Air-Minded: Big Jets, Little Trams, Tall Tales

Pima Air & Space Museum’s fleet of Boeing jetliners continues to grow. Thanks to Cathay Pacific and Boeing, a 777 was delivered today. The aircraft, line number WA001 (the first 777 built), was flown non-stop from Cathay Pacific’s home airport in Hong Kong to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, landing around 11 AM this morning. After defueling, PASM restoration volunteers towed it across Valencia Road onto museum grounds. It’s currently in the restoration yard, and I expect it to be put on display soon.

Per Boeing, this was the first 777 built, completed on 12 June 1994. The company used it as a test aircraft for several years, selling it to Cathay Pacific in 2000. The airline retired it in May 2018. During its time with Cathay Pacific, the aircraft completed 20,519 flights and recorded 49,687 flight hours.

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Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 (photo: Jet Photos)


Arriving at PASM (photo: John Bezosky Jr.)

Currently on display at PASM are the second prototype 787 Dreamliner and a former China Southern 737-300. Still awaiting restoration: Boeing 727 #5, the first one the company sold (to United Airlines in October 1963); also the first 727 to carry passengers on a commercial flight (March 1964).

I might be jumping the gun here, but if the rumor we’re soon to get a C-5 Galaxy from the Boneyard is true, I hope the museum is negotiating with Pima County for additional acreage!

Some new developments at the museum itself, not aircraft but important nevertheless:

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These are the museum’s new electric trams. As you know, I’m a tram tour docent, and have been looking forward to the arrival of these units. Well, they’re here now and in use (I happen to have been the first tram docent checked out on them, just last week). Both trams are articulated, with two sections. The larger of the two has seats for 48; the smaller one 16 plus a wheelchair platform and ramp.

But those were last week’s numbers. When I went in yesterday, the museum staff had decided to cap ticket sales for the large tram to 34 passengers, 12 for the smaller one. Although there are many more seats, those seats are narrow and close together, putting visitors shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, and I suspect some of the museum guests who helped us break in the new trams last week complained about cramped quarters. I know I heard some grumbles from the back when I took the first load of visitors out for a spin.

It’s going to be an adjustment. The old gasoline trams could carry 52 and 48 visitors respectively, and during peak season we’d often have to run both trams at once to accommodate all the guests who wanted to take the tour. But that’s a problem for the museum, not me personally.

My personal problem, and one I suspect will affect many other tram docents, is that the larger of the two electric trams is torture to drive. The small one’s awesome. The driving position and controls are set up right, and it’s as comfortable to operate as my car … but being so small, it won’t see daily use. Based on the number of visitors who sign up for tram tours every day, it’s the big one that’ll be in constant demand, and it’s not driver-friendly, not at all. The seat is right up against the steering wheel, and neither it nor the steering column are adjustable. There’s only a tiny bit of leg and foot room for the driver, but even worse, the accelerator and brake pedals are four to five inches above the floor, which forces you to lift your entire foot up to work the accelerator and brake.

It’s not just comfort, it’s control. Think about how it is when you drive your own car: you rest your heel on the floor and pivot your foot to work the gas and brake pedals. You’re in control; you can make small, precise muscle movements with no strain on your leg. With nothing to rest your heel on, you’d have to lift your leg up and hold your foot in the air to work the pedals. Precise control is next to impossible. It’s even worse in an electric vehicle, where the slightest twitch of your leg or foot delivers an instant lurch of torque and acceleration. And comfort? How many of us, in a sitting position, can hold our right foot up in the air for more than a few seconds at a time?

I can’t, and certainly can’t do it for an entire hour-long tram tour (of which I usually do two, sometimes three, per volunteer shift). The first day with the big tram, Monday last week, I borrowed a thick book from the docent library and put it on the floor to use as a footrest: it brought my foot up a couple of inches, allowing me to plant my heel and pivot my foot to work the pedals. This Monday I brought my own footrest to work, one I made at home with wood and duct tape, similar in size and shape to last week’s book (it’s okay, it was a crappy Tom Clancy novel).

The footrest helps, but it’s not enough. With my recent surgery, bending my knee at the sharp angle required to drive the new tram (which is made even worse by the elevated foot rest needed to work the pedals), I was limping after one tour and practically dragging my right leg after two. I don’t imagine the museum will want to fabricate brackets to move the driver’s seat back a couple of inches, but that is what’s really needed. Meanwhile, what was a fun job is now physically painful.

