Saturday, October 12, 2019

Airplanes in Alaska

There are some fans of vintage airplanes among the GDB regulars. I like old airplanes too, but (like old cars), my knowledge is minimal. You guys always come to the rescue, though!

First up is this neat photo of what I believe is a B-29 Superfortress, somewhere in Alaska; Wikipedia sez: The... B-29 is a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing and flown primarily by the United States during World War II and the Korean War. Named in allusion to its predecessor, the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Superfortress was designed for high-altitude strategic bombing but also excelled in low-altitude night incendiary bombing. B-29s also dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which led to the end of World War II.

It's a bit of a bummer that we can't see the numbers on the tail from this angle (I tried zooming in, and they're just a blurry mess). Still, it's neat to see this historic airplane. Only 2 B-29 Superfortresses still fly today.

Also in Alaska was this pair of airplanes on another mystery runway. I believe that the one on the left is a DC-4, though my record of guessing is not good! The one on the right is some sort of cargo or transport model that I have no doubt will be ID'd by somebody in short order.


Anonymous said...


I hate to be inconsiderate (or maybe a little bit crude), but today's photos make me feel funny in places that one probably shouldn't feel funny in as a member of the human species.

I've always loved WWII aviation history with the B29 and especially the B17* as a couple of my all-time favorite aircraft ever built (the 'Connie'... the Lockheed Constellation right there in the mix).

Maybe not to everyone's taste, but the gray, overcast sky and wet runway actually makes these photos. Being chock'ed up and waiting for better weather is simultaneously sad yet beautiful at the same time.

Thanks, as always.


* I'm fortunate enough to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson periodically. They have a beautifully conserved, non-flying B17 on display (my number one favorite airplane on my list). I've had the honor and pleasure of being there while a veteran B17 pilot who volunteers his time is there to talk the ears off anyone willing to listen. I've spent several hours under the bomb-bay of that machine hearing his stories.

Fair gentleman, I do no know your name, but I thank you for your service and your willingness to share your history with those willing to listen.

Chuck said...

Based on the paint schemes, I'd put these photos between 1955-60.

Look at how big the lettering is on the side of that B-29! I think that's a WB-29 weather reconnaissance variant.

The larger airplane in the second photo is a C-124 Globemaster II, specifically a C-124C model that rolled out of the factory with a radome installed on the nose (the earlier "A" models had them retrofitted later). This was my dad's first airframe after he completed pilot training in 1965.

The airplane is huge. It had clamshell doors in the nose to allow vehicles to drive directly into the cargo bay, and overhead crane system to move cargo around, and a cargo elevator in the rear. Floor decking could be folded down from the sides of the cargo area to make a second upper deck for passengers, and there was an additional under-deck cargo hold that was inefficient for cargo loading but perfect for loading crew souvenirs from overseas. There are stories of guys bringing home entire motorcycles from Japan in that space; my own dad brought home two #5 kamado grills (similar to today's "Big Green Egg") and a couple of zabuton end tables that currently grace my living room.

The plane was so heavy that the control surfaces on the tail were skinned with fabric like an old biplane instead of aluminum to save weight. It could also fall on its tail if the rear stand, which you can see in this picture, wasn't in place.

I had a picnic lunch just last month under the wing of the C-124 they have on display at the Hill AFB mUseum in Ogden, UT.

And there's a bonus C-47 in the left background.

Great finds, Major. Thanks!

Andrew said...

Wow, thanks Chuck and Albino Dragon. You're quite the wealth of knowledge! I'd love to say something insightful like that, but I don't have near the level of personal experience that you do. I DID go on an aviation Boy Scout trip several years ago, but I don't remember a whole lot...

Major Pepperidge said...

