In the Museum: Mail Call | Flight Today | Air & Space Magazine
Current Issue
September 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 47% off the cover price!

Incoming correspondence is "triaged," says volunteer Guy Halford-MacLeod, who tracked down the 1963 Ozark Airline timetable to answer a recent query. (Eric Long)

In the Museum: Mail Call

In the Museum: Mail Call

Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

The letters come in by the thousands. Some ramble for several pages, others are succinct. A few are handwritten—occasionally scrawled, usually neatly printed—although the majority are typed or sent electronically. But they all want the same thing: information.

From This Story

Dear Sirs,
On May 22, 1963, my family flew on a commercial flight from Joplin, Missouri, to Chicago, Illinois, with stops at Springfield MO, St. Louis MO, and Springfield IL. Is there any way that you can find out the airline on which we flew, the type of aircraft on which we flew, our departure time in Joplin, and our arrival time in Chicago? (See response to this and all other questions below)

"At first I thought, 'Yeah, right,'" says Brian Nicklas, who has worked in the National Air and Space Museum's archives division for 20 years. "But then I realized that our volunteer Guy Halford-MacLeod would be able to answer it. Guy knows timetables and such, and he sent the gentleman a marvelous response."

"It was nothing," says Halford-MacLeod. "In the 1960s, airlines were tightly regulated, and only one airline would have flown the route from Joplin, Missouri, to Chicago. It didn't take very long to establish that the airline in question was Ozark, an airline that has long since disappeared." (See "Home Grown," Dec. 2000/Jan. 2001.)

With 15 permanent staff members and eight part-time volunteers, the archives handles more than 3,360 such queries each year. While the letters are enough to keep a task force busy, the staff also preserves the collections and works with donors to acquire items, frequently going on site to collect materials. (They've dug through the contents of attics, roamed dusty basements, and liberated knee-deep stacks of documents.) And while the bulk of the archives' collections is stored in a metal, no-frills building in Suitland, Maryland, the center of reference operations is in the Museum on the National Mall.

The queries are as varied as the archives' content. Hobbyists frequently ask for technical and scale drawings, which have been donated to the Museum over the decades by manufacturers, the armed services, and individual illustrators.

Researchers like to peruse the archives' voluminous holdings, which include everything from Operation Paperclip correspondence (the 1945 U.S. effort to identify and evacuate German scientists and engineers ahead of the advancing Soviet army) to NASA pre- and post-launch mission reports for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights to the 1937 logbook of U.S. fighter ace Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, later the commander of the famous U.S. Marine Corps "Black Sheep" squadron.

"The archives is committed to helping anyone and everyone," says supervisory archivist Marilyn Graskowiak. "If you are a modeler or the Imperial War Museum, we'll treat you the same way."

Although people have always been able to get answers to their aeronautical queries, there hasn't always been a place for researchers to visit. The collections were scattered throughout the Institution archives, in off-site storage, and in the hands of various curators. But by the mid-1980s, the archival collections had been gathered into the care of a single division, provided with a sunny room on the Museum's third floor.

We need an image of a pilot, or a pilot-like man. Might you have any photographs?

Indeed they do. The collections include nearly two million photographs, 700,000 feet of motion picture film, and two million technical drawings. The data spans the history of flight from ancient times to the present day, with an emphasis on the technical aspects of air- and spacecraft.

I seek all information relevant to the Curtiss P-40 used by the French forces between November 1942 and 1948.

There are certain queries the archives can't answer. "We're not the FAA, we can't certify your aircraft," explains Nicklas. And concerning the overwhelming number of requests for Japanese and German aircraft specifications, Nicklas sighs, "Just because we won the war doesn't mean we have the blueprints."

Regarding the Spirit of St. Louis: Does the inside of the starboard side cowling bear the names of the Ryan Monoplane Company workers that built the Spirit of St. Louis, including a paw print of the dog that lived at the factory?

With an annual budget of $14,000, the archives isn't a money-making project: "What little we charge goes to buy proper conservation supplies," says Graskowiak. Each time someone requests a duplicate of a microfilm reel, for instance, the $30 processing fee helps to offset the cost of remastering unstable micofilm onto stable polyester film stock.

