Fokker Dr.I being built at Hiller

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2016 by hillermuseum Tagged: ,


A restoration shop volunteer starts work on the fuselage of the Fokker Dr.I replica


A completed Fokker Dr.I replica

The Red Baron is coming to the Hiller Aviation Museum or at least a replica of his airplane. The restoration crew has begun the project of building a replica Fokker Dr.I Triplane.

In 1917 during WWI Manfred Von Richthofen (The Red Baron) flew the celebrated Fokker Dr.I Triplane, the distinctive red three-winged aircraft with which he is most commonly associated.



Rise of the Machines

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2016 by hillermuseum


Boeing Condor – one of the world’s largest drones


Drones and Remotely Piloted Aircraft

By Jon Welte

Even before Wilbur and Orville Wright flew in 1903, aircraft have flown without pilots. In 1871, Frenchman Alphonse Penaud developed a technique of propelling small airframes with rubber bands turning a propeller. Considered a toy today, in the 19th century such technology was harnessed for aerial experimentation. Competitions involving such rubber-powered models shaped new generations of aircraft designers.

As engine technology advanced, so too did the size and scope of unmanned aircraft. In 1896, Samuel Langley flew a steam-powered, unpiloted model airplane a distance of nearly a mile. Although Langley’s later efforts to build and fly a full size airplane failed, designers continued to use flying models to further research into airfoils and control systems.

These early model aircraft could not be controlled in flight. In some cases it was possible to pre-set control surfaces prior to launch, but full control from a distance was not possible. As the Wrights had discovered, controllability is the key to aviation—and its first flowering in unmanned flight stemmed from the Navy’s need for air defense.

In 1921, General William “Billy” Mitchell led a dramatic demonstration in which a detachment of US Army airplanes sank a number of ships with aerial bombs, most famously a World War I German battleship. Developing countermeasures against hostile aircraft became an important consideration for navies around the world, and the British Royal Navy placed a high priority on air defense.

By the early 1930s, Royal Navy warships were fitted with anti-aircraft armament, yet training was not realistic. Gunnery practice consisted of firing on target banners towed behind manned aircraft. Banner-towing planes could not replicate the flight paths an actual hostile aircraft might take, and the gun crews were restrained for concern of accidentally hitting the tow aircraft. In 1932 the Fairey Aircraft Company converted three of its scout biplanes into Fairey Queens, able to be flown by remote control. The first two aircraft crashed just seconds into their first flights, but the third survived multiple missions and demonstrated the ability of a remote-controlled, full-size airplane for use in drilling air defense gunners.

Encouraged by the technology, Great Britain commissioned the development of a new remotely piloted airplane, the de Havilland DH-82B Queen Bee. Derived from the de Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth training biplane, the Queen Bee could be flown either by a pilot aboard the airplane or by a simple rotary dial controller and radio system that could be placed on the ground, in a ship, or even aboard another aircraft. The sturdy and stable trainer proved to be an ideal platform for a simple robotic airplane; the rear cockpit was converted to hold mechanical servos to manipulate the controls, and to simplify matters the ailerons were locked in place. Flight was managed with elevator, rudder and throttle control only. Over four hundred Queen Bees—named partly in reference to the earlier Fairey Queen, and consistent with de Havilland’s policy of naming aircraft after insects—were built and flown through the 1930s.

Development of the Queen Bee coincided with negotiation of the London Naval Conference. A US Navy admiral present for the negotiations observed an early test flight and directed development of a comparable American aircraft under the leadership of Lt. Col. Delmar Fahrney. Radio equipment was fitted to two different airplane types, including the Stearman-Hammond Y-1. Redesigned the Stearmond-Hammond JH-1 when fitted for remote operations, Fahrney dubbed the aircraft “drones” partly in homage to the de Havilland aircraft that inspired their development and partly in recognition of the fact that the aircraft, much like drone bees, were expendable if necessary while completing their mission. Only a handful of Stearman-Hammond airplanes were built, with a surviving Y-1 on display at Hiller Aviation Museum.

