Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pima Air and Space Museum

Odometer 37959
Trip 235 mi. (Car)

Friday March 14, 2014

Today was our much anticipated trip to Tucson to see the Pima Air and Space Museum.  We planned to get a, ahem, early 9:30 AM start.  As we have reported in earlier blogs, the trip from Huachuca City to Tucson is about 60 miles- a one hour trip.  We dressed for the cooler weather we have been seeing in our area which is abouve 4,000 ft, and it looked like it could get very warm in Tucson at 2,600 feet, with bright sunshine.

There are 60 acres of territory to explore and 99% of it is open to the public.  The planes are not roped off and you can do anything but climb on, or deface them.

    Above is the B-17G Flying Fortress

There are five large indoor display buildings on the 60 acres- and in all- over 300 different aircraft to see.

We were going to have to pace ourselves.
    B-29 bomber 

The big bombers are always a big draw, and this one was elevated so you could look up into the open bomb bays and see quite a bit of the interior.

    F-104G fighter 1958- 1980

Jeff went on a B-line towards the F104G shown here as he wanted to measure the aleiron and wing flap.  

Jeff and good friend Mark Lankford visited the crash site of an F-104 in the desert near Ajo this winter. 

                                                    Airfoil found near Ajo, AZ

Quite a few miles away they found an airfoil that looked as if it may belong to the 104- so measurements  may confirm this.

Jeff was also keen on studying an AT-6C Texan, as he and Mark spent many hours in the desert looking for one of these (or parts of one) at two different crash sites.
The Texan as it was known was a very popular trainer for WWII pilots, and the Ajo Gunnery Base near the town of Ajo had many of these during that time.  Mark is able to get the old (now declassified) documents that detail the Incident Investigation done by the Army Air Corps.  Unfortunately all that is spelled out is an azimuth from the Gunnery Base and a distance.  GPS helps us get to that spot and the search radiates out from there.  We believe that the Army was fairly casual about the accuracy of those two numbers, as pre-GPS they were not all that easy to confirm. The more I know about what they look like- the more likely I'll recognize a part of it if I find one.

    Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation - in use from 1946- 1970

Joan's Uncle Craig flew for TWA around this time and this brought back some bittersweet memories of when he was still alive.  Craig Bidgood began his career flying helicopters for the military in the Korean War, and transitioned into flying passenger airlines after the war.  Craig died in a crash in his personal craft, a V-tail Beech Bonanza in 1978.  He has two sons that followed in his footsteps with aviation careers.

    Beechcraft Starship 2000A manufactured from 1988-2003 by Burt Routan's company Scaled      Composites

The Starship shown in the photo above was designed to be the successor to the Beech King Air.  The design called for a totally different manufacturing system than had ever been used commercially.  It was built using composite materials- carbon fiber composite for it's structure, used two pusher propellers, and a forward small wing called a canard, and the vertical stabilizers were on the end of the wings!  It was the first use of the all "glass cockpit" - no mechanical gauges - just digital readouts on a glass screen.  At this time no civilian aircraft of this type, and construction, had ever been certified by the FAA.

The use of carbon fiber and composites made the plane more expensive than aluminum construction,  however the plane handled superbly, and with the canard was very hard to stall.  The pusher arrangement made the cabin quieter, and the planes were very luxiourious inside.   Beech only sold 11 planes is 3 years, however production continued until 1995 when Beech decided that it was too small a fleet to economically continue supporting. (53 total were built)  Beech began destroying the Starships in it's inventory, and buying back planes it had sold.  Today there are 9 survivors in private hands and at least 5 in museums.  Although it did not work out for Beech, it was not the fault of the design- because as we all now know this is the construction that made possible the Spaceship One, and the winning of the X-Prize

Speaking of research in aircraft technology the Budd Company developed this transport for the Navy during WWII.  It was feared that there could be an aluminum shortage and the government was pushing for the use of non-strategic materials.  Budd, a manufacturer of railroad passenger cars, contracted with the Navy to build the RB-1 Conestoga using stainless steel instead of aluminum.  The Navy initially ordered 600 and the Army an additional 200
The Budd company used an innovative method of spot welding the seam making for a very smooth rivetless installation.  In the end, the aluminum shortage was never realized and fewer than 17 of these stainless steel cargo planes were built and those went directly to storage, never seeing use in WWII.  They did fly briefly for the Flying Tiger freight airline after the war.

Lucky for Joan and me, PASM also operates a powered tram and guided tour, because by 2 PM we were getting sore from walking.  We gladly hitched a ride for the next hour.

    The Aero Spacelines Super Guppy built circa 1965  only one ever built.  -4 sister ships very similar.

The Super Guppy shown here is one of a kind- it's 4 siblings had more powerful motors and were called Super Guppy Turbine.  Only 5 ever built, they used the fuselage of the military varient of a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and were heavily modified as you can see to give a cargo area of 94 feet by 25 feet.  They have been used extensively by NASA and also by Airbus to fly large sub-assemblies from a remote manufacturing place to the assembly plant.  It's ability to hinge the cockpit off to the side allows it to swallow some very large cargos.  NASA's is the only one still in operation, the other four are right here at PASM.

    Sikorsky S-64 Sky Crane (now the type certificate is owned by Erickson) manufactured 1962- to  present day

The Sky Crane is well known to us-  Joan and I lived in Medford, OR where Erickson has purchased and refurbished these for many years.  The original designer and manufacturer, Sikorsky, started manufacturing the S-64 in 1962 and over the years110 Sky Cranes were built.  Early on, the military saw the potential here and made an initial purchased of 6 of them.  (presumably more over the years) Erickson Air Crane, an Oregon company, bought the type certificate and manufacturing rights to the S-64 in 1992.  Sky cranes have been very active in fire fighting all over the globe- they are the go-to heavy-lift helio for construction companies world-wide as they can lift 20,000 lbs.  One of our good friends in Medford, Curt Charley, works for Erickson.

Towards 3 PM the skys got very dark and the clouds threatened rain.  We felt some rain drops, and the wind started to pick up dust and grit- we decided we'd seen enough.  We looked through the gift store and then headed for the car.  One thing that tickled Jeff was a pile of broken aircraft parts that you can sort through and each is priced if you want to buy one.  An empty 20mm canon shell and a practice "bullet" that fits the shell, can be purchased for $18.95,  a piece of titanium turbine blade will set you back $150!  Nope- don't need either.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

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