Rare Mojave dragon now lives in Washington state

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by Cathy Hansen, special at Aerotech News
This vintage WWII twin-engine bomber was developed and flight tested by Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California, and was referred to as the B-23 Dragon.

It first flew in July 1939 and incorporated many features of the Douglas DC-3 commercial transport. This B-23 was built by Douglas Aircraft Company, was completed on June 28, 1940.

My husband, Al Hansen, and his friend and partner Ascher Ward, bought the B-23 from the University of Washington and flew it from Kingman, Arizona to the Mojave Airport in 1985. The plane had been used at the university as a meteorological survey device. for meteorology students. All radar and meteorological equipment was removed and it was returned to its original configuration.

In 1938, the Douglas Aircraft Company developed the B-23 Dragon to rectify the shortcomings of the B-18 Bolo.

(Photograph by Derek Haley)

The first B-23 was completed in July 1939 and made its first flight from Clover Field in Santa Monica on July 27, 1939. After being evaluated by the Materiel Division at Wright Field in Ohio, deliveries from the plane began the following year. .

Beginning in February 1940, the 17th Bombardment Group and 89th Reconnaissance Squadron at McChord Army Air Field, Washington, received their first factory new Dragon bombers to complement the B-18 Bolos currently assigned to the base. The Air Corps received the last of its 38 B-23s in September 1940.

Early reviews revealed disappointing performance, even though the B-23 was 66 mph faster than its predecessor B-18A and had much better range, it was still significantly inferior to other bombers of its time. The B-23 was slower than the Boeing B-17 Fortress, the North American B-25 Mitchell and the Martin B-26 Marauder and was less heavily armed. Therefore, the B-23 was never used in its intended bombing role and never saw any combat overseas. Ultimately relegated to training, and as utility transport (like UC-67) and many other tests and experiments.

After the end of the war, the surviving B-23s and UC-67s were sold as surplus. Many were refitted as business jets and received a new longer metal nose, full restrooms, and accommodations for 12 passengers in two compartments.

California Oil Co. owned this Dragon from 1946 to 1960, then Standard Oil Co. of Texas acquired it in July 1960.

(Photograph by Cathy Hansen)

The B-23 Dragon at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Photograph by Cathy Hansen)

Only 38 B-23s were built. Although it was mechanically strong and reliable, it was almost obsolete as soon as it rolled off the assembly line.

It had a wingspan of 92 feet, a fuselage length of 58 feet, 6 inches and a maximum weight of 32,400 pounds, carrying 4,000 pounds of bombs inside. Boeing developed and built the larger B-17 Flying Fortress around the same time, which had two more engines and a lot more firepower.

At the start of World War II, the B-17 entered mass production. The few flying B-23s were mainly used for transporting troops.

This B-23 didn’t rack up war glory, but it had its own glamor. We have been told that its first post-war owner was billionaire Howard Hughes, who preferred the plane for VIP transport on business and leisure excursions. I wonder how true this story is, but it’s fun to imagine Jane Russell or Jean Harlow flying on this plane.

Retired Company Captain Bob Van Ausdell transported the Dragon from Arizona to Mojave, then on December 11, 1985 he was again seated in the left seat, with Al as co-pilot, as they rose from the Mojave Airport to McChord Air. Force Base near Tacoma, Washington. A clean blanket of snow had blanketed the Tehachapi Mountains and the desert floor, as they floated off the trail.

The first stop was McNary Field in Salem, Oregon, the hometown of Van Ausdell, where a McChord C-130 joined the vintage bomber and crew.

The weather around the northwestern states is often unfavorable for VFR flights and it became thick as pea soup as they entered McChord. The C-130 flew alongside and helped them line up for the runway. Al said: “As soon as we touched down on the track, we just rolled in huge fog and stopped him on the track.” Tugs had to go out and tow them because there was no way to tell which direction to go.

The Mojave Dragon is now on display at the McChord Air Museum.


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