Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hamilton Trio, #48-646, #48-666, and #48-692

In the days after World War Two, the Armed Forces of the United States strove to figure out how to use their new steeds.  What to do with jets?  Sure, they were fast, but they did not have long legs.  The P-51 could run for several hours on a load of fuel.  The early jets drank fuel at an astonishing rate!  Flights in the early fighter jets didn’t often last more than an hour or so, especially in conditions like combat, when maneuvering and a lot of throttle was used.  Still, the Jets could manage a decent range when required.  They did not accelerate like propeller driven aircraft, either.  Their engines required time to spool up.  Being a new technology, there was much to learn.

The early jet engines require lots of maintenance.  Their service lives were short.  The amount of time between significant maintenance and overhauls was just a few tens of hours.  Attrition of the early jets through operational and training losses was horrendous!  The 78th Fighter Wing suffered from the highest accident and loss rate with their F-84s than any other, though this was likely due to the fact that the 78th had the longest relationship with the F-84.

The 78th Fighter Group, was re-activated in June, 1947 at Mitchel AFB and moved to Hamilton AFB, California in November of 1948, where it became the 78th Fighter Wing under the Hobson Plan and became the main unit at that base.  In February of 1949 the 78th Fighter Wing got its first brand new F-84Ds.  By December, the 78th had lost several aircraft.  One was lost at McChord AFB, one at Langley AFB, others in different places across the West.   Today, I present three accidents concerning Hamilton F-84s that happened within six months of each other.
This F-84D (#48-649) is a close relation of the aircraft in this article.  (photo from Bill Larkins, in the F-84 book sited below)

On May 20, 1949, on a navigation flight from Hamilton to Moses Lake AFB, Captain Raymond H. Littge, of the 83rd Fighter Squadron, was leading a formation of four F-84s at an altitude of 35,000 feet, when his aircraft began weaving.  Minutes later he and his aircraft were spread in an “arrowhead pattern” on the ground near Maupin, in Northern Oregon. 

The flight had begun normally.  The four jets had taken off at 0815.  Littge was flying F-84D1-RE #48-666.  Delivered in December of 1948, #48-666 had only about 72 hours on the airframe.  The other pilots in the flight were 2nd Lt. Robert Bechtel in #48-698, 1st Lt. Harold. M. Everett in #48-738, and 1st Lt. James A. Mathis in #48-679.  Littge reported that his cabin pressure was inoperative early into the flight.  There had been a previous oxygen problem with this particular jet, but it was thought that it was back to normal.

As the flight made it to somewhere above Redmond Oregon, about an hour and-a-half into the flight, Littge made a position report.  It was about 5 minutes after this report that his aircraft began to weave.  He did not respond to radio calls from his wingmen.  His aircraft then dove, then climbed, then winged over in a dive.  His wingman, Lt. Robert Bechtel, tried to stay with him and followed him down to 15,000 feet where his airspeed reached the maximum allowed and he pulled up.  Littge’s aircraft disappeared into the overcast at about 12,000 feet.  The flight continued on to Moses Lake AFB, Lt. Bechtel landed five minutes after the other two aircraft.

It was determined that Captain Littge had suffered Anoxia.  The report found that the oxygen system had failed.  Not only had cabin pressure failed, but the regulator did not function and there may have been a disconnection in the system.   The larger parts of the aircraft were moved to McChord AFB for the investigation. 

Captain Littge was 25 years old.

The F-84 at Hamilton was grounded several times during its service there.  At one point cracks were found in the wings of some.  Despite the teething problems, the F-84 continued operation.  Losses were not always the F-84’s fault though.  Just a few months after Captain Littge’s loss, another F-84 from Hamilton was lost.  This loss, apparently, was due to target fixation.

On the morning of September 17, 1949, about nine miles Northeast of Beverly Washington, 1st Lt. Lawrence Kane was making a firing pass on a ground gunnery mission in F-84D #48-646, when he did not pull up in time.  His aircraft hit the ground, burst into flames, and “flew apart.”  The pilots in his flight all described a similar sight.  All members of the flight had made 3 or 4 firing passes when Lt. Kane went in. 

He made his pass at an angle of about 30 degrees.  “He appeared to delay his pull up and when he did try to pull up he was to[o] low and appeared to hit the ground directly behind the target a 100 feet or so.”  When he did finally begin to pull up, it was too late and witnesses said the rear of the aircraft struck the ground first.  His body was thrown clear of the wreckage according to the range officer, who added that after he and his men had determined the pilot was “beyond assistance, steps were taken to prevent disturbance of the wreckage until the arrival of the aircraft accident officer.” 

Lieutenant Kane was 23 years old when he died and #48-646 had about 247 flying hours on its airframe. 

