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There’s No Business Like Air Show Business (Part 4) November 30, 2011

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We’ve sung the praises of serendipity—that chance occurrence that connects a single, unanticipated event to our larger projects—on a number of occasions (HERE and HERE and HERE). But we’re also big believers in preparation, doing the research, and being ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Our recent trip to the Eighth Annual Jacqueline Cochran Air Show provided just such an opportunity. We’ve already described some of the events that took place at this air show, but the signature moment for us took place shortly after we arrived.

After making our way through the gate, we headed towards the C-17 transport sitting at the southern end of the flight line. Its gigantic wings offered shade from the desert sun, giving us the chance to pull our thoughts together. We then walked the length of the flight line in order to reconnoiter the aircraft, the crowd, and the vendors, a standard tactic to get the lay of the land.

Long before we reached the end of the flight line, we began see occasional flashes of bright, reflected sunlight. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence at air shows. Many WWII-era aircraft are displayed unpainted, finished in their original aluminum skin. But this was different. The reflected light was vibrant, more intense. When we arrived at its source, we saw why: a 1939 Lockheed 12A Electra Junior.

This aircraft’s owner is Les Whittlesey. He spoke with us about the aircraft’s lifespan, gave us a tour of this magnificent piece of aviation history, and showed us various Lockheed ephemera he’s been collecting, often finding something on eBay. (Click here for another article about Les and his plane.)

A product of aviation’s Golden Age in the 1930s, the Electra Junior, so named for its relationship to the larger Lockheed 10 Electra, is a living exemplar of architect Louis Sullivan’s form follows function maxim. Many of the aircraft of the late 1920s and early 1930s were still boxlike structures, covered with fabric, dope, and paint. Recently developed aluminum-based manufacturing techniques gave aeronautical engineers like Kelly Johnson, a native of Ishpeming, Michigan, also Anna’s grandfather’s hometown, the ability to experiment with a new design language which emphasized spare, streamlined shapes. The Electra Junior, a twin-engine, six-passenger plane, was just such a new aircraft shape.

It’s often assumed that the era’s defining architectural and design style, Art Deco, was deeply influenced by the aviation industry and developed its love of curves and shining metal surfaces from the era’s aircraft. In reality, the relationship among aviation, industrial design, and art deco is a more complex, symbiotic one. Art deco had always been a reflection of modernism with its roots in machines and mechanisms. As the ne plus ultra machine of its day, it was only natural that the speed and dynamism of the airplane would influence art deco and that designers steeped in the vernacular of art deco would turn that knowledge back on the flying machine.

Les Whittlesey’s Electra Junior was originally built in 1939 for aviation and automotive magnate Errett Lobban “E. L.” Cord. Cord, as owner of Auburn Automobile Company (in addition to the Stinson Aircraft Company, Lycoming Engines, and several others), was no stranger to futuristic designs. The Auburn Boattail Speedster, designed in the early 1930s by Al Leamy, was an aggressively streamlined shape. Cord took delivery of the Electra Junior in 1940, but he was only able to enjoy it briefly.

In 1941, the U.S. Treasury Department commandeered the aircraft (Cord was paid for it) in preparation for the coming war. The Electra Junior was given the military designation of C-40 and shipped off to England as a part of the Lend-Lease program. As a transport during the war, the aircraft survived a friendly-fire incident over Belgium (the damage was uncovered during its most recent restoration), and there’s a “rumor” (Whittlesey’s word) that Prime Minister Winston Churchill flew in the aircraft. The January 2012 edition of Aviation History contains an article about Churchill learning to fly. Who knows, perhaps Churchill even graced the co-pilot’s seat of this aircraft.

The Electra Junior evokes a different era, one of, as the sales brochure announces, “real comfort when you fly.” In fact, an Electra Junior (and a cutout of one) was used as the Air France aircraft in the penultimate scene in Casablanca (see the video clip below). Although Air France never operated the Lockheed 12A, Hollywood’s artistic license led to the correct choice of style over accuracy in this case.

