• US Army Aviation Museum

    Posted on April 17th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    US Army Aviation Museum Ft Rucker, AL

    This is the first of five aviation museums that we will visit during our aviation history research trip through the south. We spent last night in Birmingham, AL and then enjoyed a slightly over three-hour drive through the heart of Alabama this morning toward Enterprise. We travelled south on I-65 to Montgomery, continued south on US Highways 231/82, and then on Alabama Highway 167. The weather was perfect – clear skies, light wind, and temps forecast in the mid 70s.
    Boeing CH-347 Chinook

    Boeing CH-347 Chinook

    Entrance onto Fort Rucker was straightforward. Stopping at the fort’s main gate, we explained our day’s mission. We were directed to an inspection area where security staff reviewed our photo IDs, car registration, and insurance papers. After the paperwork passed muster, the vehicle was inspected. We were provided directions to the museum and were driving away with less than 15 minutes having elapsed.

    Ryan XV-5B Vertifan

    Ryan XV-5B Vertifan

    The US Army Aviation Museum was established April 17, 1956 but did not open its doors to the public until November 26, 1968. Since that time, the museum has grown to include the main exhibit building (completed November 1989) and three storage buildings. The exhibit building’s 70,000 square feet provides display area for 50 aircraft, a Vietnam Memorial, the Army Aviation Hall of Fame, and several art galleries. The museum also contains an aviation research library containing more than 1,600 technical manuals, 2,000 films, and nearly 95,000 photos. The museum has more than 160 aircraft in its collection.

    Sopwith F.1 Camel

    Sopwith F.1 Camel

    The museum opened at noon on this beautiful spring Sunday. After a picnic lunch on the museum grounds we walked among a memorial garden and then toured the outdoor aircraft exhibit area. Eleven aircraft were on display outside. There were four rotor-wing, including a rare Boeing CH-347 Chinook. The seven fixed-wing aircraft included the experimental Ryan XV-5B. A positive addition would be description panels for the aircraft displayed outside.

    Vietnam exhibit

    Vietnam exhibit

    The museum display floor consists of three sections – early Army aviation, helicopter evolution, and main display area. The exhibits were, in a word, stunning. The museum staff told a story with each major display. The early aviation section had two aircraft of interest to Wisconsin aviation history students. The museum’s replica F.1 Sopwith Camel was the type flown by Rodney Williams. He flew with the RAF’s 17th Squadron. The Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” was flown by many early Wisconsin aviators including Roy Larson and Rellis Conant.

    Desert Storm exhibit with AH-64 Apache

    Desert Storm exhibit with AH-64 Apache

    From the statue grouping welcoming you at the front door to the air traffic control display on the mezzanine; from the Sikorsky R-4B Hoverfly I to the Boeing AH-64 Apache, the museum is first class. The aircraft, exhibits, art work, and memorabilia join to tell the story of the US Army’s aviation branch. A little out of the way but well worth the trip.

  • Robert J. Goebel – Gone West

    Posted on February 28th, 2011 John Dorcey 1 comment

    Today would have been Robert Goebel’s birthday. Mr. Goebel died last Sunday, February 20, just days short of his 88th birthday. Goebel, a member of the greatest generation, was typical of the group. He enlisted on April 4, 1942 as an aviation cadet. Goebel graduated flight training, earning his wings and second lieutenant commission in May 1943. His first assignment, defense of the Panama Canal, would last a scant five months. He flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and Bell P-39 Airacobra while gaining invaluable fighter pilot experience.

    Lt Robert Goebel in his P-51 "Flying Dutchman"

    Robert shared his World War II combat pilot story in the book, Mustang Ace, Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot. In the book’s forward, Goebel states, “Like the rest of my generation, in combat I did what I had to do, the best way I knew how. There was no hating, no anguish, no sense of guilt. Only of getting the job done.”

