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Pima Air and Space Museum, Part 1

Have you ever set out to visit a place and it turns out to overwhelm you? That's what happened to me on Thursday when I sent to Tucson with a photographer friend to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum located right next to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Even before entering the museum proper, I encountered a Douglas A-4C Skyhawk. It is a single-seat, subsonic jet attack aircraft used by the Navy and Marine Corps. Skyhawks played key roles in the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Falklands War. Nearly 3,000 were built from 1954 to 1979 at a cost of around $3M per copy.

The aircraft on display has a civilian paint job.

Once you enter the main building, there are planes, planes and more planes. Look up, look down, look near, look far — a feast for the eyes.

I did look up to see a Rutan Long EZ, designed by Burt Rutan and built by his company in kit form as a high performance aircraft using a small economical engine. It uses fiberglass construction with a forward canard that prevents stalling. It has a range of 1,500 miles — farther than flying from Phoenix to Seattle. They were sold from 1967 to 1985.

According to Wikipedia, "As of late 2005, approximately 700 Long EZ's are FAA registered in the USA".

Note that Singer-songwriter John Denver was killed when his Long-EZ crashed on October 12, 1997 — pilot error largely the result of a previous owner's relocation of the fuel selection valve to an awkward spot behind the pilot's seat.


This looks like a toy but is, in fact, a Starr Bumble Bee which was designed to be the world's smallest aircraft. Interestingly, the first flights of the Bumble Bee were at nearby Marana, Arizona (January 28, 1984).

Subsequently an even smaller aircraft took away that title but the Bumble Bee retains the title of smallest biplane.

Fun to look at but I'm not sure I'd be willing to go up in one.

Going from tiny to massive, nearby was a Soviet-built aircraft piston engine, the AHs-72. When you look at these massive engines you understand why they made so much noise — the thing is almost as tall as I am.

Next is a civilian biplane made by the Waco Aircraft Company, an American maker. Introduced in 1930, these were popular with private pilots and training schools. They offered good performance and carrying capacity while being relatively inexpensive to operate. Also a small number were used by the Army Air Corps (predecessor to the US Air Force) for training pilots.

Look at this cute little number — a Bede BD-5J Micro-jet. It holds the title as the world's smallest turbojet manned aircraft. It was sold in kit form by the now defunct Bede Aircraft Corporation in the 1970s.

It was a challenge to build one and even more challenging to fly. Interestingly it only has a range of 280 miles — that would only get you from Phoenix to Page, near the Arizona border.

This model aircraft was used in the James Bond movie Octopussy and this plane sports that same paint job.


And here is one of the stars of the museum, perhaps the most well-known helicopter in the world, the Bell UH-1M, nicknamed the "Huey". It gained fame during the Vietnam War and continues to fly both in the military and for civilian use.

Interesting paint job in front, n'est-pas? Note the clear panels in the bottom of the nose — these allowed the pilot to view the ground as they touched down. I was told they were also used by the enemy to try and shoot the pilot and co-pilot from below. What do they say, "All's fair in love and war".

The military used various weapons systems on the Huey, some mounted inside, others outside like these — obviously a machine gun and what I guess to be a small rocket launcher.

The "Huey" was the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter production. They were manufactured from 1959 to 1987 — with more than 16,000 built. They are still in limited use in the civilian market.

The next aircraft on my tour is the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, a jet trainer. It dates back to 1948 as a replacement for the P-80 which suffered a high accident rate. A second seat was added for the instructor which then necessitated moving its fuel tanks to the end of the wings. According to the museum the markings are that of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Shaw AFB, 1974.

They were manufactured from 1948 to 1959. Although most are retired, a few still serve in such places as Bolivia.

This handsome fighter is the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, a missile-armed fleet defense fighter for the United States Navy, first entering service in 1960. It proved to be so highly adaptable, it was also adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force, and by the mid-1960s had become a major part of their respective air wings.

When you look at it from the front, it looks both handsome and fearsome. The F-4E and its predecessors had more than 100 kills in the Vietnam War. More than 5,000 were built and some remained in service in the U.S. military until earlier this year.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. —