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Tuesday Bag o’ Bluetooth

bag of blue teethMy son bought a wireless Bluetooth comm system for his motorcycle helmet and I thought that might be a dandy thing to have too, so I cashed in my Christmas Amazon gift cards on one. My friend Ed helped me install it, but the first time I turned it on there were indications of trouble. Sound came from the left earpiece but not the right, and there was no feedback from the mic. It paired with my cell phone but wouldn’t make or receive calls. The intercom function, with which my son and I should have been able to talk to each other, helmet to helmet, didn’t work. I was able to listen to music on Pandora while paired to the cell phone, and FM radio too, but only through one ear.

I wondered if Ed and I had forgotten to connect a wire, so this morning I took the helmet apart, uninstalled the unit, and laid it out on my desk. I checked all the connections, which were solid. I went through the menus while listening to first one and then the other earpiece. Only the left one worked. The mic was definitely dead.

Whew, it wasn’t me!

Amazon is pretty great about returns and refunds. They approved the return and sent me the shipping labels. I boxed it up again (never throw original packaging away for at least a year, kids) and have it ready to take to the UPS drop-off. I don’t want a replacement. I’d rather take the refund and buy a helmet system locally, where I can check it out in the store first and get some instruction in how to use it. Huh, I guess there are exceptions to my all-Amazon-all-the-time policy after all.

It could be … I won’t deny the possibility … that as with Snapchat, I’m simply too old for Bluetooth. I bought a Bluetooth selfie stick a while back and never could get it to work. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m becoming quite proficient in taking apart and reassembling the inner pads and linings of Arai full-face motorcycle helmets.

Chili is on the menu tonight, and I’m cooking. It’s good to be home.


Air-Minded: Flying Chainsaws (Updated)

This is an older Air-Minded post from April 2014, updated in January 2018 with new photos and descriptions of experimental McCulloch aviation engines. —Paul Woodford

McCulloch: it’s not the first name to spring to mind when you think of aviation, but it’s not a name you should ignore, either.

The McCulloch Motors Corporation was founded in 1943 to make small two-stroke gasoline engines. Initially known for outboard boat motors, today McCulloch makes engines used to power lawn and garden equipment. During the company’s first three decades, McCulloch also made small aviation engines, most of them used to power military target drones. Their aviation engines, like their outboard motors, were two-stroke designs and came in horizontally-opposed two-, four-, and six-cylinder configurations. A number of these reliable little engines have been repurposed to power manned experimental aircraft. Here’s one I photographed at the Pima Air & Space Museum today:


McCulloch TC6150 target drone engine, circa 1965, Pima Air & Space Museum (photo: Paul Woodford)

From 1948 until the early 1970s, McCulloch had a subsidiary company, the McCulloch Aircraft Corporation, which produced two manned aircraft: the MC-4 helicopter and the J-2 autogyro.

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McCulloch HUM-1 (proposed Navy version of the MC-4), 1949 (photo: Paul Woodford)

Only a small number of MC-4s were ever built. The one in the photo was one of the first to fly, a military variant called the HUM-1, which McCulloch hoped to sell to the US Navy. A similar model, the YH-30, was marketed to the US Army. In the end, neither service ordered any, and the few MC-4s built were sold on the civilian market. I don’t think any are still flying today, but it you’d like to see one in action, scan your TV guide for late-night science fiction movies from the 1950s: there’s an MC-4 in the 1954 movie Gog.

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McCulloch Super J-2 Autogyro, produced from 1969-1972 (photo: Paul Woodford)

McCulloch’s J-2 Autogyro had a larger production run, with more than 80 built. The one in our museum’s collection is a Super J-2 with a three-bladed controllable-pitch propeller. A clutch allowed the helicopter rotor to be spun up by the engine for takeoff, typically a short roll of 25 to 200 feet. Once in flight the helicopter rotor was uncoupled from the engine to rotate freely and act as the aircraft’s wing, with all the propulsion coming from the pusher propeller. The J-2 could fly for slightly more than two hours at about 85 mph, and looks like it would be a lot of fun. The J-2 was one of the few production (as opposed to experimental) autogyros to achieve success in American aviation, and several are still flying today.

