Friday, July 26, 2019

Private Underground Hangars

While exploring Wisconsin aeronautical charts, I stumbled upon this very secluded private airport in the middle of nowhere. The airport is called Leeward Farm, located near the town of Soldiers Grove. I saw a Cessna Caravan had filed a flight there from MSN, so I headed over to Google Maps to have a look:

I find any private airport interesting, and this one is particularly so, primarily because the two hangars appear to be entirely underground.

I did some detective work to see what company or individual would have A) the resources and B) the need for a location enviable by even the most discerning Bond villain, and discovered that there may be a link with Land's End, headquartered in nearby Dodgeville.

The structure on the far left of the second photo would support this, as it appears to be some kind of large theater or presentation hall.

Further investigation suggests that the property may have transferred ownership to the owner of a building/construction company.

Whomever the owner may be, he or she is certainly fortunate to have such a magnificent lair. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to wake up, shower, shave, get dressed, and then stroll through a tunnel to your airplane, safe and sound in its underground hangar.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Pilatus PC-24 - The Number One Choice for Bond Villains Worldwide

It’s a really good time to be a James Bond villain. Obviously, the introduction of satellite communications and GPS completely revolutionized the field, enabling instant data transfer and real-time monitoring of your henchmen’s various locations. 

But what about those occasions when you’re lounging on the beach in Nice and suddenly need to access your secret lair buried deep in the Swiss Alps?

In the past, you would have had to board your Gulfstream, fly to Lugano or Lucerne, arrange for your helicopter to meet you on the ramp, board the helicopter, and then continue on to your lair, schlepping along at a maddeningly slow 150 knots while Bond closes in on you.

But those days are now behind you.

With the revolutionary Pilatus PC-24, you can enjoy door-to-door convenience at 440 knots and 45,000 feet while also accessing your remote grass or dirt mountain airstrip. And the airstrip needn’t be fully maintained. With a tire pressure of only 73 psi (5 bar), long-travel trailing-link main gear, and an 82-knot stall speed, the PC-24 provides comfort and control on even the roughest strips.

Because Pilatus designed the PC-24 specifically around versatility and low-speed performance, you’ll be able to take off and land on unimproved strips as short as 2,930 feet (893m) while loaded to the jet’s maximum gross weight.

And load it you will. The huge rear cargo door measures 51×49 inches (1.30×1.25m), enabling you to load up to 12 W80 low-yield nuclear warheads without even having to remove them from their shipping crates.

Need to transport hostages? The cargo door will easily accommodate multiple stretchers, allowing you the peace of mind of keeping them fully restrained for the trip while you reveal every detail of your cunning plan.

And should one of the flight crew need to be eliminated along the way, the PC-24’s certification for single-pilot operation will ensure your trip continues to proceed without a hitch.

With the PC-24, even the most demanding Bond villain will be accommodated with a unique blend of performance, luxury, and versatility that is unmatched by any other aircraft manufacturer. Visit for details.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

To commemorate Memorial Day here in the US and pay tribute to those who gave their lives for our country, I thought I'd try to find a cool old photo of a tough-looking fighter pilot.

I figured a shot of a WWII pilot would be perfect, perhaps showing him posing in front of his P-51

Then I ran across this series of photos by Howard Sochurek...a man who himself served in WWII prior to working as a photojournalist.

Over the years, Howard conducted photo shoots from behind enemy lines, covering the First Indochina War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

He won many awards for his work, which comes as no surprise when you take some time to appreciate it.

I really love this set of shots, featuring an unnamed pilot flying what I believe is a C-47 in Vietnam.
The first shot is my favorite, showing him looking back at the camera while enjoying a cigar and perhaps cracking a joke.

In contrast to carefully-posed shots of command staff and fighter pilots with their pressed uniforms and spit-shined shoes, he appears fatigued and a bit disheveled, as though he’s been at it for months without leave, good food, or quality lodging. Which was probably the case.

But still, he appears relatively upbeat and in good spirits, at least for the photo shoot.
Subsequent shots convey the teamwork that was essential to meet the demands of flying transport planes into and out of jungle airstrips in Vietnam.

The final shot in this set features our unnamed pilot looking back over his shoulder with a particularly steely-eyed expression, perhaps judging his turn to base as he reads the terrain and prepares for an approach to what must have been just one of a seemingly endless series of remote airstrips.

The great thing about this set of photos is how it takes the viewer behind the scenes and into the trenches of one of the less glamorous flying jobs that was nevertheless crucial to the war effort.

We can almost smell the cigar smoke and feel the big radial engines as we reflect upon the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who have selflessly chosen to serve their country.
So here’s to them, and particularly to those who never made it home. May they never be forgotten.

UPDATE - After performing some additional research, I've uncovered a few key pieces of information about these photos.

