Sunday, April 1, 2012

Joe Ross

April 2012
96 year old LCDR Ross (Ret.)
We were recently contacted by the son of Joe Ross, a WWII naval aviator who actually flew 'Attu Warrior' 66 years ago. The young Lt Ross was lucky enough to fly many different types of aircraft, and his son had a lot of fun with his dad identifying some of the aircraft that Joe flew that are now on the airshow circuit or in museums. Here is the partial list that they have highlighted so far.

Lewis Racing's F7F Tigercat "La Patrona" (formerly "Big Bossman") - the first Tigercat to compete at Reno. 

James Martin's Oshkosh 2011 winning Best Military Transport SNB-5 "Dewey's Ride".

Dave Hansen's PV-2 "Attu Warrior".

Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation's R5D "Spirit of Freedom".

Tillamook Air Museum's PV-2 Harpoon "Rose's Raiders" (static display).

Lonestar Flight Museum's PV-2 Harpoon BUNo 37634 (static display).

Yankee Air Museum's PB4Y-2 Privateer (static display).

Cavanaugh Air Museum's TBM Avenger.

Are you jealous yet? We are hoping to meet up with Joe later this summer on our national tour!! We owe Joe and all the other members of the Greatest Generation everything, so the least we can do is visit him and thank him in person. It will be the highlight of the summer for us.
During 1953 and 1954, Lt Ross was based at Litchfield Park in AZ where he test flew aircraft that were being removed from storage and transferred to other bases, or being sold as surplus. This is where he had the incredible opportunity to fly many different types of aircraft.
Meeting up with these great people makes all the time and energy spent on keeping "Attu Warrior" flying worthwhile. Even though it is a great airplane, cleaning oil of the underbelly after every flight is still a chore, but all the drudgery of these mundane tasks goes away when we are face to face with our heroes.

A  page from Joe Ross's log book showing one of the flights in 37472

April 20th, 2012
'Attu Warrior' is now being maintained and operated by The Warbird Warriors Foundation that will take it out to airshows and other events across the country to share this incredible aircraft with as many as we can.

If you would like to join with us in preserving this and other significant warbird aircraft, visit our website at and become a crew member.

The Restoration!

A Labor of Love    by Dave Hansen
What would possess a person to go out and purchase a WWII bomber, you might ask? Well it might be that you could be the first on your block to say ...."I have a bomber!", or, "Honey, I just got a great deal on this bomber. It was on sale!" (They do it to us, ya know). Actually, it was none of the above.

After a casual conversation, while dropping off some aircraft parts at Chino, I simply asked the question "What would it take to get into a warbird ..... Like that one?" I was pointing at an old PV-2 that was sitting on the ramp with no engines, a total restoration project.The gent that I was talking to replied "Are you serious?" and told me about two aircraft that were just like that and were available. One in California and one in Buffalo, Wyoming. Buffalo was closer to where I lived in Utah, so off we went.
After the first visit

The initial price was doable, and the cost to get the aircraft back home was thought out and figured in. I could dress this pig up, and sell it for a reasonable profit. Great plan, but this however was not to be. The disease took over and I was going to be in for a ride. This was July 2006.

It took 9 separate week long trips (and a lot of work in between) over the course of 15 months to get the Harpoon in the air, so that it could be flown back to my home base of Heber to really begin the restoration. Generally there was only two of us, mostly myself and my boy, but occasionally I had the help of a couple of other individuals. During this time, I started to do some research on the history of the Harpoons, and the missions they flew. The malady insidiously began to take hold. I now 'owned' a piece of history, or so I thought. I was soon hooked. Instead of just a quick dress up, it was now obvious that the whole plane needed to be restored (meaning lots of stuff had to be found or reproduced), including all the internal components and equipment, bulkheads, work stations, turrets and other guns. Not very easy to go on line and order an operational turret, complete with twin .50cal machine guns.

