Canceled Flights Preserved the Saturn V

By Scott Spangler on September 9th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

JSC-33Acclimated to the excess of US Government agencies, learning that NASA made just enough Saturn V rockets to launch each of the scheduled Apollo missions was a surprise. If that was so, how did the Rocket Park at Houston’s Johnson Space center have the only d super heavy-lift launch vehicle? The next placard provided a simple explanation. For unexplained reasons (how about America’s Vietnam-distracted short attention span after the lunar success of Apollo 11), NASA canceled the last three moon missions.

JSC-74NASA built 15 Saturn Vs for 20 Apollo missions. The more diminutive members of the Saturn family launched the difference between the numbers. It is fitting that each of the Saturn V’s three stages comes from the rockets assigned to the canceled missions. The first stage, with its five massive F-1 engines, was to have launched Apollo 19, crewed by Fred Haise, William Pogue, and Gerald Carr. The second stage was slated for Apollo 20, the last mission. Its crew was to be commanded by either Pete Conrad or Stuart Roosa, with Paul Weitz as command module pilot, and Jack Lousma as the lunar module pilot.

JSC-86Stage three was originally supposed to push Apollo 18, with Richard Gordon, Vance Brand, and Harrison Schmitt, toward the moon. At the pointy end of the Saturn V display was Command Module CM-115, but its placards did not say which canceled mission it was supposed to fly. The first two stages of Apollo 18’s Saturn V launched Skylab. (At Space Center Houston you can walk through the Skylab 1g Trainer.) The other flight-ready stages of the Saturn siblings are combined with test and nonoperational components in the Saturn Vs on display at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida.

Rocket Park’s flight-ready relic almost didn’t survive because it weathered the elements from its display debut in 1977 until the first light of the 21st century, when the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the rocket’s official owner, applied for a grant from Save Our American Treasures, to restore the rocket and build it a weatherproof home. In its climate-controlled home, walking around the Saturn V on a hot and humid August day in Houston is a welcome jaunt that more than doubles the rocket’s 363-foot length.

JSC-90You can walk between each stage, and it would have been interesting to see what connected one to the other instead of the heavy steel lift-rings that allowed them to be hoisted one upon the other in the Vehicle Assembly Building in Florida. Really, I’m curious to see how engineers met the challenge of a lightweight mating structure strong enough to withstand the first stage’s 7.891 million pounds of thrust driving skyward not only its weight, but also the millions of pounds above it.

Another surprise was leaving over to look at the wiring and components at the top of the second stage. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t the government issue matt black boxes connected by bundles of white wire connected with canon plugs that looked no different from those in the UH-1N Huey I flew in during the early 1970s. Outside in the heat and humidity, however, is a moving visual statement of how quickly America’s space program progressed.

JSC-71Strategically placed next to a replica of Alan Shepard’s Mercury-capped Redstone launch vehicle, all 83 feet of it, is a Rocketdyne F-1 engine, which stands 19 feet tall and 12.3 feet in diameter. Shepard flew May 5, 1961. A little more than six years later, on November 9, 1969, Apollo 4 made the first unscrewed all-up test flight of the Saturn V, which was an uncompromised success. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Labor Day 2019 – Why We Celebrate Here in the States

By Robert Mark on September 2nd, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Today is Labor Day in the U.S., a day when we celebrate the hard-working men and women union members who actually do the work to create goods and services. Their efforts seldom win the praise of CEOs or Dow Jones, but they are necessary none-the-less.

The first Monday in September is “Labor Day” in the United States. For many, the holiday symbolizes the end of Summer, but it is really intended to celebrate the American worker. The exact origin of Labor Day is the subject of some dispute, but it seems to have been originally proposed in 1882. Over the following years, a number of states celebrated Labor Day.

Finally, in 1894, the U.S. Congress passed legislation creating Labor Day as a national holiday.

In the recording below, originally published in 2010, Rob Mark talks about the history of Labor Day and his own role in labor unions, including the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike, the rise of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), and the Airline Pilots Association (APA).

Click here to listen: Airplane Geeks Episode 212.5 – Labor Day

Flying Cars & Urban Air Mobility

By Scott Spangler on August 26th, 2019 | 3 Comments »

AV2-67It’s tempting to forge a synonymous connection between flying cars and urban air mobility (UAM). That would be unfair because, for a number of reasons, the latter has a viable future where entrepreneurs have unsuccessfully been developing, promoting, and trying to sell the former for more than 70 years.

Many of them have appeared and disappeared from aviation’s grand stage in Oshkosh over the past half century. Certainly, each new iteration of flying car promised improvements over those that preceded it, but nothing has matched the rapid technological long jump better than urban air mobility.

