Major Howdy Bixby's Album of Forgotten Warbirds

By Bruce McCall



When the tide of war turned against it, Fascist Italy turned with the tide. The C2, or "SCUD," was one direct result. The engineers of Aeronautico Piccolino Abagano Elari Quattori in Turin were charged with designing an aircraft of modern fighter type that could, should word come in mid-air of another change in Italian allegiance, instantly reverse course and become part of the now friendly force. Thus the unique two-engine configuration, central cockpit with swivel seat and dual controls facing fore and aft. Time for the SCUD (mean "Scuderia con curso il travala," or "turncoat") to switch directions and sides was set at less than two minutes from a top speed of 265 mph by air force consultants. This performance criterion was never tested, much less met, since pilots refused to attempt it, except on the ground with an ambulance close by. One pilot did take the sole SCUD prototype aloft, but once airborne decided to visit his mother in Salerno and wrecked the craft crash-landing on a nearby beach. The SCUD was painted gold by artisans formerly employed in upkeep of the Sistine Chapel.

A remarkable feature of the plane, considering its fighter designation, was its total lack of armament. The designers successfully resisted all attempts to ruin its unbroken lines with ugly gun




During the middle Thirties, the French Armde de I'Airdetermined that a high-altitude bomber was needed to offset the ominous growth of the Luftwaffe's strategic capabilities. Designed by winemaker Maurice Lebouge and built by the Avions Septum aircraft cartel, the NC 2501.2 was powered by a pair of nine-cylinder, in-tine Gnome-Rhome Petite engines that developed 165 hp at the aircraft's intended operating altitude of 19,400 feet. Unfortunately, the Petites were not powerful enough to lift the NC 2501.2 to that height, forcing it to fly at a more prudent 5600 feet. Bomb load was limited by the necessity of carrying a committee of bombardiers -four in number- who voted on the proper time to drop their death-dealing cargo. This system was employed because all necessary optics for bombsights were being used at the time for land-based artillery sighting systems on the Maginot line, where France chose to make her first (and, as it turned out, her last) gallant stand against the Hun. A total of II NC 2501.2s were built, although none were completed in time to see action before the republic was forced to surrender. However, the Germans evaluated one on the recommendation of the Vichy government. After it crashed, Lebouge, facing a firing squad, said defiantly, "We are lovers, not engineers!"


As World War Two loomed on the horizon, a number of the more progressive thinkers on the Polish general staff realized that mobility would be a great factor against the German Panzers if fighting broke out. This meant rapid movement of their elite cavalry and horse-drawn artillery-faster than even the Polish railway system could carry them. Finally, a design submitted by the famous Polish aero firm of Dombrowski-Sedlitz was settled upon, a secret helicopter-autogiro machine powerful enough to lift a mounted cavalry battalion of five 85mm artillery pieces and caissons. However, its 6000-hp diesel locomotive engine, coupled with the riveted, sheet-iron construction of the fuselage, left the Dombrowski-Sedlitz weighing a hefty 56 tons. This gave it barely enough power to lift itself into the ozone, much less its pay load. What's more, the engine took up so much room that the only remaining space was consumed by the pilot and three mechanics it took to operate the craft while in flight. This handicap, plus a vexing tendency for the machine to break its manual, nonsynchro, three-speed transmission –leaving the propellers powerless- forced its grounding after two flights. Minus its wheels and propellers, it presently powers a Ferris wheel and merry-go-round at the People's amusement park in Bydgoszcz



"You can't send those nineteen kids up in a crate like that!" bandied the wags whenever a near score of student pilots filed aboard this controversial Army Air Corps ship in the late Thirties; and as the Senate hearing later confirmed, they were chillingly close to the truth. The 19 neophytes could be sent up, all right; it was a matter of how suddenly and how violently they came back down. Trouble started with the pilot and worked its way back to the man at the rear. Conceived as" an economical flying trainer, the Air-Pal was so economical that it lacked any intercom system among instructor and pupils. No problem in a two- or even three-seater - but with 19 sets of controls? Elaborate pre-briefings, hand signals, screaming all were tried but all fell short of the desired result, unanimity of action, as in "Bank left!" Happily for all concerned, a further economy move halted production altogether only five months after it began. But those who flew or tried to fly her are not likely to ever forget this stillborn regent of the cloud lanes-memories shared by those on the ground lucky and sharp-eyed enough to catch a necessarily brief glimpse of an Air-Pal cart wheeling across the sky while 19 plucky, if somewhat perplexed students tried outguessing one another, their teacher and fate itself.



