Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Gooney Bird

I have an affinity for old airplanes. I even have a favorite airplane...yes, I know, that probably means my geek quotient just went up.  My favorite happens to be the DC-3, also known as the Dakota, or more commonly as the "Gooney Bird".  I'm not sure where the name Gooney Bird comes from...perhaps a resemblance to the namesake bird (also known as the Albatross) that looked like it shouldn't fly but somehow did.   

Why does this plane hold such a special allure for me?  My first airplane ride was in a DC-3, in 1954 when I was 2 years old.  It was a flight from Maracaibo to Curacao. In any case, I like this old tail-dragger.

The DC-3 was the culmination of a deal made by Douglas Aircraft Company for Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) to develop a competitor aircraft for the Boeing 247, which was the first transcontinental "sleeper transport".  The DC-3 first flew in 1935 for American Airlines and seated 21 passengers.  This plane revolutionized and popularized air travel by allowing cross-country travel with only three stops and completed it in 17 hours.  More than 16,000 were built until around 1950. 

Of course, the cockpit (above) bears little resemblance to modern airliners, and the cockpit windows offer a good view of the wings and engines.  According to pilots the plane was legendary in it's dependability and practically flew itself.  One story has it the crew bailed out of a USAF DC-3 that had run out of fuel (in 1957, over Missouri).  The crew all landed safely, and the aircraft continued to glide to a safe (and unassisted) landing in a corn field several miles away.

 In 1942, commercial production of the DC-3 was halted to make the military version known as the C-47 "Skytrain".  In 1945 production resumed but the surplus of C-47's allowed many airlines to add to their fleets, often for as little as $500 each.  By the way, the black leading edge of the wing contained a balloon of sorts that was inflated to expand the metal and break off any ice buildup.  
Some of the surplus aircraft were picked up by private companies and converted to private executive aircraft.  This one was operated by Pan Am until it was acquired and flown by Johnson & Johnson in 1949.  In addition to the comfortable seats, there were two sleeping berths towards the front. 


Pan Am (or Pan American Airways, as it was first known) was perhaps the premier airline before World War 2, though competitors such as TWA, American and United followed close behind.  Seeing some of the Pan Am paraphenalia pictured above reminded me of the bags we had when I was a kid, though the ones I recalled were from KLM and Canadian Pacific Airlines (which later became Air Canada). 

I think part of the romance I associate with this plane is that it reminds me of an era when air travel was more glamorous and travelers made a celebration of the journey.  Photos of my parents boarding a plane showed my father wearing a suit and my mother with a dress and hat.  It seems a far cry to air travel today, when we have to pay for each drink, bag of nuts, pillow or blanket. In that regard I remember a flight from London to Los Angeles in which my knees met the back of the seat in front of me.  Nevertheless, the DC-3 ushered in an era when air transport became more available...and made our world much smaller.

This plane was viewed during a vintage aircraft show at Paine Field, in Everett, WA this past weekend.  Ironically, just across the runway one could see the latest aircraft to come out of Boeing's assembly plant...the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. 

More information can be had at these links:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hi. I'm Sammy.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be sitting in an easy chair, sipping a beer in the company of rock musicians.  Such was the case this past weekend, in Spokane, Washington, just before a Sammy Hagar concert at the Northern Quest Casino, when in walks this stocky fellow with a shock of curly hair, shoots out his hand and says "hi, I'm Sammy".

"Hi, I'm Paul", and I shook his hand.

First of all, I have to give you all the caveats up front...I am not, nor will I ever be, a real rocker fan.  I love rock music, but it ranks in the middle of the pack when stacked up against other genres such as 60's rock and roll, classical...and even opera.  I've been known to frequent a jazz club, and I also enjoy a little banjo mixed in with the drums and guitar.  I like my music in all styles and genres.

So...that said, I did have the awesome opportunity to not only attend a rock concert in person, but to also go backstage. In fact, I even was on stage for a time. I will tell you that, as an engineer who is most comfortable in an office or at a construction site (where the music is mostly the beep-beep-beep of heavy equipment), being on stage in front of 4,000 fans jumping and dancing to the music is an entirely different experience! 

In the above photo is Sammy in the background, at the front of the stage.  Guitarist Vic Johnson is in the middle and David Lauser is on the drums.  Mona Gnader is playing the bass at the other end of the stage.
Of course you are probably wondering how all this came about?  Well, Karen happens to be very good friends with Liza, the wife of the drummer for Sammy's band.  The trip was really a reunion with Karen and Liza, who have known each other since the mid-90's but hadn't seen each other in several years.  More on that later.

It was to the roar of the crowd that we followed the band onto the stage, and we positioned ourselves behind some equipment, out of the way, needless to say.  I parked myself behind the guitar rack and watched the stage tech swap and tune guitars and the sound engineer at the board. 