The Electra Junior’s indisputable style plays a leading role in the Cal Aero Aviation Country Club at Chino Airport, an events venue owned and operated by Les and his wife Susan. During our interview, Les related the fact that aviation-themed country clubs—think standard country club but with runways instead of golf greens—were popular in Southern California in the 1930s. Yes, as we sat in the passenger seats aboard the Electra Junior, we could almost hear the strains of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”

One of this particular aircraft’s greatest achievements was winning the 2006 Grand Champion award at the AirVenture in Oshkosh. It turns out we were there that year, which serves to remind us of a great value of air shows. These events are traveling archives, and each artifact has its own knowledgeable docent. This time, initially attracted by its aesthetic appeal, we grew to understand the story of an Electra Junior.

ALSO SEE OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES for more info on the people and the aircraft & lots of photos: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Interview: Daniel Lockney November 28, 2011

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When we were at Kennedy Space Center in July for the last-ever space shuttle launch, we sat down with Daniel Lockney to talk about some of the spinoffs from NASA’s space program. Lockney is a Program Specialist in NASA’s Office of Innovative Partnerships, and he deals with technology transfers off all sorts.

In other words, when the United States decided to build the space shuttle and when we and our global partners set out to build the International Space Station, there existed a lot of problems to solve. In solving those problems and reaching its goals, NASA made technological innovations that could also be applied outside of the space program and even in our daily lives. Some of these new gizmos and materials were somewhat expected, but other innovations couldn’t have been predicted. NASA spinoffs number in the hundreds and hundreds. That’s 1743 secondary and commercial uses for technology that NASA developed to go to space.

Last Flight of the Concorde November 26, 2011

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Supersonic passenger flight ended on November 26, 2003, the day a Concorde made its last flight, this time back to its birthplace in Bristol, England, where it was put on outdoor display. The Concorde’s last transatlantic flight had occurred roughly a month earlier (see video below).

The Concorde, a joint venture between the United Kingdom and France was riddled with problems right from the start, right down to whether the name should be spelled with (British) or without (French) the e on the end. Still, orders for more than 100 aircraft poured in, the industry was jazzed about this revolution, and construction of the aircraft began in 1965.

public domainThe drop nose and delta wing are among Concorde’s distinctive features, the former needed for pilots to see the runway and the latter developed to allow the plane to reach a speed of more than Mach 2 (about 1320 milies per hour). But supersonic flight at high altitude presented challenges for engine design, heating and cooling, braking, and cabin pressurization. And the price of fuel was rising. Only 20 aircraft were built, 14 of which were used for passenger service. The first scheduled flight occurred on January 26, 1976. But protests led Congress to ban Concorde landings. Even after the federal ban was lifted, New York City instituted a ban.

NASA public domainThe Supreme Court ended that prohibition, and flights from London and Paris to New York began on November 22, 1977. The record time between Heathrow and New York is 2 hours, 52 minutes. The public outrage subsided, as celebrities and the wealthy (Paul McCartney was a favorite of the crew) zipped back and forth across the Atlantic. The Concorde served more than one million bottles of champagne.

Doug toured the inside of the Concorde at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where it sits outdoors. Anna saw the Concorde during its restoration at Scotland’s National Museum of Flight in the summer of 2004. Together, we’ve seen a Concorde sitting in the distance as we landed in Birmingham, England, and up close at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy facility. The shape and size is pencil-like, as airplanes go, with the cabin ceiling just six feet from its floor and little room for carry-on baggage. When you look at this supersonic jet, you sense the speed it could achieve. But today marks the eight anniversary of its becoming an artifact.

There’s No Business Like Air Show Business (Part 3) November 23, 2011

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On this date in 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that “the Women Airforce Service Pilots as having served on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States for purposes of laws administered by the Veterans Administration.” After the Navy decided in the mid-1970s that women could fly government planes, this legislation picked up a bill that had fallen by the wayside in 1944. WASPs who’d served during World War II did so as civilians and, until Carter signed this law more than thirty years later, had no formal military benefits.

