An AvGeek’s day off…

So I woke up this morning without my alarm at 7. It’s amazing how on work days when my alarm goes off at 6:30, I can be so unwilling to get out of bed and get going, but today I was ready to go without any prompting.

Since I started A&P school, I have had precious little free time and even less days where I truly have no obligations or anything to do. Today is one of those days.

I have been looking forward to this all week, no work, no school, no volunteering, no other obligations to attend to, this was going to be a glorious day of sitting around on the couch watching football and catching up on some much needed R&R.

So as planned, I plopped myself down on the couch. Since it was only 7 AM and there’s no football to watch yet, I decided Netflix was the next best option. I scrolled through Netflix until something caught my eye, and I turned it on.

Halfway through the movie I was uncomfortable, not due to my couch (truly the most comfortable couch ever. Not a hyperbole), not that the movie was bad (the opposite actually, it was better than I thought it would be), but I felt like I should be doing something, anything really.

Have I really been working so hard lately that I cant even sit down and turn off for an hour and a half?

It would seem so.

So… what to do? What would satisfy me?

Obviously aviation is the answer.

Luckily, here in the Miami Valley, there’s never a lack of aviation related things to do. Living in the epicenter of the National Aviation Heritage Area has its perks for a certified #AvGeek. So this shouldnt be an issue.

The next criteria is something with some good photo ops. I’ve been trying to be more active on Instagram lately, so I need to replenish my stockpile of unposted airplane photos. I’ve had some great opportunities in the last couple years to get some great aircraft photos, but there’s only so many times you can post a different angle of the same plane before people start unfollowing.

The last self imposed criteria is that it needs to be something new. As much as I love the National Museum of the Air Force or the Champaign Aviation Museum, I need to expand my horizons, so to speak.

There is one place that I think will satisfy all of these conditions, a place that is important in aviation history, it’s close(ish), and most importantly it’s one of the few aviation history sites around here that I have yet to visit.

I’m talking about the the WACO Museum at historic WACO Field in Troy, Ohio.

The WACO company was founded shortly after WWI and operated through 1947 building civilian aircraft designs, and during WW2, perhaps the most famous American assault glider used by allied airborne glider troops, the CG-4.

I am looking forward to my visit, and I hope that I can come away with some great photos and stories to share.

I said the other day on Twitter that jumping head first into aviation has been the best decision for me, and something that I should have done a long time ago. I am busier than ever trying to work to pay the bills while I follow my aviation dreams, despite being super busy, never having any free time, not being able to spend a lot of time with my friends, or indulge in any of the other activities that I enjoy. Despite all of this, I think I am overall, much happier than I was before I started this journey. This give me hope that if I follow my path, opportunities will present themselves where I will be able to pay my bills and chase my dreams doing the same things. This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned listening to lectures and keynotes about social media and marketing lately. Yes, I’ve learned a lot about the subject, but the biggest take away is do what makes you happy. Life is too short to not chase dreams.

Keep chasing and be open to those opportunities when they do come.

A heck of a lesson in self discovery I’ve had on a day when I was supposed to turn my brain off for a while.

Keep an eye out for the posts on Social about the WACO museum. You can follow me on Twitter @RichardRSnell and Richard Snell on FB and Instagram.

Until next time, keep chasing dreams my friends.

The Persistent Mission of Living Aviation History

Today the CAF’s B29/24 Squadron posed a question on social media that I felt warranted an answer that was longer than the 140 characters of Twitter (look! I already did), or the attention span of a comment on Facebook.

The question: “We know why WE think what we do is important, but why do YOU think it’s important for us to tour with these aircraft?”

Now that you’ve asked…From the earliest times, man’s desire to take flight has captivated generations of dreamers and innovators. From the mythos of the ancient Greeks, Leonardo da Vinci, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, Otto Lilienthal, Samuel P. Langley, and every other aviation pioneer, the dream of aviation persisted for millennia and spanned continents and oceans. When the Wilbur and Orville Wright finally perfected the art of heavier than air flight, they successfully realized the dreams of the generations that came before.

