Friday, January 01, 2010

Planes, planes, planes...

While cruising around Florida recently, Lagniappe and I found the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville, Florida. It's a small place in a corner of the airport, not far at all from the Kennedy Space Center. I'd already decided to skip the Space Center because I couldn't see spending $39.00 just to get in the front door and $20.00 extra for any of the tours just so that I could be surrounded by hundreds of tourists and their kids while looking at replica rockets and films. It looks like a great place to bring a kid who is into that sort of thing, but it just wasn't for this guy and his dog so I decided on the warbird museum as an alternate activity.

Wow--did I make a great choice. This place was fantastic.

They have a small museum area with modela and momorabilia, and they have aircraft...quite a few real "been there, done that" aircraft, many of which are still flyable and all of which you can walk right up and touch. And dammit--I touched 'em all. Usually I get thrown out of museums for touching the exhibits but in this case, I was encouraged, especially once they found out that I was a pilot.

Museums like this always make me a bit melancholy as much as I enjoy them because as much as I love the chance to duck under the wing of an F-4 Phantom or peer into the intakes of an F-14 Tomcat, it's sad to think that the world will never see another one fly again. I've seen these birds in flight before and I've felt the thunder of their exhausts and smelled the burnt jet fuel as they've roared close overhead. Now they're all retired an no more will ever fly; they've gone the way of the Dodo bird and the SR-71 and they'll only fly in videos now. It's not like the relatively simple WW2 planes, some of which still exist in private hands. No one was ever allowed to buy a flight-capable F-14 and few could ever afford to maintain and operate one even if they had one. It's kind of depressing to see these aircraft sitting as if they're just waiting on pilots and ground crews with start carts only to realize that these machines that once soared through the skies at supersonic speeds or fought as instruments of foreign policy for our country will never leave the ground again. Airplanes are supposed to fly, especially machines like these, and these--like those in every other aviation museum across the country--have seen their last day aloft in their element.

But better to see them here than have them scrapped or destroyed as target drones. At least here, people like me can wander among them and touch them and imagine--or remember--what it used to be like when they flew. Ah, if only they could talk and tell their stories.

But this museum actually has someone who can talk and tell stories.

Almost as interesting as the aircraft is volunteer guide John Kirk. This fellow is a pilot himself, starting out with Britain's Royal Air Force just after World War Two. He has over 22,000 flying hours in everything from the British Meteor jet fighter to the helicopters that he flew all over the Middle East and Africa in in his port-military life and his personal stories and photos were the highlight of the visit.

So if you're down near Titusville, Florida, and if you like aircraft or just want to hear some good stories, pop into this museum and spend an hour or two. Tell them Lagniappe and I sent you.

And yes, when I get back home, there will be pictures posted.

EDITED: I'm home, and here they are:
Here we have a Cessna O-2A Observation plane used as a Forward Air Control aircraft in Vietnam. Behind it to the right is a Tight Moth biplane that still flies, and behind it to the left is an F-86 Sabre jet that also still flies. Behind that one is a B-25 Mitchell bomber, and guess what--it flies. Starting to see what I like about this place?

Next we have a Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bomber like the one that George Bush Sr. flew in World War Two.

This one will be back in flying condition shortly.

The F-14 Tomcat. Sadly, this one will never fly again, nor will any of it's type. But it's still a thing to behold.

The Chance-Vought A-7 Corsair II Attack aircraft.

And Chance-Vought's lesser-known but still impressive F-8 Crusader.

A blast from the past: McDonnell Douglass F-101 Voodoo fighter, with the smaller North American T-2 Buckeye trainer alongside it.

This Voodoo is in great shape. She still has her engines and I gotta think that if we just had a start-cart and no one was looking...And the Buckeye's ailerons were flapping free in the breeze and squeaking like a rusty gate hinge. It's as if this one wants to fly some more, too.

And for Ed Rasimus, three shots of the F-105 Thunderchief. And Ed, I love these old warriors, too. They sure gave the Communists in North Vietnam hell when pilots like you flew them.



And last but not least, my favorite--the venerable F-4 Phantom, undergoing restoration. Just touching it was worth the price of admission.

4 comments:

  1. While Tomcats don't fly, nor is there a flying example of my beloved Thunderchief left, there are still a number of F-4s flying. At least one beautifully restored F-4E is doing the airshow circuit and there are a bunch at Holloman flown by the drone operation. A four-ship has been painted in proper SEA colors and last time I saw them was in July of '07 at USAFA during Robin Olds memorial service. They did a missing man fly-by with the lead aircraft doing the pull-up. Very appropriate.

    Check 6!

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  2. Ed Rasimus,

    I thought I recognized that name, but I was traveling. Now that I'm home, I see that I have one of your books, "When Thunder Rolled", about flying the F-105's in Vietnam. As a pilot and military history fan, I love that book and have re-read it more than once.

    Thanks for your service, welcome to Lagniappe's Lair, and please keep checking back in.

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  3. It's always nice to see a rescued "D" model. Way too many "F" or "G" models and a few humpbacked "T-Stick II" birds on display. Either of those options are doing grave injustice to a sleek and artistic aircraft.

    I hope there are a few cans of paint left after that F-4 restoration to touchup the old girl.

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