Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, & Real Moviemaking Oh My!

By Scott Spangler on February 22nd, 2021 | 2 Comments »

Devotion-1Nothing ruins the enjoyment of a good aviation film more thoroughly than computer-generated images. Real moviemaking, filming real airplanes is what makes movies like “12 O’Clock High” and “Top Gun” so memorable. That’s why I’m eagerly awaiting “Top Gun: Maverick” and a new film that aims at the advanced, HD technology used in Top Gun 2 on F4U Corsairs and an F8F Bearcat in the Korean War story of Jesse Brown and his wingman, Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Hudner.

The film is based on Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, written by Adam Makos (and I’ve just ordered a copy). Ensign Jesse Brown was the Navy’s first African-American fighter pilot, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Hudner was his friend and section leader in Corsair-equipped Fighter Squadron (VF) 32. Over North Korea, the ground fire brought down Brown on a close-air support mission for the Marines fighting their way out of the Chosin Reservoir on December 4, 1950.

Jesse-LeRoy-Brown-e1612161046848With the ground fire hitting the Corsair’s oil tank, Brown made a forced landing on a snowy mountainside. Smoke wafted from the downed Corsair’s cowling and Brown waved from the cockpit but did not get out of it. Realizing the rescue helo they’d call would not arrive in time, Hudner belly-landed his Corsair near his friend and attempted to free him from the cockpit after he put out the fire with snow. Hudner could not free Brown’s legs, even with the aid of the crew of the helo when it arrived.

With the film’s production team striving to shoot as much of the film as possible “in-camera” (meaning real airplanes in flight), they turned to aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa Jr., who’s done a lot of air-to-air work in films including “Captain Marvel” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” One of those cameras will be the new 6K digital camera, the Red Komodo. The producers told LaRosa that they wanted what he delivered for Maverick, times 10.

cinejetLaRosa has compiled a fleet of 11 aircraft, Corsairs, Bearcats, Skyraiders, and MiGs, all repainted in accurate squadron colors (VF-32 Bearcats and transitioned to Corsairs for Korea). With helicopters and the CineJet, L-39 with a nose-mounted camera, they have been shooting somewhere in Washington. The aerial director of photography is Michael FitzMaurice, who also shot the air-to-air for Maverick.

All I’ve seen are the trailers to Maverick, and the best one is the extended Super Bowl version that offers a tantalizing behind-the-scenes look at its aerial production. So get vaccinated so we can achieve herd immunity and return to theaters so we can finally see these films on the big screen, better yet, the overwhelming IMAX!

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B-17 Concrete Ordinance? The Disney Bomb

By Scott Spangler on February 15th, 2021 | 2 Comments »

220px-Victory_Through_Air_Power_posterYouTube is a good weekend destination when the wind chill is in double digits because it usually inspires a curiosity quest. It started with The Doc Furness War, a 96-minute aggregation of 16-mm color motion pictures taken by the flight surgeon of the 92nd Bomb Group based at Paddington, UK. If you’re curious about life at a World War II B-17 base, this one covers all aspects of life, from passes to London to flying combat missions (with none of the Memphis Belle film you see in so many other productions).

The narrator does an excellent job of expanding the moving images with detailed words. He explained, for example, that the long, pointy cylinders the crews were mounting below the B-17’s wings, one on either side of the bomb bay were “Disney Bombs.” A US Army Air Pictorial Service film said General Doolittle’s men called it the “Disney Swish.” The B-17s dropped the 18-foot bombs on hardened targets like submarine pens and rocket sites.

So what’s the connection to Disney? And is that Mickey Mouse’s Disney? Apparently, the weapon was inspired by the bomb that took out a Nazi sub pen in a propaganda film, Victory Through Air Power, made by Walt Disney.

