FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings Q & A

By Scott Spangler on January 10th, 2022 | What do you think? »

With 2022 stranded at airports across the land thanks to the cancelation of thousands of flights, let’s pass the time with a game of FAA Commercial Astronaut Questions and Answers. Let’s start with the obvious:

Did you know there was a list of FAA Commercial Human Spaceflight Recognition?

How does one make this list and how many people does it name?

The 30 people on this list have received FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings. Although the FAA did not provide “guidelines, eligibility, and criteria for the administration” of this program until July 20, 2021, it was authorized by the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984.

This “Act also directs the FAA to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector, including those involving spaceflight participants.”

To earn these wings, recipients must meet the flight crew qualification and training requirements of 14CFR Part 460, be a crewmember on an FAA/AST authorized flight that rises more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, and “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to space flight safety.”

Who is first on the list?

That would be Mike Melvill, who piloted the first flight of SpaceShipOne at the Mojave Air & Space Port on June 21, 2004. Next is Brian Binnie, who flew SS1 on October 4, 2004, followed by Michael Asbury and then Peter Siebold in SpaceShipTwo a decade later, October 31, 2014.

Who is last to get their wings?

They would be the passengers on the December 11, 2021 flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard flight from Texas’s Launch Site One: Laura Shepard Churchley (daughter of America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard); Michael Strahan, Evan Dick, Dylan Taylor, Cameron Bess, and Lane Bess.

Who is next?

To get their Commercial Astronaut Wings from the FAA? No one. The passenger on December’s Blue Origin flight, were the last. “With the advent of commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the FAA will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings,” said the agency’s December 10, 2021 media release.

“Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the earth will be listed on the site.” There was no mention of passengers meeting the requirements of Part 460, but after reading them, logic suggests that they remain in effect.

What’s missing is the Astronaut Wings Program requirements to demonstrate “activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to space flight safety.” It would be interesting to hear how weightless tumbling and catching wayward Skittles by mouth meet those requirements, so maybe that is why the FAA concluded its wings program.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Open Cockpits, Stepping into History at the Air Zoo

By Scott Spangler on December 27th, 2021 | What do you think? »

Admiring historic airplanes from a museum floor is a big-picture perspective of their contributions, whatever they may be, to aviation. Regardless the aeronautical era or the scope of the story, the viewer’s mind readily puts the winged artifact before you into some cinematic environment. The only way to truly gain the perspective of the individuals who gave any airplane life is to look out from the inside. Gaining access to cabins and cockpits is easier in larger aircraft, and if you can afford it, a number of organizations complete the connection with a living history flight. Such access to single-seat aircraft is essentially nonexistent, unless you’re in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the annual Open Cockpit event at the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience.

Traditionally held every weekend in February (and occasionally one weekend into March) since its inauguration in 2013, COVID-19 moved it to every weekend in September 2021, said Troy Thrash, president and CEO. Whether the 2022 event returns to February or repeats in September depends on the virus’s raging mutations, he said, and the Air Zoo’s website and Facebook page will provide plenty of advance notice. Open Cockpit is free with the museum’s paid admission, and there are few restrictions: To protect these historic artifacts, cockpit climbers can weigh no more than 250 pounds. “Visitors must also have the ability to enter and exit the aircraft unassisted. Children wishing to sit in the aircraft must be supervised by their parents/guardians.”

Settling into the seat of the FM-2 Wildcat, the first surprise was that I fit (and sticking to the calorie-counting diet I started a decade ago that trimmed 50 pounds from my 6-foot-5 frame was again rewarded). Carefully taking the controls and looking straight ahead my memory replayed one of the only stories my father shared with me of his experiences as a World War II naval aviator. With a 180-degree turn from downwind to final to the USS Wolverine as it paddled its way into the Lake Michigan wind, “the flight deck disappeared beneath the cowl, the last thing you saw was the landing signal officer giving you the cut, and from there you hoped to hit hard and stop.” Until taking this seat, I couldn’t conceive this image, now it all made sense, and it bonded a new layer of respect for him and his understated accomplishments when he was just 20.

Each year the Air Zoo decides which cockpits to open, said Thrash, “mixing and matching them each year so we our guests can enjoy their favorites and we can introduce them to some new aircraft,” such as the Ryan PT-22, Grumman Mallard seaplane, and P-39. Some, like the FM-2 Wildcat and F6F Hellcat, and FG-1D Corsair are in rotation with the airplanes people look forward do each year such as the Ford Trimotor, B-25 Mitchell, and P-47 Thunderbolt. Some cockpits, including the SBD Dauntless, Mig-15, and SR-71B, are open only for viewing, because they are on loan from their respective military museums.

Each open cockpit is overseen by a team composed of Air Zoo staffers and volunteers. The person at the head of the line (and there’s always a line, Trash said) talks about the airplane’s history and specifications, and another one or two at or near the cockpit to guide people safely in and out, where to put their hands and feet, and to make sure people don’t fiddle with levers and switches. “We don’t worry about that too much, because people, even the kids, are remarkably respectful of the airplanes,” Thrash said. “The understand they are climbing into history and they treat the opportunity with reverence.”

When COVID moved Open Cockpits to September, the Air Zoo filled the space with a new event, Panels Off. “Our restoration team removes panels and cowlings from aircraft throughout the museum, so people can see under their skin,” said Thrash, “see what makes them go and understand how they are put together.” One of the most revealing is the T-6 Texan, which is welded steel tube fuselage that’s covered with removeable aluminum sheet metal skins.

The inaugural Panels Off was well received in February 2021, Thrash said, and it will return next year, either in February or September, opposite of the annual Open Cockpits event. “Stay turned to the Air Zoo’s website and Facebook page for scheduling.”