In a little over a century since the Wright brothers’ first short flight on the sand dunes of North Carolina, the aviators and engineers that they empowered have been able to take men as far as our dreams have dared to go. The rapid progression of aviation technology has left a rich legacy and heritage that aviation museums all around the world strive to preserve every day.

This preservation is essential. The rapid advances in aviation technology and aeronautics in the first century (and continuing into the 2nd) since the Wright brothers means that there is a very broad base of knowledge to preserve. The cutting age of aviation today, both military and civilian, bears very little witness to the world of aviation even 30 years ago. It is nearly impossible to for a young person today growing up in the age of 777s, A380s, F22s, and F35s, to truly understand the reality of aviation 75 years ago.

I have a bookcase full of biographies and memoirs written by and about the young men of World War 2 aircrews telling their stories. I have spent 25+ years dreaming about aviation during the 2nd World War, and it’s hard for even me to wrap my head around the realities of aviation during that period.

Aviation during this time was at the cutting edge of technology and created extremely elegant solutions to questions of materials, computing, navigation, aerodynamics, etcetera, that came from every corner of science and engineering with none of the digital help that we receive today.

Aviation museums face the interesting juxtaposition of relating a story of analog technology in a digital age. These museums are continually attempting to find and carve out their place in the growing digital (and digitized) environment of the 21st century, while at the same time needing to maintain their roots in the cutting edge of technology of the 20th century in order to effectively portray the history of aviation.

There are great institutions all over the country (and the world) such as (to name a few) the San Diego Air and Space Museum, The Kalamazoo Air Zoo, the National Naval Aviation Museum, The Strategic Air and Space Museum, and (the museum that I volunteer for) The National Museum of the United States Air Force, that preserve this rich history using static displays of aircraft and other artifacts to relate this aviation story. I believe that while these institutions are a great resource and are able to preserve the history, educate the public, and inspire interest in aviation and other STEM topics, they are not able to fully allow their visitors to fully embrace the experience of what aviation was like.

My understanding and appreciation completely changed the first time I was able to be on the ramp as B-25s started up and taxied out for a sortie, and changed again the first time I was able to climb up and through a B-17, or a B-24, or a B-29. I’m sure it will change again completely if I am ever fortunate enough to be able to be a passenger on one of these, or another aircraft of the period. My experience is not unique. This same thing happens to hundreds of people every day.

These hands on experiences that fill in the gaps of the memoirs and museums are only possible due to the dedication and mission of the organizations that are able to dedicate themselves to the operation and display of this living history. The vision and passion of people like Edward Maloney, Robert and Caroline Collings, Paul Allen, and Kermit Weeks (just to name a few) make possible the organizations such Planes of Fame, The Collings Foundation, The Flying Heritage Collection, Fantasy of Flight, the Texas Flying Legends, Liberty Aviation Museum, the Yankee Air Museum, the Historic Flight Foundation, Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, the EAA, the Commemorative Air Force, and many, many, many others.

Every year, this ever growing group of (mainly volunteer) aircraft owners, pilots, maintainers, and other logistical support are able to offer to the public all around the country (and world) the opportunity to experience the living history of aviation.

In a year where we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (an aerial battle fought without any ground forces being directly engaged that arguably decided the fate of a nation [and possibly the world]), and at a time when we are rapidly losing the generation that gave us these magnificent flying machines (and thus their first-hand knowledge of them). It is more and more important to be able to have these experiences to round out the understanding and memory of aviation history.

As Richard Bach eloquently wrote in his novel, A Gift of Wings, “like no other sculpture in the history of art, the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand, and join their life with the pilot’s own.” In my experience this union also extends to those who are witness as well.

This was a long way of saying thank you for enriching the world of aviation and aviation history.