I've never been one to get hung up on celebrity.  In fact, it was not long ago I wasn't familiar at all with Sammy Hagar, and the music of Eddie Van Halen was not in my top 40.  I didn't go into this experience with goo-goo eyes nor the zeal of a real fan.  Yet brushing shoulders with true rock stars was amazing.  I even danced a little to the music.
However I think the real treat was seeing celebrities as normal people.  Cutting up with guitarist Victor about greek yogurt, and finding out that David Lauser is a history buff...and of World War 2 history, was one of the highlights for me.

Me, Karen, David and Liza
Perhaps the real celebrity in this experience for me is Liza.  You see, Liza was diagnosed last April with tumor on her brainstem that has been deemed inoperable.  Cancer is no respecter of celebrity.  It really doesn't care who you are or who you know.  In a twinkling of an eye, one's life is radically changed.  Yet what inspires me is Liza's indomitable spirit and her unshakable faith that she will beat this.  The trip was less about attending a rock concert and more about two friends reconnecting.  It was humbling for me to see the love between these two women.
The other thing I learned is that, while the star who walks in the center of the stage does indeed make good money, it isn't necessarily true for the other band members.  Liza's medical bills, despite insurance, are mounting.  Below is a link to Liza's web site that describes what is happening, and how others are helping.  You can too, if you feel so inclined (but please do not feel pressured.  This blog is not about raising funds).  One thing I'm sure she will always accept are your prayers and thoughts.
"The tumor is gone, and Liza is healed!"  There, dear Liza.  I said it...and thank you.
(By the way, all the photos were taken with my iPhone, so please forgive the quality)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Sometimes the best experiences in life are those that are unplanned or spontaneous...the ones that lift our spirits and open new vistas, both literal and figurative.  These are the ones that often require us to stretch out our boundaries to experience something new...perhaps even daring. 

Such was the case last weekend, when we fled the heat of Portland for the cool of the Oregon Coast...Tillamook, to be exact.  Even a few hours before no destination was decided upon.  Driving along Highway 26, before the junction with Highway 6, I was debating...Seaside, or Tillamook? It was a coin toss, and Hwy 6 won out.  It wasn't until we drove into the outskirts of Tillamook, a fairly quiet town whose biggest claim to fame are many...MANY cows, and the Tillamook Cheese factory, that inspiration hit me: Tillamook also has a great airplane museum!!

The museum was better than I remembered from my last visit several years ago.  Housed in an old blimp hanger that also happens to be the world's largest timber structure and one of the few remaining blimp hangers built in the early years of World War II, there is a wonderful collection of military and civilian...and unusual aircraft.  In addition to the planes, there is also a collection of memorabilia of the years the base was an active US Navy installation, and we spent more than 2 hours seeing various videos and displays. 

So you are probably wondering where the spontaneity comes in?  Well, after the museum I spotted a pristine biplane parked outside, and I walked over to take a few photos.  The owner of the plane came over and we started talking.  Our conversation went something like this:

(Me) "You have a beautiful airplane.  Mind if I take some pictures?" 

(Him) "Absolutely not!  You can come around the fence and come on over. In fact. I can even take you for a ride."

Some more discussion ensued, which included what the cost would be.  I was intrigued.  The hook was set.  I called my friend Karen and asked if she wanted to go for a ride.

(Her) Eh-eh!!  (Which I took to be an emphatic no.)

So Dana, the pilot talked to us some more, and the next thing we knew we found ourselves strapped into the front (passenger) cockpit, taxiing down the runway.  Within minutes we were seeing the Oregon Coast from the open cockpit of a 1929 Curtis Wright Travel Air B4000!

This was taken looking back (over my shoulder) south along Netarts Bay and Cape Lookout in the background.  Our pilot Dana sat behind us.

Off our left wingtip are the towns of Netarts and Oceanside.  The plane's maximum speed is 76 mph, but I don't think we were even close to that.  I've always enjoyed a convertible car, but it doesn't compare to an open cockpit airplane.

I think the smile on that goggled face says it all. 

As you can see, the weather was absolutely perfect!

Dana was kind enough to take our photo after our flight.  Yes, we wore leather helmets and goggles, and we could communicate with our pilot through the 2-way radio.  It was cozy.
Our intrepid pilot, Dana Anderson. The aircraft was originally built in 1929, and ceased operations in the late 30's or so.  Dana purchased it in pieces.  He (and his friends) cleaned, repaired and re-assembled it over a 3 year period.  He now barnstorms throughout Oregon.  (Yes, I'm giving him a plug, because he is such a nice guy and I'm a sucker for someone who pursues his passion, even if he just makes enough to keep the plane running.  This is a piece of aviation history.)

Speaking of history, I read that the Tillamook Museum will be closing and the collection moved to Madras, in central Oregon sometime in the next couple of years.  If you like airplanes, unusual architecture and history, there is still time to see this unique combination and a truly stellar collection of aviation engineering.

The hanger is more than 1,000 feet long and 15 stories high at the center.  There were originally two such hangers but the other burned down in 1992. 

Here is a link to the museum:

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Rumble of Detroit Iron

Most of you already know I'm somewhat of a car nut.  Having grown up in the auto culture of the 50's, 60's and 70's, I know my way around Detroit iron and spent many years as a teenager with oil and grease under my fingernails.  One of the things that get me revved up is the sound of a performance V8 engine.  Loyalties to GM or Ford aside (and I've had both), I truly appreciate the rumble of a tuned exhaust, a specially ground camshaft....and lots of chrome!

