Saturday, February 18, 2017

Vintage Airplanes

Some GDB readers seem to get a kick out of vintage photos of aircraft, so that's what I'm going to share today.

We'll start with this image of a DC6 "Mainliner", from a slide hand-dated "February 25, 1958". I believe that this is from the old airport in Denver, Colorado. Denver is still one of the hubs for United Airlines. It's always kind of fun to see photos from the days before jet travel was the norm! I wish there was some kind of identifying number on the plane so that one of you readers could tell me the ultimate fate of this plane. Hopefully it never crashed.

Next is this photo taken on Midway Island in 1952, featuring what I believe is a Douglas C-54. I know you'll correct me if I'm wrong! Planes like this were used for Atlantic crossings during WWII, and were also used for the Berlin Airlift.

I looked up MATS ("Military Air Transport Service") and was interested to find out that it was a now-discontinued part of the Department of Defense Unified Command. 

Of course Midway Island (roughly halfway between the continental U.S. and Asia, as the name implies) was an important strategic location for U.S. armed forces in WWII, and the "Battle of Midway" in 1942 was considered the "beginning of the end" of the Japanese Navy's dominance in the Pacific.  


Nanook said...


Can't wait for the 'aeroplane experts' to weigh-in, but gotta comment on the "casual way" folks could watch the comings and goings of the plane traffic, by sitting down on a bench and simply gazing towards the tarmac.

What a time that was.

Thanks, Major.

Unknown said...

Douglas made pretty airplanes. At least they're pretty in the powerful sense of the times they remind us of.

The C-54 developed from the DC-4 so the two aircraft are pretty much cousins. Say, let's all go to London for the week; we can fly over in pressurized comfort! Wheee...

Chuck said...

Major, I'm assuming you're kidding about that first airplane. The registration number is presented vertically down the tail. It's hard to read because of what looks like damage to the original slide in the 4th digit, but that appears to be United Airlines DC-6 N37524. Delivered in 1947, it was named Pennsylvania, no doubt after the hit Glenn Miller song, "Pennsylvania 6-5000."

While it doesn't appear to have been involved in any fatal mishaps, it did suffer an engine fire at Chicago's Midway airport on October 21st, 1954. Repaired and returned to service, the last registered owner was R&B Aircraft Supply in North Hollywood, CA, in 1962. R&B, which is still in business today, specializes in overhauling aircraft and aircraft engines. It appears this airplane was scrapped, its parts cannibalized to keep other airplanes flying.

Behind it is Braniff International Airways N3432, a Convair CV-440. Delivered on November 20th, 1956, this airplane served a variety of owners in the US, Belgium, Canada, and Portugal until the 2000s. Its final owner was the Canadian cargo line Nolinor Aviation.

This airplane was photographed a lot. Here's afull-color picture of N3432 in Braniff livery flight, as well as this photo of her on the ground at Denver's Stapleton Airport. I also tracked down a video slide show of this same airplane in her final livery as Nolinor Aviation C-GNRL.

If you really get a hankering to see more photos of this particular airplane in its various paint schemes, do a Google search for "Convair C-FHEN," "Convair CS-TMM," or "Convair C-GNRL." You can also buy a die-cast model of this airplane for €88,00.

[splitting this into two comments so Blogger will accept it]

Chuck said...

The other photo depicts USAF (and former USAAF) C-54E 44-9069. Contracted in 1944 (hence the "44" at the start of the serial number, although only the last digit of the contract year is painted on most USAF/USAAF airplanes) and delivered on March 22nd, 1945, it spent its entire flying career with the US military. It was finally delivered to the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB outside Tuscon and broken up for scrap and spare parts in 1973.

I found 1960 photo of this same airplane in what appears to be Continental Air Command (ConAC) markings. Note the tail number is now marked as "0-49069" instead of the "49069" of the 1952 image. During this period, a "0-" was usually applied to the start of a serial number of an aircraft older than 10 years old to avoid confusion with a newer airplane with the same last 5 digits. This practice was dropped in the 1980s when aircraft inventory dropped to a point where this sort of confusion was no longer an issue. The ConAC markings indicate this airplane had been moved to the Air Force Reserve, which is consistent with the C-54 being superseded by newer and more capable transport aircraft since the end of WWII.

