John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: June, 2017

The Pima Air & Space Museum (Part 1)

Seeing the Pima Air & Space Museum for the first time forced me to ask myself: Why wasn’t this on my radar screen as a destination to see vintage airplanes? It’s not as if I’m a rookie or a rube when it comes to airplane museums. I live on Long Island and have visited the Cradle of Aviation museum located on old Mitchel Field to see their collection of airplanes built on Long Island principally by Grumman and Republic. In fact Grumman was the principal sponsor when it remained an independent manufacturer, the navy’s biggest supplier of jet fighters and Long Island’s biggest employer. The museum’s gem is the Luna Module 13, aka the LEM from Apollo 18 that never launched on its moon mission due to budgetary cutbacks. The moon’s loss was the museum’s gain.


I’ve visited the Smithsonian Air & Space facilities both on the mall and out at Dulles International Airport, the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio and the US Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. They all include treasures. The Smithsonian’s grand prize is the original Wright Flyer, a Concorde in Air France markings and the shuttle Discovery. The air force has the one surviving B-70 stored outside and its grand prize (in my opinion,) a monstrous B-36 Peacemaker stored inside. The Navy has the NC-4, the only one of three Curtis flying boats able to finish the first trans-Atlantic crossing in 1919, eight years ahead of Charles Lindberg. Christened, the Lame Duck, NC-4 survived the difficult flight from Rockaway Beach to Lisbon, Portugal with multiple stops in 10days and 22 minutes.


The primary reason Bill and I planned a trip to Arizona was to visit the military aircraft bone yard in Tucson. It was only when I began my due diligence that I discovered the starting point for the tour was at the Pima Air &Space Museum. I was surprised to learn that this museum was in a separate location several miles removed from the Davis-Monthan AFB, the home of the bone yard. I called the museum before we departed to determine tour details and discovered there were two tours daily, one at 11 AM and one at 1 PM.


We planned our visit on Friday, the one full day we had in Tucson and we agreed to be at the museum when it opened the next day at 9 AM, an easy task as our Hampton Inn was about ten-minutes from the site. Unexpectedly, we found about 50 people had already lined-up outside the entrance when we arrived at 8:45. We concluded that folks who go to airplane museums in 105+ degree heat tend to be early birds. Despite our “late” arrival, we secured tickets for the 11 AM bus. We had to undergo a security check designed to ferret out anybody with a record or a warrant hanging over their heads. This was becoming serious.


We had enough time to visit three of the five climate controlled hangers before boarding the bus and we couldn’t help but notice the large number of aircraft displayed outdoors as we walked from one hanger to another. We began in Hangers One and Two attached to the entrance. Both had decent collections but nothing unusual. We found a B-24 in pristine condition in Hanger Three. This is the type of bomber my father fought in with the Eighth Air Force flying 47 missions as a navigator on two separate tours of duty. The museum recovered their B-24 from the Indian Air Force and a museum crew flew it to Tucson. I was duly impressed by the tale of their flight across Asia, Europe, the Atlantic and cross-country. By then it was time to board the bus.


Laggards once again, we found the only open seats together were in the rear. However, they were great with plenty of leg room and an unobstructed view. As the bus left the museum, Bill and I were startled to see a B-36 parked on the grounds. We both believed that the sole remainder of these heavy bombers was located at the Air Force Museum. What a find and a must-see for us when we returned from the tour.


Our guide, Trish Hughes, an accomplished aviator and instructor, explained we were heading to Davis-Monthan AFB where we would have to vacate the bus while security inspected it. The driver stopped at the commercial entrance where a large garage blocked our path. It was actually a double-ended shed filled with various electronic, chemical, etc. sensors designed to detect the presence of harmful things bad guys would want to slip onto the base.


Few of us encounter direct face-to-face reminders that our nation has been continuously at war since September 11, 2001; this was one of them. We were not alone in the receiving yard. Every commercial vehicle stopped there for inspection. Each truck driver opened the hood of his truck, opened the cargo doors and presented his log to security. Uniformed military police and uniformed federal officers used various devices to inspect the engine compartments and cargo including the best and most basic detector, K-9 German Shepherds.


We were led off the bus and into the shed while our coach received a thorough going over including a quality sniff test by the K-9. Trish explained that the questionnaire we filled out back at the museum was also being checked against the FBI’s data base. Bill and I quietly shared the same thought with each other: “Pity the poor s.o.b. with an outstanding warrant who took this trip on a lark!”


Cleared to go, we re-boarded and the bus slowly rode through the shed before we were cleared onto the base.


