Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, IL Is Must-See Midwest Air Museum

By Carmelo Turdo
The next stop on the Aero Experience Midwest Air Museum road trip was the Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, IL.  Open Tuesday-Sunday, this museum offers a presentation of aviation history, primarily from the surrounding Illinois region, as well as interactive displays, flight simulators and a Link trainer.  The air park contains a variety of well-maintained military aircraft, including an A-4M Skyhawk, A-7A Corsair II, F-4N Phantom II, F-14D Tomcat, F-100C Super Sabre, T-33A Shooting Star, T-38A Talon, UH-1H Iroquois, and AH-1J SeaCobra.  A dedicated group of volunteers have made this museum a Midwest air museum must-see as you roll through central Illinois.  

For more information, please visit

Heritage In Flight Museum Air Park Part of Midwest Museum Tour

By Carmelo Turdo
The Aero Experience recently hit the road through central Illinois, and one of the stops was the air park at the Heritage In Flight Museum at Logan County Airport in Lincoln, IL.  Although the museum tours are by appointment, the air park is always accessible and a welcome opportunity to stretch after hours on the road.  A variety of aircraft were on display, including a UH-1D Iroquois, C-45F Expeditor, F-4B Phantom II (in USAF colors), and A-7E with Desert Storm mission markings, a T-33A Shooting Star and several civil aircraft.  Some interesting emergency vehicles were also parked among the aircraft.  Next time you are scouting Midwest air museums, make an appointment to tour the exhibits (we will next time!) and check out the air park. As for the weather, well, you never know! 

Please visit the Heritage In Flight Museum web site at for more information.


Monday, November 21, 2011

St. Louis Aviation Historian Announces Breakthrough: Aviator and Aeroplane in Old Photograph Identified

By Jack Abercrombie
The Aero Experience is honored to have Mr. Jack M. Abercrombie, Curator of the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, as our guest author today.  Jack retired as an aeronautical engineer from McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, having worked on aerodynamics design for the F-4 Phantom II and F-15 Eagle, among others.  He is also one of the founding members of the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, which now makes its home in historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport.  Jack has been investigating the mysterious reference to the aircraft and pilot featured on the cover of City of Flight, a book that chronicles in great detail the early aeronautical history of St. Louis.  Now his research has revealed the identity of the aircraft and pilot.  Here is an excerpt from a future article that will soon appear on the museum's web site.

The dust jacket for James J. Horgan’s  City of Flight—The History of Aviation in St. Louis (1984), features a colorized version of an old photograph taken at the St. Louis riverfront. The photograph from which the color version was made is arguably the greatest portrayal of early St. Louis commerce and transportation ever made. In the background, the bridge (designed and built by James Eads--completed in 1874), connecting the mid-west to the eastern part of the country, represents surface travel—the lower deck for a railroad and the upper deck for pedestrians and both horse drawn and motorized vehicular highway travel. The foreground shows a steamship, “St. Louis,” representing a major segment of the trade and travel between north and south. And overhead is an early biplane heading towards the St. Louis shoreline.

Unfortunately, the smaller, black and white copy of the actual photograph within the book carries a caption identifying the aeroplane as the “Red Devil” with Tom Baldwin as pilot during the September 1910 exhibition in which Baldwin flew under the Eads Bridge. Although Baldwin did, indeed, perform the described feat (as well as flying under the nearby McKinley Bridge), the photograph and the caption do not match up.

Noted aviation historians have observed ever since the book was published that the pictured aeroplane is not the “Red Devil.” Some historians have suggested that the aeroplane configuration more nearly resembles one of the “Little Looper” airframes flown by Lincoln Beachey. But there the matter lay dormant for nearly three decades.

But recently a break-through of sorts occurred. The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum received a donation of a large, 20 x 24 inch, photograph identical to that shown in City of Flight.  Dr. William R. Green, MD, a professional photographer as well as former physician for McDonnell Aircraft Co., was the donor of the photograph which he acquired during the 1960s from a long closed camera shop in the St. Louis area. Dr. Green, of course, recognized the significance of the image after having observed the glass plate negative from which the enlarged print was made.

