Lets now take a look at more of the warbirds that flew at the Kyneton Air Show on Sunday April 23rd, 2017. Seeing these historic combat aircraft up close and flying is always a highlight of any air show and this was no exception.
The warbirds that took to the sky at the Kyneton Air Show provided some interesting diversity from World War One to World War Two and the Vietnam War. Paul Bennet Airshows low flying 1943 Grumman (GM) TBM-3E Avenger (US Navy Bureau Number 53857) torpedo bomber in the markings of US Navy Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) which operated from USS Bunker Hill as part of Carrier Air Group 8 (CVG-8) from March 1944 was a highlight of the air show.
From the 1960’s to 2002 the TBM Avenger spent most of that time as a converted fire fighting aerial tanker until retired. It was sold and transported to an Australian buyer in 2004 for restoration. Its first post-restoration flight was on April 6th, 2006 at the Gold Coast Airport in Queensland. It was sold again in 2011 to Paul Bennet.
There was a little bit of concern during the entertaining Avenger flight display when it was noticeable that the starboard side undercarriage was not fully retracted. Paul Bennet continued flying like a boss and when he was able to lower the undercarriage without any issue before landing, all was good (he tested it out long before he made his final landing approach). Well done!
Sopwith Pup & P-40N Warhawk
The TBM Avenger was joined in the flying by a Sopwith Pup replica (VH-SOR completed in 1992) similar to those flown by the Australian Flying Corps as a training aircraft in World War One and Doug Hamilton’s 1943 Curtiss P-40N-5-CU Warhawk (USAAF Serial Number 42-104986) did a fly-in display from its base in Wangaratta. The P-40N wears the markings of the USAAF 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron for which it served in New Guinea flying out of Gusap Airfield during World War Two (the white tail with a black checker board represents the 49th Fighter Group).
The “Flack Incident“
There is a rather fascinating tale to the end of this P-40N’s military career (USAAF Serial Number 42-104986). Its last day of flying in World War Two occurred in New Guinea during a fighter sweep mission over Wewak on February 14th, 1944, when USAAF pilot 1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack of the 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron engaged an Imperial Japanese Army Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (Allied reporting name “Tony”) fighter in a dogfight (flown by Sgt. Major Rokusaburo Nakamura of the 68th Hiko Sentai).
Flack shot down the Ki-61 in a head on attack (his second aerial victory and confirmed by his wingman) but the Japanese fighter had also damaged the P-40’s cooling system which resulted in rising oil temperature. On his way back to base Flack had to make a forced landing behind enemy lines in the Ramu Valley. Before hitting the ground, his aircraft clipped a tree and lost its propeller; and he was knocked unconscious and broke his arm in the incident.
There are two reports on what happened next, one is that Flack set the P-40 on fire to avoid it falling into the hands of the Japanese, the other more dramatic one is that he luckily awoke from the crash and got out just before it got worse, as the aircraft soon caught on fire and exploded! Whatever the actual case was, he was fortunate to survive and what followed was a brave series of rescue attempts to get Flack back to Allied lines, that also resulted in near tragedy.
3 USAAF Stinson L-5 Sentinel liaison aircraft of the 25th Liaison Squadron were immediately sent out from Gusap Airfield to locate Flack. One spotted the burning P-40 and tried to land in a nearby grass field. The field turned out to have very long kunai grass (6-8 feet high) but the pilot spotted it too late to abort his landing and the L-5 Sentinel flipped over. The pilot, MSgt Eugene Salternik was unhurt and tried to find Flack on foot but was unsuccessful and returned to his wrecked Stinson. Now a second pilot needed rescuing!
Supplies were dropped to Salternik to keep him going with a message to stay put. Rather than risk more aircraft an Australian commando, Lt. Hector Henstridge volunteered to parachute in to where Salternik was and locate Flack (Henstridge had never done a jump before but made it). They soon located Flack and then set about clearing a landing field. Two days later “Flack Field” was ready and another L-5 Sentinel piloted by James D. Nichols was sent in but upon touch down its landing gear failed damaging the airframe beyond repair and now three aircraft had been lost and four people were stranded!