400px-Disney_Bomb_DiagramBut wait, the story is even more unexpected. A Royal Navy officer, Captain Edward Terrell, who served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Service with the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, imagined the weapon, officially known as the “4500-pound Concrete Piercing/Rocket Assisted” bomb. The solid-fuel rocket boosters gave it the added Swish to penetrate 16 feet of solid concrete. Gravity alone accelerated the Britain’s 10,000-pound Tallboy bomb to 750 mph. The Disney hit at 990 mph.

Built in three sections, the thick armor piercing steel warhead was 11 inches in diameter and filled with 500 pounds of explosive. The center section, 19 inches in diameter, held 19 3-inch rocket motors. The tail section held the necessary electrical circuits and wind-powered generator fan blades. A time delay or barometric sensor ignited the rocket motors, and the bombers had to drop the rocket-accelerated weapons precisely from predetermined altitudes.

In other words, the Disney Bomb rarely hit its intended targets. And this explains why the British bomber command, which usually practiced area bombing at night, never launched a Disney bomb. Believing the Army Air Forces claims of its daylight bombing accuracy, founded on the Norden bombsight, the British joined forces with Doc Furness’ outfit, the 92nd Bombardment Group.

220px-Disney_Bomb_LoadingDuring a March 1945 raid on submarine pens under construction at the port of Farge, not far from Bremen, 30 B-17s launched 60 Disney Bombs. One of them hit the target. Given this success rate, Disney development ended not long after the war. Clearly, all it needed was the GPS guidance system used on today’s Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). In 2009, the 8th Air Force scored another hit when the body of a Disney Bomb, and its 500-pound warhead, were extracted from the thick concrete roof of a bunker in Watten, a V-2 launch bunker, now a private museum.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Crowdsourced SciFi Dictionary is Time Travel Gateway

By Scott Spangler on February 8th, 2021 | Comments Off on Crowdsourced SciFi Dictionary is Time Travel Gateway

As a word merchant, dictionaries are my favorite books whether they are online or old school paper, and not because I am a less than stellar speller. The most fascinating are historical dictionaries, like the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), that trace a word’s life from its birth of first usage through its lexical and linguistic maturation. Words cannot describe my joy at discovering the new Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (HD/SF), because the aerospace endeavors we today take for granted were considered science fiction not that long ago.

prof-mad posterIts editor, I learned, is Jesse Sheidlower; he started this ongoing project when he was an editor at large at the OED. No longer formally affiliated with the OED, this work in progress continues to illustrate the core vocabulary of science fiction and related fields. Like the OED, the HD/SF employs crowdsourced research. (For an entertaining and informative explanation of how this process evolved, read The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester or watch Mel Gibson and Sean Penn in the title roles in the 2019 film on Netflix.)

As a work in progress (no dictionary is ever finished because our lovely language never stops evolving), the HD/SF is still collecting verifiable evidence in the form of quotations from printed sources. The site also seeks moderators who are dedicated science fiction and detail geeks who will actively edit its content. If this is you, check out How to Help.

Aside from the words that live in the dictionary, what makes it a worthwhile read is the many ways into it. One way is by subject, from Aliens and Dimensions to Propulsion and Weaponry. Or you can look at the list of Most Quoted Authors, starting with Robert A. Heinlein, with 178 quotations. For a quick read, the menu offers New Entries (since site relaunch), today topped by “Afrofuturism n. (1993)” defined as “a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.”

If you like surprises, select the Random Entry menu item. F.M. Allen introduced The Little Green Man as the title of his book, published in 1895, the debut of “a stereotypical inhabitant of our space; a person of peculiar appearance.” Naturally, you can search the dictionary by headword and author. Or you can do what I did this weekend, watch it snow and scroll through the HD/SF’s 35 pages.

aerocarAerocar is the word that hooked me. The image the word brings to mind is Molt Taylor’s post-war flying car, which first flew in 1949. But I learned that Fred C. Smale introduced the word in a story he wrote in 1900 for Harmsworth Magazine, the “Abduction of Alexandra Seine.” And you can read it by clicking the “page image” button, and find the passage. “Bowden Snell was now developing the film in his room at the Flash office, and the aerocar which had brought him was still outside the large bay window swinging gently to and fro at its moorings in the summer breeze.” That sounds like urban air mobility to me.

