Hail the Centennial of Aviation’s Modern Era

By Scott Spangler on December 3rd, 2018 | Comments Off on Hail the Centennial of Aviation’s Modern Era

CharlesLindbergh-RaymondOrteigBorn this month in 1903, powered flight matured quickly during its adolescence that ended with World War 1 in 1918. That conflict was a period of accelerated puberty for aeronautical technology that in 1919 marks the beginning of aviation’s modern era.

If you need a birthday, there’s none better than May 22, 1919. That’s when New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered his eponymous prize of $25,000 to the first allied aviator or aviators to fly nonstop between New York and Paris. (Raymond Orteig, right, and the 1927 winner of his eponymous prize, Charles Lindbergh.)

Orteig revealed the award in a letter to the Aero Club of America. “Gentlemen: As a stimulus to the courageous aviators, I desire to offer, through the auspices and regulations of the Aero Club of America, a prize of $25,000 to the first aviator of any Allied Country crossing the Atlantic in one flight, from Paris to New York or New York to Paris, all other details are in your care.”

The Aero Club of America confirmed its participation three days later, on May 26, and established a structure to administer the competition for the $25,000 prize. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money today, but in today’s dollars, it is $374,090.24. (And given the price of a new single-engine piston airplane today, it’s still not a lot of money, but I digress.)

A few weeks later, in June 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight in a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber. Their accomplishment didn’t qualify for the prize because they flew from St. John’s, Newfoundland to County Galway, Ireland, not New York to Paris. It did net them the £10,000 prize, awarded by the Daily Mail, a London newspaper.

Vickers_Vimy_(6436284927)Alcock didn’t survive to year’s end. He died, at age 27, at the controls of a new amphibious airplane, the Vickers Viking, on December 18, 1919, in foggy skies at the first post-war aerial exhibition at Cottévrard, an aerodrome near Rouen in Normandy, France. Three days before he died, Alcock was present when the transatlantic Vimy was presented to the nation at London’s Science Museum, where it remains today,

Two weeks before Alcock and Brown left Newfoundland, about the time that Orteig was writing the Aero Club of America, a U.S. Navy Flying Boat, the Curtiss NC-4, commanded by Lt. Commander Albert Read, made the first transatlantic flight. With a crew of five, it took the NC-4 23 days, and six stops, to fly from Naval Air Station Rockaway, New York, taking off on May 15, arriving in Plymouth, England, on May 31, after stops in the Azores, Portugal, and Spain.

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The Last Photo Banshee Represents a First

By Scott Spangler on November 19th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

USN-65As a former Navy photographer’s mate, the big aerial cameras under the long, windowed nose of the dark blue straight-wing jet drew me to the McDonnell F2H-2P photo Banshee. It was the Navy’s first photoreconnaissance jet. And the airplane on display was the last example, the sole survivor.

But that’s not what got my attention. The explanatory placard said that this airplane, its wing and fuselage filled with concrete, after a barge ride down the Indian River in 1959, spent nearly 30 years as a kiddie-climber at Pocahontas Park in Vero Beach, Florida. The National Museum of Naval Aviation didn’t acquire the airplane until 1988! And then it spent thousands of hours chipping out the concrete and carefully piecing the airplane back together using period parts.

USN-66Top dead center of the panel is the pilot’s viewfinder. He used it to sight his subject and to rotate the cameras from the vertical (straight down) to horizontal (oblique) positions. At night, two under-wing stores carried 20 flash bombs. With its electric heat, the windows in the camera bay did not frost up at altitude. And it could get up there. The long-legged (1,475 miles) jet had a maximum operational ceiling of 48,500 feet, and its speed (535 mph at 10,000 feet) made it a hard target for other Korean-era jets to catch.

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Could Knowledge of Undisclosed MCAS Have Saved Lion Air 610?

By Robert Mark on November 17th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Could Knowledge of Undisclosed MCAS Have Saved Lion Air 610?

By Rob Mark

Having spent more than a few decades in the cockpit, I thought even I’d reached that plateau where I could claim I’d just about seen it all … until this week’s admission by Boeing of an – until now, unknown – automated AoA related stall-prevention system called MCAS that, even when the aircraft is being hand flown, could yank the control column away from an unsuspecting pilot.

Details are of course still sketchy, but I’m dumbfounded that anyone at Boeing could be so certain of a computerized system aboard the 737 Max 8, that they saw no need to mention its existence to operators or pilots.


