Thursday, October 16, 2008

A day at the museums

One of my favorite things about living in southern California is the plethora of aviation museums within day trip distance. There's one in Palm Springs, and two more in Chino. March Air Force base in Riverside has one, and there's another in San Diego. I believe there's one at Edwards as well, and quite likely others I'm not aware of (yet). I'm a member of the first three, and recently made a day of visiting them. I love going to air museums - I can spend hours wandering around and looking at details of some plane or other. This can be tiresome for any friend who's along, as they'll have been through the entire museum twice, only to find that I've never made it beyond the first exhibit.

Getting good pictures of an airplane inside an air museum is virtually impossible. By dint of their sizes and shapes, airplanes are difficult to arrange inside enclosed spaces. Collections of flyable aircraft are somewhat better, since they have to be moved about from time to time. Even so, they end up crammed together; linemen call it 'stacking the hangar'. It's safe to say that shooting them inside the museum limits you to snapshots. I've got plenty of examples, and here are some:

This shot demonstrates the problem: It was impossible to get a clean shot of the Lightning. It's too big to shoot up close, but there's no way to avoid the clutter in the background - or foreground.

Another difficulty in photographing aircraft is that it's hard to establish a sense of scale. Here, the Jeep gives you some idea of how big a P-47 really is.
That green thing in the foreground is a German V1 buzz bomb.

This has gotta be one of the ugliest planes I saw. I think it started as an F9F, already not the prettiest of aircraft, and the camera nose adds a magnitude of ugly.

No Harvey, it's not a Twin Beech. This is a Lockheed model 12 Electra Junior, a smaller version of the aircraft Amelia Earhart flew to oblivion.

This is a Japanese Baka bomb. Before today's smart bombs, this was how you gave your bomb intelligence: you put a suicide pilot in it for a one-way trip.
The irony of this photo is the sign on the wall.

As big as the WWII fighters were, the Cold War jet fighters were larger still. Why they had a Bellanca Super Viking parked next to the Convair Delta Dart, I don't know, but it helps to give an impression of the size. Not too many of the Century-Series jet fighters survive - most flew their final flights as target drones for air-to-air missiles. A similar fate has befallen many of the Vietnam-era jets as well. On the other hand, what else could you do with one? Unlike surplus jeeps or trucks, but much like tanks and howitzers, there's really not much these things are good for outside of their military roles.

How do you get the engine out of a jet fighter?
In the case of a T-33 or P-80, you take the whole tail half of the aircraft off.

This is what a T-33 normally looks like.

Another museum, another P-38. This one still flies.

A real Zero - and the only Zero in the world that flies with its original engine.

The ubiquitous Stearman. My friend Harvey has one of these. Nonconformist that he is, his isn't yellow or sky blue. Actually, these pictures are for his saintly wife, who must have the patience of two or three Jobs. Theresa - this is what it looks like when it's assembled!

Harvey has one of these, too. I'm not sure Theresa's ever seen it in one piece, either.

Lest you think Harvey's the only one collecting museum pieces, I've got two of these.
Neither of them is, or will ever be, green.

However, in the contest of which one of us has the coolest toy, he's currently in the lead with one of these engine hoists - I don't have anything to compare.


  1. `Just a few questions: You comment that the P-38 still flies, but the sign implies that they all can? Or did you mean P-38s in general? Then there's the car trunk in the foreground in the picture of the T-33, do you know what it is? And I trust that the little plane under the Stearman is a toy? Well, I guess they're all toys now; I mean a model?`Anyway, neat photos!

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  2. I had the opportunity to fly in Steve McQueens Stearman back in the eighties. A friend owned it and flew out of Torrance Airport. We took it over the ocean just off of San Pedro and did a few wing-overs and hammerhead stalls and flew back. Gene told me the one prerequisite to flying is if I got sick and felt like throwing up, he told me to too pull my shirt collar open and keep it in my shirt! He was serious and I couldn't blame him, that cockpit was clean to perfection.