Amelia Earhart – Quotes, Pictures, and Silence.

I must have said something about 2017 being the anniversary year of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.  I lectured a couple of times about her (the first time was in 2011) and even gave a Pecha Kucha presentation a couple of years ago to a bemused audience at the First Christian Church in Pittsburg on the topic.

What brought Amelia back to my consciousness was the fact that one of my students this semester prepared a short presentation on her for an extra credit project.  It was nice to see.  She apparently visits Atchison, KS quite regularly for the Earhart celebrations.

So, just because I thought it had all gone quiet,  I had a riffle around the TIGHAR website to see what has developed recently.

What caught my attention was an entry in TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie’s blog, https://tighar.org/wordpress/earhart-project/crickets-and-corrections/. The article “Crickets and Corrections” discusses a photo which I had forgotten about, despite only being revealed six or seven months ago in July 2017.

Is this Amerlia's Airplane?

The photo showing A Japanese ship  docking in the Marshall Islands, allegedly towing a barge with Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra upon it. Earhart and Fred Noonan are supposed to be shown among the people on the dockside. Earhart is said to be seated with her back to the camera,  and Noonan is the very tall man  on the left. (National Archives / History Channel)

Well, it seems, according to Ric Gillespie, that some other information has come to light about the picture.   Another copy has emerged in a Japanese book  published in 1935, and Gillespie / TIGHAR take much trouble to examine and translate the bibliographic information showing that the photo may have been taken two years before the  famous pair disappeared.   Gillespie says the History Channel have pulled the show from its schedules. The History Channel website mentions that new information has come to light and they’re investigating.   Gillespie’s blog post is the equivalent of a British football crowd singing “It’s All Gone Quiet Over There”  to the formerly raucous opposition stands when the home team scores.

I have no doubt we’ll hear more about this,.  TIGHAR’s investigation has been going on since 1989, according to their website, and will no doubt continue as funds permit.  They have amassed an absolute wealth of circumstantial evidence. All of it is very highly plausible (personally I think their explanation is the best one and the most likely) but as they admit,  there is nothing which can prove the hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt.

We will keep watching and waiting.

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Stratocruiser

I haven’t blogged for a while – maybe it’s because of the start of the semester (which is now rapidly drawing to a close)  or for some other reason.   Actually one of those reasons was that we have been turning out the attic, sending clothes and other household items we haven’t used to charity.

A few items have seen the light of day briefly before being re-packaged, like those Roman mosaics in the England that are uncovered, examined in all their glory and then carefully covered in sand to preserve them for future generations.

What we have here isn’t quite as esoteric as a Roman mosaic, but it has a place in the fabric of history nonetheless.

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

We came across this tin toy, which Susan first assumed was mine because it was an airplane.   It isn’t, so it must have come from her side of the family.  Even without the helpful decals or lithography  you’d recognize that you had a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser  here.   It’s even more helpful that it has “BOEING STRATOCRUISER” written down the side.  I was interested in the US civil registration NX1022V on the starboard wing which is repeated in a slightly different form (N1022V) on the fuselage and tail

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

From this angle, the maker has clearly shown the B-29 / B-50 origins of the B377. I have seen a couple of photographs of the B-50 model from the same era and  it certainly appears that the same wing assembly has been used for both toys.  The distinctive shape of the B-50 extended fin is shown clearly here although the fin and rudder look more B-29 than anything – although this may just be a feature of the lithography / paint scheme.  The vestigial B-29/B-50 tail turret is not a feature of the B377.

There are other B377 models made by the Japanese company Tomiyama in the mid-50s, in different liveries and configurations.  Ebay, Pinterest and some collectors’ forums have pictures of them – or they ought to. You can find them in a Google image search, but  Photobucket made some changes recently which tend to prohibit 3rd party linking so please pardon me if I don’t show you any of them here.

The  “real” N1022V was, according to Bryan Swopes the re-registered prototype NX90700,  which first flew in 1947.   NX90700  was upgraded to full 377 standard and went to Pan American World Airways as N1022V Clipper Nightingale. Pan Am kept the aircraft until 1960 before selling it back to Boeing.  N1022V found its way to the Venezuelan airline RANSA. It was converted to a freighter and scrapped in 1969.    It is ironic that the toy has lasted longer than the aircraft on which it was modeled, although not unusual.

Boeing Stratocruiser prototype NX90700.

Boeing Stratocruiser prototype NX90700.

