Letters September 2011 Issue

Letters September 2011 Issue

­Tense Days at Tempelhof

The picture of Tempelhof Airport (Soundings, p. 11, Aug. 2011) fills me with nostalgia. I was stationed there from 1962 to 1964, analyzing air-to-air and air-to-ground communications for the U.S. Air Force Security Service’s 6912th Security Squadron.

You never knew what was going to happen from day to day in Berlin. One day a T-34 trainer strayed over East Germany and was promptly shot down. (Seeing the wreckage convinced me we were in Berlin for serious business.) Another day, a Polish air force captain defected with his wife and two children by flying a two-seat trainer into Tempelhof. And once a Canadian TV broadcaster flew his Cessna from West Germany to Berlin without permission from the Soviets. He was pounced on by MiGs. U.S. ground controllers managed to get him into Berlin without his being shot down, although the MiG pilots did use warning flares and dropped landing gear to try to force him down.

John Sukovich
Newberry, South Carolina


Do Airplane Models Kill?

Replying to the article “PilotCam” (June/July 2011), Mark Smith says that “the aeromodeling community has a superior safety record that exceeds that of any other form of aviation” (Letters, Aug. 2011). What is the basis for comparing the safety of aeromodels to the safety of piloted aviation?

Lieut. Cdr. Rawson Mordhorst
U.S. Navy (ret.)

Oak Harbor, Washington

Editors’ reply: Mark Smith, president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, says, “Over the span of more than 100 years, the number of deaths in the United States attributed to model aircraft can be counted on one hand.” Nevertheless, he acknowledges that comparing model aviation to full-sized, manned aviation “is a bit like comparing Go Kart racing to NASCAR.”


Racing Airliners

In 1988, I attended the Yakima, Washington airshow, where former Boeing test pilot Tex Johnston and his daughter hosted a booth. I asked him if he ever took the 707 supersonic (“Boeing Will Never Try It,” Aug. 2011).

He said (I’m paraphrasing), “We once took the 707 to 40,000 feet and pointed the nose down with full throttle. It was shaking. The aircraft hit .97 Mach before we pulled out at 24,000 feet.”

So according to Tex, Boeing did try it.

Randy Fitch
Bellevue, Washington

Fire Down Below

Like Patty Wagstaff, I flew from the Grass Valley Air Attack Base in California (“Patty Wagstaff’s Second Act,” Aug. 2011). I operated a turbo-charged Cessna C-337 for the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1980s.

Fire tankers had to be airborne within 15 minutes of an alarm, but usually made it in five. We air-attacks had to be airborne within five minutes, but normally made it in a minute and a half.

A fire alert mandated a max-continuous-power cruise-climb to altitude, then 75 percent cruise to the fire. Upon reaching station, we reduced to 45 percent power and circled the subject area. Since my main passenger, the fire boss, sat in the front right seat, I got really good at right-hand turns about a point.

At the time, standard operating procedure dictated that the air attack plane orbit the fire at 1,000 feet above ground level with right turns. The tankers made left turns at 500 feet AGL. In those mountains, picking which terrain to use for a benchmark often proved an interesting challenge.

Jim Manley
Meridian, Idaho

What’s Behind That Loser?

Behind the XP-79 shown on p. 39 (“Loser X-Planes,” Aug. 2011) is a twin-engine airplane with twin tails and U.S. markings. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what it is.

Ray Charlton
Monmouth, Oregon

Editors’ reply: According to National Air and Space Museum archivist Brian Nicklas, it is a Fairchild AT-21 bomber crew trainer, made of Duramold, a plastic-bonded plywood-like material that replaced critical metals during World War II. “It was pretty much a flop in its own right,” says Nicklas.


  • Aug. 2011 “Stopping the A380” (How Things Work): The Boeing 767 that crashed in 1991 departed from Thailand, not Indonesia, and 223, not 313, were killed.
  • “The Perfect Wind Storm”: The space shuttle’s solid rocket booster nozzles are protected by a thermal curtain, not foam.
  • “Boeing Will Never Try It”: The F-104 chase plane was flown by Bud Evans, not Chuck Yeager.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.