Drones of the 1930s and 1940s were “remotely operated” in the truest sense; a human pilot had to directly observe the drone’s flight and manipulate the controls by radio in real time to maintain safe flight. Gradually, they became more capable. Autopilot technology, developed for manned aircraft during the first half century of flight, was equally applicable to unmanned operations. Such systems allowed drones to control themselves to an extent when commanded to fly a prescribed heading and/or altitude, as opposed to a pilot continually manipulating the controls by radio to achieve the same results. Later, the combination of growing computer technology and better navigation tools—initially inertial navigation systems, and later Global Positioning System satellites—made it feasible to build robotic aircraft able to take off, fly a route, and land without direct human intervention.

The Boeing Condor, designed and built in the late 1980s, was the first drone to fully incorporate this technology and fly autonomously from takeoff to landing. Conceived as a high-altitude, high-endurance reconnaissance platform, the Condor’s 200’ wingspan carried it and a simulated instrument package aloft to altitudes of over 60,000’. Ultimately considered unsuitable for operational use, only two were built; one hangs in the collection of the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Today, the promise of the Boeing Condor is realized in the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, a reconnaissance airplane with a wingspan of over 130’, takeoff weight over 30,000’ and the ability to remain airborne at extreme altitude for over 24 hours. One of the world’s premier observation platforms, his aircraft and its mission are similar to that conceived of for the Boeing Condor some ten years earlier.

While enormous drones like the Global Hawk fly missions spanning seas and continents, much recent attention has focused on the tiniest unmanned aircraft. Small helicopters powered by symmetrically arranged rotors have exceptional maneuverability and can be easily launched and operated from almost any location. The proliferation of these tiny drones has raised questions ranging from air safety to privacy, while opening new opportunities in fields ranging from agriculture to community policing. In recognition of this new field in aviation, the Hiller Aviation Museum opened its Drone Plex flight center in January 2016. High fidelity flight simulation equipment provides an opportunity to gain experience in remote aircraft operations, and a large, screened flight area allows both for introductory flight experiences and exciting demonstrations by proficient pilots. The Drone Plex is open to the public on weekends and select holidays, providing an opportunity for all visitors to launch a firsthand drone flight experience.


Brook, Henry. Drones, 2015


Signs in the Sky

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2016 by hillermuseum Tagged: , , ,


Travel Air Pepsi Skywriter


The Evolution of Aerial Advertising

By Jon Welte

Hanging near the front of the Hiller Aviation Museum’s Beginnings of Flight gallery is a full-scale replica of a Wright Model B flyer. This particular airplane, modified into a Model EX for cross-country touring, recreates one flown by pioneer aviator Calbraith Rodgers on the first transcontinental flight in 1911. Surprisingly, the real airplane is better known by another name, that of an otherwise long forgotten soft drink—the Vin Fiz.

The Vin Fiz name originated in the sponsorship Rodgers acquired to support the daunting logistics of his multi-week transcontinental odyssey. To fund the endeavor, Rodgers courted food magnate J. Ogden Armour. Armour agreed, provided that the airplane’s wings be emblazoned with the name of a new grape soda being distributed by his company. Rodgers duly launched from New York in September, 1911, With “Vin Fiz” printed on its wings and stabilizers.

Aerial advertising had its start long before Cal Rodgers set off to fly across a continent, and in fact predated the Wright Brothers’ development of the airplane. At the dawn of the twentieth century Englishman Stanley Spencer undertook to build and fly the first powered dirigible in Great Britain. He succeeded in 1902, launching his Airship No. 1 into British skies. Spencer also discovered that displaying the name of a sponsor’s product high above the ground was a powerful lure to prospective funders—his No. 1 airship took flight with the name of Mellin and Company, a baby food manufacturer, printed on its envelope.

Even as airships were overtaken by airplanes in the realm of aerial transportation, they retained the advantage of a far larger surface area to use as advertising space. In 1925 the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company launched a new powered dirigible, the Goodyear AD. Goodyear had manufactured blimps and balloons for nearly a decade prior to the AD, seeking a market for military airships and leisure craft. The AD was originally conceived as a personal aircraft as well, but when launched with the name “Goodyear” proudly stenciled on its side it quickly took up a mission of corporate advertising for a company that ultimately found automobile and aircraft tires to be more lucrative than airships.