Happy New Year!

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Dauntless Dedication to Air Zoo Aircraft Reincarnation

By Scott Spangler on December 13th, 2021 | 1 Comment »

Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience CEO Troy Thrash said the Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless on display in the World War II exhibit was the team’s first Lake Michigan restoration project. The eight-year effort took place years ago in a building in a restricted area of the airport, “so no one had access to see it being restored.” Since then, all of the Air Zoo’s restoration work has been on display in the Flight Discovery Center.

The Center “is the Air Zoo’s original building that opened in 1979,” said Thrash. On weekends, an electric shuttle conveys visitors from the Flight Innovation Center, and the Discovery Center’s observation lounge is a popular place for watching airplanes come and go from the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport.

In the foyer is the battle-damaged cowl of a Michigan Air National Guard A-10 Warthog whose Middle East wounds reveal the honeycomb structure that protects the powerplant it streamlines. Farther on, visitors can try on an F-16 and F-102 cockpit procedure trainers for size. But the restoration shop occupies much of the facilities space where volunteers tend to their restoration contribution, usually within earshot and arm’s reach of Air Zoo visitors.

When the Air Zoo resumed its restoration work with it’s FM-2 Wildcat proposal, inviting school kids and others to work side-by-side with the volunteers was part of the plan. “We want to make this a real community project. The Navy may say this won’t fly, but we need to create this experience.” Since then, “busloads of high school kids have come through and worked on the airplanes,” said Deputy Restoration Manager Dan Brant. “Mostly they do disassembly, Scotchbrite metal to get it ready for paint, anything they can do easily with little chance of damaging anything. Not damaging an original part is the primary concern.”

Not long after the Air Zoo started work on the FM-2 Wildcat, retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox visited. He is the director of the Naval History and Heritage Command and “Curator of the Navy,” responsible for the Navy’s museums, its collections of art and artifacts (like the FM-2), and the research library and its 150 million pages of information. “He wanted to see our model, especially how we involved kids and the community,” Thrash said. “It was really cool because he felt others restoring Navy assets need to do the same thing. And, he said, ‘Oh, by the way, do you want another airplane?’ That’s when the Dauntless SBD-2P came.”

The last of its kind, Douglas Aircraft built only 14 photo-reconnaissance Dauntless SBD-2Ps. It joined the fleet in 1941, flying with Scouting Squadron (VS) 6 aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6). After repairing landing accident damage, it joined the aircraft pool at Pearl Harbor shortly after its Day of Infamy. It went on to fight in the Battle of the Coral Sea with Bombing Squadron (VB) 5.

When it was replaced by a newer model, the Dauntless -2P went to NAS Glenview, where it was a training mount for new aviators undergoing carrier qualification in Lake Michigan. The training carriers, converted paddle-wheelers, the USS Wolverine and USS Sable tied up every night at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

After nine months of accident-free flying, on February 18, 1944, the SBD’s engine lost power on final approach to the Wolverine. Lieutenant (junior grade) John Lendo survived his lake landing, but the Dautless didn’t. Lieutenant Lendo died 10 months later during a combat mission over the Philippines. A and T Recovery recovered the -2P from Lake Michigan on June 19, 2009, and it arrived at the Air Zoo restoration center in July 2016.

Lt. John Lendo

Several weeks after the airplane arrived, Thrash received a call from Dr. Arthur Lendo. “The last name rang a bell because Lieutenant John Lendo was the last person to fly this airplane. Dr. Lendo was his nephew, and he’s been very (personally and financially) supportive of our work, and he and his family were here when the airplane was all together.”

“Neither my brother or I ever had the privilege of knowing my Uncle John,” said Art Lendo, who now lives in Tennessee. “Like so many Americans of my baby-boomer generation, I was named after family members who served so heroically in World War Two.”

Arthur Lendo said his father never spoke of his uncle’s death because it was too painful. “My being able to sit in the cockpit of the Dauntless Bomber that Lieutenant John Lendo crash-landed into Lake Michigan was an amazing experience for me,” said Kevin Lendo. “He was the war hero uncle I never got to meet.”

The Air Zoo’s restores airplanes to historic standards, right down to matching the paint, a process made easier in 2016 with the installation of a $90,000 dedicated paint booth. It creates the perfect dust free environment for applying and curing the coatings, usually a three-part enamel. The hard part is recreating the nonspecular colors the Navy used in its various camouflage paint schemes, Ward said.

Running his fingers lightly across the velvet-like wing skin of the SBD-2P, Ward explained that “nonspecular” is the technical term for something that does not reflect light. At this point in World War II, the Dauntless wore nonspecular blue over nonspecular gray. Several modern manufacturers translated the colors’ Military Specification into modern recipes for today’s paint systems.

“The manufacturer told us to add a certain amount of flattener to the paint, but it was still too shiny,” Ward said. “So, I called the company, said I’d painted the whole thing, and it’s too shiny. Well, they said, that’s all the flattener you can add. So, I cut out a bunch of aluminum panels, primed them, and then painted them, adding another ounce of flattener for each one.”

From the manufacturer, 16 ounces of paint is a 50/50 mixture of paint and flattener, with the painter adding 2 ounces of hardener to the mixture before application. To get the right nonspecular reflectivity of the blue and gray Ward’s test panels called for another 6 ounces of flattener. “On the first SBD we did this wasn’t a problem because a different manufacturer made the paint, but it went out of business, so we switched to a new vendor. We ignored the rules, ignored the manufacturer, to get the sheen we wanted.”

The Air Zoo’s restoration team are the first people to get hands-on with the airplanes after their last flights. Unfolding their mysteries is part of the work that infuses the tangible with the spirit of the people who gave them life.