From Flying eNews, November 15, 2018 …

In what some pilots are calling an inconceivable moment in flight operations and training, Boeing recently admitted the existence of the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), an angle of attack related stall prevention system that was unknown to operators of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, like the one flown last week by a Lion Air crew when it departed Jakarta Indonesia. The Lion Air crew experienced an unexpected nose pitch down shortly after takeoff as the aircraft was passing through 5,000 feet. Unable to recover from the event, all 189 people aboard perished in the crash that followed.

While it’s too early to draw any solid conclusions, there appears to be a circumstantial link between the, until now unknown MCAS and the angle of attack error messages reported early on following the Lion Air accident. The FAA last week issued an emergency airworthiness directive against the 737 Max 8 that said, “erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input could result in ‘repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer,’ which could be from the MCAS,” according to the Aviation Safety Network.

Operators of the 737 Max aircraft wasted no time making clear their feelings about Boeing’s apparent oversight in the release of MCAS information. In a message yesterday, ASN says the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines Group Inc. pilots, alerted its members … to the MCAS saying “it applies nose down stabilizer in specific conditions when the aircraft nears a stall,” the first time many pilots were made aware of the system’s existence.

The APA said the logic behind MCAS was not mentioned in training or in any other manuals or materials. Safety Committee Chairman Capt. Michaelis stated, “It’s pretty asinine for them [Boeing] to put a system on an airplane and not tell the pilots who are operating the airplane, especially when it deals with flight controls,” according to the ASN.

A Boeing message quoted by the APA said, “the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) is implemented on the 737 MAX to enhance pitch characteristics with flaps UP and at elevated angles of attack. The MCAS function commands nose down stabilizer to enhance pitch characteristics during steep turns with elevated load factors and during flaps up flight at airspeeds approaching stall. MCAS is activated without pilot input and only operates in manual, flaps up flight. The system is designed to allow the flight crew to use column trim switch or stabilizer aisle stand cutout switches to override MCAS input. The function is commanded by the Flight Control computer using input data from sensors and other airplane systems.

A January 2018 report of the new Boeing’s created by the Brazilian ANAC briefly mentions the MCAS, but offers no specific guidelines on its operation. Whether the Lion Air 610 crew had any knowledge of the MCAS’s existence prior to their October 29 takeoff is unknown. Sources said Boeing risk assessment team felt the chances of the MCAS going off in flight were so remote, they felt an explanation of the system was unnecessary

Boeing told Flying through a prepared statement in part, “We are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this incident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved … Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing. While we can’t discuss specifics of an on-going investigation, we have provided two updates for our operators around the world that re-emphasize existing procedures for these situations.”

Capt. John Weaks, president of Southwest Airlines Pilots Union (SWAPA) quoted in the Wall Street Journal said, “We’re pissed that Boeing didn’t tell the companies and the pilots didn’t get notice obviously, as well. But what we need now is to make sure there is nothing else Boeing has not told the companies or the pilots.”

Reprinted by permission of Flying magazine

Rob Mark is also Publisher of Jetwhine.com

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Enstrom Artisans Build Helicopters with Personality

By Scott Spangler on November 5th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Enstrom-22Waggism, playful lightheartedness, is the last thing one would expect to see at a facility dedicated to the deadly serious business of building FAA-certificated aircraft. But then I met Sally, her name printed on an aluminum placard in red Sharpie on the wide end of a fixture used to build tail booms at Enstrom Helicopter in Menominee, Michigan.

Curious, I asked Dan Nelson about it. Was this the work of some unknown wag, an aeronautical version of Kilroy was Here?. Taking a moment, he carefully put down his Cleco pliers and explained that Sally was the name of the piston-powered helicopter just conceived at the factory. “We started naming them some months ago,” said Dan, a sheet metal master who introduces newcomers to the craft and mentors their mastery of it.

“There was a picture on Facebook of a fleet of our helicopters on the ramp for delivery, and someone said we should start naming them.” The piston-powered F-28F and 280FX get girl names, and boy names identify the turbine-powered 480B. “It’s just for fun,” he said with the unapologetic tone of a father talking about his children.

Perhaps naming these gestational helicopters isn’t so waggish. Expectant parents often name the nugget of their baby to give it an identity, to make it more than a bump, to connect on a more intimate, personal level. The only real difference is that the helicopter’s names stay in the womb. Like all parents, the customers who take the newborn Enstrom home have the naming rights.

Enstrom-34The riveted monocoque is just one appendage connected to the welded steel-tube pylon that is the Enstrom’s thorax. Working in robust rotating fixtures that look like complex gyms—yellow for pistons an green for turbines—it takes Enstrom’s state-certified welders about three weeks to weld a pylon, said Dennis Martin, Enstrom’s director of sales and marketing.

