Many of you know that I begun a temporary job last month with a company working at the Alabama Air National Guard after being laid off back in October. I never realized the history of the Alabama ANG until now. The base actually began as the the grass roots effort of one man.
Major James A. Meissner a World War I flying ace and a former member of Eddie Rickenbacker’s famous “Hat-in-the-Ring” squadron. In 1919 Meissner organized some ten to twelve ex-aviators from the recent war and formed the Birmingham Flying Club. The primary purpose of the club was the promotion of aviation in the City of Birmingham and the State of Alabama.
By January of 1922 Meissner had persuaded the Federal Government to recognize the unit as a National Guard flying squadron and it became the 135th Observation Squadron, Alabama National Guard. Twenty-six officers and one hundred twenty enlisted men assigned to the squadron began developing the tract of land that was to be used for the air base. By the end of July of the same year, seven Curtiss JN-4Ds, the famed Jenny, and necessary support equipment were on hand, functioning as a flying unit under the direction of Major Meissner.
The air base has a small park located at the entrance where several aircraft are on display. I took a few minutes during my lunch break one day to take a few photographs. I processed these using Lightroom and NiK software. Some were also processed with SilverEfex Pro using selective coloring.
The Republic RF-84F Thunderflash was the first of the modern jets to be designed specifically for photo-reconnaissance. The reconnaissance fighter was equipped with a combination of standard aerial cameras and dicing camera for close-up photos of individual targets. The fighter-type aircraft was also equipped with the Tri-Metrogon camera which could take horizon-to-horizon pictures. Unlike the Thunderstreak, the Thunderflash had its air-intake ducts located in the wing roots rather than the nose, which was elongated and enclosed to permit installation of a sweeping variety of camera and electronic equipment. It was the first reconnaissance fighter to have a camera control system and a viewfinder for the pilot, who also acted as the cameraman. The aircraft was first tested in February 1952, and 715 of the aircraft were produced.
Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns mounted in the wings
Engine: Wright “Sapphire” J-65-W-7 of 7,800 lbs. thrust
Maximum speed: 629 mph
Cruising speed: 542 mph
Range: 2,000 miles
The second plane is a McDonnell Douglas RF-4C. The RF-4C was developed in the early 1960s, when the USAF recognized the need for more tactical reconnaissance aircraft to reinforce the RF-101s then in service. The USAF chose a modification of the F-4C fighter. The RF-4C development program began in 1962, and the first production aircraft made its initial flight on May 18, 1964.
The RF-4C can carry a variety of cameras in three different stations in its nose section. It could take photos at both high and low altitude, day or night. The RF-4C carried no offensive armament, although during the last few years of its service some were fitted with four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles for defense.
Engines: Two General Electric J79-GE-15s of 17,000 lbs. thrust each
Maximum speed: 1,384 mph
Range: 1,632 miles without aerial refueling
Ceiling: 55,200 ft.
Span: 38 ft. 5 in.
Length: 62 ft. 10 in.
Height: 16 ft. 6 in.