During the same period, aviation opened an even larger tapestry to marketing departments around the world—that of the open sky. During the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915, pilot Art Smith had been a driver working an automobile exhibition when famed aviator Lincoln Beachey perished in an accident during an aerobatic routine. Smith was subsequently hired to replace Beachey flying daily routines over the exhibition. He discovered that adding oil to the hot exhaust manifold of his airplane generated copious amounts of white smoke able to leave a distinctive trail in the sky. Smith used this ability to write farewell messages to his crowds at the end of his performances, giving birth to the art known today as skywriting.

Skywriting was used sporadically to promote products and services in both North America and Europe over the following years, but found its full flowering at the hand of pilot and entrepreneur Sidney Pike. Pike founded a company of skywriters for hire in 1932 and shortly thereafter landed a contract to promote Pepsi Cola. Pike’s pilots flew thousands of missions across the United States promoting Pepsi Cola. Its Travel Air airplanes—including one originally flown in a record-setting endurance flight by pilot Louise Thaden, which is currently displayed at the Hiller Aviation Museum—were painted in Pepsi colors and flew about the countryside, painting the Pepsi name into the sky time after time.

In the years leading up to World War II, a different form of advertising took flight. Arnold Butler used a small fleet of Piper J3 Cubs to tow large banners bearing messages from his home field in New England. Banner towing combined the large message size and message persistence of an airship with the ease of operation of an airplane. Butler developed many specialized tools to facilitate banner tow operations, and following the war relocated to Florida to pursue aerial advertising along Florida’s long, straight beaches.

The end of World War II also caused a flood of surplus aircraft to become available. Sidney Pike’s Skywriting Company acquired a full squadron of Navy SNJ airplanes in 1946. These were used to develop a new technology in aerial advertising, often known as skytyping. In skytyping, five aircraft fly in line-abreast formation at relatively high altitude, typically 10,000’. Smoke is released sequentially from the airplanes as they fly along in a pattern commanded by a simple computer program. The result is a dot-matrix set of letters across the sky. Skytyping requires five aircraft instead of one and involves a more sophisticated smoke distribution system, but is capable of creating messages more quickly than traditional skywriting and can often be seen across a wider area.

Today, aerial advertising remains an eye-catching form of promotion. Skywriting and sky typing capture the attention of passers-by, and banner tow aircraft are a fixture over beaches and sporting events to this day. Goodyear finally exited the niche field of airship manufacturing, but continues to operate a small fleet of promotional airships. Spirit of Innovation, its last non-rigid airship, operates from a special airship base in Carson, California, just south of Los Angeles. Wingfoot One, based near Goodyear’s home in Akron, Ohio, is a semi-rigid airship constructed by Zeppelin NT in Germany.

Aerial advertising has been part of sports championships for over 60 years—Goodyear’s first such appearance was at the 1955 Rose Bowl. On Saturday, February 6th, the Hiller Aviation Museum celebrates the amazingly diverse world of aerial advertising, in all its many forms. Make your tailgating plans today to join us for the festivities.


Roberts, Rachel. Art Smith, Pioneer Aviator, 2003


The Wright Propeller

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2016 by hillermuseum

Wrights propellerOpening the World of Flight

By Jon Welte

The Hiller Aviation Museum displays a full scale model of the first airplane flown by Wilbur and Orville Wright. The novelty of many of its features command the attention of many visitors: the enormous biplane wings, the forward placement of the horizontal stabilizer, the unorthodox flying position of the pilot, the bicycle-inspired chain linkage between the engine and the propellers. In contrast, the propellers themselves are so unremarkable to visitors as to often go unnoticed—and in that respect, they are perhaps the 1903 Flyer’s most remarkable feature of all.

