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Times Are Changing

While the C-5 was turning over its engines, a female crewperson gave the troops on board the usual info regarding seat belts, emergency exits, etc, ending with, "Now sit back and enjoy your trip while your captain, Judith Campbell, and crew take you safely to Afghanistan."

    An old Master Sergeant sitting in back thought to himself, "Did I hear her right? Is the pilot a woman?"

    When the attendant came by, he asked her, "Did you just say the captain's a woman?"

    "Yes. In fact, this entire crew is female," she explained.

    "My God," he said. "I wish I had two double scotch and sodas. I don't know what to think with only women up there in the cockpit."

    "Oh, that's another thing, Sergeant," she smiled. "We no longer call it the 'cockpit'. It's now 'The Box Office'." (— Internet; uncredited 1/20/09)

Real Hangar Flying, Really

The recent high wind experienced in Los Angeles raised havoc with some of the partially completed hangars at the new Griffith aviation field, and one building, that of Jay Gage, was lifted from its foundations and carried over 59 feet by the wind. The machines that the structure sheltered were uninjured. In a letter to AERO, Gage comments on his experience: "I knew I could make an aeroplane that would fly, but I never dreamed that I could go one better and make a darned hangar that would fly, too!" (— 1912 Aero magazine news item)

Not So Lucky Lindy

In early 1926 Robertson Aircraft Co hired Charles Lindbergh to fly the mail in war-surplus de Havilland DH-4s from Maywood to St Louis and back five times each week beginning April 15. Everything went well until Sept 26, when Lindy got lost in the fog near Marseilles and had to bail out of his plane, which crashed on the farm near Ottawa.

    Less than six weeks later, in a blinding snow storm, he hit the silk again and his plane crashed on a farm near Bloomington. Similar events followed and he became the only pilot in the nation credited with four forced parachute jumps in 1926.

    William MacCracken, the new Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics—his office would eventually become the CAA— had reports about Lindbergh being young and reckless and taking too many chances, also about the four parachute jumps. Concerned that Lindbergh's next accident might be in urban area, MacCracken investigated the crashes and gave serious thought to cancelling his license, but St Louis businessmen, busy raising money to back Lindy in his attempt to fly across the Atlantic, begged MacCracken to let Lindbergh keep his license. He finally backed off with the promise that Lindy would not fly any more mail and would concentrate on his Paris flight instead.

Mr. Watson's Bright Idea

It was 80 years ago that an airway beacon was installed atop the new and improved Los Angeles City Hall, and George Watson, staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times, came up with the idea of dedicating it to our country's hottest celebrity then, Charles Lindbergh, who a year earlier was first to conquer the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight from New York City to Paris.

    The suggestion was unanimously accepted by the city fathers and, on 26 April 1928, the Lindbergh Beacon was ceremoniously switched on by President Calvin Coolidge by remote control from the White House in Washington DC. It was a huge event that was celebrated in metropolitan Los Angeles and publicized nationally, and the beacon's light was visible for 60 miles as it rotated six times each minute.

    However, its original purpose soon became outmoded by advanced air navigation technology. The beacon was eventually turned off, removed in the early 1940s, and it quietly disappeared—no one seemed to know for sure where it went. Then, by chance, in the early 1990s it was discovered at a city warehouse, where it was regarded as an odd piece of junk, but members of the Project Restoration group recognized its historical value, and rescued the relic. Funded by the city's Cultural Affairs Dept, the beacon underwent electrical rewiring and metal restoration for subsequent return to the top of City Hall in 2001. Project Restore held an initial rededication ceremony for the restored Lindbergh Beacon on April 22, 1992 in the LAX terminal, where it was relit in demonstration after its then 50-year absence.

    Watson later was also founder of the Los Angeles Press Photographers Association, whose 212 members picked up the ball with donations to fund a plaque to be placed in City Hall to remind visitors of the memorable occasion.

    [NOTE: Another Lindbergh Beacon appeared on a 97' tower atop the Palmolive Building in Chicago in 1930, but Lindbergh complained that he didn't want his name used because of its commercial nature, and it was renamed the Palmolive Beacon in 1931. When taller buildings sprouted around it, the light was switched off to avoid shining into neighboring apartment windows.]

