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By Lou Washington

Lou Jesse HallThis past week the Boeing 707 reached its 60th birthday. The 707 was not the first pure jet passenger transport in the air. But, it was such a huge commercial success that it attained a kind of iconic status among the flying public.

For many of us, the 707 would be the first jet aircraft we would fly. It was a ground breaking airplane. Boeing had not spent much time building or designing passenger transport aircraft after the war. The military kept them busy developing the B-47 and B-52 long range strategic bombers. Both of these aircraft featured technology and design elements incorporated in the non-military 707.

During my young life, I had occasion to fly now and then. Prior to the 707, I had flown in DC-3s, DC-7s and perhaps a Convair of some sort, but the model number was not of any significance to me at the time.

Air travel in these larger prop powered aircraft was pleasant enough. Yes, they were loud and there was a lot more vibration then you typically feel in a modern jet. But the big deal about the 707 was the speed. The 707 cruised at a rate in the neighborhood of 600 mph. That my friend, was very fast to most of the flying public.

By comparison, a Connie or a DC-7 cruised around 350 mph. A little better than half the speed of the four engine 707.

The effect of this was to shrink the world by about half. What used to be a ten hour cross country flight meant you could now fly five hours west in the morning, conduct your business in the afternoon and 707 st louistake the red-eye back east in time for work the next day. Flying the same route in a prop job, would require a day out, a day onsite and a day back.For business and sales folks, this was huge.

I remember vividly my first flight in a jet and it was, of course a Boeing 707. I was about 13 years old and I was lucky enough to be included on a class trip to Washington DC and New York City. I was just thrilled.

Standing on the tarmac at St Louis Lambert Field, The huge TWA 707 seemed to stretch out across my entire field of view. Flying was markedly different in those days. Upon entering the airplane the flight attendant took us to our seats. Once I was buckled in, I inspected the content of the seat pocket in front of me. In addition to the magazine and emergency procedure card, each passenger was provided with a 5 pack of Winston cigarettes! Of course, I was too young to partake.

My memories of the flight are vague, but I do remember that there was a pronounced feeling of acceleration that lasted somewhat longer than the acceleration phase in a prop. The other big difference was altitude. The 707 flew miles above the Earth, while the prop transports had a considerably lower operational ceiling.

This made most of the ground features all but invisible in the jet. But the ride was was sublime! Flying in the 707 after riding in a big prop transport was like riding in a Lincoln Towncar after spending days riding in a poorly maintained buckboard pulled by an ornery mule.

I have included a couple oScan 11f snapshots from my first jet voyage. I always enjoyed flying the 707 during my road warrior days in the ’80s. It was not my favorite, but part of the reason for that was it became increasingly rare as the ’80s moved on toward the nineties.

Boeing built the last 707 in 1979. A 21 year production run for a commercial airplane was phenomenal in those days. After starting production in 1958, Boeing turned out about 1,000 of the four engine 707s. According to Wikipedia, there were ten 707s still in commercial service as of 2013.

The plane figured prominently in the book and original “Airport” movie. If you have a chance to watch the original “Airport” (Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy) you will get an idea of just how fond people were of the 707.

The 707 also stared in an episode of The Twilight Zone. The speed of the aircraft inspired the author to write about a 707 that inadvertently traveled in time. Upon arrival at Idelwild (now known as New York JFK) on Long Island, they find a jungle full of dinosaurs rather than a nice modern airport.

The big Boeing was featured in popular music of the time as well. Gordon Lightfoot’s song, Early Morning Rain, uses the 707 as an image of escape from the cruel realities of life, “stuck here on the ground”  His lyrics tell us of the “big 707 set to go”.    He completes this image with, “Hear the mighty engines roar, see the silver bird on high, she’s away and westward bound, far above the clouds she’ll fly.”

The 707 was quite a show off in real life too. During a meeting of airline executives in Seattle, Boeing arranged to have their demo 707 do a fly by for the executive’s benefit. The test pilot at the controls, put the plane in a full roll during the fly by.

