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USS Midway

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I am an Aviation Buff

Ever since I have been old enough to look up to the sky I have always been fascinated by airplanes.  I originally planned a career in the Air Force but my color vision problem kept me out of the cockpit.  That did nothing to diminish my interest in aviation and aerospace.  Here are some photos I have taken over the years of some of the more interesting examples of man's flying machines.

The Sentimental Journey a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

This is a beautiful aircraft.  It is a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress made during World War II and lovingly restored and operated by some true enthusiasts.  It is operated by the Arizona Wing of the Confederate Air Force and it is a joy to look at.  This aircraft is at least fifty five (55) years old as the B-17 production lines stopped when World War II did back in 1945.  The mere fact that this machine is still in one piece - let alone still flying - is amazing and a testament to the dedication of the crew which keeps in running in such fine shape.  And it does take a crew to keep a machine like this operating.  The maintenance on this aircraft is a huge job.

As a for instance, there are four engines on this aircraft.  Big, heavy, complicated Wright radial engines.  Each with eighteen cylinders per engine and each engine pumping out something on the order of 1,000 horsepower.  It takes that much to drive a big, heavy bomber like the B-17 through the air.  Each of these engines is composed of thousands of parts and, as is the case with all reciprocating engines, most of those parts rub against each other as the engine operates and all of them are exposed to the high temperatures that result from the engine's running.  Also, these engines themselves are all at least thirty to forty years old.

Most of these war machines were designed with a very limited service life.  The designers rightly figured that these machines would endure such wear and tear from their regular operations that they wouldn't last much longer than five or ten years.  Let alone still be flying after a half a century had passed.  Yet, here they are.  Not in anywhere near their original numbers but some are still flying around.  Being operated by a small legion of very dedicated enthusiasts.  These men and women, some of whom weren't even born yet when this aircraft first flew, work so hard to keep aircraft like this up and running because it satisfies them and it keeps a bit of history alive.

One other thing about this sort of aircraft that I would like to mention here before going on to other aircraft is the size of this machine and what that meant.  In its day, the B-17 was a huge airplane.  One of the biggest and heaviest aircraft ever made.  It was an immense machine to build and seemed even more immense when it took to the skies.  It was so big and heavy and bristled with so many machine guns and turrets that it was dubbed a "flying fortress" by the press of the day.  The name stuck and became official as The Flying Fortress.

I had always thought of this airplane as being big.  All of the pictures and reference material I had read about this aircraft all commented on how large it was.  Compared to the general aviation aircraft of today, this four engine bomber is still big.  Walking around the outside of a B-17 it still seems big.  Not as huge as it once may have seemed in its day for even the smaller modern commercial jetliners of today are bigger.  But big none-the-less.

However, it is only when you actually get inside it that you realize just how small the machine actually is.  Like most flying machines, size means a lot of things.  The bigger an aircraft is the more surface area is has and the greater structural weight it has.  All of this means it requires more power to drive through the air.  So, the best thing to do is to make an aircraft be as small as it possibly can be and still do its job.  Anything more than that is wasteful.  This is true in both civilian and military aircraft but there are some added conditions for the military machines.

Military aircraft usually have to accomplish some very demanding tasks, ones which civilian aircraft do not.  This means that military aircraft have to bring along the equipment and systems to do those tasks.  Keeping the "smaller size is better" dictate in mind, this means that the insides of military aircraft are likely to be far more crowded than a civilian aircraft of the same dimensions.  The B-17 is a case in point.

A few years back I had my first opportunity to clamber inside one of these machines.  One of the B-17's operated by the Commemorative Air Force flew into Gillespie Field in El Cajon for some maintenance.  While it was there its operators gave tours of the aircraft.  For a nominal fee.  This was a good way for them to help defray the maintenance and operating costs of this machine.  I had the time and I signed up.  It was a warm Summer's day and I was dressed in T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers.  Yet I found getting around inside this large aircraft to be awkward in the extreme.