The last in our Hamilton Trio happened in November 1949.
At 1510, on November 10, 1949, three F-84s took off from Moses Lake Air Force Base on an intercept mission.  This flight was designated “Red Flight.”  About 20 minutes into the mission, ground control instructed Red Flight to go to “Coulee Dam” and allow “White Flight” to join them.  At this time Red one told Red Three to join up on White Flight, as White Flight had become second element ( White One becoming Red Three, Red Three becoming Red Five).  This was done to balance the combat composition of the now five ship flight.

At 1605, Torch Control (ground control) ordered Red Flight to proceed to base.  When Red Flight got about 10 miles North of Moses Lake AFB they sighted contrails about 10 miles south of base.  They intercepted the “bogey” and then made some camera gunnery passes.  After that their fuel state required them to return to base.  The flight was scattered, so Red One called them to rendezvous over base at “Angels Ten.”  They had formed up by 1620.  When they reached a point about a mile east of the field descending, Red One asked for permission to make a formation pass over the field.  Permission was denied.

“At this time the radio receiver became a bedlam of wild conversation, but a few excerpts are, chronologically, as follows; ‘Red Three lost a tip tank’, ‘Bail out, bail out’, then, ‘Red Three just crashed and burned.’”  

Red Three, according to witnesses, joined up and then, at about 6000 feet altitude, suddenly went into a 90 degree right bank, crossing the formation.  Red Two pulled up to avoid a collision, he felt a shock, but no indication that he had been hit.  When he looked his left tip tank was crumpled.  He landed immediately.

Red Three made three barrel rolls and dove into the ground.  Witnesses saw that his right wing tank had collapsed.  The investigative panel felt that it was likely that the wing tanks on both ships had collapsed due to a difference between the external and internal air pressures.  The left wing tank of Red Two showed no sign of contact with the other aircraft and seemed to have suffered the same failure.  It was felt that the crushed tank of Red Three deformed in such a way that it created a “severe air foil action that the pilot could not counter act.” 

Because of the descent, the pressure difference was enough to crush the tank.  The relief valve in the filler cap generally prevented overpressure, but it seemed that the valve had been blocked (suspicion was that rain or moisture had frozen in the valve) “rendering the valve inoperative with ultimate tip tank collapse.” 

Ultimately, it was not Second Lieutenant Stanley R. Mancarti’s fault that he died.  It was the failure of his tip tank and its relief valve.  One suspects that had Red Two, Second Lieutenant Walter Chapman, not had good reflexes and pulled up in time, both would have plummeted groundward and no definitive cause may have been determined.  As it was Chapman’s tank had the same problem, but deformed, apparently, in such a way that he was able to land the aircraft safely. 

Second Lieutenant Mancarti was 24 years old.

So ends our examination of the Hamilton Trio.  The F-84 was a work horse in Korea in the early 1950s, but in 1949, it was still new and suffered from teething problems.  This set of reports also reflects the era.  During this time, the Soviets were still "behind" and did not have the atomic bomb...at least we didn't know about it until August of 1949.  It was only after August when more funds and resources began to flow toward the armed forces again.  Until then, our armed forces had suffered from spending restrictions and small force sizes. 

The accident reports were in poor condition and required careful transcription to make head or tail out of, any mistakes or omissions are mine.  

accident reports from AFHRA on #48-646, #48-666, and #48-692

various internet sources.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Geiger Tigers, Back Story!!

Here is the back story to the Geiger Tiger's video I posted several weeks ago.  It is interesting to see the video and then read the back story.  If you did not watch the videos, see them here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heartfelt Request

I am requesting, if you live in Washington, that you comment on this post with any and all aviation related items that are not any longer associated with aviation.  For instance, I posted, about a month ago, about the J-57 engine can that was being used as a water tank.  There are other instances, however, of such things as drop-tanks being used as signs.  In Oregon, there is a B-17 that is sitting above a gas station.  There is an F-101 Voodoo on a stick near Tacoma.  There is a wing of a B-24 on Mission Ridge near Wenatchee, Washignton.  There is a drop tank that sits on a pole near Zillah, Washington.  Someone used a drop tank to make a model airplane outside of a shop in Moses Lake, Washington.  There is another type of drop tank that sits outside a farmer's shop near Moxee, Washington.  I, myself, have a drop tank hanging from the ceiling of my shed.  I would like to try and create a general map of aviation artifacts in this state.  Since I can't take the time to canvass the the state, I am hoping my slim readership will help.  Eventually the results will be posted here on this site!  Your help is deeply appreciated!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Geiger Tigers, the 498th FIS

The 498th Fighter Interceptor Squadron operated out of Spokane's Geiger Field.  These are two parts to a tongue-in-cheek documentary of their participation in a gunnery competition (William Tell maybe?)of some kind at Yuma, Arizona.  It does not show much in the way of Geiger Field, but it is worthwhile in it's 1950's humor and view into the lighter side of Air Defense Command personnel.