The You Tube link is well worth the time not only to watch the big plane perform this, but to hear the pilot’s son describe the event is very cool.

Boeing 707 Barrel Roll

So, here’s to Boeing! Here’s to the 707! What a great airplane!

By Lou Washington

If you travel with any frequency, you may have had the experience of finding yourself accidentally standing in the middle of some place that has been associated with some particular historical event. I’m not referring to an intentional trip to some battlefield or monument. I mean the times you are driving or walking along and unexpectedly see something that tells you that you are in a hallowed place.

I remember one such occasion during a business trip to Dallas, Texas. We were driving around downtown Dallas looking for the free way entrance so we could return to our suburban hotel. We pulled around a corner and my first impression was a brief feeling of familiarity, then it struck me that we were in the middle of Dealey Plaza. All the images in my mind of the Kennedy assassination suddenly filled in my view. The overpass, the book depository building and the large Hertz sign were there almost frozen in time.

On another occasion I was in London and was changing buses near a place called Marble Arch. Standing on the sidewalk, I noticed a small sign that was a commemorative plaque for the martyrs of Tyburn. Tyburn was a notorious place of public execution in London for many centuries. It was not difficult of hear the echoes of the mob as they cheered on the executioners as they went about their work.

Several years ago, Barbara and I were on vacation. We had just completed a car show in Myrtle Beach and we wanted to find a nice quiet place to just decompress for a few days. Barb found a wonderful destination for us, Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is the southern most inhabited island in the group making up the Outer Banks just off the Carolinas here in the States.

Most of Ocracoke is deserted. A small village is located on the southern end and is built around a harbor which hosts a ferryboat landing. There are no bridges between the mainland and Ocracoke, you have to travel there by ferry. The village also hosts a number of smallish motels and restaurants. There are numerous shops offering a variety of nautical themed items and local crafts.

For people who are just interested in knocking around for a few days, ignoring the time of day and forgetting about work, Ocracoke is perfect.

Being a history buff, I was intrigued by the fact that Ocracoke was the site of the final act in the illustrious career of Edward Teach, otherwise know as Blackbeard. But, as we found out, Blackbeard was not the islands only claim to maritime fame.

The British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island

As we were exploring during our first morning on the island, we encountered a unassuming sign that pointed us down a lane to the British Cemetery. I had that strange feeling that once again I was going to find myself standing in the middle of a bit history.

Our curiosity was piqued so we headed down the lane. After little more than a couple of hundred yards, we found ourselves standing in front of a small, meticulously maintained cemetery. A Union Jack flew from a mast next to four graves which were located behind a neat white fence.

A small plaque related the story of the British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island.

HMT Bedfordshire

On 17 July, 1935 The Smith’s Dock Co. of Middlesbrough, England launched a brand new commercial fishing trawler at Teesside. She was not a large ship, only displacing 443 tons, she measured 162 feet from bow to stern. Her beam was just 27 feet. She was christened Bedfordshire.

Her life as a commercial fisherman was short. In 1939 the British Admiralty knew the world was fast approaching a time of European instability if not outright hostility. They were all to familiar with the effectiveness of German U-boats from the previous world war. To counter this threat they embarked upon an aggressive plan to build out fleet vessels capable of countering the U-boats.

Anti-submarine vessels needed to to be fast, agile and able to carry depth charges. The Bedfordshire may have been designed for commercial fishing, but she was also an ideal platform for anti-submarine warfare. The Admiralty bought her in 1939 and outfitted her with a 4 inch gun, a machine gun and the requisite equipment for hauling and launching depth charges.

It was only a matter of months until His Majesty’s Trawler Bedfordshire was earning her keep in the Royal Navy patrolling British waters, ever vigilant for the hidden menace beneath the waves.

As the war spun up in earnest in Europe, across the Atlantic, the U.S. continued to ponder how they should become involved. There was no question that support for our allies was required in the European theatre of operations. Armament, supplies and other material was shipped across the Atlantic in support of England.