Space inside even an airplane as large as a B-17 is at a high premium.  Every nook and cranny available inside the skin of that aircraft has been taken up by as many different systems as its designers could cram in there.  All with the intention of enabling the crew to operate the aircraft, complete its mission, and get them safely back to their base.  It was not designed for luxury or comfort.  It was designed for war and survival.  I found it a very tight squeeze.

Yes, I am a six foot tall, 230 pound guy.  However, I am not a whole lot larger than they guys who flew planes like this when they were first manufactured.  Also, I was dressed in comfortable Summer clothes.  The actual crews of these machines had to dress for their missions.  Over the skies of Europe during World War II that meant flights which took place at 20,000 or 30,000 feet altitude.  The air temperature up there is somewhere in the range of 20 to 50 degrees below 0.  Fahrenheit, not Celsius.  Exposed skin would freeze within minutes.  The air pressure at that altitude was so low that you would die form lack of oxygen within minutes as well.  Unless you were prepared.  That meant unless you were wearing heavy, sheepskin fur lined, electrically heated, leather flight suits and breathed through oxygen masks.  All that this meant was that the natural environment wouldn't kill you outright.  This environmental gear had nothing to do with keeping the crew alive in combat.  That equipment was what took up the rest of the interior volume of the B-17.  Even without all that bulky flight suit and oxygen mask I still found it extremely difficult to move around inside the plane - and this when it was firmly stopped and stationary on the ground!

As I did move through the aircraft, I stopped and looked at each of the flight stations.  They too were crammed with equipment and flight systems.  It took ten men to operate a B-17.  Two pilots, a navigator, a radio man, a bombardier, a ball turret gunner, two waist gunners and a tail turret gunner.  As an example, a modern F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, is about as long as a B-17, has but two jet engines, can carry several times the payload, fly five or six times as fast, and requires but one crewman, the pilot, to operate it.  When a F-15 gets shot down or crashes, it means the loss of just one man.  When B-17's were shot down it meant the loss of 10.  In World War II the US Army Air Force lost thousands of B-17's due to enemy action.  Thousands.  In fact, in just the air war over Nazi Germany during World War II, the Eighth Air Force lost more men than did the US Marines in their entire Pacific campaign.  In just the European air war alone.  This doesn't count the losses fighting in North Africa, the Italian Campaign nor the Pacific Air War.  Just Europe, and just in the air.

I thought of this as I looked through that aircraft.  Ten men packed inside a freezing cold machine.  Stuffed into their flight suits and then stuffed into their combat stations with hardly enough room to turn around let alone fight.  Flying along for hours and hours, these planes rarely went more than 200 miles per hour and their combat missions could easily take five or six hours just to get to their targets, with little more to protect them than the thin aluminum skin of the aircraft.  Skin that was little thicker than today's beer cans.  All the while the enemy was doing its best to kill them.  These aircrews also had a ringside seat looking out at the other aircraft in their formation and got to watch them being blown out of the skies by enemy fighters or anti-aircraft guns.  Each bomber with ten men in it - every one of whom were squadron mates and perhaps personal friends.  Yet they did this.  Day after day, mission after mission, year after year.

It was truly hard to fathom that sort of courage standing there on that peaceful warm summer's day.


This is a close-up of part of the turbosupercharge on one of the B-17's engines.  The center portion of this assembly pictured is an expansion joint.  I believe the engine itself is to the right in the picture.  This thing scales out at about a three or four inch depth for the piping to expand during operation.  That is a lot of expansion.  Just look at that spring retainer just above the center of the picture.  There is a lot going on with this design.  A turbosupercharger worked by running hot exhaust gasses past a turbine mounted behind the engine.  This turbine was hooked to the enging crankshaft so that as it was spun by the engine's exhaust it help spin the engine itself.  Turbos added quite a bit of horsepower back into the engine and were particularly useful  at high altitudes when conventional engines had to work all the harder just to get enough air into the cylinders to ignite.

