Lunch with Champaign Lady

IMG_1409Regular readers may recall that earlier this year I set a goal for myself (and anyone else who wants to play along) of checking out at least 5 GA airports not previously visited. That’s right- it’s the 2019 Airport Challenge! Recently I took a step towards meeting that goal by spending a day at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. This little airport has pretty much everything you could ask for: plenty of GA traffic, an excellent restaurant and not one but TWO aviation museums!

Along on the journey was my friend Jim Thompson, former stairs truck driver for a major airline (now retired) and current airport ambassador. We started our visit at the Grimes Flying Lab Museum. This museum is only open on Saturday mornings so I’m really glad we timed our trip to allow us to see it.

Housed in a single hangar, the exhibits are a showcase of the life and work of Warren Grimes, who founded an aircraft lighting company in the mid-1920s. The collection includes pretty much every type of lighting you can think of… and probably some you didn’t! The centerpiece of the collection is a C45-H which was used as a test bed and is decked out with so many lights it looks rather like a flying disco. It. Is. AWESOME!

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After an hour or so we made our way over to the other museum on the field – the Champaign Aviation Museum. The first thing I noticed when we walked in the door was a C-47 on display.  These planes played an important role in WWII, particularly during the invasion of Normandy when more than 50,000 paratroopers jumped from them.  With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day coming up in just a few weeks, I appreciated the chance to get an up close look at such an iconic airplane.

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

The next thing to catch my attention was the B-17 in pieces at the far side of the hangar. Named Champaign Lady, it is undergoing a ground-up restoration using various parts from other B-17s as well as some newly fabricated pieces. It was fascinating to see how it is being assembled. It’s even more impressive when you consider it is being constructed by volunteers! One of them spent some time talking with us about the challenges of tracking down parts and securing detailed plans for such an old plane. It is definitely a labor of love. I’m really looking forward to the day when she is ready to fly.

Also at the museum is my old friend the B-25 Champaign Gal. I’ve seen her at many aviation events and if you’ve checked out my “about the blogger” page, there’s a picture of the two of us together. There were quite a number of other exhibits related to World War II including uniforms, wedding dresses made from parachutes and many, many photographs.

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My favorite exhibit, however, featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly referred to as the WASPs. The museum has life-sized cut-outs of at least a dozen WASPs, each of which is holding a poster-sized information sheet which includes a photograph of themselves from WWII, their nickname, what planes they flew and an anecdote from their time in the service. Some of their tales are absolutely priceless! The exhibit brings the WASPs to life in a way that history books cannot. I found myself desperately wishing I could have met those ladies in person!

After we left the museum we did what any self-respecting avgeek does – we grabbed some lunch and hung around and watched airplanes! One of the best things about GA airports is how close you can get to the ramp areas. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of planes that flew in while we were there.

So, what GA airfield have you visited recently? Need some suggestions of where to go? Check out eatattheairport.com! And if you are anywhere near Urbana, OH (or even if you aren’t) plan a visit to Grimes Field. Just make sure you get a piece of ridiculously delicious pie at the cafe – because the only thing better than spending a day with airplanes is spending a day with airplanes AND pie!

Want to learn more about the Champaign Aviation Museum? Check out episode 548 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast in which they interview Aimee Brower who handles public affairs, donor relations, and education.

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Photo by Jim Thompson

Museum Mayhem (Part 2): Navy Air Museum

IMG_0571By now you know how much I love aviation museums. They’re the perfect way to chase away the winter blues. But recently I found something even better. What could be better than aviation museums? Aviation museums IN FLORIDA. And when you only have time to visit one aviation museum in Florida then your destination HAS to be Pensacola. Why? Because that’s where the National Museum of Naval Aviation is.

IMG_0573This museum doesn’t pull any punches. The first thing you see when you arrive is an F-14. And it’s not just sitting tamely by the front door. No, it’s up on a pedestal, wings swept back, looking as intense and as mean as only an F-14 can look. And did I mention that it is located on an active Naval Air Station? That’s right – there’s gates and guards and people in uniform everywhere. It’s awesome.