When it came out of Lake Michigan, they at first couldn’t explain why the SBD-2P’s left wing had zero corrosion and the right one was totally corroded. Also, Ward said, the right-wing tank was lined with self-sealing rubber and the left one was just aluminum. It turns out that the corroded wing with the self-sealing fuel tank was for an A-24, the Army’s SBD.

“When the -2P back to San Diego for repairs,” Ward said, “They pulled a new right wing out of stock, and it was an Army wing.” Unlike Navy wings that lived in a corrosive maritime environment, “none of the aluminum in the it was anodized.” The aircraft’s records say that carburetor ice killed the engine on its last approach. “When we got into the cockpit after they pulled it out of the lake, we found the carb heat knob wasn’t pulled out,” which applies the heat.

The Air Zoo’s first Dauntless restoration, the SBD-3 on display in the World War II exhibit area, lost power right after it took off from the carrier and ended up in the lake, Ward said. The plane guard rescued the pilot and the accident investigation suspected that fuel starvation was the cause. “When the airplane rolled into the Air Zoo 50 years later, I looked in the cockpit, and the fuel selector was on the empty tank. We didn’t know it was empty until we went to drain the fuel out of it, and there wasn’t any. The other tank had 45 gallons of fuel in it.”

Unlike their other restoration efforts, the team faced a hard deadline on the SBD-2P if the airplane was to be center stage in Hawaii on December 7, 2021. They made it. With the restoration complete, the Air Zoo completed its reincarnation with a celebration that included a reunion of the pilot’s surviving family members and their descendants, the Lendo family. After the party, the restorers disassembled the SBD and carefully prepared it for a journey to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island on the 80th anniversary of the that Day of Infamy.

Taking its place in the Air Zoo restoration exhibit is another of the 38 Dauntless dive bombers that ended up at the bottom of Lake Michigan. An SBD-1, it began its service with the US Marine Corps on September 16, 1940, reported to NAS Glenview for carrier training duty in late 1941 or early 1942, and crash landed in Lake Michigan on November 23, 1942, claiming the life of its pilot, Ensign Herbert Wilton McMinn. On its way to the Air Zoo from MCAS Miramar, it was on display in the Warbirds area at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021.

Aircraft Reincarnation Through Air Zoo Restoration

By Scott Spangler on November 29th, 2021 | 1 Comment »

When it comes to aircraft, restoration and reincarnation may seem like synonyms, but there is a significant difference that transcends semantics.

Restoration is rehabilitating an airplane to a former point in its existence. Certainly, this is what the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience is doing for US Navy aircraft of World War II salvaged from Lake Michigan, where more than 17,000 naval aviators received their initial carrier qualifications on the USS Wolverine and USS Sable, coal-powered side-wheel passenger steamers resurfaced with a flat top.

Reincarnation is a step beyond restoration. It revives the airplane’s soul by searching out and connecting with the people who originally gave it life. If they have succumbed to time, their memories and contributions to the resurrected airframes survive in the consciousness of their relatives and descendants. Identifying these people and sharing their contributions to the airplane’s life is part of the Air Zoo’s dedicated reincarnation effort.

Looking at the FM-2 Wildcat in the rotisserie that aligns and supports the front half of the fuselage while the restoration team builds and connects a new rear fuselage and tail feathers to it, Greg Ward, the Air Zoo’s aircraft restoration manager, explains how the Wildcat ended up on the bottom of Lake Michigan three days after Christmas 1944.

Ensign William Forbes lost power on the third of the required five takeoffs from the USS Sable. It rolled off the flight deck, turned upside down after it landed in the lake, and the ship’s port paddlewheel broke the Wildcat in two just behind the pilot seat. Strapped in that seat, Ensign Forbes “held his breath for nearly two minutes,” Ward said. “He got out of the cockpit, got picked up, survived the war, and lived a long, wonderful life in Fresno, California.”

The Wildcat spent 68 years on the bottom of Lake Michigan. “We’ve been working on it for about eight years, and we have maybe two or three years to go,” said Air Zoo CEO Troy Thrash. “When I got here in 2013, we didn’t have any other restoration projects,” Thrash said, and when the team learned about the FM-2 Wildcat, it wanted to submit a restoration proposal to the Navy.

“I said, yeah, we can, but we’re going to hang our hat on two things. The Navy already knows the quality of our work,” Trash said, referring to another Lake Michigan find, the SBD-3 Dauntless that’s long been on display in the World War II wing. “In keeping with our new missions, we’re going to restore the FM-2 differently than we or anyone else has done it; we’re going to do it on the exhibit floor where people can not only watch the volunteers work, they will have the opportunity to interact with them. Some days people are asking so many questions about the work they are doing the volunteers don’t get much done.”

Volunteers do most of the restoration work, Ward said, pointing at the people working around the shop. “Not all of them are [airframe and powerplant] mechanics. That guy over there is a financial analyst. They’re just people who like to work with their hands, like to work on airplanes, and love to work with other people who love to work with their hands on airplanes.” Most are recruited by word of mouth, and a good number of them have built their own airplanes, and several of them have won trophies for their craftsmanship at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Restoring the Wildcat “created the mother of all challenges for our team,” Ward said. The Eastern Aircraft division of General Motors built the Grumman single-seat fighter during the war. “No one has ever said, ‘Let’s build the front half of an airplane and then build the back half, and then figure out how we can attach the two.” But that’s what they team had to do.

Part of the challenge was managing the stresses between the two halves. Every time they worked on it, the stress of the two halves warped the frame where they came together. The rotisserie, designed and built by a volunteer who’s a veterinarian, solved that problem.