If I haven’t already, I’ll stop here before I exemplify Sturgeon’s Law. Based on a statement by Theodore Sturgeon in the early 1950s, it wasn’t quoted as a humorous aphorism that maintains that 90 percent of a body of published material or knowledge is worthless, “usually later cited as 90 percent of everything is crap.”

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Why Student Pilots Shouldn’t Carry Passengers

By Robert Mark on February 3rd, 2021 | 4 Comments »

Good pilots become better pilots with experience. One of an aviator’s top hurdles on the way to gaining the best experience is becoming a practical risk manager. When does a flight make sense considering the fuel available, the cargo, the weather, the time element and a few other concerns? And when is a flight a bad risk for many of the same reasons, or to put it more bluntly, when do some flights simply represent a stupid risk?

Like the advice most parents offer their teenagers about late-hour adventures, especially when they’re behind the wheel of a vehicle, nothing good ever seems to happen in the middle of the night. Sadly, that applies to flying too as the NTSB explained in a recent preliminary report of an accident that occurred on December 16, 2020, near Bossier City, Louisiana.

Photo courtesy of FlightAware

The pilot of a PA-28 – N55168 – departed Shreveport Downtown Airport (DTN), Louisiana at 4:17 am when the local weather was reported as a 600-foot overcast and 10 miles visibility making the airport IFR. The pilot, however, was not instrument rated. Per the NOTAM, Downtown Tower was also not staffed at the time the aircraft departed. The airplane crashed about 20 minutes later at 4:35 am claiming the life of the pilot and the single passenger on board. The preliminary report offers a couple of insights into what might have been going on in the pilot’s mind that morning.

But this strange early-morning adventure turned reckless when the report noted pilot possessed only a student pilot certificate at the time of the accident. Student pilots are, of course, prohibited from carrying passengers at any time. So, what in the world spurred this aviator on to make a flight when so many issues were already conspiring against him and his passenger?

An airport security video and records show that DTN’s pilot-controlled lighting (PCL) was activated at 0412 and an airplane departed Runway 14 at 0417 squawking a VFR 1200 code. Nearby Shreveport TRACON (SHV) controllers saw the target appear on their radar at 0418.

The Piper flew an irregular flight path headed east after takeoff, but the airplane seemed to pause to maneuver over Barksdale Air Force Base (BAD) for most of the remaining time it was airborne, perhaps for a little sightseeing excursion? The area around the Air Force Base is dotted with obstacles that reach between 500 and 800 feet AGL. A low cloud deck with 10 miles of visibility would at least have helped the pilot see some of these obstacles if they were looking. An SHV approach controller called the air base control tower to let them know the Piper was flying overhead between 600 and 1,800 feet MSL. Believing the airplane might be experiencing an emergency of some kind, the Barksdale controller cranked up the base’s runway lights to full brightness and tried unsuccessfully to contact the pilot by radio.

Late in the flight, radar showed the airplane in a left descending turn before all data ended at 0439. The airplane impacted a remote, wooded terrain on the air base’s property during which the left wing completely separated from the fuselage and the right wing partially so. Most of the airplane was crushed during impact which meant the two people aboard must have died instantly.

When the NTSB reviewed the CFI’s records related to the student pilot, they showed the instructor had endorsed the student about a month before the accident to fly locally in the DTN traffic pattern, but only with the instructor’s express approval before each flight. The instructor also emphasized to the pilot that they were never allowed to carry passengers. The student pilot never contacted the instructor before the December 16 flight. This first NTSB report did not indicate any conversations the instructor might have had with the NTSB about this student’s state of mind.

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Aviation Photographers, Are You a Hoarder or Archivist?

By Scott Spangler on January 25th, 2021 | Comments Off on Aviation Photographers, Are You a Hoarder or Archivist?