This is terribly disturbing to me … I love what I do at the museum, but expect if I complain they’ll tell me to take a hike, as they have to so many other dedicated volunteers.

Sorry, didn’t mean to unload, but hey, what are personal blogs for, right?

On a happier note, here’s our new volunteer center, open for business:

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The best part is that everything volunteers need is in one place now. The keys to the trams, the walkie-talkies, the mics, the computer we use to log in and out … we no longer have to traipse across the museum grounds every morning to sign in at one place and get the equipment we need at another, then retrace our steps at the end of the day to sign out and turn stuff in. Not only is it a nice lounge, we have our own restroom (non-public, I mean, not full of screaming schoolkids). Someday soon we’ll have curtains or window blinds too!

Well, that’s enough brave new world for now. I want to share something with you. Monday, yesterday that is, I told the story of a dramatic air-sea rescue to the guests on my tram. In 1994, when I was PACAF chief of flight safety at Hickam Field, Hawaii, an American F-16 pilot stationed at Misawa Air Base in Japan collided with an air refueling tanker at dawn over the Pacific, 200 to 300 miles east of Tokyo. He ejected and when I was called in at 0400 Hawaii time, was still floating in a one-man life raft, with other F-16s circling overhead. My first thought was that he might not get rescued for some time (or, god forbid, even at all) … he was too far out for rescue choppers, and the odds of being picked up by a passing ship were pretty small. We all, from the four-star on down, were worried sick.

Turned out the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force operated amphibious fixed wing rescue aircraft (and still do to this day). The Japanese crew of a Shin Meiwa US-1A, flying right to the limit of its range, was able to get to the crash site, land out of limits in a heavy sea state, and rescue our pilot. We got word around noon in Hawaii, and everyone’s mood changed instantly.

After I retired I worked as a defense contractor, conducting flight safety training for USAF fighter crews at bases around the US and overseas. Sometime in 2002 or thereabouts I was at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada, standing in front of a room full of target arms, otherwise known as Fighter Weapons School instructors. I decided to start things off with the story of the F-16 pilot’s rescue. As I got into it I heard some chuckles. Right there in the first row was a lanky guy in a flight suit wearing a name tag that said “Splash,” and I said, “Oh my god, you’re the dude, right?” He was indeed, and after class he filled me in on his ordeal, including a detail that has stuck with me ever since: his own assessment of the situation, once he pulled himself, soaking wet and shivering, into the raft in the middle of that huge, empty ocean … he thought he might just be a goner.

So anyway, I shared this story with the people on my tram, and afterward one of them walks up to me and introduces himself. He was the air attache at the American Embassy in Tokyo when that happened, and he told me a part of the story I didn’t know, the part about the heroic crew of that JMSDF flying boat.

As I knew, they pressed the limits to get to our guy, then exceeded those limits by landing in a high sea state, an unauthorized maneuver. What I didn’t know was that the JMSDF brass threw the book at them and wanted to court-martial the entire crew, and it was only pressure from high up in the American government that talked them out of it. The crew eventually received medals for the rescue, but in a secret ceremony, the same way covert CIA agents are honored.

It was fascinating to hear the Japanese side of the story, and brought home again what a small world it is. I never know who I’m going to meet at the museum, and believe me, it keeps me on my toes when it comes to telling war stories … I try hard not to embellish my there-I-was tales, because some of my listeners might have been there too.


You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news.


Banned Books Week is September 23-29. In honor of those who fight to protect our right to read and write, I offer my annual rant.

YCRT! Banned Books Week Annual Rant

Every year conservative pundits line up to tell us Banned Books Week is a hoax, claiming books aren’t banned in the USA. In the years I’ve been writing these YCRT! posts, more than one reader has called me a liar for saying books are banned. Here’s my response:

I find I have to explain my use of the word “banned” every now and again. My position is this: any time people try to keep people from reading a book, they’re attempting to ban it.

In the USA, not a week goes by without parents in one state or another showing up at school board meetings to demand certain books be removed from reading lists and libraries. Not a week goes by without some school board caving to parental pressure and pulling controversial books from the shelves.

Regardless of whether the same books are available on-line or in local bookstores, the intent of parents and school administrators who take these actions is to keep others from reading the books in question. This is the very definition of banning.

