Friday, July 25, 2014

Man, I wish I could have gone to work for the Forest Service

Back in the day, they flew some planes.

While strolling around Pima Air Museum's back lot, out behind the hangars on the far side from the rest of the outside collection, I found some sad-looking old military derelicts that will hopefully be restored someday. Most of them were marked up as Forest Service fire bombers, indicating how they finished their flying lives.

The first was this Grumman AF-2, which was originally built as a torpedo bomber and then repurposed as an anti-submarine aircraft.
This particular one is an AF-2S. 193 of them were built out of a total production run of 389 AFs of all variants. They were only in service with the US Navy for five years, 1950-1955, and with the Navy Reserve until 1957.
Her engine was only 2400 horsepower, which many pilots felt made her underpowered for her size and weight. She was never a very popular pane to fly, and eventually they were replaced in their ASW role by the much more successful S-2 Tracker.
Most were scrapped, but a few, like N99952 here, were turned over to the Forest Service and either leased or titled to companies like Aero Union and used to fight forest fires.
She needs a bit of TLC, but I'd still love to take her up.

Also back there, this Lockheed P-2 Neptune, another Maritime Patrol and ASW aircraft that flew primarily with the Navy but also the Army and Marines and the CIA well up into the 1980s.
This one is on loan from the Forest Service and still looks to be quite flyable; it's probably the most airworthy aircraft in this back lot.
These aircraft flew in the Korean War, Vietnam, and even as recently as the Falklands War in the hands of the Argentinians.
Note the addition of two jet engines under the wings to operate in conjunction with her reciprocating engines.
At one time, the Navy even developed a program by which the P-2 could be used as a carrier-borne nuclear bomber, using rocket packs attached to her sides to help it get off of a carrier deck with a nuclear bomb aboard. But as the P-2 could not land on a carrier, the crew was expected to find a friendly country to land in or ditch the aircraft at sea following bomb delivery. Fortunately for the Navy crews, other, more capable aircraft came along shortly and this role was taken away from the Neptunes.
Several P-2 Neptunes are still flown by firefighting companies like Neptune Aviation Services in Montana, and Minden Air Corporation in Nevada. If I get time this week, I may just send them each a resume. Flying these would be cool.

Also cool to fly: This DC-7.
Here's where they rigged a water-drop bomb bay beneath her. I'd have scootched under there for better shots, but man, that sand was hot, even with the shade.
The engines just need a bit massaging, and I suspect that they'll turn right over.
Not sure why I don't have more pictures of this one. Probably because I was still bouncing around the place like an eight year old on a sugar high in a candy store.


There was a Fairchild C-119 in that lot too, also with a single jet engine attached to it's roof.
Most of these were built near me in Fairchild's factory in Hagerstown, MD, but 71 were subcontracted out to Henry Kaiser who built them out of the old Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, MI.
These old birds carried troops, supplies and anything else that needed carrying in Korea and Vietnam. Some were even fitted with side-firing guns in an AC-119 configuration,and they rained holy hell down on the bad guys in SE Asia.

This one ended her days as a fire-bomber, but who knows what she did while flying for the Air Force. Like the others here, these were warplanes before they were fire-bombers, and they flew countless thousands of hours between them, probably all over the world in both peacetime and war.
Look behind her--another C-119 awaiting restoration back in the "off limits" area. Of course this one could use a little TLC, too.
In 1981, Hemet Valley Flying Service lost one of these aircraft and it's two crew members when it's left wing suddenly tore off during a fire drop. That aircraft's N number: N13742. This one:
Cause of the crash: age and wear; metal fatigue.

Sadly, that's not an unknown occurrence in a firefighting fleet made up of surplus aircraft, some of which date back to World War Two. In 2002, Tanker 123, a Consolidated P4Y-2, went down for a similar reason in Colorado, also with the loss of her crew.


Yeah, it wasn't without risk, and still isn't, but what I wouldn't give for a flying job like that, especially in those old warbirds.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Petrified Forest

Just south of the Painted Desert proper, the road takes you through the Petrified Forest, a section of badlands where numerous prehistoric trees were trapped in swamp sludge about 225 million years ago. These trees were infused with minerals in the water, and over time, turned to stone. Now, current erosion processes are exposing them and they are all over this area for people to see and touch.
Some logs and parts of logs (above), and some of the channes carved by water in the soft siltstone (below).
The Blue Mesa trail is a paved path that descends down into one of the valleys where the petrified wood is abundant. It's steep, but worth the climb.
A chunk of fossilized wood just laying on the ground.
Looking up from down in the Blue Mesa bowl.
Here's a big section of fossilized tree up on a "pedestal" of sorts as the ground around it has eroded away but the ground beneath it has not eroded yet.
It well all erode away eventually though, and then this section of fossilized wood will fall.
Looking past the Blue Mesa ridges out over the Painted Desert to the northwest.
Here's some bigger log sections down in the Crystal Forest section. Here, trails take you out in and around them.
This pace was incredible, and well worth the half day that I spent here. If you're in the area, don't miss it.