And then there were unexpected and welcome surprises. “All of [the fuselage] stringers were extruded by the company that made them during the war,” Ward said. “It’s had several different owners since then, but when I called and gave them the part number, they said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve got those dies and can make them.”

The volunteers’ work is guided by plans and technical manuals and other documents acquired from a variety of sources, the US Navy and its National Museum of Naval Aviation as well as others who have restored siblings of the same make and model. “A lot of times we get drawings from the 1940s, blow them up, and discover we can’t read them,” said Thrash. “That’s just a piece of the puzzle, and if we can’t fix it, we make it.”

Making it is sometimes a matter of beating flat aluminum into shape on a hand-carved wood form that recreates the compound curves where the fuselage becomes the vertical stabilizer. “That’s the way I’ve always done it,” said Ward, who’s been at the Air Zoo for 33 years. “Now we use computers. Dan [Brant, deputy restoration manager] is really good at CAD drawings, and he saves us weeks and months of work by whipping them out on CAD and emailing the file to the waterjet cutting guy in Kalamazoo, who calls when the parts are ready for pickup.”

Picking up a dented and unrestorable curve of large diameter ducting that fed air to the Wildcat’s oil cooler, Ward said creating a new one would be more than a challenge. “General Motors has big 3D scanning equipment—they built this airplane back in the day—and they donated a 3D scan of it. Now we have a digital copy of it, and we used a 3D printer to make the form block and formed flat metal around it.”

Somethings only an original part will do, because making magnesium wheels for the SBD is beyond the their capabilities. “I bought these wheels cheap from another museum [that flies its SBD]. Being magnesium, you can’t get brakes for them, so they switched to Hellcat wheels and brakes, and that made them available.” The Air Zoo team didn’t worry about brakes because airworthiness is not the restoration (or reincarnation) goal.

An Air Zoo View of Space

By Scott Spangler on November 15th, 2021 | What do you think? »

In introducing the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience, its president, Troy Thrash said it was purposely designed “to be a different environment for an air and space museum.” There is no better example of this than the exhibit focused on the lunar landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. Instead of telling the story with space hardware, the Air Zoo connects to the environment in which we all (at least all of us who were sentient beings then) shared in the experience, on TV in our living rooms.

Turning the corner to the exhibit, with its shag carpeting, cathode cabinet television on which Neil Armstrong made that first step for a man in an endless loop, and the fiberglass TV tray where many of us ate many a night, was a time traveling gut punch that stopped me in my tracks. It revived my mom and dad and shaved the decades of life from memory and put me rapt and cross-legged on the floor with my sister. Short of looking at Michael Collins’ lunar station at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, this is the most important Apollo exhibit I’ve ever seen because it allows people to relate to a moment in history personally and physically.

It’s a theme that continues through this section of the Air Zoo. Gort, the robot enforcer from one of my favorite science fiction films, 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Robby the Robot, who first appeared in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet and made subsequent appearances in other films and TV shows, including Lost in Space, flank the portal to Alien Worlds and Androids. The Air Zoo rented the traveling exhibit in 2015, said Thrash, and set it up to expand the space exhibit and tell the story of planetary space exploration beyond the shuttle and space station. The exhibit’s owner retired it in 2019, and Kalamazoo is its permanent home.

Building on the theme of robotics and exploration of space, visitors meet other pop icons like C3PO, R2D2, and BB8, “and no discussion of exoskeletons would be complete without Iron Man,” said Thrash. Standing in testament to the possibility of other life forms is the eponymous Alien, which helps tell the story of the microbiome. “It’s a different way for kids to connect with science.”

But this section of the Air Zoo has not forsaken the hardware geek. There are wheels from several different Mars rovers, and capsules from Projects Mercury and Gemini. First, there is a Gemini crew trainer, a fixed spacecraft procedures simulator. The orange and white El KaBong is a boilerplate Gemini capsule that NASA used in tests of the Para-Sail Program, a Rogallo wing that replaced the traditional parachutes used to slow the final descent. “It is a NASA artifact, and it was in pretty bad shape” Thrash said. “NASA said if you want to restore it, you can display it here.”

The Air Zoo’s space has its own moon rock, from Apollo 15. But turning to the living room exhibit, this is “my favorite space,” Thrash said, and they christened it on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. “Everything here was donated by someone locally—this was in my house when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. It’s really cool to see grandparents come and sit on the couch and tell their grandkids this is where I was when it happened, watching it on TV.”

Air Zoo: Unique Airplanes

By Scott Spangler on November 1st, 2021 | What do you think? »

What makes the aerospace menagerie on display at Kalamazoo’s Air Zoo special is its unique airplanes, as in the only one in the world, the sole survivor of a specific make and model. With its black skin fading into the main display floor’s studio lighting, you have to look closely to see the second cockpit bump on the SR-71B trainer (or read the sign). The Curtiss XP-55 Ascender, on the other hand, is spotlighted in a back corner, standing guard next to the entrance to the World War II exhibit hall. And in the restoration building, which faces the Kellogg/Kalamazoo International Flight Line, visitors can watch, and learn from, the volunteers restoring the only F-117 Nighthawk on display at a civilian museum.

All three aircraft are on long-term loan from either the National Museum of the United States Air Force or the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Lockheed built two SR-71B trainers. One of them was destroyed in a landing accident and the survivor retired to the Air Zoo after its last flight in 1999 with NASA at Edwards Air Force Base. The Air Zoo welcomed it to its exhibit area on April 23, 2003. It built steps and a platform so the curious can peer into the cockpit windows, and it opened the canopies on one of its open-cockpit weekends in September.

