.

Miss Amy Johnson with her de Havilland DH-60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAAH, at Stag Lane, 5 May 1930. (Central Press/Getty Images)

On 5 May 1929, Amy Johnson and Jason took off from Croyden Aerodrome on a 19-day, 11,000-mile (17,700 kilometer) journey to Australia. She arrived at Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May. For her accomplishment, she won a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, a London newspaper. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.

Amy Johnson lands at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 24 May 1930. (Fox Photo/Getty Images)

In the King’s Birthday Honours, announced 3 June 1930, George V, King of the United Kingdom and British Dominions, appointed Amy Johnson a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

St. James’s Palace, S.W.1

3rd June, 1930.

     The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday, to give orders for the following promotions in, and appointments to, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire :—

To be Commanders of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order :—

Miss Amy Johnson, in recognition of her outstanding flight to Australia.

Supplement to the London Gazette, Number 33611, Tuesday, 3 June, 1930, at Page 3481

Amy Johnson made a number of record setting long-distance flights, both solo and with other pilots, one of whom was James Allan Mollison. Mollison proposed marriage only a few hours after first meeting her. They married in July 1932. She soon after set a new record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”

The couple made a transatlantic flight, another flight from Britain to India, and competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. She was twice elected president of the Women’s Engineering Society.

Amy Johnson’s record-breaking Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADZO, at Gravesend, Kent, 4 May 1936. (Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library)

In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, traveled Annapolis, Maryland in the United States, where she studied advanced navigation under P. V. H. Weems, the acknowledged world authority in celestial navigation. (Among other devices, Weems invented the Weems Mark II Plotter, which every student pilot the world over would immediately recognize.)

Amy Johnson, CBE, at Annapolis, Maryland, 3 May 1937. (Baltimore Sun)

Mr. and Mrs. Mollison divorced in 1938.

During World War II, Amy Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. (Fellow record-setter Jackie Cochran also flew for the ATA before returning to America to found the WASPs.) Johnson held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant.

Airspeed AS.10 Oxford

On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.

The following morning, 5 January, although weather was very poor with falling snow limiting visibility, Johnson departed Squires Gate at approximately 10:30 a.m., to continue her assignment. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.

What took place thereafter is not known. There was speculation that she was unable to land at Kidlington due to poor weather and continued flying east, perhaps finally running out of fuel.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson bailed out of the Oxford and parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The airplane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.

Amy Johnson’s parachute was seen by the crew of HMS Haslemere, a barrage balloon tender assigned to the Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage in the Estuary. They attempted to rescue her and in the process, the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Edmund Fletcher, Royal Navy, dove into the water. In the cold temperatures and rough conditions, Fletcher died. For his effort to rescue Johnson, he was awarded the Albert Medal, posthumously.

HMS Haslemere, a 220.7 foot (69.82 meter), 832 gross ton, two-engine, twin-screw cargo steamer, built at Glasgow, 1925. (Roy Thornton Collection via Dover Ferry Forums)

Amy Johnson is presumed to have drowned. Her body was not recovered. Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found soon after.

In recent years, stories have emerged that the AS.10 was shot down after Johnson twice gave the incorrect response to a radio challenge. Tom Mitchell, an anti-aircraft gunner of the 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, at Iwade, a small village along the shore of the Thames Estuary, said in 1999 that he shot her down under orders, firing 16 shells at the Oxford. The men of the battery were ordered to never mention the incident. There were contemporary reports that a destroyer had also fired on Johnson, though the Admiralty denied this.

More recently, former crewmen of HMS Haslemere have said that, rather than having drowned, Amy Johnson was killed by the ship’s propellers as it maneuvered to pick her up.

Official telegram notifying Amy Johnson’s parents of her death. (Royal Air Force Museum)

What is known, however, is that Flight Officer, Amy Johnson, CBE, died in the service of her country.

Amy Johnson, C.B.E., B.A., A.R.Ae.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.E., M.W.E.S., was a legendary pioneering aviator. Her accomplishments are far greater, and her skills as a pilot superior, to those of others who may have achieved greater public acclaim (especially in the United States). She is one of the great individuals in the history of aviation.

First Officer Amy Johnson, CBE, Air Transport Auxilairy, circa 1940. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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