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Nashua, NH Offers A Cozy Fit For “FIFI”, CAF

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Nashua is the second most populated city in the state of New Hampshire, and within an hour’s drive from the larger cities of Manchester and Boston, Massachusetts. Boire Field, Nashua’s municipal airport, is categorized by the FAA as a general aviation reliever airport, and averages about a thousand flight operations each week. Aircraft based at Nashua include corporate jets, helicopters, and hundreds of general aviation planes that operate from a paved, 6000 foot long by 100 foot wide runway.

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Nashua has become one of the stops of the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) AirPower History Tour over the past few years. In early June, 2016 the world’s only flying Boeing B-29, “FIFI”, plus a pair of other CAF aircraft, descended into Nashua for a five day-long history seminar. A Beech C-45 Expeditor named “Bucket of Bolts” accompanied the Superfortress to Nashua from its previous appearance in Pennsylvania, and the world’s only flying Curtiss SB2C Helldiver joined them, gracing the ramp in front of Nashua’s control tower building, for the weekend.

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The CAF is a large organization spread across the four corners of the U.S., and is broken down into units called “squadrons”. According to their web site, “The B-29/B-24 Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force brings together the aircraft, pilots and crews from over 70 CAF units across the country to create the AirPower Squadron – an ever changing assortment of military aircraft touring together to bring the sights, sounds and smells of World War II aviation history to audiences across the United States.” Scores of CAF volunteers keep the Tour on the road and help to explain the mission of the aircraft, and the Commemorative Air Force. Some fly with the planes as they move between airports, others drive the logistical vehicles on the ground, which includes a trailer carrying merchandise available at each stop. There’s much pride and determination shown, as these volunteers present such important pieces of American aviation heritage across the country.

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Hundreds of people from the local area… military veterans, historians, and those curious about the sounds of big radial engines in the air, descended onto the airport. Admission to the ramp area provided tours of the aircraft while they were parked. Small groups of spectators could stand up in FIFI’s opened bomb bays and hear a brief history of the airplane, then climb a ladder into the flight deck area to look at the cockpit.

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Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, N92879, Nashua (7154.2)

For a (reasonable) fee, one could take a ride in a real, operating warbird too. The Beech flew throughout the week, while the Helldiver flew from Friday through Sunday. FIFI flew twice on Saturday and Sunday mornings too. Not surprisingly, the B-29 rides sold out each flight, while the other aircraft flew frequently, “as needed”.

1945 B-29 Superfortress, FIFI, NX529B, in Nashua (7319)

Operating a 50-ton prop-driven warbird from the airport presented some rather unique challenges, but offered some exciting opportunities for the CAF to present its brand of a living history lesson. I was lucky to be able to correspond with David Oliver, the Director of Operations of the Commemorative Air Force, and one of a select group of aviators who pilot FIFI. Here are his thoughts about a few questions I posed, before FIFI arrived in Nashua.

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What is a “routinely normal” runway size for the aircraft? What challenges does Nashua present to you?
“The B-29 is not a small aircraft by any measure. Most airports for large aircraft have wide and long runways. The problem is that large airports are not friendly, they don’t invite you in. Instead they keep you out with fences and security. Nashua is a perfect airport for the B-29 because it invites you in. I got my start in aviation because the airport was an inviting place for young people. So the CAF has a challenge to find airports that have a runway long enough and still be inviting and this is why we chose Nashua, for example. It has a runway long enough and yet friendly enough to have the public invited out to the airport to experience history. Technically speaking we always require, at a minimum, 6000 feet of runway. Putting a 100,000 pound airplane on 6,000 feet can be challenging and that is why we select only the best pilots in America.”

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Are there any special loading restrictions needed to allow FIFI to operate from Nashua’s runways, with its operating restrictions (displaced threshold, etc)?
“Interestingly enough the B-29 was built to operate from gravel and dirt runways. In the South Pacific the B-29 flew from crushed coral runways and they did it very successfully. The larger double tires and special diamond tread make this type of operation possible. Most think FIFI will crush their runway but the truth is that it won’t at all. The restrictions of the airport always vary but we have never had any issues. Thresholds can make some approaches interesting but we always use all the available runway that we can.”

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What would you (the pilot) say are the most demanding maneuvers for the pilot in the aircraft?
“Typically in training we always train to the worse-case scenario. This means we could have engine failures, and two engine failures on the same side of the aircraft is definitely a bad situation. Your final maneuver before you are qualified as a new captain is to demonstrate a successful approach with only two engines still running. It can get quite interesting and there is no go-around. You are committed to landing once you get below a certain altitude.”