    First Lieutenant Robert J. Goebel was awarded the Silver Star on August 18, 1944. The citation reads in part, “Displaying outstanding aggressiveness and courage, with complete disregard for the overwhelming superiority of enemy aircraft, Lieutenant Goebel immediately engaged the hostile ships, and, in the ensuing engagement destroyed two enemy fighters and forced the rest to withdraw, thus saving the life of his comrade. En route to base, though having serious mechanical difficulties, he again intercepted enemy aircraft and accounted for another enemy fighter destroyed.”

    Lt. Robert Goebel, wife June, and son Gary

    He flew 61 combat missions in the North American P-51 Mustang during World War II. He had 11 aerial victories over enemy aircraft. In addition to the Silver Star, Goebel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Air Medal with 17 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters.

    After the war, Goebel attended the University of Wisconsin and earned a bachelor’s degree in physics. He served as commander of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 126th Fighter Squadron until being recalled into the Air Force in 1950. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Goebel retired from the USAF in 1966. After retiring from the Air Force, he worked for NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission.

    Robert J. Goebel, 2003

    Goebel was born on February 28, 1923, in Racine, Wisconsin. He was the youngest of seven children. Robert married his high school sweetheart, June Meany, while awaiting orders to San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. They were married for 64 years. Together they raised nine children. June died March 6, 2006. In addition to their children, he is survived by 27 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren.

    Robert was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.

  • Who was first to fly the Pacific?

    Posted on June 28th, 2010 John Dorcey No comments

    Today we celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the first trans-Pacific flight. The significance of many historic achievements is often lost when competing with current events. In this case, the crossing from San Francisco to Honolulu was overshadowed by the solo trans-Atlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh a month earlier.

    The Fokker F.9 aircraft, designated C-2 by the US Army Air Corps, had been significantly modified at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Powered by three Wright J-5 Whirlwind engines, each developing 220 hp, the airplane cruised at 105 mph. The crew met with the press before their departure, this interview  is from a silent newsreel. Lt. Albert Hegenberger (navigator/pilot) is on the left, Lt. Lester Maitland (pilot) on the right. A second video shows the C-2 departing Oakland’s still under construction airport.

    Maitland would land the large transport at 6:29 am on June 29, 1927 after flying 2,416 miles, all of it over water. Total flying time was 25 hours, 49 minutes. In addition to each being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the crew earned the Mackay Trophy for 1927. F. Trubee Davison, Assistant Secretary of War, said, “The flight is unquestionably one of the greatest aerial accomplishments ever made.”

    The flight was described as a test flight of radio navigation equipment the Army had been developing for years. Hegenberger, an MIT graduate in aeronautical engineering, would spend his career advancing aviation technology.  Major General Hegenberger retired from the Air Force in 1949.

    Maitland had a long and storied career in the military, retiring from the Michigan Air National Guard as a Brigadier General. He was director of aeronautics for both Wisconsin and Michigan. In 1956 he was ordained an Episcopal minister; he retired as rector emeritus.

    Video footage courtesy the Prelinger Archives.

  • Fred Ascani, Wisconsin native, pilot

    Posted on April 15th, 2010 John Dorcey No comments

    The challenge of being a student of Wisconsin’s aviation history is realizing just how deep that history is. Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) speakers are approached following every presentation. More times than not, the question people ask is, “Do you know about _________?” (Fill in the blank with any aviator’s name.) Such is the case with a recent obituary from the New York Times. An attached sticky note read, “Do you know of this guy?” My answer, no, led to some research time and, with apologies to Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story.

    Alfredo John Ascani was born in Beloit, Wisconsin on May 29, 1917. The family moved to nearby Rockford, Illinois where Fred graduated from high school in 1935. He returned to Beloit, attending Beloit College for two years until he was accepted at West Point. Ascani graduated 24th of 424 members of his 1941 academy class. He immediately entered pilot training.

    Northrup X-4

    Following flight school and assignment as a flight instructor, target-tow pilot, and commander of a flight training squadron, then Major Fred Ascani served as squadron commander of the 816th Bomb Squadron flying B-17s out of Italy. Fred flew 53 combat missions before returning stateside.