If you doubt this, look at the tent above, which sits at the apex of the Aviation Gateway Park at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The attached drone cage is still there, giving the curious a hands-on opportunity to pilot a quadcopter through a 3D obstacle course, but the drone merchants that once packed the tent are long gone because the technology they introduced as already morphed into urban air mobility vehicles that have filled their exhibit footprints.

Visually, wheels are the biggest difference between the two. By definition, a car must have them. Most of the urban air mobility vehicles I’ve seen so far have skids, perfect for vertical takeoff and landers. But the differences that separate potential success from almost unavoidable failure are not as clearly seen. Let’s start with…

Mission Capabilities

Because they must operate in disparate realms—the National Airspace System and the interconnected web of Interstates, US Highways, County Roads, and paved and unpaved residential streets—flying cars must multitask. Studies of machines and humans have clearly demonstrated that multitasking is the ability to do several things inefficiently compared to something or someone dedicated to a single task.

Urban air mobility defines that single task. Instead of traversing the diverse expanse of American airspace and roadways, UAM vehicles are designed to transport a fixed number of people between fixed and predetermined points within the confines of a metropolitan area. And, as explained by those pursuing urban air mobility, each of these fixed points will be purposely designed and built to efficiently meet the vehicles’ needs.

AV2-77At its outdoor display, Airbus exhibited its Vahana, a self-piloted, zero emission electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology demonstrator. One of two Airbus Urban Mobility eVTOL demonstrators, the sign said it has made 80 full-scale flights at more than 100 mph.

Economic Viability

Not to be obvious, but we all know that anything connected to aviation is expensive. From the start, flying cars have always targeted individual customers. That was a more realistic customer pool in middle of the 20th century, when the middle class was more robust. But today, as the general aviation production and billing numbers make clear, most new airplanes (and flying cars) are well beyond the economic reach of 99 percent of Americans.

The economic reality of modern American life has also brought forth cultural and social changes. The newest members of the workforce are starting their careers while dragging an anchor of student debt. And many of them can only find a job in or around a city, which imposes a higher cost of living.

On the plus side, in a city, they don’t need the car they can’t afford in the first place, a reality that challenges the futures of automakers. When they need transportation some distance they cannot walk, they hail a ride from services like Uber and Lyft. That companies such are these are interested and investing in urban air mobility should surprise no one. And, because the UAM vehicles are essential to their planned operations, their purchase price is factored into their cost of doing business.

Certification Challenges

Earning one’s driver’s license at 16 used to be an eagerly anticipated rite of passage. The reasons for this distill into need, expense, and personal priorities. Now combine this reality with the requirement that the operator of a flying car also needs a pilot’s license. At best guess, today that will cost you more than $10,000 and take maybe six months or more.

But the operators are not the only participants needing certification. A number of flying cars have earned FAA airworthiness certificates, so they have this requirement addressed. For urban air mobility vehicles, it seems a question, but one that is not insurmountable. But I’ll wager that the Boeing 737 Max grounding will not make it any easier to certify the software that flies these computerized fly-by-wire UAM vehicles.

AV1-2The regulatory framework for certification of the UAM pilots and their employers operations already exist in Part 61 and the air taxi regulations compiled in Part 135. And NASA is already working on urban air mobility ATC systems. Things will get interesting, however, when automation replaces the UAM pilots.

Scoff if you will, but given the velocity at which the technology of urban air mobility has advanced, that day will dawn sooner than many may expect. In the waning days of AirVenture 2019, Opener announced that it was donating its BlackFly eVTOL to the EAA Aviation Museum. Opener introduced the BlackFly at AirVenture 2018. –Scott Spangler, Editor

AirVenture Surprises & Snowbird Respect

By Scott Spangler on August 12th, 2019 | 3 Comments »

As it seemed last year, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels low-level fly-by at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year seemed to catch many people by surprise. I don’t mean to shatter your illusions, but nothing at AirVenture happens as a surprise, especially when it involves airplanes. Every flight is carefully planned and coordinated with the AirVenture Air Boss and ATC. And every morning at Press Headquarters, the legendary EAA communication director, Dick Knapinski, spoils the day’s surprises in detail.

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On Thursday morning, he told the handful of us in attendance (given the goodies he shares, I’m surprised more members of the media don’t attend) that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds would, at the start of the air show, make four low-passes during their fly-by appearance as they, like the Blue Angels, traveled from one scheduled performance to the next. But the next item is what caught my attention. Around 2 p.m., a Canadian Forces Snowbird would be arriving in his CT-114 Tutor. And rather than performing, “he’ll be camping in the Vintage area,” Dick said, qualifying his camping spot by noting that his jet was made in 1964.