IMG_0586Once inside it just gets better. There is pretty much every Navy airplane you can think of. There are also a whole bunch you didn’t think of. Take flying boats, for example. Sure I’d heard of them. I’ve seen the Martin Mars at Oshkosh so I know how impressive they can be. Yet somehow the flying boats at the Navy Air Museum managed to be even more impressive still. Perhaps it’s the way they drawf everything around them. Maybe it’s the way they are a perfect blend of boat and airplane. Whatever reason, I fell instantly and completely in love with them!

The main part of the museum has two floors that are crammed full of airplanes and displays, including an exhibit on lighter-than-air ships and an extensive display of airplane engines. (I finally understand how a radial engine works!) There is also an impressive WWII area that gives you a taste of what life was like on board an aircraft carrier.  The second floor of the museum is open to the main gallery areas which I LOVE because it allows you to look closely at the planes that are suspended from the ceiling. I could have spent the entire day in the main building, but I didn’t because there’s a second building that I just HAD to see – Hangar Bay One.

37507296_UnknownThere was one airplane that I had been searching for the whole visit and I finally tracked it down in Hangar Bay One. No, not the F-14 or the F-18 or the F-4  (although they are all there and they all ROCK).  The plane I was looking for was the Bird Dog. Yes, that’s right. Tucked in the midst of all these power-house fighters is an ordinary little plane that looks a lot like a Cessna… because it is. But it’s not your ordinary GA airplane. It’s a Cessna that landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, flown by a pilot who had never even seen a carrier before, much less landed on one. Did I mention there were seven people crammed into the plane’s small cabin? You absolutely MUST hear the full story. I highly recommend you listen to Captain Nick’s Plane Tale about it. 

Hangar Bay one also includes exhibits on female naval aviators, the coast guard and the space program.  There are also lots of stand-alone cockpits that you can climb into.  As is always the case, there are never enough hours in the day to really see and do everything I wanted.  However, I did make some time to stop at the museum store on my way out.

The one thing I didn’t get to do during my visit was take a look at the airplanes that are parked out back. I didn’t realize that the only way to see them is via trolley tour. The tours fill up fast and unfortunately by the time I tried to sign up, it was too late. But that’s OK. Now I have an excuse to go back (as if I really needed one).  If you ever find yourself in the area you absolutely MUST visit this museum.  And yes, it’s totally OK to listen to the Top Gun theme on the drive in

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I love airplanes with teeth!

Museum Mayhem (Part 1): Air Mobility Command Museum

9C8601B3-1F51-4CAF-9434-9C5D9F140320In my part of the world, winter means lousy weather, cold temps and very little plane spotting. It also means I go through serious aviation withdrawals. Ugh! So how do I combat the winter doldrums? Aviation museums! They allow me to get my aviation fix and keep my camera from getting too dusty. Recently I got the opportunity to visit a museum I hadn’t been to before: the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware.

0A24DAAA-7EFD-4D75-879E-3DF1A13F577EI’ve been wanting to check it out for quite some time. As the name suggests, the museum focuses on military transport and aerial refueling airplanes. In other words, the big planes. And you know how much I love the big planes! As if that weren’t cool enough, the museum is located right next to Dover AFB, home to the 436th Airlift Wing which flies both the C-5 Galaxy and the C-17 Globemaster. From the moment I saw those tails in the distance I was already completely in love with the place… and I hadn’t even parked yet!

First thing to know if you plan to visit is that most of the airplanes are outside. It rained the morning that I went, but fortunately it had stopped before I got there. The gloomy weather meant that there weren’t many people around so I practically had the museum to myself! I started by exploring the indoor exhibits. Even though the space is somewhat small, there was still plenty to see, including an exhibit on the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), a mock-up of a C-5 flight deck and a refueling boom from a KC-135. There are also several airplanes including a C-47A Skytrain and a B-17G “Sleepy Time Gal.”

Then I zipped up my jacket and headed outside. Oh my goodness they have some amazing airplanes! I was thrilled to see a few of my favorite heavy haulers including a C-5, a C-130, a KC-135 and TWO C-141 Starlifters – an A model and a B model. They also had several planes that I am less familiar with, including the C-119G Flying Boxcar and the C-124A Globemaster II. And there were a few planes I didn’t expect at all, like the F-101B Voodoo and the F-106A Delta Dart.

