Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pima Air and Space Museum

 Or, How I spent my winter vacation, part whatever.

We're back on the tundra, I should be writing about more current events -- what's going on down at the museum (not much at the moment), what's happening politically, exciting local news (two moose died in a vehicle/moose collision, someone wants to open a Dollar General store in L'Anse), you name it -- but after reading excerpts from The Donald's Associated Press interview the past is looking much better than the present. (I keep waiting for some little kid to yell "but he's not wearing any clothes!!" loud enough for it to finally sink in that there's a lunatic in the Oval Office, but apparently sane children are in short supply inside the Beltway.) So instead I'll revisit some of the highlights of snowbirding in the desert.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is located on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. When we lived in Tucson almost 35 years ago, the museum felt like it was way out in the middle of nowhere. Urban sprawl has since caught up with it. There's still a fair amount of visually vacant land around it because it's adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, but suburban development has filled in what used to be a whole lot of nothing to the east of the museum.
The S/O/ taking one of a zillion photos he'll probably never look at again after downloading them to the computer. .

The last time we'd been to the museum was probably in 1981. Long, long ago in what now feels like a galaxy far, far away. At the time I think the museum had one building, maybe two, but there were a gazillion aircraft, mostly military but a few civilian, on static display. Somewhere in our photo albums there is page after page of snapshots of various nifty looking pieces of aeronautical engineering. I was definitely fascinated back then by the fighters the Blue Angels flew.
So what's changed in the intervening decades? Well, they've got more buildings now, which means the museum can do more interesting exhibits. If you've got a B-29 sitting outside exposed to the elements, i.e. desert winds and scorching sun, you're doing good to keep the paint job intact. You really can't do an exhibit that provides any sort of a context or includes much besides the plane. Stick it in a protected environment and you're able to provide interpretive signage that doesn't have to be as weather-resistant as outside signage would be, you can dress mannequins in flight suits or ground crew uniforms, you can do an exhibit that includes ancillary pieces of equipment. You can even stick a flying boat in fake water, which they've done. You can tell a much more complete story and know that whatever is in the exhibit is going to last for awhile.

I'm always intrigued (and more than a little envious) by the various methods that museums with money use for protecting the objects in their collections. Having heavy items (or even light ones) sitting directly on their suspension and wheels is never a good idea. Sooner or later the weight of the object causes things to break down. Springs get flattened, and wheels go out of round. We have two carts at the museum that have bad wheels now because they sat in the same position for too long. In any case, I was impressed by the stands for the aircraft. (I was also jealous of the chains and acrylic that kept the public from running its greasy hands over many exhibits, but that's true of just about every museum we visit.)

The S.O. and I had a good time wandering around the museum. Once again he pointed out the type of aircraft he fell off back in his Air Force days -- the fall resulted in a broken leg -- and once again I promptly forgot just what it was. When it comes to model numbers and airplanes, there are maybe 5 I can remember without having to think real hard: B-52 (aka BUFF), F-117 (Stealth fighter), SR-71 (aka Blackbird), U-2, and the Vought F4U (Corsair). I have an irrational love for Corsairs. Appropriately enough, the museum keeps its Corsair in a hanger. The boring piece of Vietnam era flying junk the S.O. fell off gets to sit outside and bake in the Arizona sun.
F101, aka Vietnam era junk
We decided to do the bus tour of the Air Force "bone yard," too. The military stashes old aircraft at Davis-Monthan. It's where they come to be parted out when their useful life is over. Anything salvageable gets salvaged and whatever is left turns into scrap metal. Aircraft that have had particularly interesting careers may end up sitting on static display for decades providing fodder for the tour bus guide. After all, a tour that consisted primarily of saying "And on your left are 50 C-131s" with no colorful anecdotes about how a particular aircraft was used would turn dull pretty quickly.
I did learn the Air Force gives old aircraft away to museums and other nonprofits. They strip out all the electronics, of course, and anything else that could either make the aircraft operational or compromise military security, but if we wanted an airplane to just sit around taking up space and looking thoroughly out of place next to Lake Superior all the Baraga County Historical Society would have to do is figure out a way to transport it. Too bad we don't have the space to park a B-52. I could argue they fit our mission to preserve local history. B-52s used to practice flying under radar locally. They'd go over L'Anse at about 1,000 feet above sea level, which didn't thrill anyone in town (L'Anse is at about 600 feet above sea level), and they'd have to climb to get over us (we're at 1700 feet). Seeing a B-52 at treetop height is kind of a thrill the first time you see one, but it gets old fast.
Yard art?
I could see revisiting the Pima Air and Space Museum. We didn't see everything there thanks to taking the bone yard tour (it eats up a couple hours)  and both the S.O. and I do like looking at airplanes. It's one of those places that can easily turn into an all-day experience, especially when there is an on-site restaurant that serves pretty decent food at not-outrageous prices.
I love cutaways -- it is always cool to see the internal structure of technological devices.

1 comment:

  1. You go to some of the airports in Alaska is like visiting an aircraft museum. There are still a lot of WW-2 aircraft in use there - they are more dependable then the newer in that climate.
    the Ol'Buzzard


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