Audiobooks – A Journey

Last year, I decided to try to get my book-length works into audiobook format. First, I investigated narrating them myself but quickly realized that I had neither the time, nor the proper facilities, nor, for that matter, the voice for it. Below, I’ve recapped the production of my books by professional narrators, with short sample clips at the end of each story.

Once A Knight audiobook coverThe first book to gain a narrator was Once A Knight: A Novel of Aerial Combat and Romance in World War I, which was already available in print and e-book formats. I worried about finding somebody who could do justice to the book primarily due to its first-person narration. The first-person voice of the story — Everett “Tex” Ross — was born and raised on a West Texas ranch in the late Wild West era (circa 1890), orphaned in his early teens, worked at a variety of jobs from ranch hand to roughneck, and eventually became a Texas Ranger (the kind who chases criminals not baseballs). As WW I escalates, he joins the British Royal Flying Corps and becomes a pursuit pilot. Characters in the book have a variety of accents — upper-crust & lower-class British, French, South African, French Canadian, German, etc.

But I got lucky right away. Adam Mendelevitz signed on to narrate the book, and he did a great job of handling Tex’s narrative voice as well as the variety of other accents without overdoing any of them.

Here’s a sample from the Once A Knight audiobook:

Rough War audiobook coverRough War: The Combat Story of Lt. Paul J. Eastman, a “Burma Banshee” P-40 and P-47 Pilot was next to gain a narrator. Emil Nicholas Gallina is an experienced narrator, including many documentaries shown on TV, and the producer of the Military Channel’s “An Officer and a Movie” series.

This story is also a bit complicated to narrate since it includes many excerpts from Paul’s combat diary and letters to his wife as well as many other historical documents and my own recap of the events in the worldwide war that framed Paul’s experiences.Although the many photos, of course, can’t be viewed in the audiobook, I’ve posted most of them on the Rough War website.

Emil’s outstanding narration adds a new level to the poignant story of one young man’s combat experiences.

Here’s a sample from the Rough War audiobook:

Rather Shorts audiobook coverThen, the same day I posted the audition script, I gained another outstanding narrator for Rather Shorts: Six Short Tales of Crime in a Small Texas Town. Narrator Bill Brooks has more than 40 years experience as an actor, recording artist, emcee, and news anchor (and a lot more). His application of a Texas accent to the first-person stories of Chief Orin Cage really bring to life Cage’s gentle humor and patient approach to law enforcement. I wrote those stories, but Bill’s narration had me smiling a lot while listening to them.

I could not have found a better narrator for Rather Shorts!

Here’s a sample from the Rather Shorts audibook:

Devil in the North Woods coverFinally, my historical novel Devil in the North Woods: A Novel Based on the 1908 Metz, Michigan, Wildfire is now in production with Bryant Sullivan doing the narration. It’s coming along nicely, and Bryant is doing an excellent job with the myriad characters in the book. The audiobook edition should be available for sale next month.

Audible, Amazon, iTunes logosAll of the above books are also available in print and e-book editions everywhere books are sold online and at many brick-and-mortar bookstores. I doubt I could ever have managed to get all four of these books into the marketplace as audiobooks without’s own Audible Creation eXchange, a unique service that allows writers and publishers to connect with a huge pool of available narrators. All audiobooks produced through ACX become available for sale on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible!

Basic Fighter Maneuvers – The Yo-Yo

I’ve mentioned previously that I participated in an aggressor program up in Alaska, pitting our Lockheed T-33s against the Alaskan Air Command F-4Es. The goal was to break bad habits that fighter pilots can inadvertently pick up if they always train by dogfighting with identical aircraft.

As part of this Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) training program, several of us T-Bird pilots were qualified for the DACT missions and, eventually, developed a training program to qualify other T-Bird pilots for DACT.

However, before engaging with the Double Ugly (aka F-4), we had to learn the basics of dogfighting each other (T-33 vs. T-33). Basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) is the generic term for the set of maneuvers that are employed during within visual range (WVT) combat to allow an attacker to maneuver into lethal parameters against a bandit. Defensive BFM allows the defender to save his know-know-what and, he hopes, become the attacker.

One of the first BFM tactics learned is the Yo-Yo, wherein an attacker reduces both the distance and the angles between his aircraft and the bandit’s aircraft so he can spit some lead at him or launch a heat-seeking missile. There are two basic variations: High Yo-Yo and Low Yo-Yo. The choice depends on the relative airspeed and distance between the two aircraft and the dynamics of the fight. During initial BFM training, the defender maintains a constant airspeed in level flight with a constant G load.

Here’s the standard Low Yo-Yo diagram (the shaded aircraft is the attacker and the numbers are time references):

Low Yo-Yo diagram

At the start, both aircraft are at positions labeled 1. This puts the attacker too far back and in a lag pursuit position (i.e., his nose is pointing behind the defender’s aircraft). The attacker must tighten his turn (pull more Gs) and descend to gain airspeed. This allows the attacker to cut across the defender’s circle for an intercept. However, this maneuver results in a high angle-off position for the attacker, in addition to being well out of the defender’s maneuvering plane. Therefore, the attacker must choose the correct moment to convert that excess airspeed into a higher altitude (back in the defender’s maneuvering plane) by starting a pull-up. If he does nothing else, he would arrive in the defender’s plane with an even higher angle-off, resulting in an overshoot (vertically and/or horizontally). To solve that problem, the attacker must time a slight vertical overshoot so that he can roll back down on the defender, letting God’s G help him. He then times his pull-down to arrive back in the defender’s plane with a turn matching that of the defender (actually a bit tighter to give him a lead pursuit solution from which to fire).