The government no longer bans books at the national level, but it used to. Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer, for example, was banned in the USA from its publication in 1934 until the Supreme Court overruled the ban in 1964. Even during the days when books were literally banned in the USA, though, conservatives advanced the argument that such books weren’t really banned, because you could always board an ocean liner, sail to Paris, and buy copies there. Conservatives today recycle the same argument: you can buy “Captain Underpants” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” from Amazon, so what’s the problem with removing them from the children’s section of the library?

Book banners want to control what other people read. They may no longer be able to ban books nationwide, but they’ll do whatever they can to get books they disapprove of banned from libraries, bookstores, and school reading lists. Sometimes they succeed, and banned books are the result. These are the correct words, and that is why I use them here.

But fine, if you don’t value my opinion, here’s what Merriam-Webster says about the word “ban”:

… to prohibit especially by legal means (ban discrimination); also: to prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of (ban a book) (ban a pesticide)

Under examples, they include this:

The school banned that book for many years.

Yes, Virginia, books are banned in the USA, and they’re banned all the time. When people quit trying to prevent me or my children from reading books they don’t like, I’ll quit using the word, but not until then.

YCRT! News

“… surveys indicate that 82-97 percent of book challenges—documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries—remain unreported and receive no media [attention].” An interesting overview of Banned Books Week (celebrating its 36th anniversary this year), with particular attention to California and the burning of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 9.18.13 AMIllustration from “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming,” a graphic essay by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell.

Challenges to and attempts to ban classic and prize-winning books in Texas schools and libraries, reported in several previous YCRT! columns, continue apace. This article includes a synopsis of the top ten most challenged books of 2017, compiled by the American Library Association.

Waiter, there seems to be a threat in my word salad: “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation—will be addressed!” —Donald J. Trump on 28 August 2018, in a now-deleted but widely documented tweet.

Facebook, as I expected based on past performance, is once again caving to the right-wing noise machine. Wonkette has the best headline so far: Facebook Is Letting Rightwing Shitrags “Fact-Check” Liberal Sites. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

Well, Hallowe’en is right around the corner … here’s how you can prepare your kids for the latest Satan-inspired books!

YCRT! Banned Book Review

diary of a young girlThe Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank, edited by Otto Frank & Mirjam Pressler

This review is for the definitive edition of “The Diary of a Young Girl,” published in 2010. The definitive edition contains passages and entries originally withheld by Anne’s father, the only resident of the secret annex to survive the camps.

Anne Frank was 14 when she wrote this diary entry, on Thursday, May 11, 1944:

“And now something else. You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. We’ll have to wait and see if these grand illusions (or delusions!) will ever come true, but up to now I’ve had no lack of topics. In any case, after the war I’d like to publish a book called The Secret Annex. It remains to be seen whether I’ll succeed, but my diary can serve as the basis.”

I first read Anne Frank’s diary in the mid-1950s when I was 11 or 12. My father was in the military and we lived on a USAF base near Kaiserslautern, Germany. I had been told about the extermination of the Jews, but even though we lived in a city where reminders of the recent war were everywhere you looked, the Holocaust was an abstraction, too big to comprehend … until I read the diary. I was outraged. I was moved. I’ve never forgotten the impact it had on me.

My experience was typical, at least of my generation. We read Anne Frank’s diary as children; we were horrified and moved; we have never forgotten it.

I decided to re-read”The Diary of a Young Girl” as an adult, partly because more of Anne’s journals have come to light since the death of her father, who prevented certain entries from being published during his lifetime; partly because I’m interested in book banning and Anne’s diary has been a frequent target of those who want to suppress books.

The experience of reading Anne Frank’s diary is still powerful, though as an adult I’m much more aware of her youth: she was very much a teenager, full of herself, impatient with the other seven people crowded cheek to jowl in the hidden rooms above the spice warehouse on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht; in short, she could be downright annoying.

At some point in 1944, a spokesman for the exiled government spoke on the BBC, asking Dutch people to preserve their memories of the German occupation and the war in general; Anne decided to rewrite and edit parts of the diary for future publication. Certainly not all parts, though … you can tell which parts she had in mind for her notional post-war book; the day-to-day entries about fights with her mother and other residents of the secret annex were clearly meant to remain private, as were her very personal reflections on puberty and her growing interest in sex.

Most of Anne’s diary focuses on personal concerns, but her awareness of why she and her family were living in hiding was never far from the surface. When she occasionally wrote about the Nazis and what they had done, and were doing, to the Jews of Holland … to Jewish boys and girls she went to school with, who had by then been taken away to camps in Germany and Poland … my hair stood on end.

