I was looking through iPhone photos in a break room at Pima Air & Space Museum, inside a metal-walled building that blocks cell phone reception, and realized I’d have to wait to post them until I got home. Since I couldn’t go online and catch up with my little Facebook friends either, I started looking through the contents of my wallet for something to read … yes, that’s how bored I was. Seeing me pull out my pilot license, another volunteer told me to check out the one on display in an adjoining room. I did, and was no longer bored:
The US government began issuing pilot licenses in 1927, so Joan Shankle’s ticket, dated 1931, is an early example. I knew Orville Wright had signed pilot licenses in his time but hadn’t seen one before. The Department of Commerce’s Aeronautics Branch offered Orville U.S. Pilot License #1, even going so far as to give him a pass on the written and flight tests, but he turned the honor down on the grounds that he no longer flew and didn’t need a piece of paper to prove he’d been the first to do it.
The pilot of PASM’s Il-2 Shturmovik flying tank crash-landed it on a frozen lake during the siege of Leningrad in January 1944. It remained underwater until the 1990s, when it was retrieved and purchased by an American, who later donated it to the museum. That so much of the Shturmovik survived is due to its construction: the cockpit section was made of steel plate to provide protection to its crew; it and the engine section were still intact when it was fished out of the lake. The wings and tail, made of wood and fabric, were long gone, but the restoration section is building new ones from original blueprints. Even though more than 30,000 Shturmoviks were built during WWII, making it the most produced plane in history, only about a dozen survive today.
Here are some photos of the Il-2 coming back together in the museum’s Area 51 restoration hangar, along with a shot of the Shturmovik’s Mikulin V-12 engine, soon to be reunited with the airplane it powered.
The latest project to come out of restoration is an EC-121T Warning Star, the Vietnam War era’s AWACS. The latest aircraft to go into restoration is our weather-beaten F-15A Eagle, and not a moment too soon.
Finally, here are two selfies I took at the museum yesterday. I’ve been working on my memoir, in particular a chapter about earning USAF pilot wings in the 1970s, so I sought out the two training aircraft I flew in flight school, the Cessna T-37 “Tweet” and the Northrop T-38 Talon. The Tweet, introduced in 1959, was retired in the early 1990s, but the Talons are still in use and will be for some time to come. The USAF is looking for a new advanced trainer, but hasn’t even picked the prime contractor yet, so the T-38, which began its Air Training Command career in 1961, could conceivably stay in service into the 2040s, when it’ll be in its 80s. Orville Wright didn’t live that long!
p.s. Before you start making cracks, I was only two years old when Orville died in 1948.
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