On This Date January 9, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Art & Science, Dryden Flight Research Center, Museums & Archives, Wright Brothers, WWII
Today is the birthday—first flight day—of two aircraft that share some background but also differ significantly. A good portion of the world was at war in the 1940s, and that gave rise to these two aircraft in different places. The AVRO Lancaster first took to the war-torn skies of England seventy-two years ago, in 1941, when test pilot Bill Thorn coaxed prototype BT308 to off of the tarmac and into the air at Manchester’s Ringway Airport. Two years later, in 1943, the prototype L-049 Constellation made its first flight, a short hop really, from Burbank, CA, to Muroc Air Force Base (later to become Edwards Air Force Base and also current home to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center).
Large, four-engined, and born during World War II are among the very limited set of characteristics that the Lancaster and the Constellation had in common. That said, both aircraft followed architect’s Louis Sullivan’s “form ever follows function” dictum to a tee and turned out very differently.
The Lancaster was designed as a bomber. Utilitarian, slab sided, and broad winged, the Lancaster is not easily mistaken for anything but a military aircraft. The Lancaster began military service in February 1942, and more than 7,000 would be built before the last “Lanc” was retired in 1963. During WWII, Lancaster’s flew nearly 160,000 missions. The Lancaster gained particular fame during the war for its use of bouncing bombs in mission against dams.
While the Lanc was decidedly of its time, the Lockheed Constellation—affectionately known as the “Connie”—had an art deco design, a blend of organic shapes and machine grace, that was ahead of its time. Much larger than the Lanc—early Connies had a takeoff weight of 137,500 lb versus the Lanc’s 68,000 lb—the Lockheed design was curved and sinous. Many mid-twentieth-century trains, planes, and automobiles were shaped to cheat the wind, and a designer’s eyeball of that era served as a wind-tunnel test. The Connie looks like it’s going fast even when it is sitting still.
Much is often made of Howard Hughes’s involvement in the design of the Connie. In reality, Hughes’ TWA simply issued the specification for the Connie, and Lockheed engineered an aircraft to satisfy that spec. Once the Connie was flying though, Hughes, ever the promoter and master showman, made headlines with the aircraft. Because of his close relationship to Lockheed, Hughes managed to finagle the use of an early Constellation. Once he had it, he repainted it in TWA colors and promptly set a speed record while flying it across the country. Passengers on that trip included Hughes’s gal-pal Ava Gardner and Lockheed engineer (and Upper Peninsula native) Kelly Johnson. On his return trip, Hughes garnered more press by giving Orville Wright what would be the aviation pioneer’s last flight.
Despite its obvious style and speed—the Connie was faster than a number of WWII fighter aircraft—the Connie had a short and somewhat difficult career. Its Wright 3350 engines had a reputation for inflight fires, leading to uncomfortable jokes about the Connie, which had four engines, being the world’s faster trimotor. On top of that, the first generation of jet airliners arrived just as the Connie began to hit its stride. Although Connies survived for a number of years in the military and in passenger service outside of the United States, this aircraft made its final domestic revenue flight in 1967.
As we’ve written elsewhere, we have a fondness for visiting small airports just to see what’s sitting on the ramp. We developed this ritual while we were both professors at our alma mater, Knox College, in the late-1990s. Years later, on a return trip to Galesburg, we visited the local airport—call sign KGBG—for old-time’s sake. Sitting there in all of its shapely, aluminum glory was a Constellation.
The first Constellation that we saw in the metal was the so-called MATS Connie, one of the handful still flying and once owned by John Travolta. We’ve also seen the military variant at Chanute-Rantoul, just outside of Champaign, IL, where our colleague Richard Bausch once served. President Eisenhower flew on a Constellation; he had two in service at the time.
Only two Lancasters remain airworthy, one in the United Kingdom and one at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. There’s a Lanc near us, though, in Chico, CA, that folks are planning to restore to flying condition. A reminder that we haven’t yet thoroughly investigated the aviation history that’s right in our own back yard here in Southern California.
All Wright, First Flight! December 17, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Wright Brothers
On this date in 1903, the Wright brothers took to the air and ushered in the age of aviation. Their Wright flyer stayed aloft just one second short of a minute. That first manned, powered, controlled flight traversed 852 feet.
