Historic Aircraft: Bell X-1 Breaking the Sound Barrier

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Ever since man first took to the skies in powered aircraft, pilots and aviation engineers have sought to overcome challenges and push perceived boundaries as technology developed. One of the much debated challenges back in the early 1940s was whether it was possible for an aircraft to travel fast enough to break the sound barrier. On October 14, 1947, legendary pilot Chuck Yeager proved it was indeed possible when he pushed the Bell X-1 he was flying to Mach 1.06 (1,100 km/h; 700 mph) going down in history as the first pilot to break the sound barrier.

Nicknamed Glamorous Glennis in honor of Yeager’s wife, the Bell X-1 was built by the Bell Aircraft Company under the direction of a joint supersonic research project run by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the US Army Forces and the US Air Force. The concept for the airplane was developed in 1944 and it was built the following year. The fuselage of the X-1 was shaped like a 0.5-calibre machine gun bullet for stability and the thin wings were designed to reduce drag. As it was only later discovered that the swept-wing design is more efficient for speed, the X-1’s wings were at a 90 degree angle to the fuselage. The pilot was seated inside a confined cockpit in the nose, behind a sloped, framed window, and the airplane was powered by a single XLR-11 engine running on liquid oxygen, alcohol and water.

On the historic sound barrier breaking flight, the supersonic Bell X-1 was drop-launched from a B-29 Superfortress bomber airplane at an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), where it quickly climbed to its test altitude of 43,000 feet (13,000 meters) and proceeded to break the sound barrier before landing on a dry lake bed. In recognition of their achievement, the 1948 Collier Trophy was awarded jointly to Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft, Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager, and John Stack of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

As the first in the so-called X-planes, the X-1 set the pattern for future projects, with data collected during its test flights providing essential information for later aircraft designs.

Explore California’s Castle Air Museum

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Located in Atwater, California, the Castle Air Museum originated with the closure of the Castle Air Force Base in 1994. A group of aviation enthusiasts in the area decided to take steps toward preserving the collection of aircraft at the base, and the non-profit organization, Castle Air Museum Foundation, Inc. was formed. The goal behind assuming custody of the aircraft was to restore them and make them available to the public to view. Through the dedicated efforts of volunteers and assisted by the United States Air Force’s Heritage Program, the dream of a museum became a reality and has become a popular attraction in this charming area of California.

The more than 120 different aircraft on display have been carefully restored and meticulously maintained so that current and future generations can view them and imagine what it must have been like to pilot them in battle situations. While noting that there is nothing glamorous about war, the Museum’s website states that its majestic warbirds nevertheless serve as a reminder of how fragile our freedom is, and how men and women stepped up when that freedom was threatened, providing a lesson that should not be forgotten. While all the airplanes are worthy of attention, some stand out as exceptional, such as the massive Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker; the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress; the Curtiss C-46D Commando; the Fairchild C-119C Flying Boxcar; the Douglas C-47A Skytrain; the Lockheed ST-71 Blackbird; the Republic F-105B Thunderchief; and the Northrop T-38 Talon. On a smaller scale are the Vultee BT-13 Valiant; the Cessna U-3A Blue Canoe; and the Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster. Current restoration projects include a Vietnam-era Douglas RA-3B Skywarrior which had been used by Raytheon and the navy for missile testing. Long-term plans for the museum include sourcing and restoring a P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt to add to the collection.

Named in honor of Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle, the Castle Air Museum is a fascinating memorial to the brave pilots and crews of World War II, the Vietnam Conflict and the Korean War and is well worth a visit by aviation enthusiasts.

Warbirds Over Monroe 2012

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Organizers of Warbirds Over Monroe Air Show encourage visitors not to just read history, but experience in on 2-4 November 2012 at the Charlotte-Monroe Airport. Performers at this exciting event include Commemorative Air Force (Tora Tora Tora), Thomas Malone, John Mazza, Mid Atlantic Air Museum, Military Aviation Museum, Helio Warbird Demonstration Team, The Edwards Group, John Shell, Warbird Museum of Virginia, Warriors & Warbirds Inc. and more… For more information visit www.warriorsandwarbirds.com

Dates: 2-4 November 2012
Venue: Charlotte-Monroe Airport
City: Monroe
State: North Carolina
Country: United States

Chico Air Show 2012

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Taking place on September 28-30 at the Chico Municipal Airport, the Chico Air Show 2012 is a celebration of a Century of Flight. The action-packed program includes the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18 Hornet, Pemberton Aerosports, Team Rocket, Gregory “Wired” Colyer, Warbird Displays and more, with the FlightZone for kids providing edutainment galore. For more information visit www.chicoairshow.org