Certainly, the military forces of different nations can’t be that different. Flying a squadron bird from the Snowbird home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, on a camping trip to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh would be akin to me using one of the ship’s small boats to go fishing when I was aboard the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) in the mid-1970s. My curiosity put a ring through my nose and led me to Vintage to wait.

AV4-61Right about 2 p.m., the red and white Tutor made a couple of low passes, landed, and taxied to vintage camping. A tug arrived to position it on a finger of pavement next to the grass that would be the pilot’s campsite. The aviator in the red flight suit, with Blake McNaughton embroidered on it, was obviously in command. A captain in the Canadian Forces, he’s the Snowbirds’ flight safety officer. (I didn’t get the name of his squadron mate, who was attired in standard-issue green Nomex.)

Before I could ask the obvious question, the Thunderbirds made their appearance, and McNaughton was clearly more interested in filling out the necessary aircraft paperwork and putting his Tutor safely to bed after the tug driver jockeyed it into position. “Oh, yeah, we camp just like everyone else at Oshkosh.” And when the entire Snowbirds team performed at AirVenture in 2016, a couple of us tent camped.”

But a solo camping trip? “Our chain of command understands that Oshkosh is a cultural icon. [Camping] is what you do when you come here. We don’t take ourselves too seriously; we have a good time. We set up tents and camp. It’s great! We want the full, rich Oshkosh experience.” (With no room in the jet, they made separate travel arrangement for their tents and camping gear.)

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Perhaps there are differences in the military attitudes among the national forces. On reflection, a solo camping trip to AirVenture is some genius guerilla PR, a subtle statement that supports the demonstration squadron’s ambassadorial mission. But McNaughton demonstrated an even more forceful example of the character and quality of the Canadian Armed Forces. Kneeling on the wing, digging the wheel chocks out of little compartment behind the cockpit, when he heard the first few notes of America’s national anthem, he sprang to attention. (His squadron mate, clearly sat at attention.) He stood there, in rigid contrast, as the flight line mass of U.S. flagpole patriots fluttered about in self-absorbed oblivion. – Scott Spangler, Editor

August 3, 1981 – PATCO Strike Remembered 38 Years Later

By Robert Mark on August 3rd, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Ed note: It was 38 years ago today that the U.S. aviation system was turned upside down out. What have we learned in those decades since? Many controllers today are again working 10-hour days six days a week.

___________________________

JDA Solutions photo

I remember the morning of August 3, 1981, vividly as I turned on the TV to find news stories of air traffic controller members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization-PATCO-marching with picket signs at the base of the tower at Chicago O’Hare and other airports all over the nation. They’d simply run out of patience with their employer the FAA and took matters into their own hands.

Many of the people I saw on TV were friends. Most lost their jobs later that week when they refused President Reagan’s ultimatum, “Return to work or you will be fired.” Few ever returned to air traffic control again, in fact.

patco-jetwhine

There’s little point today in talking about how the strike could have or should have been handled. PATCO stuck its neck out and lost. It’s done, it’s over.

What is interesting about our nation’s air traffic control system today nearly three decades later is how little the agency that runs the system – the FAA – seems to have learned from their own mistakes of that era.

Read the rest of this entry »

Living on the Edge of AirVenture Oshkosh

By Scott Spangler on July 29th, 2019 | 3 Comments »

This year EAA AirVenture celebrated a half-century at Wittman Regional Airport. Many contributed to it with their first trip to Oshkosh, and to accommodate them EAA expanded the South 40 to the airport’s southern fence line. Having made my first visit in 1978, I wanted to celebrate with a new perspective, a new view of the event. Curious about the southland, I decided to walk the public perimeter and meet those living on the edge of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

To qualify as edge livers, they had to be camping with their airplane next to the airport fence. This chain link border exists in almost every community except Vintage; here, the fence separates Vintage camping from Camp Scholler. On different days, I wandered to a different cardinal compass point, except east. Runway 18/36 precludes a public area inside the fence in that direction. In the order I met them, let serendipity introduce you to…

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West—Jim Piavis, Redmond, Washington

With the tail of his RV-7 backed up against the fence in homebuilt camping, Jim Piavis of Redmond, Washington, was working the wing with a spray bottle of cleaner and a large square of cloth. “It is the ninth year for this airplane,” starting in 2008. “I brought another one previously,” he said, and first came to Oshkosh in 1976 (maybe) with his dad. Overall, he’s made the pilgrimage to Oshkosh 27 times, but not consecutively.

Like so many others, he waited out the weather elsewhere. “We were at Portage, about 15 minutes from Ripon. It was a fun stop; we had a good time there. A bunch of us were on our way to get Mexican food when we got the text [that the airport was accepting arrivals], so we got here Sunday evening as soon as they opened it up.”

