Monday, September 29, 2014

Flight of the Turtle, September 29, 1946

On September 29, 1946, a P2V-1 Neptune, nicknamed the “Truculent Turtle,” took off from Perth, Australia, bound for Washington, D.C. The airplane was named “The Turtle” after the Lockheed project to extend the Neptune’s range: Operation Turtle. The crew added the adjective truculent, meaning defiant, or aggressive.

Heavy fuel consumption caused by winds and rough weather did not allow the plane to reach Washington. The aircraft flew for 55 hours and 17 minutes without refueling, and landed in Columbus, Ohio, on October 1st. The 11,235.6-mile flight broke the world distance flight record.  The Turtle was manned by Cdr. Thomas D. Davies (pilot), Cdr. Eugene P. Rankin (co-pilot), Cdr. Walter S. Reid (navigator), and LCdr. Roy H. Tabeling (radio officer). The only cargo on the flight was a gift from Australia to the people of America – a nine-month kangaroo named Joey.
Norfolk hosted three of the four crew members for a 10th anniversary of the flight. Left to right they are Cdr. Roy H. Tabeling, Capt. Eugene P. Rankin, and Capt. Thomas D. Davies. Visible behind the men is the nose art of a determined turtle astride a bicycle sprocket turning a propeller. A cartoonist at Walt Disney Studios designed the image. The turtle is smoking a pipe and has a rabbit's foot dangling on his keychain - a humorous reference to the Aesop Fable in which the tortoise and the hare have a race. 
After retirement in 1953, the aircraft became a familiar sight to travelers in Norfolk when it sat on the corner of Granby St. and Taussig Blvd. In 1968 the expansion of Interstate 64 forced the Turtle to relocate to the grounds of the Naval Air Station. It remained an attraction there until 1977, when it moved via barge to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.  The “Turtle” resides there in our sister museum with other historic aircraft.

As for Joey the kangaroo?  After the brief stop in Columbus, he ended his trip at the Washington Zoo.

The Turtle welcomed arrivals at the Naval Air Station for nine years.
When it was time for the Turtle to be moved to Pensacola, the airplane was towed to Pier 12,
where it was partially disassembled and loaded on a barge. In this image, note the cherry-picker
lifting electrical wires as the plane transits down the tow-way.
(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

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