Dates: 28-30 September 2012
Venue: Chico Municipal Airport
City: Salinas
State: California
United States

Breathtaking Aerobatics of the Blue Angels

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Formed in 1946, following World War II, the Blue Angels is the demonstration squadron of the United States Navy – and the highlight on many an air show or special event program throughout the United States. Consisting of six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, with highly trained pilots behind the controls, the Blue Angels feature in more than seventy shows at thirty-four venues around the country each year. It is estimated that around eleven million spectators view the intricate and breathtaking aerial displays annually, and more than 260 million people have seen the Blue Angels in action since 1946.

With the show season running each year from March through to November, the mission of the Blue Angels is to represent Navy and Marine corps aviation to the public and to play an active part in recruiting. As mentioned, the Blue Arrows are often the highlight of air shows around the country, and also perform at special events, sometimes flying over the host city of the event, for example during Cleveland’s Labor Day Air Show, Seattle’s Seafair festival and San Francisco’s Fleet Week.

Using a number of formations that the original Blue Angel team had perfected, along with new additions, four of the six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft are split into the classic Diamond Formation, with the remaining two taking lead and opposing solo spots. The show consists of a series of interactions between the Diamond Formation and solos as they perform high-speed passes, fast and slow rolls, slow passes and incredibly tight turns. Aircraft will carry out opposing passes as they head toward one another at high speed, seemingly on a collision course, and passing with a breathtakingly small space between them. Other aerial maneuvers which always thrill spectators are a range of mirror formations, where aircraft fly belly-to-belly, back-to-back, or with wingtips appearing to touch, with one of the Hornets inverted. The show finale is generally a series of amazing aerobatics of all the aircraft in the Delta Formation.

The highly trained and clearly skilled pilots make the whole show seem effortless, thanks to countless hours of disciplined practice and intense concentration. However, there are a number of mostly weather related variables the pilots must adjust to on show day. In clear weather the Blue Angels will perform a show at higher altitudes than they would on an overcast day, and while the show may go on in limited visibility weather conditions, the pilots would then present what they call a ‘flat’ show for which maximum ceiling (height) could be 1,500 feet, as opposed to the 8,000 feet ceiling of clear conditions.

Certainly, watching a performance by the Blue Angels would be an incentive for any adventure-seeking aviation-enthusiast to consider signing up to train as a military pilot.

Air Force Week 2012

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Endorsed by the Air Force Chief of Staff, Air Force Week is an action packed “show & tell” where the general public can gain insight into the role of the Air Force in American society. The program includes Air Force Displays at Pier 86 next to the Intrepid Sea, air & Space Museum and an Air Force Thunderbirds Flyover, both on Sunday August 19. For more information visit the Air Force Week Website.

Dates: 19-21 August 2012
Venue: Various Venues, including Pier 86
City: New York
Country: United States

Abbotsford Airshow 2012

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Abbotsford Airshow is celebrating 50 years in 2012 with some extra-special features. Performers include the USAF Thunderbirds, Canadian Forces Snowbirds, Canadian Forces cf-18 Hornet Demo; US Navy VFA-122 F/A-18 Superhornet TAC Demo. Aerobatic displays include Red Eagle Sports; Pet McLeod Racing; Kent Pietsch and more… For all the information on the show visit www.abbotsfordairshow.com

Dates: 10-12 August 2012
Venue: Abbotsford
State: British Columbia
Country: Canada

Explore the Air Force Museum of New Zealand

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With a collection of twenty-eight classic aircraft, and millions of aviation-related mementos of all descriptions, the Air Force Museum of New Zealand has been preserving and presenting the fascinating history of the country’s Military Aviation since 1987. The museum is located at the Wigram Aerodrome just outside Christchurch. The aerodrome is named in honor of British-born New Zealand politician, businessman and aviator, Sir Henry Francis Wigram (1857-1934), in acknowledgement of his significant role in the establishment of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

Visitors to the museum are likely to spend hours viewing the huge assortment of memorabilia, including aircraft engines and other aircraft parts, weapons, pin-ups, documents, medals and even wedding dresses made from parachute-silk. The collection of aircraft is a reminder of the bravery of the men who flew them into battle, and as defensive measures against enemy attack. A replica home dating back to the 1940s provides insight into what life was like back then for men and women in the armed services, as well as their families. One of the more popular features of the museum is a flight simulator where visitors can climb in behind the controls and imagine being in the thick of a raging aerial battle.