“The Diary of a Young Girl” has been an international best-seller since it was first published in 1947. Millions have read it (33 million copies sold, translated into 75 languages). Millions have visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Still, there have always been those who want to suppress or ban Anne’s diary.

In the immediate aftermath of WWII, anti-Semites in Europe and elsewhere labeled the diary a fraud, claiming it was written by an adult as Jewish propaganda. Today, you can easily find anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial web sites making the same claim, despite the fact that several investigations over the years conclusively established the diary’s authenticity.

In parts of the Middle East, the diary is banned outright, and many Arabic people have never heard of Anne Frank. The motivation here is similar: anti-Semitism and opposition to the state of Israel.

Although the diary has never been banned in the United States, it has always been controversial to some. In recent years, especially since the publication of the complete diary containing entries Otto Frank kept hidden while he was alive, a few parents have demanded”The Diary of a Young Girl” be pulled from school library shelves and not studied in class. The most recent attempt was in Northville, Michigan, in 2013. Sometimes challengers say they oppose the diary because it’s depressing and dark, sometimes because parts of it are sexually explicit. I suspect there’s an element of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial behind these challenges, but it is never acknowledged.

Depressing and dark? For those who’d prefer their children not be taught about the Holocaust, I guess Anne Frank’s diary is indeed that. Sexually explicit? Hardly. One of the passages Otto Frank omitted when he edited Anne’s diary in 1947, but which has now been reintroduced into the diary, is a one-paragraph description of her vulva. It’s honest but non-erotic, really just a reminder that Anne was a growing young woman interested in how her body was developing and beginning to think about sex. One wonders what these parents imagine their own kids think about.

At any age, reading “The Diary of a Young Girl” is a profound and moving experience. You are immediately transported to a different time and place, yet one that is never far away from our collective consciousness; you cannot help thinking of Anne as a childhood friend, which makes her fate particularly stark. She personifies, in the most exalted sense of the word, all victims of the Holocaust. As Primo Levi (himself a survivor of the camps) said:

“One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live.”



We Gonna Rock Down to Electric Avenue

… and then we’ll take it higher.

For months now, contractors have been building a new volunteer center at Pima Air & Space Museum. When I went in yesterday it was open, and I became one of the first volunteers to use it. The really big surprise, though, was finding two new electric trams parked where the old gasoline trams used to sit. After a quick checkout I was the first docent to drive them … and yesterday’s museum visitors were the first to ride them.

I broke one of them straight away, although “broke” is a little harsh. There was a feedback problem with the built-in microphone on the first electric tram I drove, but after troubleshooting I was able to find a workaround.

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The trams are articulated, with two sections each. The larger one can carry up to 48 passengers; the smaller one only 16, but it has a wheelchair section with a folding ramp. The smaller one has well-positioned controls and is easy to operate but the big one’s a bitch, at least for anyone with long legs and stiff knees: I had to put a pad on the seat to sit higher, plus a block on the floor to bring my foot up to the high-mounted brake and accelerator pedals. Overall, though, I love ’em. Quiet, exhaust free, plenty of torque and power, enough battery reserve to run four tours a day in 100+ degree heat. Oh, and they’re sharp looking.

On my drive home I passed a Tesla Model X, the first one I’ve seen on the road. Having just spent the day at the controls of new electric trams, I felt a bond of kinship and almost waved. [insert ironic emoji here]

So why no photos of the new volunteer center? The battery on my iPhone was at 100% when I drove to work. After taking selfies with the new trams it was down to 57%. After uploading two of the photos to Facebook it was down to 28%, so I shut the phone down. On power-up, half an hour later, the battery was at 10%. Obviously something’s wrong. I used to be able to take and upload dozens of photos a day and still have battery power in reserve.

Which means I’ll get around to documenting our new volunteer digs next week. Meanwhile, I guess it’s time to shop for a new cell phone battery. My friends tell me that’s the most likely problem, although I suspect some of the apps (Facebook, Google, etc) are still running even when I think they’re off, sending personal data to advertisers and Vladimir Putin. Then again I’m a cynic, so I would think that. Wouldn’t I?