Resolutions, Maintenance, and Return to Flight Status

Well… It’s a new year and I have finally gotten my act together to sit down and write a bit. I’m hoping that I keep my head about me and stick to some of my goals for this new year, one of them is to write here more regularly. I have managed to start using my Twitter a little more effectively as of late to find some further networking and education opportunities as well as to share some thoughts on aviation and museums. While it’s great to get things out quick and in a succinct manner, the Twitter format leaves much to be desired when you need a little extra room for explanation. That brings me right back to the reason why I started writing here in the first place…So that really was just a circuitous way to say that I will make more of a conscious effort to use this forum in conjunction with Twitter rather than as a completely different thing.

Rolling into the new year, it’s the time again where people make resolutions; many of which are geared toward some personal or professional growth or other maintenance of their lives. In the world of aviation, for those that fly on the airshow circuit or those museums that have flying collections (in the northern hemisphere at least), this is also a time of year for reflection, planning, and work. There tend to be 2 distinct times of years for these organizations, there is “Flying Season” and also “Maintenance Season”.

Flying season is the part of the year where the aircraft, pilots, and crews are out flying to bring aviation experiences and history to life. This is the time of year that is the most visible, where these folks are out all over the country (and the world) to project their mission in the most visible way possible. Flying season will typically run from the late Winter months through the Fall. (I just saw the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron has posted the first part of Fifi’s schedule for this year. She will start her flying this year in late February)

The rest of the year is Maintenance Season. During this part of the year, all the aircraft will undergo extensive maintenance and annual inspections. This part of the year is definitely not as glamorous or public as the flying season, but it is probably the most critical part of the operation. During the annual maintenance A&P folks will pour over the airplanes and ensure that they are in pristine shape in order to ensure that these aircraft are in tip top shape and most of all safe. The ultimate goal is to keep these aircraft flying as a tribute and a living history. The annual maintenance is where a virtual army of unsung heroes, volunteers and professionals alike, lend their expertise to ensure that this goal is met year after year.

For aviation nerds such as myself, seeing an aircraft in annual maintenance is just as exciting as going to an airshow to see it fly. It’s like a behind the scenes tour. You get to see under the skin of these great machines and see all the greasy, dirty, complex, and surprisingly beautiful parts and systems that make up the whole. You can get an insight into design, operation, and routine maintenance that lets you really connect to the history of the men and the machines.

Many museums will post pictures of aircraft in maintenance with descriptions as to what is happening. The best follow for me during maintenance season is definitely The Flying Heritage Collection.  It seems that this year especially (or maybe i’ve just been paying closer attention), the FHC’s Instagram account is a goldmine for the prophead/Avgeek.

So here’s a big thank you to all those that take the time to learn the knowledge and skill it takes to maintain old airplanes. Your unsung hard work brings untold joy to millions every year.

I also wanted to mention that if things go to plan, this year will also be a big year for some great aircraft to return to the skies after some years of great restoration work. This article from Warbird News is a great write up on the B-29 “Doc” being restored in Kansas getting ready to return to the wild blue. Hopefully I can find a way to get to Oshkosh to see Doc and Fifi together. What a sight and sound that will be! I have also seen that the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation is getting close to returning their C-97G (one of my personal favorite aircraft) to flight status. Hopefully they’ll have the “Angel of Deliverance” back in the air this year as well.

All in all, things are looking exciting this year. Lots to look forward to!

Until next time,

Clear Skies and Tailwinds.

Remembering Aviation in the Great War

This summer we are passing the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 in Europe. After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on 28 June 1914, events conspired to light the fuse of war. By the early days of August the war began spilling out of the Balkan states and into western Europe with Germany’s invasion of Belgium and the subsequent declaration of war by England on Germany on 4 August 2014.  (a full timeline of WW1 can be found on Wikipedia)

This anniversary passed with little fanfare in the United States, This is not surprising, as the US did not enter the war until 1917. However, the Centenary is being remembered in England with more fervor than I think will be mustered by the United States in 3 years time. The UK’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport has put together several tributes to this occasion, but the most poignant that I have found is an art installation at the Tower or London. This installation is a waterfall of poppies that flow out of the tower to commemorate the lives lost in the war.  I wish that poppies were a more recognized symbol in in the US, because this (and the display’s at the British tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, and others) is truly a moving tribute.

