Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sentimental Journey

For those of you who weren't fans of "Twelve O'clock High," either the T.V. series or the movie, and have no idea what a Boeing B-17 looks like, here it is. The "G" model was the last mass produced version of the Flying Fortress. You can see the chin, belly and top gun turrets quite easily. It also had a tail gun position, plus two waist gun positions and two cheek gun installations. Some also had another gun sticking up from the radioman's position aft of the top turret where the dorsal spine fairs into the fuselage. All in all the later versions of the airplane carried thirteen .50 caliber machine guns.

And it still wasn't enough, even when flying in large formations with other B-17s covering you. German fighter pilots were bold and daring and the toll they took on our planes and crews was immense. Some raids in late 1943 saw 50 to 60 or more bombers lost out of the attacking force per raid, losses that approached 20% per mission. Considering each B-17 and B-24 carried a crew of 10, the crew attrition was tremendous as well. And this didn't include the damaged planes with killed or wounded crews that made it back to their bases in Britain. It wasn't until U.S. fighters started escorting bombers throughout the entire mission profile that our losses came down to an "acceptable" level. We really have no idea what casualties are these days.

I don't know if that American generation was the "greatest" of all, but they certainly can make a valid claim to it in my book - right next to the generation that fought the Civil War.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Old Shakey III

The C-17 Globemaster III is a surprisingly agile beast for something so big. When it does a tight circling take-off or landing, tactics utilized in areas with MANPADS (MAN-Portable Air-Defense Systems) threats, you wonder at how it manages to stay in the air. But it does so quite well, which makes for an impressive aerial and ground display. It's short-field landing capability and the fact it can back up using engine thrust-reversal are both show-stopping performances.

The name itself is from a long line of Douglas / McDonnell Douglas / Boeing military transports. From the C-74 Globemaster to the C-124 Globemaster II to the C-17 Globemaster III, the three types from the various iterations of the company have provided the U.S. Air Force with a large percentage of its heavy lift transports for over 60 years.

But along with the name comes the nickname: Old Shakey - so applied because the C-74 and especially the C-124 rattled and shook with great abandon while in flight. But they held together and flew for many years in front line service. Reportedly the C-17 exhibited some of the same characteristics early in it's test flight and operational career, although some tweaks have apparently lessened the shake. But the nickname remains.

And you thought genetics only applied to living organisms....

This shot was taken at last October's Edwards AFB open house.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Betty Grable Eyes

When I was growing up my favorite airplane was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. I don't know if it was because it was bristling with turrets and guns, but the plane captured my imagination. The TV show "Twelve O'Clock High," based on the outstanding movie of the same name, probably helped foster that enthusiasm as I watched it religiously.

That period of youthful romanticizing of aerial exploits was soon replaced by the hard realization of the horrors of war at 30,000 feet in freezing temperatures, black flak and deadly fighters. The documentary "The World at War," with its shocking German gun camera footage of our planes and men being shot down forever changed my perception of war. It's easy to score kills against machines; it's harder when you figure out people are inside them, no matter how necessary it seems at the time. But, as Robert E. Lee once said, "it is good war is so terrible, lest we become too fond of it."

Despite that, aircraft of all types, but especially warplanes, exert a pull on me that I can't explain. They have been a vocation and an avocation my whole life and I'm pleased and proud to be a part of the industry, despite it's flaws and shortcomings.

The bottom line for me has always been the machines. The B-17 remains a favorite, though not my absolute favorite anymore, to this day. This example, a B-17G in it's gleaming, polished natural metal finish, sports a wonderful piece of nose art of the legendary Betty Grable - she of the million dollar legs.

Nose art was especially prevalent among American aircrews and one could spend a lifetime collection images of that genre. Young men being what they are, women in various stages of dress and undress are well represented.

Peacetime nose art is less risque as the generals exert more influence over their commands and try to contain the excesses of youthful exuberance so as not to embarrass the service. But when in a war zone, all checks are usually removed as it is seen as a morale booster for the guys putting their lives on the line. With the advent of female combat pilots and crews, I'm waiting to see if beefcake joins cheesecake on the nose of warplanes. I'm not aware of any so far, but it's only fair and probably only a matter of time. C'est la guerre.

I shot "Sentimental Journey" last October at the 2009 Edwards AFB open house.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Riding on a Comet

I'm going through's time for another airplane picture again.

This is one of the first aviation photos I ever took. It was Saturday, 14 February 1965 and this B.O.A.C. (British Overseas Airways Corp) De Havilland Comet 4 flew us from Hong Kong to Singapore and then on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaya (now Malaysia).