This sort of device was state of the art in the 1940's.  Turbosuperchargers were sophisticated and complex pieces of machinery that had to endure very extreme operating conditions as part of their regular performance.  It was through the technologies developed to make better turbosuperchargers that early turbojet engines drew most of their technological lead.  The principles and materials used were very similar.  With a turbojet engine however, you did away with the need for having a reciprocating engine spinning the turbo.  This made turbojets a lot more efficient in their operation.  It also greatly reduced the maintenance needs of a turbojet and that is why turbojets soon replaced piston engined aircraft in most major uses.

Rather ironic that the technology spawned from refining turbosuperchargers for ever greater efficiency would lead to their obsolescence in just a few years after this particular one was made.

The Sentimental Journey taking off
The Sentimental Journey overhead

Here are two more shots of the Sentimental Journey that day.  The sound of those four radial engines is a unique one.  There is nothing else quite like it today.  Most large aircraft today are either powered by jet engines or turboprop engines.  So they don't have the same rhythmic hum that four harmonized radial engines make.  During their day however, a well experienced ear could tell the difference not only between radial engines of different manufacturers but also tell how well each engine was running by the smoothness of its rumble.  Watching this aircraft take off was a rather majestic thing.

One of the neat things that the operators of these planes do is give rides on them.  For a mere $300 you can take a flight on a B-17 or B-24.  It will last perhaps only an hour or so but there is always a waiting list as it is truly a unique experience.  One of these days I am going to pony up that cash and take that right.  It will definitely be an "E" ticket experience.

These pictures were all taken at a Wings Over Gillespie air show held at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California. That is out in the eastern portion of San Diego county.  Every year the local Confederate Air Force Chapter holds this airshow and it attracts all sorts of vintage and interesting aircraft.  Attendance is just a few bucks and well worth the day in the sun.

One of the most beautiful aircraft at this event is the Northrop N9M-B Flying Wing.  To me it is one of the purest representations of a flying machine.  Even on the ground it looks like it is in flight.

The Northrop N9M-B Flying Wing


This a unique aircraft but it is really just a test article, an experiment.  Made back in 1944, its whole purpose was to explore and validate the flying wing concept.  This was back in the days before computer modeling and simulations.  It was a time when the engineers did the best they could but then had to test a physical article out in the real world to validate their concepts.  We still do this today but the whole process is much more advanced and the validation part is nowhere near as dangerous as it was then.  This aircraft was built as a flying "scale model" of what would become the B-35 Flying Wing Bomber.  It was made 1/3 the size of the B-35 and tested out the aerodynamics of the bigger design and its flight control designs before the bigger, and much more expensive, B-35 ever took flight.  Today we do the same thing using computer simulations.  Then it was actual hardware with a real, live man up front flying the thing.

This aircraft was made solely for the purpose of testing.  Yet it was magnificently constructed.  Made mostly out of wood, it is a testament to the aircraft designer's artistry.  The machine is exceptionally graceful, as are most pure flying wings.  The Planes of Fame folks out in Chino got a hold of this aircraft and restored it.  This was no small task.  In between when the Air Corps was done with its B-35 testing program and when the folks out at Chino got a hold of it, the N9M-B had not fared well.  The restoration process took 13 years and 20,000 man hours to do the job.  Far longer than it originally took for Northrop to make the plane originally.  But then there was a war on and they were doing the job from the beginning and not trying to preserve and existing artifact.  What resulted though is a machine of wonderful elegance and a joy to behold as it flies.  The pictures I have scanned in so far do not do it justice.  I will work on that.  The one above here is from the Planes of Fame website.  The ones below are from when the N9M-B was at Gillespie Field.

A close-up of the N9M-B at Gillespie Field Front view of the Flying Wing

Remember, this aircraft first flew back in 1944 - almost sixty years ago.  Even today however, it looks like it came from the future.  It is exceptionally sleek and modern looking even though it is mostly made of wood and run by engines whose combined horsepower is less than that of some sports cars today.