Whose fault was it that Obama fundraiser motorcade kept a pregnant woman from hospital?

So now Obama is catching some heat because his motorcade, in addition to gridlocking traffic all across L.A. at rush hour yesterday, also kept a pregnant woman from crossing the street to get to the hospital, reportedly holding her up for half an hour, labor notwithstanding.

Woman in Labor Unable to Cross Street to Hospital Because of Obama Motorcade

Obama being a narcissistic punk notwithstanding, I blame the woman here. Had she just stood up and pleaded in SPANISH, Obama would have stopped the motorcade, rerouted it to give her a lift to the hospital personally, and then handed her a phone, an EBT card and a voter registration form.

Everyone knows that Obama couldn't care less about white people because most won't vote for him or black people because they'll keep supporting him no matter what. But you throw what looks like the foreign mother-to-be of a possible anchor baby in front of him and he'll do handstands in a clown suit to curry her favor and that of the interest groups behind her.

It's sad to see that our elected officials have debased themselves and our government this badly, but I have to fault the 47% of the voters who just mistook the election for a reality show and voted for "the hip, edgy one" without regard for his actual qualifications or history. Until we educate our own stupid class or find a way to keep them from the polls along with those who only vote according to whoever promises them more of the taxpayers' treasure, this is what we'll likely get for "leaders" from now on.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Painted Desert

I saw the sign for Petrified Forest National Park as I was shooting down I-40 in Arizona last month. I almost didn't stop, because I'd not heard of it before and it wasn't on my itinerary. But I was doing good for time, and the random drifting and exploration is what makes my road trips special, so I got off the highway and turned into the visitor center. What's a few minutes spent finding out what's here, eh?

It was one of the best decisions of my trip.

The north part of the park is a small loop that takes you out onto the edge of the Painted Desert.
This badland is about 120 miles long by 60 miles wide, and it runs clear up to the south edge of the Grand Canyon to the northwest. It's arid desert made of siltstone, a soft rock easily cut by water. It has a heavy iron and manganese content that gives it it's unique coloration.
Beautiful as it is, I kept imagining myself as a cowboy on a horse or a wagoner behind a team trying to cross this land back in the 1800s. The terrain is near impossible to move over and there's no water anywhere.
You can't go out into this desert unless it's on foot with a permit, but I wasn't equipped or in shape for that. All the average visitor can do is stay on the park road and enjoy the views from scenic overlooks. I figured that I'd buzz right through, but it's so spectacular that I couldn't stop taking it in.
Remember the Grand Canyon pics from last week where I pointed out the San Francisco Peaks? Well there it is from the other side, just 120 miles away. And it's barren, trackless desert the whole way.
Most of this desert is still Navajo Nation today.
In a couple of these, you'll see flat stretches that look like roads. They aren't. They're just dry washes where the water from the very infrequent rains channels itself briefly. You wouldn't want to be caught in one of those when that happens, because they can flash-flood immediately with any kind of significant rain.
I need to come back here when I've got more time and conditioning and hike out there for a few days.

Medical complications

The doctor said to ice the broken foot, however it's really difficult to soak your foot in a tub filled with ice water when two German Shepherds decide that said tub of ice water is the best drinking bowl ever, even with a foot in it. Anyone wanna dog-sit at their house for a couple of days?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On and dogs and feet, and dogs on feet.

Ont of the worst things about having a stress-fractured foot is that, while you can technically walk on it, it becomes quite sensitive to any sort of pressure or impact. And Since that's happened, I've take note of things that I'd not paid attention to before, like the number of times that Miss Memphis Belle, in her desire to get as close to me as possible at any given time, inadvertently steps on that foot. I guess that she's always done it, but only now am I noticing it, because her 75+lbs on that foot is excruciatingly painful.

I finally laid it out for her last night after she did it again. "Dammit, Belle," I hissed through pain-clenched teeth, "If you touch that foot one more time, Murphy is going to be an only dog again!"

Now I can't say for sure whether she took that threat to heart or not, but twice now I could swear that I saw Murphy throw a shoulder into her and shove her towards my foot.

Or maybe the pain meds are making me imagine things.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fairey Gannet AEW.3

Found this critter in Pima Air Museum's back lot last month.
It's a British Fairey Gannet set up as an Airborne Early Warning aircraft, with a honking big radome slung beneath her.
The Gannet was unique for it's contra-rotating propellers (one turned in each direction to negate the torque effect) that were spun by what was in effect two separate engines each turning a shaft through what had to be the most complex gearbox ever designed. In flight, one engine could be shut down to conserve fuel and the plane could fly on the other, or both could run and give the plane serious power without serious P-factor trying to twist the plane opposite it's prop rotation.

