James H. Howard was a Naval Aviator, a Flying Tiger, and the only fighter pilot to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the European Theater of Operations during WWII. His most famous exploit is best described by his Medal of Honor citation below:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany, on 11 January 1944. On that day Col. Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. As Col. Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Col. Howard, with his group, at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME. 110. As a result of this attack Col. Howard lost contact with his group, and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy airplanes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Col. Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than 30 German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some 30 minutes, during which time he destroyed 3 enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Col. Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.
As a U.S. Navy Ensign Howard flew the Grumman F3F-2 with VF-6, operating from the USS Enterprise (CV-6). Howard flew the third aircraft in the fourth section, coded 6-F-12. The aircraft was painted in the standard overall Aluminum dope with yellow upper wing surfaces. Enterprise aircraft carried blue tails. Fourth section carried black stripes on the upper wing, and as the sections’ third aircraft the lower half of the cowl would also be black.
Howard was recruited from VF-6 to go to China and became the Assistant Squadron Leader of the Second Pursuit Squadron “Hell’s Angels” with the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers. He was credited with six victories with the AVG. His Curtiss Hawk 81 carried the number 57 on the aft fuselage. Howard is on the right in this photograph. He was one of two Flying Tigers who would go on to earn the Medal of Honor, the other being USMC Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.
While the deployment of the P-51B was intended to be kept secret at the time, the USAAF was eager to capitalize on the propaganda value of Howard’s January 11th exploits. Here is a posed color photo which reveals several interesting details of the markings of 43-6315. Note the repainted area under the “Ding Hao!” lettering, the white tail stripe, as well as the color of the main spar visible in the wheel bay.
Another press photo shows Howard and Staff Sergeant Marcus Hanson examining the kill markings. Ding Hao is a Chinese phrase for “very best”. Howard was the commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group. When asked why he single-handedly defended the B-17s against 30 German fighters, he said, “I seen my duty and I done it!”
An interesting photograph in many respects. On the 11JAN44 mission 43-6315 was fitted with the early framed canopy, this picture shows the details well. Fuselage stenciling is clearly seen, as are the details of the victory markings.
His is a later photo of Howard in the cockpit of 43-6315 to compare with the previous picture. The framed canopy has been replaced with the bulged Malcom Hood. The victory markings have been re-painted, this is most easily seen by comparing the fourth Japanese flag in each picture. There is also chipping seen on the first flags in each row. Howard’s name and that of the crew chief, S/SGT Trice have been added ahead of the windscreen. The censor has removed the aircraft type details from the data block.
An overall view of Ding Hao! With the Malcolm Hood. Already a popular modeling subject, Howard’s P-51B is featured on the box art for the new Arma Hobby P-51B kit and is one of six aircraft included on the decal sheet. Parts are provided to model the aircraft fitted with either canopy option.
Another color photo which shows the Malcolm Hood to advantage, the improvements to head room and visibility are apparent. There is chipping to the Ding Hao! Lettering, and broom symbols representing five fighter sweeps have been added above the exhausts.
A fine study of an early F6F-3 fresh from the factory in the Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme. (NASM, Rudy Allen Collection)
Grumman finished their aircraft with superior craftsmanship, the rugged designs soon earning them the nickname “Grumman Iron Works” for their ability to withstand damage and still keep flying. The quality of the workmanship is apparent in this photograph. (NASM, Rudy Allen Collection)
The red surround to the national insignia was unpopular and short-lived, only being used for a short time during the summer of 1943. Some commanders were so concerned that any red on the insignia might lead to confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru that they refused apply the outlines, which were soon changed to use Insignia Blue paint. (NASM, Rudy Allen Collection)
This F6F-3 is finished in the graded camouflage scheme and insignia with blue surrounds authorized in August 1943. The numbers sprayed on the cowling and tail were to identify the aircraft prior to her delivery and usually were the last digits of the Bureau Number.
Sailors hoisting an F6F-3 aboard the old-fashioned way using a block and tackle. The large yellow buzz numbers V5 on the wings indicate a training aircraft. (80-GK-2625)
An F6F-5N nightfighter with an AN/APS-6 radar pod mounted to the starboard wing. Most of the Hellcat nightfighters replaced the inboard .50 machine gun with a 20 mm cannon in each wing.
A mechanic works on the Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp radial engine, which produced 2,000 horsepower. Modelers note the primer showing through on the wing leading edges and the oil staining on the cowling.
Flight deck crewmen await the signal to pull the chocks from this F6F-3 prior to launch. The gun muzzles have been taped over to prevent fouling, and the last two digits of the aircraft number are repeated on the landing gear doors and cowling.
Commander David McCampbell poses in the cockpit of his F6F-5 “Minsi III”. McCampbell was the leading U.S. Navy ace of WWII with 34 victories, including 9 in one mission during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
LTJG Eugene R. Hanks in his F6F-3 Hellcat of VF-16. Hanks became an “ace in a day” after downing five Japanese Zeros in as many minutes while operating from the USS Lexington (CV-16) off Makin on 23 November 1943. He was awarded the Navy Cross for this action. (Eduard Steichen photograph, 80-G-K-15562)
Part I here:
Grumman produced a total of 12,275 Hellcats. With the end of the war and the dawning of the jet age the F6F quickly became surplus to requirements. Many were transferred to foreign nations or passed on to Naval Reserve units. One of the more interesting uses for the Hellcats was conversion to drones, which allowed the aircraft to be piloted remotely, usually from another aircraft.
The drones were used for several functions, most commonly for targets. These drones with their colorful tails were used in Operation Crossroads for atmospheric sampling during the 1946 atomic bomb tests.
A shot of the Operation Crossroads test aircraft with their wings folded on the ramp. The additional antenna wires required for remote operation can be seen at the tops of the vertical tails.
Another more tactical mission was performed during the Korean War when the Hellcats were converted into flying bombs in the tradition of the WWII TDR and TDN assault drones: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/?s=assault+drone This bomb laden F6F-5K drone is seen about to be launched from the USS Boxer (CV-21) off Korea in August of 1952. Douglas Skyraiders were used as controlling aircraft. Note that the bombs lack tail fins as they were not intended to be dropped.
Another variation of the high-visibility paint scheme is seen on this rather worn F6F-5K, a weathering challenge for an experienced modeler.
The target drones could also be launched from carriers for live-fire exercises. Here is an F6F-5K of VU-3 aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31).
The Navy operated F6F-5K target drones until the 1960’s. This very clean example is seen set up for public display at an airshow.
Several Hellcat drones were modified with wingtip pods in a variety of configurations. Some sources identify these as fuel tanks.
Another variation on the high-visibility drone paint scheme, Orange Yellow with Insignia Red trim. The conversions retained the ability to be directly piloted. (NASM, Rudy Allen Collection)
A close-up of the unit insignia, a bee dodging bullets. The landing gear covers and cowling are trimmed in Insignia Red, but the landing gear legs (and likely the wheel wells) are in Orange Yellow. Note the prominent exhaust staining. (NASM, Rudy Allen Collection)
Part III here: