Sunday, October 12, 2014

Owls Head Transportation Museum

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
12 Oct 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - RKD (Rockland, ME) - SDC 6.9 1351.0

Much like the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI, the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine formed in the 1970s as a "plausible excuse to fly old airplanes".  But the museum has since developed into a transportation museum in the fullest sense with a collection that appeals to aviators as well as those preferring more two-dimensional means of transport. It is a fantastic museum featuring golden age era aircraft, many in airworthy condition, and an even greater array of vintage automobiles, motocrycles, and bicycles.

It was a very worthy excuse for my recent flight to Maine.

The museum is on the field at Knox County Regional Airport (KRKD). Although there is nothing preventing fly-in visitors from taxiing directly to the museum, the museum prefers that visitors park on the main ramp. A ride to the museum can be had with a phone call.

The first aircraft I encountered was this 1917 Curtiss JN-4D, otherwise known as the "Jenny" (why is it that I always hear Forrest Gump's voice in my head when I say that?). In 2005, Kristy and I landed at Souther Field in Americus, Georgia (now Jimmy Carter Regional Airport, KACJ) and found a plaque proclaiming that Charles Lindbergh did his first solo from the field in a Curtiss Jenny. Jennys were used as trainers in World War I and are considered America's first, commercially successful, mass produced airplanes (which probably drove the Wright Brothers absolutely crazy).

If I understood correctly, this Curtiss OX-5 engine will soon be on its way Le Roy, NY for overhaul.

This ornithorpter, built by James Clark of Bridgewater, PA around 1900 is one of the more curious "aircraft" on display. A five horsepower gasoline engine made the wings flap.

It never flew, but I bet it could shake the fillings out of your teeth.

A graceful monoplane, this 1913 Etrich Taube was nevertheless a mass of wires that provided aerodynamic control through wing warping. Presumably, Igo Etrich was not concerned about being sued for patent infringement by the Wright brothers. Despite the fact that this is a very real airplane, something about its birdlike form festooned with control cables struck me as being the stuff of fantasy.

Smallest vertical stabilizer ever?

The steering wheel seems awkwardly incongruous on such a graceful airplane.

Taube is the German word for "dove", a symbol of peace. Ironically, the Taube was the first military airplane mass produced in Germany and the first airplane used for dropping bombs. This is the only known flyable example of a Taube in North America.

The shape of the wings was inspired by the zanonia tree seedpod because of a theory that it was the perfect aerodynamic form (only zanonia seedpods aren't bristling with wires).

Just look at that magnificent propeller!

It is attached to a 1923 Fokker C.IV that was originally built in Holland. The pilot sits in an open cockpit immediately aft of the wing, but the rest of fuselage accommodates passengers. Records indicate that it was converted to a passenger aircraft in a Seattle auto body shop. The whole "Tacoma to Tokyo" scheme (note the paint job) was evidently a bust.

If this 1918 Standard J-1 resembles a Curtiss Jenny, it may have something to do with the fact that Standard once built Jennys under contract. This J-1 was their "better" version of the Curtiss design. However, most Standards finished World War I still in their crates once it was discovered that the original Hall-Scott engines used by Standard had a penchant for breaking fuel lines and catching fire. For some reason, this made them unpopular.

Post-war, Standards could be purchased cheaply (fire sale?) and, when fitted with different engines (typically 150 hp Hispano-Suiza or "Hisso" engines), they became quite popular with barnstormers and as platforms for wing walkers.

The 1909 Bleriot XI was the first successful tractor monoplane. It was at the controls of a XI that Louis Bleriot achieved fame for conducting the first flight of an airplane across the English Channel. The museum's Bleriot is a reproduction.

Prior to invention of the gun synchronizer, firing machine guns through a spinning propeller was a significant challenge in World War I. This Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8 solved the problem with a pusher engine arrangement. Once the gun synchronizer came into use, however, the aircraft was removed from service and all examples destroyed by the British government.

This aircraft is a reproduction from original plans built by two California men. In 1980, one of them (it is a single seat aircraft, after all) flew it to Owls Head using only a compass for navigation. At an average speed of 80 mph, this journey required 57 hours of flight with 61 stops. Although the original aircraft would have used a Gnome rotary engine, the reproduction uses a modern six cylinder air cooled Continental.

The 1912 Curtiss Model D Pusher was one of the first aircraft to employ ailerons for roll control. This was done to avoid wing warping, thus circumventing the Wright brothers and their litigious ways. It must have worked; we still use ailerons today. This Curtiss Pusher is equipped with a modern four cylinder air cooled engine.

This 1930 Speedwing D-4000 was one of the last racing airplanes built by the Travel Air Company. This is a relatively rare airplane with only 15-20 ever built. It is a relative of the Travel Air biplane I once flew over the southern California coastline. The founders of Travel Air, Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman, and Walter Beech went on to create their own individual legacies in aviation.

I love the paint job on this 1917 SPAD XIIIC.I. It's probably not particularly good camouflage, however.

Here is what I love about the Owls Head Transportation Museum: In most museums, a 1941 Stearman biplane might be the elder statesman of the collection. Not at Owls Head. Compared to the pre-World War II aircraft dominating the collection, the Stearman looks positively modern.

There are other curiosities at the Owls Head Transportation Museum that do not fly. This 1909 Pierce motocycle was built by the Pierce Cycle Company of Buffalo, NY. Pierce also made magnificent automobiles such as the Pierce Arrow (several examples of these can be seen at the Gilmour Car Museum near Kalamazoo, MI).

A steam powered 1904 Stanley Model B Runabout.

How do you prefer your H.C.S. Touring Car? Restored or unrestored?

Here's a curious vehicle with an aviation link: the 1935 Stout Scarab. William Stout, of course, significantly influenced the design of what became the Ford Trimotor (talk about a stout airplane!). Only nine Scarabs were ever built. For its time, this car must have seemed incredibly futuristic.

A 1916 Scripps-Booth Model C, which was partially designed by William Stout. Elegant.

This is a Chevy. In a few short decades, it would evolve into that pinnacle of automotive design: the Chevette.

1923 Ford Model T Truck. One interesting lesson that I learned at the museum was a debunking of the myth that Model T drivers drove backward up hills because of a more favorable gear ratio available in reverse. Because the gravity fed carburetor was only slightly lower than the fuel tank and well forward of it, climbing hills in the forward direction could result in fuel starvation of the engine. Driving uphill in reverse ensured that gravity would continue feeding fuel to the carburetor

Calling all BMW snobs! This egg-shaped, three wheeled 1958 BMW Isetta 300 helped save the car manufacturer from economic failure in the late 1950s. Believe it or not.

A nice looking 1932 American Austin Roadster.

This gorgeous fire engine is the marriage of a 1904 steam powered pumping engine (American Manufacturing Company) with a 1918 American LaFrance tractor. This photograph does not do the beast justice - the chrome alone was worth the price of admission.

This is a ca. 1850 coach built in Concord, NH. Though most of us associate these coaches with the Wild West, they originated on the East Coast. The Concord Coach had a unique suspension of leather braces that cradled the coach on the chasis, giving a smoother ride than a leaf spring suspension.

An early "crotch-rocket", a 1913 Excelsior Model C7 motorcycle.

This 1920 Buick is one of the few models that I'm sure my grandfather never owned.

I tried not to take of picture of this REO, but decided that "I can't fight this feeling anymore." REO, of course, stands for Ransom E. Olds and the REO Motor Car Company of Lansing, MI was the second automobile manufacturer to carry his name.

Does anyone remember the Fabulous Hudson Hornet from Cars? Here he is, in the "flesh".

An elegant hood ornament and the snazzy Packard to which it is attached.

In this example, the ever-versatile Ford Model T was transformed into a snowmobile using a commercially available conversion kit devised in West Ossipee, NH.

This is only a small sampling of what the wonderful Owls Head Transportation Museum has to offer. I learned a lot about both early airplanes and early automobiles. This is a nice facility that still operates many of its vehicles, flying and rolling alike, and maintains them in excellent condition. I highly recommend a visit.

Flight to the Tattered Coast

"Oh, Zazu, do lighten up. Sing something with a little...bounce in it."
"It's a small world after all..."
"No! No! Anything but that!"
 - Scar and Zazu, Lion King (1994)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
12 Oct 2014 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - RKD (Rockland, ME) - SDC 6.9 1351.0

For a few years, my eye has been fixed on Maine as a flying destination. During a visit to Groton, CT, my friend Brian told me about the Owls Head Transportation Museum on the field at Knox County Regional Airport (KRKD) in Rockland. From that chance inspiration, one adventure begat another.

Clouds over Lake Ontario observed shortly after departure

I departed solo from the Williamson-Sodus Airport at 8:00 am on an IFR flight plan to Rockland, Maine via GFL (the Glens Falls VOR) and GRUMP intersection (just south of the Laconia Airport in New Hampshire, my previous easternmost point of landing). The route was devised to avoid military operations areas (MOAs) southwest of the Adirondack Mountains in New York and over the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Cruising east at 7,000 feet, I flew over patches of isolated fog still clinging to waterways below.

West of the Adirondack Mountains, low cloud cover obscured much of the terrain.

Through occasional breaks, I caught glimpses of civilization surrounded by rust colored foliage in a post-peak autumnal tableau. Sadly, I was about two weeks too late to see peak color on this flight.

As I passed Piseco Lake, the familiar Piseco Airport was obscured by localized clouds (above). I realized that I would need to travel east another hour before leaving familiar territory. When I first moved to New York, it seemed as though there were limitless places to explore by air. Now, almost nine years later, I find myself ranging ever farther away from home to find new places.

Just west of Lake George (above), Boston Center offered me direct to Rockland. I took it.

There were still swaths of color on higher terrain near Lake George that were not yet entirely turned to rust.

Over Vermont, roughly halfway to my destination, nature came calling with breathtaking urgency and I knew that I would not make it all the way to Maine without taking action. My options were to either divert, land, and lose significant time at my destination or...improvise. I successfully accomplished the latter, my first attempt at such a feat in twelve years of flying, and I did it while hand flying the airplane to IFR standards. Sure, it was awkward when Boston Center instructed me to climb 1000 feet to mitigate a traffic conflict, but just think of all the time that I saved!

Over the White Mountains of New Hampshire (above), I experienced some mild mountain wave action. I held altitude well, but my airspeed visibly fluctuated as I kept the altimeter needle pegged with gentle fore and aft pressure on the controls.

Back at my original cruise altitude of 7,000 feet, the cloud deck slowly rose toward me. Though the Warrior's wheels may have dragged through the highest bits of mist, I never actually entered the clouds.

Once past Lake Winnipesaukee, I found myself farther east than I had ever flown before. Beyond the White Mountains, I entered Maine. Terrain visibly flattened and, in the absence of orographic lifting force, the cloud cover vanished. Downwind of the mountains, however, the wave activity persisted until I was well east of Sebago Lake (above).

The Songo River formed an eye-catching delta where it joined Sebago Lake.

On my first inspection of the sectional chart, I was struck by the tattered appearance of the Maine coast; ragged and rocky islands stretching out to sea, all aligned in a southwesterly direction that hinted at the geological forces that formed them. In kind, the Atlantic made numerous brackish incursions onto the continent.

Within fifteen miles of Rockland, I cancelled IFR with Portland Approach and explored the many rugged islands of Muscongus Bay.

I was not disappointed by the view.