As early as 1809, Sir George Cayley concluded that human-powered flying machines were impractical and that an engine would be required. The widespread development of steam engines later in the 19th century provided a potential, albeit heavy, power source. The question then became how to turn steam power into thrust, the force that carries a powered aircraft forward.

Steam had already been harnessed as a means of marine propulsion. Steam engines created thrust in ships by turning paddlewheels. This was inefficient, however, as at any time more than half of the turning wheel was out of the water and not able to contribute to thrust. By 1838 the Archimedes became the first ocean-going vessel to use screw propulsion.

By the late 1870s, aspiring inventors including Hiriam Maxim and Clement Ader had adapted the shapes of marine propellers to (hoped-for) aerial use. These oddly-shaped contrivances created thrust, but were grossly inefficient. One of Ader’s devices managed to briefly leave the ground in 1890, but the combination of heavy steam engines and inadequate propellers doomed these efforts to failure.

The lack of success met by 19th-century propeller designers stemmed from a fundamental difference between marine and aviation propellers. Marine propellers are subject to cavitation, which occurs when moving propeller blades cause a drop in pressure that creates bubbles. Cavitation interferes with the screw’s ability to displace water, reducing thrust. Consequently, marine screw design sought to minimize pressure changes to avoid cavitation.

Unlike water, air is compressible and pressure changes are fundamental to flying an aircraft. In 1901, a series of unsuccessful glider tests inspired the Wrights to begin a large-scale series of laboratory experiments to better characterize how wing shapes change air pressure and create lift. Their 1902 glider, designed and built in accordance with these wind tunnel tests, flew spectacularly better than any winged aircraft yet built.

Ready to proceed to construction of a powered aircraft, the Wrights reviewed existing research on marine propellers and found it wanting—a feeling not shared by contemporaries such as Samuel Langley, who insisted that “…there is considerably analogy between the best form of aerial and of marine propellers.” Instead, the Wrights determined that a propeller was nothing more than a rotating wing, and the design of a propeller could be modelled with their wind tunnel data.

The Wrights found the challenge bracing. Wilbur noted that “…nothing about a propeller, or the medium in which it acts, stands still for a moment.” Nevertheless, the Wrights developed a mathematical model that translated their best shaped airfoil into an efficient propeller. The propeller’s cross section formed a cambered airfoil. The blades were angled to produce an appropriate angle of attack as they sliced through the air at the airplane’s design airspeed, and the blade angle varied to adjust for the higher speed experienced by the tips of the propeller blades compared to the hub. The Wrights tested a scale model of their propeller in their Dayton shop in December 1902, and were delighted to measure thrust almost exactly as predicted. As Orville later noted, “All the propellers built heretofore are all wrong.”

The Wrights had good reason to develop an exceptional propeller. While many features of the original Wright Flyer—its high wing aspect ratio, modest wing camber, and three axis control system among them—were far beyond the contemporary state of the art, its engine is characterized by the Smithsonian Institution as “…a bit crude, even by the standards of the day.” The internal combustion engine had been invented half a century earlier, and was widely used in industry by 1903. Wilbur Wright had requested quotes from many engine manufacturers for construction of a powerplant suitable for the Flyer. None responded, due more to the expense and impracticability of a custom-built engine than its technical feasibility. The Wrights turned to Charlie Taylor, their bicycle mechanic, to construct one in. Taylor had never built such an engine, and in a heroic effort constructed one weighing 170 lbs. and producing some 12 horsepower. An engine of comparable power today would weigh less than half as much.

Encumbered by its unremarkable engine, only the exceptional performance of its propellers allowed the 1903 Flyer to sustain powered flight. By the fall of 1903, the Wrights had fabricated a pair of full-scale propellers designed to wring the most possible thrust out of their modest engine. Retested using modern techniques, these propellers were found to be nearly 70% efficient—that is, 70% of the engine’s power was translated into thrust—not far below the 80% seen in the very best wooden propellers of the modern day. On December 17th, 1903, those propellers thrust the Wright Flyer into the pages of history.