In addition to the exhibits I’ve photoblogged above, PASM has several target drones with McCulloch engines, plus two experimental engines that never went into production. The first (left, below) is a five-cylinder two-stroke radial developed in the 1960s as a general aviation powerplant. The second (right, below) is a four-cylinder diesel radial developed in the 1970s for evaluation by NASA.

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McCulloch TSIR-5190 2-stroke

McCulloch experimental 4-cylinder diesel radial

McCulloch Radial Diesel Prototype

Earlier today I was scratching my head, wondering why our museum has such a large collection of McCulloch aircraft and engines, but a few minutes ago, while looking up information on the company, I learned that McCulloch moved its headquarters to Tucson, Arizona in 1988. I don’t know that our McCulloch exhibits were donated by the corporation, but let’s hear it for corporate donors anyway!


Refreshed & Reinvigorated (Mini-Gypsy Run 2018)

I-8 rest stop n/Gila Bend AZ, day #4

Layered up for the cold near Gila Bend AZ

So I get home from a four-day motorcycle ride yesterday and no one’s home but the dogs, who are delighted to see me (as am I to see them). I have a quick errand to do, so I take Mr. B with me in the truck. Bicyclists ride up and down Catalina Highway all the time, us included. At the corner two miles south of our house, riders returning from Mount Lemon have to turn left across five lanes to get back into the shopping center lot where they park their cars. Local drivers know to slow for them. So when a solo bicyclist started to turn left up ahead, I slowed down. Rather than riding into the center turn lane, though, he suddenly stopped in my lane and I had to do a panic stop to avoid hitting him from behind. If it hadn’t been for anti-lock brakes I would have. Poor Mr. B was pressed up against the dashboard. The guy on the bike must have heard death approaching from six o’clock, but he never even glanced back. I can’t imagine why he stopped right in the middle of a traffic lane when the left turn lane he was going for was right there and open. It was almost as if he wanted to be hit. I’m glad I didn’t hit him, but I wish he’d have given the least little hint he knew how close he came to a trip to the emergency room.

So, anyway.

Death Valley CA, day #2

Down into the Valley of Death behind Steve & Ed

The past four days I’ve been riding in Arizona, Southern California, and Nevada with my friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed and his brother-in-law Steve, the same crew I rode with in November 2015. That run, like the one just finished, included a ride through Death Valley, but the route we took was different. On that trip we overnighted in Calexico, Lone Pine, and Lake Havasu; this time the points of our triangle were Palm Desert, Beatty, and Yuma.

Death Valley CA, day #2

You know you’re in DV when you see this sign

My son Gregory rode up to meet us in Beatty on day two, then rode south with us on day three to a tiny desert airstrip and casino 70 miles past Las Vegas on Highway 95 (wouldn’t you know it’s called Cal-Nev-Ari?) before peeling off and heading back to Vegas and work. It was really great to hook up with him, and I think Ed and Steve enjoyed talking with him.

Cal-Nev-Ari NV, day #3

Greg, Ed, me, & Steve being photobombed by a truck @ Cal-Nev-Ari

That’s the four of us, and if you click to see the original on Flickr you might be able to make out the Stay Off the Runway sign in the background (if you want to see them, there are more pix in a Flickr album titled Gypsy Tour January 2018).

When Gregory was a boy, I wondered what kind of man he’d grow up to be. I sure like the man he’s become. His career is quite different from mine, and he has gifts I never had, and to see him talking about work and Las Vegas and his family with Ed and Steve, I see not just my son but a man among men, and I am so proud.

Beatty NV, day #2

Greg disrupting the line of Goldwings with his BMW

So, anyway.

I have to include this, my favorite photo of the whole trip, taken on my way to meet Ed & Steve just before sunrise on the first day.