World War 1 is not often thought of by the general public as a significant air war. In the US, the history education that most people receive emphasizes the ground stalemate on the western front and the horrible nature and conditions that developed with trench warfare. Most people give the aviators of World War 1 little thought. Other than the Red Baron (and many of these people only know the name from his likeness’s interactions with Snoopy in the Peanuts cartoons and probably couldn’t give his proper name), most Americans wouldn’t be able to name another of these aviation pioneers, many of whom gave their lives during their military service during World War 1.

Aviation in World War 1 was an extremely dangerous proposition, the life expectancy of a pilot flying on the Western front was measured in days. These men pioneered a completely new form of warfare and at the same time brought the airplane from a gangly and sometimes awkward adolescence into multi-use and deadly adulthood, all less than 20 years since the first flight by Orville and Wilbur.

In just a few years of war, aviation went from being a curiosity of the army to an integrated part of a combined arms strategy. The first use for aircraft, reconnaissance continued to play a major role. However, by the end of the conflict, there were purpose built aircraft for training, reconnaissance,  air superiority, bombardment, and close air support. All of these roles are still vital to this day, and aircraft continue to be designed with one (or more) of these roles in mind.

In addition to the aircraft themselves, the men who flew them pioneered the basics of air combat that are still relevant and taught to pilots fighting on the battlefields of the 21st century. You would be hard pressed to find a combat pilot from any time period who is not familiar with the Dicta Boelcke ,the 8 basic rules of aerial combat pioneered by Oswald Bolcke. Oswald Boelcke was one of the first German ace of the war, a hero in Germany, and a  mentor to the Baron Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron). Boelcke died in combat over the Western Front.

Men such as Boelcke and Richthofen, as well as their British, French, Italian, and American counterparts created, from scratch, a new type of warfare that wouldn’t reach it’s full potential until 20 years after the end of World War 1 with the aerial combat of World War 2. The hard learned lessons of aerial combat and the capability of air power were impressed on the psyche of future world leaders (ex. Hermann Goering, Reichsminister of Aviation (and other things) for Nazi Germany, was a fighter pilot in World War 1) and aviation pioneers (ex. Billy Mitchell, pioneer of air power tactics and one of the early and most outspoken champions of military air power in the United States). These lessons played a large part in the development of aircraft and tactics through the interwar period, through World War 2, and beyond.

The personalities (both hero and “villain”) that were so larger than life during their short careers (and in many cases short lives) inspired their contemporaries in aviation as well as continue to inspire future generations of aviators even today. This legacy can clearly be seen in the Early Years gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Young people from all over the world are able to see the machines and read about the men who flew them. Including the stories of all 4 men who were awarded Medals of Honor by the United States for aviation in World War 1 (Eddie Rickenbacker,  Harold Goettler, Erwin Bleckley, and Frank Luke).

Aviation in the civilian world also was advanced by the war. The public was enamored with the glamour of flight. After the war there was a large surplus of aircraft that the government sold on the cheap. This brought rise to the barnstormers that spread aviation to every corner of the nation. The surplus of aircraft and pilots also helped give rise to the airmail system as well as other early commercial aviation ventures, including some of the airlines that are still in existence to this day. This drastic increase in commercial aviation also prompted advancements in navigation and instrumentation, many of which are still used regularly in aviation today (NDB and VOR navigation, instrument landing systems, autopilots, etc.)

The advancement of aviation during World War 1 is an under-estimated time period in the history of aviation. But without the advancements made during the war, the “Golden Age” of aviation would have been a little less bright.

There are still places around the US where you can still see aircraft from World War 1 flown. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is a fantastic example of an institution that is dedicated to preserving this era of aviation history. This year, there will also be a World War 1 fly in at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at the end of September as a commemoration of the centenary of World War 1.

Until Next Time

Clear Skies and Tailwinds

“Once in a Lanc-time” opportunities

As we come barreling into August (seriously, where did the summer go?!) we are fast approaching what has been my most anticipated aviation event of the summer.