Let's review...... "WHAT WAS I THINKING?"

A sad looking cockpit.
To give you an idea of what was done prior to it's flight home, here is a condensed list: Props were removed, overhauled and re-installed; all fuel transfer / boost pumps were removed, overhauled and re-installed; all engine accessories were overhauled; oil coolers were rebuilt; all three tires and tubes were replaced (who knew that one single main tire could cost more than $1000 - definitely not Wal-mart prices);   all fuel, oil and hydraulic lines were replaced; critical flight instruments were replaced; the rudders were removed, recovered and re-installed and all other control surfaces were inspected and bearings replaced;   new windshields; swing and service the landing gear; oil and fuel tanks flushed and the aircraft generally serviced. Lots of minor things as well, but I am getting tired of writing. After all of this, it still looked a lot more like an old mosquito sprayer, than a World War II bomber.

Arrival in Heber, Utah
Now on October 7th, 2007 it was ready for the 300 mile epic flight home. Fill 'er up; 115 gallons of oil, 720 gallons of avgas. For us it was exciting, but for the plane, it was uneventful, and apart from one aborted takeoff, it was just an ordinary flight (after sitting derelict for 20 years).

Phase Two Begins
As winter was approaching, the next step was to paint the plane to help protect it from the Utah snow. So before it would have the equipment that made it a bomber, it would be painted to resemble one. The chosen paint scheme was the tri-color version, with dark blue on top of the wings, horizontal stabilizer and fuselage; mid blue for the vertical surfaces of the fuselage, engine nacelles and fins; and white for the bottom of the aircraft.
Terry masking the 'Star and Bar'
The plane was painted to represent a member of VPB-139, a squadron that spent time operating out of Attu Island during WWII, and the name and nose art selected, 'Attu Warrior' represents all those aircraft that flew into battle from Attu (a mostly forgotten part of WWII). Dave Mueller, a local artist whose constant encouragement and attitude kept me going through the following years as the Harpoon took shape, worked with me to design the nose art and then painted it by hand on the bomber. The Harpoon finally had a name.
'Attu Warrior' is christened

Now a plan was hatched to remove the spray tank that took up much of the interior of fuselage. Piece by piece, the tank was cut up with a plasma cutter and passed out through the door. Once this was completed, the interior was slowly returned to original configuration. Now the workforce is mostly me. Over the next 3 years, thousands of hours were spent fabricating and installing all the many components of a working aircraft.

The Navigators station.

Any spare minute, when I wasn't making a living or taking care of my family was spent working on "Attu Warrior'. Funny thing was, she was no longer mine. I no longer owned a "piece of history", I was simply the caretaker. This aircraft really belongs to those who sacrificed to build it, fly and fight in it, and now to the families of the crews of all the aircraft just like it. These are the real owners. Now, as others continue to get involved with the Harpoon, we are just given the opportunity and responsibility to make sure that this incredible aircraft continues to be taken out to the public "that we might never forget".

If you would like to find out the real reason that any warbird owner/restorer puts in countless hours and who knows how much of their own money to be able to become a caretaker, it can best be described by the following story. It takes a bit to read it, but it explains everything
Although this is one particular story, we have all had similar experiences. You only have to meet one of these great heroes, and you are willing to put in all the time and effort it takes.

Civilian Use.

Civilian Use - while we don't have a lot of information regarding to her life after the Navy, here is what we do have.