Melissa Pembleton in her Edge 540

We started this series (for the first two parts, click HERE and HERE) after attending this year’s Jacqueline Cochran Air Show in the desert. For the last few weeks, we’ve planned to add a segment today and to get more specific about that show’s performers. What great serendipity that, when Anna turned the page in her calendar (yes, she keeps an old-fashioned paper calendar) this weekend, there was a note in the margin for Wednesday: Carter & WASPs. After all, it was Jackie Cochran who, in 1939 immediately after Germany’s invasion of Warsaw, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting that women could be used as military pilots.

Jacqueline Cochran

The WASP program quickly grew out of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which had been organized by Cochran, and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, which had been organized by Nancy Harkness Love. We won’t go into the rivalry and politicking between these two women here, but Jackie Cochran became the WASP’s director and Nancy Love continued to oversee its ferrying operations to move aircraft about the country. When the WASP program ended in December 1944, largely because male pilots were being rotated home after flying overseas, 38 WASPs had died in service and 916 were still serving.

Among the women who lost their lives as WASPs were some of the most talented aviators in America. Cornelia Clark Fort was the first woman pilot to die in the service. After surviving Pearl Harbor—she was attacked by a Zero while giving a flying lesson—Fort ran out of luck and perished in a mid-air collision over Texas in March 1943. In the movie Tora-Tora-Tora, Fort was portrayed by a man.

Hazel Ying Lee, another WASP, was born in Portland, Oregon in 1912 and, in 1932, became the first Chinese-American woman to earn a pilot’s certificate. Once, after a forced landing, she was chased around her aircraft by a pitchfork-wielding Kansan who assumed she was at the vanguard of a Japanese invasion force. While delivering a Bell P-63 Kingcobra to Great Falls, Montana, as a Lend-Lease aircraft destined for Russia, Lee collided with another P-63 after a control tower error. She died two days later.

Jackie Cochran, the only woman in the Bendix air race in 1937, went on to become the first women to break the sound barrier. For that record, she flew an F-86 Sabre, one of the two planes in the heritage flight at this year’s Jacqueline Cochran Air Show. Over the years, she held more records than any other pilot. Later in her career, Cochran initially championed the possibility of thirteen women as astronaut candidates, only to testify against allowing women to become astronauts later.

Her namesake air show’s website points out, “She was a long-time resident of the Coachella Valley, and is buried in Coachella Valley Cemetery. She regularly utilized Thermal Airport over the course of her long aviation career.” So on the morning of November 5, we headed into the mountains to see what there was to see there. The Thermal Airport is nestled in a valley formed by the San Bernadino Mountains to the north and northeast and the San Jacinto Mountains to the south and southwest. Nearby is the Salton Sea.

Steve Hinton in an F-86

As soon as we parked the car, it was clear that the how was underway. The sky was the cloudless, deep-blue that we’ve come to associate with the desert. As we walked toward the runways of the Thermal Airport, a Korean War era F-86 Sabre flashed overhead, its aluminum skin shimmering in the mid-morning sun. Piloted by Steven Hinton, president of Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino and veteran film and television pilot, the F-86’s routine was focused, enclosed by the nearby mountains that ring the airport. Up was the only direction that wasn’t constraining the sixty-year-old warbird, so again and again it finished high-speed passes down the runways centerline with soaring climbs.

Most current air shows feature acrobatic demonstrations, and the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show is no exception, with no fewer than four of the day’s sessions devoted to acrobatic flying: Doug Jardine, Rob Harrison, Jon Melby, and Melissa Pemberton. In honor of the barnstorming and acrobatic women flyers of decades past, we give a special nod to Melissa Pemberton today.

Melissa & Rex Pembleton

A hundred years ago, Harriet Quimby became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license. (What better names for little girl characters than Harriet the Spy and Ramona Quimby?) Nowadays, Melissa Pemberton, who is in her mid-twenties, flies torque rolls and gyroscopic tumbles above crowds at air shows not just here in the United States but also in Japan, Spain, and El Salvador. Melissa learned to fly with her grandfather, and she’s been flying aerobatics since she was 17 years old.

Melissa and her husband Rex, who was the youngest Australian to climb Mt. Everest, are both skydivers. Melissa performs with three other women—the only all-women four-way free-fly team. This year at the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show, Melissa flew her Edge 540 while her husband wafted to the ground in his wingsuit, which has webbing between limbs so that he can fly three feet forward for every foot he drops.

