Get our free email newsletter

Speed Dating 22 Airplanes from the Propeller Era

We all love planes, right? Well, most of us do and if you have that “bug” about aircraft and flying, then you’d enjoy a trip to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Recently, a regional meeting of the Antenna Measurement Techniques Association (AMTA) was held in Dayton. Before the regional meeting, Dr. Brian Kent, Chief Scientist for Low Observables and Electromagnetics, Sensors Directorate, of the Air Force Research Lab at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and a past president of AMTA, lead a private tour of his “Top Ten” exhibits at the Museum. The jaw dropping tour was quick, but the comments and memories invoked by Dr. Kent were long lasting. Below is a summary of the “Top Ten” exhibits we visited. Also included is a short article on the famous “Doolittle Raid” contributed by one of the tour attendees, who happens to be a Board member of the AMTA organization. Please note that Dr. Kent based his comments on a compilation of facts and ideas from his own reading, research, as well as on details provided on the National Museum of the United States Air Force website (

We saw the Wright Brothers 1909 Military Flyer shown below. This aircraft on display is an exacting reproduction of the first aircraft purchased by the US Signal Corps, US Army for $30,000 in 1909 (which was a LOT of money back then). The Wright Brothers were quite active in the Dayton, Ohio area. Did you know there is an “Engineers Club” in Dayton of which the Wright Brothers were amongst the early members? It is a prestigious club for engineers that is still open today.


- Partner Content -

Signal Analysis Guide

Learn about an analyzer's new features for analyzing phase noise, noise figures, pulses, and Bluetooth signals through firmware upgrades and added applications.


Check out this French SPAD VII circa 1916 which was flown by the French, British, and Americans flying with “Lafayette Escadrille”. Pilots liked this plane because it could survive diving – without disintegrating – and was tough. Note the synchronized machine gun; earlier WWI models simply used metal plates to deflect bullets if the prop got in the way. This plane has impressive statistics: 180 horse power, top speed of 127 MPH, one .303 machine gun, 17,500 altitudes, and NO parachute!


We paused to see the US Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” trainer built in 1915. This was the first mass produced US aircraft, but it was not intended for combat due to its top speed of 87 MPH, 11,000 ft max altitude. It was considered “Obsolete” as a fighter plane by then with its 90 horse power engine.



- From Our Sponsors -

This is a Fokker Dr. I – “Triplane”, one of the most successful German WW I fighters, and the favorite plane of Baron Von Richthofen, who got 19 of his last 21 kills (80 total) with this aircraft. With a top speed of 103 miles per hour, it was highly maneuverable in a dogfight if handled properly. First appearing in 1917, it had a service ceiling of 19,600 ft with a 110 hp engine.



If you think the cruise missile is a modern idea, think again! Charles Kettering (same as the city, same as General Motors, co-founder of  the “Engineer’s Club” of Dayton, previously mentioned) tried to design and build the first ever remotely controlled bomb. Using a mini biplane whose wings were to fall off, several were built but none saw combat – but it was an innovation well ahead of its time. It had a range of 75 miles, and was intended to deliver 180 lbs of high explosives.


Strategic bombing was an idea which grew out of the early experiences of WWI. The Italian Caproni company built the first ever long range, multiengine aircraft primarily designed to drop bombs, and not to fight other aircraft. Caproni produced a new version, the Ca. 32 which was very similar to the Ca. 31, but it had three Isotta-Fraschini 100-hp water-cooled in-line engines. Three months after Italy’s entry into WWI, the first Ca. 32s attacked an Austrian air base at Aisovizza, and by the end of the year, regular raids were being mounted against other Austrian targets. It had a 372 mile range, sported three 150 HP engines, and two defensive machine guns, flying at 75 MPH. Loaded, it could climb to 14,765 ft.



We saw the Boeing P-12E Pursuit (Fighter) developed during the interwar period, all on Boeing’s own dollar. Its fuselage was metallic, while the wings were still a hybrid of wood and fabric – but the march to all metal was on. The P-12E sported a 500 HP P&W radial engine, could ascend to 26,000 ft altitude, and cruised at 160 MPH. It had two .30 or one .30 and one .50 caliber machine guns. Wow!


