Wednesday, May 31, 2006

S/Ldr Neville Duke DSO OBE DFC** AFC 1921-2007

Squadron Leader Neville Frederick Duke DSO, OBE, DFC & Two Bars, AFC, FRAeS (11 January 1922 – 7 April 2007) was a British Second World War fighter pilot. He was the top Allied flying ace in the Mediterranean Theatre, having shot down at least 27 enemy aircraft, and was acknowledged as one of the world's foremost test pilots after the war. In 1953, he became holder of the world air speed record when he flew a Hawker Hunter F Mk3 at 727.63 mph over Littlehampton in the UK.
Duke was born in Tonbridge, Kent, and educated at the Convent of St Mary and The Judd School in Tonbridge. One of the four houses at Judd is now named after him, following the reinstation of a house system to the school in 2008. He started working as an auctioneer and estate agent before attempting to join the Fleet Air Arm on his 18th birthday. He was rejected and joined the RAF instead as a cadet in June 1940.
Duke underwent pilot training and was commissioned at 58 OTU, Grangemouth in February 1941, before being posted to 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill in April, flying Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vs. Operating over occupied Europe, Duke's obvious talents as a fighter pilot meant he often flew as wingman to Biggin Hill's Wing Leader, Wing Commander Adolph "Sailor" Malan. By August 1941, Duke had claimed two Messerschmitt Bf 109s shot down. When the unit was withdrawn for a rest in October 1941, Duke was posted to North Africa to fly with 112 Squadron on the Curtiss Tomahawk.
Duke found flying the P-40 less agreeable than the Spitfire, and on a familiarisation flight crashed AM390.Duke was shot down on 30 November 1941, by the high scoring German ace Oberstabsfeldwebel Otto Schulz of Jagdgeschwader 27.On 5 December, he was again shot down by a pilot from JG 27. However, his own tally of victories continued to mount and, after the squadron was re-equipped with the more capable Kittyhawk, by February 1942 Duke had at least eight victories, resulting in the award of the DFC in March. These included a CR.42 and a Bf 109 on the 20 and 21 December.He completed his first tour of operations the next month and then spent six months instructing at the fighter school in the Canal Zone.

In November 1942, he rejoined 92 Squadron, which has been transferred to North Africa flying the tropicalised Spitfire Mark V.He became a flight commander in February 1943 and received a DSO in March. By the end of his second tour in June, Duke had amassed a further 14 victories to his total and was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

Promoted to Squadron Leader, he was posted to No. 73 Operational Training Unit at Abu Sueir as chief flying instructor before returning to operations in March 1944 for his third tour, as CO of 145 Squadron in Italy, flying Spitfire Mk VIIIs. He claimed five more aircraft shot down in May, gaining a second Bar to his DFC. On 7 June, Duke was shot down by flak and bailed out into Lake Bracciano, almost drowning when unable to release his parachute harness. He sheltered with Italian partisans until U.S. troops arrived.
Downing two Fw 190s of Schlachtgeschwader 4 in May, he scored his final kills on 7 September 1944, becoming the Mediterranean Theatre's top Allied fighter ace at the age of 22. In 486 sorties and some 712 operational hours, he claimed 27 outright victories and two shared, one probable, six damaged and two shared destroyed on the ground.
Duke returned to the UK and took up a position as test pilot for Hawker in January 1945. He attended No 4 Course at the Empire Test Pilots' School at Cranfield in 1946 and then joined the RAF's High speed flight, commanded by Teddy Donaldson. It was Donaldson who set a new official World Air Speed record on 7 September 1946, later being the first official man to break the 1,000 km/h barrier. After demonstrating a Gloster Meteor at an air display in Prague, he was presented with the Czech Military Cross for his wartime service.

Neville Duke married Gwendoline Fellows in 1947. He was awarded the Air Force Cross recognising his test flying from 1947-1948 at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, where he flew research flights to explore aircraft performance at high Mach numbers and high altitudes. Duke resigned from the RAF in August 1948, joining the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, flying Spitfires and Meteors from Biggin Hill. He was CO of 615 Squadron in 1950 and 1951, whose honorary Air Commodore was Winston Churchill.