Is there another airplane that you’ve flown that is similar in handling to the B-29? How easy is it for the flight crew members to manage the aircraft, compared to say, a C-47 or DC-6?
“The B-29 is a fairly simple airplane despite its size. Our Maintenance crew chiefs are the best in the business and they know the airplane well. We travel with a full time crew chief all the time and they are constantly working on something. We always say that FIFI is better maintained than most commercial aircraft. We estimate there are 100 man hours of maintenance for each flight hour. It is a labor of love and our volunteers do it joyfully.”

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Any quirks about the airplane that are unusual and interesting to tell readers?
“It would have been nice if they installed power steering. Instead only cables and pulleys steer the airplane and there is no hydraulic assist. This means the average B-29 pilot has large biceps and you might develop a sweat. We compare it to driving an 18 wheeler with about 9 flats. But I don’t let me give you the impression I’m complaining. You won’t miss a moment when I’m flying that I don’t have a smile on my face.”

Have you (the pilot) or anyone you’ve spoken with ever stalled the aircraft – intentionally or otherwise?
“Absolutely. During training maneuvers we take the aircraft to the verge of a stall and bring it back. We don’t have any simulators that accurately represent a B-29 so we practice all of our training maneuvers in the real aircraft. No doubt it can get exciting but it is important to know and recognize the stall before it happens.”

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I’d like to include a bit on anecdotal information too… like what speed is a normal landing speed, liftoff speed, max weight you’ll ever fly with…
“We normally lift off around 120mph. We approach at about the same speed. All engines combined are about 8000 horse power and we burn about 400 gallons per hour of very expensive aviation fuel. Max weight is 145,000 pounds but we rarely fly it heavier than about 90,000 pounds. In fact FIFI has lost weight over the years as we removed some armor plating below the floors which nobody ever saw. This helps make the airplane safer to fly and perform fantastically.”

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Interestingly, the flight and ground crews took many visible safety precautions when FIFI flew. The local Nashua Fire Department crews were briefed about special needs and systems on the B-29, and were on hand to deal with any issues of that sort when FIFI was started up for each flight. All four of FIFI’s engines were started while she sat on the ramp, but the outboard pair were shut down before taxiing, as the wings and those engines sat over unpaved portions, and near taxiway lights, enroute to the runway. When the B-29 lined up on the runway, the outboard pair were restarted, and off she went.

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If one had a ride coming up in one of the trio of warbirds, detailed pre-flight briefings were held planeside. FIFI’s pressurization systems are not operational any more, and the other pair never had the capability in the first place. In any case, none of the three aircraft on hand never climb to altitudes where oxygen/pressurization is needed.

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After Nashua, the AirPower History Tour would continue on a westward trek that would stop at Albany NY, Pittsburgh PA, South Bend IN, Aurora IL, Dubuque IA, and Janesville WI, before arriving for the EAA Airventure in Oshkosh WI at the end of July. After that, a full dozen more stops would be made before the Tour ends in Texas in mid-October.

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This is the second consecutive year that the AirPower History Tour has stopped in Nashua, and all of the volunteers that I spoke with were enthused about the reception and spectator turn out at Boire Field. Not only is the Tour a great opportunity for veterans and historians to gather at and learn from, but it presents history to younger generations that just might be attracted to aviation as a career and indeed, a passion through life. Like the third grader next to me watching FIFI depart… he recited the names of all of the World War II airplanes he’d ever seen, and had ridden in a few of them too (smart parents!). For the city of Nashua and the airport users, it presented an opportunity to attract people from all walks of life who could catch a glimpse of an already vibrant airport offering something very special and definitely out of the ordinary.

Special thanks go out to Kim Pardon, who arranged to have my questions answered by David, and who took the time during my visit to explain to me how the AirPower History Tour operates, what it costs (in dollars and in “people hours”) to present this living history exhibit each tour, and how volunteers make the Tour happen. Also, to David Oliver, who took the time to answer my questions about FIFI and how the B-29 handles – what a great job to have! 

 

Bill Sarama’s Quonset Point Weekend

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Well, I had a little fun this last weekend. I went up to what is officially called the “Rhode Island National Guard Air Show 2016″, held at the Quonset Point State Airport on beautiful Narragansett Bay. Located about 8 miles north of Newport, Rhode Island, it’s the home of raspberry pants, raspberry drinks and raspberry salsa fish dinners – and a few fancy sailboats. But not at this air show. The scene here is strictly airplanes and cheeseburgers to go with red metal bottles of Bud, the main show sponsor. Until about 1973, this airport was Naval Air Station Quonset Point, one of the largest air stations on the east coast. It supported aircraft carrier operations and was, until its closing, home base to at least two Fast Attack Aircraft Carriers that docked at the long Carrier Pier. That structure still exists near the end of the main Runway 16/34. To the southwest, on the other side of Point Judith, was Auxiliary Landing Field Charlestown with its three runways that supported Carrier Qual Ops for NAS Quonset Point. Now it is a State Park, with some of the old runways still in place – a great place to do aviation archeology exploring.

