Goin’ Swimmin’

My earliest memory that I can recall clearly stems from age 3 when we lived in Pontiac, Michigan. This would have been in 1950.

Like many kids, I had a dog who followed me everywhere. His name was Spud. I don’t remember who named him or how he got that particular name.

We lived a few blocks from a small lake (maybe it was just a big pond, my memory’s not quite that specific).

3-year-old me with Spud

Spud and 3-year-old me on a non-swimming day.

Apparently, I loved the water. One warm day, when Mom was not paying as close attention as she should have, Spud and I wandered down the road to the lake and began splashing around in the shallows.

It wasn’t long before I heard Mom, in a voice mixed reflecting both relief and anger (at me or herself, I don’t know), yelling my name. Both soaking wet, Spud and I dutifully followed Mom back home. I’m sure there was appropriate chastisement, but I really don’t remember that part at all.

I’ve always loved the water. For most of my growing-up days, I spent as much of my summers in the water as I could manage.

As for poor ol’ Spud, he had a rather short life. My dad was recalled into the Air Force in early 1952 as a navigator in WB-29s flying out of Guam. We couldn’t take Spud with us and, apparently, none of our relatives were willing to adopt him. I was told he had gone to a “better place for dogs.” Later, when my maternal grandfather died, while we were still on Guam, they told me that “now Pop Gough and Spud are together in heaven.”

Somehow, I don’t think I’ve ever quite forgiven my folks for that. Looking back, I find it difficult to believe that they couldn’t find somebody to care for him. I know my darling wife and I had to do that for three cats and three horses when the Air Force assigned us to Alaska.

Ah, well, life goes on. We’ve owned a lot of pets over our almost five decades of married life and have never put down a pet or a horse unless they were so old or feeble that there was no other humane answer. So, I guess I learned a lesson from the way my folks handled having to leave Spud behind.

T-37 Icing

T-37B in flight from left front

USAF Cessna T-37B (photo from “Cessna Warbirds” 1st edition)

My first assignment after earning my Air Force wings in August 1970 was to stay on at Webb AFB (Big Spring, TX) as an instructor pilot in the primary jet trainer, the Cessna T-37 Tweet. It was not the assignment I wanted, but Mother ATC (Air Training Command), in her infinite wisdom, decided that was where I could best be used.

Webb AFB closed in 1977.

I then spent four months at Perrin AFB (Sherman-Denison, TX) for T-37 Pilot Instructor Training and returned to Webb to start training student pilots in January 1971.

Perrin AFB closed later in 1971. (Sounds like a trend. My first two bases closed soon after I left… But I tried to make up for it by helping re-open a closed base in 1973.)

We always knew the Tweet, with its big fat wing (typical of all Cessnas of the era) would take a lot of ice buildup and keep on cruising along, although flying it in known icing conditions was a no-no (it had no de-icing equipment). On February 10, 1972, I had a personal demonstration of just how much ice you could have on a Tweet and still fly safely.

On that date, my flight commander Maj. Officer (that was really his name) and I departed Webb AFB on a planned proficiency sortie down to San Angelo and back. Weather at Webb on departure was less than great and not much above approach minimums. The forecast, however, indicated a slow improvement.

So much for forecasts.

As we climbed out of San Angelo following a radar approach, intending to head for home, Center informed us that Webb had just dropped below minimums, as had Dyess AFB (Abilene). Oh, and the runway at San Angelo was closed.

They wanted to know our intentions. As if we had many choices.

You see, the T-37 had one significant problem for cross-country purposes. It didn’t carry much fuel. Typical sorties lasted about 1.3 hours, and a flight of 400 nm was pushing the limits for going anywhere.

We asked for clearance to higher altitude immediately and direct from our present position to Randolph AFB (San Antonio). That would result in stretching our fuel, but San Antone was warmer with only mid-level clouds. We got our requested clearance and headed south.

As we leveled off at FL230, still solidly in the clouds, we noticed ice starting to build up on the leading edge of the wings, as well as on the engine inlet lips. The highest we could legally fly (in our unpressurized cockipt) was FL 250 and that was not available (and wouldn’t have made much difference anyway). If we descended to lower altitudes, where the air was warmer, we wouldn’t make it to Randolph.

Maj. Officer assured me that there was no cause for concern since the T-37 icing was not much of a problem and it could handle a lot of ice. I accepted his assurance as he had a lot more experience in the little jet than I did.

Then the left engine flamed out. I looked out and saw that the ice on the inlet lip was gone. It had apparently broken off, was ingested in the engine, and caused the flameout. The engine restarted easily, but ice soon began building up on that inlet again.

A few minutes later, the right engine flamed out. Same cause, and it also restarted easily.

As we neared San Antone, we were informed that Randolph AFB was now PPR (Prior Permission Required) for some unknown reason. We elected to divert to Kelly AFB on the SW side of San Antone. Meanwhile, the left engine flamed out again and again restarted.

T-37 icing might not be much of a problem for the airframe but wasn’t very good for those old cast iron, turbojet engines.

Ice on the wing’s leading edge looked to be very thick, and we estimated it at close to 2″. That’s a lot of ice and was certainly going to affect the little jet’s handling and stall speed.

We requested, and received clearance for, a straight-in descent to radar final at Kelly. As we dropped into warmer air, the leading edge ice began dissipating, albeit very slowly.

As we let down to Kelly, we discussed how much to adjust our final approach and touchdown speeds for the unknown effects of all that ice. We finally, somewhat arbitrarily, settled on an extra 20 knots down final and planning a touchdown at not much less than that. After all, Kelly has a runway about 3-4 times longer than a Tweet would need under normal conditions, and there was no reason to suspect that the brakes wouldn’t work normally.

