The smoke comes in from a new fire started by lightning
I knew it before I even went outside the cabin the next morning. I had left a window open to experience the thunderstorm, and now I could smell the repercussions.
Sure enough, when I walked down the boardwalk to the lake, the hills across the water were barely visible due to the smoke. No doubt the lightning from the storm the previous night had started another wildfire. No where in Alaska is safe from the smoke this summer.
It was around noon when I heard the buzz of the planes coming in. Two single engine aircraft flew directly over me at a height of only a few hundred feet. Under one wing, in all capital letters, was the word FIRE.
For the next six hours, the two planes skirted the lake, landing in a bay on the far end on their floats, filled up their tanks on the run, then took off again in the direction that they had come. The fire must have been close, as the raven flies, because the interval between water fills was only 10 minutes.
I went back out to fish, but hesitated from crossing the lake. I had hit the trout fairly hard the evening before on the other side of the lake, but I didn’t think I could cross in 10 minutes in the canoe. I ended up fishing my side until evening, when the flights stopped.
The Niagara Aerospace Museum is located in the old terminal of the Niagara Falls International Airport. Because the Curtiss-Wright and Bell Aircraft corporations played such a huge part in the aviation history of the Buffalo/Niagara area, those two companies are well represented within the museum.
The P39: “Miss Lend-Lease”
Arguably the centerpiece to the museum is this Bell Aircraft P39Q “Airacobra”. The P39 left Niagara Falls on December 26, 1943 bound for Russia due to the Lend Lease program. Talking to the museum volunteers, the P39 went through Ladd Field in Fairbanks before crossing the Bering Sea. The P39 then went missing in action during November of 1944.
In 2004, the P39 was found in Lake Mart-Yavr in northwestern Russia. Bell Aircraft took recovery of the aircraft in 2008, the pilot’s remains were given a military funeral, and the plane’s logbook was recovered and preserved. Over 4500 Bell P39 Airacobras were sent to Russia during lend-lease, along with 2500 Curtiss-Wright P40 Warhawks and 2500 Bell P63 King Cobras. Russia’s top ten aces during WWII flew P39 aircraft.
The plane has been nicknamed “Miss Lend-Lease” by the museum. Two local Niagara women, who worked at Bell Aircraft during the war, wrote hidden messages in the P39 when they worked on its assembly over 70 years ago. They have been discovered, and are now on display next to their P39.
P40 Warhawk mural
More than 16,000 P40 Warhawks were built at the Curtiss-Wright Buffalo plants. On September 11, 1942, a P40 on a test flight, caught fire. The test pilot parachuted safely to the ground, but the P40 mysteriously turned back and traveled two miles before plummeted through the Curtiss-Wright Plant roof, killing six workers at the scene, while eight died of their injuries later. 43 others were wounded, mostly with burns.
The Curtiss plant was torn down in 1999, but a plaque honoring the victims who lost their life due to the P40 crash is still displayed at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. The one in the photo above is a copy of that plaque, located at the Niagara Aerospace Museum, within the Curtiss-Wright section.
A replica of a Curtiss “Jenny”
The Curtiss “Jenny” above is a replica, on display showing the wings without their canvas covering. 10,000 Curtiss “Jenny” aircraft were produced in Buffalo between 1914 – 1917.
Apollo EECOM Station
Thanks to Bell’s involvement in the space program, there is quite a display at the museum on the Apollo missions. The EECOM Station above, was used throughout the Apollo Programs, but played a particularly vital role in the Apollo 13 Mission.
The Agena 8081 Rocket Engine
The Agena rocket engine saw 360 mission flights, with a reliability record of 99.7%. It had action in the Ranger Mariner, Gemini and Nimbus Programs. It was used extensively to launch the Lunar Orbiter space probes, which preceded the successful Apollo missions.
The Cunningham-Hall Aircraft Company produced aircraft such as the GA-36 in Rochester, NY during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. This particular GA-36 was found languishing in a field at a small airport in Michigan. It was acquired and restored by volunteers at the Amherst Museum.
Admission to the museum was $8 for adults. Parking is directly in front of the old terminal, where passenger drop off and pick up used to take place. The volunteers were very knowledgeable and eager to talk about their collection.
I made the short drive towards Ottumwa to visit the Air Power Museum earlier this week. Located off Bluegrass Road, 4 miles outside Blakesburg, the APM is a working museum, where the vast majority of their aircraft still fly. Considering it’s the middle of winter, the traffic on Hwy 34 wasn’t exactly daunting, and the museum staff was kind enough to open the building just for my visit.
Great people down there at APM, and it was much appreciated.
A Curtiss OX-5 engine from 1919
The best time to visit APM would no doubt be during their annual Invitational Fly-In, which occurs over Labor Day Weekends. This year the dates are: August 31 – September 5, 2016. Held for over 40 years, the Fly-In at the Antique Airfield is part convention and part reunion.
Max speed: 99mph; ceiling: 9000 ft; range: 290 miles (@4gph); original cost: $2675
1972 Pietenpol Scout
Originally named the Sky Scout in 1931, the Bernard Pietenpol built plane was powered by a Model T engine, and updated to a Model A engine the following year. A frame identical to the original Scout, with a Chevrolet Vega engine, became the first replica of the Scout. This is the APM aircraft.
1938 Porterfield CP-40
Bounsall Prospector: A homebuilt aircraft
Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp
The Wasp was Pratt & Whitney’s first engine, designed in the 1920’s. Displacing 1344 cubic inches, the single row, 9 cylinder, air-cooled radial engine appeared in numerous aircraft. It appears here because I just love a big, old radial.
The Pan American World Airways once serviced Alaska. In fact, they had quite the history in the early days of aviation in the state. Here’s the Pan Am DC-4 “Clipper Reindeer” at, I believe, Weeks Field in December 1946.
Photo courtesy of the Pan Am Historical Foundation