(To be continued.)

Altered States

Gary Gulman has a wonderful comedy routine about how the government decided to set the two-digit code for every state. Gary begins his routine by explaining that he recently watched a 93-minute documentary about the group of “abbreviators” the government brought together in 1973 to convert the existing abbreviations each state preferred into two-letter codes. The existing shortcuts were confusing at best with many having little in common. For example, Alabama was Ala, Hawaii and Idaho were Hawaii and Idaho respectively, Kansas was Kans, Missouri was Mo and Pennsylvania was Pa. So off to work these appointees went and, while they were at it, they also included two-letter codes for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Northern Marianas and Palau.


Gulman explained that the documentary placed the abbreviators in a hotel conference room fully expecting to wrap this up quickly enough to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet before it closed.


All right, let’s do this in alphabetical order and let’s do it quickly so we can get out of here. First up: Alabama; make that AL. Next up: Alaska, (and the first moans.) Let’s skip that and go to the next state; Arizona. Easy, AR…next, Arkansas…’oh s***! We’ll go back to those two. Next: California, easy- CA, next: Colorado…CO, hey, we’re on a roll, Next: Connecticut…damn, damn, damn!


In exasperation one participant screams out: “How many times can this happen?”


Gulman answers for him: “Twenty-Seven!”


In fact, the documentary he refers to doesn’t exist. Nevertheless it has become an urban legend and has even been given a title: “The Abbreviated State.” It is simply a figment of Gulman’s imagination that he uses as the vehicle to introduce his routine. Despite this fact, there remains a small army of truthers out there combing through the corners of the internet desperately seeking to find it.


But Gulman’s routine does beg the question, how did the postal service select the more difficult choices for these codes? Absent a conspiracy model, most decisions appear to be logical, practical or both.


Eighteen states and two territories already used two letter abbreviations so the Postal Service agreed that they would retain those letters as their new codes. Missouri retained MO and Pennsylvania, PA. The list included DC, GA, KY, MD, all the popular “New’s,” NH, NJ, NM, and NY, not to mention the four geographical names, NC, ND, SC and SD. Other codes became shortened versions of the existing abbreviations. Miss became MS, Minn-MN, Ariz-AZ, Nebr-NE, Fla-FL and Iowa-IA.


Some must have been show stoppers. Texas versus Tennessee or, Tex vs. Tenn. It would appear that calmer heads prevailed giving us TX and TN.


But the M’s must have been a tough nut to crack. Including Marshall islands and Micronesia, there are ten and so we have ME, MD, MH, MA, MI, FM, MN, MS, MO and MT. No, that’s not a mistype; the postal code for Micronesia is FM. (Two other territorial oddities are Northern Marianas – MP and Palau – PW.)


Had enough? I would think so and I do believe I should stop beating this horse. It is dead.


Next time out, I plan to offer a proper explanation of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System’s numbering codes. I will explain how we get from I-5 to I-95 and from I-10 to I-90. I will also explain why we make side trips on routes like I-115, I-278, I-391, I-495, and delve into why Florida’s I-8 exists. I will offer my opinion why all of the distance signs on I-19 south of the Tucson city limits on the way to the Mexican border are in kilometers and not in miles. Did you know, Bob and Ray, the interstate system includes: H-1, H-2 and H-3 on Oahu, Hawaii? Yes, Virginia, there is a method to all this madness.


As an aside, if you choose to watch Gary Gulman’s routine, please make sure you also watch another of his called “The Adolph Hitler Documentary.” Again he makes up the existence of a documentary to introduce his subject. This time he explains that a women friend told him about it but couldn’t think of the word, atrocities, so she used a synonym and told him it was called “Hitler’s Shenanigans.”

The Cold War Re-Visited

Thursday, June 8th found Bill Christman and me riding in a rental car 33-miles south of Tucson on Interstate-19 to the exit for Green Valley. It’s hot, really hot as we drive west for a mile on a two-lane road before we find our destination. Just off this road, we find a non-descript metal sheeted building behind a small parking lot. A cyclone fence stretches from one side. In front of the fence is a small sign that says: “Watch for rattlesnakes. We’re not kidding!”


Behind the fence sits a concrete structure low to the ground. Welcome back to the Cold War, a de-commissioned and preserved Titan II missile silo. Scott, our guide is a retired air force officer who spent two years as the launch commander in just such a facility. He leads a party of ten, Bill and I, a family of five, mom, dad and three teenage girls, another couple and a single fellow with a Germanic accent, into the facility. We enter a twisting passageway to begin our descent fifty-three steps down a metal staircase.