The Wrights’ successful flights in 1903 were the culmination of four years of scientific research and engineering design work spanning a wide range of aeronautical disciplines. On Saturday, October 24th, the Hiller Aviation Museum hosts its annual Aero Design Challenge for children Grades 4-8. This year’s problem challenges participants to design, build and test a propeller able to accomplish a particular mission. The propeller was one of the keys used by the Wrights to unlock the realm of aerial transportation to the world. By designing and building a propeller of their own, this year’s Aero Design Challenge participants will follow in the footsteps of the original pioneers of flight.

Resources, 7 August 2015 , 7 August 2015, 6 August 2015 , 6 August 2015


Prepare for Flight

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2015 by hillermuseum


1942 Link Trainer Instrumentation

           1942 Link Trainer Instrumentation

Flight Training Devices and Flight Simulation
By Jon Welte

Over a century ago on a sandy dune near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brothers prepared a brand-new machine for its first attempt at sustained, controlled, heavier-than-air flight. Witnesses were gathered, hand signals exchanged, and amid a whirl of propellers the aircraft trundled down its launching track. Reaching the end of the takeoff run, the pilot pitched the aircraft up into the air—and promptly stalled and crashed.

Wilbur Wright’s December 14th, 1903 mishap is not remembered nearly so well as Orville’s successful flight three days later, but in many ways paved the way for the younger brother’s triumph. When Wilbur first took the controls of the Flyer on December 14th, he had no flight instructor upon whom to rely. The original 1903 Flyer was unstable in pitch, leading Wilbur to over-rotate and stall the airplane. When Orville’s turn came on December 17th Wilbur shared his experience, making it possible for Orville to succeed.

Gaining the skills and experience needed to fly safely can seem daunting. A new customer to the Wrights’ bicycle shop might experience the occasional crash while learning to balance on two wheels, but minor bumps and bruises were seldom more than an inconvenience. A crash in flight training could prove fatal.

The Wrights were well aware of this, which was one reason they worked their way up to flying a powered airplane in 1903 by building and flying a series of gliders starting in 1900. Their 1902 design in particular evolved from being purely an experimental aircraft to something of a flight training device; after using it to master 3-axis control in 1902, the Wrights retained it and flew it again in 1903 to hone their skills before flying their new, powered aircraft.

With the onset of war in 1914, thousands of new pilots were needed. Inexperienced young men were sent aloft in aircraft perilously flimsy even by the standards of the day. The fatality rate of World War I pilots matched that of front line infantry, with many more killed in accidents than by the enemy. Many pilots were lost in training or in their first weeks with their units. Eager to stem the carnage, new means of training pilots without their leaving the ground were quickly developed.

French aviators started in airplanes rendered incapable of flight. During the war, Bleriot monoplanes were constructed with absurdly clipped wings. These “penguins” gave new cadets a workout, forcing them to learn how to operate the systems and controls of their airplanes while taxiing across the ground. Only when pilots demonstrated sufficient control of their ground-bound penguins could they operate flying aircraft. Penguins of various design continued to be used for flight training into the 1930s.

The face of flight training devices changed dramatically in 1929 as a result of the pioneering work of Edward Link. Repurposing technology used in his parents’ organ company, Link developed a flight simulation device that came to be known as the Link Trainer. The student sat within an enclosed cockpit that was moved by pneumatic bellows similar to those in pipe organs. Within the cockpit the student pilot used electrical and vacuum powered instruments to fly under simulated instrument conditions as a real pilot might experience flying through clouds, at night, or in areas of reduced visibility. An instructor sat at a desktop station outside the freely-moving cockpit and used a separate set of controls to simulate navigational aids, radio communications, and instrument failures.

Link’s invention initially garnered no interest on the part of commercial airlines, flight schools, or the military, its most likely customers. In 1934, however, the United States Army Air Corps took over responsibility for flying US Air Mail across remote areas of the country. The service was unprepared for the rigors of flying scheduled service, night and day, regardless of weather. A dozen pilots perished in less than three months, leading the service to re-evaluate Link’s design. Link famously flew himself to Washington, DC, to meet with the Army on a day when the Army considered the weather unflyable; it promptly ordered six of Link’s devices, the first of over ten thousand delivered—mostly during the years of World War II. More than half a million military pilots completed training in Link devices.