The other unique airplanes required a bit more work, said Air Zoo President Troy Thrash, and it was the institution’s restoration reputation that brought them to Kalamazoo. Curtiss built three XP-55 Ascenders during World War II. All three of the canard pushers crashed, Thrash explained. “Only this one was salvageable. It is a Smithsonian artifact. Knowing our restoration capabilities, the Smithsonian asked us if we wanted to take on this project. If we did, then we could have it here on long-term loan. It took us quite a few years to restore this airplane, but we are happy to say that we have the only XP-55 Ascender in the world.”

Another unique aspect to the Air Zoo’s restoration effort realized the only civilian museum display of the F-117. “About four years ago we found out that the Air Force was going to release four F-117s per year (for about eight years) to museums,” said Thrash. “Everyone who wanted one put in an application, so we did. Three years ago, they invited us to Tonopah [Nevada], where these airplanes live so we could see first-hand the challenges. It is really cool to say we want an F-117, it is another when you think about what’s involved.

In deciding who among the requesting institutions would receive the aircraft, Thrash said, “The Air Force concerned that a museum would get an airplane and wouldn’t have the time or money needed to restore the [demilitarized airframes stripped of all their stealthy secret stuff]. Their big question was, How long, from the time the airplane arrives will it be on display? About 10 minutes, because we do all our restoration work on the exhibit floor in the Flight Discovery Center.”

Earning his jet experience in the Air Force as an F-104 Starfighter crew chief (including the F-104 in the Air Zoo collection), Dick Klass is the F-117 restoration project manager. “When the F-177 arrived, the wings and vertical tails were off, as were all of the leading edges, which were proprietary secrets that actually belonged to Lockheed, who leased them to the Air Force.”

Receiving little more than the airframe, the restoration crew had to figure out how to fabricate 210 feet of leading and trailing edges. “And we had to figure out all the angles. There are more angles than you can shake a stick at,” said Klass. “Our problem was to connect the top and the bottom. Do you weld it? Do we make some sort of blocks that we could screw into it? One of the guys came up with the idea of using piano hinge. It adapts itself to any angle.”

When the team of volunteers gets the edges finished the way they want, they will fill the piano hinge’s nooks and crannies with a filler that has the consistency of warm butter. “It gets in between all the seams. We put it on with a spatula and push it in with a rubber gloved hand,” said Klass. “When it dries, we sand it smooth.” The team uses a heavier filler over the rivets that hold the hinge in place.

Unlike traditional jets, the F-117 doesn’t have tailpipes. Klass found a photo of the louvered trailing edge exhaust of the engines buried in the wing. Looking at the photo, Klass wondered what the white rectangles were, so he Googled F-117 exhaust. Leading the results was “Part 5: Nozzles and Exhausts” of an Aviation Week series, “A Closer Look a Stealth.” Once the team finds the right color, it will add the replica heat reflecting tiles.

Before the Air Force released the F-117s to museums, it sandblasted the radar absorbing material that coats the airframe. “They did a very poor job of it,” said Klass, pointing to hollow spots in the skin between the underlying frames. “We debated replacing the panels, but they are .125 thousandths thick, and new aluminum to replace them would cost about $3,000 a panel.”

Bondo doesn’t work well over large areas because it will bow and crack, especially with temperature changes. Looking at photos of other F-117s on museum display to suss out the solutions employed by other museums, “they all have the same [hollow-spot] problem,” Klass said, so like all the others, the Air Zoo’s F-117, called Shaba, will have hollow spots.

Pointing to the airplane’s name painted on the open door of the weapon bay, Klass said each F-117s in the Air Force fleet received a unique name. “Shaba” is Arabic for “ghost.” The signatures of many of the airplane’s maintainers and pilots surround the moniker. The pilot’s call sign was a combination of “Bandit” and ang graduation number from F-117 transition training.

“Here’s Bandit 512; he was the 512th pilot graduated to fly 117s. There were only 62 F-117s, but they flew for a long time so I’ve seen pilot numbers into the 700s,” said Klass. And with its arrival, it adds the modern era to the Air Zoo’s display of unique aircraft.

Christy Kincaid, Keeper of the Air Zoo Artifacts

By Scott Spangler on October 18th, 2021 | 1 Comment »

Illuminating the spectrum of science, technology, and engineering opportunities embodies for people of all ages is one of the premeditated objectives of the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Its many hands-on youth and adult education programs are the foundation of this effort. Built on it are volunteer and internship opportunities that reveal previously unknown professions such as the archivist who preserves and keeps track of a collection’s artifacts.

“I’ve been at the Zoo almost 14 years,” said Christy Kincaid. “I started as a high schooler and never left.” Education was one of the majors she worked her way through in college, she said, but she found the structure imposed on classroom teachers stifling. “It really takes the creativity out of being a teacher. I wanted to teach in a more informal setting, and that’s how I ended up as a museum person.”

Teachers are students who share what they’ve learned with others. An archivist since 2003, Kincaid interned at the Air Zoo and moved through a variety of roles. “Last February, before the pandemic hit, I was promoted to manager. It’s been a fun and interesting time. The majority of an archivist’s skills are learned on the job. I’m always learning, reaching out to my colleagues and different museums about the best ways to take care of something. My job is always fun—never boring. I’ve always got a project going on.”

One of them is guiding a team of colleagues and volunteers who are building a new computer database that keeps track of the Zoo’s menagerie. “We have about 100,000 objects and archival materials in our collection,” she said. “Everything will get a picture and tag and its own number. Only about 40,000 items in the collection are in the new database, so we have a lot of work ahead of us. One of my volunteers doing a high-level index said it’s taken her a month to work her way through one file drawer [of Guadalcanal contents] because she keeps going down an interesting rabbit hole.”