Sunday was a motorcycle day. I rode the Goldwing to the top of Mount Lemmon and back, 58 miles door to door, breaking in a new wide-angle lens attachment at the Geology Point lookout. Long as I’m doing triple thumbnails, here’s the evidence from Sunday:

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This is the day bloggers tell you what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I checked that square several anniversaries ago and feel no urge to relive it, just as, I’m sure, you feel no urge to read another remembrance. No disrespect toward the victims of 9/11 intended, but I say if you stack American deaths from overseas terrorism up against American deaths from domestic gunfire, it’s firearms and their mostly white male users, not Muslims, we should be banning until we figure out what the hell is going on.

Now for a story which, unlike my mundane activities 17 years ago this morning, I don’t believe I’ve shared before.

Shortly after we moved into our house in northeast Tucson, almost 20 years ago, Donna told me she’d seen an ostrich in front of someone’s house on the main road near our new neighborhood. For years, every time I drove down that road, I’d look for the ostrich. I had the location narrowed down to a couple of adjoining horse properties near where she’d said. It had to be one or the other: each place was a mini-ranch with barns, sheds, and paddocks, ideal for horses and therefore ostriches … yet no matter how many times I drove by, which was almost daily, I never once saw the mysterious ostrich.


A couple of years ago Donna and I were driving down the main road and I said, “Say, I’ve been meaning to ask, exactly where is that ostrich you told me about?” And she says “What ostrich?”

After a brief conversation it transpired that the animal she’d seen all those years ago wasn’t an ostrich but a camel, and it didn’t live on the main road but on a small side street. We turned back to find the side street and lo, there it was.

Today, when we have visitors trapped in our car, we take them to see the neighborhood camel.

I have to say, though, that even though the mystery of the invisible ostrich has been solved, I still find myself looking for it when I drive down the main road.


Sunday Bag o’ Mail

IMG_6287Before I get to the mail, here’s a photo from yesterday’s bicycle ride. The new titanium knee—or more accurately the scar tissue surrounding it—must be loosened first with bending exercises, but as long as I remember to do it I’m okay. I only rode four miles yesterday but could easily have doubled the distance, and plan to do so next Saturday with a ride to Agua Caliente Park and back. Nice saguaro, eh?

I wrote a new You Can’t Read That! banned book post but will wait a week before publishing it. The theme of the post is Banned Books Week, which this year is 23-29 September, and I want to publish closer to those dates. Usually, when I feed the blog, I publish right away and feel good about it afterward. Writing something and not immediately sharing it made me feel vaguely empty.

Later that afternoon, the mailman brought a letter from a friend, and I was able to address that empty feeling: I sat right down and banged out a letter, and knowing it’ll be read in a couple of days, felt much better. Not so much better that I don’t owe you, dear readers, a blog post as well, and this one’ll be published as soon as I finish it.

Donna had a hankering for my pasta alla puttanesca, so I made a batch Friday night. It translates as “whore’s spaghetti,” an easy dish made from whatever’s at hand. We keep our cupboard stocked with certain basics, among them olive oil, canned anchovies, plenty of garlic, capers and black olives, canned diced tomatoes, and several different kinds of pasta. And that’s what I used, selecting a box of fettuccini for the pasta.


Can’t go wrong with this dish. Want to try it? Here’s the recipe!

I’m heading out on the motorcycle in a few minutes, riding up to the top of Mount Lemon and back. Just over 50 miles, door to door, a good shakedown to see if my new knee can be comfortable for a couple of hours on the Goldwing (yes, more knee bending exercises first). I have a new wide angle lens attachment for the big Canon camera and am anxious to try it out at Geology Point, a lookout with spectacular rock formations and views partway up the mountain, so I’m bringing the remote shutter release and a tripod as well. Good thing I have saddlebags!

Meanwhile, Donna’s headed out to teach a sewing class and will be gone all day, so I’m on deck for tonight’s dinner as well. I’m thinking chili.

We watched Black Panther on Netflix last night. Granted it’s a Marvel Comics superhero movie, with spectacular technology and fighting feats that, no matter what flimsy scientific pretext they offer, may as well be magic, I liked it. A lot. But I wish the writers hadn’t pulled their punches. Imagine a heretofore unknown powerhouse of a country in deepest Africa, far more advanced than Western countries, a happy and prosperous nation, suddenly sharing its advanced tech and weapons with oppressed black populations all over the world. Apparently the thought was too scary for the movie’s backers, so they soft-pedaled it at the end.

I’m off now for a ride. If I get any decent photos I’ll share them in a future post.