By the late 1970s, advances in desktop computing power made it possible to develop digital flight simulation devices far smaller than analog devices such as the Link. The first commercially available flight simulation program was produced by the subLOGIC corporation and released as Flight Simulator I, initially for Apple II computers in 1979. Desktop-based flight simulation used computer models of aircraft motion to recreate flight and portray an aircraft’s instrument panel on a display screen. The Flight Simulator franchise was supported by Microsoft from 1988 through 2009, and led to a generation of pilots and non-flying enthusiasts taking to the cockpit from the comfort of their home computer. Today, institutional users such as Lockheed Martin integrate powerful software with full motion flight training devices. Such sophisticated devices can be costly to build, maintain and operate, but provide training experience to pilots at a fraction of the expense of flying actual high end commercial and military aircraft.

The Hiller Aviation Museum has long been a repository of flight simulation history and expertise. It displays a recreation of a 1930-era Penguin airplane and an authentic pre-war Link Trainer, and since 2008 its Flight SIm Zone has made quality flight simulation available to the public. In May 2015 the Hiller Aviation Museum acquired a Redbird FMX full motion flight simulator, an FAA-approved flight training device that blends the motion cues with the high fidelity exterior views. Unlike similar devices installed at flight schools and airline training centers, the Museum’s FMX is open to the public most weekends and on select holidays. Come fly the FMX and experience how far ground-based flight instruction has come since Orville and Wilbur’s pioneering experiences on the sands of Kitty Hawk.



Triumph and Tragedy

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2015 by hillermuseum

Lincoln_Beachey_flying_a_loopby Jon Welte

Lincoln Beachey and Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915

San Francisco has long held a place in the popular imagination as a city of unlimited opportunity that welcomes innovation and creative thinking. Spanish explorers brought back the first European reports of the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay, establishing it as a mythical destination on the remote west coast of North America. Less than a century later, the discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada made San Francisco an essential waypoint for fortune-seekers eager to strike it rich themselves, and the “California Dream” took hold.

The devastating earthquake of 1906 inspired a period of rapid rebuilding, one that coincided with another great American engineering effort: the construction of the Panama Canal. In 1911 it was decided to mark the completion of the canal and linking of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with a great Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915, and a resurgent San Francisco was selected as the host city. Intended as a celebration uniting the Americas with both Europe and Asia, the Panama Pacific Exposition also served to highlight the United States’ dramatic economic and industrial development and the rebirth of San Francisco.

The airplane embodied many of these qualities. Its invention at the hands of the Wright Brothers and subsequent development by the Wrights and others across Europe and America required equal parts of discipline and ingenuity, perseverance and fortitude. Cal Roberts and William Fowler had just completed the first transcontinental flights in harrowing, months-long ordeals that offered the first hints of the swift and safe transportation system that would one day link the world together. It was natural, then, for aviation demonstrations to feature prominently in the Panama Pacific Exposition, and for San Francisco’s native son Lincoln Beachy, to be selected to fly them.

Beachey began his career with airships, flying in exhibitions across the country. In 1910 Beachey participated in an airship competition at the Dominguez Air Meet near Los Angeles. French aviator Louis Paulhan interrupted the race with his agile Farman monoplane, buzzing around the gas-filled behemoths, inspiring Beachey to switch to flying airplanes later that same year.

It was in the airplane that Beachey’s skill flowered fully. His intuitive sense for the controls of early aircraft coupled with a growing body of experience made him an exceptional aviator. As an airplane pilot, Beachey’s star began to rocket upwards when he successfully recovered an airplane from a spin at an air meet in late 1910. By the end of 1913 he was able to fly extended aerobatic routines, including the elusive inside loop—a maneuver previously flown by very few pilots. Nationwide attention gained through a series of thrilling aerial tours across the country gained him the title “The Man Who Owns the Sky”.

