Old Airplane and Other Aircraft Pictures
From the library of Larry Brian Radka
Old airplane pictures before 1950 are not only nostalgic but also point to how astonishingly far we have come in this computerized Space Age. Therefore, I am scanning, as time permits in my old age, as many old aircraft pictures, pilots, and other pertinent material as possible to place here. I will often tint the photographs to break their old black and white monotony and to make any clear, white skies show up better on the white background of this Web site. Bookmark this page and be sure to periodically check back here to see the new photographs and information posted.
Don't hesitate to copy the address above and paste it to emails to your friends—so they too can enjoy this Golden Age of Flying:
Here is a photograph from Scribner's October 1889 issue. Two Army aviators are telegraphing by wire from a balloon It is noteworthy to point out here that balloons were hardly new at this time. In 1782, the Montgolfier brothers built a hot air balloon, and in 1783 Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis D'Arlandes flew over Paris and alighted safely.
Above is pictured a German experimenter with his three-by-four-yards, motorless sailing triplane.
Here we have a photograph of a multi-winged glider, intended to be pedaled like a bicycle.
Above we see a vintage glider constructed to look like and fly like a big bird.
John Moore Brabazon was the first person to receive a pilot's license in Britain and the first englishman to fly an aeroplane on December 4, 1908.
The pictures on the early 20th century postcard above shows us the Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan. The note on the back says it is “One of the finest aviation fields in the country, which besides having every facility for handling heavier than air machines, also has a large mooring mast for dirigibles.”
Above is a reproduction of the front of a photo postcard with Ollie Lee Anderson and Tyrie Williams gliding over Pablo Beach at Jacksonville, Florida. Tyrie was the Advertising Manager for the Rhodes, Futch & Collins Furniture Company in 1915.
In the 1916 photo above, we see pioneer aviator Ruth Law.
This photograph, courtesy of the Curtiss Aeroplane Co., shows the old "Pusher" with several prominent airmen.
The picture below shows the pilot of a Curtiss Dual Control ready for flight with his goggles at hand and a fantastic flight jacket. Many leather goods, including jackets, today are inpired by the practical wear of early aviators.
On December 17th 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the modern world’s first power-driven airplane flights in a 12 horse-power biplane at kitty Hawk, North Carolina. One flight lasted 14 seconds and another 58 seconds. In 1905, they flew 38 minutes and covered in one flight a distance of 25 miles without landing
A Wright Airplane is seen above flying over Parkersburg, West Virginia—a beautiful Ohio River city with sites worth seeing. Parkersburg's interest in early manmade flying devices is aptly demonstrated on the old Parkersburg Home-Coming posters for 1910 posted below.
But that's not the only place where enthusiasm for flying thrived around that time.
Here we have a aerial cameraman, as courageous as any barnstormer, on a photographing mission atop an old biplane. Sometimes barnstormers
’ exciting aerial antics consisted of several pilots and who would work together as a team, calling them themselves a “flying circus”—which spawned a variety of creative stunts and stars.
Barnstormer Al Wilson shot golf balls. Mabel Cody danced. Gladys Ingle shot arrows at a target (although didn't necessarily hit it).
Ivan Unger and Gladys Roy played tennis—complete with a tiny net stretched across the wing directly above the cockpit.
Jack Shack hung from a trapeze—by his teeth
Eddie Angel did what was effectively a free-fall, for thousands of feet, holding a pair of flashlights.
According to one Internet page, in his book SO AWAY I WENT! William Bushnell Stout, speaking of stunt-flying Katherine, whom he knew, tells us that
“Katherine used to fit Roman candles on the wings of her airplane, when she made exhibition flights at state fairs. In many of the exhibitions at night, she would come down after the fireworks display in the middle of a half-mile track with only a burning tar barrel to indicate where and how she was to land. In all her career, so far as I know, she never had an accident. It is said she taught Eddie Stinson to fly, and later her sister Marjorie. All three of them were excellent pilots—none better in his day that Eddie Stinson.”
Left to right above, we see Lt. Col. R. S. Hartz, Sgt. John Harding, Jr., Lt. Ernest Emery Harmon, and Sgt. Jeremiah Dobias standing before their U. S. "Round the Rim" Martin bomber that made a circuit flight of the United States in 1917.
