Proximity Of Axis Ground Bases Makes Long-Range Land Planes Menace To Us

Without entering into the land-plane-seaplane controversy, and taking no issue with military strategists who see ultimate Allied victory in America's ability to build better cargo planes or fighters or flying arsenals, the long-range landplane must get a primary consideration in any spotter's guide. First of all, enemy planes of this type are most likely to shatter any Western Hemisphere security inherent in our isolation. Secondly, their great size makes rapid identification by personality of the mass almost a science — and the higher these behemoths can be made to fly, the more difficult interception of unwelcome visitors will become.

Fortunately, the difficulties which large enemy planes present to our generals and spotters alike have one important factor in common. They can be solved with study and, in the latter case, constant practice. Because aerodynamic bugs multiply almost mathematically in relation to the size of a plane, hundreds of external differences — all solutions to designer's problems — are apparent to the spotter's eye. And therein lies the key to one aspect of plane identification which is, at once, the most important to national safety and the easiest to master.

Basically, America's long-range landplanes are quickly distinguishable by external streamlining epitomized in the smooth "figure 8" sectional silhouette of the Curtiss C-46; the British multi-engine plane is characterized by slab sides and generally rectangular lines; and Germany's ocean-hopping landplanes are usually long and thin. In exceptions to these rules lie principal causes for concern to the observation post, the antiaircraft battery. and the fast-flying fighter pilot. Germany's Heinkel 177, capable of crossing the Atlantic with heavy load and returning to Berlin, has only two radial cowlings covering four liquid-cooled engines which drive only two propellers. Furthermore, these contra-rotating propellers tend to confuse standard sound detectors, causing the dial needles to vibrate so crazily that detection is impossible. Thus, reliable ability to spot this newest of German bomb wagons should be mandatory in every observation center and at every gun installation, for this one plane undetected, might easily blast any city in the United States or Canada.

America's Consolidated Liberator might also be confused with planes of other nations — with less serious consequence, however, because its straight sides and broad beam make it optically akin to Britain's flying suitcases. And many of Japan's long-range planes of 1937 and 1938 vintage were copied directly from American Douglas designs, which has caused considerable confusion and some Jap success in operations in the Pacific theatre. At the same time, more than one Dutch pilot has been shot down in that same war zone simply because the Netherlands' Fokkers and Junkers were mistaken for German aircraft manned by Japanese crews — a confusion heightened by the fact that Holland's orange triangle insignia was often mistaken for the red sun of Nippon. In the interest of pilot security, the Netherlands government in London has now adopted horizontal red-white-blue stripes in place of the triangle marking.

Considered according to official WEFT recognition, long range land planes are the easiest of all types to recognize. Every one of the eight most important airplanes in this group can be identified by wing structure and position alone. Only one plane in wide service has more than four engines and only one develops long range with only three engines. All except the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress have engines suspended below the wing. Fuselage characteristics are, on the other hand, of little more than superficial help in accurate identification of individual planes in this group — but only because the British ships are all similar in this instance. The important "friend or enemy" identification can be made according to fuselage characteristics — even in the case of the otherwise confusing Heinkel 177 which has an off-center bomb post on the underside of the fuselage fore section. Two German planes, two British bombers, and one American bomber or transport have twin tails and one plane of each nationality has the single tail but only the American types can be spotted by tail features alone. In summary, it would seem a simple matter to memorize the features of Germany's long-range aircraft and assume that all others are friendly. Actually, spotting any one of the eight types illustrated and described on succeeding pages is only a little more difficult — and a lot safer.

This "Spotter's Guide" column was originally published in the December, 1942, "Complete Spotter's Guide" issue of Air News magazine, vol 3, no 8, pp 28-29.
The original Guide includes 16 photos and 8 three-view silhouettes, 2 photos and 1 three-view for each type listed.
Photos credited to International, US Army Air Corps, Sovfoto.

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