USAF Museum Bldg 4Photography is an activity pursued by many interested in aviation. For photographers who started before the digital age, storing slides, negatives, and prints was not only an out of space problem but also spacious signal that might suggest a hoarding problem to the uninitiated. Digital image storage in the cloud or on a hard drive is virtually unseen and more circumspect.

The answer to the headline’s question depends on how easily photographers can find a specific photo. No matter how the images are stored, if a filing system will produce a desired photo in a short amount of time, you have an archive. If you don’t even look for the photo because you don’t have (or can’t make) the time to wander through mountains of shoe boxes or three-ring binders, or terabytes of digital images, you’re a hoarder.

Archiving takes time, but don’t avoid it with the rationalization that there is little chance of you finding a future use for the image, so why bother. The answer is simple—because you never know when an unconsidered but valuable use of the photo may reveal itself. If you doubt that, consider this recent story in the New York Times, “It Spied on Soviet Atomic Bombs. Now It’s Solving Ecological Mysteries.”

05SCI-CORONA-SATELLITE-promo-threeByTwoSmallAt2XTo summarize, declassified Corona spy satellite photos are providing the terrain information that is help helping scientists measure the death march of our changing climate. Or in the words of a scientists quoted in the article, “It’s Google Earth in black and white.” Unlike today’s eyes in the sky, Corona satellites, created in 1958 and first launched in 1960, and its immediate successors, all used 20-pound rolls of film. The satellite sent its film to the processor in a small reentry pod that the Air Force snatched in midair as it parachuted toward the ocean.

Even more remarkable is that the government kept the more than 850,000 images after they had served their intelligence purposes. And it retained them still after declassifying them in the 1990s. (If you’re interested in the rest of this story, see this Times story, “Inside the CIA, She Became a Spy for Planet Earth.”)

Or maybe it was not so remarkable. Of the 145 Corona film drops, 120 were successful. That’s a lot of 20-pound rolls of film. Like many photographers, maybe the government retained the images because it took less time, money, and effort to leave them in storage than it did to deal with them.

050421-F-1234P-002It could be worse. The image that opens this story is the Boston Camera, on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force. Otherwise known as the K-42, it is the largest aerial camera ever built. Designed and built by Boston University (hence its name) in 1951, it weighed about 3 tons and was carried by the ERB-36D, a recon B-36 Peacemaker, and later a C-97 Stratofreighter. With a fixed focal length lens of 240 inches with an aperture of f8, it created 18-by-36-inch images on its roll of film with a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second. With a maximum resolution of 28 lines per millimeter, it could see a golf ball from 45,000 feet.

The space needed to archive these negatives is not what boggles my mind. As a photographer who spent a good deal of time developing film in an old school wet darkroom, I can’t imagine what it would be like to dip and dunk a robust roll of film that is a series of 18-by-36-inch images. But having invested the time to archive my image of the camera after my visit to the Air Force Museum, I retrieved it for this story in less than a minute.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

When You’re Alone in the Cockpit

By Robert Mark on January 19th, 2021 | 3 Comments »

A freshly minted CFI friend of mine called me recently almost completely out of breath with the exciting news that he’d managed to grab a few hours of loggable time in the right seat of an old Citation II, a bird that certainly turned out to be a great training ground for me too. It was also my first type rating. This guy was rather surprised that even though he’s been flying a glass-cockpit Cirrus SR-22 for the past 1,000 hours, everything in a jet seemed to happen so much faster than anything he’d flown before. How right he is. I thought the steam-gauge Citation II was a grand training environment from the Navajo Chieftain I’d been flying alone, once I figured out who was supposed to do what of course. Most of the rest of my flying time – except as an instructor – was as part of a crew and honestly, I think I became a little spoiled with an extra brain and another set of eyes, ears, and hands closeby.

A little jet time gives pilots something else that’s pretty important too, the proximity of another qualified pilot to help share the navigation radio and the endless work of dealing with ever-changing weather, and the passengers, all while learning the ropes of operating in the flight levels where speeds are measured in Mach numbers.