Above we see a WWI observation balloon and a more advanced aerial machine involved in that Great War. The Morane Saulnier Type L, a "parasol" monoplane, was a fragile two-seat reconnaissance aircraft. It was the first aircraft armed with a fixed machine gun that fired through the propeller arc. Steel plates deflected the bullets that happen to strike the propeller. Armed with a Hotchkiss machine gun firing 8 mm solid copper bullets, Roland Garros tested the design in April 1915; and scored three victories in three weeks before the plane was captured by the Germans. On 7 June 1915, Sub Lieutenant R A J Warneford attacked and destroyed a German Zeppelin while flying a Morane Saulnier Type L (3253).
Aerial accomplishments in the European war sparked an intense interest in American Colonel Billy Mitchell.
Billy Mitchell’s interest in aviation started after the beginning of World War I in 1914. He spent much of his time on the general staff in Washington urging a separate and independent air service. On his own time, he studied flying at the Curtiss Company’s school at Newport News, Virginia. He became a pilot at 36, which in those days was considered quite old for flying. In June 1918, Col. Billy Mitchell became Chief of Air Service, 1st Brigade, and four months later he was promoted to brigadier general as Chief of Air Service for Group of Armies
No American-designed pursuit planes fought in the First World War. Instead, our pilots flew French and British fighters.
In this photograph, the leading American ace of the war, Eddie Rickenbacker, poses with his French-built Spad 13, the fighter most widely used by U. S. squadrons. The big rugged Spad had a 235 horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine, a top speed of 138 miles per hour, and a rapid climbing as well as diving speed. Its two machine guns, atop the engine cowl, were synchronized to fire through the propeller. Rickenbacker and his Spad were a potent pair. The ex-racing driver with lightning reflexes set a torrid pace in 1918, knocking down 21 German planes and five observation balloons. Commander of the famous 94th Squadron, whose “Hat in the Ring” symbol adorned the sides of their planes, Rickenbacker was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and effectiveness.
These are official photographs taken on the Western Front in France during the offensive on the Gambrai Front. This aeroplane above was brought down far behind German lines, and the Tommies are showing a keen interest in the captured crash below.
Don't let these photos of crashed German airplanes mislead you. German pilots and planes were perilous adversaries, and their fighting ability and ingenuity recalled in the video below aptly points this out:
“Army aviator candidates reached Italy (fall 1917). Among them was New York congressman Fiorello La Guardia. Army aviators flew bombers from Italian bases.”
I copied some of these photographs from the French magazine above, the November 1917 issue of The War Illustrated (in English), and I personally translated the French text for the English descriptions posted on the photographs. Other photographs were extracted from my six huge volumes of The Story of the Great War and from other sources in my library of nearly 5,000 books, pamphlets, and periodicals at hand.
Here's Some Good Flying Advice:
“If the enemy is in range, so are you.”—Infantry Journal
“It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area
you just bombed.”—U. S. Air Force Manual
“Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword,
obviously never encountered automatic weapons.”—General MacArthur
“Tracers work both ways.”—Army Ordnance Manual
“The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on
“When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane,
you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the
crash.”—Multi-Engine Training Manual
“Without ammunition, the Air Force is just an expensive flying club.”—Unknown Author
“What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and
pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; but If ATC screws up, .... the pilot dies.”—Sign over Control Tower Door
“Never trade luck for skill.'”—Author Unknown
“The three most common expressions (or famous last words) in military aviation are:
'Did you feel that?' 'What's that noise?' and 'Oh S...!”—Author Unknown
“Airspeed, altitude and brains. Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.”—Basic Flight Training Manual
“The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you.”—Attributed to Max Stanley (Northrop test pilot)
“There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in
peacetime.”—Sign over Squadron Ops Desk at Davis-Montham AFB, Arizona
“You know that your landing gear is up and locked when it takes full power to taxi to the terminal.”—Lead-in to the Fighter Training Manual
Beside the two pictures above, a mid-air collision on February 1, 1943 between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area became the subject of one of the most famous photographs of World War II.
An enemy fighter attacking a 97th Bomb Group formation went out of control, probably with a wounded pilot then continued its crashing descent into the rear of the fuselage of a Fortress named All American, piloted by Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg, of the 414th Bomb Squadron.