They came up with this act that combines skydiving and aircraft aerobatics to combine their skills and create something new for the air show circuit. It was quite a sight as traced Rex’s descent by the smoke trailing behind him. Likewise, Melissa’s plane trailed smoke, drawing relatively tight circles around Rex’s path. They also  both have radios to banter with each other and the crowd as the shapes in the sky form.

The Jacqueline Cochran Air Show wrapped up this year’s season for Melissa Pemberton. Lofty Ambitions hasn’t quite wrapped up this air show series, though.

Guest Blog: Bryson Thill November 21, 2011

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Today’s guest blogger is Bryson Thill, a computer science major at Chapman University who recently interned at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. We lived in Maryland for three years and occasionally visited Goddard, several times for their model rocket days when kids and adults gathered for dozens of little launches. Because we’re educators, we’re especially proud to share Bryson’s story, and we think his concluding advice is important for students and the generally curious.

Also, take a look at the guest blog from another NASA intern, David Stack, by clicking HERE.

ON TAKING A CHANCE

NASA intern day trip to Washington, DC

It’s funny how seemingly simple decisions can have a tremendous impact on one’s future down the line. I was just looking to earn some extra cash in my junior year when I took a job that would very quickly lead to an incredible summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on the opposite side of the country. Through the internship, I learned more than I ever would have imagined I could in a single summer, explored a very different part of the country, and met many incredibly talented students and researchers.

In October 2010, my professor of Physics 101, Dr. Eyal Amitai, informed me and several friends of mine that he was looking for a computer science student to assist with a NASA-related research project. I was the only one with enough time to take on such a task, and I had been actively, but unsuccessfully, looking for a job. It sounded perfect right from the start. For the rest of the academic year, I worked with Dr. Amitai developing software to help evaluate satellite precipitation estimates. In February, he suggested that I apply to the summer internship program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he has worked for more than 15 years. I agreed, and one month later, I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into the SIES (Summer Institute in the Earth Sciences) to further explore the research that I had begun during the academic year as a student research assistant.

In early June, following the end of the spring semester at Chapman University, I got on a plane headed for Maryland, where I spent the next two and a half months being completely immersed in the world of research. My task was to write several imaging and analysis applications to evaluate data retrieved from several precipitation-observing satellites. This data was compared with observations of the same rainy events taken by ground-based radar instruments. Discrepancies between the two data sets would indicate an issue in the satellites, the radar systems, or both. Such discrepancies are relatively frequent, and their sources must be pinpointed so that the software used to analyze signals received from the satellites may be improved for future missions, like the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) Mission set to be launched in 2013.

Bryson Thill and Eyal Amitai

The software that I wrote has helped identify particular conditions under which satellite observations and ground-based observations show significant incongruity. This information can be taken into account during the development of algorithms used for future missions. But despite these accomplishments, I’d had no experience in the earth sciences prior to my work with Dr. Amitai. His tremendous assistance as a mentor throughout my work with him allowed me to gain insight into a world of research to which I had never been exposed. During my time at Goddard, I was free to attend a huge variety of seminars regarding the earth sciences, and climate change in particular, by leading experts in the field. The opportunity given to interns to learn and to get accustomed to the field of research was remarkable.

Outside of the work itself, the internship was a priceless life experience. I made friends from all over the country, had a “real Maryland crab feast” by the water in Annapolis, and went hiking along the Potomac River. I attended lectures by astronauts and Nobel Prize-winning physicists and watched a live broadcast of the final shuttle launch with hundreds of passionate NASA researchers, some of whom had worked for years on instruments aboard that very mission. Having lived in California for my entire life, the decision to spend three months thousands of miles away at a prestigious research facility was a little nerve-wracking. But it was easily one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

College is the time to take those kinds of chances. If you’re a student considering applying to a job or internship that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, I whole-heartedly recommend that you give it a shot. The worst that could happen is you will discover that you are not interested in pursing a career in a particular field. On the other hand, you might have the time of your life discovering new places, meeting new people, and learning more about yourself.