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Back in the 1940’s there was a student pilot who trained here who went on to become a President and have a nuclear aircraft carrier named after him – George H.W. Bush. Now the state airport hosts  mostly military operations; the 143rd Airlift Wing of the RI Air National Guard with their C-130J Super Hercs and the RI Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility for the 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment flying the UH-60 Blackhawks. If you want some details, Runway 16/34 is 7,504 x 150 ft and Runway 5/23 Is 4,000 X 75 ft. And another interesting local fact: The recently retired aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) will soon be coming to the Coddington Naval Pier, just above the Naval War College in Newport. The JFK is to become a museum ship with a flight deck and hanger bay filled with historic navy aircraft. Just another thing to see when you come up to future air shows — Stand By!!!

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OK — Back to the air show. There were not that many visiting current military aircraft here on static display. There were four — a T-38A Talon and a T-6A Texan up from the 80th FTW at Sheppard AFB, a blue VIP UH-1N from the 316th Wing at Andrews AFB and a C-17A from the 305/514 AMW at JB McGuire. Quonset always has a way to fill up the ramp with airplanes even when there are few visitors, and they did a good job again this year. The home town team 143rd AW had a static C-130J on the show ramp, and the Rhode Island Army National Guard displayed two UH-60 Blackhawks from the RI ARNG 1/126th. Single examples of vintage Hughes OH-6 Cayuse “Loach”, Bell AH-1A Cobra, and a Bell UH-1H Huey looked almost ready to fly again, and another displayed Huey done up in VT-ARNG Southeast Asia colors was in the movie “The Purge”.

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An Evergreen Airways Boeing B-747, which is rumored to become part of a new museum of  Air Force One artifacts, and three flight school planes rounded out the static display.

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Seven planes were brought over from the Quonset Air Museum; my favorite museum plane continues to be the A-6E Intruder from VA-34 “Blue Blasters” still in its original low-viz grey scheme. The Quonset Air Museum has six more aircraft at their hanger; I wish they would hurry up and get that F-4 Phantom painted up – it looks in pretty good shape. Editor’s note: just prior to the air show, the possible lack of state and private funding for a desired alternative site for the Museum, after it was evicted from its condemned hangar (structural failure of the WWII-era building) added uncertainty to the Museum’s continued presence at the airport or next air show… In the air, the USAF Thunderbirds cancelled for the weekend because of their recent non-lethal crash of Thunderbird 6 – a big blow to the organizers, but understandable. That left the main attraction at Quonset to be the F/A-18C Hornet Demo Team of VFA-106 “Gladiators”, up from NAS Oceana with two birds (AD 300 and 302).  Three 143rd AW C-130s were on the Hot Ramp with one flying for the US Special Operations Command flag drop and jump team (call sign “RHODY32″).

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The hot ramp, besides the Hornets and Hercs, featured warbird representation in the form of an F-4U Corsair and an A1E Skyraider from the Collings Foundation, down from their stable of airplanes headquartered in Stowe Mass., the beautiful silver and yellow T-33 Shooting Star “Ace  Maker” in Korean War combat colors, and Mark Murphy’s P-51D Mustang “Never Miss”. A Douglas C-47 “Skytrain” up from the American Air Power Museum in Long Island, flew for the Disabled American Veterans – DAV – veterans support organization. Civilian performers included the Jack Link – sponsored red Jet Waco  bi-plane “Screamin’ Sasquatch”, Mark Murphy’s restored CAP-10 aerobatic plane from the “French Connection” pair who used to fly in the Northeast in the 80s, and finally two Extra-300s and one MXS-RH stunt planes. Later the three aerobatic planes and the P-51D Mustang combined to do a “Missing Man Formation” in honor of the recent air show deaths of Bill Gordon in the Hudson River during Fleet Week in May, and Blue Angels Number 6 Solo Pilot Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss crashing during a recent practice show in Tennessee. What’s good about going to the Quonset Air Show is that it is right near Newport, with all of its great restaurants and wharfs and sights to see around Narragansett Bay. I had some great dinners at the “Red Parrot”, a wonderful “Lemon Blueberry Tart” Mason Jar Cocktail at the Smokehouse Cafe right on the Harbor, saw some great sunsets at Bannister’s Wharf, had a nice Hot Fudge Sundae at Ben & Jerry’s, did the 12-Mile Newport Mansions Drive (without the 3 mile Cliff Walk!), stayed at a great AirBnB, and navigated a great departure flight plan south along Scenic Route 1-A through Narragansett Village, Point Judith, Galilee, Jerusalem (really!), the old runways at NAS Charlestown (“Charlietown”), and finally driving along the cliffs of Watch Hill before hitting the boring I-95 drive south with its crazy traffic. Yes, it was a fun weekend!!!