    Ascani served as Colonel Albert G. Boyd’s executive officer while at the Flight Test Division in Dayton, OH. Boyd would become known as the “father of modern flight test.” In 1950, Ascani moved to Edwards Air Force Base where he served as Director of Experimental Flight Test and Engineering. He was later promoted to the first Vice Commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC).

    Mentor Inbound, General Ascani's biography

    In July, 1951 then Colonel Ascani earned the Thompson and Mackay trophies by setting a new speed record. Fred was flying a North American F-86E, Sabre at an average speed of 635.68 mph.  Other assignments and promotions followed including System Program Director for the XB-70 Valkyrie. Ascani retired from the Air Force August 1, 1973 as a Major General.

    General  Ascani died March 28, 2010. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in June. Mentor Inbound by Sheryl Hutchinson is the General’s biography.
  • Happy Birthday Billy

    Posted on December 28th, 2009 John Dorcey No comments

    William L. “Billy” Mitchell was born 130 years ago today in Nice, France.  Mitchell was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) in 1986.

    Mitchell began his military career as a private in the First Wisconsin Infantry. He soon became an officer and later transferred to the US Army’s Signal Corps. Billy learned to fly in 1916 at the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station in New Port News, VA. WAHF inductee Walter Lees provided Mitchell, now a major, some of his flight instruction and later soloed Mitchell. That first flight did not end well for the new pilot; the aircraft came to rest inverted at the end of the landing roll.

    Colonel Billy Mitchell in Curtiss DH4B

    Assigned as an aviation observer, Mitchell arrived in Europe during April 1917. He became the first American officer to fly over the French battlefields. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1917 and served in the AEF.

    Promoted to colonel in May 1918, he assumed command of the Air Service, First Army Corps. This position gave him opportunity to fly, command, and learn air combat firsthand. Major General Mason Patrick, Air Service Commander, described Mitchell as “aggressive, courageous, and fearless.”

    Colonel Billy Mitchell would lead the 1500-aircraft bombing raid against the Saint-Mihiel salient in September 1918. Promoted to brigadier general, Mitchell took command of all allied air forces in time for the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October.

    While serving in Europe, Mitchell discussed the future of airpower with Hugh Trenchard of England and Italy’s Giulio Douhet. These discussions would serve as the foundation of Mitchell’s plan for a separate US air force. This air force would, in Mitchell’s vision, win the next war, single-handedly.
    Mitchell’s downfall was not his message but in his method. Today, Billy Mitchell is considered the father of modern airpower.

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    A Question of Loyalty by Douglas Waller

  • Madison Air Scouts

    Posted on May 10th, 2009 Tom Thomas 1 comment

    At the age of 12, I joined the Madison Air Scouts sponsored by Truax Field, a US Air Force Base in Madison, Wisconsin. The base was also known as Madison Municipal Airport, today it is known as the Dane County Regional Airport.

    Madison Air Scouts, ca 1954

    It was 1954, I grew up on Madison’s east side, between the Yahara River and East High School. My home was right under the flight path for Truax’s Runway 36. All the neighborhood boys playing baseball or football would stop and watch the military jets whenever they flew overhead.

    I had three uncles that served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and they were my mentors. Every aviation magazine or book that I came by was read over and over. I spent hours studying the missiles and aircraft they covered.

    I don’t recall how I found out about the Air Scouts, but when the opportunity presented itself, I joined. I was never in the Boy Scouts so this was my first uniform and I was pretty proud of it. We would get briefings from Air Force staff and I recall seeing many movies on life in the Air Force and of course airplanes. The movies with airplanes were my favorites.

    Several months back, I was given a photo that I had completely forgotten about. It’s an official Air Force photo taken of the Madison Air Scouts in 1954. We are assembled in front of a Convair F-102, Delta Dagger. I am standing in the back row, seventh from the left, under the ‘C’ in Air Force.