What's the origin of the term "touch-and-go" as used in aircraft landing and takeoff practice?

The archives has its regulars. "Mr. Dumas has been writing to us, from France, every month—for years now," says Nicklas. "We sometimes wonder what he's doing. He might be starting his own museum."

It's not such a far-fetched idea. Each written response to a query is a small gem, highlighting the knowledge of the archivists and volunteers who staff the division.


Questions and Responses from NASM Staff

Dear Sirs,
On May 22, 1963, my family flew on a commercial flight from Joplin, Missouri, to Chicago, Illinois, with stops at Springfield MO, St. Louis MO, and Springfield IL. Is there any way that you can find out the airline on which we flew, the type of aircraft on which we flew, our departure time in Joplin, and our arrival time in Chicago?

Response:

You would have flown with Ozark Air Lines, a local service carrier based in St. Louis, MO. At the time Ozark flew Fairchild F-27 turboprop airliners, and Convair 240 piston-engine airliners. There were two flights a day from Joplin, one in the early morning (Flight Number 750) and another later in the afternoon (Flight Number 754). Here are the schedules for each flight:

Departure from Joplin           6.00 am        3.00 pm
Arrive at Springfield, MO      6.23 am        3.23 pm
Depart Springfield, MO         6.30 am        3.30 pm
Arrive at St. Louis                   8.25 am        5.25 pm
Depart St. Louis                      8.55 am        5.50 pm
Arrive at Springfield, IL          9.25 am        6.20 pm
Depart Springfield, IL             9.35 am        6.30 pm
Arrive Chicago (O’Hare)     10.30 am        7.25 pm

We cannot tell which aircraft type was used, as the F-27 and Convairs were used interchangeably, but perhaps you will remember if you look at the attached images. The F-27 had a high-wing and its Rolls-Royce Dart engines would have made a high-pitched whining sound. You would have liked looking out of the windows, as the view would not have been obstructed by the wing. The Convair had piston engines, and was altogether noisier; you would have seen the big engines rather than the view, as the airliner had low wings.

We need an image of a pilot, or a pilot-like man. Might you have any photographs?

Response:

The Archives collection contains nearly two million photographs. To learn more about the extensive photo collection, see this website: http://www.nasm.si.edu/research/arch/collections/photoarchives.cfm.

I seek all information relevant to the Curtiss P-40 used by the French forces between November 1942 and 1948.

Response:

Enclosed are proof images relating to ceremony at the transfer of Curtiss P-40 aircraft to the French Air Forces in Algiers on 1/9/43. While we have proof copies in our files, the photographs are only available from the National Archives Still Photos branch. We are enclosing the form U.S. Air Force Pre-1954 Still Photo Collection which provides contact information for obtaining copies of these photographs.

We are also enclosing images of the P-40, selected from our collection. These have U.S. markings, as we could not locate additional images with French markings in our collection. If you are interested, you can order copy photographs of these images using the enclosed Smithsonian Photographic Services form. Images will be of much better quality and will not have numbers imposed on them.

We are also enclosing two items, an article from the Air Age Technical Library and selected pages from Swanborough, United States Aircraft Since 1909 which provided descriptions and specifications for the P-40.

We hope this information will be useful to you for your archival project. If you need additional information we will be pleased to attempt to locate it for you.

Regarding the Spirit of St. Louis: Does the inside of the starboard side cowling bear the names of the Ryan Monoplane Company workers that built the Spirit of St. Louis, including a paw print of the dog that lived at the factory?

Response:

According to Bob van der Linden, one of our curators and the co-author of a book on the Spirit of St. Louis, there are names written all over the aircraft, but he is not aware of a group of names on the inside of the cowling as you describe. I could not find a photograph of the inside of the cowling in our image database. The Ryan staff did sign the main wing spar before the wing was covered with fabric. The fabric has never been removed, so there are no photographs of the signatures. They also signed the inside of the spinner—a photograph appears in Bob's book "Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis." I'll mail you a copy of the page. I'm afraid there's no paw print, though.