A side view of the N9M-B.  Even an aircraft this small requires a lot of maintenance.

This shot gives some idea of just how small this aircraft is.  Not much larger in wingspan than a Piper Cub.  It is a single-place aircraft, and the pilot is wedged into its cockpit with little room to spare.  This was not a problem originally as this was solely a test aircraft and it is not a problem today as no pilot lucky enough to take to the air in this bird is going to complain about its cramped confines!

The past and future's past in flight

I like this shot.

I only wish that the sky had been a little bit darker blue to bring out the contrast between the mirror bright shine of the B-17 in the foreground and the brilliant yellow of the Flying Wing as it roared overhead.  Still though, the setting works nicely.  It is also interesting to note that both of these aircraft were flying at the same time originally.  The Boeing B-17 first took to the air in the late 1930's.  It reached its ultimate form over the skies of Europe during the mid-40's in World War II.  This particular B-17, "Sentimental Journey," was made in 1944, the year that the N9M-B above it first took flight.  Yet the difference between the two is so marked it could be a thousand years and it reflects just how fast aviation technology changed in those few years from when the B-17 was originally designed to when one of its successors, such as this Flying Wing, first took flight.

Me and the Wing One of the things I like the most about these airshows is that they provide the opportunity for you to get very close to the actual aircraft.  Here, for instance, is a shot of me standing so close to the Flying Wing that I could touch it.  It also gives a good view of just how small this aircraft is.  So too does this view on the right.

Another interesting feature of flying wings in general, and this one in particular, is of how completely different they look even from just slightly different viewing angles.  From the front the seem very wide, from the side very small, and from above they seem huge.  The curves and aerodynamic features of this aircraft also lend to some interesting visual aspects.
The Wing running up its engines preparing to take off

Business end of the propellor Here for instance is a close-up view of one of the propellors and its spinner.  The dark areas to either side of it are the exhaust ports for it engine.

On the right is a view looking down the length of the wing which shows the propellor fairing to good effect.

Looking down the wing from the left

This view is of a close-up of the Wing's wingtip.  You can see where the aileron fairs into the wing structure.
Left aileron at the wingtip

Here I got very close up to see some of the panel detail around the wing flap area.  At this distance this image could almost be mistaken for a picture of an abstract piece of artwork.  In many ways actually, such machines are artwork.  While they are ruled by the need to be functional, the necessities of being aerodynamic always lend a certain grace to them.  Perhaps that is why so many people, myself included, have always had a fondness for airplanes - they simply look good! Detail view of the wing

A look at the flaps and inside the wing In this view you can see some of the insides that make up the Wing.  Except for the framing of the center section, the rest of the Wing was made entirely of wood.  I have seen pictures of the restoration of this aircraft and both the original construction and the restoration were wonderful examples of wood craftsmanship that bordered on being artistry.

Nose gear  Here are some views of some of the other details and features of this aircraft.  On the left here is a shot of the nose gear wheel well and the nose gear door.  On the right is a shot of the left side engine air intake.  You can see how the two different paint colors were extended right into the main intake.  That involved extra work to mask the narrow area inside there but that is the way the Northrop Company made this aircraft originally so that is the way it was restored. Engine air intake

Here is one last shot of the nose of the Wing which shows the detailing of its paintwork and also some of the canopy details as well.

Head on view


Big Engines


A Bearcat A Hellcat The T-28 A Trojan

These are impressive machines.  All three of these aircraft were designed and flying within a few years of each other.  The one in the middle, the Hellcat was designed, manufactured, tested, developed, produced and deployed in an amazing 18 months during the first years of World War II.  It was the main fighter which the US Navy used to turn back the Japanese in the Pacific.  It was a big, fast, well armed and armored fighter.  It was also designed to be within the capabilities of the freshly minted pilots that were then pouring out of the Navy's flight schools.  As such it made some sacrifices.  It was just maneuverable enough to do the job in the hands of those pilots and it went just fast enough to best its enemies of the day.  Just enough but no more than that.  As usual though, things change.  Within a short time the Japanese began to deploy better aircraft and the need to counter this was met by the aircraft on the left, the Bearcat.

