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/

 

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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?

One of Those Pictures

I saw Bryan Swopes had a version of this picture in This Day in Aviation the other day but I lost the place and the reference.    A quick Google search for “Mercury 7 F-106” brought a back a slightly cropped version of the picture, which is fine since in this case we’re looking at the men, not the aircraft.

The

Standing beside a Convair F106-B aircraft in a January 1961 photograph are the nation’s Project Mercury astronauts. Left to right, are M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton. (Credits: NASA)

 

I did a quick check on the F-106B in question (F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart  – AF Serial 59-0158). The entry in Joe Baugher’s website makes for interesting reading.  Apparently 59-0158 still exists and may be on the gate at Edwards AFB, having had a rather picaresque service life including a sojourn at AMARC.  A pleasing footnote.

Blue Skies, Gene Cernan

Having mentioned Apollo 17 in what turned out to be the final post of 2016 on this blog, I couldn’t let the passing of Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17’s Mission Commander, go unremarked.  Captain  Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan, USN,  passed on January 16, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  It’s always sad when these veterans and dare I say, heroes pass.  We may not know their like again.

Captain Eugene A.

Captain Eugene A. “Gene” Cernan, USN, (1934-2017)
Gemini 9A, Apollo 10, Apollo 17
(Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Fairey Delta 2 – Part 2

I was torn whether to keep editing my blog article about the FD2 and then realized I could simply write another one, on another occasion.

I’m glad I did because a quick riffle through YouTube revealed this gem of British Movietone News.   A lovely series of shots of the Fairey Delta and an interview with Peter Twiss (1921-2011) who “happened to be the lucky chap in the cockpit”  as I think he put it. I didn’t know Twiss was a former FAA pilot,  so it’s fitting in a way that WG774 is displayed at Yeovilton.

 

I was also wondering if there were any current Public Domain or Creative Commons pictures of WG774 and WG777,  partly to remind myself what WG777 looked like when I wandered through Cosford in around 1991, and happily of course there are a couple.

WG 774 rebuilt as the BAC221

Former Fairey Delta 2 WG 774 rebuilt as the BAC221. Displayed in the ‘Leading Edge’ exhibition. FAA Museum, Yeovilton, England, May 2011.  Photo by Alan Wilson CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Here is WG774 seen at the FAA Museum in Yeovilton in 2011.  You can see the extent of the modification of the wings  and undercarriage.   It’s noteworthy as the original photographer suggests that WG774 was selected for modification rather than WG777.  Was there an operational reason or was there some arcane political reason for modifying this airframe?  We may never know.

Fairey Delta 2, HP.115 abd Concorder 002 at the FAA Museum, 1984

FD2 WG774, “slow delta” HP.115 XP841 and Concorde 002 G-BSST,  Photographed at the FAA Museum, Yeovilton in 1984.  San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1984 photograph is interesting for me as I first visited Yeovilton a year before – during a heatwave in the late summer of 1983,  and this is how I believe these aircraft were displayed at that time.   The extent of the modification to WG774’s wings  is clear.  The HP.115 was a research aircraft which explored the characteristics of delta wings in slow flight in delta configuration and to demonstrate the beneficial extent of extending the delta wing forward along the fuselage.

Fairey Delta 2 WG777 at the RAF Museum, Cosford, in 2007

Fairey Delta 2 WG777 at the RAF Museum, Cosford, in 2007 Photo by Roland Turner from Birmingham, Great Britain CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally,  here is WG777 looking very sleek at Cosford in 2007.  Having seen this picture I understand why I didn’t identify the polished silver machine with WG777 in its later dark blue scheme.  Such is life and memory.    But I salute both aircraft and their pilots.