Back in Beachey’s hometown of San Francisco, construction of the Exhibition grounds and facilities were a major endeavor. Many of the luminaries of America’s new industrial age contributed to its design and construction. Sprawled across nearly 1000 acres of marshy land in today’s Marina District, the complex included some 50 miles of roads and pathways and saw the erection of dozens of dazzling buildings and monuments. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Luther Burbank all took a direct hand in planning various aspects of the venue, which included several thousand individual exhibits from countries and private companies around the world.

Lincoln Beachey, fond of spectacular gestures, added a bit of aeronautical sparkle to the proceedings. As construction of the cavernous Palace of Machinery neared its end, Beachey completed a short flight entirely inside it. The hall was an empty shell at the time of Beachey’s hop, but the walls and ceiling constrained his ability to maneuver and created a difficult environment for an exhibition flight. Beachey’s flight was a success, adding to the buzz of excitement surrounding both himself and the coming exhibition.

In 1914 Beachey supervised the construction of the Little Looper, a Curtiss pusher modified with a powerful 75-hp Gnome rotary engine imported from France to provide a reliable power source when inverted. With the ability to fly upside-down for extended periods, Beachey’s routines grew in complexity and pioneered many of the maneuvers that have since become common features at modern air shows.

The Panama Pacific International Exhibition opened to the public in February 1915. The governor of California and mayor of San Francisco presided over the official ceremony, with President Wilson sending an electric signal by telegraph to open the exhibition. Lincoln Beachey’s first official function came immediately thereafter, as he swooped low over the opening ceremony, releasing white doves from a cage secured to the Little Looper. This was the first of nearly daily flights at the Pan Pacific Exposition. At 3 PM each afternoon, Beachey and the Little Looper would emerge from the Palace of Machinery, alight from the beach, and perform an aerobatic routine over the water.

While the crowds marveled to his airborne achievements, Beachey set his sights on a grander future set on aircraft design and manufacturing. The Little Looper still somewhat resembled the Curtiss-type airplanes that Beachey had learned to fly some five years earlier, but the extensive modifications that Beachey’s team had made to it boosted its performance. Beachey’s hangar became an incubator for new aeronautical ideas, which coalesced even as the great Exposition continued into an all-new airplane.

The new design, dubbed the Taube (dove) by many observers, was a sleek monoplane offering less drag and greater speed than the reliable Little Looper while using the same Gnome engine. Always cautious, Beachey resisted calls from the exhibition organizers to use the new plane in his daily routines and continued flying his Little Looper, while testing the new monoplane and working with his mechanics to refine its design.

March 14th, 1915 was designed “Beachey Day”, with a special medal to be given to Beachey at the end of his daily flight for his aeronautical achievements. Beachey finally relented and agreed to fly the new monoplane on this day for his usual performance. Beachey’s routine was shortened by engine difficulties, and he was cajoled into making a second flight by officials who were not yet ready for the medal ceremony, Beachey took to the air again to begin a second routine. This proved to be his last, as the monoplane’s wings failed in a vertical dive and the plane and its pilot fell into the Bay below.

Lincoln Beachey’s death came as a shock to the nation. In 1914 alone, he had performed in over 100 cities and an estimated 1 in 6 Americans had personally seen him fly. In a world without television or even radio, the extent of his notoriety was unprecedented, and the skill with which he flew his aircraft opened the eyes of millions to the potential of the still-new flying machine.

Beachey was laid to rest in Colma three days later after a funeral service described as the largest held in San Francisco. The Panama Pacific International Exhibition continued without its aerial headliner, and closed in December of that year. Most of the exhibits and temporary halls were torn down and forgotten, with only the Palace of Fine Arts left behind as testament to the event held a century ago.

Lincoln Beachey too is a largely forgotten pioneer of the air. His legacy is preserved in the form of his original Little Looper, on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum

Lincoln Beachy: The Man Who Owned the Sky. Frank Marrero, 1997.
San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exhibition. William Lipsky, 2005.


