The Last of a Breed – A Decade of Piloting the Last Flying Grumman Panther

By: Thomas Reilly

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Arthur Alan Wolk’s Grumman F9F-2 Panther BuNo. 123072 Photo Credit: Arthur Alan Wolk

Arthur Alan Wolk is an accomplished pilot and Philadelphia attorney.  As the founding partner of the Wolk Law Firm, which specializes in aviation law and in improving air safety, his two great passions are woven together.  This is his story…

Mr. Wolk’s involvement in the Warbird community began in 1984 with the purchase of a Korean War era Grumman F9F-2 Panther jet fighter.  He says, “I had been a pilot for many years and was interested in flying a Warbird…the Panther became available for sale due to the death of its owner and so I acquired (it)”.  At the time this was the only airworthy F9F Panther flying in the world. The aircraft was pieced together using airworthy parts from other F9F airframes in order to piece together one airworthy jet.  

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Arthur Wolk’s Grumman F9F-2 Panther in flight.

“I had an F9F -2 Panther,” says Mr. Wolk.  “The -2 Panther was the low powered version, so it only had 5,000lbs of thrust.  It only remained in Korea and on the ship about six months and it was succeeded by the -5 Panther which had about 6,200lbs of thrust and a larger tail.  It was not a totally different animal but, a much better airplane for the use that was intended, a carrier based ground support fighter. The Panther for me was great because it was very easy to fly, not complicated, and you could understand how really young and inexperienced pilots could fly it safely”.

The F9F Panther is a single seat jet fighter and because of this Mr. Wolk had to do his training in other models of jet aircraft.  This is unique because typically a pilot would training and receive instruction in the type of aircraft that they would be flying solo for the first time.  This is especially true for a pilot making their first solo flight in a jet aircraft but, the Panther did not allow for this. Mr. Wolk initially began training in a De Havilland Vampire with a friend instructing him however, circumstances did not allow him to solo the Vampire before flying the Panther.  Mr. Wolk says with excitement in his voice, my first flight in the Panther was my first solo flight in a jet fighter”. He continues, “It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life!”. Mr. Wolk explains, “It was a very unfamiliar airplane to me.  All of the things I was unfamiliar with for example: the very high weight, the very significant change in the way it flew depending on how much power you used, the incredible fuel consumption. But, very quickly, within a few hours it became really very easy to fly”.

Mr. Wolk’s preparation for his Panther solo is unique.  He says, “basically the way I learned how to fly it was Grumman’s chief test pilot, who was at Edwards Air Force base at the time, spoke to me on the phone for about an hour before I flew it and relying on his advice and my own flying experience it became not as big a deal as one would think. Remember every airplane is nothing but a machine.  It flies by numbers so, if you’re disciplined to fly by numbers there isn’t any airplane you can’t fly, right?”.

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Arthur Wolk’s F9F-2 Panther taxis with wings folded.

After gaining his qualifications and his type certificate in the Panther, Mr. Wolk gradually moved into performing a Panther routine on the airshow circuit.  He recalls the flight characteristics of the F9F-2 Panther, fondly noting that the significant difference between the Panther and other jet aircraft is the effect of power.  Mr. Wolk explains that, “the aircraft was very sensitive to power adjustments”. He recalls that he always flew that Panther at 92 or 93 percent power. He continues his analysis of the Panther by saying, “I would not call it lively on the controls, it was kinda sluggish. It did have hydraulically boosted ailerons but, other than that it was just pushrods and cables and things like that.  It was a fairly primitive airplane for a jet. It was very much like the Grumman propeller airplanes that it succeeded, and it was a jet in the sense that only the powerplant was really different, everything is pretty much the same”. The most significant characteristic however he says was the fuel consumption of the aircraft. The F9F, Mr. Wolk recalls, consumed fuel rapidly and because of this, fuel planning was the most critical responsibility of the pilot.  Mr. Wolk says, “I always used about 500 nautical miles as my benchmark and that was if the airplane was fitted out with its six five inch rockets and two five-hundred pound bombs. I mean, without those it had probably another couple hundred mile range”. In cruise, with the rockets and bombs on the wing, the configuration he usually flew in, the Panther could fly at 380 knots and could fly at 425 knots if the weapons were removed.

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An Eclipse 500 jet similar to what Arthur Wolk currently flies.