    My dream of flight began early in my trip on this planet and has just continued to grow over the years. At that time, in 1954, I never thought I’d be able to fly fighter jets at my home airport, Truax Field. Providence and persistence paid off and I was able to do just that. I flew the A-37 Dragonfly and the A-10 Warthog with the Wisconsin Air National Guard throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

    My life-long involvement in aviation and flying only goes to prove – Where there is a will, there is a way. The dream of flight lives on…

  • BUFF driver and an…ostrich?

    Posted on April 11th, 2009 Pete Drahn No comments

    Main gate, Travis AFB, CALt. Pete Drahn (left) with his crew, 1966

    I flew BUFFS before and after my year as a FAC in SEA. In about 1966, as a young copilot, myfirst operational assignment was to Travis AFB, where we had a wing vice-commander who was a terror.

    Colonel King would usually officiate over the crew changeovers in the alert shack after each seven day alert cycle. Being the grand leader that he thought he was, he would present an award to the crew that screwed up the most during the previous week. The award was a 3-foot tall statue of a crow, a former advertisement for Old Crow bourbon. He had the crow painted with white jailbird stripes and a plaque around his neck announcing “Awarded to the Worst Air Crew of the Week”, or some such language.

    After a half-year of this arrogant and sorry display of leadership and enough beers between us, another copilot, Todd Jagerson, who was a talented artist, and I built a paper mâche model of our own. It depicted an ostrich bending over with its long neck going between his legs and the head shoved up where the colonel’s was at that time. The sign announced “Awarded to the Worst Staff Officer of the Week,” or some such wording.

    Lt. Pete Drahn (left) with his crew, 1966

    The day of reckoning arrived with Todd and me on alert. We sneaked into the large briefing room after we saw the Colonel’s staff drop off the “jailbird” and retreat to the alert shack mess hall to await “The King’s” arrival. We deposited the “Staff Ostrich” right next to the “Old Crow” and beat tracks out of there.

    The briefing room was packed with around 16 tanker and bomber crews (both coming on and going off alert) 10 minutes before Col. King made hisgrand entrance. Todd and I were tucked fairly well back in the room, but sweating bullets; seeing our careers fly out the window if we got caught.

    The Old Man arrived, gave his usual glare at the assembled troops and proceeded to the stage. He stopped dead cold about 4-feet way from the Crow and Ostrich. He studied it for what seemed like 5 minutes, turned around, and departed the room. We never did get caught, but the old buzzard never hauled out that award again, and actually became a lot more respectful.

    Of course, we never told anyone and just hope the statute of limitations has run out.

  • The Cold War

    Posted on February 15th, 2009 John Dorcey 2 comments

    While the war waged on in Viet Nam, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) continued fighting the cold war. Depending on base assignments, the troops may have been fighting a cold war on two fronts.

    I served in the USAF from January 1969 until April 1975. For all but seven months of that time, I was stationed at Grand Forks AFB, ND. Grand Forks is a cold and windy place all year round. It gets real cold during the winter.

    Coming from Wisconsin everyone thought I had thick blood and would be acclimated to North Dakota winters. I worked on the flight line (outside!) for five of the six winters I was there. You learn to cope with the cold but you never get used to it.

    The 319th Bombardment Wing (H) had the latest B-52 Stratofortresses, the H model. These aircraft were built during 1960 and 1961. The airplane went through numerous modifications while I worked on it and many more since. The BUFF continues to serve as a deterrent and will for the foreseeable future.

    Tech School class, Chanute AFB, 1969

    I worked on the Hound Dog missile (AGM-28B) as a missile mechanic and later as a missile systems analyst. Two of the missiles were slung on the underside of a B-52’s wing. The 319th Airborne Missile Maintenance Squadron (AMMS) was a small unit, with just under 100 men.

    Like most GIs, I have fond memories of my time in the service and stay in contact with some of the guys. One way we keep in touch is through an alumni organization. You can learn more about the Hound Dog, the AMMS, and some of my friends at http://www.ammsalumni.org/index.html
    John Dorcey, SSgt
    SAC, Peace is our Profession