Sunday, April 27, 2008


The word desert, as in Sonoran Desert (that's where we live,) conjures up the color, "drab brown" in most people's minds. Mine too. Before I moved here. In fact, there's a riot of color going on now. Yes, we have spring, but not quite like everyone else.

Some would consider this to be a thorny beauty. I guess it's just nature's way of protecting what must be a delicious bloom, that is if you're a native animal to the Sonoran Desert.
Some blooms are pretty bazaar. Growing from the most unlikely source.
Like the ground? At least that's what this looks like. Buried under that sea of orange blossom is a tiny cactus somewhere. The one with the purple flower is a "hedgehog" cactus, as it's commonly called around here.
My favorite? The Ocotillo. Or as I like to call them, the dead sticks. That's because in the winter, the leaves fall off and it looks for all the world like a dead stick with thorns. But come the rains and these masters of surprise grow leaves like a standard poodle grows hair.
And although it's tough to see in this photo (unless you put your cursor on the picture and left click) the dead sticks also produce the BRIGHTEST orange flower at the very top of the individual sticks. You gotta see em to believe it.
And the color isn't exclusive to the desert cacti. You'll often see a lake of color, if the rains have come at the right time (this year's bloom is far superior to last years, thanks to some well timed rain back in January.) This splash of color is courtesy of the brittle bush.
So, if someone tells you that all the desert is good for is a whacking good thorn in your side, well, you know better now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


What would you think if you stumbled upon "Air Force One" sitting forlornly in a field scattered with the debris and remnants of half a dozen derelict aircraft from the 1950s?
Welllllllll, welcome to my world.
OK, I never said that it was going to be THIS President's "Air Force One," did I? No.
However, you
are staring at "Air Force One." In fact, this was the FIRST official Air Force One, ever. The one that established that call sign. And it is just sitting in a field in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, slowly (it seems to me) losing it's tenuous grip on its existence.
Alright, a little history is in order. I went to the Marana Regional Airport to see some WW2 vintage bombers (see my previous post. They were teriffic!) I was chatting with a very nice guy (Carl, a retired Delta pilot) who was sitting under the wing of the B-17
(he's the pilot of the B-29 from this group but as the B-29 wasn't there, Carl's main order of business was to get out from under the hot sun). After talking about many aviation and non aviation subjects, Carl points way yonder and says, there sits President Eisenhower's former Air Force One. Now, I happen to know, that's not possible. Why? Because that Air Force One was sitting at the Pima Air & Space Museum, about 40 miles due south of here. Carl responds with, "Aha, so you didn't know that Ike had THREE Air Force Ones?"
So, I jumped in my car and bumped down the road to the gate that Carl said was closed. The gate was open. No one around. An accidental push on the gas and I'm suddenly behind the gate on a dirt and gravel road. A quick turn to the right and..... There it was. Unmistakable. It was Air Force One. Ike's Air force One.
How was I so certain? See that yellow blob under the cockpit of the beautiful, shiny Lockheed c-121 Tri Star Constellation? That there blob spells out "Columbine." The name that Ike's wife chose as the name for their official plane. Wanna see the clincher?
OK, I know you really can't see this on line (unless you put your cursor on the above picture and left click. That'll really blow the picture up.) So trust me here. Just above the nose wheel is a number printed on the nose gear door. That number says 8610. The tail number of one of Ike's three planes was 48-610. No doubt about it, this is the plane. This is the Air Force One that carried Ike from January 1953 to November 1954. The one that took Ike 18,000 miles on a secret mission to Korea. And the one that was first to be called "Air Force One" (the reason: An Eastern Air Lines flight # 8610 was confused with Ikes 8610 and was mistakenly given permission to fly into the restricted air space around Ike's plane. That probably really disturbed Ike's security folks and from that incident forward, every President's plane was always referred to as Air Force One.) In fact this plane is Columbine Numer Two. Number one is the one sitting at the Pima Air & Space Museum (a wonderful place if you love aircraft of all vintages.) Number three? I don't think that it exists any more, although I'm not sure. There are VERY few Constellation Tri Stars in existence now. This plane's journey to a small patch of sandy earth in a backwater regional airport is quite long. I'll shorten it (as much as I'm able to-it's not in my nature to take the short way.)
After 1968, it was grounded and was stripped of any and all markings (other than 8610) to denote its historic past. It was slowly stripped of parts to keep other Tri Stars in service. In the 1970s, the plane was sold to a crop dusting company, along with 4 sister planes. Columbine was the only one that wasn't refurbished to fly and again was used for her spare parts.
In 1980, the owner of the company received one of those phone calls that can only be described as, "you've got be kidding me." The call was from the Smithsonian in Washington asking him if he knew of his plane's history? Well, he felt terrible, but what could he do? He stopped using its parts for spares. In 1990, this man decided that he was going to scrap the plane. Over a cup of coffee he and his partner changed their minds and decided Columbine deserved a better fate and vowed they would fully restore her. After her restoration, she proceeded to participate in several air shows and in 1998 was put up for auction, hopefully to an air museum. The asking price was $1.5. The best bid was $1.4. The plane was withdrawn from the auction. It was then flown to New Mexico and sat for a number of years. Then refurbished again for the flight to Marana, where it sits today. It's obviously been used for parts again. The rumor has it that the plane is for sale. For $3.5m. I'd say, it'd be a shame for this plane to sink into the Arizona desert. It's really an historic aircraft.