Martin got into the action with its B-10 – the first all metal, mono-wing twin engine Bomber; Hap Arnold called it the air wonder of its day. It had many technical innovations – retractable landing gear, enclosed gun turrets, and carried 2,200 lbs of bombs! Hap Arnold flew a famous mission from Washington, DC to Alaska and back, an 8,290 round trip mile journey in 1934! This aircraft was so fast, it outran every fighter of its day – giving the Army the (mistaken) impression that it could fly without fighter escorts. This “myth” of self defense in doctrine was to severely challenge the US Army Air Forces in WWII. The later models of the B-10 had 2,700 HP engines, could fly 183 MPH, and fly at 24,000 ft, with an amazing 1,300 mile range for its day.


Next we saw the Hawker Hurricane Mk IIa – One of the two main British fighters of the “Battle of Britain”. It was developed in 1935, yet was still a fabric covered aircraft. It composed over 70% of fighter command in the summer and fall of 1940. When the Battle of Britain commenced in July 1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command had only 527 Hurricanes and 321 Spitfires to counter the enemy’s 2,700 aircraft. In spite of these overwhelming odds, the RAF was able to maintain air superiority over the skies of Great Britain. The Hurricanes absorbed the brunt of the German air attacks until a faster, more maneuverable Spitfire was available in quantity to blunt the successes of the German Messerschmitt Me 109. With a maximum speed of 340 mph and a ceiling of 35,000 ft, the 1,260 hp Rolls Royce engine powered the fighter which had eight offensive .303 caliber machine guns. As in WWI, American volunteers flew with the British before America entered the war. Their famous “Eagle Squadrons” first flew Hurricanes.


#10 TOUR STOP – WWII Gallery
Get ready for a whirlwind tour. We could not name the top ten items on display so instead we named an entire gallery as being the Top 10! Below are just a few of the stand out planes in this stand out gallery!

Curtiss P-36A Hawk – America’s fighter plane was obsolete by Pearl Harbor. It was slower (313 MPH), lightly armed (two .30 cal. or one .30 and one .50 cal. machine guns) and flew lower than all of its competitors. Those not shot down in the opening days of the war became trainers or non-combat aircraft. Along with the P-40, the US Army Air Forces started the war with obsolescent aircraft. This plane was a dire beginning for a country so recently at war.

Lt Phillip Rasmussen on Dec 7th (pictured below) got off the ground – one of the few airplanes that did. He survived the war and dedicated this exhibit a few years ago.


Douglas B-18 Bolo – A standard USAAF bomber at the opening of WWII. It was purchased instead of Boeing’s Model 299 (B-17) because it was less costly, had half the engines, and was deemed “good enough” by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) brass working in a cost constrained environment. With two 1,000 HP engines, the Bolo could fly up to 23,000 ft with a payload of 4,500 lbs – but not very fast. In the Pacific, the Bolo was no match for the Zero. But the B-17, well, we’ll hear more about that later.


The Mitshubisi A6M2 Zero was the most famous symbol of Imperial Japan’s air power. With over 10,000 built, it outclassed nearly every fighter in late 1941, wherein armor and self defense were traded off for speed and rate of climb. It didn’t even have self sealing gas tanks, which was a significant omission that cost the lives of many experienced Japanese pilots early in the war. Capable of taking off from a carrier, it opened the war on December 7th by destroying most of the US Army and Navy aircraft while still parked on the ground.


The North American B-25B changed history on April 18, 1942. Less than six months after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, the US struck the Japanese mainland with B-25Bs modified by Wright Field to take off from aircraft carriers. In 1943, this model cost $109,000 each! A total of 120 model B’s were built. In the end, they were mostly used for close air support and convoy interdiction in the pacific theater – the tyranny of distance never allowed the B-25 to strike Japan again. Please see the sidebar story for more information on the Doolittle Raid – a treasure of information in itself! We could also share the background now on the impact of the B-25B on the creation of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but we’ll save that for another issue of this magazine!