On February 21st, 1944 another L-5 Sentinel piloted by Sgt. Thomas Stallone managed to land safely on “Flack Field” but the pilot soon realised he would never be able to take-off with any passengers, so had to take off and leave them behind. This rescue attempt was getting out of control (it became known as the “Flack Incident“)!
No more aircraft were going to be risked in the rescue attempt so in the end Henstridge lead the party out of the jungle on foot with the plan to rendezvous with an Australian Army patrol. They walked some 56km through rugged terrain, were declared MIA in the meantime, ran out of food and all contracted malaria before finally encountering an Australian Army patrol on March 10th, 1944 (by then they had spent more than two weeks in the jungle). The patrol was looking for them before the Japanese could capture the pilots. They were saved and two days later evacuated by air, back to Gusap Airfield. Henstridge was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross (USA) and pilots Salternick and Nichols were awarded a Silver Star for their ordeal in the rescue. Flack received an Air Medal for his aerial victory over the “Tony”. What a story!
In 1946 the RAAF were searching for the remains of a missing airman near the area of the crash site and recorded finding the P-40N but given its remote location the P-40N sat in the same spot in Papua New Guinea for the next 60 years until rediscovered and recovered in 2004 (the two L-5 wrecks were also found nearby – I assume they are still there?). The P-40N had fire damage around the cockpit and engine but was in reasonable condition for a wreck.
The salvageable components of the P-40N were exported to Australia (including the engine, a wing, tail and rudder) and the new owner began the restoration process in 2005 with a new wing set and fuselage. In 2011 it was sold to Doug Hamilton who continued the restoration process and the P-40N was returned to flight on March 6th, 2016 in the original markings as flown by 1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack in 1944.
The P-40N, produced from 1943 to 1944 was the final production model of the P-40. The rear deck of the cockpit was cut down at a slight slant to improve the pilots rearview and given a larger Allison V-1710-81 12 cylinder engine was used, the fuselage was lengthened to counter the resulting torque. You will note that the restorers took advantage of this longer fuselage, and this Curtiss P-40N-5-CU Warhawk (USAAF Serial Number 42-104986) is now a two-seater so it can be used to provide warbird flights to help fund the ongoing flying of such a classic aircraft.
Although this aircraft was a USAAF example , the P-40N variant has a great deal of significance to Australia. Out of the 841 P-40’s operated by the RAAF from 1942 to 1947, the P-40N was the most prolific variant with 553 examples entering service. The P-40N was known as the Kittyhawk Mk.IV in Commonwealth air forces.
Vietnam War Era
The Vietnam War era was represented by Chris Godfrey’s North American T-28D Trojan (USAF Serial Number 51-3588) ground attack aircraft an a Cessna O-1G Bird Dog. The latter was used as a Forward Air Control aircraft in the conflict – gutsy pilots those guys, flying small unarmed aircraft (they would only carry marker rockets) into harms way to identify and locate potential enemy targets.
The T-28D Trojan painted in a Vietnam War era four colour camouflage scheme and fitted with underwing machine gun pods was originally a 1951 T-28A (USAF Serial Number 51-3588) that was converted to the T-28D standard in 1965 for use in S.E. Asia during the Vietnam War. It was maintained by Air America (CIA) at Royal Thai Air Force Base Udorn, Thailand for operations against communist forces in Cambodia and Laos from the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s. In 1973 the “Secret War” was still going on in Laos (not part of the peace accords) and this T-28D was being flown by USAF Detachment 1, 56th Special Operations Wing (SOW) for training at Udorn of Royal Lao Air Force pilots on combat missions.
Although operating between Thailand and Laos in conjunction with USAF pilots, this T-28D aircraft was officially part of the Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF) inventory from January 1971. It flew on with the RLAF until 1975 when Laos fell to communist forces and the T-28D became part of the new Lao People’s Liberation Army Air Force until retired in the late 1970’s. Purchased and transported to Thailand in 1988 (along with a number of other airframes) by Col Pay and his associates, it found its way to Australia for restoration and has had a number of owners since that time. It was returned to flight in 2016 after a 4 year hiatus.
In my next post I will show the various antique and civilian aircraft flying displays at the Kyneton Air Show.