Air-Minded: PASM Photoblog XIV

I haven’t posted a Pima Air & Space Museum photoblog lately, so I have some catching up to do. There’s no theme to this one, just a lot of this and that. I’ll start with the obligatory selfie and some head-on shots of interesting aircraft:


Selfie w/T-28C Trojan


B-36J Peacemaker


AV-8C Harrier


F-104D Starfighter


F-86H Sabre


F-86L Sabre

PASM recently added two new outdoor exhibits, a Beechcraft T-34 Mentor and a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. In addition, our North American F-100 Super Sabre has been refurbished with new paint and markings.


New exhibit: T-34C Mentor


New exhibit: T-34C Mentor


New exhibit: P-40E Warhawk


New exhibit: P-40E Warhawk

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F-100C Super Sabre

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F-100C Super Sabre

After Arizona Senator John McCain died I took a fresh photo of PASM’s A4D Skyhawk, an aircraft type he flew in his Navy days. In July 1967 he was in the cockpit of a similar Skyhawk on the deck of the USS Forrestal when a disastrous fire broke out, killing 134 sailors and injuring another 161; three months later another Skyhawk was shot out from under him over Hanoi, resulting in his capture and 5 1/2-year imprisonment by the North Vietnamese.

Next to it is a fresh photo of PASM’s AF-2S Guardian, a singularly ugly airplane that always reminds me of the Phoenix in the original Flight of the Phoenix movie.

Below that is a recent photo of the restoration hangar, and below that two photos of projects underway inside, taken by a PASM staff member and friend, John Bezosky, Jr.


A4D-2 Skyhawk


AF-2S Guardian


Resto hangar: SH-60 Seahawk, CH-46 Sea Knight, F-16C Fighting Falcon

Harrier GR.5 in restoration (photo: John Bezosky Jr)

GR-5 Harrier (photo: John Bezosky Jr)

Douglas A-20 Havoc awaiting restoration (photo: John Bezosky Jr)

A-20D Havoc (photo: John Bezosky Jr)

All photos mine except the last two, and as always, if you click on the images you’ll be able to see the full-sized originals on Flickr.


Tuesday Bag o’ Burning Nikes

nike-lebron-8-south-beach-burnedWell, Nike’s done it now. Endorsing Colin Kaepernick was a fatal mistake, and the shoe giant is destined join other once-famous brands on the dustheap of history. Not even the biggest corporations can stand up to the wrath of good old American racism.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Disney, Microsoft, Target, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Costco, CVS: at one time these major corporations were household names. But then they embraced progressive causes and patriotic Americans turned against them. Where are they now? Gone. Vanished.

Indeed, the MAGA Nike boycott has begun. My favorite so far: the dude who set his Nikes on fire while wearing them, then later posted emergency room photos of his burned feet. Oh wait … that one turned out to be a hoax.

I posted a bit of snark on Facebook this morning: “I’m in the market for a new pair of athletic shoes. Can anyone recommend a good brand?” The responses so far indicate a general lack of awareness about what’s going on with the own-the-libs-by-burning-our-Nikes movement. I’m not an emoji person, but I went back and edited the post to add a winky one, meant to indicate the ironic nature of my comment. 😉

Athletic shoes offer a smooth transition to athletic feats, and here’s one I’m proud of: this is me two days ago, breaking in my newest titanium knee on a mountain bike:

This was after I got back from a 25-minute ride around the neighborhood. I coaxed Donna out of the sewing room to come take an iPhone video of me riding up and down our cul-de-sac. If you’ve been following my knee replacement saga, you know getting back on my bicycle was one of my goals. I’ve been working out on a stationary exercise bike, but riding a real one presents its own challenges. When I first got on the bike Sunday morning I didn’t even make it to the end of the driveway, the pain at the top of each pedal rotation was so sharp. I got off the bike and did some knee-bending exercises, and that made all the difference.

It’s been 55 days since the knee replacement. Things are going very well. I’m back on the motorcycle as well, but I marked that milestone in an earlier blog post and won’t belabor it here. I will add this: the Goldwing’s battery died over the summer and I had to recharge it. My friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed said I should come over so he could put his meter on the battery and make sure it was okay, so I rode over last Friday. I parked in the driveway between Ed’s garages and turned the key off. Ed came out with his tester and checked the battery out. Twelve volts and change. Then he asked me to start the engine so we could make sure it was getting a charge from the alternator. I turned the key and … nothing. All the right lights came on, but there wasn’t even a click from the starter.