The attack on Pearl Harbor had decimated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The prospect of fighting a war in both the Pacific and the North Atlantic as part of a general European war effort was not something that the U.S. was immediately prepared to do.

Meanwhile the Kriegsmarine was making its presence known to American shipping. In early 1942 over 30 ships were lost off the American coast to German U-boat actions. The U.S. Navy did not have anything in their inventory to protect our supply ships during their Atlantic transit to England.

The Royal Navy dispatched 24 ships to the U.S. Coastal waters to help defend the commercial fleet from the onslaught of U-Boat attacks. One these 24 ships was HMT Bedfordshire.

The deadly attacks continued with devastating effectiveness. By the end of April, 1942 an additional 45 ships were lost.

Bedfordshire was ported at Morehead City, NC. On May 10th, she was tasked with searching and destroying German submarines believed to be patrolling in the immediate area. She weighed anchor and put to sea in search of her underwater prey. She left port minus one sailor, Sam Nutt.

Sam had been arrested the evening before by the local authorities in Morehead City. After spending the night as a guest of the City of Morehead, Sam was released without being charged with any particular infraction. However, Bedfordshire had long since sailed so he began looking for a “ride” to hopefully meet up with Bedfordshire at sea and re-join his crew.

HMT Bedfordshire was never seen again by friendly forces. Early in the morning, the good ship met her fate.

The U-558, Kapitanleutnant Gunther Krech commanding, was conducting operations in the waters off Ocracoke Island. She had a busy night and had already attempted one strike against the British ship Loman. The Loman managed to escape and evade the U-588.

Kapitan Krech then engaged the Bedfordshire off Ocracoke Island at 5:40 am, May 11th. The initial torpedo was a clean miss. A second shot was taken and the result was a direct hit. The Bedfordshire sank immediately taking her entire crew of 37 men with her to the bottom.

On shore, no one really knew what had happened. Nearly ten days passed and two bodies washed up on the shore of Ocracoke Island. They were identified as crew members of the Bedfordshire. This served to confirm suspicions that the good ship had met her end. After two additional bodies were found later in May, there was no doubt that Bedfordshire had gone down.

Four Markers for Four Sailors

The four bodies were interred on Ocracoke Island in what would be come the British Cemetery. The good folks of Ocracoke Island as well as the U.S. Coast Guard maintain and keep the cemetery. It has been officially transferred to and falls under the auspices of the British government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by means of a lease in perpetuity.

I have been to many war monuments and seen many military cemeteries during my life. But, this little patch of ground, smaller than our living room, touched me deeply. Four small but immaculate graves. Someone, somewhere no doubt had waited and waited for years on end for a homecoming that never happened.

Most war cemeteries contain hundreds or thousands of markers for the fallen. The scale of the tragedy is so overwhelming that the you become numb to the numbers. It’s almost as if the vast numbers of dead somehow share the weight of the war making it easier for each individual.

But here, on Ocracoke, those four men, were forever removed from their homes and loved ones. On that night, they paid the full price and along with their shipmates bore the entire weight of that war.

This was indeed a hallowed place.

By Lou Washington

Last Saturday I took a trip up to Dayton, Ohio and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Wright-Pat is the home of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. For a fellow like me, one who loves aircraft; this is the ultimate museum experience. If it ever flew, or even if it didn’t fly but was supposed to fly, there is a good chance they have it here at Wright-Pat.

The museum spans virtually the entire history of powered flight. Starting with the Wright Flyer and other examples of those fragile machines that first took people into the sky under the control of the occupant; the displays continue through the years of Worlds War 1 and 2 and finally move into the Cold War era and into present day.

For the most part, each machine is displayed within the context of the world in which it existed. For this reason, the museum offers a vivid history of the assorted conflicts that troubled our world over the last century. Yes, it was a bloody and horrifying century for humanity, but, it was also a century of incredible innovation and technological growth. At least, much of that war inspired innovation also drove vast improvements in the everyday lives of many people.

