Saturday, May 8, 2021

Tucson: Pima Air and Space Museum

A former Air Force One - Used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.


I think I have blogged here a couple of times about my lifelong interest in aviation. I particularly like military aircraft because they lead technology in the same way that race cars lead technology for more practical cars. They also have unique niche capabilities compared to civilian aviation, which almost entirely are used for transportation of people or stuff. Military aircraft often do other things that are task oriented and not simply transportation. There is also the dark thrill of warfare.

I've been to a few air and space museums over the years, but for viewing examples of airframes, I've never seen so many types in one place. I actually didn't allow myself enough time to view every aircraft, and forgot to bring a hat, so now I have a sunburn on my scalp (I have a fair complexion and burn easily). Perhaps I'll go back someday and complete the visit. They also offer guided tours of the aircraft "boneyard" during non-pandemic times. The boneyard is where the United States military stores "mothballed" airframes as spares, or for the event of a dire need of more military aircraft, as in a major war. The dry desert of southern Arizona is a nearly perfect place for long term storage of mostly-metal aircraft.

Since my time was slightly limited, I made sure to see the precise airframe examples that interested me most. This basically meant fighter aircraft and bombers. I didn't spend much time on transports and none on helicopters. Since I've been to airshows before, and viewed many static displays, I've seen many of the types elsewhere anyway. Once, a long time ago, I actually rode in a KC-135 air tanker.

Below are some of my favorites from the museum.

F-15A. The F-15 family is probably my favorite aircraft of all time. It conveys a sense of speed and power, and it looks menacing, yet also looks graceful. All of these impressions are true. It also has an exceptional record of combat service, with over a hundred air-to-air victories and no losses. There are also dedicated strike versions. The production line is still running and the US Air Force just ordered dozens more, over 40 years after the initial production run began.

The O-2A. I used to have the Matchbox version of this and played happily for hours with it. The pusher propeller on the back is not visible here.

The F-100 Super Sabre, one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed. Like many early jets, it had some flaws, but for a short time it was the fastest mass-produced jet aircraft. Prior to the A-10, I think this aircraft was one of the most heavily armed single-seat fighters, with four 20 mm cannons, firing a combined rate of over 4000 rounds per minute.

The F-5 Freedom Fighter. This is a small, affordable, supersonic aircraft that was designed to be exported to allies of the United States without compromising the state secrets in America's more expensive and advanced aircraft. Pilots love flying this aircraft and it is still in use for a few niche applications. Gorgeous!

The F/A-18 Hornet, painted in the colors of the US Navy's performance team the Blue Angels. I fell in love with this type after seeing the Blue Angels at the airport in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my dad served in the Indiana Air National Guard. I'm unsure if this exact airframe might have been used in that display?

The B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II fame. I can't say this is necessarily one of my favorite aircraft, but it provided important and commendable service during the largest war in history. It's found in a museum within the museum and they ask for donations, which I happily provided to review the aircraft. I'm only disappointed that I couldn't climb up into it.

The venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the "Warthog," with it's ludicrously destructive 30 mm Gatling cannon. I saw some of these while out hiking as a wing is stationed at Davis-Monthnan Air Force Base in Tucson. These are a familiar sight for me because there was a wing stationed at the now-defunct Grissom Air Force Base near where I grew up in Indiana, and they routinely flew at low altitude, sometimes coming out from behind the trees, despite hypothetical bans on flying quite so low. I also saw some F-16 Fighting Falcons flying while in Tucson. These were probably from fighter wings of the Arizona National Guard or an Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, both of which are stationed at the Tucson International Airport. Tucson is a great place for plane spotting!

I also like some foreign (not United States) aircraft. This is one of my favorites: the Sea Harrier, used successfully by the British Royal Navy during the Falkland Islands War (this example is a slightly newer, or upgraded varient). This aircraft was capable of vertical takeoff and landing. There were several versions of the Harrier, but this one is distinguishable by the protruding nose, which contained a radar, and provided the British with a valuable advantage during the war. Earlier Harrier varients lacked a radar.


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