  • 1957 – Transferred to Civil Registry as N5223V (now assigned to a Cessna 172)
  • 1963 – Civil Registry re-registered as N7670C 
  • 1963 – George H. Stell, Phoenix, Arizona (Sprayer)
  • 1968 – Airfleet Leasing, Inc., Gainsville, Florida
  • 1971 – Dothan Aviation Corp., Dothan, Alabama (Sprayer) visit for some interesting photos and information.
  • 1978 – Robert F. Yancey, Klamath Falls, Oregon (Grasshopper Sprayer)
  • 1981 – Arbor Air, Columbus, Nebraska
  • 1987 – Hirth Air Tankers, Buffalo, Wyoming (Sprayer on Government Fire Ant Program)  Before he passed away, Mr Hirth had purchased the aircraft with the intention of converting it to be used as a fire bomber, but it did not get done in time and ownership was transferred to his wife.
  • 1998 – Constance C. Hirth, Buffalo, Wyoming. (Storage in a field - never flown)
  • 2006 – Dave’s Custom Sheetmetal/Aircraft, LLC., Heber City, Utah (Restored to US Navy Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon Attu Warrior)
A circa 1969 (or later) aerial view looking east down Wheelless' Runway 7 (courtesy of Virgil Fenn, via Art Morris, via Tim Cotter).
This is where 37472 operated out of when owned by Dothan Aviation in Alabama. Look closely and you will see Harpoons in several positions on the field (they owned 7 of them). One of their B-17's eventually became 'Aluminum Overcast' now owned by the EAA.

US Navy Service

US Navy Service

While we do have copies of the service record from the Smithsonian, the information is very basic. Anyone who has any additional information regarding this aircraft, we would love to have copies of logs, photos etc, or even just send us a record of your recollections.

Lockheed Harpoon PV-2, Bureau Number 37472, Serial Number 15-1438
Official Record (Verified)

Built at the Lockheed / Vega factory in Burbank, California. It was completed and accepted by the US Navy on April 4, 1945.

It was delivered to the Navy Aircraft Pool at NAAS Holtville (now Holtville Airport 125 miles east of San Diego CA, near El Centro) on November 19, 1945
As the war had ended, Holtville became home to 111 PV-2's that were no longer needed for combat patrol missions.

It was transferred from the pool to storage whilst still at Holtville and then moved to NAS Litchfield Park in Arizona in January 1947 when Holtville was transferred from Navy to County use.

Attu Warrior in 'period' photo. Matt Ottosen
(NAS Litchfield Park was closed in 1968 and then purchased by the city of Phoenix and became Phoenix Goodyear Airport).

While it was based at Litchfield Park storage facility, 37472 was flown several times each year until May 8th, 1953 when it was transferred to NAS Alameda on San Francisco Bay in California. 

(NAS Alameda has a great history that started as a civil airport in 1927, became Benton Field for the US Army Air Corps in 1930, had a terminal for the Pan Am China Clipper flights beginning in 1935, and in 1938 became Alameda NAS. It was renamed Nimitz Field in 1967 and became the home port of nuclear powered aircraft carriers well into the 1990's. After it was closed in April 1997, it became home for the USS Hornet to be used as a museum. Finally, it has been used for movies and for the TV series 'Mythbusters' for some of their more explosive episodes).  

5 PV-2's in formation. Notice some have the solid blue paint scheme
and others have the Tri-Color the way 'Attu Warrior' is painted today.
Photo from Joe Ross who flew 37472 a couple of times from Litchfield Park. 
During it's time at Alameda, 37472, flew a number of training missions over 3 months, plus a couple of flights back and forward to Litchfield Park before returning to storage at Litchfield Park in February 1954.

In December 1954 37472 was transferred to the Naval Reserve Training Facility at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. As Willow Grove was used during WWII for training in anti-submarine warfare, and continued this role during the Cold War, we can only surmise that the training flights carried on whilst at Willow Grove were also anti-submarine training missions.

In January, 1956 the aircraft was assigned to NAS Anacostia in Washington DC. (This field became Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in 2005). It remained there until August 19, 1956 when it returned to Litchfield Park to be retired from service. It was officially struck from service on December 17, 1956 with a total of 387 hours flown.

Unofficial Record
In 2009, 'Attu Warrior' visited the Reno Air Races. A couple of old veteran gunners came to visit who swore that they had crewed in 37472 from Attu Island after WWII. If this is correct, it must have happened when the aircraft was a pool aircraft stationed at Holtville in 1946. It would possibly have operated with VPB 139.

