May 3, 2012
Have a spare $4,000 and can’t figure out what to spend it on? How about a plastic Snoopy astronaut doll, signed by Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford? If that wasn’t exactly what you were looking for, there were hundreds of other items to be had at Bonhams’ fourth annual space history auction, held April 26: A painting by astronaut Alan Bean of Apollo 16 astronaut John Young leaping into history ($68,500); a rare Soviet space suit used during the 1969 docking of Soyuz 4 and 5 ($46,250); early Russian space posters (To Space—the Soviet way!—$1,500); a copy of Octave Chanute’s 1899 book Progress in Flying Machines, signed by the author himself ($1,187). See a few highlights from the auction, below.
This well-known image of Buzz Aldrin, taken on July 20, 1969 by Neil Armstrong, went for $5,250. The 16 x 20 inch photograph was signed and dated by Aldrin, the Apollo 11 lunar module pilot and second human to set foot on the moon.
When Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget, completing the world’s first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, the aircraft’s fuselage fabric was badly torn by souvenir-hunters. “I could feel the Spirit of St. Louis tremble with the pressure of the crowd,” Lindbergh would later write. “I heard the crack of wood behind me when someone leaned too heavily against a fairing strip. Then a second strip snapped, and a third, and there was the sound of tearing fabric…. It was essential to get a guard stationed around my plane before more damage was done.” This 4 x 5 inch piece of fabric, below—which went for $2,000—is believed to be from that historic day.
This 1964, 250-page Project Gemini manual—signed by Buzz Aldrin, Gordon Cooper, Gene Cernan, Richard Gordon, Wally Schirra, Dave Scott, and Tom Stafford—was issued to both astronauts and support personnel. The manual, which includes fold-out schematics and diagrams, went for $9,375.
Looking for something a little larger? How about a nearly 8-foot-tall prototype lunar flagpole? Bonhams’ catalog notes, “About 3 months before Apollo 11, [director] Robert Giruth asked [the Manned Spacecraft Center's] Technical Services Division to design a flagpole that could support the U.S. flag in an environment with no atmosphere. It had to be lightweight, compact, and easily assembled by astronauts wearing pressurized space suits.
The team came up with a flagpole very similar to the present example. The Apollo 11 flagpole was attached to the left-hand side of [the lunar module] Eagle’s ladder, and was protected from the heat of Eagle’s descent engines by a special heatproof shield. [Buzz] Aldrin has commented [in Apollo Expeditions to the Moon], ‘It took both of us to set it up and it was nearly a disaster…. As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn’t fully extend. Thus the flag which should have been flat, had its own unique permanent wave. Then to our dismay the staff of the pole wouldn’t go far enough into the lunar surface to support itself in an upright position. After much struggling we finally coaxed it to remain upright, but in a most precarious position. I dreaded the possibility of the American flag collapsing into the lunar dust in front of the television camera.’”
In 1966, the Soviets achieved the first soft landing on the Moon with their unmanned spacecraft Luna 9, which was also the first spacecraft to transmit images from the lunar surface. After the spacecraft landed, four petals that covered the top half of the vessel opened outward, helping to stabilize the craft on the Moon’s surface. One surplus petal, identical to the four on Luna 9, sold at auction for $4,000.
One of the most beautiful items at the auction was this lunar planning chart, signed by a member of each Apollo lunar landing crew. The chart, which indicates every Apollo lunar landing site, also includes written notes by the astronauts about their various flights. “A dream of mankind becomes true!” writes Buzz Aldrin. The 45 x 42 inch chart sold at auction for $62,500.
March 25, 2009
That is, the remote control for my “RC” airplane (it actually stands for radio controlled). The first time I watched this video of Belgian armchair pilot extraordinaire Benoit Dierickx (who flies 737s for a living) putting a super-light model F3A aerobatic airplane through its paces inside a gymnasium, I found myself tugged by competing emotions. I couldn’t take my eyes off the aerobatic whirling dervish, though the soundtrack was rather cheese-laden (recognizable as the 1962 Quincy Jones big band arrangement “Soul Bossa Nova” off my Cocktail Mix Vol. 2: Martini Madness disc, and subsequently revived in Austin Powers films). I also wondered if Benoit ever gets bored after the 983rd snap roll—this thought from someone who has never flown his own RC airplane, but plans to get way into it in retirement (if that concept still exists for my 40-something generation).
When I was a painfully bored 7-year-old at Sunday mass, I used to imagine doing precisely Benoit’s routine with an RC airplane inside the church, with a perfect landing down the center aisle as the sermon ended.
I emailed the video to colleagues and got mixed reactions. Some thought it was cool. Others wondered, as I did, if it qualified as, shall we say, a niche hobby, like synchronized swimming. But who am I to snicker? It’s serious enough to these guys, who travel to F3A competitions across Europe all year, including the 2008 European Championship during the last week of August in Calcinatello di Calcinato, Italy. I don’t know where that is, but if it’s a sooty rail yard outside Milan, it sounds more exotic than wherever I was that week. Wildwood, New Jersey?
The F3A planes may be light—this one, made of balsa wood covered with plastic film, weighs just over 17 ounces—but they’re relatively large, so you can only imagine how light these little guys are.
And the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale), the global umbrella organization for all things aeronautic, has a page describing the various aeromodeling categories such as F1 (free flight), F2 (control line), etc. You can’t deny that the F3A planes are about as maneuverable as anything in the air. Check out this routine by Gernot Bruckmann in a smaller gym. Next up: a phone booth.
Here’s something else I hadn’t seen. Sort of a version of slope soaring where the guy becomes the substitute for a landmass, and has to keep moving forward with his placard to create the effect of wind under his tiny glider. Not sure from this video how long he intends to keep this up. Seems there’s a curious little culture around indoor, mini-soaring. They look like a breathless mom following a toddler who just learned to walk.
For my money, the really cool hobby deals in flying replicas of the big jets, such as this RC version of a C-17 Globemaster that flies like a high performance fighter. Or here’s how an Airbus A380 might fly with afterburners. And who said the Concorde’s grounded? Nothing’s ever grounded, or impossible, in the RC world.