If the site had been operational, we would have had to pass through four locked checkpoints to gain access. As it is, we pass through two massive blast doors to enter the control room. Everything about this facility is deadly serious. Scott explains how serious from the intricate steel rebar pattern used to strengthen the massive concrete floors, walls and overheads – all laid in single pours to the complex’s communications system that has four independent and redundant back-ups.


The design and engineering of this facility is based on one over-riding reason, protect the Titan II missile and the four-person launch crew from all but a direct hit from an incoming nuclear device. (As an un-nerving aside, Scott pronounces nuclear in the same manner that W does.)


Completely sealed off inside, the crew has enough food, water, power, clean air and a/c to function for 12 days. Massive springs and shock absorbers, flexible cables and hoses protect the missile and the launch instruments from a nuclear shock wave. Positive pressurization prevents contamination by fall out or poisons.


The complex contains three separate chambers connected by tubes. The control center, the missile silo and the crew’s quarters. We only visit the first two but Scott explains the crew quarters are basic, a small kitchen, bunk beds and a toilet.  “The crews rotated every 24-hours so there wasn’t’ a lot of downtime. For the most part we didn’t cook as the kitchen had to be cleaned for the next crew. Instead, we subsisted on a diet of Coke and Twinkies.”


Scott is matter-of-fact, friendly, open and knowledgeable. He leads us through an excellent presentation of the launch procedure while we stand around the control room. He reminds us that the crew (two officers and two enlisted) were in their early twenties or late teens. Crazy as it sounds, the fate of civilization could have rested in the hands of personnel who could not legally buy a beer!


Scott selects two of the girls to play the roles of the commander and her executive officer (XO).He directs them to sit in the two oversized rolling office chairs each at her appropriate work station.  They are about six-feet apart with the sister playing commander perched before a console bursting with a plethora of 1950s and early 1960s technology. Phones featuring rotary dials, analogue displays and switches and black & white TV monitors.


Scott points to a large metal cabinet with all the draws marked “empty.” He explains:    “Originally, these draws were filled with vacuum tubes that powered the internal guidance settings for the missile. The air force estimated these missiles would remain in service for about five years. They actually lasted 20. Tubes must be replaced at regular intervals but after ten years, manufacturing ceased.” Pointing to one panel in the cabinet where a display is located, he continues, “Fortunately, NASA, Boeing and MIT developed this digital guidance system that replaced all those tubes.”


He instructs the sisters to re-enact a missile launch. First, he has the commander find a series of six numbers from her orders which she instructs the XO to enter into a switch that releases the locks holding the missile in place. Then he instructs them to simultaneously turn their two keys on the commander’s count.


(The position of these two keys is deliberately placed about twelve feet from each other making a one-person launch impossible.)


A series of turns activates a green light on the commander’s console. Scott gives the command, “Push the launch button.”


Reality check: It took less than two and a half minutes to launch!


Scott notes, “By the way, the air force thought it best that the crew had no knowledge of their missile’s target.”


Someone asks, “What was the crew to do next?”


“One and done. They had no further real orders.” Scott is not without a sense of humor. “Remember, we were basically big kids. One night, off duty, after a few beers, we concocted a ‘what if’ plan. We’d leave the complex, walk down to the interstate, use our side arms to hijack a vehicle, rob a bank, hook up with four hot girls and hightail it to Mexico.”


In case you are wondering, the missiles cannot be recalled. The time to target was a little more than a half-hour.


And now: “Let us pray.”


We’ve Been Everywhere, Man!

(Title used with apologies to Johnny Cash.)


From 2002 until 2014 our merry band of retirees made 14 baseball road trips. On most of these trips, four of us traveled together, Bill Christman, Mike Cruise, Don Markey and me. We missed 2012 and 2016. Bill, Mike and I made a non-baseball trip in the spring of 2016 to ride behind a restored Norfolk & Western J- Class steam locomotive, No. 611.


We lost Don who passed away in the fall of 2016. Mike couldn’t make the 2017 trip, but Bill and I are traveling to Phoenix and Tucson today for our next adventure. FYI, the forecast is 107!


Mike and I made the first trip by car. Our first stop was Pittsburg and a Pirates game at PNC Park. Granted, this was my first out-of-town ballpark, but its layouts, amenities and the great view of downtown Pittsburg blew me away. I still rate PNC Park as the best. We also visited Cleveland to see the Yankees lose to the Indians 11-3 at the Jake.