Lt Joe Ross with his crew in front of a PV-2 Harpoon in 1946.
Notice the guns have been removed from the nose.

Joe Ross, who turned 96 in April 2012, flew 37472 on several occasions. See the post of latest updates for some more information about Joe Ross.

Here is an interesting story that highlights the capability of the PV-2 in action in WWII. On 22nd June 1945, Lt Marlin from VPB-139 was on patrol near Paramushiro, one of the Kuril Islands in the northwest Pacific. This highly unusual action found Marlin flying his PV-2 with a Japanese Hamp (Model 32 Zero) fighter flying below him.
Another Victory!
Marlin scored first with his bow guns, then he forced the Hamp right down on the water and kept it there by flying just above it. Marlin rocked the Harpoon over so that the turret guns could get a shot at it, but he could only stay in that position for a brief time and keep the Hamp trapped. Finally he put on the gas and pulled ahead of the fighter so that the tunnel gunner could bring his twin .50 cal machine guns to bear, and he delivered the fatal shot. 

This was not the only time that the twin-engined medium bomber took on the Japanese Zeros and, using superior speed and being almost as maneuverable, came out the victor. The nine .50 cal machine guns didn't hurt either - five in the nose, two in the top turret and two in the tunnel (tail).

In The Beginning.........

Photos by Matt Ottosen
Attu Warrior

The story of 'Attu Warrior' has multiple chapters.

The first chapter started in 1945 when this particular airplane, Lockheed PV-2 'Harpoon', Serial Number 15-1438, Bureau Number 37472, came off the production line.

The second chapter tells of the aircraft in various civilian roles, including spraying mosquitoes.

The third chapter started in 2006 when it was a derelict aircraft that was purchased by Dave Hansen, an experienced and exceptional warbird restorer.

So, like any good story, we will start at the beginning and endeavor to present a complete history of this great airplane.

'Attu Warrior' makes a low pass
First, lets quickly look at a little of the development of the PV-2 Harpoon. Lockheed's familiar family of aircraft share many design features that might confuse the un-informed, so a little enlightenment might not go astray. The British needed a replacement for their aging Hudsons, and so Lockheed developed the PV-1 'Ventura' from the commercial Model 18 'Lodestar'. This allowed Lockheed to use most of the existing tooling and production facilities to get the Ventura into production quickly, and by early 1943 it was soon patrolling across the Pacific from the Aleutians to Australia, as well as flying in the service of many of our allies. As the service of the PV-1 is an entire story on it's own, we are not going to go into that, as we have enough to tell just concentrating on the PV-2's and in particular, "Attu Warrior'.

These 2 aircraft are very similar in appearance, so I will give you some clues on how to tell them apart.
  1. The PV-2 Harpoon has a much larger wingspan (PV-1 is 65'6", PV-2 is 75'). Hard to judge without a tape measure.
  2. The horizontal stabilizer on the PV-2 is rectangular, while the leading edge of the PV-1 is tapered. Great if you are looking at the plane as it is flying overhead.
  3. The vertical stabilizer on the PV-1 is egg shaped, while the base of the PV-2 is much broader and rounded on top and overall much larger. This one feature makes positive identification much easier if you are viewing the planes from the ground and side on.
  4. Also from side on you will notice that the bomb bay doors are bulged on the PV-2 while the PV-1 has straight doors.

Other design changes were also incorporated to allow for bigger loads and better performance.

As soon as the PV-1 Ventura was in production, Lockheed began design work on the PV-2. The US Navy needed longer range, bigger payload and better handling, so with these (and other) changes the Harpoon was born. The first Harpoon rolled out of the Burbank, California plant on 8 November 1943, so it is obvious that during the war, little time was wasted when the aircraft were sorely needed.