by Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bell Aircraft L-39 Color

22 December 2014 Update:  I asked Paul Faltyn of the Niagara Aerospace Museum if he could confirm that a color negative of this picture existed. They haven't found one yet but he reported that one of their volunteers, now deceased, had done some colorizing of Bell and Curtiss pictures. He also took the time to check in with a former Bell XS-1 engineer, Bill Swenson, now in his 90s but active. Bill said that the L-39s were olive drab: "He does not recall any of the (Bell) aircraft being painted anything other than green or silver other than the X series, Pin Balls, and a P-59 painted blue for the Navy."

So, are you going to believe Corky Meyer and Bill Swenson or your lying eyes? (Yes, this picture is "flopped" but I wanted to preserve the Niagara Falls Museum legend.)

Corky, who flew both L-39s, had told me, unequivocally, that they were painted "green". For more on the L-39 (and a correctly oriented picture with the blue cast removed) see

Thanks to Ted Smith for following up on the question and bringing this photograph to my attention.

Also, take the time to look at the Niagara Aerospace Museum's excellent Facebook page:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aircraft Pictorial #7: F4U-1 Corsair Vol 1

Dana Bell's long awaited monograph on the F4U-1 Corsair is finally available. There are many books and articles available on the F4U. I can say, because I have a goodly number of them in my collection, that none are quite as deeply researched or as sharply focused as this one is. It is a relatively slim volume, only 72 pages between the soft covers, but every page has a photo or illustration of interest, many of the former in color. I am very pleased to write that it contains information and facts about the Corsair of which I was previously unaware and should be taken as gospel, based on the depths that Dana has plumbed at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Archives. Most notable are these two: there was officially no F4U-1A and the cause for the Navy not deploying Corsairs on carriers initially was not due to unsatisfactory deck landing characteristics. (One proof Dana cites for the latter is an evaluation aboard Woverine that concluded it was very easy to land aboard; I may have missed Dana's mention of it but that carrier was one of the two converted side-wheeler excursion ships plying Lake Michigan as training carriers: it was not only short, it was slow.)

Some things this excellent volume is not: a compendium of war stories, list of squadron assignments, tables of performance attributes, or overall operational history. All that is available elsewhere. What it is: a detailed and well-illustrated document that describes the configuration, configuration changes, and color schemes (internal and external) of the so-called "Birdcage" Corsair during its initial flight test and operational usage, both U.S. and U. K. (Volume 2 will, Dana promises, cover the raised cockpit F4U-1, aka F4U-1A.) As such this work will not appeal to everyone, as fascinating as it is to me. If you are a Corsair fan, however, almost every page contains something of interest that you probably didn't know and likely is mentioned in no other Corsair reference.

For example, a picture of the early 20-gallon (your car's gas tank probably has less capacity) oil tank mentions that a larger tank was substituted to account for oil consumption on longer missions when greater endurance was provided by the addition of external tanks; however, a decal was placed on the larger tank to advise the ground crew not to fill it with more than 20 gallons of oil when external tanks weren't fitted in order to minimize weight. A revelation was the reason for the almost standard application of tape externally to the panel lines around the fuselage fuel tank. It turns out that it was to keep spilled gasoline out of the interior of the fuselage aft of the firewall when the tank was being filled because the result was sometimes a fire.

Some configuration details are only mentioned in passing or not fully illustrated, almost certainly due to the limitation on page count that these publications entail and the complexity of the subject. While Dana does provide some new information on the variations in F4U-1 radio antennas, not all of them, e.g. the early IFF antenna, are depicted in full. I can personally attest to how difficult it is to write about and illustrate that particular aspect because I tried to do so, with Dana's help and others', here:

If Dana hadn't thoughtfully sent me a copy, I would have been first in line to purchase one based on his previous work and personal knowledge of his research diligence and insistence on the use of primary-source documents.