AlbinoDragon, I’m glad you liked these so much (!). When I was a little kid, my older brother built models of WWII airplanes. And since my brother liked them, I liked them too. We had them hanging from our bedroom ceiling (bunk beds!) from fishing line, arranged in a daring dogfight. I thought he was a genius for taking a model that got accidentally smashed by painting orange and yellow flames on it and arranging it so that it appeared to be plummeting to the earth. Nevermind that there was a mixture of German and Japanese aircraft! I wish we had a really good Air and Space museum nearby; my dream is to someday go to the Udvar Hazy museum, though I can’t see getting there anytime soon. Thanks for your great comment.

Chuck, I suppose that after the war, they needed to find something to do with those aircraft. Weather reconnaissance seems like a good use! I suppose that by the Korean war, prop-driven bombers were obsolete for battle? Thank you for the ID on the Globemaster - sounds like a Marvel villain! It’s amazing how huge some of those transport aircraft were (are). I love the stories of your dad’s experiences, including the goodies he brought home from Japan. I’m amazed that they were still skinning planes with fabric at that point! Seems so “Wright brothers”. So much great info, thank you!

Penna. Andrew, my guess is that you probably know more about aviation than I do!

Chuck said...

Major, forgot to confirm your DC-4 ID in the second photo. That's a C-54, the military version of the DC-4. It didn't click when I saw this earlier, but that photo shows three iterations of progressively larger Douglas transports in chronological order from left to right.

And, to your comment above, they actually continued to use B-29s in the bombardment role throughout the Korean War, although they had to switch to nighttime strikes after the introduction of the Soviet-built, jet-powered MiG-16 in late 1950. While the US used jet-powered fighters as bombers in Korea, we did not use any jet-powered heavy bombers in that conflict since they were all being held in readiness as the nation's primary nuclear deterrence force.

JC Shannon said...

The B29 was one of the first military aircraft to be pressurized. A giant leap in aviation technology over other aircraft of the day. It was also an innovator in cockpit visibility, an essential part of tight formation flying. Instead of the tail dragger configuration of the B17, it employed three point gear for safer landings. I love all these aircraft, and am going to spend the rest of the day enjoying these aviation innovators. "Our captain today is Major Pepperidge, we will be cruising at an altitude of 28,000 ft, thank you for flying USAF Airways."

Anonymous said...

One of the nicknames for the C-124 was "Old Shakey', referring to the dynamics of the airframe. My uncle was a navigator on them at Travis AFB. KS

Anonymous said...

BTW...that first picture...unless it is so identified as a B-29...could also be a B-50. KS

Chuck said...

KS, while the B-50 was developed from the B-29 (it was originally ordered as the "B-29D"), there are some external differences that help distinguish the two. The most obvious is the engine nacelles; you can see a comparison between the B-29 and the B-50 at this link. The B-50 also had a taller tail and bigger flaps, although those aren't always obvious in photos. This is definitely a B-29.

That's really cool that your uncle was a '124 navigator at Travis. My dad only flew these for a year before his unit converted to then-brand-new C-141s. He tells me that the "Old Shakey" nickname was well earned. It was also one of his favorite airplanes to fly. In fact, it was a photo of a '124 in Antarctica in National Geographic that got him first thinking about maybe going into the Air Force. He ended up serving 27 years, retiring as a colonel, so I guess it was a good career choice. :-)

The Travis AFB Heritage Center has its own C-124. The 1984 mission that ferried this airplane to Travis from Maryland was the second-to-last C-124 flight and the first in a decade.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chuck. Perhaps your Dad and my uncle ran into each other before his retirement as a LC after 34 years in the service. Just don't recall the year of his retirement, likely in the late 70s to 1980. KS

Unknown said...

Just beautiful! I love the B-29; the bigger the better!

B-17 Shoo Shoo Baby was here at one of our air shows years ago in Pittsburgh at the 911th, where my husband served in the Reserves. Have a great picture of my daughter, who was about 8 or so then, standing by the aircraft, which was so cool to be inside and see, and in middle school she did a research paper on this great plane.

my dream is to see the B-36 as featured in the movie Strategic Air Command (amazing soundtrack as well)

thanks for these great views!!