There is another standard variation of the Yo-Yo: the High Yo-Yo:

High Yo-Yo diagram

This time, the attacker pulls up and rolls over into a tight descending turn, again allowing God’s G to help him pull to the inside of the defender’s maneuvering plane. With higher airspeed at position 4, he can pull a tighter turn to “saddle up” on the defender in a shooting solution (lead pursuit).

Of course, in the real world the defender is unlikely to play “duck” and hold such a nice, steady, and level turn, unless you’ve managed to sneak up on him. You may find it necessary to transition from a High Yo-Yo to a Low Yo-Yo, or vice versa…or employ one of the other maneuvers in the BFM bag of tricks. But everyone has to learn the basics one step at a time before allowing the fight to progress to a free-play environment.

When we fought the F-4E with a T-33, we often used the Low Yo-Yo and turned really hard to meet the F-4 on the opposite side of the fighting circle with as much airspeed as the old Lockheed Racer would give us (up to its maximum of 505 KIAS or 0.8 Mach or “aileron buzz,” whichever came first. Our big advantages were the fact that we could out-turn the F-4 at any speed in our envelope and could maneuver well at airspeeds below 200 KIAS. The Phantom’s biggest disadvantages were that it lost airspeed quickly in a hard turn and maneuvered like a bloated pig at anything much below 250 KIAS.

All of which meant that our goal was always to force them into a hard turn at the outset. How we did that falls into the realm of Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics 9DACT). But, trust me, we did it regularly.

More L-19/O-1 Bird Dog – Cessna Warbirds, Chapter 5

I’m still working my way through the updated and revised second edition of Cessna Warbirds, As I noted earlier, Chapter 5 is one of the longest chapters and details the long and storied history of the L-19 Bird Dog, which served admirable in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

If you missed the earlier excepts, be sure to catch up on them:

The Cessna Dynasty
The First Military Cessnas
The T-50 Bobcat
The LC-126
The L-19/0-1 Bird Dog

Since the Bird Dog chapter is so long, I decided to post a two-part except. Even so, this will represent less than 10% of the total chapter, which is about the length of typical novella with dozens of photos.

So, here we go…a bit more from Chapter 5:

A Bit More: L-19/O-1 Bird Dog

By the end of 1961 President Kennedy had authorized additional aircraft for the VNAF—three more squadrons including a third liaison squadron of L‑19s. USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay established the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (code named “Jungle Jim”) at Eglin AFB, Florida, to train air commandos. A Jungle Jim detachment deployed to South Vietnam to set up the “Farm Gate” program at Bien Hoa with 151 personnel and a variety of obsolete aircraft.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara authorized three more US units to deploy to South Vietnam in March 1962—a C‑123 squadron, a squadron of USAF U‑1A liaison aircraft, and an Army O‑1A company—with authorization to remain for no more than one year, at which time the aircraft were to be turned over to the VNAF. However, in July 1963, a second Army O‑1A company deployed to South Vietnam with its aircraft dispersed among various Army corps advisors. In September, the USAF activated the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) at Bien Hoa, flying O‑1s. USAF also established a FAC training detachment at Tan Son Nhut Air Base—instructors developed an extensive list of comparable English and Vietnamese words needed for voice communications in the air. By October, VNAF students had entered training in the US at Hurlburt Field, Florida, after first attending a new eight‑week English language school at the base.

In 1963, the VNAF renumbered its squadrons. Three Liaison Squadrons were established, with the 110th and 114th (under the 41st Air Wing) based at Da Nang and the 112th (under the 23rd Tactical Wing) at Tan Son Nhut. All flew O‑1s, and the 114th also flew Cessna U‑17s (see Chapter 9). The VNAF Bird Dogs sported light gray on the upper wing surfaces to help the VNAF fighter‑bombers spot the slow‑moving FAC aircraft from above against the jungle foliage.

Later in the year, the US began the build‑up of advisors to South Vietnam in earnest. As part of that build‑up (which included the “Dirty Thirty,” a deployment of 30 USAF pilots to serve as copilots on VNAF C‑47s, freeing VNAF pilots for strike fighter assignments), USAF deployed a detachment to Nha Trang to establish a training center for O‑1E Bird Dog pilots and maintenance personnel. As part of the Rules of Engagement, the American advisors were only allowed to participate in combat sorties with a South Vietnamese on board. After the coup that overthrew the government of South Vietnamese President Diem in November 1963, the air war heated up, particularly along the border with Cambodia, and the US began deploying more of its own aircraft to South Vietnam as direct combatants. Between May and August of 1963, a total of 534 preplanned air strike requests from III Corps commanders went unfilled—167 due to insufficient aircraft and 244 due to a lack of VNAF FACs. As a result, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) commanders began calling on the readily available US Army helicopter gunships for close air support.

On March 19, 1964, an O‑1E from the 19th TASS, flown by a USAF pilot accompanied by a Vietnamese observer, allegedly strayed over the border where it was shot down by Cambodian Royal Khmer Aviation (RKA) T‑28s, killing both the pilot and observer.

In 1964, the VNAF activated another O-1E unit, the 116th Liaison Squadron based at Nha Trang. When the incident off the coast of North Vietnam led Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, American forces in Vietnam no longer had to negotiate the intricate labyrinth of rules caused by non‑combatant advisors flying occasional combat missions. The US provided more aircraft to the VNAF squadrons to increase their strength and to replace losses, including sufficient Bird Dogs to allow the VNAF to assign a FAC to each ARVN division.