There’s No Business Like Air Show Business (Part 2) November 19, 2011

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As we wrote on Wednesday (click HERE for that), air shows are unusual events, in that they represent a confluence of American history: they’re political, they’re technological, and they’re commercial. Today, we’re focusing on the technological history.

One amazing outcome of the air show is the possibility of seeing in person artifacts representing the arc of aviation history, from the Stearman biplane heavily used in the 1930s and 1940s to jets currently flying commercially and for the military. Sometimes, even a replica of the Wright flyer, the plane to first achieve controlled manned flight in 1903, will show up. While no air show offers the entirety of the technology’s history, few other histories are thrown together for a weekend as comprehensively as on the air show circuit.

The underlying reasons we can see the arc of aviation history are that this narrative is only about a hundred years old and because often a model of aircraft will fly in military, commercial, and/or private service for decades. The Boeing-737 made its first flight in 1967 and was flying passengers the next year. Forty-some years later, when you get on a Southwest Airlines flight, you’re flying in a 737. In fact, Southwest started flying passengers in 1971 but didn’t start routinely retiring planes in its fleet until 2007. Compare that with another well-known, perhaps taken-for-granted technology: the computer. Chances are, you’re in need of a new laptop if yours is even five years old.

Stearman

An airplane doesn’t hold up safely forever, and every pressurization cycle (based on takeoff and landing) stresses the fuselage and wings. Eventually, in commercial aviation, a plane nears the number of pressurization cycles it can accumulate without significant risk of damage and becomes cheaper to scrap than to maintain because large portions would need to be replaced. Some aircraft we see at air shows have had so many parts replaced that they are new planes in a sense. Human beings replace cells all the time; the skin we had as children is long-ago shed, and we are, in that sense, completely rebuilt on our surface.

So the brevity of aviation history combined with the longevity of individual models and airplanes means that air shows often encapsulate 80 or more years worth of this particular technology story. When we head to an air show, we’re not sure exactly what we’ll see, but we expect to see a historical arc.

T-6 Texan

The first North American Aviation T-6 took flight in 1935, and this model is still making rounds on the air show circuit. In fact, you can pretty much expect to see a T-6 as you walk around the grounds. The P-51 Mustang, a slender aluminum cruciform object against the blue sky, is a regular at air shows. We usually see a Corsair, with its distinctive gull wings, often a dark blue that somehow catches the sun and our eyes especially well.

P-51 Mustang

Ford Trimotors occasionally turn up, and they first flew in 1926. The WWII-era Japanese Zero is a rare sight; as of last year, there existed only three airworthy Zeroes and only several more intact. FIFI is the only remaining airworthy B-29, so that’s an exceptionally rare air show participant; this aircraft tours the air show circuit (this year included Oshkosh and St. Louis) and spends the winter at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum.

Heritage flights are a relative newcomer to air shows. We don’t remember such a thing from our early adventures together twenty years ago. Begun in 1997 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Air Force, the Heritage Flight Program established a non-profit in 2010 to help keep this popular but expensive air show feature afloat. This year, we’ve seen two heritage flights: one at the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show featuring the F-86 and F-16, and the other at Miramar (posts HERE for photos and HERE for more) featuring the P-51 and F-16. The idea is to present a vintage aircraft alongside a current one so that viewers like us can understand the technological and performance differences and also begin to grasp through examples the larger story of aviation history.

Heritage Flight, Jacqueline Cochran Air Show

Both the F-86 and the F-16 are single-engine fighters. The F-86 set a world speed record only months after aircraft starting rolling out of production in 1948: 670.9 miles per hour. The F-16, which the Air Force started flying in 1978, can top speeds of Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, and can pull 9-g—g-forces on the plane and pilot—maneuvers, for which it has a reclined seat to help prevent the pilot from passing out by keeping blood better distributed under high g-forces. Lest you think the F-86 is a speed slouch, in its day, which was the Korean War, it bested the MiG-15 with a 10:1 victory ratio.

Likewise, lest you think that military aircraft are all about U.S. superiority, keep in mind that the F-16 was built by a consortium of four—now five—NATO countries and, therefore, represents international technological collaboration. In fact, seeing the Korean War-era fighter zip by on the flight line followed by a fighter currently being used in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq points out that the history of technology is intertwined with our larger history, politics, and culture.