Last weekend we found ourselves driving through downtown Centralia, Washington and I couldn't help noticing more than the typical number of hotrods cruising the main street.  A quick search on my phone's Google and we learned it was an annual Cruise-in.  That explained the chairs already staked out on the corners of the main intersection. 

Needless to say, we parked the car and strolled what somewhat became memory lane for me.  I was reminded of cruising Broadway in downtown Portland when I was in high school, when those of us with cool cars (or more likely we thought we had cool cars) would parade up Broadway and down 6th Avenue, many times before heading to one of the local drive-in burger joints.  If we were lucky we would score a parking space right on the street, and if we had anything to show off, up would go the hood.  Often it was the highlight of our weekend.

All eras were present, like this mid-70's Chevelle, early 50's Buick in the foreground, and the early 70's Pontiac Firebird in the street.

My father's first new car was a 1952 Chevrolet, but I daresay the lowered and souped-up version here is a far cry from his, and then there's the unpainted work in progress (apparently with most of the owner's time and money into the engine)...

What Cruise-in is complete without the quintessential late-50's Corvette?  I also think this is perhaps the most beautiful color combination.  (I seriously thought about cropping this to focus on the 'vette, but then one would miss the classic '63 Impala on the other side, and the fin of a 1960 Chevy station wagon in the foreground.  Car nuts like those kind of details.)

As the evening went on, the displays of horsepower became more common, to the delight of the crowds.  The smell of burning rubber, mingled with the aroma of a rich air-fuel mixture completed the audible experience of the evening.  Did I ever do this?  You betcha!

I daresay most young people don't know what "chopped, channeled and lowered" means...but this is a good example.  Note the dual quad carbs sitting on top of a supercharger...all chromed, of course.

Did I mention the noise?  This little custom pickup had straight exhaust pipes coming out from each of the 8 cylinders...and yes it was loud, as the bystander shows by plugging his ears.

There is a certain way one cruises...a posture that reflects an air of aplomb, that says "I'm cool, and so is my car".  I couldn't agree more.  I still like to roll down the windows and hang my arm out to feel the wind between my fingers...though the coolness of my daily car leaves a little to be desired.
Of course, photos don't give the viewer the full experience (and I apologize for the lack of quality in these images.  They were taken with my cell phone, since this happened to be one of those rare times I was caught without my trusty Nikon).  If you want the audible experience, you can click on the video below...also taken with my cell phone.   Remember my comment about the specially-ground cam?  Listen to the red Chevy in the last part of the video and you'll hear the 'brap-brap-brap' of a racing cam in the engine.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Thoughts on Mothers Day, 2013

This past weekend I spent with my mother, as I'm certain many do on this celebratory day.  She turned 90 just a few months ago, and though her physical capabilities aren't what they were even just a few short years ago (when she still mowed her lawn!), her mental acuity hasn't diminished one iota!  There have been countless occasions, usually while sharing a drink of rye whiskey, when she has reminded me I am by no means perfect.  I suppose this is every mother's role, to keep their sons' perspective grounded with an appropriate degree of humility.  We all crave the praise that mothers always like to dish out, but keeping a sense of reality about us is also a very good thing.  The amount of time I spent with her this past weekend gave her ample opportunity for her to speak her mind.  Us kids (despite just turning 61) would do well to pay attention.

Mom (and yes, that's me) in the yard of the house on Calla Colombia, Maracaibo, Venezuela
(ca 1953)

I have waxed eloquent about my father several times in the past few years, but I realized I haven't devoted significant blog time to my mother.  Both of them (individually and together) led fascinating lives spanning the globe during some of this past century's most significant and perhaps troublesome times.  It is the sum of those experiences that make her who she is, and in many ways earns her the right to say what she will. 

In 1940 her homeland was invaded by Germany and occupied for much of the war.  Like many of her neighbors, her family was profoundly affected and saw much suffering.  Barely a decade later she was living in South America during the oil boom of the late 1940's and early 1950's.  Later moving to Canada and then to the US, they would travel as far as The Philippines and Taiwan. 

Mom is in the front, on the right, with one of her sisters, sister-in-law, brother and father.  Scheveningen, Holland (ca 1937)

Though I was either too young or removed by distance (or not even born) during much of those times, perhaps the greatest struggle I witnessed was her caring for her husband and my father as he died a slow death through Alzheimer's Disease.  Watching her companion of more than 5 decades become a stranger with a fraction of his functionality must've been the ultimate painful test for her.  Walking with her through that journey made me appreciate the mettle of which my mother is made.  I have the utmost of admiration for her!

Happy Mothers Day, Mom.  You are an incredible woman.

Mom (on the right) and her youngest sister Leny, at Mom's 90th birthday celebration earlier this year. Yes, that is a glass of wine and yes, that is a look of suppressed laughter...the image
I choose to hold dear.