Red Elf Rising

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2014 by hillermuseum


NORAD Tracks St. Nicholas

By Jon Welte

Early on in the Cold War, the United States developed a secure and hardened command and control system to guard against surprise attack. In its later days, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, performed this mission from the Cheyenne Mountain command post, buried deep within the Rocky Mountains. In 1955, however, CONAD—NORAD’s predecessor agency—operated its Combat Operations Center from a nondescript but highly secret office block at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. A cadre of specially selected and highly trained airmen and officers monitored surveillance data gathered from the frontiers of the Arctic, constantly on watch for any sign of hostile aerial intrusion across the North Pole. The COC was outfitted with the most sophisticated equipment available, but to maintain simple and immediate communications with the national command authority a single red phone lay upon the commanding officer’s desk—a red phone with a special direct number known only at the Pentagon and by the commander of CONAD. It was reserved for the direst calls.

On December 24th, 1955, the red phone rang.

The commanding officer on duty was Colonel Harry Shoup. Without hesitation Shoup picked up the phone, no doubt expecting grim news. To his astonishment, the voice on the line was not that of a commanding general but instead a small child, asking if the colonel might be Santa Claus. Confused and bewildered, not sure if the call was a mistake or an ill-conceived joke, Shoup responded sharply and the caller soon rang off, leaving Shoup to ponder how CONAD’s secret hotline had been hacked.

The reason quickly became clear, as more children called soon after. The Sears Roebuck store in Colorado Springs had run a special advertisement in the local newspaper earlier that day, featuring a beaming Santa Claus and an invitation to children to call and speak to him personally. Sears had established a hotline of its own to handle the expected volume of calls, but the number in the advertisement was misprinted by a single digit—and by coincidence, the misprinted number was that of the secret direct-dial hotline to Col. Shoup’s red phone.

Shoup had been trained to respond quickly and decisively in a crisis. As the phone calls mounted and the magnitude of the situation became clear, the colonel quickly established a detachment of airmen to take all calls coming in through the red phone. Their mission would be to provide children with the latest tracking information on Santa Claus’ whereabouts as he made his annual Christmas Eve trek around the world. That night a new institution was born, one that would take just a bit of the edge away from the daunting mission of staring across polar frontiers towards a menacing adversary: NORAD Tracks Santa.

NORAD was established as a joint operation between the United States and Canada in 1958, taking responsibility for the surveillance and air defense missions of CONAD. Its mission, then as now, was to provide early warning of any air- or space-born threats to the North American continent, and coordinate its air defense. Initially, the threat consisted of air-breathing aircraft flying across the North Pole and into North America. To detect such threats well in advance, the Distant Early Warning Line was established along the northern edge of North America. Consisting of a string of radar stations north of the Arctic Circle between Alaska and Greenland, the DEW Line was operated by the United States and Royal Canadian Air Forces and provided advanced early warning of any questionable incursions.

By the late 1950s the advent of space technology brought the new transpolar menace of intercontinental rocketry, with vehicles capable of flying at enormous speeds well out of the atmosphere and beyond the detection range of the DEW radars. To expand its reach to near-Earth space a new Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, or BMEWS, was developed. Three massive radars were erected at sites in Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Gazing across the pole with electronic eyes, these radars kept watch over near-Earth space against any unknown object, at ranges far beyond what the DEW system could manage. Shortly after becoming operational, the BMEWS radar sited at Thule, Greenland famously detected an object in space rising over the Arctic Ocean—an object that was quickly determined to be the Moon.

With comprehensive air and space surveillance equipment in place across the polar regions, NORAD is perfectly positioned to track the annual voyage of St. Nick. Col. Shoup continued the tradition of answering Santa calls on an ad hoc basis for several years, then in 1958 organized an official Santa Tracking organization under the aegis of NORAD. A force of volunteers from Canada and the United States stepped up to fill the role of Santa Trackers, working with NORAD controllers to monitor the jolly old elf and provide updates to children through a new, officially sanctioned phone number. In 1997 the tracking effort went online for the first time, and in 2011 official Santa Tracking Apps became available for both Apple and Android phones. In 2013 nearly 20 million discrete users from over 100 countries checked in at NORAD’s official Santa Tracking website for information on Santa’s whereabouts.



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