The bent fuselage of the Snud U-14 stood for many years as a Soviet military secret; only after the last example of this little-known type had safely crashed was it revealed. During the design stage in 1938, a blueprint had been wrinkled accidentally and because nobody would own up to responsibility -since damaging state property carried the death penalty- the mistake went unchecked and into production. As a work-horse transport aircraft, this behemoth of the blue, with its four Kapodny-Gific engines, each producing 400 hp, and its vast cargo capacity, "had everything." Unusual features were tiny cockpits on each wing, where an engineer sat supervising the engines, and solid pig-iron wheels. These last ingeniously skirted the Russian rubber shortage, but caused another problem; reports claim the locomotive-style wheels so badly chewed up even paved landing strips that bringing a Snud to earth meant maximum risk to plane, crew and all nearby buildings and collective farms. Obliquely, this may explain the Soviet insistence that a Snud had set a world record for nonstop flight in 1941 -staying aloft over 64 hours while traveling nearly 3500 miles and averaging over 54 mph- and also why the pilot and navigator were transported to Siberia immediately after landing and receiving the Order of Heavy Industry.


The originality of Japanese aircraft design was never in question after the Shirley wobbled onto the scene, albeit briefly, in the closing months of the Pacific war. This light (75 lbs.), cheap ($1.49), last-ditch gesture of a desperate Japanese High Command was in fact little more than a bicycle of the air, its propeller turned by pedal power from the pilot. Towed behind a torpedo boat, the Shirley would sooner or later rise and fumble skyward, staying aloft exactly as long as its pilot's stamina held out and his sprocket chain stayed intact. Hopefully, a U.S. ship would soon be sighted; then, braving massive ack-ack fire as well as large birds, the fanatic suicide candidate at the controls, or handle bars, aimed toward his quarry and pumped furiously until directly overhead. Then, at the flick of a lever, the under slung wicker basket fell away and hit the deck below-and one rabid dog was disgorged to run amuck and wreak its mad havoc. The ravening animal, it was assumed, would take a few Yanks with it by the time the end came. Ingenious-but not ingenious enough; the dogs proved susceptible to seasickness en route to the target and every known Shirley mission ended in anticlimax with a dazed mutt vomiting among the gobs while a paper airplane slowly sank off the starboard bow.


Lewis gun blazing, flour bags cascading down, the pachydermic Gallipoli terrorized practice target ranges across the empire from 1933 to 1939. Four Varley "Panjandrum" motors screwed her up to a cruising altitude several feet over the legal minimum of the day. Relatively few were built, but more than enough Gallipolis were delivered to the R.A.F., which handed them over to the Royal Indian Air Force, which handed them over to the Royal Malayan Air Force, which promptly found itself plagued by wholesale desertions of its flying personnel. The Gallipoli's moment of glory came and, lightning like, vanished during the surprise Japanese invasion of

Singapore in early 1942. Hordes of Nips swarmed toward the R.A.F. aerodrome; out went the call, "Warm up the Gallipolis!" And, indeed, 36 of the breed might have risen to meet the foe had not their special boarding ladders turned up missing. The sobriquet Sitting Duck has clung to the Gallipoli ever since an unjust cut in view of this perfectly harmless old war horse's clearly worthwhile intentions. The last survivor serves today as a chicken house- albeit an impressive one- for the Maharani of Gunjipor. It crash-landed on her lawn in 1944, but the R.A.F., despite numerous reminders, simply keeps forgetting to come round and pick it up.

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