Sunday, October 31, 2010

on the wings of a goose

My part of Mexico is not blessed with the splendid museums of Mexico City -- or even Xalapa.

But my part of Oregon has several museums of interests.  My favorite being the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum just outside of McMinnville.

We will skip over the reputed connections that Evergreen International Aviation has had with certain government agencies.  They make for interesting tales.  But that is not why I asked you here today.

McMinnville is a smallish (about 30,000 people) college town that has upgraded its image from farm land center to being the aorta of Oregon's wine country.

It seems to be an odd place for a major museum.  But the son of the CEO of Evergreen had the dream of planting a world-class air museum on one of those former fields.  And, with his acquisition of Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose, that dream became a reality.

I suspect most of you have heard the tale of what must be one of the more eccentric dreams of American aviation.  During Word War Two, the United States early on discovered it had a logistical problem.  The American manufacturing base could churn out plenty of trucks and tanks.  But getting them from the United States to Europe was a slow process. 

The navy was the lifeline of supplies.  And the German U-boats were tearing up shipping.

That is one reason it took so long for the Allies to invade Europe.  The basic tools of war needed to be assembled.

Howard Hughes had a dream.  Of the world's largest aircraft.  A huge flying boat made almost exclusively of wood.  A fleet of those airplanes could quickly shuttle the supplies our allies needed to take the war home to the Nazis.

The notion was revolutionary.  As revolutionary as the idea of sinking battleships with bomb-laden aircraft.  The navy had almost an exclusive monopoly on supplying overseas troops.  Howard Hughes was to change that concept.

But not in the second world war.  His dream plane was not completed until 1947 -- after the war was complete, and no one was ready to fight another.  The Spruce Goose flew once.  And then languished as a tourist attraction in Long Beach.

Until 1992 when Evergreen purchased it, had it disassembled, and shipped by barge to Oregon in 1993.  Eight years later, after being restored, it became the centerpiece of the new Evergreen Aviation Museum.

I have visited the museum several times -- because flight flows in my veins.  The Spruce Goose is always the centerpiece of my visits.

I made the pilgrimage again on this past Saturday.  You could feel the damp rising in the day.  A visit to a museum was a perfect match.

I even had my photograph taken while sitting in the Spruce Goose's cockpit.  But I got as much joy out of walking around an F-5, the fighter version of the T-38, the supersonic trainer of my flight school days.

But I made two new visits on this trip.  The first was to the newly-opened space museum -- that is just waiting for a Space Shuttle, if the cards fall right.

And the second was to the IMAX theater.  The 3-D film was about the development of the Boeing 787.  But that was not the most interesting part of the theater.  The lobby is dedicated to heroes of flight.  Amongst the photographs were two of men I know -- General Chuck Sams, one of my legal mentors, and Congressman Denny Smith, one of my political mentors.

It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  To see a good portion of aviation history in person -- and to remember some of the men who have helped me along the road of life.

Not all Saturdays can be spent as well.


Mike Nickell and Cynthia Johnson said...

Arghh! I can't tell you how many times we drove past the Spruce Goose, but never stopped. I kick myself for not following my own carpe diem advise...

Anonymous said...

Great picture of the "Hercules". Is it true that you can park a 747 under each wing of "goose"? It looks massive in your photo.

Brubor said...

Evergreen is my favorite museum. You mentioned the founder (the son). It's unfortunate that he did not live a longer life so that he could have more time to enjoy his creation. But certainly he lived a full life....fuller than most.

Felipe said...

I didn´t know the Goose had left Southern California where I walked through it many years ago. Quite an experience.

And Howard Hughes is buried in my old city of Houston. I´ve passed by to say hi to him there on several occasions. He was a colossally odd individual.

Darrel said...

In December 1972, a month after She had opened as a hotel, I stayed on the Queen Mary for a week. My friend’s parents had made the last voyage from England to Long Beach aboard Her in 1967 and the stories they told were incredible. I had to see for myself. They were right. At the time I thought my new 240Z was the way to travel, but aboard the Queen Mary I could travel to exotic palaces in a luxury I had never known (without leaving the pier). Then to top that off, the Spruce Goose was next door. I spent three days walking, climbing and crawling through and over every square inch (that wasn’t roped off) of that monster. It reminded me of all the hours we spent flying “The Bomber, B17” in our youth, only on steroids.
Sorry about the ramble, but you've done it again and detoured me down mery lane.

Steve Cotton said...

Mike and Cynthia -- Too bad you didn't stop at the museum. But you had other adventures in Salem. Too bad you are not still here. I could have hosted a trip.

Francisco -- It is a huge plane. The wing span is still the world's largest. As for parking a 747 under the wings, I am not certain. But that tail on the Goose still holds the aircraft record for height.

Brubor -- The museum is a great memorial to Michael.

Felipe -- I fear there are those who would place the two of us in the "odd" category. Definitely, not in the Hughes class, though.

Darrel -- For brothers, we certainly harbor some different memories. See you at Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.