Duke joined Hawker as an assistant chief test pilot in 1948, and became Hawker's Chief Test Pilot in 1951, following the death of "Wimpy" Wade, his predecessor. He was particularly involved in the development of the highly successful Hawker Hunter, flying the Hawker P1067 in its trials in July 1951. He gave a display in the new fighter at the Farnborough Airshow on 6 September 1952, immediately after the runway had been cleared of debris following a tragic accident. A de Havilland DH 110, piloted by his friend John Derry, had broken up in flight, killing Derry and his observer Tony Richards, along with 28 spectators. "My dear Duke", the Prime Minister wrote to him the next day, "it was characteristic of you to go up yesterday after the shocking accident. Accept my salute. Yours, in grief, Winston Churchill."

Duke was awarded an OBE in January 1953 for his contribution to supersonic flight and groundbreaking achievements at Hawker. On 7 September 1953, Duke set a new world air speed record of 727.63 mph (1,171.01 km/h), flying Hunter WB188. (With this world record Neville Duke exceed the unofficial world record set by Heini Dittmar with the Me 163 BV18).He was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air for saving his aircraft after an engine failure in August 1955. Two days later, he fractured his spine following a forced landing in a Hunter at Thorney Island. Another heavy landing in May 1956 caused further spinal injuries; he was forced to resign in October 1956 after being immobilised for several months.

Duke took up freelance aviation consultancy work until 1960, when he formed Duke Aviation Limited. He was Sir George Dowty's personal pilot for most of the 1960s and 1970s. He sold the company in 1982. He Also became a test pilot for Edgley Aircraft and later Brooklands Aircraft on the Edgley Optica.

Duke wrote several books based on his experiences. His autobiography, Test Pilot, was published in 1953 and reprinted in 1992. His other books include The Sound Barrier (1953), The Crowded Sky (1959) and The War Diaries of Neville Duke (1995). He was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Gold Medal, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1993. In 2002, he received the Air League's Jeffrey Quill Medal and the Award of Honour from the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators for "his unique and incomparable record".

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Raymond Baxter 1922-2006

Born and brought up in Ilford, Essex, he joined the RAF in 1940 at the age of 18, and became a squadron leader. He was still in the RAF when he joined Forces Broadcasting in Cairo in 1945. After a spell with the British Forces Network he moved to Outside Broadcasts at the BBC. He went freelance in the mid 1960s, and also took up a job in industry. He was there from the start of Tomorrow's World in 1965, bringing to it a particular enthusiasm for explaining gadgets and mechanical processes in an uncomplicated way.

Raymond Baxter was the face of Tomorrow's World for 12 years, bringing science and technology to generations, but his versatility also saw his commentary skills sought for sports and state occasions.
These included the annual Festival of Remembrance, the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and the 1953 Coronation for which he had to stand in Trafalgar Square under the statue of King Charles's horse in the pouring rain. As the commentator on motor racing, speedway and aviation, Raymond Baxter was always close to the action and sometimes part of it.
He competed in the Monte Carlo rally and during World War II he flew Spitfires. He was twice mentioned in despatches. It was Baxter who described Concorde's first flight. He was the first to broadcast live from an aeroplane, an ocean-liner and a submarine under water.

Lieutenant-General Guenther Rall 1918-2009

Günther Rall shot down at least 275 opponents and is the third highest-scoring ace in the history of aerial combat!
The son of a merchant, Rall was born in Gaggenau, Baden-Wurttemberg, on 10 March 1918. He entered military service in 1936 as an officer candidate for the infantry. The following year, he transferred to the Luftwaffe and in 1939 qualified as a pilot. He was assigned to a Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) and based near Stuttgart. Two days after the Germans began their blitzkrieg across their western border.
Rall shot down a Curtiss Hawk 75 of the French Air Force.

At age 22, he became Staffelkapitän (Squadron Commander) of 8./JG 52 and fought for 5 months during the Battle of Britain in 1940. He flew in the German advance into Yugoslavia and Greece and over the airborne landings on the island of Crete. In June 1941, as the Germans began Operation Barbarosa into Russia, Rall’s squadron downed almost 50 bombers of the Soviet Air Force in a 5-day period. In late November 1941, with 36 aerial victories to his credit, he was shot down near Rostov. His back was broken in three places and doctors said he would never fly again

Rall was determined to return to combat and, in August 1942, rejoined his squadron on the Eastern Front. On 3 September 1942, he received the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) after achieving 65 victories. By late October, Rall had 100 victories and added the Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to his Ritterkreuz. In the spring of 1943, he became Group Commander of III/JG 52 with 3 squadrons. He achieved his 200th victory in late August 1943 and became the 34th recipient of the Schwerten (Swords) in September. Rall added 50 more victories and became the second pilot in history to reach 250. He had flown the Messerschmitt Me 109 on all of his combats. In March 1944, he took command of II/JG 11 on the Western Front. In a battle with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, he was wounded and lost a thumb. Out of combat for 6 months, he went on to command a fighter wing, JG 300, and flew the Focke Wulf FW-190.

