July 28, 2010
A classic symbol of World War II aviation, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is celebrating its 75th anniversary of flight today. To commemorate the airplane’s long history, at least four of them will be at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this week.
Of the nearly 13,000 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, almost 5,000 were shot down during WWII. These long-range bombers were vital to the Allied cause, and served as part of the U.S. Army’s Eighth Air Force. Only about 15 B-17s remain in flying condition today, so it’s a rare treat to have four of them—“Aluminum Overcast,” “Texas Raiders,” “Thunderbird,” and “Yankee Lady”—appearing at the same time at Oshkosh.
One of the most iconic B-17s, “Memphis Belle,” was the first to complete 25 combat missions. In line to be scrapped, the bomber was bought by Memphis mayor Walter Chandler in 1946. Restoring the aircraft proved costly, so it was moved to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it is still in the process of being restored. Two movies have been made about the airplane, one a 1944 War Department Documentary directed by William Wyler and the other a 1990 feature film.
Seventy-five years after its first flight, the B-17 is still a head-turner. If you’re interested in catching a ride in one, here’s more information.
June 22, 2010
With time running short for the space shuttle, NASA has come up with a way for the masses to journey with astronauts on the vehicle’s two remaining voyages. Granted, it’s still impossible to actually hitch a ride to orbit, but you can upload and send a picture of yourself into space through NASA’s “Face in Space” initiative.
It’s pretty simple: Just follow this link, pick a mission (STS-133 or STS-134), upload your image/name, print your confirmation page, then wait. Once the shuttle returns from orbit, you can print out a flight certificate signed by the mission commander.
Before launch, check out the participation map to see the number and location of fellow “Face in Space” travelers. In the course of one hour, I watched the total number jump from 133,405 to 133,672 participants worldwide. The United States had the most (58,170), while some countries like Greenland (9) had numbers in the single digits. As the launch dates get nearer (September 16th for STS-133 and November for STS-134), the numbers are sure to increase.
The digital images will be electronically transferred from Mission Control to the shuttle after launch and uploaded to an onboard computer, where they will remain until the computer undergoes a standard memory cleanup. The pictures are not scheduled to be viewed by the astronauts during the flight, but at least they’ll be along for the ride.