Requiem for an Aircraft, Farewell to a Pilot – by Dave Norton

Requiem for an Aircraft, Farewell to a Pilot, by Dave Norton. Updated and reprinted from the original 2001 HTML article.

B29 front view panel

The day was stiflingly warm, the sky that crystalline umbrella overhead that pilots call “Severe Clear”.

The sun of a summer solstice reflected off the concrete ramp of Chino Airport. It blasted first degree burns on the normally shaded tender skin just above my eyelids, and that of the thousands of others there for the Chino Warbirds Airshow. Brother Dan and I could feel that this was a special day, somehow, and that we were in the presence of History. We didn’t realize that this would be the greatest gathering of flying WWII combat aircraft we would ever see.

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Most Admired: Richard Feynman

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Richard Feynman, physicist

 

Richard Feynman was an extraordinarily talented physicist, lecturer, Cal Tech professor and Nobel prizewinner. He was popularly best known for his role in dissecting the 1986 Challenger Disaster. He had already long been a personal hero of mine for his Feynman Lectures on Physics, with which I became acquainted in college.

Not only was Feynman a world-class physicist, he inspired many with his leadership and investigative excellence. He was an inspirational human being with a reputation as a maverick, for whom they might have invented the phrase “think outside of the box.” As a public speaker, one could sit and listen to Feynman’s physics lectures without even the foggiest notion what he was talking about, yet figure enough of that out during the course of the lecture to walk away with a lifelong sense that physics was exciting, knowable and important.

Not content to isolate the physical cause of the Challenger Disaster, that being the flawed O-Ring design supplied by Morton Thiokol, Feynman interviewed NASA management in depth to lay bare the chain of reasoning that resulted in the disaster. He exposed NASA executives’ appalling failure to grasp the basic science of the Shuttle mission. As Feynman concluded in his findings in Appendix F – Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle,

Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a
world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and
imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate
them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of
the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be
realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty
of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed,
schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way
the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to
the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and
informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for
the use of their limited resources.

In this era of Deepwater Horizon and Fukishima Daiichi, I would give almost anything if we could have another mind physicist Richard Feynman’s to define a global approach to “low-probability, high-consequence” disasters like our Gulf Oil Spill and Japan’s horrendous earthquake, tsunami and TEPCO nuclear plant meltdown.

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The Time of Your Life – William Saroyan

I’ve created a PDF containing the text to the prologue to the 1939 play by William Saroyan.

It can also be found at any time in the WRITING page sidebar under the heading Quotes & Citations. The passage was sent to me by a friend who’s treasured it since school days. A check of Google shows this passage meant a lot to many who have read it at one time or another. I don’t know how I missed it; it seems particularly relevant at this time in life.

Google Books has scanned the play. Their scan – of the Samuel French play publication – shows the entire passage as a monolithic block of text. Various people have arranged the text into paragraphs to suit their own sensibilities. I have done the same. Amazon is offering two used copies of the play at something in excess of $120, each, so I have not seen the original formatting, and I have no idea how or whether the citation was presented to audiences in productions of the stage play.

But I hope you find this short passage memorable.

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Most Admired: Bob Hoover

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Bob Hoover, aviator

Bob Hoover, aviator

Bob Hoover has often been called the “pilot’s pilot”. He was a test pilot in World War II, then joining a Spitfire fighter group. He was shot down on his 59th mission and spent the remainder of the war as a POW in Germany.

After the war Hoover teamed up with Chuck Yeager on the Bell X-1 program, for which Hoover was backup pilot. He saw action in Korea in the F-86 Sabre jet. He also flew test flights in the F-100 Super Sabre and other advanced fighters of the day.

Mention the legendary name “Bob Hoover” around a group of pilots, and no one else will get a word in edgewise all evening. Hoover flew a lot of different aircraft, and flew them all masterfully.

He is best-known for his years as a star performer in the civil air shows. I was fortunate to watch Hoover perform in his Aero Shrike Commander at the Reno Air Races, in about 1978. You can still find videos on YouTube, and you should. I still remember seeing those sequences. I still get the goose-bumps. Hoover was not only the consummate pilot, he was a real gentleman. He was one of my heroes.

862 total views, 3 views today

Most Admired: Alex Filippenko

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Alexei Filippenko, astronomer

Alex Filippenko, astronomer

Dr. Alex Filippenko often co-hosts the popular PBS series NOVA.