At the end of World War II, he had 275 confirmed aerial victories and was known as a skillful, long-range, angle-off shot. In 1956, Rall joined Germany’s new air force and trained in Arizona at Luke AFB. Later, he was a key figure in the introduction of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and went on to command a wing of these aircraft at Memmingen. As Commander of the German tactical air forces, he trained a new generation of skilled pilots. In 1970, he became Commander of the German Air Force and strengthened its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He retired in 1974 as a generalleutnant.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Robin Olds 1922-2007

Robin Olds was born into an Army family and grew up hearing stories about Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell from his father, who was a major general in the Army Air Corps and, at one time, Mitchell's aide. With such a unique childhood, it's perhaps no surprise that Olds became an American triple ace and a strong advocate for tactical air power.

Olds was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in July 1922 and spent his boyhood in the Hampton, Va., area where he attended elementary and high school. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in June 1943. In 1942, while playing for the academy football team, Olds was selected as an All-American tackle.He completed pilot training in 1943. Joining the 479th Fighter Group, he sailed to England in May 1944. By summer, he was a captain in the 434th Fighter Squadron, flying a P-38J Lightning named "Scat 1." He became an ace in his first two combat missions, shooting down two FW-190s on Aug. 14 and three Me-109s nine days later.The 479th re-equipped with P-51 Mustangs in September and Olds scored his first kill in "Scat V" on Oct. 6. Promoted to major in February 1945, he claimed his seventh victory southeast of Magdeburg, Germany the same day. On Feb. 14, he recorded three confirmed victories in one day, two Me-109s and an FW-190. By the end of his tour, he had shot down 13 German planes, destroyed 11.5 others on the ground, and was commander of the 434th.

Back stateside after the war, Olds was the wing man on the first jet acrobatic team in the Air Force. He also participated in the first one-day dawn-to-dusk, transcontinental roundtrip flight in June 1946 from March Field, Calif., to Washington, D.C., and return.In October 1948 he went to England under the U.S. Air Force – Royal Air Force Exchange Program and served as commander of No. 1 Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Station Tangmere, and missed Korean War action. From 1955 to 1965 he commanded two wings in Europe and in September 1966 took over the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon, Thailand.

Now a 44-year-old colonel, Olds took to the air war over North Vietnam in an F-4C Phantom named, "Scat XXVII." During "Operation Bolo," a fighter sweep against MiG-21s in January 1967, he shot down one MiG and added another over Phuc Yen Airfield in May. Operation Bolo was a program in which the electronic countermeasure pods of F-4s were replaced with F-105 pods. The resulting false signal enticed MiGs to engage the F-4s-- thinking they were engaging the slower, less agile F-105.Two weeks later, he destroyed two more MiGs, bringing his total to 17 confirmed kills (13 in World War II and four in Vietnam), making him a triple ace. He flew 107 combat missions in World War II and 152 combat missions in the Vietnam War. "Scat XXVII" is at the Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.Olds was promoted to brigadier general in May 1968. He became director of aerospace safety in the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center at Norton AFB, Calif., in February 1971 and retired in June 1973.

Olds was known for the extravagantly waxed, handlebar mustache he wore in Vietnam. It was a mark of his individuality. Returning home, however, he discovered not everyone was fond of his maverick behavior. When he reported to his first interview with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. McConnell, he stood at attention and rendered a sharp salute. McConnell walked up to him, stuck a finger under his nose and said, "Take it off." Olds said, "Yes, sir."Although know for his flamboyance, Olds was a strong advocate of the importance of tactical air power, just as his father was years before. They both considered the ability to do one job in one mission with surgical precision the ultimate doctrine of air power.