When you look at the time line that links aviation advancements and innovations together over the course of past 110 years, you can’t help but be amazed at the rapid and dramatic rate that this technology has developed. In less than twenty years, airplanes went from being constructed of wood and fabric to aluminum and sheet steel. It took less than fifty years for airplanes to raise their top speed from less than 10 MPH to exceeding the speed of sound.

Capacity and size also changed with equally dramatic increases.

The museum does not restrict its collection to US Air Force aircraft. You will find a fabulous assortment of aircraft from Germany, France, England, Russia, Japan, Canada and others. There are a few UAVs, missiles and historical spacecraft available for viewing as well.

A museum annex houses some of the more exotic pieces in the collection. One gallery houses aircraft that played an important role in R&D and experimental aircraft. An adjacent hanger house several presidential aircraft from the Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Nixon administrations.

The weight of history is a palpable force felt upon entering almost any of the seven galleries making up the museum. So many of these aircraft became icons associated with the most significant events of the twentieth century.

Viewing the Huey chopper or the F4 Phantom brings the Viet Nam era back to life. One can almost hear the rotors thropping and feel the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. A scarred project Apollo capsule makes you wonder incredulously at the thought that this device actually orbited around the Moon and brought three guys back to their families here on planet Earth.

For me, there are two aircraft that always stand out above the others. In the World War 2 Gallery, the B-29 dominates a substantial percentage of the display. Even more impressive from the stand point of sheer size is the humongous B-36 with its wing span the extends fully from one side of the hanger to the other.

The B-29 will of course forever be associated with the end of the war with Japan. The bomber served as the

B-29

The Boeing B-29

delivery vehicle for the only two atomic weapons ever used in war. In some ways that is too bad because this plane played a huge role in the development of aviation technology.

The B-29 program did not get off to a great start. In Warren Kozak’s excellent biography of Curtis Lemay, the magnitude of the program to develop this airplane is thoroughly examined.

Unlike other bombers, or heavy transports, the B-29 would feature a pressurized cabin. The size of this plane was magnitudes larger than anything currently in service. The plane was designed to operate at much higher altitudes than other aircraft of that era as well. All of that complexity, new technology and the politics of the time combined to make the B-29 program an ongoing, never-ending crisis.

Kozak quotes Army historian Irving Brinton Holley, Jr stating that there were nearly 1,200 engineering changes made to the design before the first plane rolled off the assembly line. The plane was supposed to have something on the order of 55,000 individual parts. All together, the cost of the B-29 program exceeded the cost of the Manhattan Project itself.

In building the B-29, Boeing laid the foundation for the modern airliner. Design elements and techniques developed for the B-29 are found in virtually all heavy transport aircraft flying today.

The other airplane that always takes my breath away is the Convair B-36. This airplane was developed as the first intercontinental bomber. It was deployed early in the cold war years, but, it was initially envisioned for use against Germany in the event that British airfields would not be available to stage bombing missions against the Nazi state.

Convair Vultee B-36

The B-36 was also unconventional. It was, like the B-29 much large than any previous aircraft. It employed six 28 cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engines. These engines were reverse mounted on the trailing side of the wing in a pusher configuration. To provide additional power on take off and during bombing runs, the airplane boosted an additional four pure jet turbine engines from General Electric. All of that power gave the plane an incredible payload capability.

In its final production configuration, the B-36 was a cold war machine. An incredible cruising range, a ceiling making it nearly immune to the threat of fighters and surface to air missiles, a bomb bay capable of handling the huge nuclear age weaponry that was used in that era; the B-36 was truly the first strategic bomber.

There are, of course, other aircraft that are just as fascinating in their own right. These two are the ones I’m always drawn to when I visit.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Dayton, Ohio I hope you will take a day, at least a day, and drop in to this wonderful monument to flight. It is open to the public and admission is free. You really can’t beat that.

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