Filippenko is an astronomer and astrophysicist. He specializes in supernovae, dark energy, advanced telescopes and supermassive black holes, among other interests. His own web page mentions that he spends a lot of time on the massive Keck telescope atop Mauna Kea.

Filippenko’s infectious enthusiasm for astronomy and physical cosmology make him a natural superstar on the PBS series. NOVA will often toggle the audience back and forth between Filippenko and Neil deGrasse Tyson (see below).

Both astronomers are master communicators with the ability to explain very complex topics in ways that make them both understandable and interesting to a lay audience.

792 total views, 4 views today

Most Admired: Frank Lloyd Wright

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Frank Lloyd Wright is an American icon and a household name in architecture. Ask any American to name one architect, any architect, and chances are, Wright is the name that will come to mind.

Like many celebrity professionals, Wright’s personal life was turmoiled, but he is remembered for his stunningly original and practical architecture. With over 1,000 projects to his name, and 500 completed, it is likely that most Americans have seen a Wright home or building, even if they could not afford one … most-cited projects would certainly include the Fallingwater home, with its cascading waterfalls, and New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

To me, Wright’s innovative approach to architecture is best encapsulated in his famous personal home Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona. He used natural local materials, natural lighting and solar heat, and an achitectural style suited, as always, to its environment. Wright was certainly at least 50 years ahead of his profession in designing and building eco-friendly structures.

2,258 total views, 2 views today

Most Admired: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronomer

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronomer

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson often hosts the popular PBS series NOVA.

Tyson is an astrophysicist, astronomer, lecturer and noted science television celebrity. Noted science popularizer Carl Sagan tried to recruit him to undergrad studies at Cornell University, but Tyson instead went to Harvard, where he earned his BA in Physics, and then to Columbia for his doctorate in Astrophysics.

His profile lists interests in star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies and our Milky Way. He uses some of the world’s largest telescopes in his research. He has served on government steering committees for future NASA space exploration, is the author of several books, and holds nine honorary doctorates.

Like frequent NOVA co-host Alex Filippenko, Tyson has an extraordinary ability to explain the most abstruse theoretical concepts of physics to the lay person while presenting solid factual and theoretical foundations. His enthusiasm is also contagious and instantly engages the listener.

722 total views, no views today

Most Admired: Randy Schilts

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Randy Schilts, author, journalist

Randy Schilts, author, journalist

Randy Shilts was a pioneering gay author and journalist who wrote for both the Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Schilts warned about gay-related immuno-deficiency disease in the Chronicle in 1982, long before it would be called AIDS. He wrote three best-selling books on topics that were not even considered “acceptable” discussion in most circles: The Mayor of Castro Street (Harvey Milk), And The Band Played On (AIDS), and Conduct Unbecoming (gays in the military).

I read Conduct Unbecoming shortly after publication in 1993. That is, I read most of it. Schilts’s book is a massive compendium of carefully researched, documented and footnoted case histories “from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf War” (784 pages, paperback).

As a Vietnam veteran myself, I was only vaguely aware of the public side of the military posture on gays within its ranks before I started this book. I had no idea of the internal workings of Army Intelligence and the military command structure toward entrapment and discharge of suspect soliders and sailors. It is the only book, besides one other, that I found myself unable to continue with because it was staggeringly depressing. The other book was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

Shilts himself died of AIDS, at the age of 42. He reportedly wrote, “HIV is certainly character-building. It’s made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I’d rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character.”

893 total views, 1 views today

Most Admired: Rosa Parks

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy

click images for web links to biographical backgrounds

Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer

Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer

Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. The year was 1955. The city was Montgomery, Alabama. She had no history of civil disobedience. It wasn’t a civil rights protest. She was tired after a long day of work. On that particular day, Rosa Parks decided that the status quo was just not right, and I was tired of it.

Of the dozens or hundreds of brave civil rights pioneers who struggled in those early decades not only for black equality, but for the very idea of it, Rosa Parks remains dear to the hearts of millions of Americans. She showed in a direct, personal way how the politics of prejudice isn’t only class discrimination, as wrong as that is. Parks’ action dramatized how injustice strikes to the root existence of every American.

Parks had been and remained active in the NAACP and other positions related to civil rights. She later said, “If people think of me in that way, I just accept the honor and appreciate it” [grandtimes.com]. She was quoted as having written in her autobiography, Quiet Strength, “Four decades later I am still uncomfortable with the credit given to me for starting the bus boycott. I would like [people] to know I was not the only person involved. I was just one of many who fought for freedom.”

Thank you, Rosa.

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