When it struck, the fighter broke apart, but left some pieces in the B-17. The left horizontal stabilizer of the Fortress and left elevator were completely torn away. The two right engines were out and one on the left had a serious oil pump leak. The vertical fin and the rudder had been damaged, the fuselage had been cut almost completely through... connected only at two small parts of the frame and the radios, electrical and oxygen systems were damaged.
There was also a hole in the top that was over 16 feet long and 4 feet wide at its widest and the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunners turret.
Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind and twisted when the plane turned and all the control cables were severed, except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still flew... miraculously!
The tail gunner was trapped because there was no floor connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart.
While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target.
When the bomb bay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane. When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position.
The turn back toward England had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off. They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home. The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. For a brief time, two more Me-109 German fighters attacked the All American. Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters. The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns. The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn.
Allied P-51 fighters intercepted the All American as it crossed over the Channel and took the picture above. They also radioed to the base describing that the empennage was waving like a fish tail and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out. The fighters stayed with the Fortress taking hand signals from Lt. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been "used" so five of the crew could not bail out. He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane and land it.
Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear.
When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not a single member of the crew had been injured. No one could believe that the aircraft could still fly in such a condition. The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed onto the ground. The rugged old bird had done its job!
On another note, I might mention here that during World War I as well as World War II the need for searchlights became apparent, to spot the enemy in the sky from land as well as sea.
It may sound fantastic but “The first pitched battle has recently been fought between ships of the sea and of the air, resulting in the annihilation of a British submarine by a Zeppelin bomb,” stated an article titled “A Submarine Sunk by a Zeppelin,” in the June 12, 1915 issue of Scientific American. “A submarine flotilla's numerous high angle guns are not so much smaller than those of a battleship,” added the writer, “yet the target offered by the single submarine is so hopelessly tiny that the Zeppelin's escape after sinking one of her foes with a bomb appears nothing short of marvelous, if we recall the difficulty of dropping bombs with precision and the accuracy of high angle fire so far experienced.”
Various acoustic devices were used to aim the brilliant carbon arc searchlights against invading aircraft at night, for anti-aircraft artillery spotters.
Acoustic location is the art and science of using sound to determine the distance and direction of something. Location can be done actively or passively, and can take place in gases (such as the atmosphere), liquids (such as water), and in solids (such as in the earth).
Although less effective against Zeppelins than louder airplanes, acoustic location in air was used from mid-World War I to the early years of World War II for the passive detection of aircraft by picking up the noise of the engines. It was rendered obsolete before and during World War II by the introduction of radar, which was far more effective. Acoustics has the advantage that it can see around corners and over hills.
On May 16 to 31, 1919, Lt. Commander A. C. Read, U. S. Navy, in the flying boat N-C-4, made the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Plymouth, England by way of the Azores and Portugal.
On June 14, 1919, John Alcock and A. W. Brown, English pilots, made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Clifton, Ireland, in 16 hours and 12 minutes, thereby winning the Daily Mail's $50,000 prize.
This is a picture of an old British biplane being fueled at an airport, and we have an old mobile nourishment below.
This U. S. Army Air Service photo was taken on June 27, 1923 and shows Capt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. John P. Richter performing the first aerial refueling on 27 June 1923. The DH-4B biplane remained aloft over the skies of Rockwell Field in San Diego, California, for 37 hours. The airfield's logo is visible on the aircraft.
Above is an old crop duster near Montgomery, Alabama; and below we see it’s method of refueling.
Above is a picture of a fold-up-wing "Redwing" two-seater biplane, which could be stored in a 10-feet-wide shed.
WOW!! A good-looking lady-biplane pilot! Above we see Marvel Crosson seated atop the airplane she piloted in the 1920’s.
Afro-American flyers also rose to great heights in the Golden Age of Aviation.
This biplane is flying 3,500 feet over the snowfall on the Mt. Moorfoot Hills, Scotland.
Here we have U.S. Army engineers testing two-way telephone communication with an aircraft in 1917.
Here is a picture of an old, post WW I-era airplane with a radio in the cockpit. I have a cute little story to post about these type of control sticks when I can find time. Be sure to "Bookmark" this page or put it on your "Favorites" list, and check back once in awhile. By the way, if you want to see views of the cockpits of some more modern aircraft, click this link.
Before World War I, the US Post Office Department made serious efforts to establish airmail in areas where it would be more economical to deliver mail by air than other means. If this effort had succeeded, it probably would have encouraged airplane development. But Congress did consent, and no funds were made available for an airmail service at that time.