Also, you get to see the folding fin Mighty Mouse rockets in action.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

P-38H-5LO #42-66778

On the morning of November 10, 1943, Second Lieutenant Richard G. Simpson, of the 331st fighter squadron at Ellensburg Army Air Field, readied himself for a local flight to practice high altitude acrobatics.  While he was filing his paperwork and getting ready for his flight, Second Lieutenant M. F. McFarland brought his P-38H in for landing.  McFarland handed the aircraft over to Staff Sergeant Miller on the flight line who probably refueled it and readied for its next flight.  Simpson, finished with the appropriate paperwork and suited up for flight stepped out and did his pre-flight signing for the air craft.  Sergeant Miller probably watched him taxi out before turning to his next charge.
Simpson went to the end of the runway, received clearance and gunned the throttles.  He left the ground at 11:35am, local time.  After leaving field, he climbed east to 32,000 feet.  He leveled out and spent ten minutes making turns.  At this time, he decided to roll the plane over and dive straight down.  He looked at his air speed, it “was about 300 MPH.”  He tried to take it out of the dive, but he had no control.  He tried several different methods, from trim tabs to gunning the engine.  Nothing worked.  As the ground rushed toward him, he realized he needed to exit the aircraft.  He released the canopy and put his head and shoulders into the slipstream.  The onrushing air pulled him out, but he was knocked unconscious. 
He came to as he fell to the ground.  He could not move his hand to pull his ripcord, but the wind action had pulled his chute partially open, and then it fully opened, though some of the shrouds were broken.  He floated down and hit the sage brush hard.  He hit the ground at about 12:30pm.  After about an hour and-a-half he found a road then a ranger who took the downed pilot to his cabin and fed him soup and coffee until the ambulance picked him up.
Once he left P-38H #42-66778, Simpson floated to the ground for a comparatively gentle landing, living to fly another day.  However, 66778 did not meet a similar fate.  It rocketed toward the ground.  Some have suggested it broke up in flight, which would be supported by the evidence on the ground today.  This aircraft’s wreckage is strewn from near the summit of the hill, down to about 400-500 feet below the summit.  Some of the largest pieces were toward the bottom.  There appeared to be no impact crater. 
Given the P-38’s tendency to be a fast machine, it was one of the first aircraft that introduced aero-engineers and pilots to the phenomenon of compressability.  When the airframe reached speeds near 500 miles per hour, the nose would tuck under and the pilot would loose control.  From Simpson’s testimony, this is what apparently happened to 66778, though 300 MPH seems a bit low for that to happen.  Due to the aerodynamic forces in play and the P-38’s high lift wing, it seems entirely possible that the airplane broke up in flight. 
Craig Gyselinck discovered #42-66778’s crash site in 2003.  He described it as being scattered over one square mile.  He also described finding live ammunition.  He was a high school student at the time.  There was an article on this in the Ellensburg Daily Record, which you can find here.
On October 16, 2010, I accompanied Mr. Gene Gould to the site of #42-66778.  We found bright aluminum and even a little stainless steel shining in the sun across a gully from us.  In the course of investigating the debris we found several items of interest.  Among them, part of one of the turbo-superchargers, and a head and valve cover from one of the Allisons.  The photos below will tell a more complete story of our visit.
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It doesn’t look at steep as it felt…trust me, my aching muscles are telling me it was nearly a vertical hill!
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Above is the cylinder housing from the engine.  Below is the exhaust manifold.
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One of the prefixes for P-38 parts is 19, this confirms it.
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Above is some sort of flapper allowing air flow, one suspects cooling air for one of the engines, but I don’t know for sure.  Below is one of the turbo-superchargers.  The patterns seem to indicate it was still turning when it hit.
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Part numbers.
DSC_0107 - Copy DSC_0111 DSC_0117 DSC_0119 - Copy DSC_0126 DSC_0129 DSC_0130 DSC_0134 DSC_0052 DSC_0162 DSC_0168 DSC_0198
Above is part of a radio.
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This head from an Allison V-1710 shows the difference between engines in cars and those meant for flight.
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We found pieces with this desert pink and OTHERS with olive drab.
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Below are a few shells.  The primers were not fired, so one COULD say this was live ammunition.
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As with my first wreck, I am amazed by the small size and great scattering of the pieces of this aircraft.  That the larger items we found we toward the bottom of the hill would suggest that there may be more there.  We got to a point where we were thirsty and well below our back packs, so we headed back up slope.  It was well worth the effort.  It was a very interesting crash site!

USAF accident report for #42-66778
Ellensburg Daily Record, December 27, 2003,  http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=pWYpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=l8cEAAAAIBAJ&dq=ellensburg%20fighter%20crash&pg=3443%2C7373466