We’ve written about the Wright brothers before at Lofty Ambitions. Last February, we visited the College Park Aviation Museum and wrote about Wilbur’s stint in College Park HERE. Just over a year ago, we had another post for the impending Wright Brothers Day HERE. And we’re not the only ones whose holiday season includes celebrating Wright Brothers Day on December 17. This morning, we found a piece in The Daily Mirror that we especially enjoyed; check that out HERE.
Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in Ohio and traced their interest in flying machines to a childhood toy. Wilbur decided not to attend Yale University after he got his teeth knocked out and began caring for his ill mother, and Orville dropped out of high school. In 1882, the two brothers opened a bicycle repair shop and started manufacturing their own brand of bikes four years later. By the turn of the century, they were building gliders and flew at Kitty Hawk, where sand dunes made landings softer and safer. Kitty Hawk is, of course, where they first flew their Wright Flyer as well.
By 1906, the Wright brothers were trying to negotiate contracts to sell their flying contraptions. Two years later, they began flying demonstrations to prove their machines to prospective buyers. That fall, the first woman to fly hopped aboard one of those demonstration flights. Sadly, another demonstration led to the first airplane crash fatality: Thomas Selfridge, age 26. Orville spent seven weeks in the hospital as a result of his injuries in the crash, and his sister Katharine helped nurse him back to health.
Wilbur died of typhoid fever at age 45, after which Orville led their company and Katharine became an officer until 1915, when he sold it. He served on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became what we know as NASA. Orville took his last flight in 1944, in a Lockheed Constellation piloted by Howard Hughes (read about Hughes HERE). After years of estrangement after his sister married, Orville was at Katharine’s bedside when she died in 1929. Orville himself died in January of 1948 of a heart attack.
Celebrate Wright Brothers Day today! Take a look at the Smithsonian’s exhibit at the National Air & Space Museum in person or online HERE. Better yet, ride a bike, watch takeoffs and landings at your local airport, or order a flight of beer or wine and raise a glass to this pair of aviation innovators!
On This Date: Lunar Eclipse & More! December 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science.
Tags: Airshows, Biology, Chemistry, Nobel Prize, Physics, Railroads, Wright Brothers
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Last night, we set our alarm for 5:30a.m. so that we could take a look at the total lunar eclipse. A total eclipse had occurred earlier this year, in June, but it wasn’t visible from North America.
The moon hung in our western sky, its face three-quarters in shadow. We watched the slow process, which takes several hours, for about ten minutes. Then set the alarm for 6:15a.m. to see how much it had changed. By then, the sun was rising over our backs, and the moon had sunk behind trees that line the street a couple of blocks away. Still, we could make out the reddish glow of the lunar orb.
If you remember your grade-school science lessons, you’ll recall that a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth gets in between the Sun and the Moon and blocks the Sun’s rays from striking the Moon. Lunar eclipses are beautiful in part because the alignment necessary happens to occur when the Moon is full. In fact, even before the eclipse, last night’s Moon was striking.
We didn’t brush up on our how-to-photograph-the-Moon instructions, but Universe Today has some amazing photos and a video HERE. MSNBC also has a great collection of photos HERE. A Seattle blogger also has amazing shots from around the globe HERE.
If you missed this weekend’s eclipse, mark your calendar for April 15, 2014.
If you’re looking for other events to commemorate today, it’s the anniversary of the awarding of the first Nobel Prizes in 1901. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen received the Nobel Prize in Physics that year.
Jacobus van ‘t Hoff was awarded the chemistry prize for his work on dilute solutions and how they behaved, mathematically speaking, like gasses. In his address, he espoused the role of imagination in science.
The prize in physiology or medicine that year went to Emil von Behring, who came up with the diphtheria vaccine and also a serum to prevent tetanus. If you haven’t had a tetanus booster in more than ten years, you could commemorate this anniversary with the CDC-recommended tetanus shot to prevent the potentially deadly bacterial infection of the nervous system. Of course, consult your doctor because contraindications exist too.
There’s some controversy as to whether von Behring should have shared the financial rewards for the diphtheria serum and the Nobel Prize with Paul Ehrlich, who shared the prize in 1908 for work in immunity. A year later, Ehrlich developed a cure for syphilis, though even now, no vaccine is available.