In 2003, we did Ohio flying to Cincinnati, Mike and I from LaGuardia, Don from Newark and Bill from Dallas. We rented a minivan: first stop Dayton for their Class A minor league Dragons who defeated the Lansing Lugnuts. The main event on this trip was an incredible air show staged at Wright-Patterson AFB celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight. Next up, Columbus and the AAA Clippers and finally two Reds games back in Cinci.


2004 found us in Chicago to see the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field and the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the “friendly (but uncomfortable) confines” of Wrigley Field. We finished with an Amtrak round trip to Milwaukee for a Brewers game at Miller Park before returning to Chicago.


A 2005 road trip took us to DC and Maryland. We watched the Nationals lose to the Cardinals at RFK before driving to Fredrick, MD the home of Barbara Fritchie who refused to strike the Stars and Stripes telling old Bobby Lee, “If you must shoot, shoot me and not this flag.” We saw their home team Keys play the Myrtle Beach Pelicans before finishing up in Camden Yards with the Orioles on the same day Katrina floods New Orleans.


Kansas and Missouri in 2006; stops included Omaha and the AAA Class Royals, Wichita for the AA Wranglers and Kansas City for the Big League Royals. In Omaha we saw a Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4023 displayed high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and John Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the NCAA World Series. We visited the Truman Museum in Independence and Kaufman Stadium in K.C. with its great sight lines and dancing water fountains.


2007 was our most ambitious car trip with stops in Toronto, Detroit, Akron and Philadelphia. My Yukon XL provided room and comfort. Bill met us in Toronto where we watched the lackluster Yankees lose to the Blue Jays, 15 to 4. The next morning we drove across the farmland of western Ontario to Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers home that featured a carousel featuring tigers instead of horses. We spent the night in Ann Arbor, (Go Wolverines!)  Next stop: Akron, for the Aeros. Bill left us in Pittsburg on our way to Philadelphia where we watch the Atlanta Braves beat the Phillies 7 to 5 at Citizen Bank Field. We said good bye to Don at a rest area on the NJT while Mike and I pushed on to Long Island having covered 1,769 miles in six days.


Our ranks swelled in 2008 and again in 2013 when we played “Backyard Baseball” in NYC. The first outing took us to Shea Stadium and old Yankees Stadium both in their last year of existence. The second took us to Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium. We coupled those trips with a visit to the Staten Island Yankees in 2008 and the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2013.


On the road again in 2009, we drove down the Delmarva Peninsula to Perdue Stadium for the Shorebirds vs the NJ Blue Claws. Continuing south we caught the Norfolk Tides at Harbor Park, visited the Navy base, the battleship, USS Wisconsin, and a replica of the USS Monitor before returning to DC and the new Nationals Park. Bill flew home from Regan National and Don again met Helen at a NJT rest stop.


We gave Bill a break in 2010 as we played Lone Star Baseball. Don and I flew separately to DFW where we met Bill. First stop, Arlington, a tour of Jerry’s palace (aka Cowboy Stadium aka AT&T Stadium) and a Rangers game. We had lunch in Austin on the way to San Antonio to attend a Missions game that night. We finished in Houston, visited the battleship Texas in San Jacinto, rode the light rail and saw the Astros play in Minute Maid Park (aka Enron Stadium.)


Reunited, the four of returned to the Midwest in 2011. A Twins game in Target Field, Minneapolis, a cold, wet visit to A Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, a rainout in Davenport, a Cardinals home game and a visit inside the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The Davenport rainout allowed us a serendipitous experience to enjoy an outstanding dinner at a fine restaurant called the Duck City Bistro and not at New York prices.


2014 made five of us with the addition of Geoff Jones. Geoff and I met in Atlanta and watched a couple of innings of a Braves game at Turner Field. The next day we drove to Charlotte, NC where we met Bill, Mike and Don. We rode their light rail, visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame and attended the AAA Knights game in their brand new BB&T Ballpark (named after a bank.) On our way to Durham and the Bulls, we came across Spencer and a sign for the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Located in old shops, once part of the Southern Railroad, they have an impressive collection of locomotives and rolling stock. Quite a find and a worthwhile visit. We watched a Durham Bulls followed by a pub dinner in a mall built around the old American Tobacco Company factory.


That turned out to be our last trip as a group. Curiously, I wrote an epilogue for that 2014 trip: “Older and not very wiser, we had a ball, great friends; lots of laughs. Baseball is our stated reason for making these trips but it’s really the good and bad, the things that go right and go wrong that make these trips special and what makes each of them a good time.”


I believe I can say for us all us, it’s been a blast!