The CAF Red Tail Squadron

Archive for February, 2012

The Mystery of the Mustang Computer

     I received an email from Mike Gomez a couple of weeks ago.  Mike’s company manages the townhome complex I live in.  To say that this email was a surprise is an understatement because I typically only hear from him if I’ve asked a question about something having to do with the homeowners association.  To say that this email was a treasure trove of fun information is also an understatement because … well, read on.
     The red-tailed Mustang the CAF Red Tail Squadron flies was used as a trainer here in the States during the last part of WWII.  After the war, like so many other airplanes, it was declared surplus and ultimately flown to Montana where it sat on a pedestal at Montana State University in Bozemanfor decades.  To my knowledge, no one in the CAF Red Tail Squadron has really questioned the Mustang’s tenure there.  Mike, a retired USAF Senior Master Sergeant and aviation buff, thinks he may have the answer to one aspect of its stay there and it’s a doozy.  Here are the emails he sent me:
February 10, 2012 email:      [Tuskegee Airman] Col. Luke Weathers passed away recently. In 2005, I had the privilege of meeting the old gentleman.  There is a fascinating story here that involves Montana State University, Col. Weathers, and his wingman, Lt. William E. Hill.
     There is a strong possibility that Lt. Hill once flew the P-51 that is currently in your organization’s possession.  That would be a fantastic story if it turns out that the aircraft that was restored to honor the Tuskegee Airmen was in fact at one time flown by a Tuskegee Airman.
     I’ll send you a picture that I took of Col Weathers at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. And if you are interested, I’ll send you the details and photographic proof of why I think there is a connection with Lt. Hill and the P-51.


I was, of course, EXTREMELY interested!
February 12, 2012 email:  This is a fascinating story with some incredible coincidences. It started while I attending MSU and started working as a student employee in the computer labs. At that time, the person in charge of the labs had a cluttered office in the basement of the library.  A couple of years later, he started moving into another room just a few doors down.
     I got a chance to see the new room while he was in the process of cleaning it out. It appeared to me to be a storage area but dumping ground would better describe it. Seems that throughout the years stuff got dumped in there and forgotten about. So he cleaned it out and moved his office in there.
     Years later he would become my immediate supervisor. Greatest guy I’ve ever known, by the way.  As fate would have it, he came down with pancreatic cancer and died shortly after.  I had just obtained my Computer Science degree so I applied for his job.
     I got the job and moved into his office. In the process of cleaning it out, I found an old flight computer in a leather case.  I’m positive that this was one of those items that had been dumped in that old storage room  Anyway, there was some writing inside the case lid, faded but still readable:
                                           William E. Hill   Tuskegee Ala  12 1943
Lt. William E. Hill’s bag with writing on the flap and the “computer”
       There is some more writing and I’ve included it in the photo I’m sending of the computer. Needless to say that I recognized what it was at once. An original WWII era flight computer used by a Tuskegee Airman.  By the way, I’ve alway been an avid aviation buff, especially WWII aircraft so I recognized its importance.
     When I left my job in 2003, I decided that the computer was too valuable to entrust whoever inherited my office to it so I took it with me.  My thoughts were to find the proper person, museum, or some other organization to present it to. My first choice would be a relative of Lt. Hill.
     I spent several years, on and off, searching the Internet for any information on Lt. Hill.  Couldn’t find anything about him except for the fact that he was KIA. Did quite a bit of searching, thinking.
     Should have keep a diary of all my efforts, but I didn’t so I can’t really remember the details of how I came up with the idea of tracking down Col. Weathers instead.  The reason I chose him was that I found out that he and Lt. Hill shared one victory.  So after numerous dead-ends, I finally contacted his daughter and she gave me his cell phone number.
     It was quite a thrill contacting him the first time. Talked to him several times because we always seemed to be getting disconnected. One time I got a hold of him while he was driving and I asked him if he remembered Lt. Hill.  “Yeah. He was my wingman.” then we got disconnected.  At that point I knew that the computer belonged with him.
     From our conversation, I found out that he lived in Tucson. (I mistakenly said Phoenix in my first email to you.) So then it was a simple matter to find his address on Google maps. I didn’t let him know I was coming, just hopped in my car and drove down there from Livingston, Montana. Couple days later I knocked on his door, he answered it, I introduced myself, and he invited me in.
Col. Weathers
      It was great, being in the presence of a Tuskegee Airman. He showed me an album that had the history of the organization and pictures of all the pilots. What a thrill to see the picture of Lt. William E. Hill while in my hand was his flight computer! I took several pictures of Col. Weathers and the album. Unfortunately the one I took of Lt. Hill is way too blurry. Wish I’d had taken a ton more.
     Anyway, I left the computer with Col. Weathers and a letter explaining how I came in possession of it.
     When I originally started my search, I had no idea that MSU (originally known as MSC) had had a P-51 Mustang.  So when I first found the computer, I had could not understand how a flight computer used by a P-51 pilot stationed in Alabama wound up in a university campus in Montana. It wasn’t till much later that I learned about the plane.
     From what I understand, the plane was actually flown to Billings, Montana, which is about 150 miles from Bozeman. There, the wings were cut off so that it could be trucked to MSC. My guess is Lt. Hill’s computer was in that aircraft. He would not have flown the aircraft himself since he was already KIA. But he probably flew it at one time, probably while in training since that plane served as a trainer at one time. He must have left it in the plane. The computer probably was just included in the briefcase containing the aircraft records when it was delivered to Billlings. And somehow it found its way to the basement of the library.
     I’m sending you two pictures of the computer. The actual writing is pretty unreadable because of the quality of the pictures but I’ve included the text on one of the pictures, exactly as it appears on the computer and about the same orientation.