What's the origin of the term "touch-and-go" as used in aircraft landing and takeoff practice?

Response:

We consulted a series of independently published aviation and dictionary phrase glossaries, and did not find the term listed in any of these, either in U.S. originated documents or foreign publications, prior to 1944. It appears therefore that the term must date from either the very late World War II era (1944-45) or post-war. We have been utterly unable to establish a firm "first year of use" for the term, and we suspect that it had local origins, possibly within either the U.S. Army Air Forces Training Command or the similar U.S. Navy aviation training system.

Could you please tell me the actual weight of the Wright R-1750 and the reasons why the R-1820 weighed so much more? Your help is sincerely appreciated.

Response:

Enclosed is a photocopy of a contemporary brochure from Wright Aeronautical Corporation on the R-1750 engine. The "dry" weight is listed as "760 lbs. approx."

In regard to your question as to why the R-1820 was so much heavier than the R-1750, this is a rather complex subject. To begin with, the R-1820 models weighed anywhere from 945 lbs (R-1820E1) to 1287 lbs. (R-1820G105A). In addition to the larger bore and different construction material/methods, much of the difference between the R-1750 and R-1820 was due to the addition of the supercharger. We have also enclosed a photocopy of a chart detailing the evolution off the R-1820; some design changes are indicated herein.

We hope this information will be of use to you in your studies.

Hello To Whom It May Concern:

I wrote to you concerning a picture of Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, Paul Mantz and two other ladies. The women I couldn't find out anything. They are a ? Maybe you could answer these questions, in the smaller picture she is holding something in her hand. Maybe an envelope or something?  I'd really appreciate anything that you could find out.

Response:

Your photograph does indeed include Amelia Earhart (standing on the far right, wearing leis). On the far left (also wearing leis) is Paul Mantz, Earhart's technical adviser. This picture was taken in Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, in March 1937. Earhart and Mantz, along with navigator Fred Noonan (not in the photograph), landed in Hawaii on the first leg of an unsuccessful around the world flight attempt that left Earhart's Lockheed Electra severely damaged. Earhart's second around the world flight attempt (undertaken June-July 1937) is the one in which she went missing forever.

Upon their arrival in Hawaii, Amelia Earhart and Paul Mantz went to the Waikiki beach house of two of his friends, Chris and Nona Holmes, who had arranged a party for them. This is when we believe the photograph you have was taken. The woman second from left (wearing leis) is likely Terry Minor, Paul Mantz's fiancée. The man and woman beside Earhart are most likely Chris and Nona Holmes. Howard Hughes is not in the photograph.

If you wish to learn more about Amelia Earhart's life, and her time in Hawaii specifically, you can read about it in the book Amelia Earhart: A Biography by Doris L. Rich. I have enclosed a photocopy of the book's title information and the page relevant to your photograph. I am also enclosing the copy of the photograph you sent to us.

I hope you will find this information helpful. Thank you for your interest in the National Air and Space Museum.

Regarding the DC-3: I would like to know what the appendage is on the right side of the fuselage in front of the intake and behind the copilot side window? This is very clear in the photo of the aircraft hanging from the ceiling of the museum. I believe that the air intake is for the cabin ventilation and thought the airfoil looking like thing may be a form of vortex generator. I have asked fellow pilots and all though we have flown in a "3" no one knew what it was or its purpose.

Response:

Your conjecture is basically correct. The airfoil shape is there to smooth the flow into the air intake immediately aft of it. Our Aero Curator indicates that this was found only on the "original" Wright-engine powered DC-3s, and is not on the Pratt-powered DC-3As/C-47s. Apparently, others have previously asked about this device. The NASM DC-3 is a Wright powered aircraft built in 1936.

I'm old enough to have flown in DC-3's still regional in airline service in the early 1960s, and I never realized that the earlier models had differences in addition to the Wright powerplants. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to add another tidbit to my store of aeronautical trivia. We hope to be of further service in future inquiries.

Learn more about the National Air and Space Museum's Archives Division or find out how you can volunteer.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus