Douglas C-47A Skytrain: Always!!

Just the lovely nose art of a Douglas Long Beach-built C-47A-30-DL (42-23587) of the USAAF.

Photo: LIFE magazine.


Heinkel He 119: Non Plus Ultra, bare none.

The Günter brothers -Siegfried and Walter- were among the most talented aircraft designers of their era, renowned for their ultra sleek aerodynamic designs. Of all their brainchilds the the middle/late 1930’s He 119 was their “tour de force”. This unique aircraft concept was a private venture unarmed reconnaissance bomber conceived to outpace any enemy fighter. The main feature of the design was its Daimler Benz DB606 (a pair of coupled DB601) engine buried deep in a lovely streamlined fuselage. First flown in 1937, the He 119 delivered the superb performance promised; one World Record included. Despite its guarantied potential, the aircraft proved to be just too unorthodox for the then conservative German Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Air Ministry). Only eight “Versuchs” models (prototypes) were produced, one of them as a seaplane.

The most outstanding feature of the design was its crew accommodation with the DB 606 extended shaft passing through the middle of that utterly German multifaceted glazing nose. That retractable radiator just made it irresistible.

Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8: A-verage W-inner.

Nicknamed “Big Ack”, this clumsy looking general purpose biplane was designed by a Dutch maverick, the aircraft designer Frederick Koolhoven. Both F.K.8 and the RAF R.E.8 entered service in early 1917 as a long overdue replacements for the “bloody” B.E.2. Of the two Koolhoven’s F.K.8 was the less-known, but not because of its qualities. Compared to its partner it was more rugged and handled better, yet it was even less sprightly than the already passable R.E.8. One thing both had in common, they shared the deadly inbuilt stability of the B.E.2. Notwithstanding the certain lacklustreness,  the F.K.8’s were well-received by their crews who appreciated they sturdiness, reliability and versatility.

A somehow dour F.K.8’s crew next to the lovely ultra-hideous nose of our protagonist. Ugliness apart, both the inverted V radiator and the V-shaped oleo-undercarriage suffered teething problems. That “A-W” logo is a touch I’ve always found really neat.

Pilatus P-2: German Nose.

This sturdy tandem two-seat basic trainer was designed in the early 1940’s to be easily operated from the high-altitude alpine airfields. The situation of Switzerland at that time, in the middle of WW2, determined its characteristics: mixed construction, German engines and the use of previous models parts. First flown in the Spring of 1945, the P-2’s only served with their home country air force and only around 50 were built, some of them armed. The Swiss operated them until 1981, a good testimony of the P-2’s qualities. Their main claim of fame is their later use on movies as “Luftwaffe” aircraft.

A magnificent surviving specimen here. Prominent the characteristic nose affair of the German Argus As 410 cowling and the finned spinner of the Argus “autopich” aircrew. The landing gear design is clearly taken from the Bf 109. Obvious why it didn’t looked out of place with Balkenkreuzs.

Photo: Pavel Vanka.

Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster: Dreams Processor.

The Mixmaster was originated by Douglas as a private venture attack bomber early in 1943. Curiously the USAF saw it as a potential, and inexpensive, substitute for the Boeing B-29(!!). Nothing was cheap or dull in the Mixmaster though. A twin-engined pusher aircraft with its two 1800hp Allison V-1710 engines placed beside each other behind the cockpit; their power reach the contra-rotating props via a pair of P-39’s drive shafts. The defensive armament was also unusual too: a pair of .50 HMG in each wing trailing edge fired through remotely controlled by the co-pilot.
First flown in the Spring of 1944, its performances were astonishing with a top speed in excess of 450mph. The fastest American bomber of its time, on one flight the XB-42 even set a transcontinental speed record with an average speed of 433mph. All weren’t rose though: vibration,stability and cooling problems were present. Anyway, as in other cases, WW2 ended and with it the pressing need of new bombing assets. Just two prototype were built. Jet propulsion was also clearly the future, and Douglas explored that with 2 further developments of this formula.

Spellbinding photo of XB-42 (43-50224) at Palm Springs, California -my guess. Clearly displayed here its original twin bubble canopies, one of the not so clever idea of this design. This cockpits layout hindered badly communications between the crew and soon replaced by a single bubble canopy. A less cooler option, that’s for sure.

Vought F-8H Crusader: The Last of the Gunslingers.

LT Jerry Pearson of the VF-24 (USS Hancock) displaying proudly the Crusader‘s “archaic” weaponry over the Gulf of Tonkin, 1969. After the F-8 guns were on their way out in American fighter aircraft inventory…., a serious and hated mistake. They came back.

Of note that little hatch under the fuselage that opened each time the Mk.12 cannons were fired to vent the dangerous explosive gases.