It was about this time that the USAF asked the Army for 50 more O‑1s for the buildup in South Vietnam. Jerry Robinson, a Fort Rucker student pilot at the time, remembers that they “raided the Fort Rucker fleet for every old piece of junk airplane we could find (including a museum display airplane that had had the fuselage shortened by six inches) for ‘hulls’ to be reconditioned at the factory and sent to the Air Force for FAC use in Vietnam.”

US Air Force O-1E banking away from camera.

USAF O-1E over South Vietname (US Army Aviation Museum photo)

March 1965 proved a turning point for US involvement in the war in Vietnam. Congress authorized General William Westmoreland to use US aircraft any time the VNAF could not respond in a timely manner with appropriate support and withdrew the requirement for a VNAF crewmember to fly aboard any US aircraft committed to combat. That same year, President Johnson authorized additional US military advisors and authorized direct air strikes against North Vietnam. By the end of the year, the USAF had 500 aircraft in Southeast Asia and 21,000 personnel stationed at eight major bases throughout South Vietnam.

NOTE: This presents only a very small portion of the Bird Dog story, an aircraft produced by Cessna until 1963 with more than 3,000 delivered to the US Army and Air Force and armed forces around the world..

Copyright ©2013 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

Air Combat and God’s G

In a previous post I mentioned that I participated in an aggressor program up in Alaska, a program that pitted our Lockheed T-33s against the Alaskan Air Command F-4Es. The goal was to break bad habits that fighter pilots can inadvertently pick up if they always train by dogfighting with identical aircraft.

As part of this Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) training program, several of us T-Bird pilots were qualified for the DACT missions and, eventually, developed a training program to qualify other T-Bird pilots for DACT.

One of the first things we covered was the effect of gravity (colloquially referred to as “God’s G”) on aircraft performance when engaged in a vertical fight.

Here’s the graphic we used to help explain the concept (typically call the Egg):

Egg-shaped diagram of two fighters in a vertical circle.

Total G is the number displayed on the G-meter in the pilot’s cockpit. Radial G is the actual turning G available after taking into account the 1G always acting on the aircraft (due to the Earth’s gravitation pull). That 1G is the force you feel when standing or sitting on the ground, or when flying along straight and level in unaccelerated flight. That’s God’s G.

If the two fighters in the diagram are exactly opposite each other, each pulling 4 Gs on the cockpit meter, and without vectored thrust of any kind, they will have the same radius of turn when one is at the 3 o’clock position and the other is at the 9 o’clock position. God’s G is neither adding to nor subtracting from their total 4G.

However, if one is at 12 o’clock (the top of the Egg) and the other at 6 o’clock (the bottom of the Egg), then the pilot of the 12 o’clock position will turn tighter despite both aircraft G-meters reading 4 Gs. God’s G is adding another G to his ability to turn, i.e., pulling down and tightening his turn. The guy at the bottom is still reading 4 Gs in the cockpit, but God’s G is subtracting 1 G from his ability to turn, i.e., pulling down and widening his turn.

If they arrive at those two positions (12 and 6 on the diagram) at the same time, the pilot at 12 was the advantage and can maneuver into a position for a quick, high-deflection shot with his guns (a “snapshot”), because for a brief period he will be able to out-turn the guy at the bottom.

Of course, “vertical” fights are often less than purely vertical since many other factors come into play. Despite that, God’s G will still effect both aircraft in varying degrees depending on how close to vertical they are fighting at any given moment…and how far about on the circle they are at that moment.

So, here’s a more realistic diagram of a “vertical” fight tilted off the vertical.

Fightng Egg overlaid with two diagrams of a less-than-vertical fight.

In a real close-in dogfight, of course, many other factors determine the relative effects of God’s G on the dynamics of the fight. The two aircraft are probably not identical and can sustain different levels of G at different airspeeds. One might have vectored thrust capability and can point his nose irrespective of the G-load available to him. One pilot might be better at coaxing the most out of his aircraft.

In any case, God’s G will still effect both aircraft and an understanding of how to turn it to advantage just might be critical in determining who wins.

L-19/O-1 Bird Dog – Cessna Warbirds, Chapter 5

As I continue working my way through the updated and revised second edition of Cessna Warbirds, I’ll keep posting some excerpts. Chapter 5 is one of the longest chapters and details the long and storied history of the L-19 Bird Dog, which served admirable in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

If you missed the earlier excepts, be sure to catch up on them:

The Cessna Dynasty
The First Military Cessnas
The T-50 Bobcat
The LC-126

Since the Bird Dog chapter is so long, I’ll post a two-part except. Even so, this will represent less than 10% of the total chapter, which is about the length of typical novella with dozens of photos.

So, here we go…Chapter 5:

The L-19/O-1 Bird Dog

In August 1949, the US Army and the US Air Force announced a competitive procurement for an Army Observation Aircraft—an all‑metal, two‑place, high‑wing observation aircraft to replace the fabric‑covered Piper L‑4s and Stinson L‑5s that had served admirably during and after World War II. The new aircraft—intended to operate on wheels, skis, and floats—would serve as a platform for ground observation, aerial search and rescue, visual and photographic reconnaissance, forward air control (FAC), cargo and personnel transport, control and adjustment of artillery fire, and pilot training. In addition, the Army wanted a rugged aircraft easy to maintain in the field and able to operate from unimproved forward airstrips. The official specification, released on November 15, 1949, included a requirement for landing over a 50‑foot obstacle in a total distance of less than 600 feet. The Army scheduled a fly‑off between competing contractors (Piper, Taylorcraft, Temco, and Cessna) for March 1950.