Ed’s garage

How can it be, I wondered, that everything could be working normally until that exact moment? Ed had some spare microswitches, so we tried swapping out my old ones. There’s a switch on the kickstand, for example, that prevents the starter motor from working is the stand is down. We replaced it but it still wouldn’t start. So we went fired up Ed’s computer and visited a couple of Goldwing owners’ forums. Lots of Wing owners had experienced similar problems, and the most likely culprit was a switch on the right handlebar, a switch that performs a different function but is wired into the starting circuit. We went back out with a spray can of electrical contact cleaner and spritzed the hell out of that switch, and by golly that was it.

I started the engine and we verified the alternator was putting a good charge on the battery. Then I mentioned a stuck switch on the left handlebar … last time my son visited we swapped motorcycles and he tried to start my bike with the radio mute switch, which has been stuck in mute ever since, four or five months now … so we sprayed the hell out of that too and now I have a radio again.

There were some additional minor (and mysterious) electrical glitches, but when I got home I sandpapered the battery posts and leads and they all went away. That’s a lesson I learned a few months ago with my pickup truck: when strange electrical things start to happen, check the battery connections.

Progress on all fronts: that’s what I like to see.

Now to go shopping for a new pair of Nikes.


Coming Out

This is a sad story:

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My first reaction, which I shared on Facebook and Twitter, was this:

Nine-year-old boys come out? Since when? Something is off here.

I admit, the old man inside me wanted to yell at the clouds and say kids that young can’t possibly know they’re gay, but something told me not to, and upon reflection I’m glad I didn’t. A lot of people thought that’s what I meant anyway, like the friend who sent this comment:

Little girls dream about weddings and boyfriends long before nine. My first boyfriend (who I called on my plastic phone) was the Lone Ranger.

She’s right, of course. When I was seven or eight I fell in love with a girl. A real girl, though I never met her. She was in a photo in a book my mother had. Over the course of a year I wore the book out, opening it to her photo again and again. I must have known, even then, that when I grew up I’d be married to a girl, and was hoping she’d turn out to be like the one in the photo.

Gay kids? Why wouldn’t they know at a similar age? Know in a broad sense, I mean, not the piggy-dirties of sex but a general sense of their own sexuality … although with the universal availability of porn, truly a new thing, who knows?

But to publicly come out as gay? Who comes out at nine?

I don’t know how well this will translate, but I was raised a Southern Baptist. Sunday school and services every week, youth group meetings Wednesday after school. During every service the preacher would call on children and older sinners to accept Jesus into their hearts, walk down the aisle, and be baptized in front of the congregation, praise the Lord! Kids my age, many of them my friends, would get up from the pews, misty-eyed and full of godliness, and deliver themselves to the preacher. But not me. Peer pressure and conformity is a huge thing when you’re a kid, but I refused to walk down the aisle.

Why did I resist? At eight, I could not have explained. Later, at 11 or 12, I began to figure it out: I wasn’t buying what the church was selling and didn’t want any part of it. I came to realize I didn’t believe in heaven or hell, or even god. I was 14, and still going to Southern Baptist youth group meetings, when I learned the word for what I was: atheist. And what did I do with that knowledge? I kept it to myself.

I didn’t “come out” until I was 16 or 17, and then only to my parents and closest friends. I knew what society thought of atheists. I grew up hearing about their evil ways in church, remember? It’s easier today, with more and more people identifying as non-religious, even if they don’t like to use strong words like “atheist.” But it was a big deal in my day, and one was careful whom one told.

Western society is more accepting of homosexuality today than before, but there’s a long long way to go, and the process of realizing, accepting, and coming out as gay must be a hundred times harder than anything I experienced growing up.

Still, this article, titled “Coming Out of the Closet: When Do You Know and When Do You Go?” suggests some commonality, at least when it comes to deciding when to go public. Backed up by surveys, the article basically says that while gay kids, like straight kids, begin to realize their sexual orientation at a very young age, they typically don’t say so until high school, between the ages of 15-18. The previous generation, gay people now in their 40s, waited to come out until they were in college. Many gay men and women over 60 waited till their 30s.

It boggles me that a nine-year-old would decide to come out as gay. What a momentous step for a child to take! Yes, I accept what I read, that he realized he was gay. Yes, I believe he was beginning to accept it, as indicated by the fact he told his mom (he was blessed to have a mom who told him she loved him no matter what) … but to take the jump to coming out at school? How did he not know others would not be as accepting as his mom? That shouldn’t be news to anyone, not even a nine-year-old. In fact, if anyone knows how quickly and viciously children will turn on and attack someone who’s different, it’s another child.