Time and Training Go Marching On

Of course in the past couple of decades, aircraft like the Cirrus and single-engine turboprops; the TBM, the PC-12 as well as a number of light jets, all glass-cockpit equipped, are now certified to be flown by a single pilot. With some previous jet time, flying one of these complex machines alone shouldn’t be too tough you’d think, except it often is. In fact, there are quite a few single-pilot certified jets and turboprops that operators have come to realize can become quite a handful when the chips are down. They’ve responded to these safety concerns by adding an extra pilot in bad weather. That doesn’t mean any of these aircraft unsafe of course … far from it. But having just one human in the chain of command can under stressful conditions can overwhelm most any pilot if they allow the airplane to move faster than their brain.

The video you’ll find at the end of this story was produced a couple of years ago by the NBAA’s Safety Committee Single-Pilot Working Group to highlight just how easy it can be for a highly automated airplane to get way out in front of the pilot at the controls. Why not grab a cup of coffee and spend 10 minutes watching the mess our pilot John manages to get himself into.

On a side note, you may recognize the PIC in this story making his on-screen debut. I confess it’s me. While I wrote the first draft of the script, I didn’t create this training video alone. The people at CAE in Dallas were kind enough to donate some Phenom 100 simulator time to the Safety Committee to allow us to shoot the video. I also had plenty of help from other committee members including Tom Turner from the American Bonanza Society, Dan Ramirez, who at the time was working for Embraer, Jim Lara from Gray Stone Advisors, Mike Graham, now with the NTSB, BJ Ransbury from Aviation Performance Solutions, Tom Huff, Gulfstream Aerospace’s Aviation Safety Officer, Bob Wright from Wright Aviation Solutions, Phil Powell our ace cameraman and of course Scott Copeland who I spent hours with in Savannah turning our raw footage into the video you’re about to see. We all hope you learn something from the time spent.

Rob Mark, Publisher


P-82 Reveals One Pilot’s Remarkable Story

By Scott Spangler on January 11th, 2021 | Comments Off on P-82 Reveals One Pilot’s Remarkable Story

USAF-60As it would any dedicated aviation geek, the photo of the P-82 Twin Mustang with Betty Jo emblazoned on its nose at the start of a New York Time’s obituary caught my attention. So did the headline, “Robert Thacker, 102, Dies; Survived Pearl Harbor to Fly in 3 Wars.” The subhead only added to my confusion. “This unarmed bomber was caught in the thick of Japan’s attack. He went on to fly some 80 missions in World War II and to become a record-setting test pilot.”

Okay, so what does that have to do with the P-82 Betty Jo, which I’ve admired during my visits to the Museum of the United States Air Force? As a reward for my continued reading, the obit answered my question about a half-dozen paragraphs later. With the war over less than two years, in February 1947, Thacker and his copilot, Lt. John Ard, flew Betty Jo from Hickam Field in Hawaii to New York City—nonstop—in 14.5 hours. The 5,051-mile flight is the sanding nonstop record for a prop-driven fighter.

Just to make that flight interesting, a mechanical glitch prevented Thacker from dropping some of the P-82’s four auxiliary under-wing tanks, so he had to adjust for asymmetric drag for a good portion of the flight. Betty Jo, the name of Thacker’s wife, had 30 minutes of fuel in its tanks when it landed in New York. Geez, my backside and leg hurt just thinking about it.

1024px-North_American_F-82B_(060728-F-1234S-018)More importantly, learning Thacker’s story reminded me that people make aviation history every day. And if they survive a signature event nearly every aviator knows, like piloting a B-17 that arrived in Hawaii in the midst of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they continue to make history, although it may not be as well known. It should be a reminder to all of us to wonder what happened to history’s participants in the weeks, months, and years that followed.