The welders work with pre-notched tubing, he explained, and the three weeks includes their final fitting, sand blasting, multiple inspections, and a light skim coat of primer that makes imperfections stand out. “We like steel because it’s easier to inspect and repair,” said Martin. “But the main reason is that steel will absorb a great deal of energy.

Enstrom-33“If you look at the S-N Curve [a plot of the magnitude of an alternating stress versus the number of cycles to failure for a given material], once it fails, steel continues to absorb energy, which means it is not transferred to the occupants. It doesn’t have a sharp drop off; once aluminum or composites fail, it’s done—it doesn’t absorb any more energy,” said Martin.

Just around the corner, in the composite shop, Tom Retlick is laying up the some seats that combine different layers of foam and glass that work in concert to provide lightweight rigidity, comfort, and a degree of energy absorption. Just celebrating 23 years at Enstrom, he’s surrounded by his work, artistry embodied by the split molds for each model’s cabin and attendant fairings.

The heart of Enstrom’s birthplace is the climate-controlled cube that is the quality department. “It’s such a crazy juxtaposition,” said Roger Hardy after setting a raw casting of the idler pulley for the piston power train in the Conner CNC measuring machine. Just outside those doors there are artisans bucking rivets, welding steel, and laying up and cooking composites “all under one roof with CNC measuring and milling machines.”

Enstrom-26“It takes some time to program the machine” to measure dozens of specific points on a part, said Hardy, who starts the effort with the part’s drawing. “But it goes to the exact same point on every part with a consistency that gives a true measure of each part.” He’ll see this part again, after it takes its turn in a CNC mill to become a finished idler pulley.

After making sure my curiosity had satisfied its current queries, he thanked me, and returned to work, as had all of the artisans I’d talked to this day. Each of them was knowledgeable and friendly, and prompted by my questions, they eagerly shared their knowledge in terms neither patronizing nor overtly technical. As a group, their personality was one of proud parenthood. – Scott Spangler, Editor

FAA Bill Creates National Airmail Museum

By Scott Spangler on October 22nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

100_photo1Title V of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 is an accumulation of Congressional mandates that don’t qualify for its other titles, like Title IV—Air Service Improvements, and Title III—Safety. This item caught my eye. It’s short, so here’s a copy and paste of the whole thing.

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress finds that—
(1) in 1930, commercial airmail carriers began operations at Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana;
(2) the United States lacks a national museum dedicated to airmail; and
(3) the airmail hangar at Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana—
(A) will educate the public on the role of airmail in aviation history; and
(B) honor the role of the hangar in the history of the Nation’s airmail service.
(1) IN GENERAL.—The airmail museum located at the Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is designated as the ‘‘National Airmail Museum’’.
(2) EFFECT OF DESIGNATION.—The national museum designated by this section is not a unit of the National Park System and the designation of the National Airmail Museum shall not require or permit Federal funds to be expended for any purpose related to that national memorial.

Image result for national airmail museum

Asking Google about it let me to the National Airmail Museum’s website. Now fundraising, the museum will not only educate visitors about the airmail era, it will describe Fort Wayne’s role in the system’s development. Housed in Hangar 2 at Smith Field Airport, the museum will feature interactive and hands-on exhibits that will give visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation of the trials and tribulations of the pilots and those who supported them. It will also be home to EAA Chapter 2, a gift shop, and a uniquely themed dining experience.

Hangar 2 is itself a bit of history. To quote the website: Built in the 1920s, “Hangar 2 features three large Truscon Steel Company Doors, a highlight unique to Smith Field in the U.S. at the time they were built. The Carousel Hangar, although outside the period of significance defined for Smith Field, is the only example of Clark W. Smith’s patented design ever built. The hangar is characterized by an innovative rotating carousel door. Smith Field’s tie-down area recalls the era before World War II when hangars were used for maintenance rather than storage, and the aircraft had to be tied down to spiral-shaped stakes in the ground.”

Historic postcard of Smith Field, c. 1940Unlike most airports in operation today, Smith Field was not built for or during World War II. It grew then, but Fort Wayne inspected the site in 1919, pilots started learning to fly there in 1923, and it was established at the Baer Municipal Airport in 1925, named for Paul Baer, America’s first ace in World War I. During World War II, when the Army Air Forces appropriated Baer’s name for its airfield south of town, Fort Wayne renamed the airport for its airmail pioneer, Art Smith.

