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May 19, 2007, 10:33 AM
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'History' - Alaskan Aerial Survey 1929

In 1929 the Coast and Geodetic Survey teamed up with the US Navy for an aerial survey of the South Eastern Alaska coast.

My father was an Aviation Machinist Mate on the trip and in 2001 I was invited to Ketchikan to work on the photos for two weeks. I have wanted to share the story and photos from my dad's album. This looks like the place to do it.

The 'Discussion' thread for this topic is here:

Group photo of the detachment from the Langley. The civilian in the center of the photo is Capt. C. W. Hall. He was familiar with the local waters, so assisted in planning the flight paths. My dad put a dot on his white hat. He's the indian kid from Oklahoma.

Last edited by Tom Harper; May 28, 2007 at 08:34 AM.
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May 19, 2007, 04:05 PM
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I am posting this as I do the research so much of it is new to me. There are three primary sources of information:

"Aerial Photographic Surveys In Southeastern Alaska", Sargent and Moffit 1929

Photos and notations in my father's album

"United States Navy Aircraft since 1911", Swanborough and Bowers 1968

I know that my dad served on the Lexington and the Langley. In 1926 the Langley was flying Thomas Morse Scouts (mfg by Curtiss). By 1927 there were 20 Loenig OL-8s in the fleet. Some or all of these operated from the Langley. The Alaska operation drew on the Langley's resources for planes, crew and ships. Four of the OL-8s were modified for photography. A hole, cut in the pontoon, was fitted with a removable plug for take off and landing. An identical plug was designed to carry the gimbaled camera mount. A tender to the Langley, the Gannet, was requisitioned as the project's ship.
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 19, 2007 at 04:51 PM.
May 19, 2007, 04:17 PM
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Loenig OL-8

"Southeastern Alaska possesses no landing fields for airplanes, and the construction of such fields would have required time and a large, additional expense, so that airplanes able to land on the water were practically a necessity for carrying out the project. The original plans contemplated the use of four Loening amphibian planes. This type of plane was chosen because it is not only able to take off and make landings in the water but, being provided with landing gear in addition to its boatlike fuselage, it can be operated on land where fields are available or it can readily be drawn up on shore when not in use or when overhauling is necessary. This ability to be drawn out of the water easily is of great advantage in time of storm or heavy winds, when the difficulty of holding a plane safely on a rough sea is great, and has an additional advantage in preventing the plane from becoming water-logged and thus adding to its weight. Unfortunately, one of the planes was wrecked on the way from San Diego to Seattle, and its pilot, Lieutenant Dillon, and the chief petty-officers, Messrs. Peterson and Volz, were injured. Because of this accident only three planes were available for the undertaking."(Sargent and Moffit)

There were two groups involved. One arrived in the spring and the other for the summer and fall. The fourth plane must have been repaired and arrived with the second detachment. Otherwise who took the pictures of the 3 planes in the air?

Manufacturer: Keystone-Loenig, Bristol PA.
Type: Observation amphibian
Power plant: One 450 HP Pratt & Whitney R-1340-4
Dimensions: Span 45'; Length 35' 1"; Height 12' 9"; Wing area 504 sq ft
Weights: Empty 3,649; gross 5,404 pounds
Performance; 122MPH; Climb, 5.7 min to 5,000ft; Service Ceiling 14,300ft; Range 625 st miles
Last edited by Tom Harper; Aug 20, 2007 at 12:07 PM.
May 19, 2007, 05:41 PM
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The Barge

In Seattle the expedition picked up a barge. The barge had been modified to serve as a base of operations. It had refrigerated storage for film, a dark room and a processing lab. In addition:

"...a kitchen, dining room, office for the clerical force, rooms for the commanding officer, other offices, hospital, the petty officers' and enlisted men's quarters,- engine repair shop, store room, and barber shop. On the after end was a loft for carrier pigeons. An electric lighting system was installed to furnish light when the Gannet was separated from the barge."
(Sargent and Moffit)

I like the part about the carrier pigeons.
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 20, 2007 at 02:36 PM.
May 20, 2007, 03:07 PM
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Tri-Optigon Camera

The camera was a composite of three cameras with a mechanical synchronizer for their shutters. The center camera is orthogonal and the other two are angled at 35 degrees. The operator had a view port so he could observe the scenes. He had to manually level the camera and adjust for yaw. I assume this was done with cranks on the gimbal mount. The shutter operation was manual also. He had a clock timer that he watched so he could click the shutter at a predetermined rate.