As you say, your photo shows 49069 in Military Air Transport Command (MATS) markings. MATS was responsible for all strategic airlift for the DoD (along with a few other cats and dogs that required a global focus, like the Air Weather Service, Air Rescue Service, and the Air Photographic and Charting Service), and was comprised of both USAF as well as US Navy long-range transports. The command morphed into the USAF-only Military Airlift Command in 1966, and, with the addition of aerial tankers, into Air Mobility Command in 1992.

My dad's first assignment after pilot training was in MATS, flying C-124s out of McChord AFB, WA (which was abbreviated "Wash." back then). He spent a lot of time flying over the Pacific and spent more than a few nights at Midway. I have some pictures he took at Midway on Christmas morning, 1965.

[actually, I'm going to have to split it into THREE parts today]

Chuck said...

To tie this whole ungainly, three-part comment together, in 1996, I flew United Airlines (see airplane in first photo) on an overnight flight from Tokyo to Honolulu. I was seated next to a talkative, middle-aged Japanese businessman who proceeded to get progressively more sloshed as the flight went on. The more soused he became, the less English he spoke, until at some point in the middle of the dark hours, he began tapping me on the shoulder periodically and commenting uproariously on the in-flight movie in Japanese.

Finally giving up on any possibility of sleeping, I started staring out the window at the stars and what I could see of the ocean, bracing myself for the next unexpected shoulder slap. Suddenly, a lighted runway in the middle of nowhere appeared below us, and I watched it as it stared forlornly back at me until it was lost behind us in the dark.

After we landed, I asked one of the flight attendants if we'd flown over Midway several hours earlier. She perkily said "I don't know - let's ask the front-end crew!" and dragged me up to the front of the airplane, intercepting the First Officer as he stepped out of the cockpit.

I mentioned seeing the runway in the middle of the ocean and asked him if we'd flown over Midway. He looked a bit surprised. After looking down and thinking a moment, he replied in a slightly embarrassed voice, "I guess we must have." This made me made me feel really good about United crews' navigational acumen.

When I discussed it later with my dad, who was by then retired from the Air Force and flying for a different airline, he told me it didn't surprise him. "It scares me some times flying with these young kids. These guys grew up with INS [Inertial Navigation Systems], GPS and sophisticated auto-pilots. They spend half the flight reading the paper. While it saves crewmembers - you don't need a dedicated navigator anymore - and saves money, you lose out on developing airmanship skills that are critical in a crisis. I know I'd sure want to know what emergency divert airfields are available along my route of travel."

I think my next trans-Pacific trip will be by rail.

Unknown said...

By rail? Why not wait for trans-Pacific HYPErloop to be installed?

That is some seriously terrific info, there, Chuck! I think of myself as an aviation geek but I'm a little short in the plane-spotting department. Clearly you're not. :)

Great stuff.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, things were certainly different back then. It’s almost odd to see old movies in which characters can just stroll to the gate to pick up their friend/husband/wife with no security at all.

Patrick Devlin, I generally find most old airplanes to be pretty, but maybe I’m not very picky!

Chuck, holy moly, I thought you might do your “Chuck thing”, but yowza. ;-) No, I was not kidding, I did not see that registration number on the tail. Isn’t it possible that the plane was called “Pennsylvania”, and that other planes of the same make were named after other States? It’s kind of amazing just how intricate the history of a single aircraft can be, with so many owners in so many places. I had no idea that Blogger had a size limit to their comments!

Chuck II & III, I figured you would have lots of info on that Midway photo, seeing as it falls within your bailiwick and all. What are the odds that your father would have been involved with MATS? I loved your story about your flight to Honolulu; I’ve only been on one flight in which I sat next to someone who drank a bit too much, but it happened to be a very pretty woman, so it didn’t bother me like it might have otherwise. She was very talkative, and by the end of the flight it felt like we were best pals. Later, while I was waiting to pick up my bags at the carousel, she walked past me with a friend, looking like she hoped I wouldn’t say anything to her. She could barely look me in the eyes! Jeez, all we did was talk.

Patrick Devlin, if only we could transport a la “Star Trek”. Rip apart our atoms, reassemble them… what could possibly go wrong.

Dean Finder said...

Bravo, Chuck, on the comprehensive comments. I feel like a get a real history class reading this blog and the comments.

I can't imagine what it must have been like flying that vintage 1950s Convair in the 2000s. I'd imagine there were some modern avionics installed (radios and radar transponders), but I'd think the controls and other instruments looked & felt pretty ancient to the last crews.