The photograph is sufficiently large to show details not heretofore available-details which lead to identification of both the time period as well as the pilot and aeroplane.

The first clue as to the date of the photograph was a sign on the side of the ship which identified the owners of the “St. Louis”—the St. Louis & Tennessee River Packet Co. Since there have been at least a half dozen steamers named “St. Louis,” this total identification was important because this specific boat was not built until 1912—two years after the “Red Devil” flew under the bridge. (The steamer sank in 1918 after being wrecked by a snag a few miles south of St. Louis).

Further research revealed that the glass plate image had been in the archives of the long-defunct (1986) St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper. Consequently, a search of Globe-Democrat news articles was warranted, with the focus being on Lincoln Beachey. Knowing that Beachey had toured some 126 cities between May and the end of December 1914, the search was narrowed to that time period.

Thanks to the micro-film newspaper collections of the St. Louis County (MO) Library, it was learned that Lincoln Beachey had, indeed, visited St. Louis during the 1914 tour. On 20 September, he performed at the old Maxwelton Racetrack in St. Louis County, where in addition to performing several aerial stunts, he “raced” against an automobile driven by Barney Oldfield in one of 35 or so staged events in which the team participated around the country.

As previously mentioned, the aeroplane aerodynamic configuration is one of several that Beachey flew during his exhibition days. This particular one is that on display as the original aeroplane in the Hiller Aviation Museum in California. It is the same configuration that a week after his St. Louis visit, Beachey flew over the U.S. Capitol building and the White House on 28 September 1914 (following an intermediate show in Springfield, Illinois).

But there is more to the story—a comparison of the aeroplane in the “over-the-riverfront” image to the “Oldfield Leads” image in the next morning’s newspaper shows that the two aeroplane images are identical! There are several indications that the Globe-Democrat superimposed the aeroplane image from the over-the-riverfront photograph onto the racetrack photo for some unknown reason. You may also notice that the sun is shining from the left of the aircraft and from the right of the car.  As a result, the riverfront photographer got no credit for one of the greatest St. Louis aviation historic photographs of all time.

Research on this subject continues. At a future point, an article is planned for the “Publications” section of the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum web site.

EAA President and CEO Rod Hightower Diverts to St. Louis Downtown Airport Due to High Winds at Wicks Sale Site

By Carmelo Turdo
EAA President and CEO Rod Hightower flew his AT-6G Texan to St. Louis Downtown Airport Saturday after diverting from the intended landing site near Wicks Aircraft Supply in Highland, IL.  Hightower was to be a special guest at the Red Tag Sale being held at Wicks last weekend, but strong crosswinds precluded him from landing on the airport's runway.  St. Louis Downtown Airport offered additional runway options for landing into the wind, and after fighting headwinds for over three hours from EAA headquarters in Oshkosh, WI, Hightower decided to land, refuel and head to his home field - Creve Coeur Airport in St. Louis County.  It was great to see him again in the St. Louis area, and we wish him happy holidays and a great 2012.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Members of the AC-119 Gunship Association Are Featured Speakers at MO Aviation Historical Society Meeting

By Carmelo Turdo

Members of the AC-119 Gunship Association (Vietnam War era) were the featured speakers at the November Missouri Aviation Historical Society Meeting held in the St. Louis area.  St. Louis native Everett Sprous, U.S. Air Force inflight weapons mechanic ("gunner") on AC-119K Stinger Gunship 1971-1972 and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, assisted in organizing and hosting the meeting presentation. Dr. Larry Fletcher, U.S. Air Force Captain and aircraft commander who flew 177 combat missions in AC-119G Shadow gunships and the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with eight Clusters, led the presentation that traced the development of the AC-119 series gunships and the role of each crew member. Other AC-119 Gunship Association members who also shared their experiences in the aircraft:

U.S. Air Force Sgt. Wade Dunn, Gunner on AC-119G Shadow
U.S. Air Force CMSgt Ron Gilbert, Gunner and career NCO
U.S. Air Force Captain Ralph LeFarth, Pilot, AC-119G Shadow

