End to a great vacation.
"Are you sure that you don't want to come?" I asked my wife again, as she dropped me off at the Museum Of Flight in Seattle.
"Oh, no. The girls and I aren't that interested, and it's $18 a ticket, and we want to go to that Curiosity Shop before we go home," she assured me.
I know that's mean, but she's right; my daughters just never caught the bug for airplanes, and my wife never had it, either. It was afternoon on my last day of vacation, and I wanted one last cool thing to do before we left. I hopped out of the rental car and skipped up the walk past a B17 to the door of the museum, concerned about the fact that I only had two hours before it closed.
Two older gentlemen were standing on the front steps, wearing docent name tags and talking. They stopped talking and turned, along with everyone else, as a 747-8 started its take-off roll about 200 yards away. Honestly, I thought that it was only a hundred yards away, but Google Earth shows me different: Runway 31 Left is about 200 yards from the front steps of the museum. Supposedly, the new GEnx-2B67 engine is supposed to be quieter and more environmentally friendly, but one can't fault the pilot for unleashing every decibel available when pushing 900,000 lbs of one of the largest passenger jets in the world up to take-off speed.
The two guys both clenched their jaws as they watched the airship gain speed down the runway.
"Come on, up! Up!" one of them said. The nose lifted, and a second later the great plane took off, a mile and a half away, with plenty of runway left.
"I always feel like they're never getting up in time, when I watch them," the elder gentleman said. I would have bet a fat paycheck that he'd pulled back on the yoke during a few take-offs, himself. Most museums, the patrons would get annoyed if you had put that kind of ruckus up right at the entryway. Not here. Every man, woman, and child in attendance was watching the takeoff. Because we all were here to look at airplanes.
I went inside, and gladly shoved my money at the cashier, and got the audio tour guide device, too. I looked at the map that they gave me of the place, and realized that there was NO WAY that I was going to see half of this place, at a dead run. Blocks and blocks of multiple levels of great displays of real airplanes. So I relaxed and decided to walk to see what I could.
I went into the TA Wilson Great Gallery, and found myself looking straight at a M-21 variant of the A-12, which was an early Blackbird. This one had a D-21 drone on its back. If you think modern drones are exotic, you should consider that we were launching these things at Mach 3 during the 1960s. Check out this video (narrated by Kelly Johnson) of a failed launch, taken from another Blackbird, an SR71:
I looked around, and found that they had an actual fuselage from a wrecked SR71, which cockpit you were permitted to sit in. Don't think for a second that ten-year-old Matt G was going to miss a chance to sit in the cockpit of an SR71. I hassled a dad who had just helped his son out of the cockpit to take my picture.
I think that the seat must have been lowered. I'm sorry that I left my right leg cocked, but there was a line, and I knew that I must get out.
They had a simulator that would let you fly one of three different aircraft. .
|Options are: P38F Lightning, F4U-1A Corsair, FM-2 Wildcat, F15 Eagle, EA-18 Growler, F22 Raptor.|
I immediately knew which one I wanted to fly, and I got in the slow-moving line. Old NFO, predictably, immediately responded that he would fly the F4U Corsair. Well, duh; he's an old Navy pilot. Dad was still mulling it over, and Tam, rarely known for quick email responses (!) didn't get back to me. I didn't send one to my best friend Scott, because he knew exactly which one I would choose, we having had the discussion many times in junior high and high school. (Honestly, though, I don't know for sure which one he would have flown. I'm guessing that without his beloved P51, he would have flown the Corsair that his Grampa John used to fly.)
The line was moving slowly because one of the two simulators was down. The rules said that the machine needed a pilot and a co-pilot, because of the weight distribution issue. I was alone. The lady in front of me was waiting in line for her son. I subconsciously labeled him a brat, until she explained that he was a great kid, and she had volunteered to wait in line while he hit other exhibits, and that he was in his Vancouver civil air patrol group, and had piloted her around. The 15 year old kid showed up and thanked her for her help. I asked him suspiciously what plane he planned to fly. (Probably a jet.) He said that he wanted to fly the Wildcat. I explained that I was paying for him to be my copilot as soon as he was done with his own flight. He was tickled with it.
Basically, I suck at tracking around and getting my Zero. I focused on one Zeke, and just couldn't turn with him. I would overtake him (once I learned to deal with the backwards throttle. Pull back to go faster?!?), and struggle to keep my .50s on him, and then overshoot him. In the end, I should have focused on the Janes and Bettys that the Zeke was escorting.
I got out, and headed rapidly to the World War II aircraft wing.
Ah, there was my beloved P-38 Lightning. Twin tail, twin Allison engines, 4 .50s and a 20mm cannon all snugged up in a box of power in the nose in line with the gunsight. It was the second fastest prop plane in the war, after the Mustang. While it had its problems (at 20,000 and above, the engine under-performed and began to wear terribly, making it sadly not as useful as one would hope as a bomber escort), it was a great fighter and attack plane.
Oh, as for the Mustang? They had a very nice one:
|Well, the PLANE was very nice, even if the picture wasn't. I had turned off my flash to save batteries, and was trotting through the darkened room, as this shows. I was shooting a bitty little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot, with its standard-issue tiny lens. Surely this was no way to treat the Cadillac Of The Skies.|
As well as a lovely Spitfire:
And a nice Corsair:
I was running, taking pictures as fast as I could, when the announcement came: it was time to leave. I've got more pictures that I'll post later.
I went outside to await my wife in the parking lot. It wasn't a boring wait; I had something to look at:
|Like this WB-47E Stratojet.|