Here we see some famous pioneer airmail pilots. I scanned this page from an article enitled "Aces of the Air Mail"—in the September 1925 issue of Everybody's Magazine. After the United States entered World War I, the Army decided that a very good way to train pilots in cross-country flying and to test the planes under all kinds of flight conditions would be to establish a schedule of flights to carry mail. On 15 May 1918, a line was opened to carry mail between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. This was the beginning of continuously scheduled airmail service for the public. Army pilots, then, became the first flying mailmen. Every day some of these young men piloted their Curtiss “Jennies” over the 238-mile stretch.
The military demonstration in 1918 proved that a scheduled airmail service was feasible. On 12 August 1918, the Post Office Department took over the service, employing its own pilots.
The plane purchased by the Post Office Department was the Standard JR-1B—the first plane specifically designed for carrying mail. This biplane was powered by a 185-horsepower engine and carried the pilot and about 200 pounds of mail at 90 miles an hour.
Later other types of planes were used.
In 1925, a bill was introduced in Congress to transfer the mail routes to private contractors. This was put into effect the following year. Those airmail contracts may have been the key to the survival of many of the struggling young air transport companies.
Airmail contracts were what gave these companies steady work and permitted them to earn something for their services. Without earnings of some kind, they could never have expanded and finally become the great commercial airlines of today.
Here we have Sergeant A. M. Ogden, aide to Lieutenant Leigh Wade, working on an airplane for the U. S. Army round-the-world flyers at Brough, England in 1924. From April 6 to September 28, 1924, United States Army Aviators, in four Douglas transport planes, left Seattle, Washington on the first round-the-world flight by way of Alaska, Japan, India, Austria, England, Greenland, and Newfoundland. Two completed the distance of 27,553 miles safely. Actual flying time was 371 hours and 11 minutes—over a period of 175 days.
Above are two flyers with their feline mascot.
Below we see a picture of the first airplane to fly to the North Pole. Richard E. Byrd, U. S. N. and pilot Floyd G. Bennett accomplished the feat on May 9, 1926, after a 15 1/2 hour trip.
They left Spitzbergen at 1:50 A. M. and returned in the afternoon of the same day. The Josephine Ford, a three-engined monoplane of 600 horsepower, allowed them to make the celebrated flight. In 1027, Commander Byrd and three others crossed from New York to Ver-sur-Mer, France, 3,200 miles in 40 hours.
Above, we see the Blue Bird, a 1000 horse-power Farman biplane with its two motors arranged in tandem, which Maurice Drouhin, a commercial pilot and holder of many records, was putting through its daily paces above Villacoublay Air Field on 7 May 1927. The flying exercise proved unfruitful. The French air ace did not complete his Paris to New York non-stop flight—due to bad weather.
Later in the month, Charles Lindbergh left the U. S. and his arrival in France is illustrated on the old postcard above. From May 20th through the 21st 1927, Colonel Lindbergh, in The Spirit of St. Louis, made the first non-stop flight from the United States to Europe by flying from New York to Paris, a distance of 3,610 miles, in 33½ hours.
This American flyer won the $25,000 Raymond Orteig prize in the Spirit of St. Louis instead.
This photograph shows Charles Lindbergh sitting up front, Fred E. Weick in the rear, and Tom Hamilton standing in front of a research aircraft on June 1, 1927, at Langley Research Center.
And this is a photograph of Colonel and Mrs. Charles Lindbergh in front of an airplane on September 18, 1929.
From August 27 to September 14, 1927, W. S. Brock and E. F. Schlee of the United States, in The Pride of Detroit, flew from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, across the Atlantic, then in various stages to Kasaminguara, Japan, 12,300 miles.
Here we see an early twentieth-century photograph of an "Autogiro" rising steeply in a steady sustained vertical climb. The "windmill" above the plane is not connected with the motor, but rotates with the motion of the machine, thus supporting the plane in flight and permitting ascent at a steep angle and almost vertical descent, according to The Story in Transportation.
On June 4th to 5th of 1927, Clarence D. Chamberlin, pilot, and Charles Levine, the first modern transatlantic passenger, made a on-stop flight in the Columbia from New York to Eiselben, Germany, 3,905 miles.