With several civilian projects underway and an engineering staff of only 18, Cessna decided to capitalize on their existing designs to meet the planned fly‑off date. They chose the basic wing design of the Model 170 and the tail assembly of the Model 195 (which the military had already purchased as the LC‑126), and focused the majority of their design efforts on a new fuselage, new landing gear, and new powerplant installation. The landing‑distance‑over‑an‑obstacle requirement necessitated high‑drag, high‑lift flaps (unlike the plain or split flaps on other Cessnas of the day), manually operated to save weight. Cessna engineers decided to modify the 170’s 45° slotted flap design to allow for 60° of extension by using an external hinge bracket with a pivot point below the wing (a configuration later seen on civilian Cessnas).

They chose the six‑cylinder, 190‑horsepower Continental O‑470‑11, with a 213‑horsepower takeoff power rating, which Continental modified to meet the Army design and performance requirements. They coupled this to a 90‑inch McCauley two‑blade, fixed‑pitch, metal propeller with a very low pitch. This allowed high RPM for short takeoffs and landings but reduced available power at cruise to avoid exceeding the rated RPM. The carburetor delivered more pressurized fuel than the engine required so they installed a fuel return line. A unique fuel valve design ensured adequate flow while returning excess fuel to the currently selected tank (another design subsequently used on other Cessnas).

The engineers laid out the fuselage design on full‑scale Mylar sheets stretched out on six bolted‑together drafting tables. The Cessna Experimental Department built the first fuselage from laminated aluminum templates created from the original full‑scale Mylar prints. Prototype construction began on September 8, 1949. The first Model 305 rolled out of its Wichita womb a mere 90 days later.

The 1,400‑pound aircraft (200 pounds over the specification weight) sported a semi‑monocoque aluminum fuselage with bulkheads and stringers made of aluminum alloys. The semi‑cantilever wings, like those of the C‑170 from which they had been borrowed, had dual spars, stressed aluminum skin, and single struts. The cockpit provided tandem seating for a pilot and observer in a fishbowl of Plexiglas—windows all around plus six panels in the cabin roof. The pilot and observer each had a full set of flight controls, although the observer could remove and stow the control stick when it was not needed.

Model 305 prototype on ground from right side.

Model 305 engineering prototype (N41694). Kansas Aviation Museum/Robert J. Pickett Collection photo

The new airplane first flew on December 14, 1949. After further factory test flights to determine the optimum takeoff and landing procedures to meet the short‑field requirements, Cessna’s Chief Test Pilot, Hank Waring, ferried the prototype (registration number N41694) to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. During the fly‑off evaluation, conducted between April 6 and April 14, the prototype Model 305 logged just under four hours. When the 305 proved it could meet or exceed all performance requirements, including the rigorous 600‑foot landing over a 50‑foot obstacle, its slight weight problem ceased to be an issue. The Army notified Cessna on May 29, 1950, that they had won the competition and would be issued a contract for 418 aircraft, designated the L‑19A.

The Army requested delivery of the first production aircraft by September 1950, but that was delayed until December while Cessna acquired an approved type certificate from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA—forerunner of today’s Federal Aviation Administration), as the Army had mandated adherence to Civil Aeronautics Regulations rather than military standards. The CAA pilots put the new aircraft through its paces between August 2 and October 26, 1950.

NOTE: This presents only a very small portion of the Bird Dog story, an aircraft produced by Cessna until 1963 with more than 3,000 delivered to the US Army and Air Force and armed forces around the world..

Copyright ©2013 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

More Rules of Air Combat

I’m not sure of the original source for the following rules, but they were posted for a time on a bulletin board in the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage, Alaska, around 1980.

Some Rules of Air Fighting

Have a pretty good fighter. Put weapons on it that work. Have enough fuel to fight.

Know your enemy…his aircraft, his tactics and capabilities!

See him first! Cheat! Use surprise! Attack out of the sun! Sneak up on him!

Use superior numbers with mutually supporting tactics!

Fight your fight, not his.

Be a better fighter pilot than he is!

T-33 flying on wing of F-4 over Alaska, 1981.

Copyright ©1981 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

Discussion of the “rule” about using superior numbers inevitably led to the quality vs. quantity debate–was it preferable to fight flying the best damn fighter or a good fighter attacking in larger numbers? This usually led to somebody observing that quantity has its own quality, meaning a flight of excellent fighters can be overwhelmed by, and lose to, a much larger contingent of less capable fighters using well-thought-out tactics, particularly if the pilots on both sides possess comparable skills.

Which naturally leads into that last item on the list : Be a better fighter pilot than he is!

While I was flying T-33s in the Alaskan Air Command (1979-82), several of us “Lockheed Racer” pilots were qualified to conduct Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics training as aggressors against the command’s F-4E Phantoms. But that’s a story for another blog post…

Cessna Warbirds – Chapter 4 – The LC-126

Here’s another excerpt from the in-work second edition of Cessna Warbirds, this time a portion of Chapter 4. Cessna delivered 83 model C-195s to the Air Force, Army, and Army National Guard in three variants: LC-126A, LC-126B, and LC-126C.