“Camping is pretty benign,” Jim said. His most memorable visit was 2010. “I was in Camp Scholler the last Slosh-kosh, and that was fun—a lot of mud. Homebuilt camping is pretty much a nonevent for the most part, but it is a lot of fun, though.” Sweeping his arm around this westernmost corner of the camping area, he said, “about half the airplanes around here were at Portage together.” And as they did there, they continued to hang out together in camp.

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West—Chad Jennings, Tulsa Oklahoma

“I tried to fly up here Saturday morning,” said Todd Jennings of Tulsa, Oklahoma, “but the clouds looked bad, so I sat out the storm at Middleton, [Wisconsin]. I tried to come Saturday afternoon but, obviously, after the big storm, I had to wait until Sunday.”

Flying his 2016 Just Aircraft Super STOL, with its 19-inch bush tires and Rotax 912 with big-bore kit that turns the CATO climb prop with 115 horsepower, he could have safely made his way to this camping spot in the Ultralight area, but all the grass parking areas were closed until things dried out a bit.

Weather has also limited his backcountry riverbed landings at home. “Oklahoma, you’ve probably noticed [from the news], has had so much flooding this year that there’s nowhere to land.”

Without a doubt, his first trip to Oshkosh has been memorable. “I flew up solo and met some friends here,” he said, nodding at the tent on the other side of his airplane. Home is next to the fence that protects the ultralight runway, as far west as you can get in the area. To the other side of him was a trio of porta-potties. The camping area quiets down quickly after sunset, he said, and he’d not heard a lot of slamming plastic doors in the darkness.

A third-generation aviator, Chad soloed a glider at 14 and earned his private ticket four years ago. “My dad is a pilot; my grand-pop is a pilot, so I grew with it. I’ve been to a lot of air shows—my dad used to fly in them—but all the people, airplanes, and aviation products here, it’s overwhelming.”

When not flying, he pilots an 18-wheeler that delivers rebuilt propane tanks to all corners of the United States and Canada. Likewise, he’s not letting any area of Oshkosh go unexplored. “My friends and I are on our way to the seaplane base, and we’ll hit up the museum this afternoon.”

AV3-23-2

South—Jackie & Lee Clark, South Bend, Indiana

Arriving on a sunny Wednesday morning, Jackie and Lee Clark were setting up their tent in the South 40 on their second trip to Oshkosh. “We had an excellent spot in the North 40 last year,” but it was full, said Lee.

The couple usually spends the first half of the week in Milwaukee, and then come up to Oshkosh for the rest of the week, said Jackie, “and we’re here for the night air shows, and it’s wonderful.” It also “avoids all the craziness right at the beginning of the week,” added Lee.

Interested in aviation since he started flying computer simulators as a kid, Lee started his flying lessons when he graduated high school in 2005 and earned his private pilot certificate in July 2017. A member of the Wings Flying Club, he flew its Archer II north.

“We had a nice flight up,” said Lee. “We usually follow the Lake Michigan shoreline, but with a storm coming through, I got a bit worried, so I just shot right over the center of the lake.” Jackie is not a pilot but is an eager copilot and camper. “We enjoy it, but we don’t camp as often as we’d like,” she said.

AirVenture combines the activities in a unique way. “It’s something different,” said Jackie, “and if you love airplanes,” said Lee, “this is the place to come.”

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North—Bradley Spatz, Gainesville, Florida

When I introduced myself to Bradley, he looked at me with a quizzical cast to his eyebrows and said, “Your name is familiar.” We quickly solved the riddle. At AirVenture 2017, his first trip to Oshkosh, he won an Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) drawing that awarded him $1,000 toward the installation of ADS-B in his 1982 Cessna 182S, and I wrote the story about the installation for Avionics News.

Bradley made his second arrival on Sunday afternoon, when the airport opened for arrivals after a roiling cloudy black beast (with a bulging red heart that throbbed red on radar) dumped nearly a half-foot of water on Wittman starting just after lunch on Saturday. “I hung out in Madison until I got the [AirVenture arrival] text message,” he said Thursday morning as he was packing up for his trip home.

Sunday’s arrival window was not open long, he said. “About 20 minutes after I got here I got another text saying that it was closed. I was just lucky that I got in. It must have been some storm, and I heard there was standing water. My friends [camping in the North 40 neighborhood on the south side of Runway 9/27] got here on Friday, and they said their tent was floating.”

When he arrived, the orange batons directed him to the north side of Runway 9/27. “You don’t get to pick,” Bradley said, but camping was his choice. “I don’t mind camping, and my friends told me the North 40 is kind of a thing, and if you stay in a hotel, it is not the same experience,” he said. On the other side of the fence from where we stood talking was the Oshkosh Hilton Garden Inn.

