Washington has been extremely busy lately. Some of the work done has been gratifying, some of the criticism uncalled for and disturbing.
Kaiser got a contract all right. It is difficult to say whether it was given just to get rid of him or whether is was to get real cargo planes under way. On the morning when the contract was definite, I telephoned the person in the Government agency largely responsible for getting help for Kaiser. I congratulated him and then found to my amazement that there was no definiteness on the prototype to be built. Venturing to suggest what time and experience has so impressed on the minds of those who know, I pleaded that those who are skilled in operations of aircraft should have a hand in the design and recommended the Air Transport Command of the Army. This did not fit because the intention is to build boats. Feeling that, by the same line of reasoning, the prototype should have the advice of a flying-boat man of long experience, I recommended, by name, an engineer who would have the unanimous approval of all of my readers. He was not interested because he feels that the future of large aircraft lies in land planes not boats. His conviction is verified in the fact that his company now operates land planes over the oceans.
So I again called up my friend who had helped Kaiser and suggested that he build one landplane and one boat. His boss, the aviation "expert," frowned on this and vetoed it with the remark, "landplanes and flying boats cannot be constructed by the same engineering concern!" this despite the record of Consolidated, Boeing and Glenn Martin.
So it goes down here! Eighteen million for Kaiser is small potatoes nowadays, but, oh, flying boats are so easy to shoot down, so hard to get off in rough seas, so hard to dock and maintain in these days when a Piper Cub could pack a cannon and with a 20-mm 10-ounce projectile properly placed do as much damage to a mammoth airplane as a torpedo to a battleship!
Disturbing, too, has been all this chatter about our planes not being as good as those of our enemy. The Luftwaffe is winning this war with the bulk of its equipment obsolescent. Junkers Ju-52s, Ju-88s and the Stukas are still in quantity production.
Give me a 1918 Sopwith Camel, a 200-hp Waco (or a trainer of any kind that is highly maneuverable) and a camera gun; I will hang on my prop and let any Messerschmitt, Spitfire or Focke-Wulf make his sweeps at me with his camera gun. When the films are developed, I will have a dozen pictures of him to every one he has of me.
But this is not original. Such a demonstration was put on by Udet in Germany two months before he was killed. He did it to combat agitation going on within the Luftwaffe which was tending to kill morale in their pilots, just as now it will squelch the spirit of our boys on the front if they get the idea that our planes are no good.
In the Spanish-American War, there was a song, "It's the man behind the gun that does the work!" Someone in this world conflict should bring out a song, "It's the pilot behind the stick that shoots 'em down!"
If anything, our planes are too good. They are so strong that our bombers have already put up single-handed fights against as many as 40 Focke-Wulfs and flown home, riddled but ready to fight another day. One can imagine how Pilot Paine (Lieut Charles Paine, Waycross, GA) danced on those old rudders and tugged at the stick as he frantically threw his Flying Fortress about against 40 German fighters, his gunners now and then getting in a good burst. Ask Dr G W Lewis of our National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics the "Gs" he put into that bomber and find out what would have happened to even the ultra-modern Lancaster had Paine been flying the British bomber instead!
History is repeating itself again. In the last war, our boys in the First Pursuit Group took over a batch of Nieuport 28s. Neither the French nor the British wanted them because of a weak leading edge which imbedded in the fuselage a sneaky little bugaboo bigger than any of our critics, has planted today in our planes. Later (September, 1918) that outfit got the Spad XIII; it had an engine that threw carburetors, rocker arms, cylinders and magnetos when it got mad at the prop. Props did have a bad habit of getting knicked on the takeoff in those days and so (from vibration) the engine got nasty very often. Capt René Fonck's Stork Escadrille could not figure out how the Yanks kept 60 per cent of their planes serviceable when they could have but 20 per cent ready for action each morning.
But good old American morale frowned on such stuff, and, without even parachutes to add confidence, our pilots piled in and within 30 days officially shot down 111 Germans with the loss of but eight men and planes. Compare that with the official record given out by the Subcommittee of the Military Affairs Committee of the House of Congress recently August 14 to September 14, 1942 when the ratio of enemy planes destroyed to US losses in combat was 7.5 to 1.0, and you have the normal all-American pace when morale is good, irrespective of planes!
We have plenty of shortcomings, but those who harp on the quality of our planes are off the track. It would not matter much how people squealed about our real problems, but to bring up the subject of equipment, especially when it smothers the morale of the pilots out there alone on the front, is wicked.
Maj Clifford Harmon, nephew of Clifford B Harmon, (first man to fly a Farman over Long Island Sound and later the organizer of the Ligue Internationale des Aviateurs) has just returned from an assignment "down under." Naturally, he had many good tales, but one struck me as particularly interesting. An Army captain, a friend of his, embarked for a similar assignment. En route his boat put in at a certain city the officer went ashore and there met a friend, captain of another steamer, en route to the same destination. The Army man went back, got his kit, and changed over to the other ship. The first ship was torpedoed and all were lost. His wife back home was officially notified of her husband's fate. She had just cashed the insurance check and was starting to make a go of it alone in life, when along came a letter from the husband, alive, happy and well. He had gone through on the second boat safely.
