April 15, 2013
While meandering around aviation web sites, I came across an item that said the Blériot XI at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in upstate New York might have been the one from which Harriet Quimby and a passenger fell to their deaths in 1912. Could this be true, or is it another aviation urban legend?
Photo and illustrations editor Caroline Sheen put the question to a couple of knowledgeable folks. Says Andrew King, once an Old Rhinebeck pilot and one of the most experienced fliers of early aircraft: “Harriet was killed in a two-seater, and the Rhinebeck one is a smaller one-seater. I think it is thought to have been at the  Boston meet though, so that might be where the rumor started.”
And from early aircraft photographer Gilles Auliard, who has been shooting at Old Rhinebeck since 1988: “The Old Rhinebeck Blériot (c/n 56) was found in Lacomia, New Hampshire, in the early 1960s and is reputed to have participated in the Squantum meet, or so [Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome founder] Cole Palen told me. According to the Blériot production list, it was completed in 1909 (and it actually makes sense, as Blériot was turning out models XI like pancakes).
“Harriet Quimby was flying a brand new Blériot XI at the meet, which would imply a 1912 building date, and it was reported as a two-seater version (even though this is also questionable as pictures of the meet show her in a single-seater).
“Three years of flying in the early 1900s was long time. The life expectancy of an airplane was computed in months, not in years (even though they could be repaired and modified at will to reappear later).
“It also remains to be seen if Quimby bought a French-made Blériot or a U.S.-made copy or licensed version, as there was a plethora of authorized/unauthorized manufacturers.
“If one could determine that it was a U.S.-built machine, this would be the end of the controversy.”
So, the verdict: likely an urban legend.
March 20, 2013
The National Air and Space Museum recently posted a list of some 300 objects it wants to de-accession (translation: get rid of). The items run the gamut from socks, a comb, and mittens to a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine, a Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse, a WACO primary glider, and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
One small catch: The accessioner (taker) must be a museum or an educational organization. Hey, can do! Just hire an accountant and a lawyer to negotiate 501C status and the Internal Revenue Service paperwork.
I’ve got my eye on a G-suit so I can go swagger around a Cessna 172 at the local airstrip.
February 20, 2013
Australian meteorologist Grant Denyer went for a joyride with Red Bull air race pilot Matt Hall the other day, jonesing for an adrenaline rush. “Eight Gs,” Denyer begged Hall, after breezing through some four-G maneuvers. A few seconds after Hall began wrenching the airplane up one wing, then the other, knife-edge to knife-edge, Denyer’s head hit the backstop, eyes closed and down for the count. G-LOC, the pros call it: G-induced loss of consciousness.
Military pilots wear G-suits and/or tense their muscles to prevent blood from draining from the torso, but civvies are on their own, and rarely make it through six Gs, let alone eight. At six Gs, your vision begins to “gray out,” narrowing to a tunnel as blood drains from your head. It can take several seconds for pilots and joyriders to wake up from their involuntary nap, and several more seconds to realize where they are, which is why G-LOC can be deadly. Even more uncomfortable is the onset of negative Gs, when you “red out” from the blood rushing to your head. Pilots and airplanes can cope with only fairly light negative-G force — maybe one half of the positive G-load they can withstand.
At least Denyer wasn’t caught drooling on camera, something I fear when I doze off on a commercial flight.
November 8, 2012
It appears to have, uh, gone missing. Mitchell Yockelson, an investigative archivist for the National Archives Recovery Team, says that the Wright brothers’ patent for their 1903 Flying Machine, application number 821,393, is among several aviation-related items lost or stolen from the Archives over the years, including a Charles Hubbell print of the 1912 Fokker Spider (Anthony Fokker’s first airplane) and Army Air Forces Nagasaki and Hiroshima target maps from 1945.
Yockelson is a member of a team formed by the Archives’ Inspector General that tracks down and recovers items pilfered from the vast collection of largely federal government documents, photos, and artifacts. The Archives Recovery Team has prosecuted several cases in which the perpetrators were jailed and the items recovered. But the Most Wanted list includes civil war swords, a large portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin patent, and telegrams signed by Abraham Lincoln.
From 1969 to 1980, the patent file for the Wright Flyer was passed around various National Archives offices, and it spent some time at the National Air and Space Museum. The document was returned to the Archives in 1979, and somebody there remembers laying eyes on it in 1980, says Yockelson. When curators began planning a commemoration of the Centennial of Flight, in 2003, the patent file had vanished.
What might it fetch on eBay, where missing items regularly turn up? “Millions, I assume,” Yockelson says. “No, wait: actually, it’s priceless.”
September 20, 2012
At a Smithsonian Associates lecture, “Airborne Intelligence Collection,” held at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., this morning, speaker S. Eugene Poteat, a retired senior CIA Intelligence Officer, talked about U-2, A-12, and other aircraft ops during the cold war. All good stuff, sure, but the audience tittered like 5th graders at one anecdote in particular.
Seems that a new device to alert RF-8 Crusader pilots to missile launches had a tendency to slip from its moorings and bounce around the cockpit during low-level, high-speed recon passes. Pilots returning from such missions complained they were unsure of what they feared most: bullets, missiles, or getting conked by the launch signal receivers. Poteat and his people found an all-night drugstore, where they loaded up on dog collars (fasteners) and sanitary napkins (protective padding), and strapped the errant receivers to pilots’ thighs.
Would have loved to hear the pilots’ responses. And also the responses of the feminine hygiene industry ad men.
Next Page »