40 Years of Voyager

Launch of Voyager 1

Launch of Voyager 1 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, September 5, 1977, (Public Domain via NASA)

There were many things happening in September 1977. Some were good,  and some were bad.  On the good side,  I started my undergraduate career at Brighton Polytechnic (now part of the University of Brighton).   On the negative side, if you remember  Peter Gabriel’s lyrics,  you’ll know that in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko was killed by officers of the South African state security services following his arrest in August. This event, and Gabriel’s commemorative song on his third album (Peter Gabriel III  informally known as Melt, released in 1980)  had a profound effect on public consciousness of the Anti-Apartheid movement in the UK and elsewhere.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1,  the subject of this article, was launched  from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, aboard a Titan IIIE.

Voyager is currently the most distant man-made object from Earth at approximately 139 AU (Astronomical units – 1 AU is the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun). It is also the most distant object in the solar system whose location is known.

I am amazed when an aircraft celebrates 40 years in service, and this is happening fairly frequently as design life causes aircraft which I thought to be modern to be consigned to museums, whereas others are kept in service as there is simply no conceivable replacement.  I was shocked when I noticed the 40th Anniversary of the Panavia Tornado had occurred a couple of years ago (probably more). So for a Spacecraft to be functioning 40 years after launch is a thing of considerable wonder.

There are many things to wonder about the Voyager mission as a whole.  The famous Golden Records with images, recordings of voices, music and sounds (including the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”) are just one feature. Look at the Voyager website for more images and information on the mission than I could ever want to squeeze into a blog post.

For me – the picture below is the real kicker.  The “Pale Blue Dot”,  as it has become known, is a photograph of Earth taken on February 14, 1990 by Voyager 1 from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU). It was part of the Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System.  That’s us. Planet Earth takes up approximately half a pixel and is visible just over half way down the brown band on the right of the picture. The bands of colour are caused apparently by sunlight in the camera’s optics,  even from a distance of 40.5 AU.

The 'Pale Blue Dot’ - Earth seen from Voyager 1, 1990

This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed ‘Pale Blue Dot’, is a part of the first ever ‘portrait’ of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. (Public Domain via NASA)

I’ve lifted the quote below from the Wikipedia page on the Pale Blue Dot and apart from taking out a couple of the hyperlinks, present it here unaltered.  I always loved the things Carl Sagan had to say about the Cosmos, and this is another of them.  It makes an excellent way to close the article.

During a public lecture at Cornell University in 1994, Carl Sagan presented the image to the audience and shared his reflections on the deeper meaning behind the idea of the Pale Blue Dot

“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

[…] To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

 This image and others are available at https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/downloads/

 

Meanwhile, in Wyoming

plane-on-a-stick

Mick Quaal’s Beechcraft Twin Bonanza up a big pole by the side of I-90 in Wyoming.  – August 2017
(Picture by Glenda Kiger, used with permission)

Today my friend Glenda Kiger posted picture on Facebook (that’s it up above)  that caught my eye.  A yellow twin-engined aircraft up a very long pole apparently somewhere in Wyoming.

A quick Google search confirmed my first thought that it’s a Beechcraft Twin Bonanza. It may be a D50E model but the differences between the models are fairly small. I’m happy to accept it’s a D50E and move on.  The Twin Bonanza was first flown in 1949 and production began in 1951. The United States Army adopted the Twin Bonanza as the L-23 “Seminole” utility transport, purchasing 216 of the 994 that were built. (Wikipedia)

That pole, though, is obviously pretty big. The wingspan of a Twin Bonanza is 45 feet, fuselage length about 31 feet. Google and YouTube (and my Mark 1 eyeballs)  suggest the pole is 70 feet tall.  I was also interested in what appears to be some kind of device under the aircraft that might be a pivot, which would allow the aircraft to rotate with the wind, making it one heck of a weather vane.   Other posts on the web suggest that the propellers rotate freely in the wind.

The aircraft is apparently owned by Mick Quaal (hence the big “Q” on the side – you can see the rest of the name when you enlarge the picture) and is located to the east of Sundance, Wyoming, just off I-90. I had a trundle round in Google Earth to see if I could see it, but a 45-foot yellow dot in the vast Wyoming countryside didn’t stand out, sadly. Never mind, I shall try again another time.

There is also a rather nice YouTube video of the aircraft being hoisted into its current resting place.  An article in the Sundance Times (Wyoming) suggests the aircraft was put there in the summer of 2014.

Anyway, it’s something something nicely quirky for National Aviation Day here in the United States. Thanks Glenda!

More Pictures from Tulsa – Spartan Aircraft.

I wrote about the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium) last time, and only one of the four photos in the blog article came from my July 2017 visit. So here is another post, with some pictures from TASM,   concentrating on the products of the Spartan Aircraft Company.

