Photographic Detective Work


W R Allen black and white photograph of ww2 planeThis image appeared in a collection of world war 2 photographs from my grandfather’s collection. Part of a set of about a dozen or so images printed on square paper, I had no clue as to how to figure out the history of this particular plane.

Thankfully the Army Airforce commissioned this plane and they kept detailed records and devotees today transcribe this information to websites on the internet. Genealogical detective work has gotten much easier with the growth of the world wide web.

The text and numbers below the pilot’s window provided a goldmine of clues.

US ARMY C-54 B-10 DO: a search of this alphanumeric series told me the plane was a C-54 Douglas Skymaster. (Another fantastic resource for Douglas Production Lists is here.)

A.A.F. Ser. No. 43-17157: a search of this alphanumeric series revealed a website describing the history and final disposition of the plane.

(MSN 18357/DO131) assigned to All Weather Flight Center damaged Jan 2, 1946 in takeoff accident at Lockbourne AAB, OH. WFU and stored 1971.

Yet another search revealed that MSN is the abbreviation for Manufacturer’s Serial Number.

My grandfather, W R Allen, took this photo sometime after 1944. US ARMY C-54 B tells me this is a C-54B Skymaster, which Douglas Aircraft introduced in March 1944.

I am not sure if my grandfather took this photo at Wright-Patterson AAB, Dayton, Ohio where he was stationed or Lockbourne AAB, Columbus, Ohio. I’m confident he took it sometime between March 1944 and summer of 1945. He was discharged from the AAF in December 1945.

The pilot appears to be dressed in a summer uniform. Just a guess.

Wright Field, which was part of Wright-Patterson AAB, housed the largest aeronautical research unit in the world and home of the United States Army Airforce Material Command.

From Periscope Films:

In February 1940 at Wright Field, the Army Air Corps established the Technical Data Branch. After Air Corps Ferrying Command was established on 29 May 1941, on 21 June an installation point of the command opened at Patterson Field. In the fall of 1942, the first twelve “Air Force” officers to receive AT field collection training were assigned to Wright Field for training in the technical aspects of “crash” intelligence (RAF Squadron Leader Colley identified how to obtain information from equipment marking plates and squadron markings. In July 1944 during the Robot Blitz, Wright Field fired a reconstructed German pulse-jet engine (an entire V-1 flying bomb was “reversed engineered” by September 8 at Republic Aviation.) The first German and Japanese aircraft arrived in 1943, and captured equipment soon filled six buildings, a large outdoor storage area, and part of a flight-line hangar for Technical Data Lab study. The World War II Operation Lusty returned 86 German aircraft to Wright Field for study, e.g., the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter, while the post-war Operation Paperclip brought German scientists and technicians to Wright Field, e.g., Ernst R. G. Eckert (most of the scientists eventually went to work in the various Wright Field labs.)


Photographs sometimes require detective work, which I happen to like. The results of my search placed my grandfather in a particular time in history and in a few possible geographic locations. From my search I also learned that Republic Aviation reverse-engineered the V-1 rocket. All from two alphanumeric sequences in a single photograph taken by W. R. Allen.






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