Robert Goebel 1923-2011

Robert J. Goebel joined the Army Air Corps and was accepted as an Aviation Cadet in 1942. Preflight Training at the Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio, Texas. Primary Flight School at Corsicana, Texas in the Fairchild PT-19. Basic Flight Training at Majors Field near Greenville,Texas in the Vultee BT-13 and Advanced Flight Training at Moore Field near McAllen, Texas in the North American AT-6.
He received his Pilot's Wings and a commission of 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Forces in May 1943. 2nd Lt. Goebel was assigned to fly Bell P-39 Airacobras and Curtiss P-40 Warhawks in defense of the Panama Canal. In December 1943, Robert Goebel was rotated home to the USA ZI. He was soon assigned as a Replacement Pilot to the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. He shipped out to North Africa and arrived at Oran, Algeria. He was assigned to the Supermarine Spitfire equipped 31st Fighter Group of the 12th Air Force and was checked out in the Spitfire at Telergma. As he joined the 31st FG at Castel Voltumo, Italy on April 1, 1944, the Group had started a transition to the North American P-51B Mustang and its main mission changed from Close Support of front-line troops to Fighter Escort for the Heavy Bombers of the 15th Air Force.
Lt. Goebel was assigned to the 308th Fighter Squadron. Eventually, the 31st FG were equipped with the P-51D-model Mustangs. Captain Goebel flew 61 combat missions from the 31st FG's base at San Severo, Italy including one of the FRANTIC Russian Shuttle missions. He led the 308th FS into combat seven times and the entire 31st FG into battle twice. Captain Goebel, still only 21 years old, rotated home to the USA ZI as a highly decorated fighter ace.
Captain Goebel resigned his commission in 1946 to attend the University of Wisconsin where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics in 1948. He served in the Wisconsin Air National Guard as Commander of the 126th Fighter Squadron until he returned to active duty with the U. S. Air Force in 1950. Goebel served in various assignments in the Atomic Energy and Space Programs. Lt. Colonel Goebel retired from service in 1966 to Torrance, California.

Alexander Vraciu 1918-2015

He was born in East Chicago, Indiana, and attended DePauw University on a scholarship where he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program. He started naval flight training in late 1941, winning his wings in August, 1942. He qualified as a carrier pilot on USS Wolverine, a converted Great Lakes steamer. His first combat unit was VF-3 (later redesignated VF-6) where he spent 5 months as wingman to Ed "Butch" O'Hare and shot down his first Japanese plane, a Zero over Wake Island in October 1943. He soon downed another Betty over Tarawa, and "made ace" on January 29, 1944 when he got three more Bettys over Kwajalein.
His next combat occurred with Intrepid's VF-6, on the February 16-17, 1944 strike against Truk airfields on Moen, Eten, and Param Islands. The day started with a large fighter sweep, 72 Hellcats, over the Jap bases. Vraciu arrived over Moen at 13,000 foot altitude just before sunrise. Amidst the anti-aircraft fire, the Hellcats began diving toward the airstrips for their strafing runs. Looking all around, Lt. Vraciu spotted some Zeros above and to port, which he swung toward and attacked. Using the superior maneuverability of the Hellcat at high speeds (over 250 knots), he successfully gained altitude on the Zeros and chased them into clouds and onto the deck. During this action he hit and set afire 3 Zeros, which splashed inside Truk lagoon. He then got another after a bit of cat-and-mouse in a cloud. The afternoon saw little air-to-air action, as Vraciu and the other Hellcat pilots escorted bombers and torpedo planes on their runs. That evening, when the planes had returned, Intrepid was hit by a torpedo and was withdrawn from combat for repairs.
He was then assigned to VF-16, and scored two more kills when he downed two Zeros in another raid on Truk on April 29, 1944. His twelfth victory was a Betty 'snooper' that he downed over Saipan on June 12. On June 14, he didn't add to his "air-to-air" wins, but he achieved the spectacular feat of sinking a Japanese merchant ship with a direct hit on its stern!