Beyond the aircraft on display, the collection “deals with everything from the weaponry pilots carry when they are flying and the everyday items a paratrooper has in his pack to the recognition cards Coca Cola created [during World War II] for citizens so they would feel more connected to the war and their loved ones in the service. We even have a happy birthday letter Hitler wrote to a member of his staff. The Guadalcanal collection is one of our pride and joys, and we rotate the items on display to help preserve them.”

Not quite as vast as the storeroom in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s still a good walk from the door to the back wall. Almost everything is organized by category, Kincaid said. Weaponry, machine guns to pistols. Everyday items services members carried—Bibles, playing cards, matches, cameras, glasses. Turning down another aisle between towering shelving units, “we have four aisles of pints and patches, and we’re reorganizing them; here are our NASA patches.” Not far away is the space collection. “We got it from the Jackson Space & Science Center in 2007, 2008. Most of our space collections is Skylab based, and it’s another collection we hope to ramp up and be able to tell a more present story.”

A couple of aisles down is the Zoo’s textile collections, a supersized closet organized by service—Marine, Navy, Coast Guard, Army, Air Corps, and Air Force—and conflict, World War I, World War II, Korea, and so on. Flags and banners are one of Kincaid’s favorite projects. “They were stored in tubes. After visiting other collections and learning more about how to preserve them, we took them out of the tubes, photographed them, researched them,” layered them in acid-free archival gauze, and wrapped them loosely around an acid-free cardboard tube. Pointing to the tag with a photo of the protected artifact, she said, “This is a Nazi banner that was draped outside a building.”

A few aisles back, the shelves are open-faced hangars for intricate, detailed model aircraft standing alone or in the center of a diorama that depicts a past moment in time. Beyond that is the odds and ends aisle. In addition to “toys, commercial aviation items, the trench art collection, if anything comes off one of our airplanes, like the panel removed from the Corsair so guests could see the machine guns in the wings, those things come here so we can keep them nice and safe.”

Preserving artifacts and keeping them safe is a multifaceted challenge that is often expensive. Sometimes it’s a matter of deciding how to organize the artifacts, like all of the artwork, posters, and other graphics in the long lines of flat files recently donated by Western Michigan University. Pointing to a letter-sized acid-free archival document box on a shelf, Kincaid said it cost $15. “To have one made for oversized items can run more than $300. Two years ago, I attended a workshop to learn how to make boxes. Figuring out how to make a box for a big artifact has been a tremendous challenge, but making them exactly how I need them has saved us a ton of money.”

Most of the artifacts on the shelves and on display were donated by individuals and families who gave the Air Zoo a piece of their personal history. “We have a lot of treasures here,” said Kincaid.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

The Air Zoo, an Extraordinary Aerospace Destination

By Scott Spangler on October 4th, 2021 | What do you think? »

Mostly because of its alterative name, I’ve known about the Kalamazoo Air Zoo for decades, but despite a number of trips to mitten Michigan on other assignments, I never made time to visit its home at the southwest corner of the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. If you’re considering a visit, don’t make my mistake and think the Zoo is just another small-market museum.

Far from it. The Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience is an extraordinary, must visit aerospace destination that embodies the premier elements of well known and visited destinations such at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and the national museums of naval aviation and air force with unique combination of inclusive, hands-on experiences unavailable at any other institution I’ve ever visited (and as my wife will attest, I’ve visited way too many of them).

At EAA AirVenture this year I ran into the hulk of an SBD-1 fished out of Lake Michigan in 1994 after its last, and unsuccessful operation in 1942 on the training carrier USS Wolverine during World War II. It was on a trailer, bound for restoration at the Zoo. Knowing that the Navy is finickily particular about its aerial artifacts and the institutions it deals with, it drove me to plan a visit. Learning that the Zoo is the only civilian institution with a F-117 that it is restoring on its exhibit floor made a visit imperative.

This was not an easy decision. From my home outside of Oshkosh, as the crow flies, Kalamazoo is 190 miles away. If you’re not a crow, driving over the top of Lake Michigan covers 589 miles; driving under it 330 miles. Either way, it’s an all-day drive thanks to the toll roads and eternal traffic of the Chicago metroplex. We split the difference and splurged on the SS Badger, the car ferry and National Historic Landmark that connects US 10 between Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan.

Research did not emotionally prepare me for the Zoo. An airplane I’d first met in 1976, Sue Parrish’s Pink P-40N, filled the atrium airspace in the Flight Innovation Center. With her husband, Pete, a World War II Marine aviator, Sue, a WASP, co-founded the Zoo in 1979. I met her and her airplane when she visited her friend and sister WASP, who operated the flight school at Long Beach, California, where I was learning to fly. On the walls that protected the P-40 were banners for upcoming events, including weekend cockpit crawls in different airplanes during September.

Troy Thrash, the Zoo’s president and CEO since 2013, led me down a serpentine cloud tunnel that led to the main exhibit hall, which opened in 2004. The wide-open panorama stopped me dead. With so much to take in, my brain disconnected from everything but my eyes. Tracing the history of flight from the first hot air aeronauts to space exploration the Zoo synergistically coordinated its artifacts with a 30,000-square foot hand painted mural created by two artists over 11 months.

Artists had similarly painted the exhibit hall’s floor. Grass and pavers covered the left side of the hall that spanned early aviation to World War II. Setting on It were a Sopwith Camel and Spad from World War I, a Ford Trimotor, B-25, and the world’s only surviving Curtiss XP-55 Ascender. Amidships was the bow of the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) with an F-14 nose-down and ready for launch. Next to it was an F-8, with an F-18 cued up for the catapult. Above and behind them was the carrier’s island. And to their right was the world’s only surviving SR-71B, the two-seat Blackbird.

