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Commemorative Air Force, Arizona Wing, Part 5

This looks like someone chopped off the front and back of a fuselage then cut a hole for access. In fact, it was the primary flight simulator used for training pilots in the years leading up to, during and following World War II. It was created by Albert Link who was an organ builder who used his knowledge of pumps, valves and bellows to create a flight simulator which responded to the pilot's controls. Over the years, the Link Trainer was enhanced with instruments, "radio", a stylus to record the flight path on a map and slip-stream simulators that gave the student pilot the sensation of air passing over the control surfaces. Although modern pilots might look at this simulator as rather crude compared to the computer controlled, multi-monitor, three-axis movement simulators used today, the Link Trainer was quite effective.

Overhead is a 7/8 scale flying replica of a Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a which was a World War I fighter used from 1917 to 1919. It had a machine gun mounted above the upper wing plus another on the forward fuselage. It also carried 4 25-pound bombs under the wings.

This aircraft rivaled the Sopworth Camel as the most successful Allied fighter of WWI. The two were instrumental in the Allies regaining air superiority in the summer of 1917.

Over against the wall, I encountered a wing which had its fabric covering and metal compression ribs removed. The wood is Sitka spruce used because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and regular, knot-free rings. Although utilitarian in purpose, the structure is also quite artistic.

When I turned around and spotted this aircraft, a voice called out in my head "Out of the blue of the western sky comes Sky King". For those of you younger than the early baby boomers, like myself, who grew up in the 1950s, you may not know Sky King, a television program for kids about a western pilot, Schuyler "Sky" King who flew an airplane named the Songbird. The supporting cast, especially his niece Penny, was habitually getting into life-threatening situations after falling into the hands of spies, bank robbers (the best place to hide stolen loot was apparently in the Arizona desert) and other ne'er-do-wells. Then Sky King would swoop in with the Songbird to the rescue.

Over the course of the series, the aircraft changed but the original 39 episodes cast a Cessna T-50 as the Songbird. This T-50 is on display because it was used in the military as a transport and trainer.

I was curious if this exact aircraft had any connection with the TV show and found only one. The owner is Ed Newberg (the plane is on loan to the CAF) and online I found a photo of Ed and his band playing in front of this plane. The name of the band? The Sky Kings. Interesting.

Over to one side, I found a collection of aircraft engines. This one is an Allison V-1710 — a 12-cylinder, supercharged, liquid-cooled, 60° Vee, piston aircraft engine. Curiously, it does not look much different than engines found in Packards and Rolls Royce automobiles of the time.

Producing some 1,325 HP, it was using in a number of aircraft, among the best known are the P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang.

Here is a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engine with 14 cylinders. Originally, it produced 1,200 HP but has been modified so that you can see the action of the components. Just put your quarter into the blue box and the engine spins for a few minutes so you can observe the pistons rising and falling in slow motion. Hypnotic almost.

This engine was used in a variety of aircraft, one of the most interesting was the Boeing XB-15, a prototype bomber with a 5,000 mile range. It was so large that the crew would climb into the wings for minor repairs in flight. Only one prototype was ever built but Boeing used the experience of building this plane in subsequent designs.

The next engine is a Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone with 14 air-cooled cylinders arranged in two rows. It produced 1,750 HP. One of the most famous aircraft to use this engine was the North American B-25 Mitchell — named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation.

Nearly 10,000 were built — one of which is in the CAF collection although it was not in Arizona the day I visited. BTW, if you are interested you can sign up for a ride on their B-25 — $395 to $650 depending on where you sit.

The next engine on display is a Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone with 18 cylinders arranged in two rows generating some 2,200 HP. One of the aircraft employing four of these engines per plane was the B-29 Superfortress — one of the largest aircraft to see service in WWII. It was a very advanced bomber for its time, with features such as a pressurized cabin, an electronic fire-control system, and remote-controlled machine-gun turrets. One of the B-29's final roles during World War II was carrying out the horrific atomic bomb attacks that completely destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Have you noticed that these engines kept getting larger and more powerful as the demands of the war effort required? This one is so large it had to be displayed vertically — a Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major which has 28 air-cooled cylinders arranged in four rows, staggered so that they resemble a corn cob (or pineapple if you prefer). The power output was 4,300 HP. The war ended before this engine was used militarily but it found both military and commercial use after the war. For instance, four of these engines were used on the Boeing B-377 Stratocruiser. This commercial aircraft set a new standard for luxurious air travel with its tastefully decorated extra-wide passenger cabin and gold-appointed dressing rooms. A circular staircase led to a lower-deck beverage lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for 50 to 100 people in a state-of-the-art galley. As a sleeper, the Stratocruiser was equipped with 28 upper-and-lower bunk units.

Pan American placed the first order for 20 Stratocruisers, worth $24 million, and they began service between San Francisco, CA, and Honolulu, HI, in 1949. Boeing built 56 Stratocruisers between 1947 and 1950, and they marked the company's first significant success selling passenger planes to airlines in other countries. In researching information on the Stratocruiser, I found an interesting YouTube video which you can view by clicking here. It sure does not resemble commercial flight these days.

To be continued.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com