Saturday, February 21, 2009

February's Plane Crazy Saturday

The February edition of the Mojave Transportation Museum's Plane Crazy Saturday attracted 53 aircraft of all shapes, sizes and speeds, and well over a hundred visitors who delighted in the opportunity to wander amongst the planes and chat with the owners and pilots. 

The featured aircraft this month was Joann Painter's Myers Little Toot. The plane was once owned by NASA test pilot Fitz Fulton, and Joann's husband Wen, also a NASA flight test engineer, bought it from Fitz and gave it to her for Christmas! Once upon a time, the local airfield was a place where people could hang out - old timers could chat and reminisce, while youngsters can dream of learning to fly. Alas, changing times and stringent airport security has all but extinguished this element of Americana, but for one Saturday each month, the general public has the chance to get up-close-and-personal with all kinds of planes, a delightful flashback to a different era.

When he isn't flying SpaceShipOne, Proteus or his own LongEZ, astronaut Mike Melvill straps on his Pitts Special, which he brought out today, to the delight of at least one of the youngsters that came out to wander amongst the planes.

Chuck Coleman brought out his new Extra 300. Chuck's previous Extra was a regular chaseplane for SpaceShipOne, and he flew competition aerobatics in it, until it crashed. That Chuck survived and is back flying, given the severity of his injuries, is something of a miracle, and we are all thrilled to see him back in the air!

Below left:A very pretty Harmon Rocket. Below right:Elliot Seguin's Cassutt Race #68 low and fast down runway 26.

The extremes of aviation were clear, with the contrast between the wind-in-your-teeth Ison Air-Bike and the ex-Alaska MD-80 which sat in the middle of the fly-in aircraft, being used as a set for a National Geographic special on D.B. Cooper (I guess no one told the show's producers that DB jumped from a 727, not an MD-80!).

Although Joann Painter's Myers Little Toot was slated to be the featured aircraft for this Saturday, Dick Rutan's brand new Lycoming Thunderbolt 390-powered Berkut stole center-stage. As Dick's display placard attests, it is definitely a "one-of-a-kind" beast!

Dick holds court, showing off his nifty EFIS system.

Since this is the first time that a Lycoming Thunderbolt has been used in a Berkut, Dick even has the prop blades instrumented with strain gauges for the flight test program.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dick Rutan First-Flights New Berkut

Veteran test pilot and world aviation record holder Dick Rutan has a new ride, with yesterday's first flight of his new Berkut homebuilt. The Berkut is a descendant of the Rutan (as in Brother Burt) Long-EZ, with the prototype being designed in 1989 by Dave Ronneberg and Kerry Beresford of the company Experimental Aviation. The type subsequently suffered through several failed companies, replete with numerous bankruptcies and lawsuits, leading to the current Berkut Engineering Inc.

The corporate background notwithstanding, though, the Berkut has some loyal followers. The Berkut uses retractable landing gear originally designed by Shirl Dickey of the E-Racer fame, and utilizes the Roncz 1145MS canard airfoil, which is more forgiving of dirt and bugs. When equipped with a Lycoming 540, the plane is easily capable of over 300 kts. 

For Friday's maiden flight, Dick was chased by long-time friend Mike Melvill (see the June 27, 2008 Mojave Skies entry "The Planes of Mojave: Special EZes, Part I - World Traveler" for the pair's exploits) in his long-range Long-EZ. The successful flight ended just before rain and snow once again blessed the desert.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Delta 757 Drives to Mojave

In the midst of all the other activities last week, Mojave became the home of yet another retired airliner, this time ex-Delta 757 N606DL. What made things interesting, however, is ''how'' it got here. The plane was originally retired to Victorville airport, where it was due to be scrapped, but the fuselage "tube" was purchased for use as a training device, to be staged at Mojave. Aircraft Recycling Corp., which runs the Victorville scrapyard, cut the wings, tail and cockpit off, and then Aviation Warehouse manufactured a set of special wheels. Because of the height of this oversized load, the overpasses along U.S. Highway 58 couldn't be negotiated, and the plane had to be trucked north to Inyokern and then down to Mojave, sending it through Red Rock Canyon, where numerous TV shows and car commercials have been filmed.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

WhiteKnightTwo Second Flight Photos

Here's a selection of photos from last Thursday's flight of WhiteKnightTwo, the second in the much-anticipated flight test program for Virgin Galactic's pioneering VMS Eve. According to Virgin's Will Whitehorn, the plane climbed as high as 18,000 on this flight.