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A Pakistan Air Force Ilyushin Il-78 parked at Dover AFB

The entire time I was outside enjoying the exhibits, I was also keeping an eye on the AFB on the other side of the fence. I have never seen so many C-5s and C-17s all in one place! I just couldn’t stop staring at them!  Then much to my surprise another one of my favorite airplanes appeared – an Atlas 747! It taxied onto the apron, parked and began unloading cargo.  Want to make a 747 look small?  Park it next to a bunch of C-5s!

Next stop was a visit to the ATC tower. It used to be the active tower at Dover AFB. When a new tower was built they brought the old tower over to the museum. They lowered the height a bit to make it easier to climb up, but the view is still spectacular. Some of the old ATC equipment was left in place so you can get a feel for what it looked like when it was operational.  The tower is definitely one of the best parts of the museum.

The only person in the tower while I was there was one of the museum volunteers. We chatted for at least half an hour about the various planes in the museum’s collection. I learned that the C-141B was originally destined to be scrapped. However, a hard landing at Dover AFB damaged the landing gear so rather than risk flying on to the boneyard, it was moved over to the museum instead. (Now that’s what I call a good bad landing!)

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Saved from the boneyard! This is one lucky “Lizard.”

My time at the museum flew by and all too soon it was time to head home. I plan to return on one of the open cockpit days which are held the third Saturday of the month between April and October. Did I mention there is no charge for admission or parking? I put some money in the donation box, though, because the Air Mobility Command museum is definitely worth supporting. I hope you’ll go and see for yourself!

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(Av)Geeking Out

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Summer is finally here and that means it’s time to use some of those vacation days I’ve been hoarding. Hooray! As you know, I like to spend my vacation from the airport at other airports. This year I’ve added a new airport to my list of vacation destinations!

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center//Dulles International Airport

34982400_UnknownA couple weeks ago I made my first ever trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly VA for their annual Innovations in Flight Family Day. I had the tremendous honor of tagging along with my friends the Airplane Geeks who were there to record some interviews for their podcast. One of the best things about being with the Geeks was getting early access to the center, which means my first look at some of those amazing airplanes came when there was almost no one else around.

34982288_UnknownIf aviation is a religion, then the Udvar-Hazy Center is the holy land. Spending a few quiet moments in the presence of some remarkable airplanes was pretty darn close to a religious experience. I got to see a Concorde for the first time. And a Space Shuttle. And so much more. But the one airplane I most wanted to see was an unassuming little Cessna 180. I located it hanging sedately over the much flashier Concorde. The name of the plane is The Spirit of Columbus. It was piloted by Jerrie Mock – the first woman to fly solo around the world. Such a big journey for such a small airplane!

As is so often the case, two of the most memorable moments I had at Innovations in Flight were completely unplanned. The first was getting a tour of a C-17 by a friend who is a C-17 pilot. There’s nothing like learning about an airplane from someone who flies it! I have a whole new appreciation for the plane and what it can do.

The second memorable moment was taxiing across Dulles in a Cherokee. I know some of you are thinking, “Big deal! You never left the ground!” Yes, that’s true. But hello… we taxied across DULLES!!! In a CHEROKEE!!! An Etihad Dreamliner landed right next to us. We passed a Lufthansa Boeing 747. We got a close look at the international terminal AND the cargo ramp. The airport nerd in me loved every second of the journey!

My day spent at Innovations in Flight was truly wonderful. I am making plans to go back and visit the Udvar-Hazy Center again soon. So how do you follow up such an amazing experience? With an air show, of course!

Vectren Dayton Air Show//Dayton International Airport

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Coming soon: an internet campaign to get me this sign!

I have been to the Dayton airport and air show many times before. However, this was my first visit in several years. I was greeted by my most favorite airport sign in the history of airport signs. I NEED this sign! It would be PERFECT right next to my desk. Or in my front yard. Or my living room. Dear Dayton Airport: if you ever take this sign down PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give it to me!

Once I entered the static display area I was greeted by some old friends: a C-17, a B-17 from the movie Memphis Belle, an A-10 and so much more! The air show itself was the first live-action test of my snazzy new camera. I still have some learning to do, but I think some of the pics turned out really well!