Today is also the anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental flight across the United States and the first cross-country airmail, which began on September 17, 1911. Clearly, not a nonstop! In fact, Calbraith Perry Rodgers, great-grandson of Matthew Perry, stopped 70 times (not all planned), finally landing in Long Beach, California, on December 10. The last twenty miles from Pasadena had included two stops and a broken ankle. To celebrate and fully complete his transit, the pilot taxied his plane (the Vin Fizz, named to advertise a grape soda) into the Pacific Ocean. Only a few months later, on April 3, 1912, in a sad bit of irony, Rodgers, who had received about 90 minutes of flight instruction before his first solo in June 1911, perished when his exhibition flight over Long Beach ended in the ocean near where he had completed his transcontinental trek.
We end today’s post with an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson, who was born on this date in 1830. Though the poem isn’t about a lunar eclipse (the full poem is available at The Academy of American Poets), it does resonate with our viewing early this morning:
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
The Original Renaissance Man April 15, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, botany, Earthquakes, Museums & Archives, Wright Brothers
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Last night, we wandered over to the Leatherby Libraries balcony to watch a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base off to the west, on the coast of Southern California. The payload was super-secret, launched for the National Reconnaissance Office at 9:24p.m. At first, we weren’t sure that the red dot in the distance was the Atlas 5 rocket. But as it rose, the flame became more discernable. Within five minutes, the rocket arced overhead toward the southeast, into the mission’s news blackout, and into the ink-black sky, an apt metaphor for the people who will control the satellite’s function, whatever that may be.
Today, we woke to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. He’s a favorite of ours because he was exceptionally curious about many things. He invented a bobbin winder that was useful in his own lifetime and composed plans for a helicopter that couldn’t possibly have been built in the days of yore. He thought solar power was a good idea and developed a basic understanding of earthquakes and plate tectonics. He liked to collaborate, he made accurate maps, and he played the lyre pretty well. Of course, he’s best known as a painter and regarded especially for his ability to render the human figure and also the draping of clothes. He was born on April 15, 1492—more than 500 years ago!
Here are our five suggestions for celebrating da Vinci’s birthday through the weekend:
- Make an appointment for your annual physical. Da Vinci drew the human skeleton, the vascular system, and other internal organs.
- Book an airline flight. United Airlines has a deal for Chicagoans to fly to Tulsa this weekend for $140. Southwest Airlines has sale fares to Newark. Leonardo drew many concept flying machines, some of which have since been built, a few of which actually work.
- Paint that room you’ve been meaning to paint all winter. Leonardo’s painting accomplishments include Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.
- If you can’t paint, smirk like Mona Lisa. Or pluck your eyebrows.
- Write left-handed, for that’s what da Vinci did. In fact, write left-handed and backwards, because that’s the way he seems to have written in his journals. One codex of scientific materials was purchased in 2007 for more than $30 million by Bill Gates. To see a page from another of his notebooks, visit the British Museum HERE.
Lest you think Leonardo da Vinci’s is the only birthday to celebrate, tomorrow is the anniversary of Wilbur Wright’s natal day. Whenever there’s a reason to celebrate the Wright brothers, we recommend a punny homage: going out to drink a flight of beer.
And here’s today’s bonus for National Poetry Month and to celebrate the science of botany (though unfortunately, without recoding for stanza breaks). On April 15, 1802, poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, who kept copious notes from which he drew material for his poems, came upon some gorgeous yellow daffodils.
I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Crab Cakes with the Wright Brothers February 9, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Beer, Museums & Archives, Wright Brothers
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This past week, we attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Washington, DC. As we usually do, we applied a divide-and-conquer method to deciding which panels and presentations we would attend individually. Doug attended an especially intriguing panel on science writing, featuring David Everett, Nancy Shute, James Shreeve, and Christopher Joyce. We’ll have more to say about the science writing panels at this and last year’s AWP in future posts, but for this week, we’ve latched onto one of the panel’s takeaway ideas: the best science writing isn’t as much about science as it is about people.
We extended our AWP travel by a day to traipse up to Baltimore, where we had solidified our relationship a decade earlier during weekends walking the cobblestone and eating crab cakes at John Steven. (The people—especially our two bartenders last weekend—were as important to our great experience as the food and beer.). On the way back to National Airport, we stopped at the College Park Aviation Museum, a facility that recognizes that the best aviation museums aren’t as much about the planes as they are about the people.