Tomorrow, Aug 4th, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum‘s Lancaster Mark X begins a journey that no Lancaster has undertaken in decades.  At 10am local time, the Lancaster’s 4 Merlin engines will roar down the runway in Hamilton, ON and propel the aircraft on the first leg of a journey that will take it across the North Atlantic to England.  Once in England, the Canadian build Lancaster Mk X will join its long lost cousin, the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Lancaster B I. Together they will fly to 2 months of airshow dates throughout Britain.

The significance of this trip is heightened by the fact that these 2 aircraft are the only airworthy examples of their type. They are the sole representatives of an airframe that was, and continues to be, such an iconic part of the RAF’s bomber fleet and of the Allied bomber offensive in Europe.

When Americans think of World War 2 bomber aircraft, without fail, the first airplane (and many times, the only) that most will mention is the Boeing B-17. No doubt that the B-17 has earned its legendary place among aircraft. It certainly is a powerful, graceful, and capable airframe. Due to many factors that include some good marketing and a plethora of references in popular culture, many Americans would be led to believe that the B-17, with a little help from its friends, spearheaded the allied bombing campaign in Europe. In fact, the B-17 wasn’t even the most produced American heavy bomber in Europe, that honor goes to the B-24.

For the good people of Great Britain and her Commonwealth nations, the Lancaster holds a similar place in their hearts that the B-17 does to those of the Americans.

Brought into service in Europe at roughly the same time, the Lancaster was the iconic bomber of Britain’s Bomber Command. Not as heavily armed with defensive firepower  as it’s American counterparts,  (the Lancaster was armed with the standard British armament of .303 machine guns, while all of the American heavy bombers carried the heavier M2 .50 cal for defensive firepower) the Lancasters flew at night to help minimize their exposure to anti aircraft artillery and enemy fighters. Even with the added cover of darkness, Bomber Command’s losses were just as staggering as the losses of the American 8th Airforce, which was also based out of England.

The Lancaster could carry a significantly heavier payload of bombs than could the American heavy bombers, and with just a little modification (engine upgrades and removal of defensive armament), the Lancaster was able to deploy the 22,000 lb Grand Slam bomb. The most a B-17 was realistically able to carry was less than half of this amount.

These days, the Lancaster is carrying a less deadly cargo. The CWHM’s Lancaster allows passengers to experience what it was like to fly in one of these powerful and majestic aircraft. This in itself is an awesome experience , but for this occasion, the CWHM thought of something even better…

In order to help raise funds for the trip to England, the CWHM has auctioned off the chance to join the crew on their crossings of the Atlantic. I was sorely disappointed when the bidding quickly outpaced anything that I could afford, even in my wildest dreams (which is good for them, not so good for me!). The winning bid went for about $79,000.00 and has given a once in a lifetime opportunity (and probably the last opportunity of it’s kind, ever) to one lucky Englishman. In addition to the ride to England, the CWHM has also mentioned that they will be putting  up an auction for the trip back to Canada, (I suppose I’ll have to start a crowdfunded campaign to be able to bid on a seat) so there will be at least one more lucky member of the public who will be able to have this experience.

I would love to be able to make it to England and attend some of the airshows where these 2 aircraft are going to be performing together. As that in and of itself is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The gravitas of this whole event is expressed very well in this radio interview conducted by the BBC’s William Wright.

I look forward to seeing updates from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and hopefully many pictures and videos of these two beauties in England.

Who knows, maybe one day the RAF BBMF will return the favor and bring their Lancaster across the Atlantic and tour North America (yes, I know, the pipe dreams of a poor #avgeek, but a boy can dream cant he!)

So to the CWHM’s Lancaster and crew I wish you a hearty Bon Voyage on your tour,  and as always, until next time

Clear skies and tailwinds.

Death and Resurrection

It is a sad, but unavoidable fact that every day we lose more and more of the “Greatest Generation”.  According to the National WWII Museum, approximately 555 WWII veterans die every day.

Yesterday we lost one more, Major Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk.

