Posts Tagged ‘1947’

I can’t believe it’s already October!  This year has rocketed by.  The fall colors, which we suspected would be pretty dismal due to our super-dry summer, have exploded in an array of colors I never would have imagined.  The reds and yellows and oranges are spectacular, offset by skies as blue as azure and temperatures that have been perfect.  We still aren’t getting any precipitation, but this weather has been awesome.

So it’s a bit of a shame that I’m still laid up.  The herniated disk (disc?) continues to frustrate me some, but at this time tomorrow morning (~7:30am), I’ll be heading into surgery.  The surgeon predicts a “LensCrafters” performance (success…in about an hour).  It’s my first time under the knife (not counting wisdom teeth), so I’m a bit nervous, but if they can get things squared away, that would be great.

October 1, 1947.

It was on this day that test pilot George Welch took to the skies in a revolutionary new aircraft.  Well, it was revolutionary for the United States.  The XP-86 was North American Aviation’s first serious jet fighter, and it was the first American jet to be produced with swept wings.  But we got a little help on this one.

North American’s P-51 Mustang was, quite probably, the pinnacle of piston-engine aircraft.  Range, speed, climb, maneuverability, the Mustang had it all.  As the Second World War wound down, it dominated the skies, regardless of theater.  But by 1944, even it’s most ardent fans knew the proverbial writing was on the wall.  Jet power was the wave of the future, as it promised far better performance.  And what’s more, Germany’s Luftwaffe was already putting jet power to use.  The Me-262 and the even faster (though much less practical and less safe) Me-163 entered production before the end of the War, putting the world’s air forces on notice as to what was possible.

So it’s somewhat understandable that the Allied race to Berlin (Russia from the east, the U.S. and Britain from the west) was about more than securing territory and ending the fighting.  Each side, while warring against Germany, was in a battle to capture these German scientists before the other in order to gain a competitive advantage in what was shaping up to be a post-war “falling out of the Allies.”

Back to our story.

North American’s first attempts at jet aircraft involved basically hooking jets up to Mustang wings and airframes.  But even with piston engines, the P-51 had reached the limits of its potential.  The straight wings simply created too much resistance as it was.  There was no way jets could be used.  But the German scientists had figured out several years prior that swept wings allowed for higher performance by greatly reducing drag, and any loss of low-speed stability could be countered by the simple addition of leading-edge slats.

The engineers took these ideas, headed back to the drawing boards, and revamped their design.  The aircraft that took to the skies on this day was the beginning of yet another remarkable product from North American.  Though initially under-powered, the XP-86 would evolve into one of the finest fighters of its generation.  It flew with great distinction in the Korean War as well as dozens of conflicts around the world in the service of other air forces.  There were numerous variants produced, both here and in other countries under license, and they served for years, with the last Sabres being retired from the Bolivian air force in 1994.

The United States Air Force dropped the “P” (for “Pursuit”) designation, replacing it with “F” (for “Fighter”).  So our XP-86 became, in production, the North American F-86 Sabre, and more Sabres were produced (upwards of 10,000) than any other jet-powered U.S. fighter.

And one other thing…

There are unsubstantiated claims that Welch’s first flight also included the first trip beyond the sound barrier…achieved in a shallow dive.

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On November 2, 1947, the largest flying boat ever constructed lifted off on its maiden flight near Long Beach, California.  Officially called the H-4 Hercules, it was built by billionaire aircraft designer (and noted eccentric) Howard Hughes, and it was immense.  The contract for three prototypes, which was awarded to Hughes in 1942 with the help of famous shipbuilder Henry Kaiser, came during wartime, when aircraft metals were scarce and mostly spoken for.  The size of the plane dictated that more abundant materials be used, so it was made almost entirely of birch wood.

The time required to design and build the prototype (partially due to Hughes’ fanatical attention to detail) meant that it was finished too late to serve in the Second World War, but it was still a very impressive aircraft.  It’s 320-foot wingspan was (and still is and probably will be in the future) the largest ever.  It’s also one of the tallest, with it’s rear stabilizer reaching nearly 80 feet skyward.

It was powered by eight 3000-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines, the same engines powering the brand-new Convair B-36 Peacemaker.  Those engines (with a bit of jet assistance) would keep B-36’s aloft for more than a decade.

But for the H-4, just 30 seconds over the water would suffice, because that’s all the longer the flight lasted…and Howard Hughes’ labor of love would never fly again.  The public, in an attempt to ridicule this “one-flight-wonder”, called the plane the “Spruce Goose”.  Hughes loathed the name, and not just because the public got the type of wood wrong.  But it was the name that stuck.

Recommended Activity:  Visit the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum – The Spr…the H-4 Hercules is there, along with a bunch of other cool stuff.

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I first ran into Tom Clancy’s books back in college.  A good friend of mine, Eric Geist, was a real fan of all things military, just like me.  As we both had the same major, we spent a lot of “study” time talking about fighters, bombers, ships, and tanks.

It was he who first mentioned “Red Storm Rising” and Tom Clancy, telling me it was a great book that I had to read.  He also mentioned a couple other books (“The Hunt for Red October” and “The Cardinal of the Kremlin“) as must-reads.  It wasn’t until after graduating from college that I took Eric’s advice, bought a copy of “Red Storm Rising“, and started reading.  I was hooked.

Tom Clancy, who was born on April 12, 1947, wrote “Red Storm Rising” with fellow fiction writer Larry Bond in the mid 1980’s.  But before that, he had introduced us to Jack Ryan in his first solo work, “The Hunt for Red October“.  And over the course of the next 6 or 7 books, I followed Ryan’s progression from CIA analyst to Deputy Director of Intelligence to National Security Advisor to Vice President and, finally, President of the United States.

All along the way, Ryan is challenged with helping Russians defect from the Soviet Union, uncovering government corruption, and protecting his family (and his country) from attack, all while trying to maintain his family life and hold on to his values.

I actually think we learn as much about Clancy from his books as we learn about his characters.  He seems to be fairly conservative (maybe even flat-out Republican) in his political views and well as definitely pro-military.  Regardless of his political views, I really enjoyed nearly every book I read.  I think many of you would, too.

I suppose that’s because Jack Ryan was a person who valued his family, made good decisions in the face of disaster, and loved his country.  Clancy’s character was, in a word, a patriot.  And the books themselves were fast-paced, thrilling to read, and terribly difficult to put down.  I recall working through the final chapters of “Patriot Games” sitting in a bean-bag chair at about 3am on a work morning.

But Tom Clancy is now more than just Jack Ryan.  There are several “apostrophe” series (books with Clancy’s name, written by others) like “Op-Center” and “Power Plays“.  He’s written a handful of non-fiction books (most of which I own), and founded a video game company in the 1990’s called Red Storm Entertainment.  From it, a whole host of video games have been released, one of which (Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear) was on my computer for a loonngg time.

So grab a Clancy book and dive in.  You’re in for a great ride.  Eric, if you’re reading this, thanks a ton for the recommendation.

Happy Birthday Tom Clancy!!

Recommended Reading: The Cardinal of the Kremlin – It’s hard to pick a favorite book, but I think The Cardinal is mine.

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