Birds of a different kind, The Warbirds
Okay, so we’re on pace for the coldest February on record, at least a spot in the top three coldest ever. We’ve set around a half-dozen record cold temperatures this month, and we have a chance to set one or two more before February is done with. So, before I go off on a long-winded rant about the weather, I’ll tell you what I did on Sunday, February 22nd to escape the cold. I went to the Airzoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Founded in 1977, the Air Zoo has a rich history of honoring and celebrating air and space flight. In other words, it’s an airplane and space museum.
First of all, the general admission is a very reasonable $10, although some of the rides cost extra. Since I wasn’t interested in the kiddie rides, that was no big deal to me. Secondly, the lighting was horrible for photography, it was very dark in most areas of the Airzoo, as you will see. It took me a few test shots to figure out how to get any usable photos, but by using my flash, and jacking the ISO up to 2,000 I did fairly well I think. Still, my best two photos from the day were HDR images that I shot and combined in Photomatix. I didn’t use a tripod, I rested the camera on a solid post or rail to do the HDR images. With as many people as there were in sometimes tight areas, using a tripod would have been a pain, both for myself, and the other visitors. So, I’ll start with one of the HDR images, of one of the planes that I most wanted to see, a B-25 Mitchell.
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. The B-25 first gained fame as the bomber used in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raid, in which 16 B-25Bs led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle attacked mainland Japan, four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The mission gave a much-needed lift in spirits to the Americans, and alarmed the Japanese who had believed their home islands were inviolable by enemy forces. Although the amount of actual damage done was relatively minor, it forced the Japanese to divert troops for the home defense for the remainder of the war.
The raiders took off from the carrier USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss. Fifteen of the bombers subsequently crash-landed en route to recovery fields in Eastern China. These losses were the result of the task force being spotted by a Japanese vessel forcing the bombers to take off 170 mi (270 km) early, fuel exhaustion, stormy nighttime conditions with zero visibility, and lack of electronic homing aides at the recovery bases. Only one B-25 bomber landed intact, in Siberia where its five-man crew was interned and the aircraft confiscated. Of the 80 aircrew, 69 survived their historic mission and eventually made it back to American lines.
Here’s a few more photos of the B 25.
I included the last photo not only to show the rear firepower of the B 25 Mitchell, but also to show you the lighting conditions I was shooting under.
As you can see, the ceiling of the Airzoo is painted black, with spotlights shining down on selected parts of the various planes. Overall, the majority of the Airzoo is rather dim, as you will see in some of my other photos. Not only is the lighting poor for photography, but many of the planes are very close together, making it impossible to get just one in the frame at a time.
But, that’s a good thing in a way, the Airzoo is growing at a rapid pace, they have already filled their main building and have more planes and other exhibits in a second building, but I’ll get to the second building later. For right now, a little more about the history of the Airzoo itself.
When you first walk through the main entrance, you enter the Suzanne Parish Atrium, and see this.
First, a little about Suzanne Parish. Suzanne DeLano Parish (November 13, 1922-May 12, 2010) was an American aviator, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and the co-founder of the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, known as the Airzoo. Ms. Parish learned to fly in 1941, when she was 19 years old, and joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots when she was 21, after having accumulated 350 hours in the air. After the war, she attempted to get a job as a commercial pilot, to no avail. She married Preston “Pete” Parish in 1948 and gave birth to five children. When her husband purchased a share in a single engine 35C Bonanza in 1959, she decided to take up flying once more. She and her husband soon purchased a Stearman, an AT-6, and a Grumman Wildcat. The last plane they purchased was the P-40. Parish flew the P-40 Warhawk, which she had painted pink, in several air shows for over 25 years, until she reached her 60s. Deciding that she could no longer handle the G-forces, she flew that plane last in October, 1993. In 1977, she and her husband co-founded the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, more popularly known as the Air Zoo. The nucleus of the collection was their own planes.
Now, a little more about the plane she flew, the P 40 Warhawk.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in frontline service until the end of the war. It was the third most-produced American fighter, after the P-51 and P-47, by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built. Although the P 40 was a workhorse that saw service until the end of WW II, it could not match any of the German or Japanese fighter planes in a one on one dogfight. It’s main claim to fame is that it was the plane used by the Flying Tigers (1st American Volunteer Group) led by Colonel Claire Chennault in China before the United States officially joined the war. While the P-40s could not match the maneuverability of the Japanese Army air arm’s Nakajima Ki-27s and Ki-43s, nor the much more famous Zero naval fighter in a slow speed turning dogfight, at higher speeds the P-40s were more than a match. AVG leader Claire Chennault trained his pilots to use the P-40’s particular performance advantages. The P-40 had a higher dive speed than any Japanese fighter aircraft of the early war years, for example, and could be used to exploit so-called “boom-and-zoom” tactics. The AVG was highly successful, and its feats were widely published, to boost sagging public morale at home, by an active cadre of international journalists. According to their official records, in just 6 1/2 months, the Flying Tigers destroyed 115 enemy aircraft for the loss of just four of their own in air-to-air combat.
So, here’s a few more photos of the P 40 flown by Suzanne Parish.