The British Navy flew these from 1959 until 1978, when the HMS Ark Royal, Britain's last aircraft carrier capable of handing them was retired. Of the 44 AEW variants built, most were scrapped. 5 survive on display in Britain and this is the only one in America. Recently, one straight T-5 version without the radome was returned to airworthy flying status by Shannan Hendricks of New Richmond, Wisconsin, so hopefully we'll see that one on the airshow circuit before long.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Crazy Cat Neighbor, week-end report

As many of you may recall, I have a Crazy Cat Neighbor (CCN) who, along with his equally cat-obsessed wife, feeds and houses countless feral cats to the annoyance of all of the rest of us around him. On Friday, a construction work truck showed up at their house and local unlicensed handymen Larry, Darryl and Darryl got out and started slapping an addition onto their house. The addition: a new room just for all the feral cats so that the cats can have more access to food and shelter and room to breed more litters of feral cats. And hey--what spreads cat diseases better than creating a single structre where all of the diseased cats can go and co-mingle?

Yep, they actually spent thousands of dollars to put a whole new room on their house just for stray cats. And since the work is being done by three hillbillies who seem to be getting paid in cases of beer (in advance), I'm sure that it'll be a great addition that'll add so much value to their home. Of course I've been in their house, and the large quantity of indoor cats that they have (not to be confused with the outdoor cats) has the whole place reeking of cat pee probably permanently. When/if they ever move, that place is just going to have to be demolished because no one with a nose will ever be able to live in it.

But now I'm thinking that the CCN and his wife should have saved their money because it looks like he's going to need it to hire a lawyer. You see, the other night, Murphy and Belle began barking out on the deck. It wasn't the usual "I see a cat" bark, which, frankly, I just tune out. No, this was their "something strange is going on and we don't like it" bark, and that one drew me out of the back of the house in time to see the CCN engaged in yet another dispute with his arch-enemy, the Old Hippie Neighor (OHN), an unreconstructed sixties flower child who is now in his 80's but still just as weird and liberal as he ever was. The OHN lives across the street from CCN and they get along about as well as Iraq and Iran. If they aren't actively fighting over something, give them a bit of time and they will be.

By the time I got a shoe on my (broken) foot and hobbled down there, the main event was pretty much over and the parties had retrated to their respective domiciles, but the story that I got was that this one started when OHN's dog got away from him and ran up in CCN's yard to chase the cats around. Now my dogs have been known to do this from time to time, and CCN just calls me. But there's bad blood sufficient between these two such that CCN grabbed a hammer and ran down to the street where OHN was trying to re-gain control his dog, and CCN began trying to hit the dog with the hammer. Well OHN stepped in to try to protect his dog, and he snatched the hammer away from CCN and pitched it off into the woods, only to have CCN pick of a pretty big stick and commence to whacking on OHN.

Did I mention that OHN is in his 80's?

No arrets was made that night, despite the fact that an old man was beaten bloody by a man thrity years his junior, but I've heard through the grapevine that one can be expected shortly. It looks as if my Crazy Cat Neighbor is going to wish that he'd saved the money that he and his wife are spending on that cat room because now he's going to be needing a lawyer and it's liable to cost him a pretty penny to work through this case, especially if he wants to avoid jail time.

Give him a day or two and I'm sure that he'll be knocking on my door and asking me to take the case for him, at no charge, of course. It's a pity that I can only tell him no and crush his hopes just once.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Grand Canyon

While out west last month, I spent a day at the Grand Canyon. What a beautiful place. On this trip, I hit the North Rim, which is much more remote and much less crowded than the South Rim where 90% of the visitors go. The road to get there takes you though this burned-over area left from a fire a few years ago. At this elevation and with as little moisture as this area gets, recovery will take a while.
Going into the park, I saw Bison.
After a while, I drove on. Now that song about "You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd" was stuck in my head. (Click at your own risk. You were warned.) It was 45 miles from Jacob Lake to the North Rim Lodge, and me being me, I made it in about 35-40 minutes. I love remote two-lane roads with no one else on them.

The North Lodge is a big complex of bookstores, cabins for rent, and housing for concession employees. It's centered around a big log lodge built back in 1926. Here's an inside shot. It has some impressive views if you can afford to eat there.
There'a also a nifty statue of a burro.
And yeah, I patted it's nose. I'm thinking that I wasn't the only one.
Then it was time to start exploring the canyon. The views right outside the lodge were pretty god, although there is a bit of haze in the air from another forest fire burning some distance to the west.
I hiked the short trails here, then, after a momentary work-related distraction that I won't go into here, I drove out to Imperial Point and Cape Royal and spent the rest of the day hiking the trails and taking pictures, usually from vantage points where I was the only one there. It was incredible to virtually have the whole Grand Canyon to myself. Even at the North Rim, it seems that most visitors don't want to walk more than a few dozen yards from their cars. As a consequence, they miss a lot.
No safety rails out here. It's just you and gravity and hopefully, common sense.
The cactuses (cactii?) were in bloom out here, too.
I'll be back here again, and next time I want to hike across the canyon from one rim to the other--a 22-mile hike that descends all the way to the bottom and back up the other side. I didn't go below the rim this time though as I was still fairly fresh off of my five-month lay-up following that pesky leg surgery back in December and I decided not to push it this time. But I will be back, and next time I'll have the fitness and the gear for some serious hiking.

Back out past the bison again.
"Oh, you can't roller skate in a buffalo herd..."