Even big birds get tired

The Tight Wads

Two thousand feet up in the air sailed Aviator [Albin K] Longren at Hiatt's Park, Friday afternoon, and made a repetition of the feat Saturday afternoon. Two thousand spectators witnessed this spectacular flight, but only two hundred of them paid to see it. Among those on the outside were many in carriages and autos, people abundantly able to pay the small fee charged to encourage a skillful and daring man to make this amusement for the populace.

    The road and the field at the top of the hill were black with the crowd that preferred the dictates of a torturing thrift to the prompting of a spirit of fairness that would give every man the right reward of his labor. Some of this crowd of "TWs" even had the impudence, when appealed to, to either pay or "fade away," to jeer and hiss at the man upon whom was the expense and risk and call out, "Coward! Coward!"

    As a measure to somewhat wipe out the disgrace to the community that such shabby treatment of a brave and manly gentleman can but be regarded, the officers of the merchants association Saturday morning circulated a subscription paper to raise a purse for the aviator. This resulted in a collection of $143.50, which will help a little toward the running expenses. The committee also circulated this hand bill: Friday's exhibition was the grandest exhibition ever given in Southern Kansas. Mr Longren reaching an altitude of 2,000 feet and flying a distance of ten miles. Two thousand people witnessed this wonderful flight with only 200 paid admissions. Let's reverse the ratio today and protect Winfield's fair name.

    It was nearly five o'clock before the aviator was in readiness to make the start, some time having been consumed in trying vainly to persuade the crowd that the fair thing to do would be to pay in or get out. He made the run to the south, and took off for the flight after a good ground run of about 100 yards. Then he rose easily and rapidly into the air, soon mounting to the maximum height. His course was laid on a great oval extending south, west, and north of the park, embracing a perimeter of about five miles. This he traveled twice, being in the air 13 minutes. His alighting was as easy and graceful as that of a great bird. When in the air he was plainly visible to people down town.

    His first flight Saturday afternoon was made at two o'clock in the presence of an immense crowd. The paid admissions were much more numerous than the were the day before, but the bigger part of the audience was on the outside. To the credit of some of the "TW's" of the day before, be it said that they contributed liberally to the purse raised by the merchants. (— Winfield Courier, 25 Nov 1911)

The Plane That Couldn't Be Built

It was an aircraft that might have been but never was. It had no physical description or performance figures since there were none, and it had no name. It was simply a vision of Eugene Vidal, DoC's director of its Aeronautics Branch in 1933.

    Dismayed by the relatively low number of personal aircraft produced in the USA at the time, and the relatively high prices on their window stickers, Vidal decided to stir some activity by offering government grants of $500,000—a fortune in 1933 dollars—to anyone breathing life into his plan for a basic, low-power, all-metal, two-place, mass-produced lightplane retailing for $700. Those were the rough specifications for a "poor man's plane" that would not only boost the aviation industry but the national economy, as well. It would be the Ford Model T with wings.

    However, while his offer attracted much attention and publicity, the silence was deafening, There were no takers. Struggling as they were in the throes of the Great Depression, manufacturers complained that the project was financially unrealistic. Some even expressed concern about what negative effect such an airplane would have on their commercial aircraft sales.

    The offer ran for a few months into 1934, then was quietly withdrawn. Yet it's interesting to speculate about what might have come from an idea like that at a time when it was most needed.

Ten-Four! Ten-Four!

Yorkshire (UK) police were jolted from their routine of traffic radar when they apparently began clocking a speeder at 300 mph. It proved to be no malfunction as a low-flying Harrier Jet screamed overhead a few seconds later.

    When police officials registered a complaint with the Ministry of Defense about their damaged equipment, the MOD only replied that the damage could have been worse. Much worse.

    It seems the Harrier's defense systems had locked onto their radar and had gone into an automatic pre-emptive strike mode before the pilot decided enemy anti-aircraft activity was unlikely along the motorways of northern England. (— RAF Notes c.2000)

Smoke Time

During his early air mail days, J. D. Hill used a cigar as a navigation instrument. Before he left Cleveland one day for Hadley Field, New Brunswick, with a load of mail and a pocket full of cigars, he was informed that he would have clear weather until he reached the Alleghenies, but would have to fly over clouds in crossing the mountains to the coast. So, before he started down the runway he lit a cigar, which lasted until he reached Mercer PA. There he realized his clock had quit working.

