September 16, 2013
“Is it the pilot or the plane?” That’s the question that Reno air race announcers repeatedly proclaimed would be decided by yesterday’s 50th national championship Unlimited race. If that was the question, the answer was… the pilot.
After four previous wins in Tiger Destefani’s modified Mustang Strega, champion Steve Hinton climbed into the cockpit of a former rival—Voodoo—and handily beat Strega, denying veteran racer Matt Jackson his chance at Unlimited Gold. Having ended up in the outside position because of boundary penalties in previous races, Jackson made a mighty effort, coming from last position to second, but just could not close the eight-second gap that Hinton had opened between Voodoo and number two.
But there’s more to winning Reno than the pilot and the plane. The Voodoo crew was headed by Bill Kerchenfaut, the winningest crew chief in history.
Besides the duke-out between Hinton and Jackson, there was other drama during the week, as former shuttle commander Hoot Gibson was eliminated from Sunday’s race. On Saturday, the composite scoop atop the engine cowling of his Hawker Sea Fury 232 disintegrated, and pieces struck the windshield and other parts on the airplane, with some of the pieces being ingested by the engine. Gibson landed safely, but that was it for 232. Jackson also experienced a mayday in a qualifying race, when, at approximately 500 mph, the Strega’s canopy separated, grazing his helmet. Again, the pilot landed safely.
The 2013 National Championship Air Races had a smaller field in the Unlimited Class—13 racers, as opposed to 21 in previous years—but this year’s event was injury-free.
September 13, 2013
One of the charms of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds, on view through October 22, 2013 at the National Air and Space Museum, is the Renaissance man’s enthusiasm for the invention of a flying machine:
It will make the first flight this great bird
filling the universe with awe
filling all writings with its frame
and eternal glory to the next where it was born.
That prediction reached across five centuries to captivate Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This video clip recounts how Elachi made the decision, at the urging of a documentarian from Italian state TV, to send digital copies of da Vinci’s portrait and the Codex to Mars on the Curiosity rover.
Later, Elachi found that da Vinci had anticipated modern spacecraft design. Leonardo’s drawing (below) of a vehicle that would protect soldiers moving onto a battlefield—a Renaissance Humvee, if you will—bears a resemblance, Elachi points out, to the conveyance that brought Curiosity on the last part of its journey.
July 10, 2013
Anyone with a passing interest in World War II aviation was disappointed to learn that a treasure trove of Supermarine Spitfires, thought to have been buried in their shipping crates at a Royal Air Force base in Burma (today known as Myanmar) was only a dream.
Certainly no one was more disappointed than David Cundall, a 62-year-old farmer from Lincolnshire, England, who had searched for the airplanes for 16 years and come to the conclusion that they could be found near Burma International Airport, which, during World War II, was the site of RAF Mingaladon. Cundall had heard from veterans of the U.S. Navy Seabees that the Spitfires had been buried, and he still believes they are in Myanmar somewhere. But after a careful excavation of the Mingaladon site—careful, among other reasons, because it was the site of combat during World War II and coming upon unexploded ordnance, whether through archaeology or just dumb luck, ends badly—a group of scientists funded by online game developer Wargaming announced last January: No Spitfires here.
Last month Wargaming’s director of special projects, Tracy Spaight, organized a presentation of the group’s findings at the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon in North London. Here is a video brief of the evidence presented by the team of archaeologists and geophysicsts who traveled to Myanmar to search.
June 17, 2013
For those of you who’ve been asking when Air & Space will be available for the iPad, the wait is over.
Our June/July issue, the first produced in tablet as well as print format, is now in the app store. It’s free to Air & Space print subscribers; readers who prefer digital-only access can subscribe for $1.99 a month, or buy a single issue for $3.99.
With the tablet edition, you’ll be able to do more than read about aviation and space travel. You can watch videos, explore interactive graphics, and see more photos than we can fit in the print version — some of which let you examine an object from all angles and zoom in to see details.
We’re looking forward to using these new tools to tell stories about our favorite subject, and hope you are too. Welcome aboard.
May 3, 2013
Odds are that every person reading these words has flown somewhere, at some time, on a Boeing 747. It doesn’t have a snazzy name like Dreamliner or Stratocruiser, as do other Boeing products, current and historic. But, with its characteristic fore-fuselage hump, which exists for delightfully non-aerodynamic reasons, it is probably the most recognizable airliner in the world.
Last week, the National Air and Space Museum recognized the man who led the design of the 747 with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Joe Sutter, who retired in 1986 after more than 40 years at Boeing, helped design six of the company’s 7×7 series of airliners. Sutter took the occasion as an opportunity to urge educators to inspire the youngest students in schools to pursue careers in the areas of engineering, math, and science so that, like him, “they can stand back and see the results of their efforts, and feel a sense of accomplishment.” As the 747 project engineer, Sutter led a team of 4,500, so he knows a thing or two about leadership. During his remarks, he told the audience about a leader who had inspired him: Theodore Roosevelt. Here’s what he had to say:
“I first heard of [Theodore Roosevelt] because he was leading a group of cavalry during the Spanish-American War. He got on his white charger and gave a resounding cheer and told his people to follow him. And his charge up San Juan Hill was so impressive that the opposition dropped their guns and fled. As a young man, I had the impression that he won that war all by himself. Roosevelt’s actions helped me believe I could do something worthwhile as well.”
In his book 747, Sutter reveals the hard-fought conflicts and company politics that his team had to overcome to get the 747 into production. He ended his acceptance speech with this quote from Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat nor victory.”
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