Sure, the aircraft are important and impressive focal points as artifacts both of technology and history, but aviation museums aren’t simply storage spaces for engines, wings, and instrument panels. No, the best aviation museums collapse the distance between the viewer and the lives of the people who built, flew, and maintained the aircraft. These spaces use the buffed, shiny aluminum fuselage panels of a P-51 or a DC-3 as a mirror, allowing us to see ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women who made the last century aviation’s century.
Perhaps no aviation museum does this better than the one in College Park, as it brings aviation’s pioneers into focus. In fact, because the museum focuses on the early days of controlled flight, the aircraft on display could easily feel more distant and less dazzling than the jets and rockets just a few miles way at the two National Air and Space Museum buildings. Instead, the mannequins, voice recordings, and written narratives invite visitors into the story, all of it tied directly to the College Park Airport where the museum resides. Located a stone’s throw from the expanding campus of the University of Maryland, the College Park Airport is home to a hundred years of tentative takeoffs and greased landings. With its birth in 1909, this small airfield is the oldest continuously operating airport in the world.
We’ve written about this museum before in scholarship and at Lofty Ambitions (click here), and we were frequent visitors in the early 1990s, when the artifacts—no planes—were housed in a doublewide trailer. Now, the artifacts—including numerous aircraft—are housed in an airy, inviting building. But the focus remains on the story of the College Park Airport.
Wilbur Wright began giving flight instruction on this site on October 8, 1909. The first Airmail Postal Service began at the College Park Airport on August 12, 1918. In a publicity stunt and Liberty Bonds promotion, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., sent himself as an airmail package that year. In 1921, College Park lost its role in the airmail system, and five years later, airmail was turned over to private businesses. On September 5, 1931, the first flight to use radio navigation to fly “blind” occurred at the College Park Airport. The airport remained a venue for air shows throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and we attended air shows there in the 1990s. In fact, Anna wrote a poem called “Fascination: The College Park Airshow, 1992″ to capture the sense of history—the hints of story—that the museum now portrays.
The museum’s western wall is an open vista of windows overlooking the active runways. The day we visited, first one, then two, and eventually a half-dozen hawks whirled and gyred over those runways and nearby stand of trees. Their unhurried arcs were a stark reminder that, while human ventures into the air surpass nature’s in quantifiable measures of speed, height, and distance, our efforts remain hollow echoes in beauty, grace, and the appearance of effortlessness.
Happy Birthday, Bessie Coleman January 26, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Wright Brothers, WWI
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Before we moved to California two-and-a-half years ago, we lived in suburban Chicago. O’Hare International Airport was our local way out of town for major travel. When we traveled together, we’d get on I-190 heading into the airport, then veer off onto Bessie Coleman Drive to long-term parking. Now, when we fly in to see family downstate, we head to Bessie Coleman Drive to pick up our rental car.
On this date in 1892, Bessie Coleman was born the tenth of thirteen children to George and Susan of Atlanta, Texas. No one had any expectations that she would become a pilot. After all, the Wright brothers didn’t really get off the ground under power until 1903. A life of laundry was Bessie’s likely lot.
To educate herself, she read books as a young girl, books which she checked out from the traveling library that came though town a few times every year. Though she attended school sporadically, she graduated from high school and attended college for a year. But she needed to earn money.
By 1915, she was living with her brothers in Chicago, attended beauty school, and then worked as a manicurist. When her brother John returned from his military service in Europe during World War I, he teased Bessie that French women were ahead of American women: French women could fly!
Because no pilot training was available to an African-American woman in the United States, Bessie Coleman, with the help of a couple of backers, including the publisher of the Defender, went to France for flight instruction. She earned her pilot’s license on July 15, 1921, the first black woman to do so. She was, at that time, the only licensed black pilot in the world.
She went on to a vibrant career flying the Curtiss J4 Jenny and other aircraft on the airshow circuit. Quickly, her nicknames became “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie.” Less than two years after she’d earned her pilot’s license, her airplane stalled and crashed. Bessie Coleman was rendered unconscious, broke several bones, and took more than a year to get back to flying. But she did get back into the cockpit and take to the skies. When she returned to her childhood home of Waxahatchie to perform, she insisted that whites and blacks share a single entrance gate, though the seating areas remained segregated.
