North American F-82 Twin Mustang

Welcome to Warbird Wednesday! Today we are visiting the last night fighter, the North American F-82 Twin Mustang, which was originally designed as a long-range escort fighter for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress in WWII. This aircraft was introduced in 1946, after the war had ended. With fast speeds of about 460 mph, this aircraft was dominantly used in Strategic Air Command. They were also heavily used in the Korean War; the first three aerial victories over North Korea were made by American F-82s. They were 272 models built, retiring in 1953.

Claude Davis

Tuskegee Airman Claude Davis was a cadet in Class 44-GTE. Class 44-GTE translates into the seventh class of 1944 for twin-engine pilot training. Claude and the rest of the class were training to be B-25 Mitchell pilots and aircrew.

The first ten weeks of classes were considered “pre-flight.” This is when they learned about using the radio, basic meteorology, navigation, etc. Then came primary flight training where the cadets flew with their instructors in Stearman PT-17 biplanes or Fairchild PT-19 Cornells. Once the cadet had learned enough to show the instructor that they could safely take off, fly around a bit and then land the airplane, the instructor would allow them to fly solo.

Then they would go through basic training in the Vultee BT-13, learning how to fly a more complex airplane. In the BT-13, they would start making cross-country flights and learn some basic combat tactics.

The last step in the process was advanced training. For a twin-engine pilot, advanced training was in the Beechcraft AT-10, a twin-engine airplane made specifically for twin-engine instruction.

When they had successfully completed all of this flight training, they were introduced to the B-25 Mitchell bomber. For Claude Davis, this took place at Douglas Army Air base in Arizona. Claude loved the B-25. “That plane was great,” he recalled. “She was sweet – solid, easy to fly and very stable. We had to learn all about her – using oxygen in high altitudes, bombardment techniques, machine guns and so forth. It was great but really tough.”

All of Tuskegee’s twin-engine pilots and crews were now in the 477th Bombardment Group. The intent was to send the 477th into the Pacific War, but the war ended before they could deploy.

One great thing that all of this did was show 23-year-old Claude Davis that he could handle a B-25 with confidence. This confidence stayed with him the rest of his life, as it did with the rest of the 477th pilots.

Claude Davis in 2012 signing Stan Stoke's painting of Bob Friend’s P-51D “Bunny”.
Claude Davis in 2012 signing Stan Stoke’s painting of Bob Friend’s P-51D “Bunny”.

Bristol Beaufighter – Warbird Wednesday Episode #136

Welcome to Warbird Wednesday! Today we are visiting another night fighter, the Bristol Beaufighter. This multi-role aircraft was introduced in 1940 as a heavy fighter, having the ability to carry a torpedo, six machine guns and four cannons! The Beaufighter saw immediate success, leading to 5,928 models built and having 59 total squadrons. This effective aircraft was retired in 1960, leaving some models in museums and others still in various bodies of water throughout the world. 

Herman “Ace” Lawson

Herman Lawson was from the Fresno area of California. He attended Marysville High School where he picked up the nickname “Ace” as the schools star football player.

After having a ride in a friend’s airplane, Lawson became interested in becoming a pilot. He took flying lessons and upon getting his license, he became one of the first African Americans in Northern California to earn a private pilot’s license.

He tried to join the U.S. Army Air Corps, but was initially turned down. Not taking no for an answer, he wrote letters to Congress and to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. That did the trick and he was accepted into the Army, reporting for training at Tuskegee.

He was in Class 42-I-SE at Tuskegee Army Airfield where he received his wings becoming a fighter pilot. He was then assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron.

While flying combat in P-40 Warhawks, P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, Lawson earned the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew 133 missions in World War II’s European Theater including Greece, Bulgaria, Germany, Austria, France, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. He survived two engine failures while flying P-40s, one of these resulting in him ditching in the Mediterranean. Lawson later had another P-40 that he named “Ace of Pearls” named in honor of Lawson’s wife Pearl.

Herman “Ace” Lawson climbing into his P-40 Warhawk
Herman “Ace” Lawson climbing into his P-40 Warhawk

AT-6 Texan

In the flight training process, new cadets learned how to fly a small airplane, like a Piper Cub. After the Cub, they had dual instruction in an aircraft like the Boeing Stearman PT-17. At that point, they were transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field for basic training in the Vultee BT-13.
 
The final step for the cadets at Tuskegee Army Air Field was flying in the front seat of an AT-6 Texan advanced trainer. The instructor sat in the back seat. The AT-6 was the most complex aircraft that the cadet had flown while in training. It was big, powerful and rugged. The AT-6 had retractable landing gear and a constant speed prop. They both added to the complexity of flying the aircraft for the new pilot.
 
Once the instructor signed off the cadet to fly the AT-6 solo, the cadet went out flying by himself to practice his piloting skills. He did landings, take-offs, aerobatic maneuvers, and generally became more comfortable flying in the big advanced trainer.
 
Then came the cross-country flights. The instructor and the cadet flew cross-country, airport to airport. If the instructor was satisfied with the cadet’s ability, he then signed off the cadet’s log book and the new pilot started making solo cross-country flights. During this final phase of instruction, the young pilot became a master of his aircraft and, at least in his own mind, transitioned from being a student to becoming a pilot.
 
The last thing that the instructor did was get the new pilot prepared to fly a fighter. The instructor taught the cadet everything that he needed to know about flying a high-spirited, powerful fighter. The new fighter pilot would then climb into the fighter pilot’s seat and the instructor would turn him loose. The fighters were all single seat, so the first time a brand new pilot flew a fighter, it was solo.
The first class of cadets, Spanky Roberts, Benjamin O. Davis, Ed Gleed, Mac Ross, and Lemuel Curtis with their instructor who is explaining the complexities of the AT-6 to them.

