Sunday, October 23, 2011

Planes and Things

After neglecting this blog for way too long, I thought I'd start back up with one of my favorite subjects, airplanes. Last weekend I ventured to the Wings Over Houston airshow at Ellington Field south of Houston. This was y third show, and as always it was a treat. The main sponsor, as before, is the Commemorative Air Force, though I still prefer their previous wonderfully politically incorrect name, the Confederate Air Force. This group of volunteers is passionate about locating and restoring old planes, mostly from WWII. Since they are based in Texas, Wings Over Houston is an ideal place to show off the results of their efforts.

In addition to restoring planes, they have modified existing aircraft, mostly the North American T-6 trainer from the mid 1930's, to resemble aircraft that no longer exist or if so, cannot be restored to flying condition. These are usually Japanese aircraft from the war, and many of these modifications have been used in movies. For the airshow, these and restored American planes from that era are used in a spectacular flyby. To add the drama, this airshow has pyrotechnics, so a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor is accompanied by some pretty spectacular explosions in the field next to the runway.

What really made this show special was the flight demo of the only flyable B-29 bomber in the world. Since this is the plane my dad flew in during the war, that made the demo even more special. I know if he could have been there to see it he would not have been able to contain his emotions.

After the B-29 landed, I got up for a closer look. Amazing how a 70 year old design can still look impressive. For a small fortune, it's possible to arrange a flight in it. I had this vision of Dad making that arrangement, then taking over the controls and muttering, "This thing had better have a full load of bombs because I have some old scores to settle."

The show wrapped up with a military demonstration team. Unlike the last two years, neither the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels were available, so this time it was the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds. Any attempt to refer to them as the Flying Caribous would probably have not been appreciated.

Anyway, they put on a good show with very precise maneuvers. They use ten planes, so that is a lot of coordination. The only downside is the plane in question is the ancient CT-114 Tutor, a trainer that entered service in 1961, and with the exception of the Snowbirds, is no longer being flown. Since it is an indigenous Canadian design, I suppose it is a matter of national pride that the Snowbirds keep using it, but it is not designed for high speed flight. This somewhat limits what the team could do. But still, they were a delight to watch.

The only downside was the return drive, which should have taken an hour, took three because of road construction. Since I drive an ancient car with a stick shift, the stop and go traffic was sheer torture. I should be getting some feeling back in my clutch foot any day now.

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