I was 10 years old and my sister and I were on at trip with my uncle to see our Chinese grandfather, who was seriously ill in Malaya. It was my first plane trip, my first (and so far only) overseas trip to a foreign country and my first trip to a non-Western-looking culture - at least parts of it were non-Western looking. And it was my first use of a camera. My mother showed me how to use a Kodak Brownie Box Camera just days before we left.

How do I know the exact date? As part of my being allowed to take three weeks off from school, I was required to keep a journal and to make notes of the differences between life in the United States and of that in Malaya and Singapore. I still have that journal and it makes for some interesting reading today - considering it was written by a reluctant 10 year old.

I did manage to note the registration numbers on the first two airplanes we flew on: 817 and "1." I later extrapolated those to Pan American N817PA and N801PA, both Douglas DC-8 jetliners. Ironically I was sure one of them was a Boeing 707, but it did not prove to be so.

I did manage to note the BOAC aircraft, but not by name. I was quite shocked to discover much later I had ridden on a Comet. Wow!

I also remarked on the Malaysian Airlines plane we flew on a few days later. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I drew a picture of it in my journal. Later I was able to determine
that the twin-engined, shoulder-high winged airplane was a Fairchild-Fokker F-27, another nice surprise.

The Cathay Pacific jet was just mention by company name; my only guess is was either a Convair CV-880 or CV-990, even though at the time I thought it was a Boeing 707, like I thought the DC-8s were. Later research showed that the Cathay Pacific jet was more likely one of the Convairs. Both were in service at the time, so it's a reasonable guess it was one of those.

If, by some miracle I managed to get a 707 on one of the return legs, either from Hong Kong to Tokyo or Tokyo to Honolulu or Honolulu to L.A., then I would have pulled off the neat feat of riding each of the four major Western overseas jet transports types of the era! Unfortunately that's not certain, but it's nice to fantasize about.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Comparisons - Part 1

The sense of Deja' Vu that I mentioned previously is heightened by the inevitable pull of genetics. There is a reason I feel as if I've been there, done that before. The natural comparisons between parent and child are more magical for me now as a grandparent because I can see the lines and appreciate them more than when I was a child or a parent myself.

I keep telling Mike that Evie looks so much like Christie at about the same age. While I've shown that previously, it is interesting to follow Evie's growth to see how much she remains in that image. At certain angles I see Mike's traits, but more often than not I see Christie's, probably because I'm more attuned to her features and more willing to see them in Evie. But I don't think it's all wishful thinking - the resemblance is unnerving at times.

The shot below of Christie was taken at about the same age as Evie in the top photo this past December. It's there, and I continue to marvel at it.

On the other hand, I'm seeing a departure from what I looked like. I do see flashes of me in Evie occasionally, but they are becoming less apparent to me the older she gets. She is definitely her mother's child, and her daddy's as well. Grampa's traits are starting to fade rapidly, but not unhappily so.

The photo below is of me at about the same age as Evie, perhaps a couple of months older. Maybe it's the black and white photo combined with the costume, but I look more Asian in this shot than I think I've ever looked before or since. I wonder if that trend made my dad sad? He was the parent, after all, and not the grandparent.

That is Dorlinda beside me. Didn't we clean up well? It's especially interesting when compared to some of the other photos of me from that age where I look like a refugee from the 1930s Dust Bowl. I'll post those sometime later.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Deja' Vu Dancing

There is a tremendous joy in playing with small children or grandchildren. When they are happy and giggly, the world just blurs away. Mike or Christie (probably Mike) shot these two pictures of me playing with Evie during their recent visit. It almost looks like we were dancing, and in fact, we may have been imitating some of the moves.

Lest you think I'm getting too carried away, I do realize that this is indeed a common pose taken by parents and grandparents. It's just a natural act given the exuberance of kids. But it doesn't stop me from getting that old deja' vu feeling, all over again. Christie had it, too, but from a more interesting perspective. Whereas I remember holding Christie just like I was holding Evie, Christie remembered herself being in Evie's place.

Again, this is standard behavior in countless families world-wide. What is less common is to have similar photos taken generations apart. I remembered the shot below, snapped by my dad or step-mother, at a Chinese restaurant in L.A.'s Chinatown district. Christie was probably about four or five at the time, just a year or two older than Evie is now. Ironically, all of us were right across the street from that restaurant a couple of weeks ago having Dim Sum at the Empress Pavilion. How's that for coincidence? Regardless, the similarity between the three photos is enough to give me goosebumps. But then again, I'm a sentimental kind of guy, so you get what you pay for.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Austere Bridge - Huntington Library

I thought this made a nice image. The bare winter branches of the tree next to the sun-bleached wood of the bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntington Library was just too striking to pass up. I love the contrasts. I'll have to see how it looks as a black and white image.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Huntington vines

We were walking to the Rose Tea Room for tea at the Huntington Library and gardens when we passed the arbor where the grape vines entwine the arch. The leaves looked so beautiful with the sunlight glowing through them. I'm hoping Tina gets inspired and makes a painting from these images.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Holiday Memories - Part 2

One of the things that most struck me this visit was how Evie began to look. I mean that in a physical presence sort of way, not mere appearance. Personalities begin to emerge in posture, body language and attitude. It is a clear sign of growing up, or at least becoming more comfortable with physical movement and all the things that go along with that.