Sunrise, day #1

Sunrise over the Rincons in Tucson

I will add for the record that before the trip Ed and I installed a Bluetooth headset and intercom system in my helmet. I couldn’t get it to work, but knowing Greg had a similar system in his helmet, figured that with his help I’d crack the code when we met in Beatty. Despite our best efforts, that didn’t happen. I’m now thinking I have a defective unit and am sending it back to Amazon. That was the only motorcycle-related glitch of the whole ride, if you don’t count the side panel that blew off at 85 mph on the last day, gone and lost forever. Would you believe the same panel blew off on the November 2015 trip? And again on a ride in November 2016? I’m starting to consider the cost of replacing the damn things an annual good times toll.

It was good times this trip, but I confess these long days in the saddle … the third day, Beatty to Yuma, was a solid eight hours … are getting harder on my legs, which stiffen up quicker than they used to. Still, I’m refreshed and reinvigorated; at the same time happy to be home again with Donna and the doggies.


Post the First

As in first post of the new year. Hooray!

If I have resolutions—and I’m not saying I do—one would be to finish writing the memoir I started last year. Others would be to keep posting to my weblogs, perhaps setting up a separate blog for Air-Minded posts, while continuing to send out Paulgram newsletters. Perhaps I’ll try to climb out of the lowest common denominator sinkhole we call Facebook. That last one feels like a dieting resolution, one I know will be nearly impossible to keep.


Our daughter was over New Year’s Eve, taking photos of herself in party attire (in lieu of actually going to any parties). I do believe she intended to sneak off with my selfie stick, but I thwarted her nefarious plan by hiding it. Stick in hand, I took my first selfie of 2018 at the air museum on New Year’s Day. The aircraft behind me is a Balair C-97. Balair, a Swiss airline, was a major participant in the Biafran airlift of 1967-1970, the second largest humanitarian relief airlift operation after the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949. Balair bought old USAF C-97 freighters, hired former USAF crews to fly them, and painted the aircraft in the colors of the International Red Cross. Which did not stop Nigerian Air Force fighter pilots in the air, nor Nigerian Army gunners on the ground, from trying to shoot them down. Click the link; it’s a hell of a story, and that old plane is a piece of history.

I’m starting 2018 with a four-day motorcycle ride. My friend Ed and I leave tomorrow for Palm Desert. Thursday we’re riding north through Death Valley to Beatty. My son Gregory plans to ride his BMW up from Vegas and meet us there. Friday we head south: Gregory will peel off in Vegas and get back to work; Ed and I will continue to Yuma and a night in the historic Coronado Hotel. Saturday it’s home to Tucson.

I installed a Bluetooth rig in my full-face motorcycle helmet and am hoping Gregory can show me how to work it when we meet up in Beatty. But who knows? Maybe I’ll have it figured out by the time Ed and I get there.

Today I’ll get the Goldwing sorted out and ready for the trip, then make a run to the credit union for cash. I’m not taking the big camera on this run, just my iPhone and GoPro. And what’s left of our Ibuprofen so my knees don’t ache too much.

When my sister Sue died I made a commitment to attend a reunion with my other sisters in Missouri this October. We’re planning to drive there and back, mainly because airline travel is so awful. That’s the only big event on our schedule for 2018.

That, and doing what I can to take Congress away from the Republicans. #Resist.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Christmas Photoblog, 2017

A collection of photos from this year’s holiday season: putting up the tree and decorations, Christmas Eve clam chowder with friends, Christmas morning, visits to the air museum and Mount Lemmon. New faces in the photos are Georgianna and Don King, Donna’s sister and brother-in-law, who spent the week with us, and Donna’s friend Millie, who visited on Christmas Eve. Our goddaughter and great-goddaughter Natasha and Giorgianna are here now, visiting until the 4th of January, and will show up here in the next photoblog.

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Shades of Gray

25365537839_1c9f80851e_zIt’s the week when, in folklore, nothing happens; the quiet peaceful interlude between Christmas and the new year. In actuality, the world keeps on turning: we’ve merely turned our attention inward, away from genocide, starvation, war, terrorism, slavery, mass shootings, corruption. We pretend it’s a season of tolerance and love, and maybe it is … in our own homes, inside the warm circle of family and friends.

