aerospace photography

10

     Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, offers the unique sight of a complete Mercury spacecraft. Many of these spacecraft are available for viewing all over the United States, but this one is special because it did not fly.

     During the course of a Mercury flight, several parts of the spacecraft are jettisoned and not recovered, including the retro package. This piece of equipment is visible here in my photos as the striped metal object strapped to the bottom of the heat shield. This small cluster of solid rocket motors was responsible for the safe return of the astronaut from space, making just enough thrust to change the shape of the orbit so that it would meet the atmosphere and use aerobraking for a ballistic reentry.

     If this package had not fired properly, the astronaut would be faced with the dire situation of being stuck in orbit. Fortunately, this never happened in real life, but it was captured in the fanciful novel “Marooned” by Martin Cardin, in which a NASA astronaut was stranded on orbit after his retro rockets failed. When the book was released in 1964, it was so influential that it actually changed procedures for Mercury’s follow on program Project Gemini, adding more redundancy to the spacecraft’s reentry flight profile.

     Alan Shepard, the first American in space and later Apollo 14 moonwalker, didn’t fail to notice that there was a leftover spacecraft at the end of the Mercury program. He lobbied for a second Mercury flight in this ship, speaking personally to both NASA Administrator James Webb and President John Kennedy about this flight. He told them his idea of an “open ended” mission in which they would keep him in orbit indefinitely until there was a malfunction or consumables began to run out. Webb stated (and Kennedy agreed) that it was more important to shelve the Mercury spacecraft in order to jump start the more capable Gemini Program. Thus, we now have this whole Mercury on display for future generations to appreciate.

flickr

1995… Barbie and Ken: Star Trek by James Vaughan

10

       In an amazing chain of events, the story of these WWII fighters continues to be written. The Goodyear F2G Super Corsair was an upgraded version of the famed F4U, optimized for fighting Japanese aircraft at low level. Before the aircraft could go operational, the war ended, and only 10 were built. Of these prototype airframes, only two still exist today.

     Race 57, shown in her striking red paint job, was the fifth prototype to roll off the assembly line as serial number 88458. After the war, she was purchased by Navy Captain Cook Cleland, who won the 1947 and 1949 Thompson Trophy race with this aircraft. She would become the last propeller driven aircraft to ever win the Thompson Trophy. 

     The dawn of the jet age caused these aircraft to be mothballed. Race 57 lay dormant for many decades until Bob Odegaard would return her to flight in 1999. I took these photos of Race 57 on August 26, 2007, at the Alpine Airpark Airshow in Wyoming. Earlier that day, I watched in awe as Odegaard flew low level aerobatics in this beautiful bird. I was 17 years old. 

      Nearly ten years after seeing my first Super Corsair, I was privileged to visit the Museum of Flight Restoration Center in Everett, Washington, where I photographed the first F-2G prototype as they breathed new life into the plane. Serial number 88454 proudly wears her original Naval Air Test Center livery (as shown in the final five photos in this set).

     As I experienced this later encounter with a Super Corsair, I did so with a heavy heart. Bob Odegaard, who thrilled me as a teenager with his aerobatics, was no longer with us. Odegaard owned a second Super Corsair called Race 74. He exhibited the aircraft all over the country until on September 7, 2012, he tragically lost his life while practicing for an air show in his home state of North Dakota.

      Odegaard’s legacy lives on, forever entangled with the story of the Super Corsair. Race 57 has recently changed hands once again in an effort to keep her flying. Wars begin and end. Races are won. Lives are lost. As one chapter closes, another begins.

flickr

1927 … vroom! by James Vaughan

6

     When you picture a test pilot or astronaut wearing a pressure suit and strutting to their sleek ship, the mental image is not complete without them toting along a little metal briefcase connected to their suits via hoses. This yellow box is a portable liquid oxygen converter and serves the all important function of cooling the human inside the suit. Without cooling, the heavy layers of a pressure suit would cause the crew member to overheat within a matter of minutes.

     The simple device has no moving parts or electronics. It contains a small tank full of super cold liquid oxygen, constantly heating up and boiling away into a gas. The cold gas expands through the coil of tubing surrounding the tank, then travels through a hose into the suit where it’s distributed through the crew member’s cooling garment throughout the suit. Some of the oxygen is directed to the crew member’s helmet, allowing them to breathe 100% pure oxygen prior to the flight, purging their blood of nitrogen, thus avoiding decompression sickness, otherwise known as the bends.

     When the pressure suited individual sits in the cockpit, a supporting crew member will disconnect the portable system and connect the ship’s integral oxygen system which serves the same purposes during flight. Equipment identical to this was used during the Blackbird program. This interesting little artifact lies on display at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California.

10

     Before the Space Shuttle carried us to Mach 25, before the X-15 tore through the High Desert sky, before the X-1 punched through the sound barrier, there was this airplane. A small, fabric covered Fairchild whose top speed was just over 100 mph was the NACA’s (NASA’s predecessor) first airplane. As I photographed this airplane, I wished I could travel back to 1928 and tell the builders that they were fabricating the matriarch of the fleet that would touch the lives of billions.

     Before 1928, the NACA was performing flight tests using borrowed military aircraft. Fairchild FC-2W2 serial number 531 became the first ship they would actually own. “NACA 26″ was responsible for everything from validating wind tunnel data to researching icing effects by flying with water sprayers forward of the leading edge of a vestigial airfoil segment attached to the wing strut.

     In 1936, the NACA had logged 593 hours and 20 minutes of flight time when they transferred her to an even younger government agency. The National Park Service would take ownership of the bird and she would become their first aircraft. After the transfer, she was given a new engine, propeller and the civilian designation, N-13934. In this new role, she flew over 700 hours along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, bringing groceries to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and supporting remote camps of workers fighting beach erosion.

     Through the decades, the aircraft moved from hand to hand, flying for the Office of Indian Affairs Navajo Agency in 1942, then being sold into private ownership for only $300. From 1945 to 1970, the aircraft changed hands six times, being used for crop dusting, cloud seeding, skydiving, and even being crashed and restored. In 1996, she was purchased by Greg Herrick’s Yellowstone Aviation of Jackson, Wyoming, where she was lovingly restored. While most of her NACA/NASA successors rest on museum duty, this bird still flies today, based out of the Golden Wings Flying Museum in Blaine, MN.