P-51 Mustang & F-8 Bearcat

One fascinating aspect of the history represented by seeing the F-86 and F-16 together, particularly considering the longevity of an aircraft model, is that each individual plane at any air show is almost always exceptionally well documented. When a plane crashes, we all know that investigators can trace its entire maintenance history. Safety requires a regular maintenance established by the manufacturer for all aircraft. If a tire blows or a valve sticks, the repair or replacement is written down and filed away officially. More than once, we’ve sat in a plane at the gate waiting for the pilot to get permission to take off while maintenance files the paperwork. The military, of course, keeps careful records too, and even private pilots have to file maintenance and flight plan paperwork.

When a visitor walked into the Palm Spring Air Museum and said, I think that’s the plane I flew at Naval Station Great Lakes, the museum’s staff was able to look at the records and confirm that. We included photos of and information about that plane in our post on November 11 (click HERE for that).

Electra Junior

A man like Les Whittlesey can buy a Lockheed Electra Junior, an L-12, and know exactly who owned the plane for how long over the course of its entire lifespan. When we see the gleaming plane at the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show, Les can recount an abbreviated version of that plane’s story to us. In fact, this Electra deserves its own post, so that’s in the works at Lofty Ambitions.

More than three years ago, we moved to California in part to have easier access to the nation’s aviation history. Lockheed was and now Lockheed Martin is based in Southern California. North American, manufacturer of the T-6 and the P-51 and now subsumed by Boeing, was based here too. Just down the road in Tustin are two WWII-era blimp hangars of the type we grew to appreciate during our visits to Tillamook, Oregon, and its aviation museum. Just up the road is Chino’s Planes of Fame Air Museum, and Chino is a hub for aircraft restoration. And of course, the space shuttle was born here in California.

T-28, the last departure before we headed home

We went to the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show earlier this month. In the Midwest, that just wouldn’t be possible. Illinois doesn’t host air shows in November. California, on the other, offered us a sunny November afternoon to spend wending our way among rows of aircraft, eyeing the technology’s history up close one plane after the other. For hours, we also peered into the sky to watch the history retold.

There’s No Business Like Air Show Business (Part 1) November 16, 2011

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Two Saturdays ago, we made our first trip to Palm Springs and Palm Desert to attend the 8th Annual Jacqueline Cochran Air Show (actually held near Palm Desert in Thermal, California). We’ve already posted two photo essays of our visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum that weekend (click HERE and HERE for those).

Here at Lofty Ambitions, we’ve made no secret of our affection for air shows. We’ve attended almost every variant of air show. We’re not alone at these events. In recent years, some 25-26 million people have attended air shows in the United States and Canada. Air shows are the second most popular sporting events by attendance (well behind only Major League Baseball at 70+ million).

Stearman at jacqueline Cochran Air Show 2011

Some of our favorite air shows have been small, family-oriented gatherings like the College Park Air Show in Maryland; the Stearman Fly-In in Galesburg, Illinois; and Wings of Victory in Lancaster, Ohio. The smaller air shows allow us the opportunity to interact with aircraft and owners in ways that we can’t predict. Once, at College Park, an aircraft owner and restorer took us into his workshop—on the airport’s grounds—to see his most recent work on a long-term restoration project. He was painstakingly removing fasteners from seventy-year-old corrugated aluminum wings. Anna wrote a poem about that air show that made its way into her chapbook Turns about a Point. We never found out how far the man got with his restoration project, but his goal was to see the airplane fly again.

T-28 Trojans

We’ve also attended themed air shows, like our recent visits to the MCAS  Miramar Air Show (click HERE and HERE for posts on that), with its emphasis on Marine Corps aviation and the centennial of Navy aviation. Last fall, we traipsed over to nearby Zamperini Field (named for the man who serves as subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s new book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption) in Torrance, California, for their “Salute to North American Aviation” (click HERE for that post). Academics that we are, themed air shows have the feel of an upper-level seminar, a chance to dive deeply into some particular aspect of aviation.

