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Sun, Apr 18, 2004

ANN Looks At... The 'Other' Warbirds

By ANN Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien

Let's raise a glass to the "other" warbirds. I'll admit it, everybody and his brother loves Mustangs and B-25s, and so do I. But wars need all kinds of aircraft, and here are a few of the less-famous, but no less significant, war machines of wars great and small. (Note to experts: many warplanes have multiple designations. For these, I've used the ones they saw the most action under: for most of the more recent US warbirds, this means the post-1962 codes).

Helio U-10 Courier

The man was in his early sixties, walking with friends, and he couldn't resist a wisecrack: "I was in the 1st Cavalry, and I don't remember seeing any STOL aircraft!"

This Helio Courier was a military U-10. Most of them, in fact, were operated by USAF psyops units, or by special operations units, or were flown in civilian trim by Air America. The poor guys in the 1st Cav had to make do with O-1 (formerly L-19) Bird Dogs. The Helio was, and is, legendary for its short and soft field performance, for its useful load and its good-sized cargo doors, and for its crosswind landing gear. It also has quite a wide range between its fastest and slowest speeds - a result of rigorous engineering by MIT experts. Today, the Helio is long gone from the US military inventory, but it soldiers on in the hands of bush pilots and missionaries.

Another Helio was on hand in 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment livery. Complete with a pilot in period uniform!

Douglas A-1D Skyraider

This Skyraider is another Vietnam legend (and the type performed prodigiously in the Korean war, also). In the Vietnam war, Skyraiders from the Air Commando squadrons, using the callsign Sandy, provided cover over shot-down aircrewmen until Jolly Green Giant helicopters could rescue them. The humongous fuel tanks enabled it to loiter long over the men hoping for rescue; the many weapons stations helped protect them from enemy troops.

SIAI-Marchetti SF. 260

This is not  a warbird that you meet coming and going. But it's so beautiful that you wish there were many more of them! The SF in the designation stands for Stelio Frati, the Italian designer of this elegant low-wing lightplane. The 260 is the horsepower of its Lycoming O-540 engine. The machine has been built in a bewildering array of military and civilian varieties, including trainers, armament trainers, counterinsurgency planes, and outright civil aircraft (sold in the USA as the Waco Meteor at one time). To add to the confusion, the plane looks like another Frati design, the elegant wooden F.8 Falco experimental plane, built from plans or Sequoia's comprehensive kit. 

Most military SF.260s serve as trainers, like this Belgian-marked example, or hacks. But the type has seen combat in a number of African wars, including the Biafran rebellion in Nigeria and the current insurrection in Sudan.

Three photos are a lot of an admittedly obscure type, but this photo shows that the SF.260 has an unusual characteristic among warbirds: it looks beautiful in a modern civil paint scheme. You'd never know that this sleek, efficient speedster traces its roots to the Falco of 1955. The two-seaters that the big American companies were offering that year included the Piper Colt and the Cessna 140. Stelio Frati was, indeed, ahead of his time. If you can look at these pictures of these sleek machines and not envy their owners… you must have one already!

Fokker Dr. I

There are few machines more iconic that a Fokker Dr.I. The machine is freighted with meaning, although it's a different meaning for everyone: children identify it with the Red Baron, historians with the bloodletting that was the Great War, technology buffs can point to its multiple "firsts," and pilots consider its notorious handling.

The life of a World War I warplane was nasty, brutish, and short, and only one original Dr.Is survived the war, only to be destroyed in the next. This flying replica drew hordes of admirers.

It portrayed the original well, down to a replica Fokker data plate. (The legally-required manufacturer's data plate for the machine was on the firewall). I knew after seeing this machine that I had to talk to the owner and pilot. What is it like to fly the Red Baron's deadly mount? Just hang on: we caught up with him on Thursday, the day after these photos were taken, and we'll be glad to tell you.

UH-1D Huey (officially, "Iroquois")

Unfortunately, not a flying warbird, this Huey is used as a traveling display by the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. The Huey is as much an icon of Vietnam as the Fokker is of the First World War. Rotary-wing warbirds have their own following - and their own problems, and they are just now beginning to be noticed. Right now, almost all of the Hueys in civilian hands are either stuffed and mounted in museum settings, like this example, or being flogged and spurred to new heights of productivity in those jobs where a civil type certificate is not a necessity: logging and public service. Will the Huey ever become a pampered, over-restored warbird like today's Mustangs and Corsairs? In favor is the large number of airframes and parts remaining, and the much higher awareness of the value of historical aircraft these days. Against, the complexity and maintenance difficulty of helicopters in general, and aging, minimally supported helicopters in particular. Only time will tell. Time always does, in the end…

FMI:, Get thee to the warbird area… talk to the owners and pilots of these rare machines. 


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