October 29, 2013
Harriet Baskas likes going to small museums that don’t get many visitors—collections of lightbulbs, hoards of Barbie dolls, piles of nuts. In these kinds of places, Baskas writes in her new book Hidden Treasures, “the volunteer on duty is apt to follow you around.” She often asks her minders to point out their favorite items. Sometimes, the best stuff isn’t on display; perhaps the artifact is too valuable, or extremely fragile. Or maybe it’s not on view because it is too politically or culturally sensitive.
Baskas uncovered many of these hidden treasures for a 26-part NPR radio project, which she’s now turned into a book. Of course we had to find out if she included anything aviation-related. And she did!
First up: Katharine Wright’s knickers. As Baskas writes, “Katharine was sometimes referred to as the ‘third Wright Brother,’ yet her life story and her role in the birth and growth of aviation has been generally overlooked. The collection at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, includes a dress that Katharine wore to the White House in 1909 when her brothers received the Aero Club of America award, as well as a pair of knickers. Only the dress is on display. “If we were an Edwardian museum or a fashion museum, the knickers [would] be used in an exhibit,” collections manager Cris Takacs is quoted as saying. “We have not displayed them, in part because there are still some members of the Wright family around.”
Next: Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. The Apollo suits, says Baskas, were designed “to withstand temperatures of plus or minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit, radiation, and the possible penetration of particles traveling up to 18,000 miles an hour.” But they weren’t meant to last more than six months. Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit was displayed at the National Air and Space Museum almost continuously from 1973 to 2001, she writes, but was removed due to concerns about damage from humidity and light. It now lives in a cold vault at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.
Third on our list: The metal detector that screened terrorists at the Portland, Maine, airport on the morning of September 11, 2001.
The detector is now in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) headquarters building in Washington, D.C., and isn’t meant to be part of a public tour. “TSA historian Michael Smith says that’s partly because his department has only two staff people,” Baskas writes, “but it’s mostly because the main goal of the project is to share the history of the agency with the TSA workforce, which now includes more than 50,000 people at more than 400 airports across the country. ‘A lot of people…they were just teenagers when it happened,’ says Smith. ‘So it’s important to tell that story to all of our employees.’”
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Baskas writes, all of the screening equipment was owned by the airlines. “Delta Air Lines owned the Rapiscan machine the terrorists walked through in Portland, and after 9/11 the FAA pulled that machine off the line.” Eventually Delta put the machine in storage, where it remained until 2005, when the airline donated it to the TSA.
Last on our list is Colton Harris-Moore’s—aka the “Barefoot Bandit”—pilot’s operating handbook. Baskas notes that Harris-Moore became famous during “a multiyear crime spree that stretched from Washington state’s San Juan islands to Canada and the Bahamas and included dozens of burglaries and break-ins and the theft of cars, boats, bikes, and planes.” Harris-Moore was sentenced to seven years in state prison. In November 2012, the local sheriff’s office on Orcas Island called the Historical Museum and asked if they’d like multiple boxes of evidence from the trial. Included in the boxes were the pilot’s flight manuals that Harris-Moore used. The museum asked for input from the community on whether the items should be put on display, Baskas notes, as many of the locals were victims of Harris-Moore. Eirena Birkenfeld, the museum’s former community outreach coordinator, told Baskas “On the one hand is the fact that Colton Harris-Moore is now part of Orcas Island history. His presence dominated the island for many months. On the other side is the feeling that we shouldn’t be giving him any more notoriety.”
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.
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.
March 12, 2013
Turn 40 professional “freerunners” loose in an airplane boneyard, start the cameras rolling, and here’s what you get.
The video, organized by Tempest Freerunning in Los Angeles, was shot over two days in February, at the boneyard near the Mojave Air & Space Port. The result looks like a mashup of Lost and the Step Up movies.
February 4, 2013
The aviation inspection checklist seems to go on forever. There are more than 40 items to evaluate on the catapult list alone. Add another 39 for the arresting gear systems, and you still won’t have completed even one page of the nine-page spreadsheet. But it’s all in a day’s work for members of the Inspection and Survey team, who inspect all of the U.S. Navy’s ships and reports on their readiness. The system was put in place by Congress 130 years ago, and last month the U.S. Navy announced major changes to its ship inspection program.
Ships used to be inspected every five years; now they’ll be evaluated every 30 months. The inspections are critical: In the past, reports the Navy Times, commanding officers have been relieved of duty if their ship failed to pass. In 2010, the cruiser Philippine Sea and the frigate Nicholas failed inspection. In 2011, the cruiser Mobile Bay failed; Rear Admiral Rob Wray, president of the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) noted “severe problems with engines, missiles, guns, links, comms and aviation.”
We asked Captain Kris Croeber, director of external operations on the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) to explain how inspectors—the Board has around 60 of them—evaluate a ship. Croeber, who has been an INSURV inspector for three years, spoke to us by email last month.
A&S: How long is the training, and what does it consist of?
Croeber: The most important part of the training of an INSURV inspector is the years of maintenance and operational experience a member brings to the board; our inspectors arrive at the board with an average of over 20 years of experience. The training for a newly reported inspector includes required reading (instructions, references, and navy technical standards) and several under instruction (UI) inspections: this is on-the-job training that includes pairing up with a qualified inspector. The average training time is 3 months, but that depends on the experience the member arrives with and how long it takes the new member to gain the required proficiency.
A&S: How long does an inspection take, and how many inspectors evaluate each ship?
Croeber: A typical inspection will take 5 work days and is completed by a team of 15 to 25 uniformed inspectors and approximately 40 technical assistants (depending on the ship size and installed systems); a CVN [nuclear aircraft carrier] or LHD/LHA [amphibious assault ships] will be about double that. Inspectors with qualifications and experience in each particular area of a ship will inspect their portion and a qualified senior inspector (a captain with significant experience at sea) will compile all the data from the individual functional areas and pull it all together.
A&S: When you inspect an aircraft carrier, what are you looking for on the flight deck, the hangar bay, etc.?
Croeber: We inspect all installed equipment aboard the ship. For an aircraft carrier, we are not just inspecting the aviation aspects. Everything from propulsion to habitability to combat systems is inspected. From an aviation aspect, the operation and material condition of everything on the flight deck and hangar bay (catapults, arresting gear, visual landing aides, fuel systems, firefighting, electrical power, elevators, etc.) must support uninhibited flight operations. The crew operates their equipment to demonstrate it based on standard operating procedures…. We observe as the crew conducts the equipment checks.
A&S: How many inspections do you complete in a year?
Croeber: Each inspector completes an average of approximately 20 inspections a year.
A&S: What’s the most difficult part of the job?
Croeber: Telling a ship’s crew that even though they have worked hard, certain systems or equipment do not meet the Navy’s material readiness standards. We have to give the crew and their chain of command the unvarnished truth, but sometimes that can be unpleasant. On the other hand, in the pursuit of determining the unvarnished truth, there are many instances that we are able to help the inspected ship. For example, by noting issues that pertain to Integrated Logistics Support, or other issues, the ship can then use this information to more easily correct the equipment that is not performing to standards.
A&S: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Croeber: The opportunity to share my knowledge and experience of a 27-year career with young sailors to help them do their jobs better and prepare their ship for combat.
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