So many unanswered questions. I’ve been checking the news for followup reports that might offer more information, but so far there’s nothing much beyond what’s been initially reported. I hope it doesn’t emerge that some adult encouraged this young boy to go public. I shouldn’t even ask, but how many nine-year-olds commit suicide, no matter how bad things get?

Such thoughts lead to fruitless speculation. I know nothing, and should shut up.

Tell you what, though, my comment on Facebook and Twitter sure did generate responses. I think a lot of people are following this story, asking the same kinds of questions I am.


Air-Minded: Hijinks & One-Upmanship

Two old, faded photos popped up on the Facebook page of one of my former flying squadrons. The shock of recognition hit me immediately.

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The guy in the first photo is Major Al G______, who flew with the tactical callsign Gorilla. He had just punctured his cheeks with a sailmaker’s needle and was pulling thread through them before passing the needle on to the next guy. Gorilla, and the sewn-together lineup of 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron F-15 pilots in the next photo, were my squadron mates at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands. The year was 1981, the occasion a formal dining-in at the officers’ club.


The American Officers’ Club at Soesterberg AB, venue of many morale-boosting events

I was there, and happy enough at the time not to partake in the hijinks. I had a bad feeling about that one and decided instead to cheer my mates on from the bar nearby. A week or two before, we had hosted a Belgian F-16 squadron, and at the end of their stay had thrown them a party at the club. We took the stage and sang rowdy songs; when it was their turn they formed a line … but instead of singing, their squadron commander pulled a curved needle and ball of thread from his flight suit pocket, threaded his cheeks, then passed the needle to the next Belgian pilot in line, and so on. We were floored. And thoroughly one-upped.

So it was no great surprise to any of us who had been at that already legendary party when Gorilla and a few other pilots took the stage at the dining-in and duplicated the feat. The non-pilots and senior staff in the crowd were suitably impressed, as indicated by the fact that our commander suspended dining-ins for the foreseeable future. Gorilla got an abscess in one of his cheeks and had to see the flight surgeon for antibiotics.

During my time at Soesterberg we hosted several NATO flying squadrons, and we ourselves operated out of other NATO bases whenever our own runways or taxiways were being worked on. When we hosted we threw a party for the visiting pilots before they flew home, ditto our hosts for us when we were at their bases. The parties were always rowdy, and always with an element of one-upmanship. Burning pianos. Unlimited booze. Cannon fire. Songs. It was, and probably still is, tradition.

Our spouses were always part of our normal Friday night hijinks at the club. They knew all the dirty songs and loved to sing them with us. But they were not usually along for the parties with visiting units, or when we were away at other bases. There were a few exceptions, though. Our official sister squadron flew Jaguars at RAF Brüggen in Germany, and during my time at Soesterberg we had two wives-included parties with them, one at our base and one at theirs. For the away party, we all drove with our wives to Germany, where we were put up in individual off-base homes with our RAF colleagues and their wives. At the party, things got very rowdy indeed. At one point I looked down to see a senior British officer sucking Donna’s toes under the table, and when I woke up at our host’s the next morning I was wearing an RAF dress uniform, three sizes too small for me. Presumably some Brit woke up wearing mine … in any case, neither of us ever got our clothes back.

The one-upmanship wasn’t always at parties. I once spent a day at Wittmundhafen Air Base in northern Germany, flying dissimilar air combat with Luftwaffe F-4 Phantom II aircrews. My opponents were members of the 71 Squadron, aka the Richthofen Squadron, named after one of their more noteworthy members from the Great War. Between flights I wandered into a little alcove in the squadron building where they’d set up a sort of mini-museum: two glass display cases, one containing Richthofen’s leather helmet, scarf, and gloves; the other containing Hermann Göring’s WWI flying coveralls. I was alone and for a moment it was deathly quiet. Then I heard a step behind me and saw, reflected in the glass in front of me, a Nazi officer in full uniform, peaked hat, jackboots, and monocle, staring at me with disapproval. The bastards had set me up for a surprise, and I’ll never forget it. Not in a vengeful sense … I admired their aplomb and sense of humor, while freely admitting they’d succeeded in scaring the hell out of me.

Another phrase for highjinks and one-upmanship is esprit de corps. And where would we be without it?