Mr. Wolk, who now flies an Eclipse jet, describes the Panther as, “a fighting machine that happened to land and takeoff from aircraft carriers.  It was just designed to be relatively easy to fly, be able to carry a combat load, and dispense it and get back to the ship and be able to be strong enough to withstand the beating that, in those days, a carrier landing required”. The Panther, was originally designed to land on straight deck carriers, called “through deck” carriers, and on those carriers there would be airplanes on the far end, there would be a barrier kind of like a big net and there would be the arresting wires at the back of the ship.  Obviously you couldn’t land like a real airplane lands or like they currently land otherwise you would be into the barrier and into the airplanes up front. So what would happen is, in the Panther and all aircraft of that vintage, you would approach the ship at an appropriate speed an altitude and the landing signal officer would give you an engine cut, which would be a flag that he would wave horizontally that would indicate to you to cut the power and you literally drop in from 18 feet. So, the airplane had to be really strong and the Panther was extremely strong”.

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An F9F-2 assigned to VF-21 prepares to trap on the USS Midway in 1952 after flying a sortie over Korea. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy

Arthur Wolk has experienced the short field characteristics of the F9F Panther first hand.  He explains that with full fuel tanks, and all of the armament on the aircraft, on a hot day the panther requires approximately 6,000 feet of runway. “You can cut that down a little bit by nursing the airplane aloft”, he says, “but, I think I went into 4,000 maybe, which would have been at the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, Virginia. That was the shortest field I ever got into or out of.  I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone”, he says humbly. It is important to highlight that, at the time of this flight, Mr. Wolk had been flying the Panther for many years and logged hundreds of hours in the cockpit of the F9F. “I knew the airplane like an old shoe by that time so, I knew when it would fly and how it would fly”, Mr. Wolk says. “Basically, I only flew it half full of fuel so I knew I could get off the ground in 4,000 feet”.

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Arthur Alan Wolk sits in the cockpit of his Grumman F9F-2 Panther jet fighter. Photo Credit: EFP Network

“The Panther was unique in a lot of respects”, says Mr. Wolk.  “First of all, it was the only one flying. It was a very beautiful airplane, very easy to fly (extremely easy to fly), it was a nice airshow airplane.  I did have to have a full time mechanic so that was an issue but, there wasn’t anything unusual about its mechanical features so it wasn’t difficult to keep it maintained.  Comparing it to other airplanes, it’s probably more exciting to fly than most although, I fly an Eclipse jet now and in terms of excitement and utility you know the Eclipse jet is much better. In total, Mr. Wolk has logged nearly 350 hours in the F9F-2 Panther. “I think I had more time in the F9F-2 than anybody in the military did.  11 years, I mean nobody in the military flew it for 11 years”, says Mr. Wolk.

Most warbird enthusiasts will admit to being envious of men like Arthur Alan Wolk who have the opportunity to fly unique and historic airframes.  Although it is true that when Mr. Wolk flew his F9F -2 Panther, he was the only one in the sky, we must also remember that the spectators at eleven years of air shows were able to see living history and experience his historic aircraft in a way that without his efforts would otherwise not have been possible.  Thanks for the ride, Mr. Wolk.

 

 

Return of the “Meat Chopper”

meatchopper6The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) owns a Republic P-47N Thunderbolt painted as “Lil’ Meaties Meat Chopper”.  The original “Meat Chopper”  served with the 464th FS/507th FG based on Ie Shima in 1945.  In 2002 , the CAF’s P-47 was involved in an accident.  The aircraft caught on fire during a maintenance test flight and made and emergency landing at Albuquerque International Airport in New Mexico where it had taken off from not long before. (See NTSB report)  The aircraft was substantially damaged and subsequently placed in storage for many years.

This year as a part of the CAF’s 12 Planes of Christmas Campaign, they announced that meatchopper5they were holding a fundraising campaign for this P-47.  The CAF’s goal is to conduct further structural surveys of this Thunderbolt to determine what it will need for its return to flight.  “…Tremendous work has been completed in restoring the aircraft to flying condition, with the fuselage repaired, a new canopy and windshield fitted, the control surfaces rebuilt and painted, and a replacement wing located and purchased.”

Donate to help this Meat Chopper get back in the air and honor those who fought for our freedom!

Photo Credit: Commemorative Air Force (CAF)

Project Cutlass Vought F7U Restoration

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The front end of Vought F7U Cutlass BuNo 129554 in storage at Paine Field. Photo Credit: Al Casby

A Vought F7U Cutlass restoration is on its way to fly again one day, thanks to the efforts of Project Cutlass.  Al Casby is the owner of two F7U Cutlass airframes, which are BuNo 129622 and BuNo 129554.  Mr. Casby has owned 622 since the early 1980’s, but it is a “badly damaged partial aircraft, usable for parts only”, he recently acquired 544 which previously belonged to Tom Cathcart and is currently stored at Paine Field in Washington State.  Mr. Casby hopes to bring 544 from Paine Field to Phoenix, Arizona to begin the restoration that he has been waiting to carry out for 44 years.   This is no easy task.  With a 21 foot width, and a high tail height, transportation is a difficult task. The aircraft cannot be completely disassembled without risking compromising the integrity of the airframe.  Mr. Casby stated, “Vought strongly suggested that neither the tails or the center-section wings ever be removed from the aircraft, going so far as to implore that should that need arise the airframe should be stricken.  There is no corrosion noted anywhere that would indicate a need for removal of these, so I do not want to remove them just to effect transport.” Have no fear, these challenges will definitely be overcome.  Check back soon for more updates!