Boulton Paul Defiant – Warbird Wednesday Episode #133

Welcome to Warbird Wednesday! Today we are visiting our third night fighter, the British built Boulton Paul Defiant. With its first flight in 1937, the Defiant was best at approaching and attacking other aircrafts from underneath. Their success during the night was obvious, as they would be able to sneak up without the enemies knowledge, leading to 1,064 models being built. They eventually were replaced, as there were numerous deaths and accidents. They went on to be used in gunnery training, target towing, electronic countermeasures and sea-air rescue, being completely retired in 1945.

 

332nd Ground Crew

 
While the pilots tended to get the glory, the often overlooked finely tuned fighter squadron are the people who make everything work. The ground crew are people who might not be talked about much, but are essential to the success of the squadrons and their pilots.
 
Without the skill of the aircraft maintainers, the airplanes weren’t going anywhere. They were as intense about their aircraft as the pilots were. Most crew chiefs considered the aircraft to be theirs and would just lend them to the pilots occasionally. They acquired a strong bond with their airplanes and the pilots that they let fly them.
 
P-51 Mustangs were as temperamental as the horse they were named after. Powered by a Packard built, Rolls Royce “Merlin” V-12 liquid-cooled engine, the P-51 mechanics were as highly trained as the pilots. There were also the armorers who had to keep the guns and ammunition in top working condition.
 
Generally, after all the maintenance had been finished, the person within the squadron that had some artistic talent would be put to work creating the nose art. In the painting above, one of Jack Holsclaw’s ground crew is adorning Jack’s P-51 with the name “Bernice Baby”, named after his wife Bernice.
An armorer of the 332nd carefully preparing his P-51 for its next mission.
An armorer of the 332nd carefully preparing his P-51 for its next mission.

Messerschmitt Bf 110 – Warbird Wednesday Episode #132

Welcome to Warbird Wednesday! Today we’re visiting another night fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 110, developed in Nazi Germany during WWII. Introduced in 1937, this fighter quickly became popular because it was heavier, had quicker speeds reaching up to 295 mph and could carry a large amount of weaponry. Later in WWII, it was developed into a radar-equipped night fighter, becoming the main night-fighting aircraft of Luftwaffe. After 6,170 models were built, the Bf 110 was retired in 1945.

 

Jack Daniels Holsclaw

In his senior year of college, Jack Holsclaw enrolled in the government sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program and earned his pilot’s license. On October 5, 1942, he enlisted in the army as a private. He entered pilot training at Tuskegee Army Airfield as a member of class 43-G-SE. After completing his training, he received his wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on July 28, 1943. Lieutenant Holsclaw received advanced training at Selfridge Field near Detroit, Michigan before his squadron was deployed to Italy in December 1943.

Lieutenant Holsclaw was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332d Fighter Group, an all-black pursuit squadron. Holsclaw named his favorite P-51 “Bernice Baby,” in honor of his wife.

On July 18, 1944, in an aerial battle over Italy, Holsclaw shot down two German fighters; for this action, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. By December 1944, Holsclaw had completed 68 combat missions, nearing the limit of 70. Then he became Assistant Operations Officer, an important administrative position that included aerial mission planning. In January 1945, Holsclaw was promoted to captain.

Captain Holsclaw returned to the United States in June 1945 to serve as Assistant Base Operations Officer at Godman Field in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Holsclaw went on to teach and conduct training duties. He was an instructor at the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at Tuskegee Institute and then Tennessee State College, Nashville. From May 1962 to the end of 1964, he served as Chief of Training Division, Sixth Air Force Reserve Region, at Hamilton Air Force Base, California.

On January 1, 1965, Lieutenant Colonel Holsclaw retired and received the Distinguished Service Medal for his training accomplishments. 

Jack Daniels Holsclaw WWII
In this photo, Jack Holsclaw is being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is the 2nd from the right..

George “Spanky” Roberts

Airman George “Spanky” Roberts had already received his pilot’s license in the Civilian Pilot Training Program when he entered flight training in the first class at Tuskegee, Alabama. It was July 1941 and the US Army wasn’t convinced that young black men would make good military pilots. There were 13 pilot cadets in the first class and only 5 made it to the end to become US Army Air Corps fighter pilots. George Roberts was one of those five.
 
The 99th Fighter Squadron was formed with the five new pilots being the initial pilots. This was to be an all black squadron from top to bottom.
 
They had been trained to fly P-40 Warhawks in preparation to go to war. As additional Tuskegee cadets graduated into being USAAF pilots, they all were assigned to the 99th until it was finally at full strength. George Roberts became their commanding officer.
 
George Roberts and the rest of the 99th were deployed to North Africa. They were attached to the 33rd Fighter Group that was based close to Morocco. They flew their first combat on June 2, 1943.
 
In February 1944, all of the Tuskegee trained pilots, including the 99th Fighter Squadron, deployed to Italy as the 332nd Fighter Group. Roberts, now with the rank of Major, was the initial CO of the 332nd, until Benjamin O. Davis arrived to assume command. An air base was built for the group at Ramitelli, Italy. This is where the “Tuskegee Airmen” really made a name for themselves, first flying P-47 Thunderbolts for a couple of months, then their fabulous P-51 Mustangs. Benjamin O. Davis was the CO of the 332nd, but on the occasion when he needed to go back to the US, George Roberts would step in to be the Commanding Officer of the 332nd.
 
George “Spanky” Roberts ended the war with over 100 combat missions flown. He then went on to serve in Korea and ended his military career in 1968 with over 6,000 hours of flight time and the rank of Colonel.
Col. George "Spanky" Roberts in WWII
Col. George “Spanky” Roberts in WWII
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