Bradley comes to AirVenture for the people, not the air show. Meeting up with friends is good, and chance encounters is what makes it great. Before Dick Rutan began his presentation about his unrefueled earth-rounding flight in the Voyager, Bradley listened to a B-17 pilot “tell the gentleman between us about some mission over Bremen in World War II. The guy between us asked how old he was; 20 said the B-17 pilot. You were an aircraft commander at 20? He asked. Actually, the man said, I was aircraft commander at 19, but by then I was 20. It was amazing to hear about this.” –Scott Spangler, Editor

Airport Survey: AirVenture Edition

By Scott Spangler on July 20th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

When the buzz of airplanes heading east to Oshkosh overpowered the humming air conditioner, it seemed a good time to wade into the humid heat for an airport survey. For decades, I’ve wondered how the small town airports fared just before and during EAA AirVenture, and this year I promised myself to find out.

AV-Survey-6Piper Cherokees of all vintages covered the ramp and upper reaches at Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ), a 42-mile drive northwest of OSH. A decade ago, Terry Hawking and his wife, Karen, decided that they would like to fly 50 Cherokees to the 50th Oshkosh, said Dwayne “Ferg” Ferguson, director of air operations for Cherokees to Oshkosh, also known as C2O. The group got close. “We had 50 signed up, and we have 41 making the flight tomorrow. Every year, about 25 percent of those who sign up can’t make it for one reason or another and this year it was just 20 percent.”

There are four other mass arrival groups, said Ferg, and they all muster at and depart from airports south of OSH. There wasn’t a lot of choices for the Cherokees, so they started looking to the north and Waupaca’s airport manager at the time, the late Pete Anderson, “always took care of us like family; we are a family, and Waupaca is home.”

AV-Survey-3Pete’s daughter, Beth, continues as airport manager, and the Cherokees are not the airport’s only AirVenture activity. “Later in the week, the Red Star warbird group will be here for an activity with the residents of the Wisconsin Veterans Home in nearby King,” she said. Until then, C2O fills almost every corner of the airport, including the conference room where the leaders are briefing the final details of mass arrival on Saturday, July 20.

Waupaca actually works better for us, said Ferg, because we are arriving from the north. “Groups coming from the south affect the individuals flying the Fisk arrival path. We can fly along the east side of Oshkosh and enter a right downwind to land on either end of the Runways 18/36 or 9/27. That’s what the three-ship elements were practicing today.”

AV-Survey-15Cherokee pilots need about 500 hours and must attend a formation clinic, which Cherokees to Oshkosh holds across the nation during AirVenture’s interstitial months. But that’s not set in stone, said Ferg, an ATP, CFII, A&P-IA with 22 years flying C-130s for the US Air Force, followed by some airline work. What matters more is currency.

“I’ve had pilots with 200 hours, but they logged it all in the last year, so they are very proficient. I’ve also had 1,500-hour pilots, but they logged it over 20 years. They were not very proficient, and it showed,” said Ferg. “Most people are trainable. If your objective is to get into Oshkosh, this is the safest way to do it. You know who you’re flying with; you know exactly when you’re going in; and the sky is clear for all 41 of us.”

And they have to be on the ground at 1000 on Saturday, July 20.

AV-Survey-17Wautoma Municipal Airport (Y50) is a 43-mile drive due west of OSH, and it is a popular waypoint for those heading to AirVenture, said Richard Jorgensen, co-airport manager, who was talking to Jeff, a Cessna 180 pilot from North Dakota who stops for fuel and a break before getting in line for the Fisk arrival. Sean Curry, the other co-airport manager, explains that it is an unpaid position, and that the two have been sharing the responsibilities for a decade.

How much activity Wautoma sees depends on the weather. Last year, when ATC closed the door to arrivals on Saturday and Sunday, “we had 85 airplanes here,” said Richard, tucked between all the hangars and herringboned on the ramp so they’d all fit. “We opened some hangars, hauled people here and there in a 12-passenger van, and the pizza place in town was making constant deliveries.”

AV-Survey-20The airport’s EAA Chapter 1331 puts on breakfast the Sunday before AirVenture officially starts. “We tried having breakfast every morning, but we just didn’t have enough people camping here,” he said, adding that the campers really fell off when EAA increased it airplane camping acreage a few years ago.

And then there are the regulars. Some stay here in town and drive in. “We get rental cars for them, and a number of airplanes fly in, spend the night, and then go to OSH.” One of them landed and taxied in as we were talking, a pristine 1934 Waco YKC in the livery of the Ohio National Guard. I followed Sean to the ramp, where he greeted the pilot and his wife by name, and pointed at the hangar that would be the airplane’s overnight home.