The Golden Knights were fun to watch, although I can’t imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. The B-17 from the movie Memphis Belle made several passes and was lovely as always.  This was my first time seeing Redline – a two-person aerobatic team who fly RV-8s.  So cool!

 

Sean D Tucker put on a terrific performance. (Has anyone ever been able to refer to him and NOT use his middle initial?  I sure can’t!) The F-22 Raptor is one of the best military demonstrations out there.  I’ve seen it several times before and it always leaves me with my jaw hanging open.

 

Tora Tora Tora is a perennial air show favorite.  So is the Screamin’ Sasquatch jet-powered Waco.

 

And of course, the Blue Angels were amazing, as they ALWAYS are!

 

What makes aviation vacations the best, however, are the people you share them with.

If you’d like to hear more about Innovations in Flight then you MUST check out The Airplane Geeks episode featuring interviews recorded at the event.  Also check out the Flying and Life podcast episode in which Dispatcher Mike and the Airline Pilot Guy recount their adventures flying to Dulles in a 1963 Beechraft Musketeer! Special thanks to David Vanderhoof and the rest of the Geeks for allowing me to tag along with them, and to Hillel for being brave enough to allow me in his Cherokee!

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Meeting Memphis Belle

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My first exposure to military aviation came when I was a teenager. I was digging through my brother’s bookcase when a book on the battle of Midway caught my eye. I figured I’d read a page or two but didn’t expect to like it. Several hours later I couldn’t put the book down. We can launch airplanes from ships? Hell yeah! I read as much as I could find about the Pacific battles during WWII. Sure, I knew about the European theater, but the Pacific campaigns captured all my attention.

img_4821.jpgThat changed in 1990 when a movie called Memphis Belle was released. Have you ever had a crush on a movie star? Well that’s kind-of how I felt about the Belle.  I was completely captivated by it, especially when I learned that it was based on a true story. Like any good aviation enthusiast, I wondered what had become of the plane. I was very pleased to discover that it was undergoing restoration nearby and I hoped that one day I’d have the chance to see it in person.

ERTY4430That opportunity came just a few weeks ago. On what was the 75th anniversary of its last mission, the Memphis Belle exhibit opened at the USAF Museum in Dayton. It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I saw the plane for the first time. I had read so much about the Belle and about what the bomber crews went through… So many incredible stories. So many sacrifices. And at long last there she was right in front of me!

The ribbon-cutting ceremony included the USAF Museum director as well as the Air Force Director of Staff. I was surprised, however, that a couple of kids also participated. One was a 13 year old boy from England who completed his first model of the Belle at age 7. Another was a boy who had won a contest for a poster he created. It’s amazing to think that this plane has already made such a big impact on two people who weren’t born until long after the completion of her military service.

While the Memphis Belle was definitely the star of the show, she is just one part of a much bigger exhibit that tells the story of the U.S. Army Air Forces Strategic Bombing missions in Europe.  I learned about the members of her crew, who actually flew their first five missions in different airplanes. Similarly, the crew’s 25th mission was actually the Belle’s 24th. The plane flew one more time with another crew before finishing her tour. I also learned about her iconic nose art and the process that the restoration team went through to determine the best way to display her.

After spending an hour or so exploring the exhibit, we turned our attention to some of the special activities being held that weekend. We started off with a visit to the WWII reenactment camp. Then we took a shuttle over to the runway behind the museum where four WWII planes were parked, including a P-51 and another B-17. Some other planes were scheduled to be there as well, including the movie version of Memphis Belle, but unfortunately the weather kept them away.

Of course, some of the best aviation moments are ones that aren’t planned and happen completely unexpectedly. In this particular case the unexpected came in the form of Air Force One.  Actually, since the President was not on board, it would be more appropriate to refer to it as the VC-25. It was practicing approaches into nearby Wright Patterson AFB. As a result it flew low over the Air Force Museum over and over and over again. Also practicing approaches at the same time was a C-17. We sat and watched them for an hour while we ate lunch. It. Was. AMAZING! I could have watched them all day.