Knox County Regional Airport has published an extensive noise abatement procedure covering different types of aircraft (propeller versus turbine driven) approaching and departing all four runways. In addition to complying with the procedure, I chose to fly a wide pattern that kept me largely off-shore for my approach and landing on runway 31.

Warrior 481 on the ramp at Knox County Regional Airport

FlightAware radar track for the outbound
flight with areas of low cloud cover apparent

I made my way to Downeast Air, submitted a fuel order, and was offered the use of a Toyota RAV4 to get lunch in Owls Head. Downtown Owls Head appears to consist of little more than a post office and the Owls Head General Store. A sign outside the latter proclaimed "Maine's Best Burger" on the authority of the Food Network.

I did not fly all the way to Maine for a hamburger, though. As I scanned the chalkboard menu, I fixated on the Maine Crab Roll. What was presented to me was more feast than mere sandwich. There appeared to be nearly a pound of chilled, shredded crab meat piled high on a tasty roll so hot from the oven that it stung my fingers to handle it. I enjoyed every bite, though there was so much crab that I struggled to finish the whole thing; such struggles are rare for me.

Before returning to the airport, I made a brief side trip to the tip of the peninsula and visited the Owls Head Lighthouse.

According to a plaque mounted nearby, the facility was first illuminated September 10, 1825.

Though modest in stature, the lighthouse stands on a precipice with a commanding view of the ocean.

View from the Owls Head Lighthouse

Back at Downeast Air, I called the Owls Head Transportation Museum for a ride. Although there is nothing stopping an itinerant aircraft from parking on museum grounds, the museum does not encourage this. My driver that afternoon was Bob. Bob runs the aircraft restoration and maintenance facility and also flies several of the "Golden Age" era aircraft in the museum's collection in what has to be the coolest retirement job ever conceived. 

On the short drive to the museum, I learned that Bob originally hails from Rochester and is very well acquainted with Ray, my good friend and owner of the Le Roy Airport. In fact, he noted that he was heading to Le Roy soon because the museum's Curtiss Jenny was due for an engine overhaul. There is a shop in Le Roy that specializes in race car engines and, as it turns out, Curtiss OX-5s. This was news to me, but I happen to know the owner of the shop because he is another tenant at the Le Roy Airport.

Frankly, I was thrilled with this "small world" moment; the world can be an amazing place in its mundane reality. While airplanes make the world a smaller place by virtue of their capabilities, aviators do so by being so few in number.

I spent three very enjoyable hours at this top-notch museum (photos will appear in a different post), including time in the restoration hangar listening to some of Bob's stories. As might be imagined considering his experience, Bob has some terrific stories. 

On departure, I chose to return VFR with flight following at 6,500 feet. Because I was VFR, I chose the reciprocal of my original IFR routing to avoid special use airspace: KRKD - GRUMP - GFL - KSDC.

At cruise altitude, I was over a haze layer. The late afternoon sun reflected brilliantly off the surface of the ocean along Maine's tattered coast.

I returned to more familiar places as I passed GRUMP intersection over Lake Winnipesaukee. Immediately to the south was the Gunstock Ski Area, the runs already in deep shadow from the westerly sunlight.

I crossed the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, haze and low sun conspiring to spread diffuse shadows among the mountains.

Relief from the sun came courtesy of a conveniently positioned cloud as I approached Syracuse from the east.

As the sun set, a phoenix appeared to the south - an isolated cloud burning with the light of day's end.

Sodus Bay came into view as the sun finally stole away behind the edge of the world.

FlightAware track from Rockland to GRUMP, then GFL, then Sodus.
I have no idea where ATC conjured the depicted "filed" routing from.

In the end, I was pleased with my solo excursion to Maine and my visit to the wonderful Owls Head Transportation Museum. Though I arrived home late, that incredible Maine Crab Roll sustained me for the rest of the day. I had visited a new airport in a new state, met an accomplished member of my extended aviation clan, saw some beautiful sights, and established a new easternmost point of landing on the map.

I can hardly wait to go back!