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ISSUE 126 - July 2010
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PIMA - (Phenomenally Interesting Museum of Aircraft) - Part I

By Kevin Moore, Contributing Editor & Photographer
Roslin, Ontario, Canada

Pima Air and Space Museum logo, left. As you enter the museum driveway
from the road, this huge 3-plane formation sculpture of the raptor greets you, right.

When you arrive at Pima Air & Space Museum, the first thing you see is a beautiful piece of aviation art standing impressively at the entrance to the parking lot. Three extremely large models of the raptor fighter jet in 'formation' climbing up over the driveway entrance. This is the point where you know you're in for an amazing aviation experience.

A view of the sculpture from inside the parking lot, facing toward Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, left. A visit to the Davis-Monthan "Bone Yard" is a must when you're at Pima. You'll see hundreds of aircraft in various states of condition stored on the desert floor, right.

Inside the unassuming museum building entrance, you see a few small displays and a cash booth where you pay your entrance fee. For an additional fee, you also have the option of visiting the 'bone yard' at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a one hour bus tour through the yard (article coming soon...) that features the opportunity to see a vast assortment of stored US military aircraft.

The venerable Piper J-4A Cub Coupe, left, and the Taylorcraft BC-12D, right.

When you first enter the display area of the museum there are a few rather unassuming aircraft mixed in with a few odd looking airplanes that greet you and, at the time of the authors visit, much in the way of renovations and upgrades as the museum attempts to improve the visitor experience. Among the first aircraft you see is the venerable Piper Cub, probably one of the most popular of tail draggers in the history of American aviation. The museums example, a Piper J-4A Cub Coupe, is a stunning example of Piper's superb little airplane.

The Rutan Long EZ, one of the most popular late 1970s/early 1980s homebuilt aircraft around today, left. The world's smallest biplane, the Starr "Bumble Bee," right.

In the same area is a BD-5, a Rutan Long EZ, and one of the oddest looking airplanes, and certainly among the smallest in the world, the Starr "Bumble Bee." Designed and built by Robert Starr, this airplane once held the record for the smallest airplane in the world, a record that stood for only a few months, when a competitor set a new record. However, the Guinness Book of World Records modified the category so that the "Bee" stood, and still stands today, as the smallest biplane in the world.

Observation aircraft Curtis Owl O-52, left
Early training aircraft, the Fleet Model 2 biplane, right.

Though most of the aircraft within this first section of the museum are civilian, one military aircraft in particular stands out. The Curtis O-52 Owl was a big, lumbering "observation" Army Air Force 2-man airplane. However, the Army felt the airplane was an easy target for enemy aircraft and the Owl was quickly switched to training and coastal patrol duties with the tactical observation role given to the smaller modified 'light' civilian aircraft.

This Grumman J4F-2 Widgeon was named the "Petulant Porpoise"
while serving as a test aircraft with Edo Corporation.

As you walk into the main part of the first building in the museum, what stood out the most was a bright yellow airplane and one of the authors favourite aircraft, the Widgeon. This particular aircraft, a Grumman J4F-2 Widgeon, was once used by Edo Corporation to test hull designs and was given the nickname "Petulant Porpoise." It also served with the US Navy at the US Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, and retired from service in 1954, eventually finding its home at Pima in 1987.

The Columbia XJL-1 was originally designed by Grumman as a replacement for their successful Duck, but it was handed over to Columbia Aircraft for further development & construction. Only 3 were ever built.

Just beyond the Widgeon is another, rather unusual amphibious aircraft, the Columbia XJL-1. Originally designed by Grumman, it was handed over to Columbia Aircraft for development and construction. Though the airplane had an impressive range at over 2000 miles, it was very heavy at more than 13,000lbs (loaded) agonizingly slow with a cruise of only 119mph, making it a potentially easy target . Not surprisingly, the aircraft never went into production, with only three being built.

An impressive and unusual looking aircraft, the Martin PBM-5A
Mariner towers over the other aircraft around it.

The third of this group of amphibious aircraft is the massive Martin PBM-5A Mariner flying boat. Used by the Naval Air Transport Service initially for cargo transport and later models used for long range reconnaissance and air-sea warfare. The aircraft was also used by the Coast Guard for search and rescue, as well as by the Royal Air Force for a short time.

Among the aircraft are many artifacts and displays
including this one housing 3 model "flying submarines."

Near the Mariner are a number of displays including a rather unusual display case housing models of "flying submarines." These craft were required to be both aerodynamic and hydrodynamic , so light enough to be able to fly while strong enough to survive the pressures of being under water. They also needed a propulsion system capable of working above and below the surface. These unique and unusual 'flying machines' were designed by both the US and Russia, with the first proposal put forward by the latter of the two countries as early as the 1930's. Depending on the design, they would either be manned, or as a reusable drone.

The "Caspian Sea Monster," as it was dubbed by American Intelligence Officers, is what's known as a "Sea Skimmer," using ground effect and speed to 'fly' above the surface, left. Model of a personalized version of a "sea skimmer," right.

Another very unusual 'aircraft' is something referred to as a "Sea Skimmer." These were built and defined as "wing-in-ground-effect vehicles" and simply "skimmed" the surface of the water, usually at very high speeds. They were first discovered by US recon satellites along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Named by the Russians as Ekranoplans (water skimmers), they would ride or fly using a cushion of air at speeds exceeding 300mph. Other countries, including the US and China have, and still are, developing these aircraft for both commercial and military, as well as private/civilian use.

The F-107A's unusual engine intake is unmistakable in this head-on view, left. The SR-71A Blackbird's odd shape is very noticeable when looking from the front and slightly below, right.

Among some of the jet powered aircraft found within the first building is a North American F-107A, a design based on the F-100 and in competition against the Republic F-105 to win the Air Force's need for a new all-weather fighter-bomber in the mid 1950s. The F-107A, with a unique overhead engine intake system, was designed in such a way as to permit a weapons system housed internally in the aircraft. However, the system on the Republic F-105 was better and it won the contract. The museums F-107A is one of two prototype aircraft built.

Side view of the strange, if not unique, F-107A, left. The SR-71A Blackbird, right.

The F-107 sits alongside and is dwarfed by the SR-71A Blackbird, a massive supersonic "spyplane" developed in the late 1950's as a replacement for the U-2. Originally designed as a single seat, two-engine delta wing aircraft called the A-12, which first flew in 1962, the airplane was further developed into what became the SR-71 Blackbird and first flew in December of 1964. The airplane holds a multitude of aviation records including the absolute world speed record (2,193mph), New York to London flight at 1:55:42, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. at 1:04:02 and the world record for sustained altitude at 85,069' feet.

Next week, PIMA - Part II....

We'll step outside to the desert floor and the outdoor exhibits including the fighter jets, bombers, transport, and other historic aircraft from the United States and other parts of the world. Pima has 80 acres of museums, aircraft and aviation history.

By Kevin Moore, Contributing Editor & Photographer

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