Maj. Van Kirk was the navigator of the B-29 Enola Gay. He was the last surviving member of the first air crew to release a nuclear weapon in combat (one of only 2 crews to ever have).

There has been much debate in the 69 years since the Enola Gay left Tinian that August morning regarding the use of atomic weapons against the Japanese nation.  No matter how you personally feel about that decision, there is no doubt that the men of the Enola Gay and the other flight crews and squadron personnel of the 509th Composite Group changed the world.

They were aviation pioneers that, with their service and sacrifice, helped put an end to WWII and in the same broad stroke ushered in the Nuclear Age, and subsequently the Cold War (with all that came with it, good and bad).

I had the pleasure of being around the National Museum of the Air Force when Maj. Van Kirk came to deliver a lecture in 2012. The buzz surrounding his visit was palpable. The transcript of his lecture is available on the NMUSAF website, and is definitely worth the read, as is the biography that was published around the same time called My True Course  written by Suzanne Simon Dietz.

It seems as a society we have been swept away in all that the modern age has to offer and more and more we seem to take for granted the men and women of the “Greatest Generation.” Now, more than ever,  we need to make sure that we listen to and catalog all of the stories and all of the hard earned lessons that we can from these men and women before it’s too late.

As I was sitting down to write today, I did see a piece of news that brings me hope: The restoration specialists at the National Air and Space Museum have completed another milestone in their restoration of the HE-219 Uhu.

When completed, the Smithsonian’s HE-219 will be the only example of that airframe anywhere in the world. The fuselage and engines are already on display at the Udvar-Hazy center (I must confess that I cannot wait until the complete aircraft is on display, the Uhu has always been one of my favorites). This wonderfully eccentric night fighter will help to tell the story of the battles in the dark over Europe during the Allied air offensive against Nazi Germany. It is definitely one of those aircraft that catches people’s attention, and as such, it is wonderful to see it getting the TLC that it needs to make it whole again.

In the midst of reading about the sad news of Maj. Van Kirk, it gives me hope to know that there are many people all over the world working hard to preserve aviation history for generations to come. We may be losing the “Greatest Generation,” but with all of the hard work that countless people put in around the globe to resurrect the aircraft of their era we can rest assured that their legacy is going to live on in perpetuity. Through the aircraft (and other artifacts), we can connect with those that designed, flew, and maintained them, past, present, and future.

Until next time,

Clear skies and tailwinds.

My view from the gallery

Well, finally I take the leap to create a place to put down some of my thoughts on aviation related things. I figure what better time to start an aviation related activity than the same week as the annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh for the International Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In Convention, also known as AirVenture (which one of these years, i’ll actually be able to attend).

I hope to be able to provide my views on aviation related topics, with a focus on aviation history. My personal interest is in aviation museums of all kinds, with a particular fondness for flying exhibits. Be it warbirds, old airliners, or fantastic GA aircraft from any period of aviation history. If it flies, I love it.

I am a firm supporter of museums that continue to fly their aircraft because I believe that being able to see these aircraft operate tells the other half of their story and brings the public closer to the men and women who designed, built, operated, and maintained these aircraft in the past. It also allows a more tangible connection to the historical narrative than a static display. Richard Bach eloquently wrote in his novel, A Gift of Wings, “like no other sculpture in the history of art, the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand, and join their life with the pilot’s own.”

I like to use this quote from Mr. Bach to help explain that aircraft, as well as other machinery including cars, motorcycles, and locomotives, have the potential to be so much more than a sculpture in a gallery exhibition. When they are allowed to be seen in the operational state in which they were originally intended, they are so much more; a living a breathing tribute to all those who were and are still connected to them in some way. I believe that even in this list of machines, aircraft are unique. Their natural habitat is not on the ground, but in the air. A physical manifestation of one of humanity’s greatest dreams. 

I hope that on this platform I can provide some entertainment, knowledge, and insight. Hopefully you’ll enjoy my ramblings on my view from the gallery of aviation history. Thanks for checking it out.

Until next time, clear skies and tailwinds.


My view from the gallery