Thacker went on to fly 80 missions in the Pacific and European theaters, an accomplishment of remarkable survival in itself. After the war, he joined the cohort of test pilots at what is now Edwards Air Force Base. In Korea he flew B-29 missions, and in Vietnam, “high altitude missions” with (as yet) no telling tidbits of their details.

What is most telling about Thacker’s character and passion for flight is summarized by what ignited it, a model airplane the 8-year-old received from his father. As shown by his biography by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, his passion for flying models never waned. Before the war, he flew a hand-launched rubber-band-powered pusher model in the Junior Birdman of America, sponsored by Hearst Newspapers. After the war, he competed in the 1975 and 1976 National Scale Glider Championships. He designed the model of the Bowlus Baby Albatross glider, featured in the September 1975 issue of Model Builder, and he designed the Giant Ducted Fan BD-10 featured in the February 1994 Flying Models.

Col. Bob ThackerEach of us leaves a legacy compiled by our everyday acts of personal history. Some are better known that others, but few are as lasting and rewarding to succeeding generations as Thacker’s. After retiring and returning to California, he was looking for a place to fly his models. After meeting with the general, he helped establish the Joint Military RC Flyers, which welcome civilians and has been running at Marine Corps enclave of Camp Pendleton since 1970. – Scott Spangler, Editor

A Barely Successful Go Around

By Robert Mark on January 4th, 2021 | Comments Off on A Barely Successful Go Around

If you’ve already earned a Private Pilot certificate – a PPL they call it in some other parts of the world – you’ll probably remember those final words of encouragement from the government official who oversaw the checkride … “Remember, you now have a license to learn.”

That’s instructor lingo for, “No one has enough time to teach you absolutely everything you’d need to know in order to become a safe pilot.” All any instructor can really offer is solid training in line with the airman certification standards and as much extra personal wisdom as possible before they kick you out of the nest. The check pilot’s job is to within an hour or two get a glimpse of your knowledge about what makes an airplane fly – or prevents it – and that you seem to exercise relatively decent judgment. But sometimes, the barest minimum of training is called that for a really good reason.

When I was a newly minted private pilot with maybe 80 hours under my belt, I proved to myself one warm, sticky July afternoon that my practical flying education definitely had a few major gaps. The final few months of my private pilot training took place in an old, burgundy-painted Cessna 150 at Sky Harbor Airport. No, not the one in Phoenix, but a now bulldozed little field of the same name (OBK) just north of Chicago with a single 2,430-foot north-south runway. The field elevation was 680 feet and a graveyard stood ominously just off the south end of the airport, as a warning I often thought, not to swoop too low on final when landing north.

If you haven’t tried one yet, some 22,000 150’s were produced by Cessna in cookie-cutter fashion until they introduced the updated 152 in the late 1970s. The original 150 was powered by a 100 hp Continental O-200 motor that was just enough to lift two people airborne with a couple of hours of gas. Luckily for me, as a solo bird, it climbed OK, even in the summer.

One quirk that would become important that July day was the 150’s barn door-like flap system. When commanded, they’d drop to 40 degrees which made the airplane fall like a brick if the pilot pulled the throttle to idle about the same time. For retraction, the spring-loaded switch would bring all the flaps up in a few seconds if the pilot didn’t pay attention. I vowed never to let that get me.

After an hour or so of counting sailboats in Lake Michigan near the Loop that day and surveying areas north toward Waukegan (UGN) I realized it was time to head back and give my pal Tim a crack at the airplane for a few hours. The tollway extension to I-94 ran just north of the airport and was pretty easy to pick out from the lakeshore, as was the big yellow office building then used by Walgreens as a corporate HQ. Sky Harbor sat just south of Walgreens so making my way to a left downwind was a snap for a newly licensed guy such as myself.