The main exhibit hall was designed “to be a different environment for an air and space museum,” said Thrash, describing it as part museum and part theme park with four rides, in balloons, biplanes, and parachutes. “People who love airplanes love airplanes. At the same time, there are so many people who don’t realize that they love the science and technology behind the airplane, and their history as well. So, we designed this space to display different reasons for people to come to the Zoo.”

Describing the diversity of the regional and Kalamazoo community, “we want everyone, especially young people, to see themselves reflected in these heroes of aviation and space that we celebrate,” said Thrash. “A small piece of that is this Smithsonian exhibit called Black Wings, American Dreams of Flight. It traces the history of Black Americans from Bessie Coleman to Mae Jemison and Ronald McNair.”

The Zoo crew continues to expand the big women in aviation and space exhibits that are situated throughout the museum and highlight women from the “real riveting Rosies of World War II” to today, Thrash continued. Exploring later on my own, the mural, among other things, subtly but without equivocation, reinforced the level of detail the museum employed to reflect the community it serves. While airplanes of the different eras fly on the mural near the exhibit hall ceiling, families and individuals enjoying picnics at the floor level make it clear all are welcome here.

To be continuedIf you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

 

PreFlight Camp Introduces Girls to Aviation Opportunities

By Scott Spangler on September 20th, 2021 | Comments Off on PreFlight Camp Introduces Girls to Aviation Opportunities

Meeting at U.S. Air Force survival school in 2007 and reflecting on the unexpected opportunities that introduced them to aviation, Liz Greene and Kristen Franke conceived an idea that became the nonprofit PreFlight Camp whose mission is to make girls 11 to 14 aware of aviation and its career opportunities.

“We’re past the point of receiving negative feedback. Gender representation is turning around in medicine, engineering,” said Franke. “It just lacks exposure, reaching out to half the population is what the aviation industry desperately needs. You can’t be what you can’t see!”

The founders didn’t know flying was an option because they’d never been exposed to it or had someone explain the opportunities to them. For Franke, it was an ROTC officer at the University of Missouri who urged her to take all the pilot tests.

“I just wanted a job. My grandfather was an Air Force pilot who flew heavy airplanes, but he died when I was 5, so he wasn’t an influence,” she said. “My grandmother took me to some air shows, but the thought of becoming a pilot never entered my head. When the recruiter encouraged me to take the pilot tests, I didn’t know about the 10-year commitment. Take the tests, he said, you can change your mind later. So, I did, and I owe him for encouraging me to try something I never considered. Nobody told me I couldn’t do it; it just never occurred to me.”

Greene’s story is similar, Franke said, and they bonded during their weeklong overlap at survival school and sustained their friendship over time and distance. Greene was a C-21 and KC-10 pilot stationed at Ramstein, Germany, and Franke was a C-17 pilot out of Charleston, South Carolina. “We went to Ramstein all the time.”

The founders left active duty in 2014 (Franke now flies the Airbus 221 for Delta and the C-17 for the Air Force Reserve and Greene flies for Hawaiian Airlines) and met in South America, where Greene was on a four-month travel journey. “I had some time off, too, so I flew to Colombia, went for a hike, and cruised from Cartagena to Panama on a chartered sailboat.”

It was during that trip that Greene delivered her “brain baby” that became the PreFlight Camp, said Franke. “I was just the enabler. “We didn’t know flying was an option for us initially, we fell into it, and we thought, in the spirit of the WASP legacy, sisterhood, and as role models, we could do better for the next generation.”

PreFlight Camp debuted in 2016 as a six-day, overnight camp held at Texas State University in San Marcos. The following year the founders participated in EAA AirVenture’s AeroInnovate business accelerator. As a 501c3, PreFlight Camp was the first nonprofit booth at EAA and received an Aeroinnovate grant.

The camp returned to Texas in 2018 and 2019. After the pandemic standdown in 2020, it adapted as a day camp at Colorado Skies Academy in Centennial, Colorado, and 12 campers and two junior counselors participated from July 26-31, said PreFlight’s president and board chair Morgan Mitchell. The camp counselors, recruited through social media and word of mouth, are (like the four-member board) all volunteers.

“Flexing to the day camp option instead of the overnight was great and we didn’t have any problems,” said Franke. “Colorado Skies Academy enabled us to hold almost all of our activities in the large cafeteria with garage doors. We kept the garage doors open whenever we were holding camp and the campers and volunteers were required to wear masks if they were unvaccinated.”

As it has at preceding camps, the week consists of lessons, hands-on activities, and introspective discussions in Aircraft Components, Aerodynamics, Weather, Weight and Balance, Communication, Navigation and Goal setting.

“We close each activity with an introspective question to help the girls think about what they are interested in. The four forces of flight is an example; related to life, what drags you down, what lifts you up, and how do you keep them in balance? Ultimately, PreFlight gives girls the courage and confidence to look around the corner, to do something different,” said Franke.

“We were also able to take all the campers on a tour of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where they got to tour the airfield and campus, sit in a glider, use the simulators, and hear from some awesome female pilots that work there,” she added.

“At the end of camp, they all got a discovery flight with a female CFI provided by Aspen Aviation and learned how to preflight the plane. While they waited their turn for the discovery flight, they had the run of the Exploration of Flight Museum as well as the opportunity to check out 2 T-6’s that flew in from Randolph AFB, Texas. To cap it all off, Col Kim Campbell, (first female solo demo Thunderbird pilot, now retired) spoke to the girls during graduation,” Franke said.

“We liked the day camp format so much we’ll probably stick with it for the foreseeable future. We plan to hold camp in Colorado in 2022 as well as tentative plans to hold a second day camp in Texas.” And efforts to grow the organization continue as well, seeking funding to support multiple camps and pay staff. Ultimately, the people behind PreFlight Camp “focus on quality, not quantity,” said Franke.

