Thursday, September 27, 2012

Last Flight for the Shuttle Endeavour

For you lucky Bastards in California who get your very own Shuttle to see and visit, here is how they got that thing onto the back of the NASA 747. Known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), Flying with the additional drag and weight of the Orbiter imposes significant fuel and altitude penalties. The range was reduced from an unladen range of 5,500 nautical miles to down to 1,000 nautical miles. Meaning lots of refueling stops just to get from coast to coast.

Most people shutter to think whether the 747 can hold and lift something the size of the Shuttle. Not so tough if you know the Shuttle weighs a paltry 172,000 lbs empty and a typical 747 can lift a payload of 247,000 lbs into the air. The SCA is no Trump jet in that, except for a few seats still in the first class deck, the rest of the aircraft has been stripped of wall panels and even insulation to keep the weight down. Way too noisy to hear the in-flight movie or your iPod.

Shuttle Carrier N905NA was used to ferry the retired Shuttles to their respective museums. It retired to the Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a short flight from Los Angeles International Airport on September 24, 2012. It now joins N911NA as a source of spare parts for NASA's SOFIA aircraft.

Here is one of the mounting points where they connect the Shuttle to the 747. Note the bit of NASA humor in the mounting instructions:
Here is the listing the number of ferry and free flights, in Silhouette, of the various Orbiters and the Phantom Ray on the port side of the SCA:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mustangs of Las Colinas

In the early 1970s, Dallas businessman Ben H. Carpenter converted his family ranch into a residential and business development called “Las Colinas”. Carpenter wanted the center piece of this commercial development to be a larger-than-life sculpture of a group of wild mustangs fording across a stream.

As many of you may know, there are no native horses to North America. All the horse breeds we have are derived from those horses brought to the New World by the early explorers. Mustangs, in particular, were Iberian horses brought by the Spanish. A lot of cross breeding has occurred over the years but they draw their lineage from the original Iberians. The Iberian horse is a title given to a number of horse breeds native to the Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal). At present, no less than 18 horse breeds are officially recognized.
Iberian horses are thought to be one of the oldest types of domesticated horses. Modern Iberian breeds tend to be of a Baroque horse type that resemble their most famous member, the Andalusian horse, in “conformation” (the degree of correctness of a horse's bone structure, musculature, and its body proportions in relation to each other).

In 1976, Mr. Carpenter commissioned African wildlife artist Robert Glen to bring his vision to reality. Glen spent a year researching and studying the history of the mustangs to better understand his subject. For his sculpture, Mr. Glen discovered a line of horse with the same pure bloodlines in Southern Spain. He used these horses as the models for his sculpture.

Working from his studio in Nairobi, Kenya, Glen made scale models of mustangs in various poses to help him work out the design of the sculpture. He then made ½-life-size models of the horses. For the next step in the process, Glen made life-size fiberglass molds of these models and shipped them to a foundry in England.

After an elaborate course of creating positive and negative molds, the foundry completed the bronze casting in November 1981. The mustangs were shipped by air from England to Irving, Texas, and after the intricate procedure of mounting the figures, the Mustangs of Las Colinas sculpture was dedicated on September 25, 1984.

The plaza itself is massive (rather stark really) and sits in the center of a three building complex known as Williams Square on N. O’Connor Blvd. in Irving, Texas. Some of you may recall seeing the plaza and sculpture from a recent Travel Channel documentary for the opening of the new TNT Dallas series. The plaza and sculpture were depicted in an episode from the original CBS series.

The sculpture consists of nine horses in a line as if galloping through a stream bed. The running water of the stream cascades down into a steeper canyon formed from granite tiles. The canyon has steps for sitting right down to the edge of the stream where one can sit and dip their feet in the cool water. Must be a great place for workers and visitors to take a nice relaxing lunch.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

On the anniversary of 9/11, I decided to honor this day by relating our experiences at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. It was our last full day in DC and, somewhat surprisingly, Dianna was the one who made it a point that we see the memorial before we left.
Little known factoid is that there is no public parking for the memorial on the Pentagon grounds. Parking for the memorial is located at the Pentagon City shopping mall across the highway. Access is by parking in the Mall parking structure ($2 dollars for 2 hours). You walk across the street to the outer Pentagon parking lot, through a really cool tunnel under the I-395 highway and a walk on a well designated path to the memorial. Don’t stray, there are security police and cameras everywhere.