What follows is the opening portion of that story:

The LC-126

As the Allied juggernaut steamed across Europe and the Pacific, bringing World War II to a close, Cessna began developing a new line of single-engine airplanes to fill what management optimistically foresaw as a burgeoning post-war market for “family cars of the air.” The Model 120/140 line was already in work in 1944 as was initial planning for the 170. And yet, the pre-war popularity of the Airmaster series (arguably one of the best-looking, high-wing taildraggers) led management to authorize an updated version—the model 190 that would retain the basic Airmaster lines but provide more interior room. The new aircraft design capitalized on recent technological developments: constant-speed propellers, Wittman spring-steel landing gear, control wheels rather than sticks, and a semi-monocoque metal fuselage (a design wherein the outer skin carries the majority of the stress).

As in the Airmasters, the 190’s full-depth, steel-tube front wing spar, in the fuselage carry-through section, would have protruded into the cabin’s headroom such that the pilot and front seat passenger risked banging their heads on it and the rear seat passengers could not see around it. To correct the problem on the prototype, Cessna engineers designed a new spar made from aluminum bar stock and secured with bolts and stress plates, overdesigned to 150% of required strength to preclude problems due to the brittleness of the bar stock.

First flight of the fabric-skinned prototype 190 occurred on December 7, 1944, using a 225-horsepower Jacobs engine borrowed from the AT-17 line. The second prototype, a five-place all-metal model 195, received a 300-horsepower Jacobs engine and flew for the first time on October 15, 1945. Several problems cropped up during flight testing:

  • Directional over-control due to the large vertical tail and rudder (corrected by adding a dorsal fin);
  • Tendency for the tailwheel to shimmy (corrected with a new tailwheel fork);
  • Tendency to drop a wing at the stall (corrected by adding inboard stall strips);
  • Inadequate cabin heat (corrected by installing a gas-fired combustion heater under the rear seat with intake and exhaust tubing that required hand trimming and fitting for each aircraft); and
  • Some oil cooling problems.

Development of both the 190 and 195 models continued in parallel. The model 190 eventually incorporated the 240-horsepower Continental W-670-23 radial engine. The 195 could be ordered with one of three Jacobs radial engines: the 245-horsepower R-755-9 (customer furnished only), the 275-horsepower R-755-B2, and the more popular 300-horsepower R-755-A2.

Although the Continental engine on the 190 proved smoother, it lacked the power of the bigger Jacobs. The Jacobs engines tended to run rough and leak oil…leading to nicknames like “shaky Jake” and “bleeding Jake.” In the 3,350 pound 195, most buyers opted for the bigger 300 horsepower engine with its improved climb rate. Production of the 195 started in July 1947, the 190 in October of the same year. Cessna designated both models Businessliners—the 190 seating four and the 195 seating five.

Uneven distribution of the fuel-air mixture to the seven cylinders in the Jacobs engine created the idiosyncratic “Jacobs cough.” Cessna reworked the carburetor’s butterfly valve, but the stubborn problem persisted when operated at higher altitudes with reduced throttle settings and a fully leaned mixture. The “cough” typically occurred just once, if the throttle and mixture settings remained unchanged, but nonetheless proved an attention-getter for both pilot and passengers.

The 195 with the 300 horsepower Jacobs engine was designated the Model 195, those with the 245 horsepower engine the Model 195A. When it arrived on the market in 1947, Cessna dubbed it the “Cadillac of the Air”—the biggest and fastest civilian single-engine airplane available. The big radial engine provided a macho appeal and a distinctive roar on arrival and departure…but also complicated visibility when taxiing. Early in the production run, Cessna had to recall the Model 195s to replace a batch of bad pistons that had led to engine seizures.

US Army LC-126A in flight.US Army LC-126A overflying Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 1958
(US Army Aviation Museum photo)

In 1949, the US Army requested that the Air Force purchase 15 Cessna 195s “off the shelf” for an Army evaluation of the aircraft’s suitability for light-cargo, search and rescue, and liaison duties. The aircraft proved both rugged and dependable and able to haul full loads from unimproved airstrips. The Army assigned these original 15 aircraft the LC-126A designation.

NOTE: This presents only a portion of Cessna military history and the more than 12,000 aircraft Cessna has delivered to armed forces around the world. Chapter 4 includes a fascinating story, with color photos, titled “Arctic Exploration Air Force Style.”

Copyright ©2013 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

Beyond the Horizon – short story, part 2

Here’s the second half of the short story for which I posted Part 1 yesterday. It picks up where yesterday’s installment left off.

Beyond the Horizon
(August 1910)

by Walt Shiel


I eased out of the saddle, slipping the Henry .44 rifle out of its scabbard. I hoped the soft creak of saddle leather wouldn’t alert whoever it might be. I dropped the reins, leaving Charc ground-tied only. As quietly as I could, I worked around the low brush and past a couple of scrubby mesquite trees. With less than 10 yards to go, I stepped on a bit of mesquite branch I’d missed in the gathering dark.


The guy rolled to his back and tried to draw his sidearm.

I levered a shell into the chamber and hopped to my left behind a couple of scraggly mesquites. “Don’t do it, Hutchins!”

He’d heard the round being chambered and froze with his hand on the butt of his pistol. “That you, Ranger Ross?”

“It’s me.”

“I ain’t going back to Abilene, Ranger.” He still hadn’t moved.