Inside the Commemorative Air Force's C-53

Our experiences at the large, multi-day aviation events have also been rewarding and sometimes overwhelming. We aren’t Oshkosh mainstays like our friends Jim Amundson and his father, Glen. Glen Amundson has attended EAA AirVenture each year since 1987, and Jim has joined his father at nearly half those shows. Still, we’ve twice sweated out Oshkosh (see our Oshkosh post HERE) with best of them on those brutally hot and humid late July days. (The best of them would be Lisa, Jim’s wife, who once attended while six months pregnant.) We’ve also managed to take in the corporate-aviation-heavy shows like the Dayton Air Show and Chicago’s Air and Water Show. The size and scale of these shows (and even the parking) can be intimidating, but the pay-off comes in the range of aircraft and the quality of the performers we’ve seen.

Skydiver Rex Pembleton

Air shows are unusual events, in that they represent a confluence of American history: they’re political, they’re technological, and they’re commercial. For the next post, we’ll focus on the technological history, for air shows offer, in just an afternoon, a recap of the entire history of this technological achievement. Along the way in this series, of course, we’ll include photos, particularly of the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show earlier this month.

Interview: Andrew Allen November 14, 2011

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Today’s video interview is with three-time space shuttle astronaut Andrew Allen. We met Andy Allen last November when we were at Kennedy Space Center for Discovery‘s not-launch.

Allen became an astronaut in 1988 and flew his first mission, STS-46, in 1992 on Atlantis. He calls that shuttle Hotlantis. Less than two years later, he was aboard Columbia flying STS-62, a science mission. Roughly two years after that, Allen found himself again aboard Columbia on STS-75, which carried the Tethered Satellite System Reflight into space, a system he’d help test on his first flight. The mission also carried the United State Microgravity Payload 3, a follow on to USMP-2 that had been part of Allen’s second mission. Allen commanded and landed that third flight.

Andy Allen retired from NASA in 1997 and remains in Florida. Click HERE for a local Florida news story about him, and, of course, watch our video below.

Palm Springs Air Museum (Part 2) November 11, 2011

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For our regular Wednesday post this week, we did a photo essay of sorts based on our visit this past Sunday to the Palm Springs Air Museum. You can read that first post by clicking HERE. The museum was a place we’d planned to visit for a while (we’ve lived in California more than three years now), so we made it an add-on for our trip to see an airshow, which we’ll also cover here at Lofty Ambitions soon.

In our earlier post, we emphasized some of the distinctive features of the Palm Springs Air Museum: the vantage on the airport’s active runway, the really useful display of models next to actual planes, and the great library. When you look closely at those photos and those we post today, notice that the aircraft aren’t roped off. You can get up close, looking inside the ball turret of the B-17 bomber or peeking inside the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter. That proximity to the artifacts, combined with the friendly volunteer docents, makes this aviation museum a great experience.

Andrew Carroll (photo by MajorMarvy)

Today is Veterans Day, celebrated each year on November 11 to commemorate the armistice, the end of of shooting, of World War I, to acknowledge veterans’ service, and, for many of us, to commemorate the hope for the end of war more generally. Last night at Chapman University, we saw Andrew Carroll, founder of The Legacy Project (www.warletters.com), and we heard letters written during different wars. If you have war letters (your grandparents’ missives from WWII in the attic, your friend’s emails from Iraq in the bottom of your inbox), preserve them. You can find preservation tips at The Legacy Project’s website. If you want to throw them out, consider instead sending them to The Legacy Project, which respects confidentiality requests. Dozens of aviation museums restore and display artifacts of war, but the letters from those aviators, other soldiers, and those on the homefront tell the fuller story.

Today, we offer more photos from our visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum, with a focus on the role that aviation museums play in restoring and making accessible artifacts that might otherwise be lost.

As at most aviation museums, restoration of aircraft, often to flying condition, is a central goal and a task handled by volunteers over years.

The museum's SBD-5 sat in Lake Michigan for decades after WWII. Raised in 1994, the Navy plane made its way to Pensacola, Chino, then Palm Springs.

After three years and 20,000 volunteer hours, the SBD-5 in the photo above was resored. A man named Sorenson visited the museum and said he thought that this was the plane he flew. It was, which is a testament to how well records of aircraft are kept.