A couple I once quite liked turned out to be Trumpites. I don’t want to see them, because I’m afraid I won’t be able to restrain myself. It’ll be angry words and hurt feelings all around, and what’s the point because no one will change, etc.

They invited us to dinner between the holidays, and under the influence of the season I felt the urge to accept, to declare a Christmas truce of temporary forgiveness. The decision was taken out of my hands by Donna, who reminded me we have more company coming and can’t go anyway. Sooner or later, though, I’ll have to decide whether to see these former friends again.

We’ve known them for years. I know they think of themselves as good people. They don’t see themselves as racist. They’ll tell you they’re the embodiment of the civic, religious, and personal values we were all raised with. They’ll tell you they love their fellow man. And I’m sure they do … so long as those fellow men are part of the circle they care about: their family, their friends, members of their social and economic class.

But here’s the thing: they voted for, and support, a cowardly bully and sexual predator, a man whose only values are wealth and celebrity, a man intent on cashing out everything of value in America in order to enrich himself and his cronies … a loathsome racist who, when Nazis took over an American city, chanting against Jews and blacks and killing a woman who protested their presence, literally took the Nazi’s side. How do you rub up against shit without getting the stink on you?

I’ll never forget the time a young girl, 12 or 13 … about the age of my own daughter at the time … walked past a restaurant table a friend and I were having lunch at, and my friend winked and said “I bet she’s tight.” I’d only been shocked like that once before, when I was a teenager myself and, out of the fucking blue, a middle-aged guy across the aisle of a Greyhound bus leaned over and offered to suck me off in the toilet. That time I changed seats.

I wish I could say I got up from the table and walked away from the man who, out of the blue, revealed himself to be a pedophile. I can say I never spoke to him again.

I wasn’t nearly as shocked when our friends embraced Trump. It’s not like they’re sexual predators or pedophiles. They did, however, stand up for pretty much everything I hate. Can we still be friends? Not really. Can we maintain a friendly, or at least not openly hostile, relationship as acquaintances?

All these compromises. So many shades of gray I can’t remember the last time I saw white or black.


Air-Minded: True Story, Fake Video

This is an older post, originally posted in March 2008, updated to correct some details I got wrong the first time around. —Paul

A friend sent me a link to this History Channel video, which has been circulating on the internet for several years:

He wanted to know if the video was for real … can an F-15 really land with one wing missing?

Sure it can. It’s been done. The incident the video’s built around occurred in 1983. The right wing of an Israeli Air Force Eagle was sheared off in a midair collision with an IAF A-4 Skyhawk. The pilot of the Skyhawk was killed, which is oddly unmentioned in the video; the pilot of the crippled Eagle was able to land.

The F-15 pilot flew final at something like 300 knots (normal speed 150) and touched down at 250 knots (normal speed 120), in so doing proving that the F-15 flight control system really works! It helps that the entire underside of the F-15 fuselage is a flying surface. It also helps that the F-15 has three hydraulic systems and enormous horizontal stabs. No, one-winged flight isn’t impossible at all … but I’m glad it didn’t happen to me!

Almost everything in the video is bogus, though. The aerial shots consist of stock footage of US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, not F-15C and D model Eagles, the aircraft involved in the mishap flight. There’s a glimpse of an old F-100, apparently meant to stand in for the A-4 the F-15 pilot collided with. The only countries still flying the Hun in 1983 were Denmark and Taiwan. Couldn’t the History Channel find stock footage of a Skyhawk?

The cockpit shots are also borrowed, consisting of more USAF F-15E footage (that’s an F-15E stick, not an F-15C/D stick). Ditto the HUD videos. When, in the interview, the pilot describes firing a missile, the video cuts away to footage of an F-15 launching a missile. The pilot was on a training flight against other IAF aircraft and his missile shot was simulated, not real. I guess whoever put the video together couldn’t resist throwing in dramatic footage of an actual missile launch.

The shots of the guy in the back seat where you see something white streaming from where the wing should be? Faked. Also faked are the sequences of a one-wing F-15 flying and landing. I believe this was originally stock footage of an intact F-15 with the right wing photoshopped out and streaming white stuff photoshopped in. As far as I know there never was any video on the one-winged F-15 in flight.

