Archive for the ‘Bird Watching (No — the Other Kind)’ Category

  • The Boeing 747 … it’s a big deal

    By Matt Dean The Boeing 747 is arguably the most iconic aircraft of all time. When the passenger  “Jumbo Jet” was first revealed in 1969, its immense size was gazed upon by the aviation world with low whistles and raised eyebrows. It didn’t take long for the general public to view the aircraft in the same regard. Because it was designed to carry more passengers and more cargo farther distances than anything that came before it, airline demand for the “Queen of the Skies” was instant. The first commercial customer to receive a 747 was airline Pan Am, who put the plane in service in early 1970. Like many successful airframes, a version of the 747 is still currently produced. While the technological difference between that first 747-100 and the up-to-date 747-8 is significant —  nearly 50 years of aircraft innovation — the characteristic physical feature of a half second deck on the forward part of the fuselage remains the same. A 747 is instantly recognizable by the second deck, but also by its four turbofan engines and a labyrinthine set of landing gears. As an Arizona kid, the 747 held a certain mystical allure for me. The Queen of the Skies was primarily a transcontinental aircraft, so they were unlikely to be seen in landlocked Arizona (except for a brief time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when

  • The B-1B Lancer … it’s the cat’s meow

    By Matt Dean The Rockwell B-1B Lancer is a prime example of U.S. Cold War-era ingenuity, initiative, and engineering competency. The initial vision for the heavy bomber was to replace the lumbering B-52 with a high-flying supersonic nuclear deterrent. The B-1B, like many high-dollar military aircraft investments, evolved over multiple decades to suit the ever-changing perceived need of the defense department. The B-1B or “B-ONE” employs stealthy characteristics and — unless you live near Dyess Air Force Base in Texas or Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota the aircraft — is likely to avoid your detection. The only functioning one I’ve ever seen is from afar on the tarmac at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. I spied a non-functioning B-ONE at the Boneyard also at Davis-Monthan wrapped up for storage, too. The main distinguishing feature of a B-1B is its ability to alter its wings from a 15-degree angle to a delta-shaped 67.5-degree angle. The wings move for speed when the plane is in the swept delta configuration and for control when in the typical, forward position. The original B-1 was meant to be a super-fast mach 2.2 nuclear bomb delivery system in the age where a “recallable” nuclear deterrent was preferred. As the manned nuclear delivery system fell out of favor, so, too, did the B-1. But, at a cost of roughly $280 million apiece, gargantuan investments

  • When in Rome … keep your head down

    By Matt Dean When they think of a holiday in Greece, most people picture Athens, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and ancient Greek culture. Some entertain island hopping around picturesque outcroppings in the blue Aegean Sea. Still others entertain some Anthony Bourdain-induced foodie adventure. But have you considered spending hours on a shade-less ridge peering through chain link fencing jotting notes and snapping photos as military aircraft create a raucous noise pollution? In 2001, a dozen British and two Dutch aircraft spotters set out on the latter version of a Greek vacation. It was a peculiar vacation by most estimations, but a vacation none the less — one that morphed into prison time, financial strife, and a made-for-TV movie. Whether or not the group knew it, being an aircraft enthusiast in Greece a little more than a decade ago was risky business. Almost as soon as the group arrived and began spotting aircraft at a military base in Kalamata, they were arrested and charged with espionage. They then spent the next six weeks in jail awaiting trial with the threat of spending 25 years in prison hanging over them. The charges before the trial were eventually turned into spying misdemeanors that carried much lesser sentences. Lawyers for the spotters argued that aircraft spotting was a known hobby and that there were ample examples of its existence. The Greeks remained skeptical of