Art Smith (pilot) 1915.jpgBorn on February 27, 1890 in Fort Wayne, he died on February 12, 1926, the second overnight mail service pilot to die on duty. His parents mortgaged their home in 1910 so Art could build his first plane. Teaching himself to fly, he crashed on its first flight. Learning by trial and error, he became a stunt pilot, taking over at the official Panama-Pacific International Exhibition’s stunt flyer when Lincoln Beachey did not survive a crash in San Francisco Bay. During World War I he was an Army test pilot and instructor, stationed at Virginia’s Langley Field McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. He joined the Post Office after the war and flew overnight mail between New York City and Chicago, and died on his route near Montpelier, Ohio.

Aviation as we know it today would not exist without the people who created the airmail system and made it work. That they deserve national recognition should be beyond question. Equally important, aviators today should support the National Airmail Museum because in recognizing the dedication and sacrifices of pioneers like Art Smith, we can inspire these traits among those who are building aviation’s future. Scott Spangler, Editor.

Lake Michigan Training Saves Combat Vets

By Scott Spangler on October 8th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

USN-85If there is a long forgotten annex that has preserved World War II combat veterans for eventual display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, it is Lake Michigan. Without the inevitable accidents that occur when new naval aviators are learning to land on an aircraft carrier, we would not now be able to look upon the world’s sole surviving SB2U Vindicator torpedo bomber. We could not caress the dive brakes of an SBD-2 Dauntless dive bomber that witnessed the attach on Pearl Harbor, and fought in the battle of Midway. Nor could we gaze at an F4F-3 Wildcat that started its service in September 1941 with Fighting Squadron 5 aboard the USS Yorktown.

USN-145They all ended their active service with the Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU) at NAS Glenview, north of Chicago, Illinois. Looking at them today, imbued with the national worship of veterans, some might be critical of the decisions that led to these veterans of the greatest generation spending four of five decades in the depths of Lake Michigan. But the decision-makers of the time were not so constrained. They had a war to fight and win, and that pragmatism overruled all other considerations. And those who appreciate history should thank them for it.

Facing the carrier qualification for thousands of naval aviators and the vulnerability of the ships providing such training in the Pacific, Atlantic, or Gulf of Mexico, training in Lake Michigan seemed the most logical solution. So the Navy put flat tops on two lake steamers and called the result the training carriers Wolverine (IX-64) and Sable (IC-81). Focused on the goal at hand, the Navy certainly expected and planned for training accidents. Probably no one looked to the future and appreciated that, unlike salt water, fresh water does not eat airplanes. It preserves them.

USN-103How well is clear on the unrestored patch of painted aluminum on the vertical fin of SBD Dauntless, BuNo 2106. Assigned to the aircraft pool at Ford Island, it survived the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Then it flew with Bombing Squadron 2 (VB-2) from the USS Lexington (CV-2), taking part in raids on Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea. Then it transferred to the US Marine Corps Scout Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB-241).

USN-102On June 4, 1942, pilot 1st Lt. Daniel Iverson Jr. and radioman-gunner PFC Wallace J. Reid, took off with the other members of VMSB-241 to attack the Japanese carrier Hiryu. BuNo 2106 was one of the few survivors. It returned to Midway with roughly 250 bullet holes in it, a wounded crew, and one working main landing gear. Iverson received the Navy Cross, Reid received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and 2106 got a total overhaul before being assigned to the carrier qualification training unit, freeing up newer aircraft for frontline combat duty.

During a routine carrier qualification flight, on June 11, 1943, a Marine, 2nd Lt. Donald A Douglas Jr., stalled and spun into Lake Michigan, and sank in 170 feet of fresh water. Salvage crews discovered its resting spot in October 1993 and recovered in January 1994 by A&T Recovery for the museum, which restored it. To give visitors an idea of what they started with, the Sunken Treasures exhibit displays an SBD-4 and an F4F-3 Wildcat in pretty much the conditions in which they were found.

USN-54The SB2U Vindicator, a two-crew scout bomber, replaced biplanes in the late 1930s and set the stage for its replacement, Douglas’s SBD Dauntless. First flown in 1936, the Navy didn’t order very many, just 58 in 1938 and another 58 in 1940. With a trussed fuselage and largely covered with fabric (construction clearly seen thanks to the open fuselage panels), the airplane was obsolete before the war started, but the Marines fought with them at the Battle of Midway and suffered heavy losses.