AV-Survey-1Brennand Airport (79C), in Neenah, Wisconsin, is, depending on your mode of transportation, 10 nautical miles direct, or a 15-mile drive from OSH. When I dropped in on Friday afternoon, there was an older Cessna 210 tied down on the grass, and the airport facility was dark, empty, and locked. While I was looking for someone to talk with, a Van’s RV-6 landed, but it taxied past me and stopped at the far end of hangar row. With the heat index in triple digits, it wasn’t worth the walk.

Thanks goodness for the Internet. Brennand’s website offers EAAers a place to park, refuel, and camp. It welcomes ultralights, LSAs, single and multiengine pistons, and helicopters to its paved, lighted 2,450-by-30-foot VFR runway. “There is an ‘unofficial’ parallel grass runway.

The large air-conditioned building offers restrooms, showers, laundry, and kitchen facilities. Guests have access to a computer and Wi-Fi. “If the building is locked, just call the phone number and we can give you an access code.”

Transient and overnight aircraft can park on the grass, and visitors are welcome to pitch a tent under their wing. Brennand charges nothing for parking or camping. It does ask that pilots bring their own tie downs and stakes. There are five permanent tie downs on the west side of the airport south of the 100LL fuel area. There are no reservations; it’s all first-come, first-served. For more information, contact Brennand’s owner/manager, Keith Mustain.

87 Steps to the Moon

By Scott Spangler on July 19th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Journey to Mission Control Enriches Memories of Apollo 11

JSC-53A half century ago, I was one of the millions worldwide who watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounce and bound across the surface of the moon. But I didn’t fully appreciate their accomplishment until July 10, 2019, 10 days after NASA and the National Park Service dedicated Apollo Mission Control, refurbished to its 1969 lunar landing configuration, as a National Historic Landmark, and 10 days before the 50th anniversary of the fulfillment of the team’s goal.

This journey back to 1969 started at Space Center Houston, the civilian portal to the Johnson Space Center campus. More than a hundred of us climbed into the open-air tram for the flight through Houston’s humid heat to Building 30N, the Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. Mission Control Center . On the way, our guide, Jerry, pointed out the home for the Orion program and the Astronaut Training Center, available for tours with separate tram rides.

JSC-36Closely clustered in 30N’s lobby, Jerry itemized a rather lengthy list of rules, and mentioned more than once, that we would need to climb 87 stairs to the restored mission control. There’s an elevator, he said, but it, too, is original, with room for six 1960-sized humans, “and it is slow.” Cell phones didn’t exist then, either, he said, so turn them off or silence them now. And keep them in your pockets or bags, he said, reemphasizing his repeated warning that we could take no photos or make any video or audio recordings until the presentation was over.

And we should not lean on the counters in the viewing area and, please, to move to the end of the row to theater-like seats in the observation area. It, too, is in its 1969 configuration, right down to the small ashtrays on the back of every other seat. Most of the visitors had no idea what they were for, and many opened the lid and probed the recess with their skinniest finger. Apparently, the restoration was not total because no one I saw found a 50-year-old cigarette butt. Finally, we must be quiet as we climbed those 87 stairs because they passed an active second-floor mission control room, and we must not disturb them.

JSC-48The presentation played on the two 19-inch CRT TVs mounted at the intersection of the ceiling, outside walls, and full-width window that separated the spectator seating from mission control proper. There were color TVs, and I wonder if the originals were black and white sets. The narrator was Gene Krantz, the flight director who told the Apollo 13 mission control team that “failure is not an option.” And on this journey, I learned that he was the flight director for the Eagle’s lunar descent leg.

Ghosts who lived on the other side of the glass did most of the presentation’s talking through original audio recordings. Krantz introduced every phase of the flight, each one illustrated by different images on the big screens that spanned the front wall of mission control. On the rows of consoles that faced them, indicator lights danced and twinkled like some holiday celebration and smaller screens displayed another array of data unreadable from our seats.

The presentation was a déjà vu situation for me; not from a half-century ago (for the commercial TV networks never broadcast the “boring” mission control environment), but from the night before, when I watched the Apollo 11 documentary produced by CNN Films. This opportunity was serendipity. Visiting family who live in Houston, they were showing my wife and me how they cut their cable TV coax with online apps, and Apollo 11 led the list of new content on YouTube TV. (The content was so similar, I wonder if they edited the film into the shorter presentation, and added Gene Krantz.)

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If you haven’t yet seen this film, don’t miss it. It reveals previously unknown (at least to me) aspects and insights to the mission that for too many of us is summarized by the lackluster video of Armstrong taking his first step off the LM. Buzz Aldrin gives us a crisper, better view of this step from his perch in the Eagle. This and other footage, not seen since it was shot a few days short of a half-century ago, separates this film from all the rest. And this, too, was serendipity, when the filmmakers found 160 reels of large format 70-mm film and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued original audio in the National Archives.