After spending well over an hour to the north of the field, WK2 and Robert Shearer's Beech Starship chase plane (the same one that chased SpaceShipOne) came in for a low pass down runway 26, a touch-and-go down runway 12 before landing on 12 (a noticable cross-wind had come up during the flight).

This has become somewhat of a classic shot...heading back to the barn after a successful test flight, Mojave wind turbines in the distance. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

NTPS TurboDak Damage

NTPS's TurboDak was moved over to the boneyard, where the damage inflicted is more apparent. The fact that they put it there rather than in the school's hangar is a hint that the plane is probably a write-off.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NTPS' Turbine DC-3 Crashes on Take Off

The National Test Pilot School's Douglas DC-3PT TurboDak crashed on take-off at the Mojave Air & Spaceport yesterday, February 4, although both crewmembers on board walked away without injury. The instructor pilot for the flight was veteran test pilot and head of NTPS, Sean Roberts. Witnesses said that the aircraft climbed to about 100 feet before descending and then veering off to the right of the runway into the soft desert dirt. 

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo had been scheduled to make its second test flight shortly afterwards, and the Mojave Airport fire/crash crews were staging to support WK2 when the crash occurred. Additionally, Kern County Fire Engine 14 was arriving at the Voyager Restaurant for breakfast and so was also able to quickly respond (with all the rescue equipment occupying the runway, WK2's test flight was cancelled for the day).

The DC-3 had been formerly operated by the South African Air Force, who had modified the aircraft for maritime patrol with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67 turbo-prop engines, sophisticated multi-mode radar, a forward-looking infrared system, GPS, Doppler navigation and a host of other electronic systems. Most of the systems were retained, and NTPS used it as a flying classroom in which flight test engineers learned how to acquire and analyze systems test data. 

In 2003, a crew of three ferried the venerable aircraft from South Africa to Mojave, headed by Terry Donovan, a flight test instructor at NTPS, on a flight that lasted over 68 hours. . Joining him were Dave Stock, a 1992 NTPS graduate and currently a Captain with South African Airlines, and Clive Turner, a retired South African Air Force Colonel.

In order to make the long hops required for the ferry flight, the cabin of the aircraft was stuffed with 18 45-gallon drums and three 90-gallon ferry tanks. This arrangement allowed for about a 16-hour range. While two of the crew members flew, the third was in charge of monitoring the fuel transfer from the cabin ferry tanks to the wing tanks.

The aircraft left Cape Town, South Africa on January 28th, flew to Namibia where the tanks were topped off, then on to Accra, Ghana, and 11-hour flight, where they spent the night. Early the next morning, after refueling, the flew another 11 hours to Sal, Cape Verde Islands for a two day rest layover. Leaving Africa behind, the next hop of 13 ½ hours took the Douglas over the Atlantic Ocean to Barbados, where they spent another night. From there it was a 12-hour flight on to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where they cleared customs and spent the night. Hoping across the US from Ft. Lauderdale to Austin TX, Tucson AZ and Bullhead City, the plane and a very tired crew finally arrived at Mojave on February 6th.

Donovan commented that the turbo-prop powered aircraft handles about the same as the “traditional” DC-3/C-47, but has a bit more power. The decades-old aircraft held a true airspeed of 170 knots, and due to the headwinds, a ground speed of 140 – 160 knots.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Only in Mojave: "But Officer...

...was I really going that fast?" Every few years, the Classic Jet Aircraft Association holds one of their Jetblast gatherings of jet warbirds at Mojave. A few years back, this L-29 attracted the attentions of California's finest, a few of whom themselves are warbird fans.