The only thing I can verify as authentic are the still shots of the damaged IAF F-15 taken on the ground after it landed, because I saw those same photos when I was briefed on the midair shortly after the IAF concluded its investigation. Every other USAF F-15 pilot received the same briefing, and I think they’ll back me up when I say that there never was any video of the damaged jet flying or landing.

My best guess: the History Channel wanted to make a story out of the incident, but with only those post-midair still photos and the interview with the pilot, they didn’t have enough. They added the rest to jazz up the presentation.

Makes you wonder about some of the other “documentary footage” you see on TV.


Saturday Bag o’ Christmas Spirit

santa-85-1Last night Donna asked me if I couldn’t see my way clear to working up a little Christmas spirit. Sigh.

Millions are affected by holiday season depression. I always thought they were weak, but now I’m ready to admit I have a touch of it myself. It certainly helps explain my seasonal grumpiness, which rarely lifts before Christmas Eve, sometimes not even till Christmas morning itself.

Donna asked me to look in the garage for her elf stand. “Fuck that elf,” I mumbled, and she heard me. Christmas spirit. I’m working on it, honest.

Donna’s sister Georgianna and brother-in-law Don are here through the end of the month. Georgie and Donna are sorting through our bins of decorations and plan to put most of them up today, except for the tree stuff. We’ll trim the tree tomorrow night.

Decorating the tree on Christmas Eve is a tradition from Donna’s family. Her parents waited until the kids went to bed to string the lights and hang the ornaments, and the kids’ first sight of the decorated tree was on Christmas morning. Which sounds sweet, but a couple of years ago Donna fessed up to the real reason: they were poor and their folks didn’t even get a tree until Christmas Eve, when the lots were closing down and giving away what they had left. Ho ho ho.

Never mind the real reason for decorating the tree on Christmas Eve, though; it’s the way we’ve always done it, Donna’s sister Georgie too. We’re not waiting until the last minute to get the tree, though: the girls picked one out two days ago, and it’s a beaut. Don helped me mount it on a stand and bring it into the house. Mr. B lifted a leg on it while it was still outside, so it’s been christened.


The arrival of the tree


Don & Georgie checking for straightness

Our goddaughter Natasha and her daughter Georgianna arrive on the 28th and will stay through the 4th of January, overlapping a couple of days with Georgie and Don (yes, there will be two Georgies in the house). All the more reason for me to turn that frown upside down, lest I harsh the mellow. I’m making clam chowder and boiling shrimp on Christmas Eve, then baking a ham and smoking ribs on Christmas day. That’ll cheer me up—it always does.

Last night Don and I drove to Rosati’s to pick up a pizza. Don looked over to the west and said “Holy shit lookit that!” I looked and couldn’t at first figure out what I was seeing. I quickly realized it was a rocket launch, and the only place it could have come from was Vandenberg AFB on the California coast, 600 miles west of Tucson.


I wanted to pull over and take a photo, but didn’t think the cell phone camera would be up to the task. Fortunately, others did, and I was able to find this photo online (no idea who took it, there’s no credit given). There’s a video too, taken from a Phoenix TV station’s news chopper:

Tucson News Now

I Googled “rocket launch vandenberg” as soon as we got home: it was a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking ten communications satellites to orbit. Not only was it a successful launch, it was done with a reused first stage that had been to space before. The reason we could see it so clearly in the early evening Tucson sky is that the sun was still up over the Pacific, shining through the rocket’s trail from the west.

From news reports I’m reading this morning, there were massive War of the Worlds-style freakouts all over the Southwest, and rightly so: it was impressive as hell. Well done, Elon Musk!

What times we live in!

Donna and Georgie were sitting on the couch next to me last night, our two dachshunds between them, just the tips of their snouts poking out from under a comforter. I couldn’t resist taking a photo and sharing it with you this morning:


By now you’ve figured out I’m trying to cheer myself up, so work with me here, okay? Happy holidays, dear readers!