And then the filmmakers digitally scanned and enhanced this large format film to 4K, 8K, and 12K resolutions. At this level of detail, when you stare into the unblinking eyes and set faces of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins as they suit up, you can viscerally feel their focused apprehensive anxiety. They know that this could likely be a one-way trip. You can see it in each of their faces. In a 2013 TV interview, replayed during this week’s Apollo mania, Buzz Aldrin said they gave themselves a 60 percent chance for success.

JSC-49The trio presented much happier faces from their Airstream isolation on the USS Hornet (CV-12) which plucked them out of the Pacific. Some years ago, I saw an interesting display of this recovery, and that of Apollo 12, in the hangar bay of the Hornet, now a museum floating in San Francisco Bay. At the now-closed NAS Alameda, you’ll find it moored at the same pier where its predecessor, the USS Hornet (CV-8) loaded the Tokyo-raiding B-25s. It seems a safe bet that the faces of those 80 men might have mirrored those of the Apollo 11 crew.

One of history’s many and ongoing rewards is how it transcends time, connecting past and present, as those who pursue it reveal new information that gives it new life and deeper meaning and context—and fuller appreciation. A half-century ago, my impression of our inaugural arrival on the moon focused on three men. Now, it encompasses the hundreds of humans who climbed those same 87 steps every day to make that arrival possible. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Flyboys World War II Perry Flag Flight

By Scott Spangler on July 1st, 2019 | What do you think? »

One of history’s many rewards is discovering little known stories that enrich the significance of its mass market events, such as the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. There are a number of them, including the saga of the Perry flag, awaiting the curious in Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers.

The book’s core is about the fate of the flyboys, naval aviators, including George H.W. Bush, who attacked the Japanese radio station on Chichi Jima. Situated between between Japan and Iwo Jima, it was the communication link that would warn of approaching flights of B-29s from islands to the south.

Looking at the photo, you’ve likely guessed that shows General Douglas MacArthur at the surrender ceremony on the Missouri. If you look closer at the framed flag in the background, you’ll count 31 stars on it. The Perry flag, Bradley explains on page 303, is the linen US flag that Commodore Mathew Perry carried ashore when he stepped ashore in Japan in 1853. (Equally interesting, the Missouri was anchored in approximately the same position as Perry’s flotilla). But that’s not the really interesting part.

Until just before the surrender, the Perry flag was on display at a museum at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Someone thought its display at the surrender was significant enough to entrust it to a courier, Lt. John Bremyer. Starting from Annapolis, he took off from Iwo Jima on August 29, 1945, “the last leg of a record-breaking120-hour, 9,500-mile-long trip that had taken him through 12 time zones.”

John K. BremyerLed astray by the record-breaking aspect of his trip, I expected to find some description of a flight on par with the Truculent Turtle, the Lockheed P2v Neptune that flew nonstop from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio—11,235 miles—in September 1946. Finding no joy, I went after Lt. Bremyer. There are a number of them, and the obituary of John K. Bremyer, a lawyer who died, at age 88, on April 17, 2008 in McPherson, Kansas, where he was born on April 5, 1920, mentioned that he’d carried Perry’s flag back to Japan.

But there was no mention of a dedicated flight. Surely there must have been one because, Bradley wrote, Bremyer completed his mission when he handed the boxed flag to Admiral Halsey on the Missouri. “Then the weary lieutenant slept for two days.” The tantalizing details eluded me, and I couldn’t quit searching for them. Then I found Bremyer’s oral history at the Nimitz Education & Research Center at the National Museum of the Pacific War.

It turns out that there was no dedicated flight, which was slightly disappointing. On the other hand, I learned about a Priority One (or One Priority) World War II military travel voucher, which guaranteed a seat on the next airplane, regardless of type or what passenger got bumped, going in the right direction. When he reported to work that morning, he didn’t expect the assignment.

Image result for pby catalina black catBremyer was in the air that evening, headed to San Francisco. From there he took the next plane to Hawaii, then Johnston Island, Kwajalein, Guam, and then Iwo Jima. There “they were going to to put me on a destroyer, but that would take too long, so I got on a Black Cat PBY” that took him to Tokyo Bay, where a whaleboat from the Missouri collected him and Perry’s flag.

Watching the proceedings from the above the main deck, Bremyer carried the flag, as well as news releases, photographs, and motion picture film of the surrender back to Washington. “I got on a PBM [Martin Mariner seaplane] back to Guam and basically followed the same route back to San Francisco,” the 85-year-old veteran remembered.