Bessie Coleman died when she was just 34 years old. Preparing for an airshow, she was surveying the terrain from the passenger seat when a planned nosedive turned into a dangerous tailspin. She fell to her death from 500 feet. The problem was mechanical; a wrench had become wedged in the gears. Her mechanic, who was piloting the plane, died in the ensuing crash. Her coffin drew more than 15,000 mourners, including equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells, in three separate funeral services. Bessie Coleman is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.
That street near O’Hare in Chicago where we now find our rental car was renamed Bessie Coleman Drive in 1990. In her birthplace of Atlanta, Texas, another Bessie Coleman Drive leads to that town’s small airport. A branch of the Chicago Public Library bears her name, and she is included in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. Coleman’s face was featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp in 1995, the same year she was inducted into the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame. A group of pilots has honored her legacy for decades with an annual flyover of her grave.
Bessie Coleman is said to have remarked, “The air is the only place free from prejudices.”
Another First Flight December 30, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Wright Brothers, WWII
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On this date in 1939, the aircraft that would become the B-24 Liberator made its first flight. In its earliest incarnation, the airframe was known as the Model 32. It was manufactured by the Consolidated Aircraft Company, then located right down the road from us in San Diego, California.
The B-24 Liberator is a heavy bomber and a wartime contemporary of the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, and B-29 Superfortress. Of these, the B-17 was the first on the scene in 1935, and the B-25 and B-29 followed closely on the Liberator’s heels with their first flights in 1940 and 1942, respectively. These years were a period of furious engineering and development in aviation around the world. Eventually, the B-24’s manufacturer—Consolidated—merged, was sold, and then shut down as a division of McDonnell Douglas in 1996.
Among this group of heavy bombers of World War II, the B-24 remains a sort of underdog. Not surprisingly, however, most flyers have fond memories of the B-24 mount that carried them through the war. Even with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, the B-24 generates a fair amount of criticism (its aircrews objected to the plane’s propensity for catching fire) and maintains a reputation for being a demanding aircraft to fly (and even more demanding to abandon if something went awry).
Undoubtedly, some of the unfavorable flying characteristics ascribed to the B-24 were due to familiarity. Because the United States built and flew more B-24’s during World War II than any other aircraft type, there existed more room to complain. Somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000 B-24s were manufactured during the years 1941-1945, with one Liberator built every hour at the peak of production at the Ford facility in Willow Springs. This total number of B-24s represents slightly more than 6% of the 298,000 aircraft procured by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
Another significant focal point of the B-24’s flying characteristics was its short-chord Davis wing. Fragile and graceful in equal parts, the wing was designed by David R. Davis in the late 1930s and adopted for use by Consolidated. Rueben H. Fleet, the head of Consolidated, who bought numerous designs from the Dayton-Wright Company when it was closed down by General Motors, wasn’t convinced by the claims made about the Davis wing. But after he paid for two separate tests in the wind tunnel at Caltech, he knew that the design actually did reduce drag and also provided considerable lift at low angles of attack. The efficiency of the Davis wing gave the B-24 a significant speed advantage over its primary rival, the Boeing B-17.
David Davis is also connected to another aviation figure that we’ve written about previously at Lofty Ambitions. Davis partnered with Walter Brookins to form the Davis-Brookins Aircraft Corporation. We’ve written about Walter Brookins already, for he’s buried at the Portal of Folded Wings here in California. He was a student of the Wright brothers’ sister, a connection that led him to become, after a few hours of Orville Wright’s instruction, the first civilian pilot. He’s the first person ever to fly a mile high.
Although we’ve seen a few B-24s on display in museums, we’ve seen only one aircraft that was still in flying condition. In the summers of 2002 and 2003, while Doug was pursuing his PhD at Oregon State University, the Collings Foundation brought its restored B-24J—then flying as the “The Dragon and His Tail”—to the Corvallis Municipal Airport. The aircraft’s paint scheme was changed to that of the “Witchcraft” in 2004. This Collings Foundation B-24 still tours the summer airshow circuit with the B-17G “Nine O Nine.”
Although “Nine O Nine” never served in the war, the aircraft had a fascinating life that dovetails with other posts that we’ve recently written here at Lofty Ambitions. In 1952, “Nine O Nine”—then known as “Yucca Lady”—was used as test apparatus at the Nevada Test Site during three separate nuclear weapons tests. “Nine O Nine” was allowed to cool down in the Nevada desert for thirteen years before being sold to a company that used the plane as an airborne fire fighter.
