mcdonnell douglas

McDonnell Banshee Pilot Addreses McDonnell Aircraft Retiree Group

The weekly luncheon of a local McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retiree group included a special guest speaker this week – Mr. Bill Hunsicker.  Mr. Hunsicker served as a U.S. Naval Aviator during the mid 1950s, flying the McDonnell-built F2H-3 Banshee fighter/bomber during the critical years after the end of the Korean War fighting and the emergence of China as the Pacific threat to the U.S. The attendees this week were eager to hear a first-hand account from a Banshee pilot on what it was like to fly an aircraft that some of them designed and built.
They were not disappointed with what they heard.
Bill Hunsicker enlisted in the U.S. Navy NAVCAD program in 1953.  The Naval Aviation Cadet Program was used in various forms from 1935-1968 to train enlisted candidates with some college credit as Naval Aviators to increase the number of air crews during times of crisis.  The NAVCAD program from the 1950-1955 period was replaced by the Aviation Officer Candidate School at NAS Pensacola for college graduates.  Mr. Hunsicker was commissioned in May 1955 and assigned to the VF-213, an “All Weather Night Fighter Squadron.”  He was deployed in August 1956 aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31, newly re-commissioned for the second time in September 1955 after receiving a major conversion to accept jet aircraft. He later transitioned to fly the Douglas F-4D Skyray for a short time before returning to the United States in March 1957 and leaving active duty in August of 1957 to complete his Engineering degree at Washington University in St. Louis.
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
Mr. Hunsicker was very complimentary of the Banshee, describing it as a stable weapons platform and overall very reliable and easy to maintain aircraft.  Although it was not by then considered a “high performance” jet fighter due to its subsonic speed and less sophisticated avionics, the Banshee was still a valuable asset for night fleet defense, ground attack and “special weapons delivery” missions through the 1950s.  About half of his squadron’s aircraft were specially outfitted with taller landing gear, special bomb rack, bomb delivery avionics and aerial refueling probes to accommodate the potential delivery of atomic weapons.  Following the transition to the Skyray, the squadron’s Banshees were sold to Canada, where they served from land bases and the HMCS Bonaventure aircraft carrier until 1962.
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
The typical night fighter mission involved several Banshees, armed with four 20mm cannon, establishing an orbit fanning out at about 200 miles from the carrier.  For the ground attack mission, the Banshee carried 500 pound bombs and/or 5-inch HVAR rocket packs.  In order to fly the nuclear mission, specially-trained crews carried the 1800 pound Mk 7 tactical weapon delivered in the climbing toss method.  During the toss maneuver, the approach was made at high speed and very low altitude.  Pressing the weapons delivery button engaged the computer that then prompted the pilot to begin the 2-G pull-up and automatic weapon release at the top of the arc.  The pilot then reversed course and retreated at high speed to avoid the gamma ray and nuclear blast effects that soon followed.  It is no secret that China was the new Pacific threat at that time, especially on the heels of the hot war in Korea, and the crews practiced nuclear attack missions during their cruises in the region.  Following each cruise, the carrier returned to its home base, NAS Moffett Field, near San Francisco, CA.

It was indeed an honor to visit with Bill Hunsicker and the McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retirees this week.  Special thanks to Mr. Hunsicker for sharing his experiences, and also to Mr. Mike de Garcia from the McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retiree group and Mr. Mark Nankivil from the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum for producing the event.

McDonnell Douglas Retirees Visit Museum, Donate Space Mission Memorabilia

Members of a McDonnell Douglas retiree group, informally known as the “Mac Old Team,” visited the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, located in historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport, this week following their last monthly luncheon meeting of the year.  The group has made several visits to the museum in recent years, and individual members have donated significant pieces of aerospace memorabilia that now reside in the museum galleries.  Joining the group this year were several students and their Director from the Vincennes University  Center for Technology, Innovation & Manufacturing and leaders of the Purdue Alumni Club of Jasper, Indiana.  Also present was a group of high school students representing “Learning Experiences in Applied Fields,” a peer-to-peer mentoring group that currently assists students in areas of technology studies.  The connection to the Indiana education institutions is an outgrowth of a visit by some McDonnell Douglas retirees to the Virgil I. Gus Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Indiana for the 50th anniversary of Grissom’s (McDonnell Aircraft Company-designed) Mercury spacecraft flight in 2011.  Since then, visitor exchanges have occurred to solidify the new relationship between the McDonnell Douglas retirees, museums and education institutions in the respective states.

