For the love of historic aircraft
I feel very privileged, as curator of this meandering and irregular blog, when I’m able to share a special piece of aviation culture. And this is one.
A few months ago, loyal airscape follower Hannah Salzman, asked if I’d be interested in sharing some photos she took with ‘her sister’s good camera’. Well of course I would. Who wouldn’t?
For some reason, I knew Hannah wasn’t going to send any ‘just ordinary’ photos. Sure enough, the images that came through were a joy… as unique as its possible to be with such massively photographed subjects. Each one is refreshing and the details begs to be lingered over.
But what shines even brighter than Hannah’s capability with a camera (and the beauty of her subjects) is an abiding, unbridled love of old aircraft. I’m sure there were plenty more photos we didn’t get to see. In fact, I’m willing to bet Hannah would have stayed with each airplane, drinking in its spirit through her lens, until the light, the memory card and the battery were all gone. You can just tell.
Most all of the following shots were taken at Doña Ana County Airport (KDNA), Santa Teresa, NM (a short drive west of El Paso, TX) during last year’s Collings Foundation Wings Of Freedom Tour.
Once you’ve been bitten by the aviation bug and its inexplicable, obsessive spirit has taken hold, it’s always nice to be reminded you’re not the only one.
Goodness knows, these photos do that. Thanks Hannah.
‘Toulouse Nuts’ 44-84655
The Collings Foundation’s TF-51D ‘Toulouse Nuts’ (msn 122-44511) is one of only three original TF-51Ds remaining in the world. After a meticulous three-year restoration the historic fighter trainer was rolled out in 2016, wearing its original West Virginia Air Guard, 167th Fighter Squadron colours as 655 “Toulouse Nuts.” The name is believed to be a pun on ‘Two Loose Nuts’, although the exact meaning of that could range anywhere from the purely mechanical to the more young-man-in-a-fighter-plane carnal.
Delivered new when the 167th was reactivated as part of the West VA ANG in the second half of 1946 (the squadron saw war service as part of the 359th Fighter Group, 8th AF), the airplane was converted to a TF-51D-25NT trainer configuration during the first half of 1951. From there, she has a typically colourful history – including stints with the air forces of both Nicaragua and Bolivia, at least three gear-up landings, and two restorations. You can read a more complete history here.
For those of us downunder, there’s also an interesting family connection: This P-51 came from a production block that was by-and-large exported to the RAF, Italian Air Force, NEIAF, SAAF and RAAF – including Mustangs A68-700 through A68-799. Many of those were assigned to 77 Squadron in Japan, and served in Korea until replaced with Meteor jets in 1951.
B-17G ‘Nine O Nine’
Accompanying ‘Toulouse Nuts’ was big friend ‘Nine O Nine’, the Collings Foundation’s B-17G (Serial # 44-83575). Rather than attempting to out-do their official history of this wonderful Flying Fortress, I’ll simply send you here. (Highly recommended!) To keep you reading to the end, I’ll just point out that there is also a short accounting for the original Nine O Nine (91st BG, 323rd BS, 8th USAAF) which completed 140 combat missions, including 18 trips to Berlin, without a single abort or crew fatality.
Ponder those words ‘without a single abort’ for a minute, and consider the ground crews that served without rotation – day and night, in mud and ice – for the duration. If Nine O Nine was the tip of the spear, they were the shaft and the arm.
Nine O Nine is their memorial too.
Keen-eyed observers will have noticed that the vertical stabilizer in my introduction doesn’t belong to Nine O Nine at all, and is actually the EAA’s B-17G ‘Aluminum Overcast’ during its annual tour. More accurately a B-17G-105-VE, this Fortress was built by Lockheed and delivered in May 1945, too late for active service but just in time for the scrapper. Indeed, Uncle Sam’s $276,000 investment was sold to Metal Products of Oklahoma for just $750 in 1946. Yep, brand new.
Luckily she was saved for aerial mapping by Universal Aviation, as N5017N. The usual procession of owners and mixed uses followed until the historic bomber was acquired by Dr Bill Harrison in 1978 and a team commenced her restoration as ‘Aluminum Overcast’ – honouring B-17G Serial #42-102516 of the 398th BG, 601st BS, which was shot down on its 34th mission on August 13th, 1944.
The project was donated to the EAA in 1979 which displayed it until 1983 and then undertook a 10 year restoration to original and flying condition. As mentioned, this aircraft also makes annual memorial tours to cities across North America (you lucky, lucky things!).
War Eagles Air Museum
The NAA T-28, TBM Avenger, and Stearman Model 75 were photographed inside the War Eagles Air Museum at San Teresa. They are short sample of a very impressive collection which, if you’re down that way, you can share for a crazily reasonable $5 admission.
That five spot will get you a real eyeful – from the expected P-51D, AT-6D, T-33,, F-84F and F-86; through to exotica like a German Fi-156 Fieseler Storch, A De Havilland DH-82a Tiger Moth, Hawker Fury, and MiG-21 (quite likely the coolest looking jet fighter ever built). That’s not all either. I haven’t mentioned the automobiles, vintage gas pumps and famous aviator exhibits, plus more famous fighters, bombers and civilian aircraft. You can even hire the space for special functions. (I’m seriously trying think up an excuse…!) Enjoy.