You can get nose to nose with just about every aircraft on display here. This is a B-25, right where the nose gunner sat.

Here's the museum's Corsair FG-1D (the G indicates that it was built by Goodyear), with its distinctive gull wings. This American carrier-capable fighter was the first to exceed 400 mph.

Many Navy planes were based on carrier ships during the war. When you're standing next to, say, a Corsair, it's not always easy to imagine it on a ship's deck. This museum provides detailed models to show the aircraft on the carrier.

Lockheed's P-80 Shooting Star was the U.S. Air Force's first operational jet fighter. Ishpeming, Michigan, native Kelly Johnson was among its design engineers; he's said to have designed the aircraft is just one week.

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk is an all-metal, one-person fighter. More than 13,000 were produced, but only about 80 are on display or being restored, and fewer than 20 of those, including this one, can fly.

The Supermarine Spitfire is a British one-person fighter with a semi-elliptical wing that allows for retractable landing gear in a relatively thin wing.

This Grumman C-1A Trader sits outside, its wings folded, a few tools strewn around on the ground. This model flew from 1952 to 1988, and this iteration looks to be in good shape.

This odd object is the mold for the Pond Racer, an effort by Bob Pond and Burt Rutan in the early 1990s to offer an alternative in the Reno Air Races to using (and endangering) vintage aircraft. A fatal crash during qualifying ended the Pond Racer. Bob Pond is a major force behind the Palm Springs Air Museum.

On display is the original charter for the local chapter of the Ninety Nines, the organization for female pilots whose first president was Amelia Earhart. On this certificate is Jacqueline Cochran's signature as a founder of the chapter.

If you’re interested in more about Andrew Carroll, The Legacy Project, and the adaptation by John Benitz of the project’s war letters into the play If All the Sky Were Paper, watch the following video.

Palm Springs Air Museum (Part 1) November 9, 2011

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
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Inspired by the 102nd birthday of Evelyn Bryan Johnson last week, we packed a suitcase and headed into the desert this past weekend. We were pleasantly surprised that it took less than two hours to reach our destination, that parking and admission to the air show were free, and that the view was spectacular, with clear skies, warm sun, and mountains. We spent Saturday at the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show, and we’ll have more on that soon, including some amazing photos.

Anna with a paratrooper outside the Palm Springs Air Museum.

We spent Sunday at the Palm Springs Air Museum, and we’ll start there because that aviation museum celebrates its 15th anniversary this coming Saturday, November 12. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a look, even at $15 per person (check the website first for a dollar-off coupon). We devote this post to a photo essay that shows some of why we were struck by this museum, which includes two World War II hangars, several planes on display out front, and others in various states of repair on the ramp out back. In addition to the aircraft exhibits, the museum houses a library upstairs and a theater that shows films all day; we perused Life magazine issues and watched part of a History Channel show on the recovery of Glacier Girl, a P-38 buried 250 feet down in solid ice.

On Friday, we’ll post a bit more about this museum, including a focus on restoration. In the meantime, enjoy this virtual tour through the Palm Springs Air Museum.

The museum grounds offer the best view of the active runway of Palm Springs International Airport, where commercial and military aircraft take off and land.

The Palm Springs Air Museum makes great use of models, not just stacking them in a display case. Here, a model of a B-17 Flying Fortress, with interior exposed sits next to its functional counterpart.

The ball turret of this B-17 heavy bomber is open, revealing just how cramped and vulnerable this position was.

An illustration on the hatch shows the ball turret gunner in position.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina, a flying boat, is one of our favorite aircraft.

The B-25 Mitchell, a medium bomber, was a forgiving plane to fly. Almost 10,000 were made.

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building. Fourteen people died in the incident.

The museum's library contains an extensive collection of Life magazine, among other resources and flight simulators. This page from Life documents the B-25 crash into the Empire State Building.

Helicopters too! This is a Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw, a model that first flew in 1954.

Interior of the Sikorsky H-34, a piston-powered helicopter still in civilian use.

Check Friday’s post HERE for more on this aviation museum (and Veterans Day), and we’ll recount our air show adventures soon!

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