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Searching for Navy WASPs

By Scott Spangler on December 28th, 2020 | 1 Comment »

Grumman-F6F-flightline-Hooker-Kenyon-Kibbee-Bethpage-NY-1Among the six naval aviators recommended for command of an aircraft carrier was Captain Amy Bauernschmidt, a 1994 Naval Academy grad and helo pilot who ticked an essential box on the carrier command checklist when she was the first female to serve as executive officer on a nuclear-powered warship, the USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-72. It is an assignment long overdue, and with an idle moment wondered why it took so long compared to the female command achievements in the Air Force.

Taking the unique requirements of a floating command out of the equation, was this because the WASPS, the Women Airforce Service Pilots started paving the way in World War II? Did the US Navy have an equivalent, and if not there were no Navy WASPs, did any women fly in support of any aspect of naval aviation back in the day?

Asking Google about Navy WASPs produced about 791,000 results on the many different ships that have been the USS Wasp. Asking about female navy pilots during World War II circled me back to the WASPs. Following Rosie the Riveter led me to a story, “Women at Grumman During World War II,” on the Bethpage Union Free School District website. It said women “would build and repair the planes that American pilots would use for victory [and] some women even had the opportunity to become test pilots.”

65884ff24cb69b52c78a5c16c3c894d8Fortunately, the story included a link to another, taken from the November 16, 1943, New York World-Telegram, “Women Pilots Casual About Testing Fighter Planes for the Navy,” by Staff Writer Sally MacDougall. Three women were among Grumman’s production test pilots, who flew F6F Hellcats and TBF Avengers after they rolled off the production lines, Teddy Kenyon, Barbara Jayne, and Elizabeth Hooker.

The story didn’t say much about them, other than they all stood about 5-foot-5 and weighed 110 pounds. “Mrs. Kenyon has been flying since 1929. Her husband is a flight engineer at the plant. Barbara Jayne’s husband, Lt. J.M. Jayne, flies fighter Hellcats for the Navy. Her log shows 2,300 hours. Elizabeth Hooker, a brunette in the trio, is a Smith College graduate.”

Following this lead led to Julia Lauria-Blum’s story, “Hellcat Test Pilot: Barbara Kibbee Jayne,” in the Metropolitan Airport News. From Troy, New York, she had a lifelong interest in flying but her parents wouldn’t give her “the official green light to pursue her passion” until she was 21. She earned her pilot’s license at the Ryan School of Aeronautics in San Diego. Facing gender discrimination, she finally found a job back in Troy as the first female instructor in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

Barbara-Kibbee-Selden-Converse-Grumman-Chief-Test-Pilot-c.1943-Bethpage-NYIn 1941, Bud Gillies, head of Grumman flight operations, lured Barbara away from the CTPT with a position as the chief instructor at the posh Long Island Country Club. When the war started, she became a Grumman courier pilot, flying parts and people in passenger planes. In spring 1942 Gillies recruited Cecil “Teddy” Kenyon and Elizabeth Hooker, to join Jayne as the first female test pilots of naval aircraft. It turns out that Gillies’s wife, Betty, was also a pilot, and “a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron or WAFS.”

After the war, Barbara ran a GI training program at her FBO at Annapolis, Maryland. She returned to California in the 1950s and kept flying in her real estate business. “In her retirement, she flew often in Baja California Peninsula and with her friend, Betty Gillies, on a number of fly yourself safaris in South America, Africa, and Australia.” She died at home on October 17, 1999.

The New York Times, in a January 5, 1986 story, “Honoring Grumman and its Hellcat,” Ellen Clear wrote that Grumman employed five female test pilots during the war. She didn’t give their names. But Women in Aviation International’s 100 Most Influential Women in the Aviation and Aerospace Industry said Betty Gillies was a Grumman test pilot before she joined the WAFS, WASPs, and Air Force Reserve.

577ad09dbaee06b44d99e34900683575_29l0Timeline provided some more information on Teddy Kenyon. Another New York native who grew up dreaming about flying, she was also flying for Grumman’s courier service. She married Ted Kenyon, an MIT student and barnstormer, in 1926 and earned her pilot’s license three years later. “In 1933, she beat out 28 men and 11 women to win the National Sportswomen’s Flying Championship at Roosevelt Field in New York, and took home a $5,000 prize.” (The author didn’t explain how 28 participated or why they predominated in the “sportswomen’s” championship.) When she died in 1985 at age 71, she was still flying.