My thanks to Mike for sharing this interesting information and the photos! 
     Lt. William E. Hill is listed as having graduated with Tuskegee class 43-H in August 1943.  Regrettably, I was unable to find out any information about his “KIA” status.  Here is a link to a list of KIA Tuskegee pilots compiled by Tuskegee historian Daniel Haulman.  You’ll see that there are some information gaps in the Fall of 1944 regarding the names of pilots killed.  It could be that Mr. Hill was one of those whose names are not listed.
     Since the Squadron’s Mustang was built by North American Aviation in 1944 and only used in the U.S., I doubt that Mr. Hill would have flown it.  That does not negate the importance of Mike finding his bag and Mustang computer and understanding their significance.  In fact, that just adds to the mystery.  How did that bag come to be in the storage room at MSU? I am personally fascinated by the concept of there being a “computer” for the Mustang.
     If anyone knows anything about Lt. Hill, the Mustang “computer” or the Squadron’s P-51′s stay at Montana State University, I invite them to share the information via the “Comment” section at the bottom of this blog.   Inquiring minds want to know!

Update:
The RISE Above Traveling Exhibit will be in Columbus, Mississippi from February 29 thru March 3.  It will be set up at the Hitching Lot Farmer’s Market site and open to the public.  Admission is, as always, free.  Click here to see the hours, etc.


The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

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Presidents Day and More

     Monday is Presidents Day, which honors the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln by giving many people a day off from work and inducing businesses to offer special deals in order to move product.  If I sound a little jaded, I’m sorry but I really HATE some of the ads which have actors dressed as George and Abe dancing around to sell cars or washers or whatever.  Are we, the shopping public, so blasé about sales that companies need to make monkeys out of our national figures so we pay attention?  I’m just asking…
     Washington was born on February 11, 1732, but his birthdate changed to February 22 in 1752 when England changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.  We have enough trouble remembering to add an extra day to February every four years – can you imagine what it was like to have the entire calendar system change??  At least George became 11 days younger instead of 11 days older (of course at age 20, he probably didn’t much care about that!)
     Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar in 46 BC.  It allowed for February’s leap day every four years, but other calculations were wrong so it gained three days about every four centuries.  Pope Gregory the 13th signed a paper in 1582 that adopted changes to the Julian calendar that corrected the errors.  Rather than call it the “Julian Calendar Part 2,” they just named the new calendar after the Pope.  Throughout the following centuries, countries gradually adopted the Gregorian calendar.  However, there are still some religions and a few countries that follow the Julian version even today.  I wonder how a cellphone’s electronic updating function handles that when its owner visits a country that follows a completely different calendar?
     Speaking of calendars, have you bookmarked the Squadron’s Event Calendar page yet?  We post all events on it throughout the year.  Find it here and check it often as we’re busily booking appearances for the Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit for the coming months. We hope you’ll visit us when we’re in or near your hometown.  
In Other News…
Filmmaker George  Lucas will receive the NAACP’s Vanguard Award tonight in a ceremony that will be aired on NBC (check local listings).  He’s receiving it in part for producing the movie “Red Tails” about the Tuskegee Airmen.  Click here for a brief article about it.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

 

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A Four Dot Blog

Your attention please – the last webinar featuring Harold Brown and Charles McGee will be on Sunday, February 12th at 3 p.m. Eastern time.  The original blog upload said it was on Saturday – this was in error.

     The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s “air show” season is already underway although there are no air shows on the schedule yet. One thing about having two educational attractions is that when the one that takes to the air is grounded, the one with wheels can be ready to go.  The Mustang is still safe and warm in its WWII-era Quonset-style hangar at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, but the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is already on the road.  After a brief stop in Atlanta early this week, its next stop is the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Salisbury, NC on February 15-18.   
     Salisbury has a population of just over 33,600 people – it’s not a major metropolis by any stretch of the imagination.  The story of how a group of people came together to raise the money to sponsor the Traveling Exhibit in their town for four days is a study in determination.  Here is a link to a story about how and why they did it.  If you would like to bring the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to your town, this could be a blueprint for you as you build a team to make it happen.
     One thing – the story notes that the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will be in Apple Valley, MN the following weekend.  See the next entry for more about that.
* * * *

      Tuskegee Airman Major Joe Gomer will be at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley, MN on Saturday, February 25 from 11 a.m. until noon to talk about his experiences as a Tuskegee Airman.  Regrettably, the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will NOT be there as referenced in the article from the story above.  The Squadron’s online calendar was not clear that Joe was going to be the main “attraction” that day and an assumption was made about the Traveling Exhibit also being there.  It will make a stop in Minnesota this year, but that will be when standing in line to get in does not include getting frostbitten toes and a runny noses!