Of the twenty-eight aircraft on display, seventeen are in the main complex of the museum, with the remainder being in hangars. The museum’s Behind the Scenes Tour takes visitors to view the stored aircraft, as well as the current restoration projects being carried out by skilled and dedicated aviation enthusiasts. The aircraft collection includes the Avro 626, North American Harvard, P-51 Mustang, Grumman Avenger, Hawker Siddely Andover, Lockheed Hudson, Vickers Vildebeest bi-planes, Bleriot XI, Cessna O2A and a replica of the Sopwith Pup.

The aircraft components collection of the museum includes propellers, instruments, radios, armaments, and a variety of airframe structures, while the engines on display illustrate the development of aviation engineering from the World War I era through to modern jet engines. More than 200 medal groups are on display, including the prestigious Victoria Cross. Other items visitors can view include a host of research documents, as well as oil paintings, prints and original cartoons.

Ever aware of environmental issues that are threatening our planet, the Air Force Museum of New Zealand has been awarded the Enviro-Gold standard by New Zealand tourism’s official quality agency, Qualmark. This status is reviewed annually and the museum is always open to suggestions on how to improve their environmental awareness and sustainability measures. Certainly the Air Force Museum of New Zealand offers an educational outing that the entire family will enjoy.

Prairie Aviation Museum in Illinois

The Prairie Aviation Museum, located in Bloomington, Illinois, aims to educate, entertain and inspire visitors with its meticulously preserved collection of aircraft, artifacts and memorabilia relating to aviation. It is here that visitors can explore more than a century of flight – from the earliest times that man took to the skies, through the developments that have brought us to high-tech aviation as we know it today. The story of flight is a fascinating one, and the Prairie Aviation Museum aims to keep that story alive for the benefit of current and future generations.

Featuring permanent and rotating exhibits, the Prairie Aviation Museum also has a mini-theater and historical aircraft and vehicles displayed outdoors. The museums Carrier Display documents developments in Naval air power, including that of aircraft carriers, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941. The Charles Lindbergh Display details events related to this legendary pioneer of flight who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 33.5 hours in 1927. Other displays include the Illinois Astronauts Gallery, Link Trainer Display and Rosie the Riveter – the iconic image dedicated to women working in defense plants during WWII.

Many of the military aircraft at the museum are on loan for public display, with the proviso that these aircraft be accurately restored to their original state. This rather daunting task requires intensive research into the history of each aircraft, followed by hours of painstaking restoration work. With the assistance of outside resources, most of this work is done by volunteers, as they diligently restore aircraft in compliance with requirements set out by the United States Air Force and Navy Museums. The work does not stop once the aircraft are restored and approved for display, as maintaining the aircraft is an ongoing process. To this end, member volunteers and visitors are encouraged to adopt an aircraft, and then make it a group project to keep it in mint condition.

With nine aircraft at the museum, and plans to add to the collection, there is always a call for new volunteers at the Prairie Aviation Museum. Aircraft on display are: A-4 Skyhawk; A-7 Corsair II; AH-IJ SeaCobra; F-4N Phantom; F-14D Tomcar; F-100 Super Sabre; T-33 Shooting Star; T-38 Talon; and UH-1H Huey. Volunteers of all ages offer their skills, experience, time and effort to help preserve aviation history at the museum. Some of the work carried out by volunteers include administration, public speaking, advertising, mechanics, maintenance, pilots, engineers, security, restoration, wood working, art, transportation, writing, tour guide, photography, video, radio, public relations, history and research.

By means of flight simulators, visitors to the Prairie Aviation Museum will have the opportunity to get behind the controls of an aircraft in an immersive virtual environment to experience the wonders of flight, without a pilot’s license. Certainly a visit to the Prairie Aviation Museum is an outing that the whole family can enjoy and will no doubt engender new respect for the pioneers of flight, and the developments that have taken place over the years.

Nellis Air Force Base – Aviation Nation 2011

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Aviation Nation at Nellis Air Force Base is Nevada’s largest free public event. This year the event will celebrate 70 years of air power in Las Vegas, dating back to the gunnery school opened at Nellis in 1941. Headlining the event will be the US Air Force Thunderbirds, along with other military air demonstration teams and civilian air performers. The event focusses on America’s aviation history and celebrates the efforts of the country’s military forces. About 100 aircraft of all types will be on display. In addition there will be a number of food, beverage and novelty stalls.

Dates: 12 to 13 November 2011
Venue: Nellis Air Force Base
City: Las Vegas
State: Nevada
Country: United States of America

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