This months spotlight is on Fleming Field and the original hangars that were built by the Navy in 1942. One of the original hangars is home to the Commemorative Air Force and the museum which couldn't be more fitting.
Fleming Field was established on July 20th, 1943 to provide support for NAS Minneapolis. In 1942, the Navy announced the opening of an naval auxiliary air facility (NAAF) and purchased McInnis Field, a small airfield at South St. Paul, for its B-Base. Fleming Field was planned by Navy Lt. H.K. Laing, and the Navy invested considerably into developing the airfield.
Before the war, it was known first as Hook-Em-Cow Field and used by a local flying club. In 1939, the airfield was little more than a mowed landing strip surrounded by farms. Adrian C. McInnis bought the airfield in 1940 and he started a flight school under the federally funded Civilian Pilot Training Program. McInnis Field had only one hangar up when it was officially dedicated on September 29, 1940. Plans were announced that included building larger hangars, but the onset of World War II curbed those plans.
In September 1942, construction started on the naval auxiliary airfield, which was all designed at the Navy Field Office in Minneapolis. The airfield was quickly transformed into an auxiliary Primary flight school for NAS Minneapolis' Training Squadron 1B. Four wooden hangars went up immediately on the north side of the concrete apron as it was being poured.
Two wooden barracks and ship's services were also constructed immediately east of the four hangars on Airport Road. The barracks only housed ground support personnel assigned to Fleming Field. One of the barracks housed WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), which was the
Navy's Reserve unit for women during World War II.
Early additions to Fleming Field (B-Base) included two more hangars and assembly/maintenance shop built on the east side of the apron. A wooden platform tower, and storage facilities for water and gasoline were also added on the apron's north side. The control/signal tower was constructed using wood timber posts and dimensional lumber. A concrete apron was also built and measured approximately 780 ft. x 260 ft., and provided space for one-hundred U.S. Navy primary training aircraft.
Two diagonal taxi strips led from the apron to both the north and south landing pads. Each circle measured 1,500 feet in diameter. Student fliers simply taxied out to the center of the landing circle, revved up, and took off. The take-offs were in all directions taken as fast as students reached the center of the circle. Landings were the reverse of take-offs. Planes landed after lining up over the pylons.
Fleming's north land circle was a grass pad, and it could become packed with dirt, or snow in the winter months. Often the plane's propellers churned up clouds of dust causing visibility problems for cadets.
The south landing circle was situated on very sandy soil that gradually turned into a marsh with a small lake to its south. The circle was paved and received 200,000 square yards of a soil cement mix, but severe weather prevented its completion in the fall of 1942. A local farmer recalled how the south landing pad was built. Preparation for surfacing the field began with clearing and smoothing out the 1,500 foot diameter pad. After removing boulders and large stones, the entire circle was dusted with a layer of dry Portland cement. The top layer of sand and cement was dragged or mixed before the final step of wetting down the surface. When the mix cured it became known as the "earth cement" landing surface. The strength of the rough hardened surface was questionable but the Navy's Primary planes only weighed about 1,900 pounds.
The Navy built six Quonset-style hangars in all, numbered 2-7 (in addition to an existing hangar) and used them to house their N2S and older N3N "Yellow Peril" biplanes. The familiar barrel shaped hangars were constructed of glued laminated wood arch beams and made by Rilco Laminated Products, Inc., of Blue Earth, MN. Wood planks were used for roof decking and green tarpaper was used for roofing. The Navy constructed a total of six hangars, two barracks, a boiler room, power house and storage facilities.
In May 1943, the new Naval Auxiliary Air Field (McInnis Field) opened at South St. Paul, and it began operating as the B-Base for NAS Minneapolis. On July 20, 1943, McInnis Field was renamed Fleming Field in honor of Captain Richard E. Fleming (USMCR), a local aviator who died in the Battle of Midway on June 5, 1942. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Fleming Field was
officially dedicated on January 3, 1944.