Perry’s flag is back on display at the Naval Academy Museum, and it is No. 89 in “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects.” It gives more background on the decision-making process that sent the flag to Japan, and it mentions Lt. Bremyer’s “record-setting” trip. But like Bradley in Flyboys, it doesn’t explain what record Bremyer’s trip set or surpassed. –Scott Spangler, Editor.

Gliders Launch with 454 Cubic Inches of Pull

By Scott Spangler on June 17th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Sky SoaringGliders—sailplanes—are engineless flying machines powered by gravity’s conversion of altitude into airspeed. Without a doubt, they are aviation’s purest expression of flying for fun. It is also the most social aeronautical neighborhood, because glider pilots alone cannot pull their craft aloft for a flight’s initial investment of altitude.

I discovered Sky Soaring Glider Club last year, when its Cessna 150 tow plane, with its more robust powerplant, swooped low on its touchdown pass to the club’s 3,000-foot turf strip that is perpendicular to U.S. Highway 20 in Hampshire, Illinois. Imitating an owl’s cranial rotation as we passed, I saw a gaggle of waiting gliders and a covey of humans scurrying around them. With an appointment to keep, I promised that I would return.

Sky SoaringBecause they fly for fun, I figured that the club members would be making the most of a balmy, sunny Saturday. We finally had one of those last weekend. Which was why I was worried by the silence when I rolled into the gravel parking lot. Two men were readying a Schweizer 2-33, but there was no internal combustion buzz. One of the men held the two-place glider’s wing level and, without a word, it leaped forward. After a step or two, he let go.

Around the corner of hangar, sitting under an umbrella covered picnic table, the launch director listened to the glider’s pilot calling out the airspeed and altitude. The speed was a constant 60 mph. The altitude rapidly increased to 2,000 feet above the ground, when he let go of the tow rope that has pulled him aloft.

After the launch director called ATC to file a pilot report of the glider’s release altitude, he explained it’s hard to see the quarter-inch tow rope, and hitting it would not be good. Absent a tow plane, the only launch alternative was a winch, but where was it? Pointing down the runway to the east, “a mile that way.”

Sky SoaringAs I was getting my steps in for the day, a brightly stickered Honda Accord with an unusual red roof rack was slowly driving in the opposite direction, dragging two brightly colored cords, one red, one yellow. This must be the “mule” the picnic table guys were talking about. Coming to the end of the turf strip, a half-mile into the adjoining farmers field was the orange snout of the winch, with a flashing yellow light on top of its cockpit cage.

“Normally we winch from the end of the strip,” said winch driver Don Grillo, “but the farmer hasn’t been able to get his crops in because of the weather, and he let us add another 2,000 feet.” A winch’s launch ratio is roughly 3:1, so the mile-long tow rope would get the Schweizer to 2,000 feet.

Sky SoaringWith the winch at the end of the turf strip instead of out in the farmer’s field, it will pull the 2-33, with its under nose tow hook, to 1,000 feet. The higher performance PZL Krosno KR-03, Puchatek glider pulls a bit higher because the towline attached under its CG, allowing a more acute climb angle. After either glider lets go of the two rope, a ribbon drag chute prevents its freefalling tangle.

Sky SoaringAs the mule pulled the tow ropes back for the next launches, Don explained the winch the club built on the frame of a used box truck. The two-drum Tost winch is from Germany, it’s powered by a “GMC 454-cubic-inch crate engine—same as a Corvette—with the Turbo 400 transmission locked in second gear.” Next to the tachometer is an instrument panel switch labeled N and D.  On the cockpit’s right sidewall is the throttle, and left and right levers either engage each towrope to the transmission or apply the brakes to its rotation.

Sky SoaringDon is one of the club’s four winch drivers, and all three members of the launch crew, which includes the launch director and mule driver, are club certified after successful completion of the training program. “I started driving the winch last year,” said Don. “It’s exhilarating, a lot of fun, but it’s a critical job. You have to pay attention to the glider, which you can’t see at first. You have to talk to the launch director on the radio.”

Getting ready for the next launch, Don dons his David Clark headset. Even with its muffler, the 454 running at 4,500 rpm in second gear is pretty loud. He’s also listening to the launch director and the pilot, who’s calling out the glider’s airspeed. Pull too hard and you’ll overstress the glider. To prevent that, there are several stress-calibrated break links in the towline by the drag chutes.

Sky SoaringWith the winch’s singing silenced by the engine’s effort, the Krosno rises above the horizon, climbs steeply, and disappears. When it releases, the rpm jumps suddenly. Don adjusts the throttle to maintain an even strain on the drag chute. As John Abramski connects the towropes to the mule for the next launches, Don tells me that this launch set a new club record for the Krosno of 3,100 feet AGL. –Scott Spangler, Editor