Feb 26, 2009

I'm Struggling!

I've got a conundrum.

I'm a huge fanboy, you see, of WWII aviation, up to and barely into jet-propulsion. If it's as old as or older than the Luftwaffe's Messerschmidt Me 262 'Schwalbe' I'm all about it. You see, I love simple airplanes, all the way back to the Wright Flyer. Oh gods what an aircraft. That beautiful and monstrously simple contraption that first powered us just over a hundred years ago into the bountiful blue place that only birds used to dare.* As such, and being a confirmed scale modeler of WWII aircraft I like to think I know a little bit about WWII airplanes. That's why I'm so bothered right now.

I saw one today, you see. Not flying mind you, but on a truck. A BIG truck. A diesel truck with a very long low-boy flatbed trailer to be very specific. I glanced up at the interstate, nudged there by whatever guardian angel looks out for vintage military aircraft fanatic atheists and there it was, rolling by on the interstate at 65 mph. My first thought was "An amphibious plane!" My second thought was "I wonder if I could catch up with it on the bike?" My third and succeeding thoughts ran around the ideas of not being able to leave work so I could hare off up the interstate and the difficulties inherent in either forcing a diesel truck and trailer off the interstate, unarmed, from a motorcycle, and taking a series of photos at 70 mph.

So, I did what I usually do when something astounding passes by on the interstate--I swallowed hard and turned back to my computer after it had passed. And spent the rest of the day thinking about it. Turning it over and over in my head like a peppermint on my tongue. Writing bits of blog post about it.

It was utterly and entirely a beautiful thing. It was obviously in the process of being restored because all the paint (a pretty necessary thing when you're expected to operate in and from salt water) had been sanded off and it's aluminum skin gleamed in the sun as it passed. If you've ever seen an amphibious plane you know that its belly is shaped a lot like the hull of a boat, since it in essence IS a boat. The wing is mounted at the highest point of the fuselage to keep delicate engines far out of the water, and the rudder is likewise very tall. This aircraft was just a fuselage, a huge boat-shape with a broad, blunt nose and windows set very far up on it's front and a tail section that stretched up as tall as the huge slots where the wing roots would enter the fuselage.

When it passed it looked for all the world like a child's cartooned drawing of a whale made real and sculpted from metal. Simple, organic curves with a narrow, upthrust rear spine upon which you could easily imagine the broad flat surfaces of a whale's flat tail. The body between tail and nose was bulbous in the extreme, a hugely pregnant shape swinging pendulously below a perfectly flat and level dorsal line. At the front was that comically round 'face' with it's ridiculously small glass 'eyes' far up at the top, and the sun that ran across the panels and rivets of the aluminum body sparkled it was splashing across a fish's wet scales.

I was entranced. At first I thought it was a PBY Catalina but the body was too short. And yes, if you're curious I've spent the last HOUR fitfully searching and giving up and searching again. And I think I've managed to find it. *g*

It was a PB2Y Coranado.

I think. *G*

What I do know is that it captured me wholly for a moment. For the brief handful of seconds it passed my vision I was back in a museum walking around relics of a past age. My hands were touching the cool steel of an airplane's cowling, smelling the sweet and sour odor that only very old machines give off, that rich tang of oil and sweat and long use. I was drawing my fingers across the gull's wings of an F4-U Corsair that had just landed at the local airport. I was touching with awe-struck fingers the three propeller blades of a P-40 Warhawk, dressed in the drab olive and sky blue of the AVG, looking just as it had when it served in the China-India-Burma theater. I was swallowed whole, resting like Jonah in the deep cool belly of a B-17 Flying Fortress named "Sentimental Journey" as she sat on the tarmac, quietly waiting for her chance to leap back into the open skies.

* I would be deeply amiss if I misled you--the Montgolfier Bros. launched us into the air as aeronauts just after 1783 with the Aerostat Réveillon. Granted it only carried the first living creatures, not people--a sheep named Montauciel (Climb-to-the-sky), a duck and a rooster. The people came later, but what I was referring to up there was POWERED flight, with an engine. Balloons have their very own, very special place in my heart, quite separate from the noise and smoke of aircraft with engines.


Gordo said...

Holy sheet, the Coronado's HUGE! Last April we had the coolest outing with Cubs. The Canadian Aviation Museum has an overnight program for schools and youth groups. At clowing, we had the place to ourselves for the evening until bedtime when we bunked out on the museum floor. I slept under the staboard wing of their Lancaster bomber.

Sigh. They REALLY don't make them like that any more.

Bob said...

You'd've known if it were the Catalina as the Catalina had a big, ovoid bubble canopy/hatch on it's side midway between the wing root and the tail.

Last Saturday I saw a B-17 flying over Atlanta. I go to the local air shows just to see the WWII era aircraft. There's nothing like the roar of the huge piston engines as the aircraft fly by. Jets are just whiney wanna-be's.

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, it IS a beast! I envy the boys that--spending the night around all that equipment? *sigh*

Bob, I realised that afterwards--I fear I've never been hugely fond of amphibious planes until just the past few years. I love the "whiney wanna-be's" line!