Virginia plane

U S S West VirginiaI bought these two old snapshots from the same online trader although, oddly, they were offered for sale several months apart. They could have been taken on the same day by the same person but were not printed on the same photographic paper. They feature a seaplane, which I didn’t recognise, and the name ‘U.S.S. West Virginia’, which of course I did.

VirginiaPlane2sIn the period between World Wars, American battleships, and those of other navies, carried observation aircraft – ‘spotter planes’ – fitted with floats. Launched by catapult from the deck, they landed beside the ship when their mission was over and were retrieved by crane. This was skilled, dangerous work and easier said than done.

The original images were obviously personal snaps taken by one or more of the West Virginia’s crew, not the work of a Navy photographer, but after a quick rinse through software they scrubbed up looking like this

VirginiaPlane4

VirginiaPlane3

I’ll admit that U.S. Navy aircraft of the 1920s are not my strong point. In my defence, I can’t possibly know everything and that’s why we have search engines. I discovered two things
(1) there are more to sort through than you might imagine
(2) as all you aviation experts already know, this is a Vought OU-1 – standard equipment in the U.S. Navy for ten years from 1923 and an aircraft with a couple of notable firsts to its credit.

In 1924 it was the first plane to be catapulted off a battleship at night and, five years later, the first plane to dock with a dirigible (airship) in flight! “Why?”, I hear you ask. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum have several better quality images on their Flickr site and you can find a good photograph of USS Pennsylvania with two planes mounted aft on this well researched page about the short history of catapult aviation.

Two mysteries remain – the location of the photographs (if you can help with that, please leave a comment) and how did these personal souvenirs from an American battleship end up in New Zealand?

The West Virginia found fame later in life when she was sunk at Pearl Harbour, salvaged, rebuilt, and put back into the fight. She was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_1941_Virginia

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Two men can be seen on the superstructure, upper center. The mast of the USS Tennessee is beyond the burning West Virginia.
USN/AP via rarehistoricalphotos

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Boats and ‘Planes

This photograph came to me in an auction lot of miscellaneous images labelled “ships”.

Competing seaplanes in the 1929 Schneider Trophy air race.

Granted, there is a large motor yacht in the middle of the shot (flying an R.A.F. flag at the stern) but the real interest in the picture is the group of five streamlined seaplanes in the foreground. It didn’t take long to realize that these are the competitors in the Schneider Trophy air race held on the South coast of England in 1929. The two farthest from the camera are British Supermarine aircraft and the trio in the foreground make up the Italian team of Macchis. It’s a pity the photograph isn’t in colour, the Italian machines were painted bright red.

The Schneider Trophy.The trophy had been presented to the Aero Club of France by Jacques Schneider in 1912 for a competition open to all types of seaplane over a course determined in advance. This could be either in a straight line, a broken line, or over a circuit of not less than 150 nautical miles. A competitor winning three times out of five consecutive contests would keep the trophy permanently. The first race in 1913, won by France at just over 45 miles per hour, was a fairly low key affair but the contest soon attracted world wide attention and became the symbol of advanced technology and speed in the air. Soaring development costs eventually demanded government sponsorship and winning the trophy became a matter of national prestige. The Royal Air Force formed a special team, the High Speed Flight led by Squadron Leader Orlebar, to achieve that goal.

Britain had won in 1927 against an Italian team and, with the withdrawal of America, Germany and France in 1929, the stage was set for a rematch. The winner was aircraft number 2 in the picture, a Supermarine S.6 flown by Flight Lieutenant Richard Waghorn, followed by the Macchi M.52R of Warrant Officer Tommaso Dal Molin (number 4), and, in third place, the Supermarine S.5 (number 5) of Flight Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) D’Arcy Greig. David Masters described the scene in his book ‘On the Wing’ (1934).
“There must have been 1,000,000 people watching all round the course on September 7, 1929, which luckily turned out to be an ideal day. …..
One of the most thrilling moments was when Waghorn, seeing Dal Molin just ahead on a turn, sped after him and overtook him…… It was Waghorn’s race, with an average speed of 328.63 miles an hour, but he himself did not at first realize it. He was under the impression that he had another lap to go, so he went roaring on like a destroying demon”.

The ‘demon’ ran out of fuel and was forced to land short of his imagined finish line. When his support crew reached him – “He was cursing like anything over what he thought was his hard luck – “swearing like a trooper” is the way Orlebar described his language – and his relief can be guessed when he learned he had tried to do an extra lap”.

Tragically, 26 year old Waghorn and 28 year old Dal Molin would both die flight-testing aircraft before the next trophy race in 1931, which Britain won by default. France and Italy were unable to get their machines ready in time for the start so it was left to Flight Lieutenant John Boothman to fly the course on his own in a Supermarine S.6b, pushing the record to 340 m.p.h. and winning the trophy outright.

British Supermarine S6B racing floatplane. Winner of the 1931 Schneider Trophy.

Supermarine S.6b. “There really is very little sensation of speed even when flying low, because one cannot see vertically downwards even if one wanted to, owing to the bulge of the fuselage”. (Squadron Leader Augustus Orlebar).