The Link trainer was the first flight simulator created by Edwin Link. Link was an engineer at his father’s organ building business. In 1928 he left the family business to begin work on a “pilot trainer” and in 1931 he received a patent. Most of his first sales were to amusement parks. In the beginning there was very little interest by the flying community in Link’s trainer. In 1934 the Army Air Corps bought six Link trainers to assist in training pilots to fly at night and in bad weather, relying on instruments. By the 1940’s Link sold approximately 10,000 trainers to the military.
An instructor sat at the desk and transmitted radio messages which the student heard through his earphones. The student relied on his instruments to fly the Link through various maneuvers while his navigational course was traced on a map on the desk.
The Link trainer holds a significant place in history, it was the first true flight simulator. It provided safe training to student pilots during the 1930’s and 40’s.
We are excited to announce that the museum will be opening on Saturday, July 11, 2020.
We will only be open on Saturday's from 11am to 5pm to allow time for the museum, aircraft, and vehicles to be cleaned. A donation of $5 per person is suggested to help us through this difficult time.
All patrons visiting the museum must wear a mask upon entering. If you do not have one, you can purchase one in our PX. Hand sanitizer will be placed throughout the museum for use.
The museum gift shop will be open, but only 2 people will be allowed in at one time.
In order to keep a safe distance for people, aircraft and vehicles will be on the ramp during open hours. If weather is a factor, we will limit the number of people in the museum at one time.
We thank you for your patience and understanding during this time and we look forward to seeing you all.
The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron was established on 1 May 1943 as a Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, initially trained under Second Air Force in Colorado; reassigned to Third Air Force in Oklahoma where the squadron received P-38E/F-4 Lightning reconnaissance aircraft.
Deployed to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) in England, being assigned to Ninth Air Force. Initially stationed at the Royal Air Force reconnaissance training school at RAF Chalgrove, later moved to RAF Middle Wallop where the squadron became operational in the ETO. The squadron arrived in Chalgrove in late February 1944 and began operations in March. Engaged in unarmed and extremely hazardous combat operations over Occupied Europe, mapping 6,000 square miles (16,000 km2) of the Netherlands and flew bomb-damage assessment missions over marshalling yards and gun emplacements in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, in April 1944.
Earned DUC for participation with 10th Photographic Group, 7–20 May 1944, in photo reconnaissance of Utah beach for Normandy invasion. The citation read, in part: "Employing specially modified equipment installed in unarmed P-38 type aircraft, the intrepid pilots of the 10th Photographic Reconnaissance Group undertook the most hazardous missions. Flying unarmed and unescorted and at altitudes as low as twenty-five feet, they fearlessly piloted their aircraft over the difficult photographic runs in the face of intense fire from some of the strongest anti-aircraft installations in western Europe." Dicing, was the term used when referring to these extremely low-altitude flights over Utah Beach.
Flew sorties over France on D-Day making visual and photographic reconnaissance of bridges, artillery, road and rail junctions, traffic centers, airfields, and other targets. Moved into liberated area of France in early July, flying weather missions, made visual reconnaissance for ground forces, and photographed enemy positions to assist the First and Third Armies; Twelfth Army Group, and other Allied forces in the drive to Germany. Flew its first mission over Germany on 24 August 1944. Took part in the offensive against the Siegfried Line, Sep–Dec 1944, and in the Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes-Alsace), Dec 1944 – Jan 1945.
From then until the close of the war in Europe, the squadron photographed dams and bridges on the Roer River in preparation for the ground offensive to cross the river, and aided the Allied assault across the Rhine River and into Germany. Flew its 2,000th operational mission on 22 March 1945. Flew missions to Berlin on 8 April and to Dresden on 10 April 1945. Returned to the United States in July 1945, being assigned to Third Air Force, Continental Air Command at Drew Field, Florida. Squadron demobilized without becoming fully operational during the fall of 1945, inactivating on 7 November
The Birmingham Small Arms Company has a long history as a firearms manufacturer and was also well-known as the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer during WWII. In 1939, BSA began production of a military version of their M20 commercial motorcycle that was fitted with a Lucas light which is a military signaling lamp and other additional equipment.
