Saturday, April 29, 2017

Airports 'n Airplanes

I always seem to be drawn to old photos from airports, or photos featuring old aircraft. They're just cool!

Like this first one from 1956, taken from the parking lot of what I believe is SFO - San Francisco International Airport. Not that you see much of the actual airport - just a large, low building topped with a tower where all air traffic controllers were. But look at the cars! And thanks to Kodachrome, it is hard to believe that this vivid photo was taken over 60 years ago.

Here's a fun one from December of 1978, showing passengers disembarking from their groovy plane! Aloha Air was not afraid of color - tropical pinks, oranges, and yellows abound. Who else feels the sudden need for plaid pants? And it looks like that one guy is giving us the "hang loose" gesture!

Next is this neat shot of the famous Bell X-1A, presumably at some sort of public air show. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 (the "Glamorous Glennis"); the X-1A was intended to exceed Mach 2. Yeager flew the X-1A as well, achieving Mach 2.44, or 1620 mph (a new record) in level flight. 

Notice that in this photo, the name "Maj. Arthur Murray" is painted on the side.

Here is Arthur Warren "Kit" Murray with the X-1A - in 1955 he achieved a new altitude record of 90,440 feet - over 17 miles up!

In 1955, the rocket-powered aircraft was going to attempt its 26th flight, when there was a problem. As the X-1A was suspended beneath a B-29, there was an explosion. The pilot at the time (Joseph Walker) felt a shudder, and saw a cloud of vaporized liquid oxygen, and the canopy cracked. The pilot safely exited the plane, but it was discovered that there was no way to safely land the B-29 because the X-1A's landing gear could not be retracted. So the decision was made to jettison the aircraft over Edwards Air Force Base's bombing range, where it crashed.


Nanook said...


Normally the first image would probably take center stage. (Pontiac - Chevrolet - Chevrolet - Chevrolet - Chevrolet). And a light blue Studebaker hiding farther away). But the Aloha Airlines image really sums up the late 1970's 'fashion scene'-! Our "hang loose" gentleman is sporting a wonderful pair of 'casual' pants, that seemed to be the favorite of middle-aged men at the time - white belt, and all. (Flower power, anyone-?)

Thanks, Major.

K. Martinez said...

I flew on Aloha Airlines quite a bit when island hopping with family back in the 1970's. Some of those runways were short.

Nice pics of the X-1A. Also appreciate the bit of of background information you provided. Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Yes, groovy is definitely the word that best describes the plane in that second pic. I almost expected to see the Brady Bunch coming down the stairs. Instead, we get Mr. Thurston Howell III in a bright yellow shirt and Bermuda shorts!

Chuck said...

I had a friction-powered toy of an Aloha Airlines 737 marked like the one shown in your photo that my grandmother brought back from Hawaii in about 1980. I had completely forgotten it until now.

Great photo of the the X-1A! Too bad it doesn't say "Maj Awesome Pepperidge" under the canopy.

In that photo you can also make out the top of the tail and canopy of an F-89 Scorpion just behind the X-1A. Just in front of the X-1A's nose you can see a Marine lieutenant (can't make out whether the bar is silver or gold) and off to the right a tall Air Force officer in a khaki uniform and blue flight cap with his back to us.

Also note the light blue paper visors several people are wearing, notably amongst that cluster of folks between the tail and canopy of the F-89. I wonder if those were given out as a freebie that day?

Phenomenal set this morning, Major - thanks!

Chuck said...

Okay, back from some errands and trapped indoors by a heavy downpour expected to last all day, I have succumbed to the research bug.

The F-89 in the third photo, USAF 51-11329, was a "D" model. Designed as an interceptor to engage incoming Soviet or possibly Pottsylvanian bombers, the "D" models carried no guns but instead were armed with pods of "Mighty Mouse" unguided rockets. The lack of an onboard gun figured prominently in the 1956 "Battle of Palmdale" incident.

51-11329 was assigned to the 438th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at what was then Kinross (later Kinchloe) AFB in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from the spring of 1954 to the summer of 1957. It was sent to the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, in May of 1961 and was presumably scrapped. As the X-1A crashed on 8 Aug 1955, we can date this photo to a roughly 16-month window.

It's hard to see in the photo, but you can just make out the top of the 438th's unit emblem below the F-89's horizontal stabilizers and serial number. Any ideas on who might have designed that patch?

K. Martinez said...

Chuck, I sure am glad you succumbed to the research bug. You really expand upon Major's posts with some amazing details. I've certainly learned a lot from reading your comments. Thank you!

I'm going to take a wild guess at the patch insignia and say it was designed by an artist at the Walt Disney Studios. Is that correct?

Unknown said...

Nice shots of an adventuresome time in the high desert! Some day I'll have a full complement of ;the X-planes in say, 1/48 scale. That day is not today, but the research shots and information is alway a lovely read and a Saturday morning treat. Youse all is good eggs!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, if only I had a good photo of Aloha Airlines’ flight attendants - their outfits were quite colorful too. Maybe it’s time for me to find a white belt; I guess I’ll have to go to a thrift store.

K. Martinez, you are lucky to have visited Hawaii so often - I’ve never been. Glad you liked today’s pix.

TokyoMagic!, this would have been the era when Mike Brady had a curly perm. I still remember some guys in school getting similar treatments, and I also remember the girl who cut my hair desperately wanting to give ME a curly perm. Nope!