Norm Beckel, “Mac Old Team” group leader, speaks to members during lunch at
“Spinners” restaurant at the airport prior to their museum visit
During the visit to the museum, retiree group member Carl Scheske presented a collection of Space Shuttle memorabilia, including mission patches, posters and prints donated by fellow retiree John Schuessler (left).  The items, accepted by museum Curator Mike Burke (center) and museum President Mark Nankivil (right), will become part of a future exhibit.
Following the presentation, members of the McDonnell Douglas retiree group and the visitors from Indiana toured the museum, some for the first time.  The students in the group were drawn to the life-size, interactive exhibits such as the restored F-4 Phantom II jet fighter cockpit, “Spirit of St. Louis” cockpit reproduction, aircraft in the hangar and the functioning Link Trainers.  Other gallery exhibits, such as the jet engine cut-away working model and the pilot flight gear display, sparked conversations between the retired engineers and the students about the development of jet propulsion and the corresponding issues concerning flight crew physiological health with jet and rocket flight.  The real success of the visit was seeing the interaction between the pioneers of the jet and space age and the very bright, new generation of students starting to make their mark on the future of the nation’s aerospace industry.
McDonnell Douglas retiree Nelson Weber (Center) discusses
the operation of a jet engine with visiting students
A visiting student examines the F-4 Phantom II restored cockpit
Forest Park High School (Ferdinand, IN) Senior Jason Brier flies a 1940s era Link Trainer
Some of the McDonnell Douglas retirees were present in the plant in 1962 when James S. McDonnell, Chairman and CEO of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, drove President John F. Kennedy in the factory cart now on display at the museum.  Those in attendance posed near the cart, from L-R: Nelson Weber, Carl Scheske, Earl Robb, Wade Wilkerson, Dean Purdy, Tim Tinsley, and Donald Alwine.
Special thanks to Norm Beckel and the “Mac Old Team” for arranging the luncheon and visit to the museum with our visitors from Indiana.  Also thanks to museum Curator Emeritus Jack Abercrombie for coordinating the visit to the museum.

“Art” Davies, One of the Museum’s Founding Members, Passes Away

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, and the aviation community, thanks you for a lifetime of dedicated service to family, country and aviation.

Charles Arthur Davies (April 11, 1925 – July 5, 2013)        

Charles Arthur Davies (April 11, 1925 – July 5, 2013)                               

Charles Arthur “Art” Davies, Jr., age 88, of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, departed this life on Friday, July 5, 2013, at Lake Regional Health Center in Osage Beach, Missouri.Charles was born April 11, 1925 in Slater, Missouri, the son of Charles Arthur, Sr. and Magelalen McAteer Davies.Art served his country proudly during World War II in the United States Army from August 2 1943, until his honorable discharge, December 7, 1945. He had also served in the US Coast Guard. Art was a graduate of Christ the King High School located in University City, Missouri, and a graduate of Washington University School of Architectural Engineering. He retired from McDonnell-Douglas-Boeing after 38 years of employment.

Art attended St. Monica Catholic Church in Creve Coeur, Missouri. He was one of the original founders of the Spirit of St. Louis Aviation Museum in Chesterfield, Missouri, now located in Cahokia, Illinois.

Art is survived by his wife Mary Alice, of Sunrise Beach, Missouri; his sister Patricia Newcomb; and his brother, William Davies.  Art was preceded in death by his parents; and his first wife Margaret Dietz Davies.