Mentoring campers is an open-ended commitment. “The mother of an Indian girl who attended our inaugural camp called us and said her daughter, who wants to be an engineer, also wants to be an astronaut; what classes should she take in high school? We didn’t know, but we found someone who did.”

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

A Sign of Ice

By Robert Mark on September 12th, 2021 | Comments Off on A Sign of Ice

                American Champion 7KCAB

Although this story is old, the details and the learning experiences are as valuable today as they were years ago. Rob

__________________________________________________

Inexperience, stupidity, get-home-itis — take your pick. Any of them applied to me one late November evening as I cruised over Chicago’s Loop with an electric night sign slung beneath the belly of an old, but well running Champion Citabria 7KCAB.

It was supposed to be a routine advertising sign trip over Soldier Field adjacent to Merrill C. Meigs Airport (CGX) on the lakefront. I’d flown the trip many times before and I knew the area well. At the time I had about 400 hours and a commercial certificate under my belt. I was working on my instrument rating.

The Job

The night sign – a conglomeration of wires and lights – was usually hung under the Champ in the fall when the nights were longer. It was an old design that resembled an early mobile billboard, a chicken-wire cage running from wing tip to wing tip underneath the airplane and would show whatever message was programmed into it. To the aircraft owner the sign meant extra income. To a pilot the sign meant a paycheck too, but it also represented extra drag.

As I prepared for the flight from Palwaukee Municipal Airport (now Chicago Executive), I was aware that light snow was forecast, but not for nearly three hours after that night’s job would end. Unfortunately, as I approached the plane, I noticed it leaning to one side because the right main tire was flat. After some quick phone calls to the customer about the delay, I managed to find the night mechanic to fix the tire. More than an hour late, I rushed to get airborne into the now darkened sky.

I hadn’t checked the weather for almost two hours, but when I did, DuPage Airport to the west was still good VFR. I didn’t think to check the weather at Rockford, about 30 miles northwest of DuPage. If I had, I would have known that it was already reporting a 200 overcast and a half-mile in snow.

Night signs slung beneath some aircraft.

I turned on the night sign while still about six miles north of the target, figuring the customer had the extra bit of time coming. I circled around the target many times, and the conversation with the tower controller at Meigs made it tough to tell who was more bored.

The Weather

I’d been over the target for perhaps half an hour when I saw lightning to the west of the city. I called Chicago Flight Service and learned that DuPage was IFR in snow, with a thunderstorm, too. I had to do something. But with only $3 in my pocket, I wouldn’t even be able to pay for the cab ride back to my apartment if I landed at Meigs. I made a few more passes around the target to give the customer his money’s worth before I bade the Meigs controller good night and headed north up the Lake Michigan shoreline toward Palwaukee. Actually, Palwaukee is northwest of Meigs, but I didn’t feel comfortable flying over the city at night in a single.

Three miles north of Meigs, drizzle began that sounded like thousands of tiny grains of sand hitting the plexiglass windshield. The visibility was still good, so I figured that I was home free, even though the outside air temperature was near freezing. As I looked toward my destination, I realized that some of the city was beginning to disappear in the precipitation. I thought about it for a minute and decided that it was time to break my rule and fly over the city.

The intensity of the rain seemed to increase, but only for a short time. Then, the only sound was the constant drone of that 150-horsepower Lycoming. It took me a few minutes to realize why much of the noise had disappeared and why I no longer saw the rain streaming across the windshield. The precipitation was freezing. I saw tiny drops of ice clinging to the struts and tires; but, most of all, it was clinging to the hundreds of feet of wire on that big night sign.

My Decisions

As I looked behind me to the shoreline, I decided it was too late to turn around. Palwaukee, now six miles ahead, was reporting three miles visibility in freezing rain. I did the only thing that I thought I could — I climbed — hoping to give myself more time once this big block of ice decided to come down. Straight ahead, the rotating beacon of what was then the Glenview Naval Air Station seemed to beckon. For years, I’d been told that civilian airplanes were not allowed there except in emergencies. The lights of Glenview’s 7,000-foot runway reflected off the ice on my sign as I passed over the field.

Palwaukee was two-and-a-half miles away as I flew a straight-in approach to Runway 30 Right. Even though I was still holding full power, the aircraft was beginning to descend. A mile out on final, I was down to about 400 feet agl. The icicles hanging from the night sign looked like stiff tinsel. I held full power almost to the ground. About six feet above the runway I began easing back on the throttle. As the rpm slowed through 2,250, the old Champ gave up the fight and fell to the runway. I don’t think that airplane rolled more than 200 feet before it stopped. The snow, sleet, and freezing rain were now so heavy that I could barely see the tower half a mile away.

As I taxied closer to the fuel pumps, I watched the line attendant’s eyes widen in amazement. I shut down and took a few deep breaths before I got out. Now it was my turn to look surprised. The little taildragger looked as though it were encased in clear plastic.

After I tied down the airplane, I headed for the airport restaurant and some coffee. I ran into one of the charter pilots I knew and told him what had happened. “Why didn’t you land at Meigs?” he asked. “Why didn’t you declare an emergency and land at Glenview?” he continued. “Why didn’t you keep closer track of the weather? What kind of decisions are those?” By now, I realized that most of my decisions had been pretty poor.

I had been presented with plenty of options but had been too single-minded on getting home to see them. That night I learned there are always other options … you just have to look out the windows to see them. When you see them in a worst-case scenario, as in the airplane and you might not survive, the decisions come much easier.

This story was originally published in AOPA Pilot.

Rob Mark