I’m not going to write very much about the rest of the planes that will be in this post, I’m sure that every one is savvy enough to do a web search for more information if they want.
The next one up is a P 47 Thunderbolt, meant to be a long-range fighter to escort Allied bombers during raids on Germany. While it was adequate for those missions, it was soon replaced by the P 51 Mustang, which was an even better long-range escort fighter. The P 47 really excelled as a fighter-bomber in a ground support role. At 8 tons, it was one of the heaviest single engine propeller driven aircraft ever built.
Next up, a Bell P-39 Airacobra. The P-39 was an unusual plane in that the engine was mounted behind the pilot, supposedly for better balance, and the prop was driven by a series of shafts and gears. While the concept may have looked good on paper, in actual flight, the P 39 was not the dogfighter that the designers had hoped it would be. It was in service at the beginning of WW II, and was pressed into service, mostly in the Pacific Theater, as it was one of the few fighters that the US had available at the time. It was outclassed by all of the Japanese fighter planes at the time and was at even more of a disadvantage against Germany’s planes. It was soon replaced by better planes, the few P 39s that remained in service were used for close air support until they too were replaced.
The last of the WW II combat aircraft from the main building of the Airzoo is a scale model of a P 38 Lightning. It was designed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and went on to become the most successful twin-engine combat aircraft. The P-38 primarily served in Europe and North Africa. Its long-range and twin engines made it well suited to duty in the Pacific, although smaller numbers were deployed to the Pacific theater due to production limits. The P-38 played a vital role in Allied war efforts, helping to achieve air superiority over Africa in 1942 and 1943, supporting the invasion of Sicily, escorting B-17 and B-24 bombing runs, and bombing Romanian oil refineries. Many P-38s were fitted with cameras and used as reconnaissance aircraft, providing valuable intelligence data throughout the war.
Now then, on to the Warbirds from the second building.
From what I could tell, the second building used to be the Airzoo’s warehouse and workshop, but their collection of planes has grown so much that they’ve had to use portions of it for exhibiting their collection of planes. Why do I say that? Because along with the planes, you will also see things like these.
I also had a shot of around a dozen aircraft engines in storage, but I must have deleted that one. Anyway, here are the three WW II era Warbirds from the second building, starting with a Grumman FM-2 Wildcat.
The Grumman FM-2 Wildcat was the US Navy’s frontline fighter at the beginning of the war.
It was soon replaced by the more capable Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat….
…and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair.
Sorry about those photos, the way that the planes were positioned made it nearly impossible to get good images of each plane individually.
I’m going to finish this post off with a plane that has a Michigan connection, a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bomber. It was the United States Navy’s main bomber throughout much of WW II, and here’s a few interesting facts about it.
Twenty-one different tail and rudder configurations and 12 different aileron profiles were tested with the Dauntless in order to find a satisfactory combination.
The aircraft did not have folding wings and therefore was built as small as possible. When viewed from above, the plane had a particularly broad but short wing, which was helpful in air-to-air combat. It was very rugged and could take a lot of punishment from both overloading and enemy action.
The SBD was slow, but it was very stable in a dive and maneuverable enough to shoot down enemy fighter planes. On a dive bombing mission, the pilot would generally attack at about 70 degrees, the lower flap depressed 42 degrees and the upper rose to 37.5 degrees. Bombs were released at 1,500-2,000 feet, giving the Dauntless enough remaining room to pull out of the dive.
SBD stands for “Scout Bomber Douglas.” Many of the men who flew and maintained them often jokingly called them “Slow But Deadly.”
Now then, for the Michigan connection as far as the plane on display. During WW II, some navy pilots were trained at the Glenview Naval Air Station, which is in Illinois, on Lake Michigan. I could type out the entire story of this plane, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you can read about this plane here in the photo.
And, here’s the way that the plane looked when it was recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan.
And now, the way that it looks today after being restored at the Airzoo.
It’s difficult to fathom how many hours of work went into restoring that plane! In fact, they did such a superb job on the Dauntless, that they have been selected to restore and display another Wildcat that was also recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Before I wrap this one up, I should include a link to the Airzoo’s website.
I plan on doing one or two more posts on the planes and other things to be seen at the Airzoo, it depends in part on the response that I get to this one. There’s so many things to see and do there, I spent a good three and a half hours there just shooting photos, I didn’t have time to thoroughly look over the other displays and information there. If you plan on visiting, I’d allow for a full day there, and you still may not cover everything there, for I have just begun to scratch the surface in this post. I know that my next post will touch on the space museum a little, some WW I era replica planes, and the jet engined powered planes. However, my main interest was the WW II era planes, so that’s where I have begun.
Since I last worked on this post, the Airzoo made the following announcement.
“Join us for the 2nd Annual “Photo Safari at the Air Zoo”, where we will turn up the lights and open our doors after hours, to give photographers exclusive, up-close access to our incredible, world renowned collection of over 60 aircraft and spacecraft!”
As much as I would like to attend, it is on a week night, and my work schedule won’t permit me to go. It would be great to shoot the planes under some better light, but I think that I did okay with my photos. Maybe next year. 🙂
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!