It seems that Tulsa had its answer to Wichita’s Jake Moellendick, in the shape of William Grove Skelly (1878 – 1957).  Skelly was an oilman who had possibly been in El Dorado, Kansas at the same time as Jake Moellendick, but moved his headquarters to Tulsa in 1919.  Some years later, in 1928, he bought a struggling aircraft company, renamed it  the Spartan Aircraft Company, reorganized it financially,  and started a line that would make Oklahoma well known in aviation circles.  Skelly also began the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa. Despite his support through the Great Depression, Skelly was forced to sell a controlling interest in the business  to J. Paul Getty in 1935.   It was Getty who started the branches of the Spartan School in Miami, Muskogee, and Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Spartan NP-1 and C-2

Spartan NP-1 and C-2 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, July 2017. (Robert Smith)

Entering the museum in July,  I had absolutely no idea that the yellow biplane in the corner was anything except a Boeing or Stearman. How wrong could I be.   It’s a Spartan NP-1 trainer,  of which this is the only survivor of the 201 built for the U.S. Navy.  The NP-1 was,  in spite of its antique appearance,  the last Spartan type to be put into production.   The display panels in front of the aircraft talk about its history and the fact that a certain naval aviator called George H.W Bush learned to fly on one of these.  This particular aircraft (BuNo 3691, N28700) was stored in the Pacific Northwest for many years and came to Tulsa in 2008 after restoration.   It’s powered by a Lycoming R680 engine, not a Pratt and Whitney Wasp, as you might think.  Those are Wasps on wither side of the aircraft. One is a reduction-geared Wasp (on the right) and a direct drive Wasp on the left.

Above the NP-1 is an example of a Spartan C2 monoplane. This is Spartan C2-60 (NC11908) with a Jacobs L3 engine of 55hp.  The C2 first flew in 1931,  and this one, the 15th of 16 examples built and one of three survivors worldwide has been on display since 2009.   Apparently Spartan tried a 165-hp version which they pitched to the US government of the day, but they weren’t interested. The C2-165s were retained by the School of Aeronautics.

 

Spartan Model 12 Executive

Spartan Model 12 Executive at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.   (Robert Smith)

Nestling in front of some of the surviving Art Deco frontage of the old Tulsa Municipal Airport is the only example of a Spartan Model 12W Executive. This is a tricycle-undercarriage version of the Spartan 7W Executive (produced 1936-1940 – this is why it’s hard to believe the NP-1 came afterwards).  The 7W was the corporate cruiser of its day and was allegedly the realization and embodiment of William Skelly’s aeronautical desire.   It was designed for speed and comfort. The Wikipedia article for the 7W talks of 18 inches of sliding leg room for front-seat passengers, dome lighting, deep cushions, cabin heaters, ventilators, soundproofing, large windows, and interior access to the  luggage compartment.  The 12W was a high-speed version originally featuring wingtip tanks for longer range and a magnesium alloy skin, which was replaced with aluminum.   In the mid – late 40s,  Getty changed the direction of the Spartan company to produce trailers rather than luxury aircraft, fearing the surplus boom post-war would drive the bottom out of the market.  The 12W was restored in the mid sixties and was donated to the Museum in 2012.

 

OX-5

I had a couple of days off in Oklahoma recently,  and visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium)   which has changed considerably since I visited in 2000.  A lot of things change in seventeen years.   The museum has moved to a new building and has a lot of interesting exhibits.    I’ve  learned a couple of interesting snippets about Oklahoma’s aviation heritage which may not be new to my reader, but to which I hadn’t given much thought.  More of this will follow in other articles.

Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum

I wonder what stories this could tell.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Tulsa, OK – July 2017 (Robert Smith)

I love looking at the stories detailing the early years of aviation.  Tucked away in a quiet corner were the stories of people like Wiley Post and Duncan McIntyre. Also tucked away but neatly displayed was a Curtiss OX-5 engine.  I wasn’t going to write about it, but it’s occurred to me just to what extent the OX-5 made a considerable mark on the early years (some would say the golden age) of American aviation.  The OX-5  was an eight liter (500 Cubic Inch) V8 which first saw the light of day in 1910.  Its ancestors were V-twin motorcycle engines, but Curtiss moved into aircraft engines, and  the OX-5 was the first American aircraft engine put into mass production.  I was surprised to read that more than twelve thousand OX-5s were built.  One of its major uses at the outset was  powering Curtiss’ own  JN-4 “Jenny” trainer.