“You’re either going back to face that jury or you’re going back draped over my saddle.” I brought the rifle up to eye level and drew a bead on him. I waited for him to decide. Seconds ticked by. “It’s your choice, Hutchins.”

“All right, Ranger. I’m getting up.”

“Just keep your hand clear of that forty-five while you do it.”

I watched as he sat up, leaned over on to his hands and knees, and started to stand. I kept the sights on the center of his chest, but watched his right hand as best I could in the fading light.

His right elbow jerked back.

Damn fool! I squeezed the trigger. The rifle bucked against my shoulder. Its roar split the twilight quiet.

Hutchins groaned. His body snapped backwards, twisted left, and fell into the shallow water beside him.

Charcoal chuffed, and I heard him pawing the ground. I didn’t move for five or ten seconds, waiting to see if Hutchins was down for good. Not that any man being hit by a shot from a .44 at that short range was likely to be getting up again.

Hutchins didn’t. The slow-moving water swirled around his head.

“Easy, Charc,” I said soothingly without looking back at him. “Everything’s all right.”

With the rifle trained on the body, I walked slowly up to the edge of the riverbed. I kept trying to control my breathing and slow my heart. This was the third man I’d shot in four years as a Texas Ranger. Every time set my heart pounding as though trying to break free. I nudged the body with the toe of my boot, holding my finger poised over, but not quite touching, the trigger.

He didn’t move. A smear of blood had spread across his chest. More dark tendrils of blood snaked downstream with the water. A .44 makes a fair-sized hole going in, but an ugly, gaping wound going out. I set the rifle down on the bank and reached out to check for a pulse. There wasn’t one, nor was he breathing at all.

Now came the really bad part—dragging the lifeless body of a man, with bullet holes and blood stains, to Charc and wrestling it across the saddle. Which, of course, meant I got to walk.

Oh, I suppose I could have perched up there behind the saddle, but that seemed even more distasteful than the long walk back to what passed for civilization out here. Before proceeding with the nasty little chore, I refilled my canteens and let Charc have a long drink. I considered laying out my bedroll for a few hours, but I didn’t much like the idea of camping with a dead man.

I’m here to tell you that getting the dead body of a barrel-chested man, who stood something over six feet tall, off the ground and onto a horse is no mean feat. Charc didn’t seem too happy about it, either. But I finally did it.

As I finished, my shirt was soaked in sweat and caked with the wet dirt from dragging a water-soaked dead man across the ground. About that time, the limping gelding caught up with us and took a long drink from the river, if it’s fair to call that trickle of water a river.

Texas landscape at twilightWhile I mopped my brow on a shirt sleeve, I looked around in the deepening darkness. That’s when I saw it. Lights shining through the window of a house. On the flat desert in the dark, they could have been two miles away or ten, but they were a lot closer than the last little town between us and Abilene.

“OK, Charc, that’s where we’re going.” I picked up the reins and started walking towards those lights. I wasn’t real sure those folks would be pleased to find somebody, Ranger or not, knocking on their door in the dark with a dead man in tow. Hospitality in those situations can get a might thin.

The gelding limped along behind us.

While we walked, I thought about that flying machine. Life up there in the sky sure as hell seemed a lot better than mine down here on the ground. I remembered some storekeeper in Austin telling me he’d read a fanciful book, written by somebody named Wells, that had some scenes about flying machines battling each other in the skies. His description reminded me of books I’d read about knights in armor trying to unhorse each other with long poles. It was hard to imagine the frail-looking machine that had flown over us being able to do much damage to anything, unless it just crashed into it.

I sure hoped that fighting wasn’t going to be the real fate of flying machines. But, given that man seemed to always find a way to fight with whatever he invented, the idea probably wasn’t all that farfetched.

I gazed up into the clear, dark, star-spangled skies and wondered just how one could go about getting to fly one of those flying machines. I decided, right then and there, to find out. Me. Everett Ross, driver of a flying machine. The idea improved my outlook. I grinned.

Somehow. Sooner or later.

Copyright ©2012. Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

I hope you enjoyed this short story, which will soon be published in a collection of Everett Ross short stories, prequels to Once A Knight.

Beyond the Horizon – short story, part 1

Everett Ross, the protagonist in my World War I novel Once A Knight, is an ex-Texas Ranger (lawman not ballplayer) who has joineOnce A Knight coverd the Royal Flying Corps before America has entered the war. The story of how he exchanged his horse and six-gun for an open cockpit Nieuport and Lewis machine gun is hinted at through the novel’s back story but never spelled out in detail.

I’m working on a series of short stories to explain the events that led Ross to such a major change of lifestyle and vocation. Or is it such a major change?

Here’s the first half of one of those short stories. I’ll post the rest of the story tomorrow.

Beyond the Horizon
(August 1910)

by Walt Shiel

I swung down out of the saddle. Dust swirled around my boots as they hit the ground. While scanning the horizon to the west and north, I took off my old Stetson and mopped the band with my kerchief. No sign of Dan Hutchins as far as I could see.

I hooked the Stetson over the saddle horn and knelt down to examine the horse tracks I’d spotted. With the hard clay heat-baked, finding tracks at all had been a bit of a surprise. The horse’s hooves had dug in pretty good, though, apparently trotting. The horse that made them was unshod. I gently brushed the loose dirt from a right-front hoof print.

Yup. There it was, clear as could be—that wide, distinctive split in the hoof wall. The same marked hoof print I’d been following for the past three days. And the split was getting worse. If Hutchins’s horse wasn’t already lame, it soon would be.