Next we viewed the Curtiss P-40E Warhawk, the premier US fighter fielded in any numbers when WWII opened. It was used in the Pacific, North Africa, and with the famous China “Flying Tiger” squadrons. Though it could not out climb a Zero, it could out dive one, and pilots learned to exploit the Zero’s weaknesses in defense. It would be replaced by P-47’s in Europe and P-38’s in the Pacific.



The Bell P-39: Think the idea of a cannon on an aircraft came with the A-10? Think again – the P-39 was a mid engine aircraft built around a 20 mm cannon! It was a bear to fly – its center of gravity changed through the flight envelope. However, though US pilots hated them, the Soviets loved them for tank busting and ground support; they took every P-39 we could give them in Lend Lease. Without a supercharger, the aircraft performed best under 17,000 ft – not good for a modern pursuit aircraft but fine for troop close air support.



Now on to the famous Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress which was a long range bomber in Europe and the Pacific Theater. Dubbed the “Model 299” by Boeing in 1935, the B-17 was the “loser” in the bomber competition in 1935, though the USAAF bought 13 of them to “test and evaluate”. Because of their range and defensive firepower, production was expanded tremendously after the outbreak of WWII. The first 299 crashed during the competition – shortly after exceeding all performance goals – but lost the competition anyway. Six pre-war B-17’s flew non-stop from Miami to Argentina in the late 1930’s on a Good Will Tour. Modified extensively throughout the war with more defense and more powerful engines, the B-17G was the culmination. With a crew of 10, every aircraft loss cost 10 people their lives or the crew were held in captivity. The 1943 Schweinfurt raid over German Ball Bearing plants cost 60 bombers in a single day, thus shattering the myth of unescorted bombing raids. What they needed was an escort…



In stepped the first high altitude, high performance interceptor – the Lockheed P-38. Plagued with early developmental issues including a loss of control during dives, the P-38 was an outstanding fighter. It served early on in Europe and ultimately gave the B-17’s the escort they needed. The German’s called them the “Forked-tail devil”. While the bombers loved them, the pilots in Europe did not as they flew at 35,000 ft WITHOUT a heater, and frequently lost control in fast dives. Lockheed solved the problem, but the field repair kits to correct this were torpedoed in route to England, and the 8th AF never got the fixes! When the P-47 became available, the 8th Air Force unloaded their P-38’s to Africa and the Pacific, where they were stellar. No fighter plane, even the Zero, could outturn a P-38 under 10,000 ft. The most successful of American aces flew P-38’s, and a P-38 shot down Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor in 1943. Over 10,000 of these planes were built.


As more fighters shared the role of air superiority and ground support, their needs created different airplanes. The P-47D “Jug” was extremely heavy, but powered by a massive engine. It had dense armor plating to protect the pilot, and could drop bombs and strafe – yet compete with Messerschmitt 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s over Europe. Many times P-47s came back with bullets in multiple cylinders, yet still were flying. Over 12,400 of these planes were built!



The Focke-Wulf 190 was Germany’s best piston engine fighter. Over 20,000 were built, and they played havoc with the B-17 flying from England and B-24’s flying from Africa. A formidable and nimble aircraft, it had a maximum speed of 425 MPH, and outturned even the maneuverable Spitfire!



The North American P-51D Mustang was America’s most famous fighter, with a 437 MPH top speed. This plane was upgraded through the Korean War with the last model achieving 487 MPH in level flight. In all, over 15,000 Mustangs were built. By mid 1944, it was the preferred long range fighter for bomber escort, and was well suited for that mission. After the war, the USAAF retired most P-47’s and kept the sleeker (sexier) P-51 – what became a costly mistake in 1950. In ground support missions, the Mustangs liquid cooled engine could be defeated by a hole in the coolant line – leaving veteran USAF pilots pining for the rugged P-47.



Below we saw the Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow). Capable of flying 540 MPH, it was the highest technically equipped aircraft of WWII fielded by the Germans and could have turned the tide of the air superiority in WWII. The Mustang had to be perfectly positioned to bring down a 262, though several did. The 262 deliveries arrived too late. Though 1,400 were produced, only 300 saw combat – the rest were relentlessly destroyed by the Allies who by this time had complete air superiority. The 262’s caused losses to bombers, but it was too little, too late.