Recovery efforts continue in icy conditions

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Douglas C-124 Globemaster II similar to the aircraft that crashed.

By Capt. Anastasia Wasem
Alaskan Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – “The number one goal is to collect human remains, to have them identified and bring closure to family members,” said Capt. Jason Collier, Alaskan Command Operation Colony Glacier project officer.

Collier is referring to Operation Colony Glacier, an annual mission to recover remains, wreckage and debris from the 1952 crash of a U.S. Air Force C-124 Globemaster II onto Colony Glacier.

Fifty-two military members lost their lives when the C-124 went down on Mt. Gannett just 40 miles from its destination, then Elmendorf Air Force Base. And even though it’s been 64 years, the search for remains and wreckage continues every summer by personnel from Alaskan Command, the Alaska National Guard, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, U.S. Army Alaska, 673d Air Base Wing, 3d Wing and Detachment 1, 66th Training Squadron.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster for me,” said Tonja Anderson-Dell, granddaughter of Isaac William Dell, Sr., a 21-year old Airman that died when the plane crashed. Anderson-Dell is still hoping to have the remains of her grandfather identified and returned to her family.

“It keeps me driven. I want to bring him back home,” said Anderson-Dell about the wait to hear that her grandfather’s remains have been found. “I wanted to come out, give them [the recovery team] some support and let them know that the families are there and want to thank them for all the hard work they’re doing. They’re taking a big risk for us.”

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Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots, Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Friend, left, and Maj. Todd Miller, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, approach the Chugach Mountains while conducting flight operations during Operation Colony, Alaska, June 4, 2016

The icy landscape, unpredictable weather and the ever-changing environment of the glacier presents very unique challenges to the mission.

“It’s not a daily task. Safety is paramount here. We put this team together a year ago; we sent people to mountaineer training,” said Allen Cronin, AFMAO Past Conflicts branch chief. “It’s difficult. It’s different. It’s different from other recoveries because it’s ever changing. Three days ago it [the glacier] looked different. Today you see humps and crevasses that are wider from three days ago.”

A joint effort and diverse team is essential to the success of this mission. The operation requires diverse skills, jobs and expertise from the Air Force, Army and Alaska National Guard to safely complete the recovery each summer.

“Absolutely, it’s worth the risk,” said Collier on the dangers of the mission and the glacier. “There are still 20 servicemembers that haven’t been identified and their family members are hoping to get them back. Some of them were a 1- or 2-year-old daughter or son whose father perished. There are still some parents alive whose son was on the flight that was an 18- or 19-year-old Airman. It definitely brings closure.”

On that fateful day in November 1952, the aircraft took off from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., with 42 Airmen, eight Soldiers, one Marine and one Sailor onboard. As the plane neared its destination, dangerous weather caused the plane to crash. A search party was dispatched and the aircraft’s tail was spotted, but the harsh Alaskan conditions forced the recovery effort to be suspended. The wreckage remained buried and hidden at the base of Mt. Gannett until June 9, 2012 when an Alaska Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew noticed debris while on a training mission.

Since 2012, 32 of 52 servicemembers have been recovered, identified and returned home.

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An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter lands on top of Colony Glacier near Anchorage, Alaska to pick up personnel as part of Operation Colony Glacier

Dependent on the constantly changing weather of the glacier, this year’s operation is being conducted from June 1 to 30 and will likely be conducted during the same timeframe next year as well.

“As long as the glacier keeps producing remains and aircraft parts and pieces we’re going to keep doing the mission,” stated Collier.

Editors note: May we never forget the victims’ sacrifice, and the efforts of the recovery teams to “bring them home”.

Still Kicking After 50 Years

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North American Aviation/Rockwell’s OV-10 Bronco won a U.S. military competition for a Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LARA) which was announced in 1963. The LARA requirements included improvements over the current observation aircraft of the period, namely Cessna O-1 Bird Dog and O-2 Skymaster aircraft. The U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy were all involved in the bid’s requirements. Almost a dozen concepts were entered in this competition, and in August, 1964, the North American Rockwell NA-300 entry was chosen as the winner, although the Army later settled on Grumman’s OV-1 Mohawk for their needs. The NA-300 design had been initiated, before the bid process began, by former Marine aviators William Beckett and K. P. Rice, as a close air support aircraft capable of operating in a jungle environment at the front lines of a conflict.

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