Whereas the Hellcat was designed to be good, steady performer in the hands of relatively inexperienced pilots, the Bearcat was designed to be a high performance interceptor that would yield its best results in the hands of skilled pilots.  By the time this new design came into production the US Navy had plenty of such pilots.  They had honed their skills flying the Hellcat.  However, the war ended before the Bearcat could be deployed.  It lingered on into the Jet Age as a fast ground attack machine but was retired within a few years, being replaced by those jets.  What few of these aircraft that are left are now much sought after on the air racing circuit.  The Bearcat is uniquely suited for this as its designers sought to cram as big and as powerful engine into as small and lightweight an airframe as they could.  They succeeded handsomely and even today the Bearcat is an excellent performer.

The aircraft on the right is a North American T-28A "Trojan," US Air Force Advanced Trainer.  It first flew in 1949.  Had it come out just ten years earlier it would have been a hot fighter for its time.  However, the pace of aviation technology had long since advanced beyond that.  As such, beginning pilots needed an aircraft that was moderately advanced but not as advanced as the jets then in service.  Something a bit beyond training wheel stage but less than the full thing.  This design served its purpose well.

The thing I like about these three aircraft is their huge radial engines.  The engines alone are very impressive machines.  Thousands of parts in each of them.  Each of those parts is subjected to enormous strains in the regular operation of the engine itself.  Brute power personified.  They are loud but have a pleasant rumble to them.  This, unlike the jets, which just have a piercing scream.  These radials have a deep purr.  That is, if you can define a purr as the sound being made by a machine which weighs over a ton, operates at several thousand R.P.M's, consumes high octane fuel not by the gallon but by the pound, and produces several thousand horsepower.  Sure, you bet it purrs!  Like the world's biggest tiger on steroids it purrs!

The Bearcat is owned and operated by the Southern California Wing of the Confederate Air Force, the Hellcat by the Palm Springs Air Museum, and the Trojan by the CAF's Hawkeye State Squadron.

B-24 Engine

Another big engine!  This one is one of four which power a B-24 Liberator bomber.  There is just something about these engines which conveys the raw power of them in an almost visceral way.  I like that.  If you look closely at the chromed spinner at the center of the three propellor blades you can see the image of my reflection in it.  The B-24 carries its engines high up on the wing and I almost had to lean over backwards to get this shot.  I can only imagine what a pain it was to have to maintain this beast when out in the field operating from some "unimproved airstrip" (that is military talk for a short piece of dirt which has been worked on enough such that there are no trees sticking out from the middle of where the planes are to land!)

Airshows are great places to go if you like looking at such classic aircraft and also looking at the latest hardware.  I like looking at both and San Diego has two great airshows which feature both.  The Wings Over Gillespie out in El Cajon is run by the San Diego Squadron of the Confederate Air Force and they focus on the older machines.  In some cases, quite old like this fine aircraft.

A Boeing F-11 Biplane Fighter This tiny little airplane was made by the Boeing company.  The same company that made the huge B-17 Flying Fortress and the same company which these days makes the gigantic 747 jumbo jet.  In its early days Boeing went after any business it could.  I made passenger aircraft, bombers, and even these tiny little fighters for the US Navy.  I have driven cars which are longer and weigh more than this fighter aircraft.  Yet this little machine was a front-line fighter for its day.


As you might have guessed by now, I have a lot of knowledge about airplanes.  I also have a lot more pictures of them to put up here.  All that it will take to get them here is a few nights of just me and my scanner.  When I get some more of such nights I'll be putting up more images here.  So, stay tuned!

If you would like to know more about me, then ask me directly.  Just click on my email address here:
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In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!


This page was last updated on: 5 February 2004  

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.



In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!