I pushed my hat back on my head and lifted one of the canteens off the horn. I took a satisfying drink and wondered about Hutchins. As far as I’d been able to determine, he hadn’t gotten any water when he stole the horse and hadn’t stopped at the last windmill-fed water tank many miles back. I’d filled up all four of my own canteens and the leather water bag for Charcoal, and then let him drink from the tank.

Hutchins, riding hard and long in the late August heat without little rest or water, must be worn out by now. I suspected his horse might give out before he did.

Oil painting of man on horseback in western attire.

On Horseback. Oil on canvas original. Copyright ©1990 Carolyn M. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

I poured some water from the bag into my Stetson and let Charcoal suck it up. He got most of it before it leaked through. I put the wet hat back on my head, the cooling dampness felt damn good, and swung back into the saddle. Resigning myself to a long, unpleasant ride through this god-awful country in the worst heat and drought we’d had in west Texas in many years, I clicked softly. “Let’s go, Charc.”

Charcoal, a 16-hand Tennessee Walker, set out at his easy, running walk, a gait he could keep up for a long time thanks to careful breeding by those plantation owners decades past. I was in no real hurry since I figured Hutchins was no more than two hours ahead and would soon be on foot. I just kept Charc headed generally northwest and kept watching the ground ahead of us, hoping to pick up some more tracks.

Something just above the northern horizon caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I jerked my head around and pulled Charc to a stop, expecting to spot a circling hawk or buzzard. I could never help but stop and watch them. But whatever it was wasn’t circling. It seemed to be making beeline for me and Charc.

As it steadily came closer, it grew and grew until finally I could make out a double pair of wings. One of those newfangled flying machines. It had to be. I’d heard tell of them and even seen a faded photo of one from an old newspaper somebody’d drug in to Texas Rangers headquarters in Austin a while back.

Soon I was able to make out the head of the guy driving the machine. He wore some kind of goggles and leather helmet.

And it did make a racket. A heart-stopping, whirring, roaring, thundering noise that got louder and louder as it approached us and passed right over my head. I craned my head back to get a better look. It was mostly just tubes and wires and some material stretched tight over the wings, showing off the structure underneath like a half-starved man’s skin showed off his ribcage. And a spinning contraption out front that looked as though it might have blades like a windmill.

Charcoal snorted, shied a bit, and pawed. I patted his neck to calm him down.

The contraption couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet above us. The guy leaned the thing over to the left and circled clockwise around us. A long, white scarf flapped in the wind his speed had made. There sure was no wind down there on the ground where I was.

He waved, so I waved back. Friendly cuss, I thought with a shrug.

He shouted something at me, but I couldn’t figure it out what with the commotion of his engine. He shouted again, and I could almost make out his words. But not quite.

I shook my head and cupped my hands behind my ears. Charcoal set back a bit on his haunches, getting ready to bolt, and I had to snatch up the reins and stroke his neck to settle him down. Although he’d been around plenty of locomotives, none of them had ever flown over his head.

The guy in the flying machine leaned over the side and slowed his motor so it quieted down a bit. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Which way to Abilene?”

Abilene is where I’d been day before yesterday, and it sure as hell wasn’t south the way he had been headed. Rather than try to shout back at him, I twisted around in the saddle and pointed to the southwest.

The fellow nodded, waved again, and made the machine rock side to side a couple of times, then just turned west southwest and flew off. I turned Charc around, and we watched that machine get smaller and smaller until we couldn’t see it anymore.

I bet I sat there in the saddle without moving for five full minutes. Flabbergasted, that’s what I was. It looked as if that flying fellow could cover in an hour or so about the same distance Charc and I had taken all morning to cover. And I was sure he was a lot cooler up there with that wind blowing in his face than I was down on the windless, sun-baked plains.

Slowly, reluctantly, I turned Charc back to the northwest and clicked him into his running walk again. He snorted a couple of times before settling down. Although I kept watching for Hutchins’s tracks, my mind was somewhere else. I couldn’t stop wondering what it would take to trade places with that flying fellow. What would it be like to soar up there with the hawks?

We rode on through the heat and dust. I spotted enough tracks from Hutchins’s horse to confirm we were still closing in on them. In mid-afternoon, we came across Hutchins’s saddle tossed in a low spot behind a some sagebrush. Later, as the sun dipped low to the west horizon, we came across the aging gelding Hutchins had stolen, limping slowly towards Abilene, back where Hutchins had stolen him.

I swung down and looped a rope around his neck to hold him still. I lifted his right front foot and examined the crack. The crack had widened and stretched farther upwards. I pulled my hoof rasp from my saddle bag and rasped a flat spot across the crack, hoping to relieve some of the pressure on it. Then, with the edge of the rasp, I etched a groove across the top of the crack, which at least would slow down its growth. I removed the rope and watched the horse for a bit. He seemed to be walking a little better. I poured as much water as I dared risk into my hat and let him drink it. He wanted more, but I couldn’t take the chance this far from water.

The gelding must have felt better, since he flopped down and rolled happily back and forth for a few seconds. He lunged back to his feet, shook the dust off, and began looking for whatever forage he could find.

I mounted Charcoal again, and we resumed our northwest journey, with the gelding walking slowly behind us. Worn out and with a split hoof, he couldn’t keep up, but he trailed along anyway. The last time I had been out this way, there’d been a small river maybe five miles or so farther along. I hoped it hadn’t gone bone dry this summer.

