Monday, June 27, 2011

Appreciating Local Aviation

Some of the Airplanes on Display in the Antelope Valley

I suppose every town has the attraction that they take for granted—old graveyards in England, or those pesky peacocks cluttering up the fields in India. (Yes, there are places in the world where the peacock still lives free and wild, and indeed thrives—that is, besides the L.A. Arboretum and surrounding neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley.)

In Cairo, this policeman was so bored by the Pyramids, he couldn’t stay awake.

For us, besides the delightfully Martian strangeness of Joshua trees, I think many of us take airplanes more or less for granted. I know that I do at least, so my daughter and I tried to make a survey of planes on display that nobody ever stops to appreciate. After all, they represent a mix of scientific achievement, military heroism, and just plain aesthetic coolness. Yet we see them so often, it’s hard to see them.

To start closest to my daily routine, here is the too-often-ignored Douglas Skyrocket, located on the center of the AVC campus.

The marker says that this was just one of three in this series, and that a sister plane was the first manned vehicle to go twice the speed of sound. As I recall that was 1953, and one of the charming aspects of this plane are the swept-back wings and the pointed nose cone, reminding me of hours of “spacecraft” doodling that I made on the margins of my school work all through the Cold War (the early part of which coincides with the classic era of Science Fiction).

In case anybody is tempted to ignore this plane, its sister vehicle (the one that went Mach 2 first) is on display in Washington D.C. at the National Air and Space Museum. Do a Google search for this series of three planes and Wikipedia lists AVC as a place to see one.

It was not always appreciated for its glorious history. During the Vietnam War this part of campus was a protest site. I have been told by older (now retired) faculty that they used to stage middle-of-the-night raids to paint flowers and peace symbols on this plane, much to the anger of the then-administration. Now neglect, not protest marches, is its biggest problem, and as the campus trees mature, it serves more as a roost for pigeons than it does as a site for the contemplation of America’s race for space.

One of the local tribute displays still in good shape is the prototype for the F-18 Hornet that seems about to burst off its plinth outside of Jethawks Stadium.

This one has a very detailed narrative plaque which mentions that after being retired from flight tests by the US Navy it came to Edwards as a research vehicle, where it made another 500 flights. When you look at the design, it seems as if you should be annoyed (or at least confused)—are the darn wings pointing up or down or what? Yet it coheres, visually, into an overall impression of muscular, vigorous flight. These seems like the kind of plane that wants to point at the horizon and have the afterburners kick on full bore.

It makes a better impression than another connection to the Vietnam War, the F-4 Phantom on display at the corner of Sierra Highway and Lancaster Blvd.

I think I like the view from behind best:

The story about it is a bit hard to make out. Even though this was just installed in 2002, already the plaque has weathered in such a way it is hard to read all of the words. I remember this plane because I grew up during Vietnam. The marker mentions a fact that I knew already: this plane was unusual in that it was in use simultaneously by the U.S. Marines, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force. Probably only the .45 side arm, certain brands of chewing gum, and foil-wrapped contraceptives share that unique overlap.

AVC’s other plane seems to be a bit of a let-down, since it’s a model only, much smaller than the real thing.

All of us must have seen these in flight around the Valley, and as far as my own personal opinion, I just want to say WOW. I just think the B-2 looks way cool. True, if I wanted to be an irate taxpayer (or a liberal) (or both), I might point out that a single one of these cost more than AVC’s budget for fourteen and a half years. No wonder Congress cut the order by something like 80%. They look fabulous and I will assume the claims for stealth are justified, by o mama, the cost, the cost.

An overlooked model, more impressionistic than literal, is at a hotel on Sierra Highway now called Shadow Park Inn. This art installation is titled “Flight” and is credited to Alan Stubbings and Dion Wright.