  • Here & there

    By Matt Dean On the tarmac this month is the most popular and numerous passenger aircraft in the history of, well, passenger aircraft. The Boeing 737 has been flying short-haul routes for almost 50 years. The newest version of the airframe is slated for delivery in 2017. If you’ve ever found yourself squeezed into a three abreast seating arrangement on a quick flight to the coast, you were probably riding on some version of a 737. Despite being considered a narrow-bodied aircraft, the original 100 version of the plane appears short and stubby to the laymen. Subsequent versions have included an extended fuselage that diminishes its squat posture. The latest 737 MAX even ekes into the eloquent department with larger, longer wings and distinct flowing winglets. My first experience with a 737 was in the late spring of 1983. Summer vacation was on the horizon, and I was going to get to spend some of it with my grandma and grandpa in Farmington, New Mexico, where they were running horses. Durango, Colorado was only a short drive from Farmington, and America West had a direct little over an hour flight from Sky Harbor. As my mom relates it, she was worried about her 6-year-old son, despite his protests he didn’t need her to hold his hand down the jetway. The stewardess assured her she’d look out for me and even

  • BIG plan(e)s

    By Matt Dean In the early post-World War II years, humanity was reeling from the most destructive conflict ever. As Europe and Japan picked up the rubble the Soviets and Americans were escalating militarization to the point of possible annihilation. One of the early weapons leading down the harrowing path of mutually assured destruction was America’s Convair B-36 Peacemaker. Truly the original BUFF: Big Ugly Fat Fellow (or however you like your acronym Fs), the B-36 was nearly as long as a 15-story building and had a wingspan the height of 21-story building. The square footage of the wings was twice the size of two modern average single family homes. There were six aft facing propeller driven engines turning and four jet engines burning. The bomber weighed move than 166,000 pounds sans bombs. Essentially, the B-36 was a 162-foot-long tube with giant fins sticking out of it. The Ugly comes from the ungainly cockpit canopy hump that bulges like a boil out of the smooth fuselage near the nose of the plane. The purpose of the Peacemaker’s size and power was to achieve a nautical range of 10,000 miles so that it could drop atomic bombs on the Soviet Union if need be. The original proposal for the B-36 came out of U.S fears early in World War II that Great Britain would fall to Germany and subsequently an intercontinental

  • Improvised air shows

    By Matt Dean By almost any count or account, the 2014 Luke Air Force Base Open House and Air Show was a success. Two hundred thousand people were expected over the two-day event, which featured a static display of the new F-35 and headlined the Air Force Thunderbirds aerial display team. But for this aircraft enthusiast, the crowds proved too cumbersome. Instead, my family went to another kind of air show — the kind featuring non-mechanical fluttery flight. The first stop of the morning was Butterfly Wonderland, on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. This venue is an atrium filled with thousands of butterflies in a tropical rainforest environment. The atrium features a stunning butterfly emergence gallery where chrysalides of varying size, shape, color, and life stages hang in rows behind glass. The conservatory requires guests to enter through a vestibule where an air curtain keeps butterflies from fluttering out. Once inside, you’re transported to the tropics and immediately surrounded by butterflies of all colors and sizes. Folks from young to old appear stunned upon entry at the sheer number of butterflies that alight on them. While I enjoyed the butterflies, I still craved mechanical powered flight. Several weeks prior, I’d researched plane-spotting locations at Sky Harbor and had found a quiet spot by the perimeter fence at the end of one of the north runways. As the family lounged

  • Fight & flight

    By Matt Dean If you live in Yavapai County, you might occasionally hear the sound of tens of thousands of pounds of thrust vibrating through the air. Chances are pretty good that that rumble is from an F-16 Fighting Falcon. In the near future, though, those odds will begin to weigh in favor of an F-35 Lighting II. In January, I mentioned that Luke Air Force Base in the West Valley is transitioning from an F-16 training facility to an F-35 training facility. This month, I’ll explore some of the similarities and differences between these two aircraft. The essential differences are generational. The F-16 grew up as an idea in the late ’60s and as a a reality in the ’70s alongside other so-called fourth generation aircraft such as the F-14, F-15, and F-18. The F-35 grew up as an idea in the ’90s and as a reality in the 21st century. The F-16 concept came from lessons learned from air-to-air combat over North Vietnam. Soviet-made MiG-21s outperformed the U.S.’ powerful but less agile F-4 Phantoms. The United States Air Force sought to develop a lighter fighter aircraft that could best the MiG-21 and fly far into the future. General Dynamics Corporation proposed a plane that became the F-16 in 1972. The F-35 concept was much greater in scope than the F-16. The initial vision for what became the F-

