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Monday, March 28, 2005

 

Up In the Air, Junior Birdman!

I grew up watching Vanguard rockets blow up on the pad and Mercury astronauts orbit around the earth. I could tell you the history of the U.S. Air Force from 1917 on. I still can - just sit with me watching some documentary about WWII air power on the The History Channel - you'll get real tired real quick of my constant "...that's wrong!...that's a Thunderbolt, not a Mustang!...that shot's from three years later!..."

Anyway, my point is that I've loved airplanes since I was a kid, and I still do.

When I was 15, my friend Tom and I helped organize an Air Explorer Squadron - it was a program for older Boy Scouts. Somebody knew somebody who knew a former B-50 pilot named Ira Ross, who became our adult leader (I don't remember what they called the equivalent of "scoutmaster" in Air Explorers.) Us guys had envisioned flying model airplanes and building model rockets, but Ira had bigger plans. After a few car washes and candy sales, we had enough money in our treasury to pay for some flying time.

One great Saturday summer morning in 1965, we met Ira at Finksburg Airport, a little grass-strip airfield not far to the north of where us guys lived in Randallstown. Ira had rented an Aeronca Champ, a classic canvas-and-wood two-seater, built in the 1940's. One by one, we climbed into the back seat as Ira took us for a 15-minute ride over northern Baltimore County. At one point in each short trip, Ira had us take the control stick to get a feel for flying the plane. Shouting over the roar of the engine, he guided each of us through a few S-turns. We were flying - flying before we had even driven a car.

Shortly afterwards, Ira bought a 1939 Piper J-3 Cub, a beautiful white plane with a red sunburst pattern on the wing. It needed a lot of work, but eventually, Ira got it done and had the plane FAA certified. We learned how to read an air chart and do dead-reckoning navigation. Ira took us up for longer flights in the J-3 - at this point, all we had to do was pay for gas.

Tom and I went off to college, and for some reason, this great little organization fell apart.

I lost track of Ira and his little J-3 cub, and to my family's relief, I never did get a pilot's license. But I never lost my love of planes and flying.

I'm fortunate enough to live within 10 from a beautiful little airfield, 80-year-old Lee Airport in Edgewater, Maryland. Two years ago, armed with my first digital camera, a Canon A40 point-and-shoot digital camera, I happily pointed and shot like a kid at some beautiful classic two-seaters.

Here's the tail of a Citabria, a plane that looked very familiar, but whose name I couldn't place. After I got home, I looked up Citabria on the web and found that it was an modernized version of my first aeronautical date, the Aeronca Champ! These planes have a strengthened frame and wing spar so that they're capable of aerobatic manouvers. In fact, the elegant, Italian-sounding Citabria is actually "airbatic"spelled backwards!

Citabria Tail Sunburst Posted by Hello


I found the plane below with a flag-and-bunting-bedecked floral arrangement under each wing. This was early May 2003, and I found out later that the plane was used by a young woman who had just returned from Air National Guard duty, flying an F-15, in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The man who maintains the plane had polished it up and left the flowers as a welcome-home for the returning pilot.

Patriotic Plane Posted by Hello

This beautiful plane, by the way, is a Taylorcraft, and they're still made today. You can buy a brand-new 2005 model for a lot less than a used Hummer H1.

The Taylorcraft is such a strikingly handsome plane that I found myself taking dozens of pictures of it from all sorts of angles. My favorite is one I'll post in the near future, but here's my second-favorite view:

Fancy Pants Posted by Hello

The teardrop shape at bottom is an example of wheel pants, a common means in the old days of providing some streamlining for non-retractable landing gear. It was meant to be functional, but doesn't it look nice!

Well, spring is here and the old birds will soon be flying again - time for me to re-visit Lee Airport and see how things are going.

Comments:
Steve, nice airplane shots, and nice stories. I'm also an aviation fan. My favorite WWII warbird is the P-51D Mustang. A few years ago, I had a very exciting ride aboard the USS Carl Vinson during a family day outing. We got to observe flight operations while standing on the flight deck. We saw the thundering F-14 Tomcats take off, and the quieter but no less exciting F-18's. Because of the inherent danger, they did not do any carrier landings while we were on the deck. I shot some pictures with my Nikon F3HP w/MD4 motor drive that day.

--Warren
 
Hey Steve, nice trip down memory lane. Every so often I might do a Yahoo search for names from the distant past; tried "Steve Rosenbach" during lunchtime yesterday at work, and found your prolific opus. Neglected work for the rest of the day, and some time today also, though I'm at home now. It was great to see the photos of your family.
Two weekends ago I was in MD with my wife, son & daughter-in-law, to visit the aged P's, and my brother in Eldersburg. I'm still amazed at how the place has changed. And I spent some time with Google Earth, looking for the airstrip in Finksburg (couldn't find it), and trying to remember what the turns off 140 were, to get to Ira's house. Couldn't find that either, time was short when I was searching.
I do think of the evening when we walked from Ira's fields to a local town--Pleasant Valley or some bucolic name like that--with wooden sidewalks, and a couple of the local girls crossed to the other side when they saw us coming....

Tom
 
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