Aviation Historian 12
D.Stern - Sub-zero Inc.
A 1942 photograph of a Boeing B-17 fitted with newly-developed winter tyres incorporating “bottletop” cleats to improve grip on snow- and ice-covered runways. The war years were busy for the CWTD, the unit’s extensive tests yielding much invaluable data for the development of cold-weather aircraft operations.
A Republic-Ford JB-2 Loon leaves its cradle on the outboard section of the wing of a DB-29 during the winter of 1947-48.
Boeing B-29A 42-24612 Klondike Kutey trundles along the Ladd Field taxiway for another flight test. The Superfortress was the largest aircraft tested at the CWTD until an early production example of the enormous six-engined Convair B-36 visited the base after the war. Klondike Kutey later served at Ladd with the 72nd RS.
Frost-covered P-80B 45-8576 of the 94th FS is seen here at Ladd without any wing covers but with the custom-made canopy cover devised for Arctic operations. The rear of the fuselage and fin were painted a high-visibility red to help locate downed aircraft in the snow. Note the famous unit’s historic “hat in the ring" motif.
The value of experience - during the 94th FS’s transit through Canada in late 1947, the unit had parked its Lockheed P-80Bs wingtip-to-wingtip in the icy conditions. As each jet taxied out, its neighbour received a blast of melted snow that immediately froze, requiring further time-consuming work for the groundcrew. By the time the unit reached Ladd Field, a method of parking at a 45° angle to the flightline had been devised, as seen here, to avoid the increased workload.
Engine technicians at Ladd flush an Allison J33-21 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine, as fitted to the P-80. Debris, water and other contaminants caused fuel pumps to fail and filter screens to clog and collapse; all had to be flushed clean, including the fuel and hydraulic lines.
Shooting Stars of the 94th FS, parked at a 45° angle to the flightline, share the Ladd Field ramp with the RB-29/F-13S of the 72nd RS during 1947-48. The RB/WB-29S and F-13s of the 72nd RS conducted numerous photo-reconnaissance and ELINT missions over the Soviet Arctic and Far East during 1948-49, sometimes spending up to 30hr airborne. None was intercepted, however, as the only Soviet type capable of doing so, the MiG-15, was not yet in service in those regions.
Dressed in their finest Arctic clothing, groundcrew personnel refuel a 94th FS P-80B with JP-1 jet fuel at Ladd. The unit operated from the airfield as part of Alaskan Air Command from October 1947 to mid-February 1948.
Although conclusive proof has yet to be found, it has been stated that F-80C 49-580 was the pattern aircraft for the skis constructed and fitted to the downed 49-429, or that it may have been extracted from the tundra using the same method; although, given the pristine condition of the skis, the latter seems less likely.
Ladd Field personnel gather around a Lockheed P-80A-5, one of three tested by the CWTD. Lockheed used the data to winterise production P-80Bs and Cs for Arctic operations, but further modifications would also be required before it was fully ready for year-round service in sub-zero conditions
A 94th FS pilot demonstrates the standard flying-kit for sub-zero operations. On his back is a full survival pack, beneath which is his parachute pack. The research performed at Ladd Field was not only about aircraft operations; clothing and survival equipment was also extensively tested at the base.
An Arctic air warrior squeezes himself into the already-cramped cockpit of an F-80B. With the pilot bundled up for warmth, movement was severely restricted once he had strapped in, and the prospect of trying to extricate himself in case of an in­flight emergency would have been extremely daunting. Former 4th FG pilot Roy Ihde, who flew the F-80 at Ladd in 1948, later recalled that the risk was worth it: “It was fun. I loved it. I loved the speed - 550 m.p.h. [885km/h] was real easy for an F-80. It was just like sitting in the nose of a bullet...”
Renowned helicopter pilot Jack Zimmerman stands on the wing of what may be F-80C 49-429, having landed nearby in his Alaska Airlines Bell 47B. It was ’429 that made a forced landing on the Alaskan tundra in May 1950 and which was later fitted with skis and flown out.
Production Bell P-59A Airacomet 44-22610 spent some time at Ladd Field during late 1944 and early 1945, when it was extensively tested by the CWTD. On the port side of the fuselage the jet fighter was adorned with Chicago Tribune cartoonist Bill Holman’s character Smokey Stover, but apparently not on the starboard side.
The Fairchild C-82A Packet was also extensively tested at Ladd. The type was used to fly para-drop and troop-carrying missions as part of Exercise Yukon, undertaken during 1947-48 to assess and develop "air transportability methods in the Arctic".
A Boeing RB-29 of the 46th RS on a post-war mission over Alaska.