    It was vital to know the time to know when to go down through the clouds. Recalling that his cigar had lasted from Cleveland to Mercer, he thought it over. 'That's 75 miles. I have about 255 miles to go. Let's see ... 75 into 255 is 3 and 30 left over. That's 30-75s ... two-fifths. If I smoke three and two-fifths cigars, I should be about over Hadley, if I'm on my course.'

    Hill took four cigars from his pocket. placed three beside him and lit the fourth, then took off. When it was finished he lit another and on he went, chain-smoking over the clouds. When two-fifths of the last cigar was gone, he throttled back and went down through the clouds and there—a welcome sight not far away—was Hadley Field. (— From a Pittsburgh newspaper 3/19/38 via Lloyd Santmeyer)

Belling the Ape

During initial flight testing of P-59 at George AFB (then Hawes Field) CA, Bell personnel could be distinguished by their trademark black derby hats. Although the airspace around George and Muroc Dry Lake was restricted, P-38 pilots from a nearby Army field would occasionally invade the area to see what was going on at the "secret" base.

    On one low-speed flight, Bell test-pilot Jack Woolams spotted one of the snoopers approaching, and was ready for him. He pulled on a rubber gorilla mask he had brought along, put on his derby, and stuck a big cigar in his mouth, then let the P-38 pull alongside his jet. He glared back at the stunned pilot, who quickly broke off and headed for home.

    There was no official follow-up to this episode, but it was the source of much hilarity among Bell workers who speculated about the story being told that night at some Officers Club of a propellerless plane being flown by a cigar-smoking gorilla wearing a derby! It might well have been the forerunner of the flying saucer tales a decade later. (— K O Eckland via personal correspondence)

High Times

Screaming across Southern California 13 miles high [in an SR-71], we were monitoring various radio transmissions from other aircraft as we entered Los Angeles airspace. Though they didn't really control us, they did monitor our movement across their scope. I heard a Cessna ask for a readout of its groundspeed.

    "90 knots," Center replied. Moments later, a Twin Beech requsted the same. "120 knots," Center answered.

    We weren't the only ones proud of our groundspeed that day as almost instantly an F-18 smugly transmitted, "Center, Dusty 52 requests groundspeed readout." There was a slight pause, then, "525 knots on the ground, Dusty." Another pause.

    As I was thinking how ripe a situation this was, I heard a familiar click of a radio transmission coming from my backseater. It was at that precise moment I realized Walt and I had become a real crew, for we were both thinking in unison.

    "Center, Aspen 20. You got a groundspeed for us?" There was a longer than normal pause, then, "Aspen... I show 1,742 knots."

    No further inquiries were heard on that frequency. (— Brian Shul in "Sled Driver")

More Blackbird

In another SR-71 story, Los Angeles Center reported receiving a request for clearance to Flight Level 60. The incredulous controller, with some disdain in his voice, asked, "And just how do you plan to get up to 60,000 feet?"

    "We don't plan to go up to it," the SR pilot responded, "We plan to go down to it."

    He was cleared.

Emile Invents the Dog

In 1899, while visiting RCA's London office, Emile Berliner (in his pre-aviation RCA days) noticed a painting on the wall of a terrier posed with head cocked in front of a gramophone, listening to its master's voice coming from the horn. The painting was by English artist Francis Barraud, who used his own dog, Nipper, as the model.

    Berliner contacted Barraud and requested a copy to bring back to the U.S. and applied for a trademark for the painting, which was granted by the Patent Office on July 10, 1900. He passed it on to the Montreal office and let Eldridge Johnson use it in his Victor record catalogs and, later, on labels of the recordings. Victor branches overseas adopted it and soon "His Master's Voice" became one of the best-known trademarks in the world.

Target For Today

Luftwaffe ace Erich Hartmann was shot down ten times, and survived to fly and fight again each time. After the tenth time he quipped that someone in the Soviet Air Force could have made Ace just by shooting him down. (— RAF Notes 1992)

Just when you thought it was safe to go fishing

My old boss and friend, A.C. Williams, told me the story of his desire to fly under a bridge long after it had become a punishable offense.

    His opportunity came after obtaining a Seabee and, while flying around the Texas coast, he devised a plan to land in a small costal inlet, then "determine" that it was too short for a safe takeoff, which would in turn justify flying under the bridge at the end of the takeoff run for "safety reasons."

