Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Gee Bee Hee Bees

This is one of the more fascinating aircraft at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. The Gee Bee R1 Super Sportster was a 1930's era racer, part of the so-called Golden Age of Aviation. Built by the Granville Brothers (hence the name Gee Bee), the R1 won the 1932 Thompson Trophy air race with legendary pilot Jimmy Doolittle at the controls. That was his last air race as Doolittle felt he had used up all of his luck, but apparently he had a reserve as the famous Tokyo Raid in 1942 proved.

This replica was built by the SDASM using the actual plans supplied by the Granville family under the proviso the plane would never be flown or sold. It is probably the most accurate reproduction of an R1 in existence today.

I have seen Delmar Benjamin fly his replica R2 Super Sportster (a longer version of the R1) and it looks really cool! A replica Gee Bee Z was used in the movie "The Rocketeer" and gave the movie a kick in the opening sequence.

While the original R1 and R2 had reputations as dangerous machines to all but the most skilled of pilots, the airplanes were hot fliers. The replicas are grand reminders of those glamorous years of aviation.

This photo was shot last month during our trip to Balboa Park. I love the moody shadows in this shot.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Horten 229 Just Hanging Around

We were in San Diego last month and while there I took the opportunity to visit the Air & Space Museum there in Balboa Park. Part of the reason was to see what was new and part of it was to commune with the airplanes.

This is one in particular that I was anxious to see: the full-scale mock-up of the Horten Ho-229, the world's first pure-wing turbo-jet fighter. While Jack Northrop and his company were becoming synonymous with pure flying wings in the United States, the Horten brothers were quietly pushing the design in Germany.

Ironically, it was Northrop's success with the pure-winged N-1M, which flew 70 years ago this month, that allowed the Hortens the opportunity to build the 229. Interavia magazine published an article on the N-1M that was read by the German Luftwaffe high command. They immediately requested similar designs from their industry and a whole slew of flying wing proposals appeared from every company in Germany. The Hortens, who had been experimenting with pure-wing gliders, saw their opportunity and developed their airplane. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering liked what he saw and gave them the go-ahead to build the vehicle. The first prototype flew in December 1944. It crashed in around February 1945. The Hortens were captured by the Americans in April and Germany surrendered in May.

I actually had a hand (literally) in the construction of this full-sized mock-up. Northrop was contracted by the producers of a documentary on the Ho-229 to build and test the airplane on our radar test range. The Engineering Labs model shop built the airplane, but our department made the stencils for the markings. My hands can be briefly seen in the documentary pulling the masking from the wing crosses. I can also be glimpsed in the background while the build leader was interviewed on camera.

I think I got 15 nanoseconds of my allotted 15 minutes of fame. Oh, was interesting and fun.

It was shown on the National Geographic Channel and is available on DVD from the producers. If anyone is interested, here's a link:

They did a really good job and I'm proud of my association, however limited, with the project. In any event, the mock-up was Northrop property after the shoot as our sector funded part of the project. It was donated to San Diego and hung there last year.

It looks fabulous there and they have a small theater right by the 229's location showing the DVD on a continuous loop.

My hands are famous! Life is good.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life of Riley - Part Deux

Some animals really know how to relax. Cats, for instance. Or dogs. Let's add kangaroos to the list.

It was warm that day at the L.A. Zoo, but not a real scorcher like we can get in the middle of summer. Nevertheless, warmth and nothing much to do except look at tourists gets...tiring. So what's a reasonable 'Roo to do? Why, catch some 'zees' of course. Wouldn't you?
There are some advantages to being near the top of the food chain, having no serious predators in your home habitat or being in a decent zoo and that is the ability to totally relax and let your guard down. Humans, for the most part, are terribly spoiled in this regard. There was a time when all-night watches were posted to keep the small clans and family units safe. We tend to forget that these days as our watchers are more removed from us.

But they are there. Police patrols and firemen on ready alert are the most local of those defenses. The military is the more distant, but still critical protector. At least in this country. Some countries are not as fortunate.

Something to remember in the dog days and hot nights of summer as we try to relax and beat the heat. There are always watchers - sometimes for better or worse - but there are always watchers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Life of Riley

One of my favorite animals is the Koala. When I was very young a relative passed through Australia on the way to the States and bought my sister and me each a koala bear stuffed toy. The toy was unique in that is was a very realistic representation of the koala, not a stylized, cutesy version of one. Between that and the Qantas Airlines commercials with the grumpy spokesbear saying, "I haaate Qantas...," I fell in love with the beast.

The real creature is difficult to shoot. Fortunately the L.A. Zoo has the enclosure set up in a way that you at least have a prayer of seeing one. This is mainly because they live in Eucalyptus trees and sleep about 18 hours a day. That doesn't leave a lot of room for photogenic closeups.

I got lucky, sort of, this visit. The shot above is one of the better ones, although I did managed to get a few that I liked. Most, like the above, had branches blocking part of the body, or the Koala had its head down as it was napping. I did get a couple with eyes wide open, like this one, but overall this pose seemed the epitome of Koala behavior. We should all be so lucky.

I have a couple more zoo pictures to show then I'll get back to some airplanes. It's been too long without - I'm going through withdrawal!