On June 4th to 5th of 1927, Clarence D. Chamberlin, pilot, and Charles Levine, the first modern transatlantic passenger, made a on-stop flight in the Columbia from New York to Eiselben, Germany, 3,905 miles.
Here is a close-up of a gigantic flying-boat. Aircraft designers presented their intital blueprints for the spectacle in September of 1924, and began work on this project in the fall of 1925. After 240,000 hour of work, the ship was completed. The “DO X” had 12 engines, weighed 34 tons, and measured 150 feet from tip to tail. Dornier's pilot-in-chief Richard Wagner took off on the maiden flight of this engineering wonder and successfully completed the test on October 21, 1929 with 169 passengers on board. This record remained unsurpassed for 20 years.
The USS Ranger (CV-4), built in the early 1930's, was the first aircraft carrier for the US Navy to be specifically designed and built from the keel up.
From June 3rd to August 3rd 1933, in The Century of Progress Lockheed plane, Jimmie Mattern attempted the first solo flight around the world.
This aerial adventurer made the longest flight in history at the time—from New York to Norway—4,100 miles on the first leg of his famous flight, and broke all existing speed records three-fourths of the way around the world. After crashing in Anadyr, Siberia on the Artic Circle, Jimmie Mattern managed to fly to Alaska in a borrowed Russian airplane. Then he flew on to New York in a borrowed Lockheed plane to complete his “Round-The-World-Solo Flight.”
Above is an Associated Press Photograph from New York of a flying Congressman preparing for a tour of Army posts. W. Frank James (1873—1945), ex-Army Private and Representative of Michigan, who had flown more miles and hours than the rest of the Congress combined, is shown here at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York on October 1, 1931. He is about to take off the first leg of an air tour of forty states to inspect housing conditions at various army posts. Congressman James, then the Chairman of House Military Affairs, had flown 680 hours and 16,800 miles on various flights. From left to right is Lieutenant Colonel John H. Howard, Commanding Officer of Mitchel Field, Major General James Fachet, Chief of the Air Corps smoking the cigarette, and finally Congressman W. Frank James. Another flying politician has recently surpassed James's mileage record by far.
"Perhaps the greatest mystery in aviation history was the disappearance of the famous pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan in 1937.
Meanwhile, the Italians were busy with war in northern Africa, and another world war was on the horizon in Europe.
And a few years later world war spread to America. On Sunday, December 7th, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the U.S. Forces stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. By planning this attack on a Sunday, the Japanese commander Admiral Nagumo, hoped to catch the entire fleet in port.
As luck would have it, the Aircraft Carriers and one of the Battleships were not in port. (The USS Enterprise was returning from Wake Island, where it had just delivered some aircraft. The USS Lexington was ferrying aircraft to Midway, and the USS Saratoga and USS Colorado were undergoing repairs in the United States.)
In spite of the latest intelligence reports about the missing aircraft carriers (his most important targets), Admiral Nagumo decided to continue the attack with his force of six carriers and 423 aircraft.
At a range of 230 miles north of Oahu , he launched the first wave of a two-wave attack.
At a range of 230 miles north of Oahu , he launched the first wave of a two-wave attack.
The second strike, launched at 0715 hours, consisted of 167 aircraft, which again struck at the same targets.
In all, the attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,402 Americans, destroyed five battleships completely, put three more out of commission, sank or seriously damaged at least eleven other warships, and destroyed nearly more than 180 aircraft on the ground.
The only good luck the U.S. Navy had was that none of its aircraft carriers were in port at the time and that the Japanese bombers failed to hit the large fuel reserves in the area.
In addition to attacking Pearl Harbor that day, Japan also attacked the U.S. territories of Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island, and Midway Island, as well as British interests in Malaya and Hong Kong.
The next day, December 8, Roosevelt went before both houses of the U.S. Congress to request a declaration of war against Japan; after a vote, the declaration was formalized just hours later. Britain declared war on Japan on the same day.
Three days later, on December 11, Germany declared war on the United States.
Thus, the United States was now at war with both Japan and Germany and able to enter fully into its alliance with Britain.
Note Mickey Mouse on the side of the cockpit and especially the old age of the pilot in the picture above. Apparently this photograph was taken in the desperate days toward the end of World War II, after most of the youthful German flyers had perished, many in the Battle of Britain.