At the end of the First World War there was a considerable surplus of OX-5 engines,  and this made the OX-5 virtually the default choice for nascent American commercial aviation industry.  The Swallow of 1924 and the Travel Air 2000 (the gloriously nicknamed “Wichita Fokker” because of its perceived resemblance to the Fokker D.VII)  both used the OX-5 and both have surprisingly similar nose designs.    Douglas Corrigan’s 1929 Curtiss Robin  (see previous article) had an OX-5 engine when he bought it, and which he swapped for a more powerful Wright radial. One may speculate if he’d have succeeded crossing the Atlantic with an OX-5 powered Robin.

Then I wondered if I had any other OX-5 pictures, and yes, it seems I do.  When I went to visit the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita on a blistering June afternoon in 2015,  they had a shiny OX-5 in their exhibition.  Interestingly this one seems to have a little more of the ignition wiring in place, but not the exhaust pipe.

I’m sure there’s a story here too.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, June 2015

While we’re talking about nose shapes here’s the KAM’s Swallow looking lovely in June 2015 – complete with a rather lovely streamlined cowling covering the Curtiss powerplant inside.  Notice the slab-like radiator underneath.

Swallow Aircraft "Swallow"

The rather gorgeous OX-5-powered Swallow Aircraft “Swallow” at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, KS, photographed in in June 2015 (Robert Smith – Own Work)

And finally,  a picture (not mine) of the “Wichita Fokker”   – the Travel Air 2000,  also with an OX-5 engine. You can see why Howard Hughes wanted at least one example of the Travel Air when he was making Hell’s Angels.   Those balanced ailerons, and the fin/rudder shape are strongly reminiscent of the Fokker design.  With a Ranger engine installed,  the similarity was amazing, but that’s another story.   The nose lines of the Travel Air here are remarkably similar to the Swallow and the OX-powered Waco 9 of the same vintage.  Consider Buck Weaver (founder of Waco) and his Wichita connection with “Matty” Laird and Swallow,  and the coincidence is taken further still.  This is hardly surprising.  There are only a certain number of things you can do to make a streamlined cover for an OX-5.

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine at the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, Dauster Field, Creve Coeur, Missouri, 2006.  By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

79 Years Going The Wrong Way

douglas_groce_corrigan_28afdotmil29

Douglas Corrigan beside his Curtiss Robin aircraft – (Public Domain)

On July 17th 1938,  Douglas Corrigan took off in an easterly direction from Floyd Bennett field and kept on going.   Just over 28 hours later he landed at Baldonnel field near Dublin,  and until the end of his life he maintained he’d been trying to get back to Long Beach, California.  His aircraft was a nine-year old Curtiss OX-5 Robin,  partially re-engined with the best parts from two J-6-5 Wright Whirlwinds, (making it a J-1 Robin, technically)  and otherwise modified for long-distance flight.

Corrigan was a aircraft mechanic and a devotee of Charles Lindbergh.  Corrigan assisted in the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis and it was Corrigan who pulled the chocks away from the Ryan NYP at the start of Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927.  It’s a sad irony that Lindbergh never did acknowledge Corrigan’s Atlantic crossing eleven years later. Other notable Americans from Howard Hughes to Henry Ford congratulated him.

Corrigan retired from aviation in 1950, but apparently on the 50th anniversary of his flight in 1988 allowed a group of enthusiasts to retrieve the Robin from its hangar and start it up.  There is humorous comment on the Wikipedia page that Corrigan himself, by then aged 81, may have wanted to take the aircraft up for a spin.

Douglas Corrigan

“As I looked over it at the Dublin airdrome I really marveled that anyone should have been rash enough even to go in the air with it, much less try to fly the Atlantic. He built it, or rebuilt it, practically as a boy would build a scooter out of a soapbox and a pair of old roller skates. It looked it. The nose of the engine hood was a mass of patches soldered by Corrigan himself into a crazy-quilt design.”
Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941) quoted in Wikipedia.
Corrigan and his modified Curtiss Robin “Sunshine”

Rumours persist that,  later in life,  Corrigan dispersed the parts of the Robin to prevent it from being stolen.  I haven’t managed to track down any references to dispersed Robin parts in the Santa Ana area of California although I have no doubt a few such articles exist.

There are a few nice pictures of Corrigan and the Robin at Baldonnel in the collections of the National Library of Ireland, and Bryan Swopes on This Day in Aviation has a picture of Corrigan and the Robin in 1988 at the 50th Anniversary celebrations. The the card model site Fiddlers Green has a different signed photo of Corrigan and the Robin taken at around that time.

If you’d like to see the man himself explain things,  try this public domain clip from YouTube.

I wonder if some parts of the Robin will emerge in 2018 when we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the flight?