The three frames of an individual scene are labeled a, b, c. The center (b) frame is a normal exposure with the usual radial distortion. The 'a' and 'c' frames are distorted and must be viewed through an optical device or folded up at an angle to restore perspective. The three negatives were joined then contact printed and mounted.
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 28, 2007 at 07:51 AM.
May 21, 2007, 06:18 AM
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Flight Planning

Flight plans were worked out using the advice of Capt. Hall. The routes and exposures were numbered on a map. The flight number is in the center of the line and the exposure numbers at the beginning and end. A portion of the map is shown below.

Only two of the planes were outfitted for photography. The airplane is not identified on the route. However, I noticed that the two cameras were different. In the photo above there are alignment marks in the border frame and cross hairs in the center photo. These are missing from the other camera.

The photographic runs were made at height above terrain of 10,000 ft. The max altitude for the aircraft was 15000 ft. The open cockpit airplanes made sheepskin flying suits a must!
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 21, 2007 at 01:46 PM.
May 21, 2007, 01:54 PM
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Static electricity

Static discharges appear on some of the prints. I have not found any mention of the problem. They just lived with it.
May 22, 2007, 08:12 AM
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Aerial Photos

The photo of Petersburg is from the left side angled camera. It is on the inside edge so the distortion is not bad. Bring up Petersburg AK on Google Earth for an interesting comparison.

In addition to the orthogonals the expedition took a lot of oblique shots for promotion. I assume these were sold on the barge.
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 22, 2007 at 08:53 AM.
May 22, 2007, 09:01 AM
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The Navy photos are good history, but I like the snapshots because they are unique, especially the one with the cows.
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 23, 2007 at 10:33 AM.
May 23, 2007, 08:02 AM
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Going to Ketchikan

In 2001 my neighbor handed me a copy of the Forest Service publication PIT, Passport In Time. It is a catalog of interesting projects for volunteers. You pick one and apply. If selected you get to participate in anything from sorting old stuff in a museum to surveying for artifacts in the field. As I thumbed thru it I was surprised (understatement) to find a project working on the old aerial photographs in Ketchikan Alaska! I wasn't going to miss that. I applied and was accepted.

The task was to match each of the 3000 mounted photographs to it's position on a topo map. There were 4 of us. We each had a little frame that we overlaid on the topo until it matched the photo. The position was marked and labeled with the number of the flight and photo. We just finished the task in the two weeks alloted for it.
Last edited by Tom Harper; May 26, 2007 at 08:59 AM.
May 24, 2007, 11:33 AM
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That's it.

There were two sets of photographs. One was kept by Coast and Geodetic Survey in Alaska and the other was sent to the Navy in Washington DC. The Alaska set was given to Forestry in Juneau. There they gathered dust for many years. In 1951 another aerial survey was done. I assume some of it replaced the 1929 effort. Since storage is always at a premium the photos frequently came to the top of the 'things to discard' list.

While writing this, I recall being told that the Juneau office called Ketchikan and announced that if Ketchikan didn't want them the photos would get tossed. Ketchikan rescued them from their peak junk period and they began the slow transition to treasure. Recently the demand for them has been growing. Not just for historians and archaeologists. The position of glaciers in 1929 has suddenly become of great interest. These are photographs of the land as it was then and may be the only photographs of the land at all. I assume the points we registered on maps have all been entered into a GIS system so that interested parties have immediate access to a desired photo. I also assume the photographs thenselves are now carefully guarded. As one of my Ketchikan co-workers said:

"I feel like we should be in a clean room with white gloves".

I know what he meant.

As for the Washington DC set, they probably pristinely reside in the corner of a forgotten warehouse.

The photos below are good closers. The one on the left is Dad at Taku Glacier in 1929. On the right is a photo made during the battle of Dutch Harbor and in the middle is what he wrote on the back.

Last edited by Tom Harper; Sep 22, 2007 at 07:23 AM.
Mar 26, 2013, 03:16 PM
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In May of 2011 I visited the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola Florida.

I am sure my dad would be proud to know that his album is now part of the museum.

Tom Harper

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