 * * * *
     The last of the four FREE webinars featuring Tuskegee Airmen Charles McGee and Harold Brown will be held Sunday afternoon from 3-3:45 p.m. Eastern time. The previous three events have been highly entertaining (and hugely educational) and there’s no reason to think that that will not be the case tomorrow.  This series of webinars is the first of its kind so you can be part of history as you learn about history (how cool is that?!?).  Click here to register and be sure to tune in.
* * * *
     Finally,  next Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. You probably already have plans to thrill the special loved ones in your life with cards and/or gifts.  How about adding this to your agenda?  Call a local nursing home and get the name of someone who does not get visitors.  Buy a cute generic Valentine’s Day card and a stamp.  Address the card to that lonely person, sign your name, and mail the card by tomorrow.  Imagine – just imagine – how that $2.00 card and that “forever” stamp will make that person’s eyes light up!
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

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Link by Link (and Webinar II)

     I was going to write today’s blog about landing gear – an airplane requirement if ever there was one.  One website I went to talked about early airplane designer Jack Northrop. 
     Because I’m from Minnesota that name struck a chord.  The University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus houses the huge Northrop auditorium, site of countless cultural events ranging from UofM Marching Band concerts to ethnic dance recitals to lectures to art shows. I decided to take an online detour to see if Jack Northrop was related to Cyrus Northrop, a former U president for whom the auditorium is named. 
     The short answer to that question appears to be “no” but I kept reading anyway.  (I’m a minimalist Facebook person and don’t have a web-capable phone or anything else mobile that will stream the web and email, but I’m still amazed at the amount of time one can spend online, going from link to link to link!)  It turns out the place is closed until 2013 because they’re doing some major renovations+, including reducing the seating capacity from more than 4,000 to 2,800.
     One of the things being worked on is Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 892C – the huge concert hall pipe organ.  It was completed over three years in the 1930s as money became available. The largest of the organ’s 7,068 pipes are 32 feet tall; the smallest is the size of a pencil. The organ has 102 organ stops (those little buttons or levers the organist flips to get different sounds) and 109 ranks of pipes. A “rank” is a single set of pipes, each with a organ pipe’s different pitch that produces the same sound  (i.e. “trumpet”). Like most organs, Opus 892C was customized to fit the space where it was installed.
     This is a picture of the Opus 892C “pedal organ” – all of these behind-the-scene pipes support the pedals that the organist’s feet play while his/her hands are busy on the black and white keys.  
     Following the links that gave me this information made me wonder how many people who come to Northrop to hear or see something in the cultural vein know about this organ and its history.  Same thing with an old airplane – do people wonder about it when they see a picture of it, or better yet, see it flying or sitting on the ground?   Are they compelled to learn more about it or do they just enjoy its existing beauty?  Neither attitude is “wrong” but I think this quote by noted writer and historian David McCullough sums up a better attitude:
 “Curiosity is what separates us from the cabbages. It’s accelerative.  
The more we know, the more we want to know.”
     By the way, Jack Northrop is generally credited with having invented “trouser gear” – tune in to next week’s blog for more about that!
     And in another “by the way” that also is related indirectly to “flight” but in a fun way, here is a short video of a renowned organist Carol Williams playing “The Flight Of The Bumble Bee” with a heavy reliance on organ pedals.  This will give you a good idea of what a workout it can be to play a pipe organ!
     Finally, we are having a second webinar session tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. (Eastern time).  Although there was a technical glitch during  Wednesday’s event and Charles McGee wasn’t able to join us, Tuskegee Airman Harold Brown was hugely entertaining as he answered texted questions and talked off the cuff about his experiences during World War II.  We anticipate that all glitches will be fixed for tomorrow and Charles will be on board with us.
      To participate in the Saturday, February 4th event, which runs from 3-3:45 p.m. (or so) Eastern time, click here to register http://tinyurl.com/RedTailWebinar2. 
     As always, we encourage you to invite any young people in your life to tune in.  This is a chance to hear about history from two gentlemen who contributed to it.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

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The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Red Tail Squadron, and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are not affiliated with Tuskegee Airmen Inc. All funds donated to the CAF Red Tail Squadron are used by the CAF in our education and aviation outreach programs in our effort to educate and inspire young people with the lessons and heritage of the Tuskegee Airmen. Endorsement of CAF activities by original Tuskegee Airmen, members of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. or their family members should not be considered to be an endorsement by Tuskegee Airmen Inc.