Meeting your Heroes

Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., pilot of the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight, relaxes aboard the carrier U.S.S. Randolph following his Earth-orbital mission. Glenn was transferred to the Randolph from the U.S.S. Noa after his return from his Earth-orbital mission. (photo: NASA)

I have many heroes in my childhood, and because of when I grew up, and my range of interests, most of them were aviators and astronauts. I have been in a fortunate position to meet a great number of them later in my life, and discovered the somewhat sad truth that most heroes are normal men and women who were placed in extraordinary circumstances - and unfortunately have all of the faults and foibles of ordinary people. Meeting your heroes can turn out to be a disappointment, a let down. But this is not always the case. And the news of John Glenn’s passing reminded me that yes, indeed, there are heroes that live up to the name.

I joined the space program in 1980, before the first orbital Space Shuttle flight, but after most of the Apollo generation had moved on. Yet I was lucky enough, over the years, to meet all of the original Mercury 7 (except for Gus Grissom, of course, who died in the Apollo 1 pad fire) Some of those meetings were casual, at parties or other social events. A couple were work related. They were interesting men, and all lived up to their reputations. All were different, yet similar. The last of the original 7 I was to meet was Glenn – and the occasion was his return to space, which I was pleased to be a part of as one of the three orbit Flight Directors for the mission. And I must admit that while I have worked with a huge number of impressive people in my career, and treated most of those encounters as just another day at the office, I was struck a bit giddy with the opportunity to met a hero such as John.

John Glenn was one of those people that came across as genuine, honest, and straightforward. What you saw was what you got. He was in Houston to train for a Space shuttle mission, just as were all the rest of our astronauts assigned to the flight. There was little hoopla around his being on campus – but there was a certain reverential silence that seemed to follow him – along with broad smiles. You see, Glenn probably inspired more NASA careers in my generation than anyone else. And here we were, getting the chance to put him back where we all wanted to see him – on an orbital flight.  And doggone it – we were all going to get that done! And we were giddy to see it happen. To look at the objective truth, STS-95 was about a lot of things other than him – but I’d have to go look them up in my records to tell you what they were. Like I said – just a bit giddy about what we were doing.

I probably got to spend more time with Glenn at the social events surrounding the mission than in training, and I was fortunate to chat with both him and his wife Annie about flying airplanes and just stuff that aviators talk about. He was, in that respect, just another pilot. But he still had that smile, and nothing he said or did could change the fact that he was a hero – an American hero, my hero. He lived a great life, was a superior example to several generations of what a good man should be, and he was passionate about what he did.  And that’s the way I’ll always remember him.

Godspeed John Glenn.

Astronaut John Glenn photographed in space by an automatic sequence motion picture camera during his flight on "Friendship 7." Glenn was in a state of weightlessness traveling at 17,500 mph as these pictures were taken. (photo: NASA)

Astronaut, Fighter Pilot John Glenn Dead At 95

U.S. Sen. John H. Glenn, Jr., gives the thumbs up from the cockpit of a training aircraft as he prepares for his return to space on the shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission in 1998. (photo: NASA)

John Glenn, a lifelong pilot and public figure who is best known as the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, died Thursday at 95. The retired military airman and four-term U.S. senator was hospitalized in Columbus, Ohio, about a week ago in declining health. Glenn, a native of Cambridge in eastern Ohio, is the state's "ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve," Ohio Gov. John Kasich tweeted. Glenn is a decorated military pilot who flew combat missions in World War II and the Korean War before flying as a military test pilot and joining NASA's astronaut program in 1958. Continue reading "Astronaut, Fighter Pilot John Glenn Dead At 95"

Triple the Fun

ford-trimotor-cockpit

Some days, aviation isn’t about experimentals – it can be hard to pass up the opportunity to get a ride in a classic! Today was such a day – the EAA’s Ford Tri-motor is in town (giving rides out of the Carson City, Nevada airport through the weekend if anyone is interested), and seeing as how I had never had a chance to go aloft in this classic of aviation history, and they were offering a media seat, I grabbed the cameras and headed to the airport.

What impressed me most about this restored machine from 1928 is just how many of the fundamentals they observed in airplane construction then are still around today. Even though the airplane was recently gone over to bring it back to its original glory, it still uses the same parts and methods from its design days – cables, pulleys, nuts, bolts and cotter pins – the same things we do today to make aircraft safe and reliable.

ford-trimotor-nacelle-instruments

There were little touches of simplicity that homebuilders can enjoy – the external bell cranks and cables for controls for instance – simple, easy to maintain, and since the airplane goes so slow, there’s no real drag penalty.  And the engine gauges mounted out on the struts above the nacelles – visible from the cockpit without having to run little pressure tubes al the way from the wings back into the cockpit. Today, we’d do it with electronic sensors and gauges – but they weren’t around back then. Again – drag is just not an issue!

I’ve ridden in a number of old bombers, and have some DC-3 time... but this was different – the wood-paneled cabin with little polished reading lights and individual hand-crafted vent tubes – this was craftsmanship, not CNC mass production. The corrugated skin looks odd, but gives great strength. And the fact that it has no flaps – just a high lift wing like a Cub, and there isn’t much to worry about.

No, I didn’t get to fly it – but riding in back was just about as much fun.  Clearly fun for the crew as well – all smiles, all the time. If you get a chance, I’d have to recommend it – a short ride to put aviation back in perspective – and bring a little of the glories of the olden days of air travel into your life.

ford-trimotor-cabin

30th Anniversary of Voyager Flight Celebration

Mojave Transportation Museum presents the 30th Anniversary Celebration Banquet with Dick Rutan and Burt Rutan on December 17, 2016.

9 Days, 3 Minutes, 44 Seconds, 26,366 Statute Miles 

Celebrate that epic flight around the world, non-stop and unrefueled that was accomplished December 14 – 23, 1986 by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. A feat that has not been repeated. Voyager Aircraft now resides in the Milestones of Flight in the Air & Space Museum Washington D.C. Continue reading "30th Anniversary of Voyager Flight Celebration"

Hoover Farewell Fanfare

hoover-crowd-shot

Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle described Robert A. "Bob" Hoover as "the greatest stick and rudder man who ever lived." He was also among the most loved, as evidenced by the memorial celebration held in Hoover's honor. More than 1,500 people gathered at Van Nuys Airport on a perfect CAVU day to remember the legendary aviator, who died Oct. 25 at age 94. A Who's Who of aviation luminaries attended the event, which was emceed by aerobatic performer Sean D. Tucker and airshow announcer Danny Clisham. Continue reading "Hoover Farewell Fanfare"

Waxing Nostalgic

Photo courtesy of Abandoned and Little known Airfields.
Photo courtesy of Abandoned and Little known Airfields.

This morning, a link to a wonderful website that I have visited in the past landed in my inbox, and I couldn't help but spend some time waxing a bit nostalgic. To be honest, that was three hours ago, and I just now came back to the real world - good web sites can do that to you. The website (built and maintained by Paul Freeman as a memorial to his father) “Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields” is a wonderful place to go if you have been flying for a while – or are trying to flesh out those early childhood memories of airplanes flying off a field that you remember just outside of town. You know the place – there’s a Walmart there now, and no one will believe you when you tell stories of Cubs, Champs and the day a Mustang landed. Continue reading "Waxing Nostalgic"