On June 19, 1944 during what came to be known as the ‘ Marianas Turkey Shoot’ , he was assigned to CAP over the US fleet, and engaged an attacking Jap air group about 25 miles west of USS Lexington. He shot down a remarkable 6 Japanese 'Judy' dive bombers in just eight minutes using only 360 rounds of ammunition.
In that frenetic interception, Lt. Vraciu wove his way through the enemy formation to pick off six enemy aircraft. He downed his initial quarry from a distance of only 200 feet and quickly reacted to avoid damage from the dive bomber's debris. He then crept toward a pair of dive bombers and shot down the trailing Judy before splashing the lead plane. Every minute brought the action continuously closer to Lexington, which meant that not only was the carrier in danger, but Vraciu and other American pilots would have to fly directly into their own ships' anti-aircraft fire to chase attacking enemy planes.
Vraciu scanned the skies, which by now were dotted with speeding Hellcats, plunging enemy planes, and hundreds of lethal bursts of anti-aircraft fire. He warned Lexington: "Don't see how we can possibly shoot 'em all down. Too many!" But he nevertheless chased after, and downed, a fourth dive bomber. Three other Judys zoomed into view as they began their final runs on ships below, and Vraciu followed them. He quickly downed the first but was forced into a perilous vertical dive to stop the second before it dropped its bomb on a destroyer. With anti-aircraft fire intensifying, Vraciu caught up to the enemy plane and destroyed it, then pulled out of his dive to avoid crashing into the water. Battleship anti-aircraft fire downed the final enemy dive bomber.
Vraciu headed back to Lexington, where he was almost killed by his own ship's fire. Shouting into his radio that he was an American, Vraciu finally landed. As he walked away from his plane, a tired Vraciu glanced toward Admiral Mitscher on the bridge and smiling widely, held up six fingers to indicate his success, a scene captured in a well-known photograph. His nineteenth (and last) victory came the next day when he got another Zero.
He was referred to as "Grumman's Best Customer" after surviving two carriers being torpedoed, two ditchings and two parachute jumps. In December, 1944, he was shot down on a raid over Manila's Clark Field, and hid out with Fillipio guerrillas for five weeks, before meeting up with American forces. Alex Vraciu ended WWII as the U.S. Navy's fourth-ranking ace with 19 enemy aircraft shot down plus 21 more destroyed on the ground. He spent the last few months of the war as a test pilot at the Navy's Patuxent River facility. After the war, he commanded VF-51.

Steve Pisanos 1919-2016

Steve Pisanos flew 110 combat missions in Spitfires, P-47 Thunderbolts, and P-51 Mustangs during World War II becoming a double ace.

He was born in Athens, Greece, in 1919, the son of a subway driver. At the age of 11, he heard the humming sound of a Royal Hellenic Air Force biplane and as the pilot performed acrobatic maneuvers, it left Pisanos with a yearning to become an aviator. In March 1938, after a chance encounter with a Greek-American boy from New York, he was hired on a Greek freighter bound for America. Although he arrived in Baltimore with only $7 to his name, Pisanos made his way to New York City and began work in a Greek-owned bakery. After teaching himself some English, he began flying lessons six months later and soloed in 1939.

Despite having only 120 hours of flying experience, Pisanos was accepted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941. In England, Pisanos began flying P-51As on low-level missions off the Dutch coast. Later, in 1942, he was assigned to the 71st Eagle Squadron, one of three squadrons in the RAF comprised of American volunteers flying Spitfires. When the US absorbed the American members of the Eagle Squadrons in September 1942, and even though not an American citizen, Pisanos was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Forces. Naturalized in London on 3 May 1943, he became the first individual to be naturalized outside the continental US. While flying his P-47 named “Miss Plainfield,” he scored his first victory on 21 May 1943, when he downed a German Fw 190 over Ghent, Belgium. By January 1944, he had become an ace with six confirmed victories and on March 5, 1944, he earned four more aerial victories, making him a double ace.

While returning from an escort mission in his P-51B, he experienced engine failure and crash-landed south of Le Havre in German-occupied France. For six months he evaded the Germans and worked with the French Resistance in Paris. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, he returned to England along with hundreds of downed allied pilots hiding in France. Because of his association with the French Resistance, he was prohibited from flying further combat missions. Upon his return to the United States, he was assigned to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, Ohio, where he completed test pilot school and conducted the service tests of the first American jet fighter, the YP-80 Shooting Star. He returned to active duty in 1948 to assist the USAF conversion program to jet aircraft. His last assignment sent him back to Greece where he was instrumental in the Greek government’s acquisition of the F-4E Phantom II.