If you know of a transportation company that would be willing to donate their time to help Project Cutlass’ efforts please contact us!

The project recently acquired a complete lighting set for the Cutlass in New Old Stock condition.  Some things that the Mr. Casby is looking for consist of:

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The back end of Vought F7U Cutlass BuNo 129554 in storage at Paine Field. Photo Credit: Al Casby

-Parts or components bearing a CV10- part number prefix

-Any Westinghouse J-46 engine parts or components

-F7U-3/-3M canopy perspex and windscreen plexiglass panels

-BF Goodrich G-3-721-2 wheel (1)

-Goodyear 9531077 wheel (2)

-Goodyear 9530987 Brake Assy (2)
Please contact us if you know of or are in possession of any of these parts or of any F7U Cutlass parts and help get this rare jet back in the sky.

Hurricane 501 “The Aeroplane That Saved Our Nations”

Hurricane-501-WW2-Figther-Plane-Hawker5Hurricane 501 is a British organization that is working to restore Hurricane V7497 a Battle of Britain veteran of 501 Squadron to airworthy condition.

Hurricane “V7497 is a Hurricane Mk 1, manufactured in mid 1940 by Hawker Aircraft Ltd. Flown operationally at the very height of the Battle of Britain from the famous fighter station, RAF Kenley, East London, the aircraft was lost during an operational patrol on 28th September over Sutton in Kent”.  In fact V7497 had only flown seven sorties before being shot down over Kent, England on September 28, 1940.  hurricane501-2

Hurricane V7497 was discovered during an aviation archaeology expedition, the remains were recovered, and the decision was made to begin restoration to airworthy condition.  When completed V7497 will be made up of only period correct parts, including those that are hard to find.

Currently Hurricane V7497 is being restored by Hawker Restorations in the U.K., and its Rolls Royce Merlin Mk.III is being overhauled by Eye Tech Engineering based in Suffolk.     Hurricane 501 hopes to have V7497’s first engine run and flight in 2016.  When completed Hurricane V7497 will serve as a memorial to the members of 501 Squadron and that gave their lives in the skies over Britain.

Photo and Information Credit: Hurricane 501

 

Collings Foundation Continues To Grow

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The Collings Foundation’s TF-51D “Toulouse Nuts” while in service with the West Virginia Air Guard, 167th Fighter Squadron.

The Collings Foundation is continuing to expand it’s collection of WWII aircraft since it recently acquired second B-17G for their collection “Shady Lady”, a P-38L Lightning, a Bf-109 G-10, and  a second P-40 Warhawk in August 2015. (See article here) The Foundation’s North American TF-51D is nearing completion and also they recently acquired a very rare Pt-17 Stearman operated by the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII.

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The Collings Foundation’s TF-51D “Toulouse Nuts” under restoration at American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

The Collings Foundation’s North American TF-51D ‘Toulouse Nuts’, will be joining the National Wings of Freedom Tour in 2016.  The Collings Foundation says that their TF-51D is one of the finest restored to date, “…tens of thousands of hours went into rebuilding this fighter to ‘brand new’ condition. Every surface, rivet, wire and instrument is perfect. The 1450 hp Merlin engine looks like it just came off the factory floor”.  The Foundation’s example of the TF-51D is one of three original survivors in the world, and will be painted in its original colors, “…as a West Virginia Air Guard, 167th Fighter Squadron P-51 called ‘Toulouse Nuts’ “.  “The TF-51D model is a unique Mustang variant with a full dual cockpit and bubble canopy. Following in the footsteps of the Foundation’s beloved P-51C Mustang “Betty Jane,” the new TF-51D “Toulouse Nuts” will be available for flight training during the national Wings of Freedom Tour. Imagine flying the legendary P-51 Mustang as it had just rolled out of TEMCO / North American Aviation!”

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The Collings Foundation’s newly acquired PT-17 Stearman, operated by the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII.

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The Collings Foundation’s Stearman was flown by Tuskegee Institute Field Instructor James J. Hyett on several training flights during WWII.