In Corvallis, we plunked down our hard-earned money and set foot on both “The Dragon and His Tail” and “Nine O Nine” twice. In each case, we were struck by the thinness of the metal skin, stretched taut between the aircraft’s structural ribbing like the drumhead of a snare drum, mere millimeters of aluminum that offered the crew little to no protection from the war. In flight, the temperature inside the aircraft might drop to fifty degrees below zero. The noise of the engines would reach a hundred decibels. The plane wasn’t pressurized, so crew would wear oxygen masks during long bombing runs. The walkway over the bomb bay was like a gymnastics balance beam, and if an airman fell, the bay doors wouldn’t hold.
Maybe we were predisposed to appreciate the B-24 more than the much-lauded, movie-star B-17. After all, the B-24 was George McGovern’s wartime aircraft. Of McGovern’s first encounter with the B-24, Stephen Ambrose (who ducked attribution scandal) writes in The Wild Blue, “In the fall of 1941 McGovern, then a sophomore with his flying classes completed, saw B-24 bombers for the first time. He watched them going overhead—they were based in Omaha, Nebraska—on practice missions. [...] He saw no fighter airplanes, nor any B-17s. Ocassionally McGovern would see one or two B-24s land. They were big and cumbersome but impressive. He never got aboard one. He never thought, Someday I’m going to fly one of those birds. But he noticed and did think, Those pilots are really something.”
Wright Brothers Day December 15, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Beer, Museums & Archives, Wright Brothers
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Two days later, on December 17, 1903, the Orville and Wilbur Wright succeeded, becoming the first airplane pilots. Orville made the first controlled, powered aircraft flight, which lasted twelve lofty seconds. Then, Wilbur flew, and Orville took another turn. Their fourth go that day ended with smashing up the front rudder, but these guys were used to that sort of mishap.
We’ve seen the original Wright Flyer, which is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. It found its way there after an inglorious and decades-long debate, when the museum finally agreed with Orville to always and forever exhibit it as the first aircraft capable of manned, controlled, powered flight.
We’ve also visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the National Museum of the Air Force, outside Dayton, Ohio. Its beginnings were with Wright Field, a facility dedicated in 1927. Never before had an Army installation been named for civilians, nor for a living individual. Though Wilbur had died in 1912, at the age of 45, Orville raised the flag at his own memorial ceremony. Years later, Howard Hughes, returning from a record-setting transcontinental flight, stopped at Wright Field to give Orville the last flight of his life, this time in the new Lockheed Constellation. TWA President Jack Frye, Lockheed designer and Upper Peninsula native Kelly Johnson, and actress Ava Gardner were also onboard.
Only recently, we realized that the nephew of Charles Clarke Chapman, our current university’s namesake, was a pilot. C. C. Chapman was born in Macomb, Illinois, near where we went to college. After moving to California, he became a prosperous citrus grower and helped found what is now Chapman University. The signature on his nephew Clarke Chapman’s pilot’s license is that of Orville Wright.
But our fondest connection with the Wright brothers’ accomplishments is our visits to the College Park Aviation Museum and its annual airshow, almost twenty years ago. College Park, Maryland, is home to the University of Maryland, where Anna earned her MFA, and to an airport we discovered before there was much of a museum there. This small airfield was founded in 1909, when Wilbur Wright arrived with the Military Flyer to teach Army pilots how to fly. That November two soldiers soloed in their Wright aircraft, after only about three hours of instruction. The country’s first U.S. Army aviation school opened there two years later. The College Park Airport is the oldest, continuously operating airport in the entire world.
The list of firsts for the College Park Airport is impressive: first woman passenger (1909), first test of a bomb-aiming device in an airplane (1911), first test of a machine gun in an aircraft (1912), first air mail service (1918), and first controlled helicopter flight (1924). Anna’s poem “A Fascination: The College Park Airshow, 1992” (Constituents of Matter) weaves some of these historical details together. But we’re interested in the people, too—the Wright brothers, the wing-walkers, those who spend hours and hours flying and tinkering with their aircraft. We especially remember a man restoring an old airplane that day, while others buzzed overhead:
The man I know has started talking with the man bent
over a Boyd in a wooden shack where he has pried
six hundred screws from the sheet of one wing
and pulled back its corrugated skin
to expose its kitchen-plumbing fuel lines.