Dr. Larry Fletcher poses with his books and sample gunship ammunition

Dr. Fletcher spoke about the two models of AC-119s used during the Vietnam War period, all aircraft eventually given to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force to replace the AC-47 Spooky gunships already in use. The AC-119G Shadow carried 8 crew and 4 7.62mm miniguns for anti-personnel operations in defense of friendly bases and in support of friendly troops. The AC-119K Stinger added 2 more crew and two 20mm cannon to the four miniguns for greater anti-armor firepower. It also added a Forward-Looking Infra-Red sensor and 2 J85 jets for added performance. The weapons pointed out of the left side of the aircraft, and the pilot had to keep a left bank angle of about 30 degrees to lay down a cone of fire on the target. Most missions were flown at night, with the "gunners" keeping the weapons operating and the pilot sighting and firing the guns from the cockpit.

AC-119G Shadow gunship with Lt. Larry Fletcher in photo

Dr. Larry Fletcher points out the weapons on the AC-119G

The aircraft were used by the 71st, 17th and 18th Special Operations Squadrons from 1968-1973.  Employing an AC-119 gunship in combat was a lesson in crew coordination. The pilot flew the aircraft, controlling the angle of bank with the yoke wheel and firing the weapons  while looking out the left side. The copilot controlled pitch with the yoke column and looked out the right side for anti-aircraft fire from the ground. The copilot actually used a bracket welded to the control yoke rather than the hand wheel so as to not interfere with the pilot's angle of bank inputs. The flight engineer leaned in between the pilots to adjust throttle settings and monitor engine instruments and fuel tank feeds. The "gunners" in the fuselage kept the guns loaded and ready for the pilot to use on command. There were additionally 2-3 navigators and an illumination (flare) operator on both models.  

Sgt. Wade Dunn

CMSgt. Ron Gilbert

Captain Ralph LeFarth

Wade Dunn, Ron Gilbert, Larry Fletcher, Ralph LeFarth, 
Dan O'Hara, and Everett Sprous

Gifts presented to the MO Aviation Historical Society

The MO Aviation Historical Society would like to thank the members of the AC-119 Gunship Association for speaking at the November meeting in St. Louis. Their story is inspiring, and their service honorable.  For more information about the AC-119 Gunship Association, please visit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum and Prairie Aviation Museum Team Up to Discuss Growth Strategies

By Carmelo Turdo
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum President Mark Nankivil and Vice Presidents Rick Rehg and Carmelo Turdo met recently with representatives of the Bloomington, IL-based Prairie Aviation Museum to discuss common issues and strategies for growth. The conference took place at Frasca Field, in Urbana, the home of the Frasca International simulator plant and the Frasca Air Museum. Along with open and frank discussion regarding the challenges faced by the museums, attendees shared their success stories and best practices that have sustained each organization. Strategies for growth include conventional practices in the areas of marketing, fund-raising and financial accountability, but also involve personal investments by members and volunteers in dedication to mission, teamwork and the development of key relationships within each respective community. Both museums renewed their commitment to become key resources for historic preservation of aerospace artifacts and aircraft as well as centers of education and community involvement. Attendees from both museums wish to thank Mr. Rudy Frasca, founder of Frasca International and the Frasca Air Museum for hosting the conference and providing a personal tour of his museum.

Mark Nankivil, Carmelo Turdo, Rudy Frasca and Rick Rehg

Representatives from Prairie Aviation Museum with Rudy Frasca

Frasca Air Museum entrance

Meeting was held at the museum restaurant

Aircraft in one of the Frasca Air Museum hangars

1941 Boeing A75N1 Kaydet

World War I S.E.5a Replica 

Bleriot XI Replica

1959 Frasca No. 1 Prototype

GAT-1 General Aviation Trainer

Frasca Model 122 First Production Electronic Flight System

Frasca Model 141 First Production Digital Single-Engine Trainer

North American SNJ-6 Texan

Spitfire Mk. XVIII and P-40E warbirds

David Frasca's Pitts Model 12