It was powered by a 12hp single-cylinder 500cc side-valve engine and offered superb reliability and ease of maintenance. Modifications were made during the course of the production and late-war motorcycles featured an air filter fitted onto the fuel tank. Over 126,000 units were produced during the war and most of them were deployed with the British Army. They saw service on every front for a wide range of duties including liaison and supply convoy escort. Some were also used by the RAF and British Navy.
BSA workers employed making the M20 were killed in an air raid on the BSA factory in Armoury Road, Small Heath, Birmingham on the night of Tuesday 19 November 1940. The factory was one of the main targets for the Luftwaffe and at 9.25pm a low flying aircraft dropped two bombs which destroyed the southern end of the BSA building in Armoury Road. Rescuers included BSA's own fire brigade who pumped the Birmingham and Warwick canal dry putting out the fire. As well as 53 workers killed and 89 were injured. Much of the factory and equipment was destroyed or damaged but BSA had 67 factories so work was transferred elsewhere and production of the BSA M20 continued.
After the war, the M20 continued to serve throughout 1950s and some were even used until the end of the 1960s.
By Dick Leighninger
Can you imagine taking flying lessons in an open cockpit military trainer with the instructor in the back seat giving you instruction through a rubber tube connected to the earflap of your cloth or leather helmet? Well that’s the way cadets learned how to fly before and during WWII. The apparatus was called the Gosport speaking tube.
When WWII started, pilot training for the military included the Primary, Basic and Advanced phases. The Basic (BT-13/SNV) and Advanced aircraft (T-6/SNJ) used by the Army and Navy had electronic intercoms for communication. The Primary trainers (Stearman/N3N/PT-22) did not. Therefore, they had to use the Gosport.
Designed in England by flying instructor Robert Smith-Barry at the School of Special Flying he opened in Gosport, England in 1917, the Gosport was a thick rubber tube about 6’ long, with a split in one end that attached to short metal tubes in the cadet’s helmet, and at the other end a rubber mouth piece that the instructor somehow attached in or near his mouth with leather thong attachments. The tube was routed through the dashboard on the instructor’s side, behind the cadet, to the front where the cadet sat. See pictures attached.
Unfortunately, there are no longer too many WWII pilots who experienced the Gosport to tell us how it worked. But we do know Gosport like speaking tubes were common on military vessels during the war. The speaking tubes were used to communicate between decks and compartments in the ships. Speaking tubes were installed on ocean going vessels long before World War I, so this may be where Mr. Smith-Barry got his idea for the Gosport.
The Minnesota Wing currently has a Gosport and cloth flying helmet in its collection and there are plans to install the speaking tube in the Ryan PT-22 at some time in the future.
Due to the urgent need for more pilots in World War II, the United States Army Air Forces lowered the entrance requirements for aviation cadets to admit eighteen-year-olds with high school diplomas. Enlisted men in the Army could also be allowed to enter flight training. Sergeant pilots had also existed, but it was an awkward situation. Such people had the responsibility of operating airplanes, but did not get the benefits or pay that commissioned officer pilots did. Pilots who were commissioned officers were also reluctant to accept the enlisted pilots and new recruits with just a high school education as their peers.
In May 1942, the USAAF asked Congress to create a new grade above the enlisted ranks but below that of second lieutenant. On July 8, President Roosevelt signed Public Law 658, establishing the grade of flight officer (F/O), equal in status to that of warrant officer junior grade. Like warrant officers, they held a place between the enlisted and commissioned officers. Often described as a "third Lieutenant," they wore the uniform of an officer but had the rank insignia of a blue bar with a gold bar across the middle. This was informally called the "blue pickle."