This hunched man thinks he can repair sixty years
of damage to hand-rolled aluminum: it matches no other.
This wing, its edge, is a discovered secret:
discard struts and fun flaperons tip to belly
to create the power to move air with a hand and a stick.
This man leans over his table, drinks hot coffee
from a thermos and hands us pieces
of the airplane. We see why things don’t fit.
Friday is Wright Brothers Day, according to the U.S. Code. On December 17, listen for the president’s proclamation inviting us all to observe the day with appropriate activities. Might we suggest a “flight” of wine or beer?
New Shower Curtain September 17, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff.
Tags: Chemistry, Physics, Wright Brothers
Our new shower curtain featuring the Periodic Table arrived from ThinkGeek. It’s a little flimsier than we’d hoped, with no magnets at the bottom and little reinforcement around the holes for the curtain rings. But the design is great, and the colors really perk up the bathroom. We’ll get a liner to extend the life of this fancy shower curtain–and so that the full periodic table can be draped on the outside of the tub allowing us to study up on the measurement conversion listed at the bottom of the curtain.
If you’re interested in a really sturdy shower curtain (something that holds up in the washing machine) or one that doesn’t need rings, we recommend the hookless options from Arcs & Angles. We only wish they had more colorful designs (they used to).
On a more somber note, today marks the anniversary of the first powered airplane fatality. In 1908, Orville Wright crashed a Wright Flyer during a demonstration flight in Virginia for the military. Thomas Selfridge died in the accident at age 26. Orville Wright spent seven weeks in the hospital.
Currently, Southwest Airlines has the best record in U.S. passenger air travel, with more than 15 million flights since 1970 and no crash fatalities. American Airlines has had the most fatal events since 1970, with 13, but it’s also flown the most flights of any domestic carrier. The Colgan Air crash in 2009 is the most recent fatal crash in the United States (view an excerpt from the Frontline documentary here). But U.S. air travel is incredibly safe. If we don’t count the four doomed flights on September 11, 2001, fewer than one fatal crash per year has occurred in the last dozen years (for NTSB list, click here), even though almost 30,000 commercial airline flights take to the skies on any given day.
It’s National Aviation Day: Airfare Deals August 19, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Information.
Tags: Wright Brothers
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Doug had a good flying experience (more leg room!) with Jet Blue between Chicago and Provincetown, where he spent a week at a writing workshop (more on that soon!). Jet Blue is running fares between Long Beach and Las Vegas for as low as $49 each way (plus fees). On Jet Blue, the first checked bag is free!
Southwest Airlines is offering deals for travel from the Northeast to Florida. Purchase must be made by September 1, for travel between September 7 and November 15 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. The fare between Baltimore and Fort Lauderdale may be as low as $89 each way (plus fees). Up to two checked bags at no extra charge!
American Airlines is touting discounts for domestic flights purchased by August 24, for travel through December 10. The fare between Chicago and Atlanta, for example, may be as low as $44 each way (plus fees). AA is also advertising fares from Philadelphia or Phoenix to Germany for as low as $286 each way (plus fees) or from New York or DC to Paris for $291 each way (plus fees)—and lots more for travel to Europe October 24-March 31. American raised its checked baggage fee earlier this year to $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second.
United Airlines is offering similar deals to Europe. Tickets must be purchased by August 25, for travel October 24-March 31. The fare between Los Angeles or Chicago and London may be as low as $323. We had an easy flight home on United earlier this week and wish we could traipse off to Europe. Like American, United raised its checked baggage fee to $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second (save a couple of bucks by paying ahead online when you get your boarding pass).
Delta Airlines is advertising special fares for New York and for Atlanta. Continental Airlines is advertising special fares for Los Angeles, for Texas, and for Florida. U.S. Airways has a special offer for Glasgow, but we weren’t impressed with our flight to Europe last year.
ITA Software is a great place to search flights and COMPARE FARES! You can’t purchase tickets there, and it doesn’t pick up all airlines (Southwest is missing). But it’s a good place to gauge your options, especially because you can view a calendar showing lower fares if your dates are flexible.