It is easy to drive past this without noticing it, but this is one of those pieces that has been so well conceived that even the shadow it casts is interesting. I am not quite sure about the bird, though, which more or less resembles a peregrine falcon with an extra-long tail, though it also has kind of an air about of the seabirds called gadfly petrels (genus Pterodroma), a bird which one sees off the continental shelf flying like the proverbial bat out of hell. A subtitle on the plinth says “inspiration and imagination,” so I assume that the literal bird is giving birth to the airplane bird. So far, if we are just doing a comparison, the average sparrow still beats the pants off us, and when you think about birds like albatrosses (animals that can circle the globe for years) or the Arctic Tern (which migrates from the Arctic the Antarctica every year, following the endless summer), our planes that lumber along spewing out contrails of exhaust and need thousands of dollars of aviation fuel just to go from here to Sacramento—well, they’re just not there yet. The frigate bird which is commonly seen in the Sea of Cortez or parts of Hawaii has a wingspan of seven feet yet the skeleton just weighs about as much as a summer paperback. God or the Master Designer seems way ahead of us in the strength to weight ratio stuff. This albatross below that I photographed in New Zealand will spend five or six years at sea, sleeping on the wing and never bothering to stop on land until it needs to breed. Wouldn’t you love to have a car that only needed to be taken to the gas station in odd numbered years, or that could be driven night and day without stopping?

No bird can fly from New York to London two hours, though. The SR-71 Blackbird is one hell of a fast airplane—try a top speed of several thousand miles per hour. My uncle worked at the Skunk Works and once the details were classified, had stories to tell me about it. The basic idea is that if those pesky Ruskies launched a surface to air missile to shoot it down, the Blackbird would just fly so fast it would outrun the enemy missile. In 1990, a Blackbird went L.A. to Washington D.C. in under an hour. Heck, I have to wait that long sometimes just for them to find my checked luggage.

In this shot, the production model is on the left and the prototype on the right. The starter cart to crank over the engines on these machines had in them two Chevy V-8 454 engines, used to get the pre-ignition burn. Supposedly as the tetraethyl borane lit up, green flames came out the back. Sounds like beauty to me. These planes are of course at Blackbird Park in north Palmdale, near the now-defunct public airport. In the same collection as the SR-71 is this engine, below.

I am ready for Ed “Big Daddy” (aka Rat Fink) Roth to customize it a bit: maybe a touch of chrome, maybe stick a VW bug cab on top, some fuzzy dice, then light the fuse and bingo—shoot down the 14 before your favorite CHP officer can say “license and registration.”

Up, up, and away.


  1. Yes, it has glorious history. Its looks better from behind and side. I really appreciate local aviation.
    ground service equipment

  2. "cách chữa hôi miệngHiện nay theo thống kê của năm 2016 thì hiện nay những người mắc phải căn bệnh hôi miệngđã vượt lên con số 80 triệu người

    cách chữa trào ngược dạ dày thực quảnLà những biến chứng có thể xảy đến của bệnh trào ngược dạ dày.
    trị trào ngược dạ dày ở người lớnBình thường co thắt dưới thực quản chỉ dãn mở ra khi nuốt, sau đó sẽ co thắt và đóng kín ngăn không cho dịch dạ dày trào ngược lên thực quản
    viêm thực quản trào ngượcViêm thực quản trào ngược là tình trạng bệnh về hệ tiêu hóa khá phổ biến hiện nay và theo thống kê, tại Việt Nam bệnh này đang có nguy cơ tăng không ngừng
    trị trào ngược dạ dày bằng đông yBình thường, vòng cơ ở dưới cùng của thực quản được gọi là cơ vòng thực quản dưới, có tác dụng ngăn sự trào ngược lên của acid
    cách trị hội chứng trào ngược dạ dàyTrào ngược dạ dày thực quản là một bệnh lí của hệ tiêu hóa, bệnh thường gặp phải ở những người trưởng thành
    khám bệnh trào ngược dạ dày ở đâuRất nhiều người đã tìm uống đủ các loại thuốc khám ở nhiều nơi mà bệnh tình không mấy khả quan
    trào ngược dạ dày có nguy hiểm khôngDạ dày thực quản đang dần phổ biến hiện nay, tính đến thời điểm này có khoảng 14 triệu người đang gặp phải căn bệnh này
    triệu chứng của trào ngược dạ dàyMỗi người có các triệu chứng bệnh khác nhau, nhưng thông thường việc đau tức ngực gặp rất nhiều ở bệnh nhân bị trào ngược dạ dày thực quản.
    trào ngược dạ dày nên ăn gìBệnh ban đầu có những triệu chứng nhẹ, nhưng nếu không chữa trị sẽ càng nguy hiểm về sau."