  • Having a field day

    By Matt Dean Above irrigated fields and suburban home construction, the afterburners of four F-16s light as they accelerate into the hazy desert sky. Two F-15 Eagles follow with a thunderous twin-engine growl as they climb for altitude. Ground crews attend to hundreds of parked fighter aircraft while keeping a watchful eye on the tarmac for damaging pieces of “Foreign Object Debris.” At the foot of the White Tank Mountains, west of Phoenix, Luke Air Force Base begins another training day. Back in November, I was fortunate enough to tour Luke Air Force Base with the Prescott High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. The group of at least 40 students and six adults assembled in the early morning cold outside Prescott High School. The crowd that climbed aboard the bus was sleepy but starry eyed. Two hours later, the air was electric as the “big yellow” rolled up to the front gates of a full-fledged U. S. Air Force base. Luke Air Force Base, now located on the outskirts of Glendale, has been a premier training base for F-16 pilots for some 30 years, turning out topnotch dogfighters and ground attack pilots. But beginning in the spring of 2014, the storied base will turn another page. It still will function as a training base, but now for the Air Force’s latest multi-role fighter aircraft endeavor: the F-35. The air

  • Plane to see

    By Matt Dean Ever notice that when you drive by the airport in Prescott, you see the same planes buzzing by time after time? A lot of them are Cessna 172 Skyhawks, and they’re one of the most common planes across America. This 172 has been a staple of the skies for more than 60 years.  It’s a basic high-mount fixed-wing aircraft with a tricycle landing gear. It seats up to four and is powered by a single piston engine. Sometimes, on plane spotting trips to the outskirts of Ernest A. Love Field, my daughter and I exclusively spot 172s. And most of them are blue and white. If the coloring didn’t tip you off, they’re from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. On Fridays, we’ve often spotted a handful of Embry-Riddle 172s practicing touch-and-go landings from north to south. The school has a fleet of 16 for their fixed-wing flight program. Saturday mornings are a good time to see both Embry-Riddle 172s and private, civilian 172s. The first production model of the 172 appeared in 1956. Since that time, some 43,000 172s in multiple variants have been produced.  The Skyhawk has been one of the basic, entry-level planes for aspiring pilots since the 172’s inception. It’s an aircraft that’s proved its worth as not only reliable and easy to fly but affordable as well. Cessna 172s in the used market often have

  • Strongmen

    By Matt Dean C-130s are an impressive transport aircraft with a significant history and service record. With squat, wide bodies and pudgy noses, they may not be the prettiest planes, but they more than make up for that in performance. The C-130 was an aircraft borne of necessity. When World War II-era transports proved insufficient in the Korean conflict (War) the  U.S. Air Force sought new proposals from several aircraft manufactures. The winning proposal was Lockheed’s C-130, which began production in 1954. Today, the C-130J Super Hercules is still in production, which wins the C-130 the longest running production in aircraft history. Although it began life as a response to military needs, the aircraft’s sturdiness and reliability made it a natural choice for civilian use for transport duties and aerial firefighting, among other purposes. Additionally, C-130s have a long service record in aid delivery to remote parts of the globe because of their ability to take off and land on short, unprepared runways. If you want to see one up close, there are two C-130s at the Pima Air and Space Museum, south of Tucson. One is an original C-130A and the other is a C-130H. You can also catch them in action on the Weather Channel during “Hurricane Hunters” in which the WC-130J Super Hercules is featured. ***** Matt Dean is a Prescott native and a teacher for Prescott

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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