B-29 – Bockscar: The Bomber that Ended WWII
The tyranny of the Pacific theater’s size was finally met by the B-29 – the bomber was well-suited for the Pacific theater. With countless innovations and patentable ideas, the B-29 was fully pressurized, had computer controlled guns (that shot down MIGs in Korea), and a range of 3,700 miles with four engines of 2,200 HP each! While the aircraft had the range, bad Japanese weather thwarted the B-29 to the point that Curtis LeMay used it in a manner it was never designed for – low altitude fire bombing. B-29’s had the most destructive raids in the war over Japan – culminating with the dropping of both atomic weapons which ended WWII.



We hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane in aviation history, with an emphasis on the planes that were used during WWII. It’s tempting to be an “arm chair” historian and review these stories and ask “what if” – that is, what if the Germans hadn’t fought over production of the 262 plane? What if the USAF hadn’t been tempted by the “sexier” P-51? What if the weather had been better in the Pacific Theater in July of 1945? It’s all history now, but the truth makes a good story. favicon

So what about the AMTA regional meeting you ask? That’s why we were in Dayton, after all. The day following this museum tour, AMTA and IEEE members in the Dayton area gathered for a seminar on advances in antenna measurement techniques. In the next issue of this magazine, we will share some of the interesting advances in antenna measurement techniques that this organization addresses, primarily for the RF microwave community. Look for an article by AMTA Board member and IEEE EMC Society member, Dr. Vince Rodriguez of ETS-Lindgren, on the history and development of the classic horn antenna over the years. You’ll find this versatile antenna used for RF microwave, wireless, automotive and EMC applications. Imagine if this antenna as we know it today had been available during WWII – now that’s another story!

The National Museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the service’s national institution for preserving and presenting the Air Force story. Each year more than one million visitors come to the museum to learn about the mission, history and evolving capabilities of America’s Air Force. The museum is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum featuring more than 400 aerospace vehicles amid more than 17 acres of indoor exhibit space. Thousands of personal artifacts, photographs and documents further highlight the people and events that comprise the Air Force storyline, from the beginnings of military flight to today’s war on terrorism. Visit for more information.

Brian Kent, a member of the scientific and professional cadre of senior executives, is Chief Scientist for Low Observables and Electromagnetics, Sensors Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He performs and directs research and development activities at the Multi-Spectral Measurement Facility, a national Center of Excellence within the Sensors Directorate. His primary responsibilities include the development and transition of advanced low observable electromagnetic analysis and measurement techniques to the Department of Defense and their aerospace industrial partners. His research encompasses extremely broadband electromagnetic test and evaluation techniques, with special emphasis on the acquisition of measured performance data from basic 6.1/6.2 technology components through fully fielded and sustained weapon systems. In addition to his electromagnetic measurement activities, he collaborates on numerous interdisciplinary research problems that encompass multiple AFRL directorates, customers from other DOD components, as well as the manned space program managed by NASA. Dr. Kent joined the Air Force Avionics Laboratory in 1976 as cooperative engineering student through Michigan State University. He began his career performing research in avionics, digital flight displays and radar signature measurements. Through a career broadening engineering assignment with the Directorate of Engineering, Aeronautical Systems Division, he modeled a number of foreign threat missile systems and performed offensive and defensive electronic combat systems assessments. He received a National Science Foundation Fellowship in 1979, working at both the Air Force Wright Aeronautical Laboratories and the Ohio State University Electroscience Laboratory until the completion of his doctorate. Dr. Kent spent two years in the Passive Observables Branch of the Avionics Laboratory, later transferring to the AFWAL Signature Technology Office. From 1985 to 1992, Dr. Kent was involved with classified research efforts, managed through the Air Force Wright Laboratory, now the AFRL. During his tenure with AFRL and its predecessor organizations, Dr. Kent held a variety of positions. He has made pioneering and lasting contributions to the areas of signature measurement technology, and successfully established international standards for performing radar signature testing. Dr. Kent has authored and co-authored more than 80 archival articles and technical reports and has written key sections of classified textbooks and design manuals. He has delivered more than 200 lectures, and developed a special DOD Low Observables Short Course that has been taught to more than 2,000 scientists and engineers since its inception in 1989. Dr. Kent has provided technical advice and counsel to a wide range of federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice and NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. He is also an international technical adviser for the DOD and has provided basic research guidance to leading academic institutions.