Google didn’t reveal much about Elizabeth Hooker. New England Aviation History said she bailed out of a burning Hellcat on June 9, 1944. “Miss Hooker came down about a mile from the crash site unharmed except for singed eyebrows.”

In the end, the only thing the Grumman test pilots had in common with the WASPs is that when the war ended, they were all out of their jobs. It would take three decades for women to fight their way into commercial cockpits and for the first females to graduate from military pilot training. The inaugural class of naval aviators earned their wings of gold in 1974 and the first Air Force cohort received their silver wings in 1977. That fall, President Jimmy Carter signed the bill that recognized the WASPs as veterans. But alas, the closest the Navy got to them were three, four, maybe five little known Grumman production test pilots. – Scott Spangler

An Unexpected Christmas Gift from the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame

By Robert Mark on December 21st, 2020 | 6 Comments »

Unless you’re an aviation history geek or just a pilot who resides in Illinois, you might not have heard of Octave Chanute. I only knew the name early on when I joined the Air Force because there was a Base in southern Illinois named for the famed French-born railroad chief engineer. Early in his life, Chanute became fascinated by flight. He died in Chicago in 1910.

Once bitten by the aviation bug, Chanute was determined in the latter part of the 19th Century to interest others in the hurdles of then-modern aviation. A bit of a writer himself, Chanute corresponded with other aeronautical experts of the time and gathered their insights into a publication, Progress in Flying Machines, published in 1894.

According to, “Chanute also organized sessions on aeronautics at the meetings of major engineering societies, arranged conferences on flight technology at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (1904), and offered assistance to promising young aviation enthusiasts.” One of Chanute’s early gliders became the foundation of the early design work for both Wilbur and Orville Wright. “No one was too humble to receive a share of his time,” Wilbur Wright noted in 1910. “In patience and goodness of heart, he has rarely been surpassed. Few men were more universally respected or loved.” So around Illinois for sure, Octave Chanute was a pretty big man around campus.

I first noticed Chanute’s name again as an early inductee to the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame (IAHF). Scrolling through the list I ran across other – somewhat more recent inductees – like my friend, the late E. Allan Englehardt, a retired United captain, CFI, and DPE who ran what was without a doubt the best CFI refresher course known to man. I found George Priester there too. My first assignment as an air traffic controller back in the 1970s was to Palwaukee Airport (now called Chicago Executive), then a private airport owned by Mr. Priester. I still talk to his son Charlie – who somehow managed to pass me on my multi-engine check ride in a Cessna 310 back in the 70s.

Jesse Stonecipher is there too. He ran the University of Illinois’ Institute of Aviation back in the 1960s that I attended for a short time. Famed airshow aerobatic pilot and instructor Duane Cole’s made the list of inductees, as did Frasca International’s Rudy Frasca. Merill Meigs is on the list. You might know him as the name behind Chicago’s Meigs Field (CGX) where I also worked as a controller. While I didn’t know Carl Unger or his “Breezy” personally, I feel like I did because I flew with Carl’s son Rob at Midway Airlines (“Once the pandemics over, I coming down for that Breezy ride Rob”).

My friends Jack Sheridan and Bev Greenhill are on the list, as well as Al Palicki, Howard Levinson, Doug Powers, and even my CFI buddy Lou Wipotnik are on the list of people Illinois wants to remember. Even before they were famous inductees, I knew Bev and Allan, and Howard and Jack and Al and Lou from the Chicago Executive Pilots Association where I’ve been serving as treasurer the past few years.

The Plot Thickens

So you’re probably wondering why you’re reading this history lesson about Illinois Aviation. I was working up to that … I feel a bit awkward admitting it actually. Read the rest of this entry »