The most famous person to be a Flight Officer was also one of America's most famous pilots. Before he broke the sound barrier flying the Bell X-1, Charles Yeager was an enlisted man. After being accepted for flight training, he graduated as a Flight Officer during the war. During his time as a fighter pilot, he was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and continued to rise up the ranks of the USAAF and later, the United States Air Force. By the end of the war, many of the other Flight Officers had also been promoted to commissioned officer status with the rank of Lieutenant. Exactly when the last flight officers entered service is unclear, but the law authorizing the grade was not repealed until July 1947, two months before the Air Force became a separate service.
Sources: "The Third Lieutenants” By Bruce D. Callander and J.H. MacWilliam
Air Force Magazine, Sept. 7, 2008
"He's a Flight Officer Now"
Yank, the Army Weekly, December 2, 1943
Smoke markers were used in bombers from the late 1930s through World War II. They were filled with white phosphorous and were dropped by the lead aircraft when the target had been determined. It signaled the remaining aircraft to drop their bombs. They identified the general target location for the other planes in the squadron. As you can see in the picture the smoke markers point to the target.
The wooden ones floated and were a smoke-producing flare designed to be dropped by an aircraft over open water for drift sighting during the day or night. When the drift signal is thrown from an aircraft it floats on the water and gives a light and smoke which are visible to an observer in the airplane from which it was dropped. These signals are used in obtaining the drift of the airplane from which it was dropped.
This month’s featured artifact is the M8 flare pistol. The M8 Pyrotechnic Pistol was the standard 37mm signal flare launcher used by the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. The weapon is a double-action pistol with a simple break-open breech-loading design, with a cast aluminium frame, stamped steel parts and a bakelite (plastic) grip. The two distinctive curved projections at the top are the latch for opening the breech at the rear, and a hook for securing the pistol in an aircraft. Alternatively, it could be secured by the muzzle using the four rectangular locking lugs seen on the end of the barrel if the aircraft had the appropriate mounting. The mount was really a little door that would have been fastened to the aircraft and allowed the barrel to extend through the aircraft’s outer skin. It was spring mounted to absorb the recoil.
Different colored flares would have been used by the flight crews near the airfield to communicate different types of emergencies such as: wounded aboard, radio out, gear malfunction or other types of in-flight emergencies. This would give the appropriate emergency ground crews and aircraft controllers a heads up as to what to expect when the aircraft touched down. This type of pistol could also have been used by crews during a water ditching situation to signal rescue vessels or aircraft from a life raft.
This type of pistol can be seen being used in early movies such as 12 O’Clock High and as recently as the 2014 tale of survival about Louis Zamperini titled Unbroken. Interestingly, this particular pistol has the manufacturer’s stamp of EVCC, which stood for Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Company. Eureka built these pistols under contract for the U.S. Government during the war. Eureka, like many manufacturers, had completely switched over to producing only materials for the war effort and along with the pistols made parts for B-29 bombers, C-47 transports and an automatic fire-control device, among other things.
From the museum archives comes these two interesting armbands that were worn by volunteers of the Reichsluftshutzbund or National Air Raid Protection League in Germany during WWII.
The red armband would have been worn by members in urban areas who had the specific task of extinguishing fires caused by incendiary aerial bombs. This was an important task as the fires caused by hundreds of incendiaries were initially small and could be quickly extinguished if caught early, but left to burn could grow in size and cause immense destruction as evidenced in the firestorms they caused in cities like Dresden and Hamburg.
Likewise, the blue armband with the white ‘O’ signified a member of the Luftschutz Crowd Control unit. These units helped to maintain order and attempted to keep panic from setting in during and after air raids so that the firefighting units could complete their tasks.
The Luftschutz was a dedicated civil defense organization that started as a volunteer organization, but after 1935 was obligatory for nearly all German civilians. By the Spring of 1943, membership reached over 22 million in response to the increasingly devastating air attacks Germany experienced during WWII.
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