So, we flew down final at 120-125 KIAS with Maj. Officer at the controls. The aircraft seemed to behave fine. Officer touched down in a flat attitude, no reason to flare out and find out where the stall speed was with all that ice, and let it coast until almost to the last turnoff.

We taxied back to the transient ramp, a long taxi in 40-45° temperatures and the Fuel Low Level light glaring steadily at us. After climbing out of the aircraft, I chipped off a piece of ice from the wing’s leading edge.

It was a good 1″ thick, despite the taxi back in the relatively warm air. That’s a lot of ice. I wish I had had a camera to take a picture of it.

The transient maintenance crew inspected the engines later that day and found them fully operational. The ice ingestion had done nothing but put out the fire as it melted.

So, T-37 icing might not have been a big problem, but it was certainly something to be avoided. After all, those flameouts could have occurred on final approach at a much slower airspeed, maybe even an airspeed below the iced-up stalling speed.

Just one more lesson learned and filed away for future reference.

Aviation History – First All-Jet Air Combat

P-80 in flight from above left .

P-80 with under-slung tip tanks. (Lockheed Martin photo)

Following successful first flights of the Bell XP‑59A Airacomet and the German Messerschmitt Me‑262, later to became the world’s first operational jet fighter, General H. H. “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Corps, approved a contract for a new jet fighter prototype in June 1943 – the Lockheed XP‑80.

Lockheed built the new jet, with its experimental deHavilland H‑1 Goblin engine and laminar flow wing, under tight security in a temporary structure in Burbank, California, under the guidance of now-legendary Lockheed engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. This Lockheed facility later became famous as the Skunk Works and eventually relocated to Palmdale (where it continues to do cutting-edge research).

The XP‑80 first flew on 8 January 1944 – a short 203 days after contract award.

The Army Air Corps liked what they saw and ordered a 13‑aircraft production run of YP‑80A fighters using a General Electric version of the British Whittle engine (the I‑40, later renamed the J‑33). In April 1945, USAAF deployed two YP‑80As to England and two to Italy in hopes . Due to weather and other problems, the England‑based jets never flew in combat. The Italy‑based aircraft did fly some combat missions but failed to encounter the Me‑262s before VE Day.

So, unfortunately, no jet-on-jet combat occurred in WW II.

Head shot of Lt Russell Brown in uniform

Lt Russell Brown (via Air Force Times, 1951)

However, the new jet did impress the Army Air Corps, which ordered 4,390 P‑80As with wingtip fuel tanks that reduced drag and increased aileron effectiveness. When the war ended, the P‑80A order was reduced to 525. Lockheed also produced 240 ejection‑seat‑equipped P‑80Bs and 798 P‑80Cs. Many A‑ and B‑models were converted to C‑model configuration, and the aircraft was redesignated F‑80C in 1948. The US Navy operated 50 F‑80Cs as TV‑1s.

On November 8, 1950, USAF Lt. Russell J. Brown of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron shot down a MiG‑15 over Korea.

Brown’s victory entered the record books as the world’s first all‑jet air combat engagement. It would also be Lt. Brown’s only aerial victory.

The age of the jet had truly arrived!

Cessna Timeline December 1879

Today’s Wednesday, so here’s a tidbit from the Cessna timeline of history.

On December 5, 1879, Clyde Vernon Cessna was born in Hawthorne, Iowa, launching a chain of events that eventually changed the future of aviation.

The following is extracted from Chapter 1 of the upcoming Cessna Warbirds, second edition.

Clyde Cessna taking off in "Silver Wings."

Clyde Cessna, in his 1911 Bleriot “Silver Wings,” taking to the air on April 14, 1911.

In February 1911, while working as an Overland automobile dealer in Enid, Oklahoma, the 31-year-old Clyde witnessed an exhibition by the Moisant International Aviation Air Circus in Oklahoma City, an experience that changed his life. He gave up the automobile business and briefly moved to New York to work for the Queen Aeroplane Company to learn about aircraft construction. Returning to Oklahoma, he began work on his own monoplane, based on the French Bleriot XI monoplane, using linen to cover its spruce frame. For power, he used a modified two-stroke, four cylinder Elbridge boat motor producing 40 horsepower.

He took the aircraft to Oklahoma’s Great Salt Plains near Jet, in Alfalfa County, for testing. After 12 failed attempts that resulted in various accidents and aircraft damage, he managed to become airborne for a few seconds before hitting trees while trying to turn. Frustrated, he allegedly said, “I’m going to fly this thing, then I’m going to set it afire and never have another thing to do with aeroplanes!”

In June 1911, Clyde Cessna finally completed his first sustained flight, becoming the first person between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River to build and fly his own airplane. Over the next few months, as was common in those early years of aviation, he taught himself to fly and in December finally completed a five-mile course, landing safely back at his departure point.

By the end of the year, he had made four successful demonstration flights and became known as the “Birdman of Enid.”

Cessna T-50 Bobcat Overview

The Cessna T-50 Bobcat started out as a civilian plane to meet a perceived demand for a family transport. When World War II intervened Cessna quickly adapted the T-50 to military needs.

Here’s a quick overview with text and photos extracted from the T-50 chapter of the upcoming second edition of Cessna Warbirds!

The Bobcat earned many nicknames during its military service, among them:

  • Bamboo Bomber (a reflection of its mostly wood and fabric construction due to higher priority needs for metal)
  • Useless 78 (based on the UC-78 utility cargo transport version)
  • Double Breasted Cub (another reference to the wood-and-fabric construction, which it shared with the Piper Cub)
  • Kite (from the Navy and Marine versions, the JRC-1)

Stay tuned. More to come.