The Foundation, also recently acquired the only flyable PT-17 Stearman operated by the Tuskegee Airmen s/n 41-25454.  The only other example is on static display in the Smithsonian.  According to the Collings Foundation, “the U.S. Army accepted the aircraft from Boeing’s Wichita Division in 1942. It was transferred to Tuskegee Institute Field, Alabama in 1943…In November, 1944 this Stearman was sent to Bush Field, Augusta where it was stricken from U.S. Army records and moved to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for sale”.  This Stearman was transferred to the Collings Foundation in 2015, after undergoing a meticulous restoration by Joseph Armstrong of Towanda, Pennsylvania to brand new condition.  The Collings Foundation plans to operate this Stearman to honor the Tuskegee Airmen and, “… to those who overcame racial discrimination and persevered against adversaries to become one of the greatest fighter pilot groups in United States history. The Tuskegee are credited with some 15,500 combat sorties and earned over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements during WWII”.

 

Information Credit: Collings Foundation

Photo Credit: Collings Foundation

Article Written By: Thomas Reilly

A Terror of the Pacific, Hellcat Pilot Lt. Bill Gorden

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Lt. Bill Gorden in his Navy dress whites. Photo Credit: MAAM

Many of us remember where we were when we heard that the World Trade Center Towers fell in Manhattan. The Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was a similar event for the Americans who came to be known as the Greatest Generation. Bill Gorden was 18 years old when he heard President Roosevelt announce to the nation, that the United States had been attacked for the first time since the War of 1812. Mr. Gorden knew that, being of military age, he had two options; to wait for the draft; or, to enlist in the service. He chose the Navy Air Corps, and was taken into training by the Navy in February of 1942. He was sent to a school in Worcester, Ohio, where he spent six weeks learning basic navy skills such as communicating with ships. He did not receive a uniform until almost three weeks into his training, due to a shortage at the time.

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USS Hancock Photo Credit: MAAM

After Basics school, Mr. Gorden was accepted into training as a Naval aviator and began his flying in the Navy at the controls of Piper Cubs and Aeroncas while he was stationed in Kalamazoo for about four weeks. Following his first taste of flying he was transferred to Iowa where he went through preflight and primary flight school flying Navy Stearmans. Upon completion of this training, he was stationed at NAS Corpus Christi where he flew the North American SNJ, the Navy version of the famous T-6 Texan. While at Corpus Christi, the main focuses were formation flying, communications with flags from the cockpit, and bombing and shooting practice. Mr. Gorden received his instrument training in the SNJ in Beeville, Texas. After completing his training, he received his wings at Corpus Christi, and was ready to take the controls of a frontline fighter. He picked up his F6F Hellcat in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mr. Gorden flew his Hellcat for about three weeks, and practiced the skills necessary to land on an aircraft carrier on land. Shortly after he successfully made his first trap on an aircraft carrier in his Hellcat. With some time off to briefly visit his family in Detroit, he received orders to report to San Diego and was assigned to squadron VF-7.

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An F6F Hellcat on final approach to the USS Hancock CV-19 in 1944 Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Upon shipping out aboard the U.S.S. Hancock, CV-19, and Essex Class Aircraft Carrier, Mr. Gorden spent the last 6 months of the war flying strafing, escort, and bombing missions in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan. The tactic that they used was to pursue Japanese planes and do their best to get home themselves. Mr. Gorden had countless close calls and had hits on his aircraft, but was never shot down during his time in the Pacific Theater. At the conclusion of the war, Mr. Gorden left the Navy, and rejoined and was a part of the Navy Reserves as a “Weekend Warrior” shortly after. In the reserves he flew Hellcats on the weekend for four years where he and his squadron worked on bombing, strafing and formation flying. When Mr. Gorden moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, he was forced to resign from his squadron at the rank of Lieutenant. Shortly after his retirement, The United States became embroiled in Korea. He had a family to raise but he seriously considered signing up again before his squadron, VF-7 shipped out to Korea. Mr. Gorden has not taken the controls of an aircraft since.

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A Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat from VF-7 making and emergency landing after takeoff from the USS Hancock on July 6, 1944 Photo Credit: crash-aerien.news

Mr. Gorden is one of the finest examples of the Greatest Generation, who answered his country’s call in one of its greatest times of need. He fought against the Japanese during their most vicious point in the War as they were being pushed back to mainland Japan. Mr. Gorden is a true American hero. Upon questioning him about whether or not he and his squadron mates knew that they were a part of history , he stated, “you just wanted to keep someone from killing you (and just) think about what you needed to do”. The heroes response…

 

 

Interview and Article By: Thomas Reilly

Fighter Ace George Preddy Documentary Trailer

The Precision of U.S. Air Force and Naval Aviatiors As Viewed From the Cockpit

Members of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels represent some of the finest pilots and ground crews in the United States military.  The members of both the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels don’t accept anything shy of perfection from themselves and their teammates, this can easily be seen in the way that they do business in the air and on the ground. Enjoy!