An hour and a half later, in the dim light of dusk, I could just make out a man stretched out beside the rocky riverbed … either dead, unconscious, or just lapping up water. Hutchins? Probably.

Copyright ©2012. Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.

Drop in tomorrow for the rest of the story, which will soon be published in a collection of Everett Ross short stories, prequels to Once A Knight.

Cessna Warbirds – Chapter 3 – The T-50 Bobcat

Today, I’m posting another excerpt from the in-work second edition of Cessna Warbirds, this time about 15% of Chapter 3. Cessna delivered 5,402 “Bamboo Bombers” during World War II.

What follows is the opening portion of that story:

The T-50 Bobcat

Of the many models of aircraft Cessna sold to the military over the years, the T‑50 Bobcat light-twin transport series has accounted for the most sales. The T‑50 was a five‑place, retractable-gear aircraft with a low wing and a pair of radial engines. Work on the original prototype (NX20784) began in 1938. Company president Dwane Wallace completed the 20‑minute initial test flight on March 26, 1939.

Cessna constructed the wing spars from laminated spruce and the truss‑style ribs from spruce and plywood. Plywood also covered the wing leading edges and the outboard portion of the wing tips.

The results of more than 100 flight test hours led Cessna to develop some modifications:

  • A curved windshield to replace the unique V‑shaped one on the prototype;
  • Rear windows with curved trailing edges to replaced the prototype’s angular ones;
  • A resized and reshaped vertical tail;
  • Hamilton‑Standard 2B‑20‑213 hydraulically actuated, constant‑speed, non‑featherable propellers; and
  • The 225-horsepower L‑4MB engines rated at 245‑horsepower for takeoff power.

These modifications resulted in a:

  • 5,100 pound gross weight;
  • 22,000-foot service ceiling;
  • 175 mph cruise speed;
  • 191 mph maximum speed; and
  • 750‑mile range.

By December 1939, Cessna had incorporated these changes into the final configuration and readied the Bobcat for production. They produced 40 T-50s between 1940 and 1942, selling them for $29,675 (1940 dollars). The Civilian Aeronautics Administration (CAA) bought 13, and Pan American bought 14 more. The Army Air Force (AAF) later impressed 17 of these civilian aircraft into military service.

Cessna later sold the T-50 prototype to Pan American Airways, which registered it in Mexico as XA‑BLU. In 1941, Cessna completely refurbished this aircraft to production configuration at the factory in Wichita.

As American involvement in Europe’s brewing war became to appear almost certain, Dwane Wallace and the Cessna management team realized that the military would soon need advanced trainers to prepare new pilots for duties in the medium and heavy bombers rolling off assembly lines around the country. The T‑50 seemed a logical candidate for this training role, and Cessna set about positioning itself to capitalize on any large‑scale production contracts. They scheduled a June 1941 expansion project—$50,000 for a new 28,000‑square‑foot assembly facility specifically for the T‑50 and Airmaster series.

$5 into $5,000,000

Not content to wait for the Army to come knocking on his door and with only $5.03 in the corporate accounts, Dwane Wallace launched an aggressive lobbying campaign. He explained the T‑50’s capabilities as a multi‑engine trainer to any military officers and civilian government officials who would listen. The AAF realized the deficiencies of the obsolete aircraft then in use as multi-engine trainers and wanted to procure new aircraft designed for the training role. They liked Cessna’s new twin, but Congress kept a tight rein on budgets.

However, in May 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed a goal of producing 50,000 aircraft to help the British, and Congress quickly loosened its grip on the purse strings. On July 19, Assistant Secretary of War Louis Johnson awarded Cessna an $800,000 contract for 33 AT‑8 multi‑engine trainers based on the civilian T‑50—the company’s biggest order to date.

This was also the Army’s first contract for purpose‑built, multi‑engine trainers. The contract required Cessna to modify the basic T‑50 with:

  • Cockpit roof windows;
  • Hamilton‑Standard constant‑speed, metal propellers;
  • 290‑horsepower, nine‑cylinder Lycoming R‑680‑9 radial engines;
  • Military radio equipment;
  • Aluminum silver paint job; and
  • Sperry hydraulic autopilots.

Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), a major participant with England and Australia in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, needed multi‑engine trainers. A lot of multi‑engine trainers…and they needed them quickly. During the summer of 1940, the RCAF evaluated the T‑50 in Wichita and found it possessed significant advantages over its competitors. The predominantly wood and fabric construction minimized the use of strategic war materials like steel and aluminum, and its economical operation, simplicity of maintenance, and overall modern design impressed the Canadians. Cessna’s foresight in preparing for large‑scale production sealed the deal. In September, the RCAF signed a contract for 180 copies of the Bobcat, which they designated the Crane I. This became the largest contract awarded to a Wichita‑based company at that time.

RCAF Crane I on the ramp.

RCAF Crane I. Cessna photo via Pima Air & Space Museum.

With these two major military orders in hand, Cessna faced a $5,000,000 backlog without the capital or completed facilities to make good on them. The signed contracts, however, provided sufficient leverage for Dwane Wallace to acquire funding from a local bank and press on with the needed expansions. Following a hectic two‑month construction blitz, a new 400‑foot by 200‑foot assembly building opened in November, and Cessna delivered the first AT‑8 to the Army in December 1940. Within six months of contract award, the Army began operational tests on the new aircraft at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.

NOTE: This presents only a portion of the early Cessna military story and the more than 12,000 aircraft Cessna has delivered to armed forces around the world..

Copyright ©2013 Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.