    He was nervous, and carefully verified that the bridge provided sufficient room for the Seabee to pass safely under it, but was still extremely stressed as he approached the span after lifting off the inlet and keeping his altitude only a foot or so. He was concentrating solely on hitting the exact center of the span below the bridge.

    However, about 100 feet before the bridge, he did glance upward... only to see a solid line of fishermen standing at the bridge rail, all furiously reeling in their lines! (— Beverly 'Bevo' Howard 11/15/02)

An Air Force By Mail

When the Wright brothers opened a flying school at College Park, Maryland, the Army sent Corps of Engineer Lt F E Humphreys, Cavalry Lt Frank Lahm, and Infantry Lt Benjamin Foulois to see if there was any military future in that flying nonsense. The three were to be the backbone of an air service, but after basic flight training Lahm was inexplicably sent back to his Cavalry unit, and Humphreys resigned his commission when he heard he was to return to the Engineers.

    The Army's then-untitled Air Force, comprised of young Foulois, a Wright Flier, and about a dozen enlisted men, were shipped to San Antonio, Texas. While Foulois knew enough to get the plane off the ground and fly around locally, his landings left room for improvement. All initial alightings resulted in breaking and splintering the skids, and required repair before subsequent flights. In a sweeping act of foresight, the Army allocated $360 for the unit's annual operating expenses in 1910, which was to cover fuel, oil, spare parts, and whatever was needed.

    It is of no surprise then that Foulois became close friends with the Post carpenter, plumber, blacksmith, and supply sergeant. His future, his life and career, depended on his and his men's ability to create and improvise, not to mention indulge in petty theft. To improve his landings, Foulois would mail questions to the Wrights, who in turn would write back their suggestions—our Air Service was essentially formed out of a correspondence course.

    Ben Foulois, of course, eventually did get the hang of things, and went on to a brighter and more historic career, the Air Corps was fully fledged, and in 1911 Congress allocated $125,000 for military aviation.

Wo Sagen Sie?

German controllers at Frankfurt Airport were noted for being a short-tempered lot, so it was with some amusement that a United 747 recorded the following exchange between Frankfurt Ground Control and the pilot of an arriving British Airways 747 (call sign: Speedbird 206).

Speedbird: "Good morning, Frankfurt. Speedbird 206, clear of the active."

Ground: "Guten morgen, taxi to your gate."

    The BA 747 pulls onto the main taxiway and stops.

Ground (brusquely): "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"

Speedbird: "Stand by, Ground. I'm looking up the gate location now."

Ground (impatiently): "Speedbird 206, have you not flown Frankfurt before?"

Speedbird (coolly): "Yes, several times in 1944, but I didn't stop."

Lost & Found

A student became lost during a solo cross-country flight. While attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, ATC asked, "What was your last known position?"

    Came the reply, "When I was number one for take-off."

A Bird In the Bush

Grumman Aircraft Co received a letter, painstakingly hand-written on ruled paper, from a bush pilot who was expanding operations in Fairbanks, flying fisherfolk in and out of remote areas. He wanted to order two new planes because his present USN-surplus Grumman G-2 Goose was "getting wore out and just about had it:"

    "Would wish to order from your factory two Grumman Gooses [that was struck out] Geese [that was also struck out]. I wish to order a Goose with 450 PW's. Cashier check will come after invoice.


    "PS. While you are at it, put me down for another Goose."

First Steps

Just before WW2, an Army flyer visited a old Navy friend at Pensacola, who asked him if he had flown any seaplanes since his Schneider racing days. The Colonel admitted he was probably quite rusty after all the years, so his friend arranged for him to regain his "sea legs" by flying an N3N floatplane. A young Navy flyer was added in the rear seat as safety pilot.

    After flying around for a while, familiarizing himself with the weight and feel of the ship, he circled the base and lined up for the main runway. The Lieutenant sat quietly and let him get close to the runway before diplomatically inquiring if the Colonel was really planning on setting a boat down on land. The Colonel immediately hit the throttle and pulled up, circled for a new approach, this time heading for the water, and made a decent landing.

    After taxiing to the dock, he climbed out and went to the rear cockpit to apologize for his mental lapse. He also mentioned how much he would appreciate it if the incident was not reported. The Lieutenant said he understood the Colonel's embarrassment and that he was not the first to make that error, but assured him no one else would ever know—his lips were sealed.