The museum calls these aircraft Sunken Treasures, as indeed they are. What’s equally compelling are the number of aircraft still in storage at the bottom of Lake Michigan. – Scott Spangler, Editor

A Cockpit Crawl into Naval Aviation History

By Scott Spangler on September 24th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

USN-82Am I the only aviator who wants the pilot’s perspective when examining an interesting aircraft? Or am I suffering from unrequired Walter Mitty daydreams? Either way, with a cockpit crawl of more than a dozen aircraft, from the F11F Tiger to the F-14 Tomcat, the National Museum of Naval Aviation is a hangar of dreams in Pensacola, Florida.

Scattered throughout the museum are more than a dozen cockpit procedure trainers (CPTs), which are exactly like fleet aircraft with their wings and most of their fuselages amputated. Each of them taught naval aviators where to find the necessary system information, and what to look for before they made their initial flights in these (mostly) single-seat aircraft.

Climbing into the F-8 CPT during my first visit to the museum in 1972 is a lasting memory because I fit! But I was 5 inches shorter then, so looking to try it (and any others) on was a premeditated goal of this 21st century visit. Seeing the F11F Tiger (above) and the F-4 Phantom CPTs, both in their Blue Angel uniforms, gave me hope that was not disappointed. It has new paint, but I still fit. (Let the day dreams continue!)

USN-177While there isn’t any power or instrument life in the CPTs, and the canopies don’t close, but the sticks and rudder pedals (and rudder pedal adjustment cranks) still move from stop to stop. They range from the F11F and T-28, which entered service in the 1950s, to the F-14 Tomcat, which retired from active fleet service in 2006.

Making a cockpit crawl in chronological order is not only a first-hand look at the development of the technology they employ but also the advancement in what test pilots call the “pilot-aircraft interface.” The need for naval aviators to be contortionists clearly diminished over the years.

And then there are anthropometrics, the maximum and minimum measurements that play a large role in which pipeline—jets, helos, or multiengine—is open to a prospective naval aviator. It’s more than just standing and sitting height or buttocks to knee length. They measure every aspect of a prospective aviator’s functional reach, and your arms can be too long (as I found out when trying to reach the switches in the back corners of the Tiger’s cockpit) as well as too short.

USN-155The helo cockpits have the most room, with the HH-52 (essentially a single-engine SH-3 Sea King) having much more than the AH-1 Sea Cobra. Subjectively, among the jets, those made by Chance-Vought (the F-8 Crusader and A-7 Corsair II) and Grumman (the F11f and F-14), offered more leg room than those made by McDonnell (the F-4 Phantom) and Lockheed (the S-3 Viking).

The lines of children and adults waiting for the AV-8A Harrier and T-2 Buckeye were a bit longer, and with so much more to see, I didn’t make the time to try them on. Maybe next time. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Windowless Airplanes? Not for Me

By Robert Mark on September 16th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

By Micah Engber

Recently there has been much discussion about windowless passenger aircraft becoming the wave of the future. Based on the direction society is now moving I’m sure it’ll become a reality at some point. I also suspect that at some time we’ll see windows becoming either luxuries for the rich, or old technology left for the poor. Think about it, we already have windowless offices. Even in many offices that still have windows, those windows are left for the upper class highly paid top executives. The rest of us schlubs work in windowless cubicles and never see outside during a working day. Unless we’re let out for recess.

The kernel of this story was originally written in May of 2013 and many of you may have heard it before, but it has been made relevant again by the thought of windowless travel, and how, at least as I see it, most people won’t even notice. Here’s why.

I was ready to fly Jetblue Flight 607 but it was over an hour late departing Portland, Maine. I wasn’t worried though, I’d already changed my connecting flight in JFK. All was well and I’d just end up in Fort Lauderdale instead of West Palm Beach, really not that big of a deal.

The Embraer E190 was far from full with over 30 unfilled seats. In fact I changed my place from 16A, what was called an “Even More Legroom” seat, to 25A the last row of the aircraft that was completely empty. You see that allegedly premium seat was positioned between windows. How could they sell a premium seat for more money when there wasn’t even a window in that row? How little did I know?

We took off to the west on Runway 29 from PWM and started to bank south at about 1,000 feet. I had this whole row, both sides of it to myself, and there was no one around me. It was the back of the plane, the ghetto in passenger aircraft, but I guess I can be pretty ghetto if I have to, part of my heritage I suppose. My people were the original ghetto dwellers. Read the rest of this entry »

An Introductory Flight of Frustration

By Scott Spangler on September 10th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

ltf signFollowing Santa’s directions, for Christmas my oldest son’s wife got him an introductory flight lesson. I can’t remember any gift in the preceding years that left him so excited. An ICU nurse living in the metropolitan Kansas City, it took awhile for the weather to align with his work and family schedules (that happens when you have four kids). But he was patient, and his eager anticipation never dimmed, until he actually made the flight.