Anyone have any spare change?
One last picture of Columbine and my baby (in car years, it might be nearly as old as Columbine.)

Maybe one more aviation post to come. After I took this picture from the gravel road, I turned around and caught a glimpse of an aircraft that got my heart a thumpen.... Later.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Hello everyone. Long time no post. As some of you know, I love WWII aircraft and the aura surrounding the men and machines. So on Friday, I visited the Marana Regional Airport (a very small airport with one 6500' landing strip) after hearing that WWII vintage bombers were going to spend the weekend there. The group consisted of a B-17 (pictured below, in flight over Tucson at sunset,) a B-24 and a B-25. You could take a ride on these planes, but two things discouraged me. First, let's not forget that these airframes are over 65 years old. Are they safe? Probably. Would I take the chance? Probably not. Second, it cost $400 for the ride. Case closed!

For those who don't know what a B-17 looks like, here it is. The pilots and crew loved them because they had a reputation of being able to take enormous damage and still bring their crews home safely.

Another view of the B-17. Although built for an ugly (but necessary) purpose, the plane can look very pretty from certain angles.

Which brings me to this story. I cannot authenticate it. It was told to me by one of the crew of this B-25, below. This type of plane was made famous by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle and his squadron of B-25s that bombed Tokyo ("The Doolittle Raid") in the early part of WWII. If you're too young to know of this story then......shame on you and look it up! If it weren't for these brave people and many more like them, we probably wouldn't be here today under anywhere near the same circumstances that we're enjoying (sorry about that. Carried away as usual. Here's a link to a useful web site explaining the Doolittle Raid. Anyway, the story. This plane was named after an early 1940s movie starring Dorothy Lamour. Quite the glamour girl back then. This B-25 and two other B-25s were chosen for a raid on the Japanese occupied Island of British New Guinea to bomb the harbor there. The raid was initially successful. They sunk a 6,000 ton Japanese freighter (hence the ship painted on the side of the B-25) and were on their way out of the harbor when the other two B-25s saw 50 Japanese "Zero" fighters about to attack them. During the initial attack, the other two B-25s were shot down and the pictured B-25 had one engine destroyed and two of it's crew killed outright. The Tondelayo's pilot had few choices. He decided quickly to put the plane in a dive and pulled up 30' over the ocean. He reasoned that now he didn't have to defend the belly of his aircraft and perhaps of more importance, the extreme dive helped them pick up speed which was critical due to having to fly with only one engine. The first four Zeros to attack miscalculated their dive and hit the ocean. For the next 75 minutes, the Tondelayo and crew had a running gun battle with the 46 remaining fighters. In the end, 10 Zeros were destroyed (you can see the 10 rising sun flags painted just forward of the cockpit) and the Tondelayo made it back to home base. All crew members received the "Silver Star." A hair raising story!
Well, I saw other interesting things at the airport Friday. One in particular involving some American presidential history. But enough for one post.