Chuck, oh I loved those old friction airplane toys. I know I had one, but can’t recall what it was. It had propellers, which I liked. Amazing how much you can get from just seeing a tiny portion of an aircraft; maybe I’ll have to post more photos from vintage air shows, you’ll go nuts!

Chuck II, I’d never heard of the “Battle of Palmdale” - it’s almost comical how the attempts to bring the drone down did way more damage than if they’d just let it crash. But I understand that they were concerned about it coming down in a populated area. I love those Disney-designed military insignia!

K. Martinez, yes, that is certainly Donald Duck - I know that artist Hank Porter designed so many of the insignia used by the military. I believe that somebody is writing a book about Mr. Porter - I’ll bet that will be interesting. He was an excellent artist.

Patrick Devlin, I’m sure you can buy small models of the various Bell X planes, but you need to build them from models for real cred! Are you going to hang them from your bedroom ceiling with fishing line?

Chuck said...

Ken, thank you very much, although the Major really did a great job with his own research today that forced me to look into obscure details to be able to contribute anything. He claims he's too lazy to do research, but I think he's too modest...or maybe he doesn't want me to feel bad about my comparative lack of social life.

Yes, this insignia was one of nearly 1300 designed during the war by the Disney Studios, turned out by a dedicated unit established by Walt under Hank Porter for this purpose. i have no idea of who the actual artist was, although it could have been Porter, George Goepper, Ed Parks, Van Kaufmann, Roy Williams (of later Mousketeer fame), or the legendary Bill justice.

I corresponded with the Studio Archives in early 1997, hoping against hope that Disney might have designed an insignia for the unit I was assigned to at the time, the 1st Combat Camera Squadron out of Charleston AFB. They managed to uncover a black-and-white photo of a design as well as the original letter of request from the adjutant of what was then known as the 1st Army Air Force Combat Camera Unit, assigned to the legendary 1st Motion Picture Unit out of the old Hal Roach Studios in Culver City. It was an interesting design, described by the artist as "G.I. Joe with the body and head of a [Bell & Howell motion picture] camera, jumping off a cloud." He had a tripod and camera slung over his shoulder was wearing an M1917 helmet and a scarf made from a roll of exposed film.

As the emblem wasn't officially approved during the war and no longer met USAF design requirements for new insignia ("no cartoonish characters"), we couldn't use it as our official patch but were cleared to use it unofficially for whatever we wanted (the Archives had included a copy of the license granted to the US Government to use the emblem in perpetuity). I loved it and was all fired up about having patches and t-shirts made, but our squadron commander and senior enlisted advisor at the time did not. I think the SEA's exact words were "it's cute, but I wouldn't wear it." Without any leadership support, it sort of went away, and I took my copy of the materials from the Archives with me when I left the unit in 1998.

Chuck said...

Patrick, that really was an exciting time, testing all sorts of new aeronautical ideas that weren't even acknowledging that the sky was the limit. Nowadays, every design is tested to perfection in a computer and then a simulator before it ever accelerates down a runway. Granted, today's methods take a much less greater toll on men and machines (and women and womachines), but they're also about as exciting to the layman (and laywoman...wait, that sounds really bad) as a trip to the supermarket.

I was fortunate to live near the Air Force Museum (now known as the "national Museum of the United States Air Force") when I was in junior high, and my mom was a volunteer guide there. I'd actually ride in with her on days when school was cancelled due to the roads being too snowy for schoolbuses. One of my favorite sections was what I think they called the "Experimental and Space Flight Gallery" or something to that effect. They had the P-80R, X-1B, X-3, an X-15, an X-24A mockup, the X-24B, Mercury & Gemini test capsules, the Apollo 15 Command Module, and a Moon rock all lined up in a row. And then The Right Stuff came out when I was a freshman. I may have missed the X-series' heyday, but I've relived its glories over and over again.

Guess what I'm going to watch this rainy afternoon?

Chuck said...

Major, I'm already nuts. But I'll happily look at those photos all the same.

Anonymous said...

Major, these are wonderful. How weird it is that I vaguely remember that SFO terminal. It sure does not look like that today.

I remember that look for Aloha Airlines, like Ken, I flew on this one quite a bit in my day, also wearing plaid pants and a white belt. I was never adventurous enough to make the "hang loose" sign. Even today in Hawaii, I don't feel cool enough to do it.

I am constantly in awe of the wide knowledge and experience of the GDB readers, it's pleasure to read through these comments.

I was lucky enough to visit Edwards AFB sometime ago, post-911, it's difficult to gain entry, even for the tourist tours. We were allowed to drive out to the far east side of the giant runway to visit the concrete pit where the X1 (and presumably the X1-A) were lowered prior to attachment to the bomber that took them aloft. This is the same pit seen in the film "The Right Stuff". It was just a dusty hole in the ground when I saw it, but it was a darn significant hole, if you knew what happened there. Overall, that trip to Edwards made me proud to be an American (more than usual).


Anonymous said...

During the years 1957-1959, my Dad worked at Edwards for GE and I had the opportunity to personally meet a few of the test pilots of the time. Great memories! KS