On his way home from the airport he called in a state of agitated consternation. To summarize our hour long conversation, the intro lesson was much less than he anticipated, and he pelted me with a series of questions whose common denominator was, “Was I expecting too much?” As he stepped through the lesson, if you could call it that, the answer to each question was no. What Santa brought you was not an introductory flight lesson but an hour of flight time for a safety pilot posing as a CFI.

My son described him as a “professor,” of what he didn’t know or say. He was “older than me, but not as old as you, Pops,” which put him somewhere between 31 and 64. And there was very little conversation before the flight. He didn’t ask why my son wanted to become a pilot and how he hoped to use this precious, hard-earned skill once he’d earned the certificate. Nor was there any preflight discussion of what they would do during the lesson. “He checked the oil and said, ‘Let’s go flying.’” said my son.

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Tactile History at Naval Aviation Museum

By Scott Spangler on August 22nd, 2018 | 2 Comments »

A lot has changed since I last visited the National Museum of Naval Aviation 46 years ago, when I was a student at the Naval Schools of Photography that once called the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, home. The photo school, and the occupational rating itself, are no more. The Navy merged four jobs—photographer’s mate, illustrator draftsman, lithographer, and journalist—into a new Mass Communication Specialist designation in 2006, and the classic white structure that was its home became the air station’s headquarters. Likewise, time has replaced the museum’s World War II temporary buildings surrounded by the open-air bondage of a dozen or so aircraft (the more delicate examples were inside) with a magnificent structure that should be on the to-visit list of every aviation aficionado.

USN-61But the one important aspect of the museum, the one thing that makes it unique among all others with similar collections, has not changed. Aside from those flying suspended from the ceiling, all but a few of of the airplanes on display are within easy reach of the museum’s visitors. Stanchions stand by some airplanes, but no velvet ropes connect them. They stand disconnected to warn visitors that they are approaching something sharp and/or pointy, and to pay attention. (And learning that the F11F-1 Tiger’s wings folded down was one of the many surprises revealed during my visit.) The Navy clearly expects museum visitors to pay attention and respect the small yellow placards affixed to fuselages that say, “Please Keep Off.”

USN-33Walking through the timeline of naval aviation history is more like wandering through a clean, well-lighted hangar deck than following a prescribed museum maze. And the rewards are many. It is one thing to read that the wingspan of the Curtiss/Naval Aircraft Factory NC-4, which celebrates the centennial of its historic transatlantic flight next year, is 126 feet, and that the wingspan of the Boeing F4B-4, a frontline carrier-borne fighter during the early 1930s  and finished its service as a training airplane in 1941, is 30 feet.

USN-47But nothing puts this disparity in perspective more than seeing the fighter under the wing of the flying boat and comparing the wingtip float to the single-seater’s fuselage. For an even greater “holy crap” moment, walk behind the NC-4 and compare the span of its biplane horizontal tail feathers with the biplane span of the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny displayed beneath it. They are almost the same, and the NC-4’s tail looks to have a wider cord. And if you are tall enough, you can peek into the open cockpits. The early biplanes, like the F4B and this Grumman F3F-2, are the most accessible. That tube above the panel that protrudes through the windscreen is the gun sight.

USN-53Contemplating the early years of naval aviation, and looking into the aviators’ working spaces, these were surely robust men who were no bigger than the average 21st century middle schooler. Then look at the NC-4’s tail feathers and remember that pure muscle moved these surfaces by direct connections made by cables, pulleys, and pushrods. In today’s aviation era, where an aviator’s inputs are interpreted by a computer and carried out by some form of power steering, I wonder how today’s aeronauts would adapt. Some, perhaps many, would welcome it, because they would be directly involved in the flight. And when you had to hand-crank the retractable landing gear in the F3F and its single-winged offspring, the F4F Wildcat, the effort was so memorable that pilots didn’t forget to raise or lower the gear.

What made it memorable, said my father, who flew the Wildcat for his carrier qualifications on the USS Wolverine in Lake Michigan, was the crank’s location on the lower right side of the cockpit. It took some practice, he said, to fly with your left hand and make the necessary 28 turns with your right and not go phugoid during the effort. –Scott Spangler, Editor