If you weren’t able to attend the opening of the exhibit I have some good news for you – the Memphis Belle is on permanent display! If you are anywhere near the Dayton area, you MUST stop in. I promise you won’t regret it! And if you love B-17s as much as I do, check out the Plane Tales episode: The Luftwaffe Pilot and Ye Olde Pub. It’s the story of a badly damaged B-17 that completed its mission against incredible odds and the unlikely friendship that developed as a result.

Authors’s note: A big thanks to JET (a retired airline employee and current airport ambassador) and his friend Jim for attending the exhibit opening with me!

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Did I mention that there was a C-17 and it was completely awesome?  Just checking…

All the Presidents’ Planes (and Potties)

img_7503As you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of aviation museums. One of my favorites is the USAF Museum near Dayton Ohio. I first made the journey a couple of years ago and as soon as I stepped inside I lost my mind over the sheer number of completely awesome airplanes. It was my first time seeing an A-10 up close. And the Blackbird. And the amazing Bird of Prey (yes, named after the Klingon ship from Star Trek). And… well, you get the idea. This time, however, it was the Presidential Airplanes exhibit that caught my attention.

img_6349When you think of Presidential Airplanes, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the current Air Force One – a Boeing 747. I’ve had the fortune of seeing it a couple of times recently. However, there have been a number of different planes used to transport the President over the years, and the USAF Museum has several of them including the Lockheed VC-121E, the Douglas VC-118 and the Douglas VC-54C. Perhaps the most well-known plane in the collection is the Boeing VC-137C that flew 8 Presidents – Kennedy through Clinton.

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OK, so not a Presidential Plane. But if I was the President it would be!

One of the best things about the Presidential Airplanes exhibit is being able to tour the inside of each plane. Some of the passageways are really narrow, but it’s worth fighting off claustrophobia for a chance to see how the Presidents used to travel. I found it quite interesting to compare cockpits and kitchens and seats and beds. Oh how things changed over the years! Take, for example, the Presidential Thrones. You know… potties. Toilets. Loos. Each one as unique as the plane it was on.

 

The Sacred Cow

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The very first aircraft built specifically for the purpose of transporting the President was the Douglas VC-54C Skymaster. It’s official name was “The Flying White House” but it was nicknamed the “Sacred Cow” (for obvious reasons). The accommodations were luxurious for its day. Actually, they’re still luxurious even by today’s standards. Sit on a couch instead of a tiny seat crammed next to a zillion other tiny seats? Yes please! I wish I could tell you about the Presidential Potty, but sadly it wasn’t on display. I did, however, get to see the elevator used to lift President Roosevelt into the plane in his wheelchair.

The Independence

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The second Presidential airplane was a Douglas VC-118 (a modified DC-6) called The Independence. I have to admit I was a bit amused to see an old-school pencil sharpener affixed to a wall just outside the cockpit. I guess the pilots and navigators needed lots of sharp pencils so they could write on the paper navigational charts in use back then. Or maybe President Truman just liked doing crossword puzzles.

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The Presidential Commode is a pretty fancy affair. It is connected to a private dressing room with comfy couches and plenty of space.

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President Eisenhower’s plane is a “Super Connie” that he named Columbine after the state flower of Colorado. The kitchen technology took a big leap forward with a very roomy and well equipped galley that includes not one, but TWO toasters. Because heaven forbid the President be without toast!

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As for the Presidential Bathroom, it is bigger and better equipped than the one I had in my first apartment! Even the bathroom for the President’s entourage was roomier than expected.

“Going” on a Boeing

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The Boeing VC-137C is largest and perhaps the most impressive plane in the Presidential collection. It carried 8 sitting Presidents and set the standard for Presidential livery in a lovely blue-and-white designed by Jacqueline Kennedy. One of the things that struck me about this Air Force One (other than the size) is the sheer number of telephones it has. There are phones everywhere!

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When it came time to view the Presidential Commode you can imagine my disappointment to discover that the bathroom doors were shut! Noooooo! Thankfully the USAF Museum website has a lovely 360 photo that will allow you to see the bathroom in all its golden glory.

Since I’ve already dragged this post into the toilet, it seems only fitting to close out with one last potty pic. Located near the Presidential Airplanes display is a C-141C which has a lavatory that is… well, let’s call it well-decorated.

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