With respect to the photograph, Giff Kucsma informed me in an email on November 15, 2009 that “That pilot, who might appear older than expected, is Lieutenant General Adolf Galland. He claimed a total of 104 victories in 705 missions and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz) with oak leaves, swords and diamonds, one of only 27 recipients of the highest German military decoration. His victory claims were all against the Western Allies.”
I always appreciate any pertinent information and/or corrections passed on to me for this Web page, so feel free likewise to use the “contact us” form (in the left hand drop-down agenda) for those purposes.
Daniel McCarthy (a DC-3 Airline Transport pilot, Flight engineer turbojet, A&P mechanic, and Flight Instructor) graciously responded to this request in October of 2010 with the following email comment and accompanying photograph above:
“Joe Klaas sent me your airplane photos of bygone days; I enjoyed them immensely, except for the sadness involved with the carnage inflicted on the cities. I, too, was stationed in W. Germany (1963-1965) at Erlangen airfield. One Saturday I was in charge of the airport—answering phones, pumping gas, directing planes and gliders—and who should show up, flying a Beechcraft Bonanza, V-tail, (for Siemens Corp.) none other than Gen. Adolf Galland, himself. I, fortuitously, had just finished reading his book The First and The Last, so I was well aware of his history. The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you want to go for a ride?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘because I'd be AWOL, but my friends would be happy to go.’ So, he took them for a ride. I got some good photos, with my Voightlander Ultamatic.”
Speaking of Joe Klaas, Dan noted: “Here is a fellow that has a remarkable history. WW2 RAF pilot, USAAF pilot (Lt. Col.), shot down North Africa, interned in Stalag, forced marched across Poland. You can look him up. I met him, and his lovely wife, on a Princess cruise. He is also the author of several books.”
These planes were flying high in the year in which I was born—into a mad world at war.
This U. S. Army photograph shows General Dwight D. Eisenhower, later a U. S. president, smiling, as usual, from an observation airplane as he gets ready for takeoff in 1943 from the front lines.
Major T. J. Walker, a Fifth Army artillery officer, from the Venafro sector of Italy, is piloting the plane. Note the stars on the window and metal-mesh runway.
During World War II, the Germans also used metal-mesh runways. In fact, in the early 1960’s during my 3-1/2 year service in the Army Security Agency near Rothwesten, Germany, overlooking Kassel, a large war-time city, I could still see the metal-mesh remnants of the old Luftwaffe runway sticking up from beneath the thick grass on my quarter-mile walks across the vast rhombic antenna field from our barracks to the Ice House—to secretly copy and forward to NSA intercepted Soviet Army radio communications in East Germany during the Cold War. We called the large concrete spy house (packed with all types of low-frequency receivers, direction-finders, and code-breaking equipment, and surrounded by armed Army guards behind high, double barbed-wire fences) in the center of the field "The Ice House" because it brandished no windows.
The Nazi air base was previously a college campus, and the old dormitories, our barracks, still had trees painted on the sides of the buildings to camouflage them from the air. There was good reason for this deception.
The base's fighters, which seemed to fly up out of nowhere—according to Allied airmen flying over the undetected field at the time—needed to protect the important aircraft and locomotive factories in nearby Kassel. Unlike the exposed meshed plates on the muddy field above, the German metal runways however used heavy wire mesh, widely spaced, which easily sunk down between the blades of high grass and could not be detected by Allied bombers flying directly overhead—especially after flocks of sheep were immediately led onto the field after its planes flew off to intercept the Allied bombers.
Many German pilots were lost in the process, but many more people died in the city during the Allied bombings.
The heaviest started with 569 bombers on the night of October 22, 1943 and continued into the next morning, on the day I was born.
According to Wikipedia:
The main-force attack was covered by a feint attack by 36 aircraft on Frankfurt which began five minutes before the main raid. German air defence were not fooled and the RAF lost 43 aircraft, 7.6 per cent of the force.
The pathfinders clearly marked the target area (Martinsplatz in central Kassel) so well that within five minutes the whole ancient town was illuminated. Within the next 80 minutes the waves of bombers dropped at least 1,800 tons of high explosives and incendiaries. The high explosive bombs demolished or extensively damaged buildings, but the incendiaries did the worst damage. Ton for ton, they had been found to be four to five times as destructive as high explosivives.