These two shots capture something of what I mean. The above pose strikes me as very "adult." That whole stance is one that I can easily imagine most any person assuming all the way from her age to very elderly. That is not a baby-ish way of carrying one's self.

The photo on the bottom is very silly, but strikes me as almost dancer-like in the pose. It's probably not surprising as Christie has enrolled Evie in a dance class. But she obviously is not reticent about taking that position - at least not when in class. Having an audience is a different matter altogether!

Regardless, they are both signs of a passing from toddler to child. The changes come rapidly, almost too rapidly. It is good we can take photos of those moments to freeze them in time, lest we forget how precious they are.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Holiday Memories - Part 1

Happy New Year to all! Let's hope 2010 is better than 2009.

Christie, Mike and Evie spent 12 wonderful days with us this holiday season, so 2009 wasn't really a bad year for us. Indeed, we have much to be thankful for.

We are just now getting back to normal after their visit, so I should be able to blog regularly again. I've missed it, but I've enjoyed the hiatus and what we did during it.
Evie is three now and beginning to do things that she may actually remember when she is much older. I am happy to say that Christie is anxious to give her daughter adventures and memories much like Tina and I tried to give Christie. Disneyland was always her favorite spot, so of course she wants Evie to love it as well.

And on this, her second visit, she clearly did, as seen in the photo above. In fact, we did the Teacups five times and the carousels six. And grampa got to ride Dumbo with Evie twice - the first time I did Dumbo since Christie was about 12. Interestingly it used to be one of my favorite rides when I was small, so the tradition continues.

The visit did produce some interesting observations along the way. The most striking to me was watching Evie's personality develop. For example, in the picture below, taken from the fourth floor of the Grand Californian Hotel where we stayed during our 3-day, 2-night Disney adventure, you can see in the upper left-hand corner of the magnificent main lobby floor the glow of a large television.

You have to hand it to the folks at Disney: they know how to handle things. If you look in front of the screen you can see lots of little, kid-sized craftsman-style chairs. The TV plays Disney cartoons continuously. Parents can park their kids in front of the screen while they are standing in line to check-in or check-out at the front desk just beyond the TV.

One day, we decided to split duties. We would watch Evie while Christie and Mike went on California Soaring (my favorite ride in all of Disneyland/California Adventure - although Buzz Lightyear and the Midway Madness come close) because Evie was too small to go on it. Then when they were done we'd switch. So we sat Evie in front of the cartoons while Tina and I rested in the adult chairs just to the right of the TV, where we could watch her without being obtrusive.

Evie, like many kids, is very shy around people she doesn't know. In fact, it was difficult to get her to pose with the Princesses, even though she wanted to see them. Same with the rest of the characters like Mickey and Goofy. She wanted to see them, but from a comfortable distance.

She began watching as I expected; very quietly and aloof to the other kids. She has a habit of sucking the thumb of her right hand and rubbing her bare belly with her left. It must be a comfort thing. This time, while she sucked her thumb, she was holding a small, clear Tinkerbell figurine in her other hand that had a green LED inside that you could turn on or off with a switch. It was given to her by the waitress at the Blue Bayou the night before and she loved it.

After a while, I noticed her talking to the little girl sitting next to her. She then proceeded to show the little girl her Tinkerbell and how to operate it. Then she would fly Tink around with one hand while making swooshing noises.

Pretty soon, she was talking to the boy and girl on the other side and showing them Tinkerbell. And that's when things really got interesting. As kids would cycle through, she would become the hostess and show them the screen, then Tink and then how to operate Tink - light, swoosh and all. She even let several of the kids hold Tinkerbell and one girl even ran to show her mom the figurine. That did not faze Evie at all. In fact, she began to re-arrange the chairs as kids would leave and others would come in. She took over that corner and made it her personal space. It was absolutely fascinating to watch.

These glimpses of her evolving personality make me wonder at the potential inside. And they also remind me of the power of genetics. Christie was painfully shy for a long time; and so was I as a kid. I really did not emerge until high school (at least in my mind). Christie took longer. It'll be interesting to see how long Evie takes to overcome her initial shyness around people and how strong that take-charge persona becomes.