Janet O’Neil of ETS-Lindgren has over 20 years experience in the RF Microwave and Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) industries. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Antenna Measurement Techniques Association. In this capacity, she is responsible for the organization’s annual regional meeting and oversight of its annual meeting and symposium in the US ( She also coordinates technical contributions for the organization at industry related conferences in Asia. Ms. O’Neil may be reached at 425-868-2558 or via email at


Remembering the Doolittle Raiders
By Brian Fischer, Integrity Applications Incorporated

AMTA Regional Event attendees were treated to a tour of the Air Force Museum on the first evening, led by Dr. Brian Kent. So many aspects of history we witnessed there struck us with awe, but perhaps none more than a single glass case containing 80 sterling silver goblets, each engraved with the same name twice (see photo at right). Each goblet names a Doolittle Raider; one of 80 heroes credited with flying B-25B bombers from the US Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet, for the first time since the attack on Pearl Harbor, striking Japanese territory. Doing so demonstrated that, unlike what the Japanese leaders had so strongly espoused, Japan herself was vulnerable to attack.

The 79 men were led by then Lt Col James “Jimmy” Doolittle, when, at approximately 9:00 am on April 18, 1942, 16 bombers left the deck of the aircraft carrier – a wartime first – to strike at the heart of Tokyo, bombing oil tanks, power plants, and a steel mill. These men knew the risk in attacking Tokyo, but they next were faced with the problem of locating their landing site. The plan was to navigate afterward to a base at Zhuzhou, China, but necessary navigation signals never materialized. Running low on fuel, one Raider headed for Russia, but the rest continued and, fighting a loss of daylight and deteriorating weather conditions, most crash landed or ditched along the Chinese coast. The Raiders had flown the longest mission ever realized by the B-25, at 13 hours and 2,250 nmi, but having survived the crashes, they next had to worry about escape. Even though the Japanese murdered an estimated 250,000 Chinese civilians while looking for the Raiders, 70 of them were helped to freedom. Of the missing 10, it was learned that two of these had drowned the day of the raid. The remaining eight suffered torture and starvation, three were tried and executed, and one died. The four remaining survived and were freed over three years later in August 1945.

All told, the material damage was not as significant as the manner in which the raid hurt Japanese morale and lifted US spirits at a time in the war when it was critically needed.

So each year on the anniversary of the raid, the remaining Doolittle Raiders meet at the Air Force Museum to toast their fallen comrades using the sterling silver goblet engraved with their name. When a Raider passes on, the goblet is inverted and the second name imprinted is read right-side up. As Dr. Kent relayed his impression of the most recent meeting – one where the men were honored by a fly-in of 17 restored B-25 Mitchell bombers privately owned from all over the country – we could not help but be awed by the bravery of these true heroes and grateful for the chance to understand a little more.


Brian E. Fischer is the Director of the Sensors and Analysis Sector for Integrity Applications Incorporated (IAI) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also a US Air Force Reserve Officer assigned to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson AFB, OH. His research interests have focused on the development of electromagnetic optimization methodologies, antenna direction finding algorithms, spectral estimation and numerical techniques, synthetic aperture radar technologies, and radar cross section prediction and measurement programs supporting a variety of US Government sponsors. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE as well as the Antenna Measurement Techniques Association (AMTA). Dr. Fischer is currently a co-Associate Editor of the Measurements Corner in the IEEE Antennas & Propagation Society (APS) Magazine as well as the current Technical Coordinator on the Board of Directors for AMTA.

Related Articles

Digital Sponsors

Become a Sponsor

Discover new products, review technical whitepapers, read the latest compliance news, and check out trending engineering news.

Get our email updates

What's New

- From Our Sponsors -

Sign up for the In Compliance Email Newsletter

Discover new products, review technical whitepapers, read the latest compliance news, and trending engineering news.