The medieval heart of Kassel consisted almost completely of wooden houses. The bombing was so intense that incendiary bombs fell with a density of up to two per square meter. Each building in the city center was hit by at least two liquid white phosphorus incendiary bombs and several of the 460,000 magnesium fire-sticks rained on the city.
After 15 minutes of attack the whole inner city was ablaze in a firestorm like the one at Hamburg, creating temperatures of 1500°C and above. It was consuming nearly all oxygen and sucking fresh air into the fire. People desperately trying to escape the fire zone were caught by the 100 mph wind, stripped of their clothes, and sucked back into the fire. Most residents who fled into the cellars died from asphyxiation.
Only a few minutes after the attack began, the main telephone exchange was hit and disabled, so fire brigades could not be directed to the places where they were needed. The firestorm was well underway before police could provide communications for the fire brigades, but even then destruction of the city's water pipes made it impossible to extinguish the inferno.
Kassel, which had a pre-raid population of 236,000 (1939), burned for seven days. It is believed that at least 10,000 people died and 150,000 inhabitants were bombed-out that night, and the city center was 95% destroyed. It took weeks to collect all the corpses from the streets and out of the ruined cellars.
Many more raids were flown on Kassel before the end of the war, but no one was anywhere near as devastating as the raid of 22 October 1943. When the Americans captured the city in March 1945, only 50,000 people were still residing there.
Shortly afterwards, the Americans discovered the hidden air base at Rothwesten, and according to the old-timers in the nearby town of Knickhagen, two Me-109’s still remained in its underground aircraft hangers during the time I was stationed at the base. Their story goes that after two demolition crews were lost trying to recover the famous planes amongst the booby-trapped tunnels, the entrances to the underground hangers were sealed up. Traces of the closures could still be observed during my tour in the 1960's.
Nevertheless, as a result of the devastating bombing of the city, the story I received while stationed near Kassel, was that during the war two Allied flyers were shot down over Kassel, and the Germans were so angry that they hung their Allied prisoners on the remaining steps of the Stadthalle (City Building). Allied airmen got word of the executions and determined revenge.
Sometimes, during their raids over Berlin, on which Kassel lay on the flight path, the flak was so heavy that bombardiers could not manage to drop their bombs; so, on their return, not wanting to risk landing with full bomb loads, dropped their devastation anywhere, but always avowed to “save one for Kassel.”
This continuously added to the pain and agony that the city had already suffered from the massive firebombing raid of October 22/23, 1943. After the war, a replica of how the metropolitan area looked shortly after the war was placed in the new Stadthalle. The large model of the bombed-out city showed that hardly four feet of any building was still standing in 1945. All-out war is indeed a tragic and nasty affair!
Above we see the best American Flying Ace of World War II in the European theater. He passed Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI record of 26 aircraft shot down. And on July 5, 1944, Lt. Col. Gabreski became America's leading ace, with 28 destroyed. This total was never surpassed by any U.S. pilot fighting the Luftwaffe.
Among the prop-driven Luftwaffe airplanes, American pilots in Europe were fighting German jet fighters. One is pictured above. While Germany was bombed intensively, production of the Me 262 was dispersed into low-profile production facilities, sometimes little more than clearings in the forests of Germany and occupied nations. Through the end of February to the end of March 1945, approximately 60 Me 262s were destroyed in attacks. At the end of WWII, slightly over 1,400 Me 262s of all versions were produced. As few as 200 Me 262s made it to combat units due to fuel shortages, pilot shortages, and the lack of airfields that could support the Me 262.
Pictured above is the American “Ace of Aces,” Major Richard Bong, in his P-38. This Medal of Honor winner fought against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater in WWII and is credited with 40 air-to-air victories.
After the hot war in Europe, the three victorious Western powers, the United States, Great Britain, and France entered the Cold War in a divided Germany against the Communist Russia and its satellite countries.
The Berlin Blockade, the first major international crises of the Cold War, began in June 1948. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Russians blocked the three Western powers' railroad and road access to the western sectors of Berlin that the British, American, and French were controlling in the divided city. Their aim was to force those western powers to allow the Soviet controlled regions to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving them nominal control over the entire city. In response, the Western Allies formed the Berlin Airlift to bring supplies to the people of Berlin. By April of 1949, the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously flowed into the city via rail. The success of the Airlift humiliated the Soviets (who then also possessed nuclear weapons) to respond by lifting the blockade a month later.