    The Colonel thanked the young officer and, with that, he jumped backwards off the wing into the water.

Never Too Old To Bomb

[About mail that he received on returning home after his historic Tokyo raid, Jimmy Doolittle wrote:] In the pile was a telegram from Roscoe Turner, whom I had known from our racing days as one of my competitors. A flamboyant showman, who always amused me with his attention-getting gimmicks, he sent a telegram which was typically Roscoe:


    I called Roscoe, and as soon as he recognized my voice, he shouted: "Jimmy! You son of a bitch!" He reminded me that when he had made the statement about a bunch of old men flying combat missions just after Pearl Harbor, I had told him we were too old to fight in the war. Wars were for young men, I had said, not old fogeys like us. He never forgave me after he found out I had led the raid.

Was Shakespeare a rated pilot?

On purchasing an airplane: "So far as my coin would stretch; and where it would not, I have used my credit ..." King Henry IV.

On a C-65 running in the red: "A little pot and soon hot ..." The Taming of the Shrew.

On requesting surface WX from the tower: "Sits the wind in that corner?" Much Ado About Nothing.

To a co-pilot who plays with the knobs: "They that touch pitch shall be defiled." Much Ado About Nothing.

On landing crosswind: "I will tell you my drift ..." Measure For Measure.

On hangar flying: "To tell sad stories of my own mishaps ..." Measure For Measure.

On an engine in automatic rough over water: "Now I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground." The Tempest.

A controller's warning about making a downwind landing: "You keep on the windy side of the law ..." Twelfth Night.

On downdrafts: "I have a kind of alacrity in sinking ..." The Merry Wives of Windsor.

On pushing one's ETA: "Better three hours too soon than an hour too late." The Merry Wives of Windsor.

On encountering towering cumuli: "Let us make an honorable retreat ..." As You Like It.

On successfully flying by the seat of the pants after total instrument failure: "Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee!" A Midsummer Night's Dream.


On a tape recording of lectures at the Swedish Aviation Historical Society, a Swedish AF officer, Sten Dahlborg, recalled his adventures in the twin-engined long-range reconnaissance S-16, which was really an Italian Caproni Ca.313. It was an interesting machine—nice to fly, but a beast to repair and with a nasty tendency to catch fire whenever it felt like so doing.

    Once during the war it was decided to test a method to take night photos from an S-16 over Malmen AF base. The crew would throw out a big parachute flare to light up the landscape, then take pictures. Since it would be quite a show for civilians on the ground who happened to be looking up at the right moment, before he left home that evening, the pilot told his wife, simply, "Watch the sky at around 9:30 and you'll see something very interesting."

    Off they flew into the starry night to a position over the airfield and tossed out a lighted flare. Unfortunately, the flare stuck in the door opening, and in no time the whole fuselage was ablaze. Those on the ground saw the plane trail a thick line of fire, first horizontally, then gradually vertically into a farm field to climax as a red fireball. Fortunately, the entire crew had managed to parachute to safety, which was a miracle.

    When the pilot arrived home later, tattered and visibly shaken, he was greeted by an excited wife, who clapped her hands and exclaimed, "Oh, that was so beautiful!" (— Lennart Johnsson)

Suitable Replacement

Taxiing down the tarmac, the DC-10 abruptly stopped, turned around and returned to the gate. After an hour-long wait, it finally took off. A concerned passenger asked a flight attendant, "What, exactly, was the problem?"

    "The pilot was bothered by a noise he heard in the engine," he explained. "It took us a while to find a new pilot."

The 3-Day Pass

I finally got assigned to a P-51 squadron in England, and on my first day there I asked the Duty Officer for a three-day pass. He said, "Are you nuts? We don't hand out three-day passes like candy. You gotta earn them. You gotta do something spectacular."

    The next day I went out on patrol and came back a few hours later in a brand-new German Me.109. The Duty Officer said, "Now, that's spectacular! How'd you manage to capture it?"

    I told him I was cruising along when I spotted the 109 and pulled up alongside of it. I looked at the pilot and he looked at me, then I signaled "down" with my finger and he nodded. He landed and I landed. He climbed out and I climbed out. We met and shook hands. I asked him if he wanted a three-day pass, so we traded planes. (— K O Eckland)