Oh yeah….absolutely no photography around or toward the Pentagon except when it’s directed into the memorial site. Fact….saw a lady get yelled at for poking her camera lens through the perimeter fence of the memorial toward the building. I, on the other hand, just casually snapped my shots without lifting the camera (old surveillance trick). A cool feature is the cell phone self-guided tour you have access to by calling (202) 741-1004. Very informative.

The Pentagon Memorial captures that moment in time at 9:37 a.m. when 184 lives ended when American Airlines Flight 77 hurtled over the DC landscape and came to rest at the south wall of the Pentagon. There are 125 Memorial Units honoring the victims of the Pentagon (55 military personnel and 70 civilians) and 59 lives lost on Flight 77. The unique design of the Pentagon Memorial reflects the path of the aircraft and serves as a timeline of the victims’ ages, spanning from the youngest victim, three-year-old  Dana Falkenberg, who was on board American Airlines Flight 77, to the oldest,  John D. Yamnicky, 71.

Begun in June of 2006, dedicated and opened to the public on September 11, 2008 by President Bush, the memorial is a bit of a departure from other traditional memorials we have seen over the years. Rather stark by most standards, it was at once, powerful and hauntingly barren. I say that because the memorial is flat and expansive, layered with crushed rock, almost a moonscape. After the 9/11 attacks, an impromptu memorial had been set up at the Navy Annex on the hill above, overlooking the Pentagon where the  Air Force Memorial now resides (completed in 2006). That hill also marks the point where Flight 77 flew over as it made its final descent into the Pentagon.


On the western perimeter of the gravel field, an Age Wall grows one inch per year in height above the perimeter bench relative to the age lines. As visitors move through the Memorial, the wall gets higher, growing from three inches (the age of Dana Falkenberg) to 71 inches (the age of John D. Yamnicky).


The memorial is a set of 184 illuminated benches in the landscaped two acre lot. Each bench is engraved with the name of a victim. The benches representing the victims that were inside the Pentagon are arranged so those reading the names will face the Pentagon's south facade, where the plane hit; benches dedicated to victims aboard the plane are arranged so that those reading the engraved name will be facing skyward along the path the plane traveled. If more than one member of a family died during the attack, family names are listed in the reflecting pool under the bench.

The sight of the aircraft striking the building must have been horrific. Traveling at approximately 530 mph, the plane hit the Pentagon at the first-floor level and, at the moment of impact, the airplane was rolled slightly to the left, with the right wing elevated. It flew so low, the aircraft cut down five street light poles before contacting the wall. The front part of the fuselage disintegrated on impact, while the mid and tail sections moved for another fraction of a second, with tail section debris penetrating furthest into the building. In all, the airplane took eight-tenths of a second to fully penetrate 310 feet into the three outermost of the building's five rings.

Looking at the Pentagon today, all the destruction has been repaired but the point of contact for the aircraft is still visible. When the fa├žade was repaired, several of the original exterior tiles were salvaged and placed at the point of impact around the 6th window, between the first and second floors, just left of the three wood exit doors bottom right. You can tell by the slight color difference between the new and old wall panels.

Although stark and simple, the memorial evokes a powerful statement about that event and it’s place in the overall 9/11 tragedy. On the plane were a family starting out for a vacation in Australia and a group of students were attending a National Geographic trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California. Who could have imagined how that day would end for those people. Where would they be today, 11 years later, if some stupid fanatics hadn’t set out to conquer America? We’ll never know what contributions they would have made but we do know the hurt and suffering of the families and friends left behind will be with them as long as they live. Above all….we can never forget.