Congratulations are surely in order to General George again! This time for his selection of Mrs Nancy Love as director of the women pilots' division of his command. Those of us who have known Nancy at air races and elsewhere rejoice in this selection and know that her appointment will be in the very best interests of the service.
The Bearded Bard of Biscarosse, Sedley Peck, who flew with the French until instruction Squadron 35 got him in World War I, is back in the game. He went through the 1940 blitz in France as director of the American Volunteer Ambulance Corps and is now out in the camps has lectured in 115 of them all over the country, and to audiences as large as a whole division at a time telling just what happened in France. Sedley says that on June 4, 1940, the Germans had 4,000 planes of all categories on the lines, while France had just 244 ships left which were fit to fight. Eighty thousand civilians on the crowded roads of France were killed by the bombs and guns of the Hun flyers during the four weeks between Sedan and the capture of Paris. Sedley tells a lot about the overrated Stukas and the outdated transport ships which the Germans used to bomb unfortified places after they owned the sky.
Peculiar situations developed in this war. One of the aces of the last war came to visit last week. In the years between, he has been most successful in business but was one of the first to join up for this show. He enjoys a comparatively low rank and when I inquired of his come-down in pay from that in business, he replied, "Oh, that part is all right in fact my Army pay is much lower than I got in the last war 20 years ago."
We have not seen anything in the newspapers on something which struck me forcibly. A pat on the back is relished even by an airplane factory, so here goes: I repeat what Brig Gen Arthur W Vanaman said on the opening of the Indiana plant of Republic Aviation Corp, which turned out its first P-47 from grass-roots to first hop in five months, "It (the P-47) can outfly and outfight any other type of plane in the world." Good work, Republic!
This writer seems to be the only one who writes about funerals. But when a real flying pioneer passes on one cannot help paying him that tribute. Col William Ocker, "Old Bill," as we all called him, accredited with being the instigator of blind flying and a real soldier who arose from being Billy Mitchell's righthand enlisted man to a full colonelcy in the Air Forces, turned in his log book at Walter Reed Hospital here the other day. The night before he died, a friend of mine went over to see him, carrying messages from General Arnold and other high ranking officers. Ocker's face seemed to light up especially when my friend stressed the role of instrument flight today and told of the general recognition given to Ocker. Bill's patent applications had worried him for years and the postponement of the official award and recognition until this autumn undoubtedly preyed on his mind and provoked his affliction.
It is only a few months since the first flight indicator which he fashioned and fixed to a DH4 strut got him into trouble. His commanding officer ordered the indicator taped over and Ocker stood a court martial indirectly preferred because of his pioneering ambitions.
Impressions on the war shot comments may well be in order especially coming from Washington, snatched from the merry-go-round.
Germany knows she will never win this war until she has invaded England. Her next move will be just that. She is constructing literally hundreds of airports in occupied France for that purpose. Transport gliders towed by planes with liquid-cooled engines will be used. (If Herman and Adolph's plans work out as anticipated) . The Luftwaffe will gamble in that they will attempt this invasion without the orthodox aerial supremacy of the air over England. She will gamble on a comeback from Russia and move 80 percent of the Luftwaffe to channel and near-channel fields. Her first objective will be American and British airports on the British Islands. Germany has not forgotten the "duck-soup" tactics in Poland when she gained complete aerial supremacy first and then flew anything with wings on it (and no guns) to help clean up airplane factories and airports. She thinks she will effect surprise but she surely has another think coming and, although she will have plenty of pilots, most of them will be the 20-hour glider pilots flying dive bombers. (Lately, Germany's Stuka pilots have had but 20 hours flying time on gliders before going over, on the theory, "What's the use of more?" Such pilots use no instruments and they go over once only anyway pilots are expendable.)
Did you ever hear about the mascot a little doggie in one of our fighter squadrons? His name is "P-40."
Did you notice the War Department announcement stating that Flying Fortresses used in training combat crews at Hendricks Field, Sebring, FL, had landed no less than 32,219 times with only eight minor accidents?
Have you taken time lately to look over national weekly publications of but two years ago? My, how the isolationists and appeasers must blush and wish they had kept their mouths shut! All these theorists, who through many tragic years of peace forestalled international cooperation and brought on this war and the loss of our loved ones, have still a chance to be real sports let them enlist for front-line service!
Now that Glenn Martin has stated that there is no technical limit to the size of airplanes, why not consider the whole globe as just a place to fly, keep on preparing airports as already started, use lakes and the sea and go to it in the great ocean of the air.
Expanding on this thought, possibly the Navy should literally take to the air and, if the Lancaster land-based type aircraft has made battleships and aircraft carriers passe, let the Naval organization be the independent air force dream of Billy Mitchell, with surface vessels subsidiary as they already have been in this war. Then aviation would have a place of rank equal to the Army and we could obtain unity of command the prerequisite to victory in this war.
This column was originally published in the December, 1942, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 31, no 6, pp 46, 120, 122.
The original column is illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.