The Russian attempt at a physical blockade alerted the Allied forces in Germany that this might not be all the Soviets had in mind. If Allied communications between West Germany, aircraft, and Berlin were broken, through electronic jamming, another effective airlift could hardly be maintained, and the Soviets might indeed seize control of all of Berlin.
Therefore, it is noteworthy for me to mention here that during another 3-½ tour in West Germany in the late 1960's and early 70's, I was stationed at a German air base at Wunstorf, Germany, near Hanover, in the British Zone of Occupation—when the Cold War was still ongoing. Again, I was involved in electronic communications, not with spying though but repairing and maintaining 10 and 50 kilowatt tropospheric-scatter transmitters, for the Air Force Communications Service instead.
Russian electronic-signal spies at the time almost certainly knew that we normally maintained several time and frequency division telephone multiplexed voice channels from West Germany to and from Berlin's Templehof Airport via our 10-kilowatt transmitter signals.
However, the U. S. Vth Corps' plan at the time was that if the Soviet armies in East Germany decided to jam our normal military voice communications with Berlin (in the center of hostile Communist territory) that we would fire up our big ethylene glycol-cooled klystron tubes in our secret 50 kilowatt transmitters. We kept the electronic furnaces ready to go but never placed them on the air—to prevent the Russian electronic-signal snoops (like I was, in the Army Security Agency) from detecting their existence. In the event the Soviets initiated electronic warfare with the Western forces, to their anticipated surprise, we would beam out and bounch off the Troposphere strong Morse Code communications instead of our normal, much weaker and more vulnerable multiplexed voice transmissions. We hoped this would stymie another Russian attempt to blockade Berlin, but another attempt never came about. Our 50-KW transmitter klystron tubes were fired up with DC voltages, but never actually tested with RF transmissions on the air during my tour there. And who knows if the contingency plan and the 50KW transmitters would have worked properly if the challenge came again after all?
However, all apparently worked okay at an earlier time. According to Jay Fowler, who was once stationed at Wunstorf and has had the courtesy of sending me several pictures, “Tom Dixon, who was one of the crypto-teletype operators, remembers having to activate the contingency plan twice and fire up the 50KW transmitters. Once was when the East Germans tried to aggressively jam our signals. He said the paperwork involved was immense.”
Our little U. S. Air Force communcations outpost at the end of a long runway on the German Luftwaffe Base at Wunstorf was closing up shop at the end 1971.
It is noteworthy to point out here that back in the 1960's the popular West German magazine Der Spiegel (The Mirror) printed a map similar to the one above—which identified the locations of all the Soviet armies in East Germany. The brass at the Army Security Agency at Rothwesten almost went into hysteria, realizing that this information was classified—kept under Top-Secret-Crypto covers at The Ice House. One Agency Warrant Officer even attempted to visit all the magazine stands in Kassel, to buy up all the printed issues there to keep them from reaching public eyes. Needless to say, the effort was earnest—but silly and quite futile.
On another personal note, I will mention that my interest in old airplanes is now intense, but my actual piloting experience is not with the U. S. Air Force. My efforts in this area are just limited to one private student-flying lesson in 1973, over southwestern Wyoming. The thought of flying over the high desert in a little single-engine airplane under the tutelage of a dangerous flyer who had previously stalled out his plane and crashed—as well as the loss of a radio tower in a severe wind storm at KVRS Radio—discouraged my interest at the time. Thereafter, until now, I never seriously pursued my interest in airplanes.
Nevertheless, I hope these Web-page pictures and the following column of simple flying instructions will be useful for old-airplane fans like me:
The Wonder Book of Electricity
describes the color illustration above as "A Sky Grid." Its editor, Harry Golding, goes on to explain, around 1932, that "The 3,000,000,000 candle-power searchlight
throws a 'grid' on the sky by means of which the speed, direction and height of raiding aeroplanes can quickly be calculated. Once caught in the rays, the planes find it almost impossible to escape." During World War II, thousands of of Allied and Axis airplanes never escaped the deadly flak trailing the brilliant beams blazing forth from even more poweful carbon arc searchlights.
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and also fly back here sometime for more old airplane and other aircraft pictures and history.
This page was last modified on Monday, March 11, 2013