First, the aircraft. It is, in fact, a Douglas C-47B Skytrain, serial number 43-48415. It was, for a time, stored at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tuscon, AZ. Since then, it has been converted to an EC-47 and put on display at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Additionally, we can see from the new photos that the pilot's name tag reads "Barnett":

 link to full-sized photo

 link to full-sized photo

 A truly great collection of photos that transport us back in time to people and times that should never be forgotten.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Avoid GlassFrogBooks on Amazon

Long story short, they sometimes mistakenly list expensive books at very low prices, and then back out of the deal by claiming the book was found to be damaged.

Here's the evidence:

Back in late November, I found a copy of Jane's All the World's Aircraft listed at GlassFrogBooks for the amazingly low price of roughly $30.

As you can see by this chart, the price of that book is, on average, $1,384:

Of course, I jumped on the opportunity, and purchased it for the ~$30 price.

A few weeks later, I received this message:

Ok, fair enough. I have a problem with the fact that I was never given the opportunity to take the book in its damaged state, but I chalked it up to bad luck and took the refund because I had no other option.

Fast forward to April of this year, and I once again find a copy of Jane's All the World's Aircraft, again listed by GlassFrogBooks for the unusually low price of $30.

Again, I jump on the opportunity, since that edition typically sells for $427:

...and once again, I receive a message from GlassFrogBooks, AGAIN claiming the book I want was found to be damaged.

The message was identical to the first, literally copied and pasted word for word:

Again, I was never given the opportunity to take delivery of the damaged book. This is frustrating, as I would have paid the $30 for even a badly damaged copy.

I contacted GlassFrogBooks multiple times. First, I asked for photos of the damaged books. They claimed none exist, and that the book had been discarded.

I then pointed out how suspicious it is that, on two separate occasions:

1) A normally very expensive book was priced at the incredibly low price of $30

2) After purchasing the book, it was mysteriously found to be damaged

3) No evidence existed of the damaged book

All evidence suggests that GlassFrogBooks mistakenly priced a very expensive book at a very low price and then backed out of the deal by lying about it being damaged.

Today, I see that the exact same book I tried to purchase back in November is in stock...and listed for sale at $921.53:

I contacted GlassFrogBooks and asked that they honor their original agreement to sell me that book...that they now claim to have in stock...for $30.

Two hours later, I heard back. They had removed the listing shown above and now claimed it wasn't in stock at all.

So avoid GlassFrogBooks at all costs. They're dishonest, and cannot be trusted to sell the items they have listed as being in stock for the prices they advertise.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Andrew Smith AJ-2 - N9AJ

UPDATE: Last week, I finally ventured out to the registered owner's address and met him. His residence is in a beautiful, secluded area with prominent "NO TRESPASSING" signs and absolutely no AT&T wireless service whatsoever.

As I proceeded up his long, winding, remote driveway, I thanked myself for having the presence of mind to provide my significant other with the owner's name and address should I later find myself chained in the basement dungeon of a madman, feebly professing my innocent love for his airplane while enduring unspeakable acts of torture.

Fortunately, this measure was completely unnecessary, as the owner proved to be a very kind and courteous individual. His name is Mike. He confirmed he owned the magnificent AJ-2, and he indulged me with an update on its current status.

He explained that he befriended Andrew Smith and got to know him well before he passed away. Although Andrew's military history of flying F4U Corsairs off of carriers in the Pacific theater was the part of his history that I found most noteworthy, Mike feels that Andrew's soaring accomplishments were even more impressive.

Apparently, Andrew won multiple Open Class National soaring competitions, and was the second American to win the World Gliding Championship in Leszno, Poland.

Andrew's experience with gliders clearly translated into the exquisitely efficient design of the AJ-2. Indeed, according to Mike, Andrew once claimed that the total drag of the airplane was approximately equivalent to a 12"x12" square piece of plywood being pushed through the air.

This paid off in cross-country competition. Andrew and the AJ-2 won a cross-country race that emphasized efficiency known as the Oshkosh 500. They won not just once, but each of the eight years they entered.

Finally, to put an end to the complete and total domination, race organizers changed the rules so the AJ-2 was no longer competitive.

Andrew apparently was interested in donating the AJ-2 to a museum, but ultimately ended up selling it to Mike before passing away in 2004. Mike now has it stored in his hangar at a nearby airport in rural Wisconsin.

He added that in addition to the aircraft itself, he obtained a vast quantity of plans, diagrams, and three-ring binders of handwritten calculations and data that AJ used to design it. He described many of these sheets as artwork, worthy of framing and hanging on the wall.

After purchasing the AJ-2 back in the early 2000s, Mike still has yet to fly it. But he thinks it will likely happen later this summer when he completes the removal of a wing modification. This project should return the AJ-2 to its standard/original configuration.

I provided Mike with a printed copy of this very blog entry and my contact information, and asked him to please contact me prior to his first flight for some more detailed historical discussion as well as an opportunity to photograph it both on the ground and in flight.

Frankly, I'm not holding my breath. While he was friendly and courteous, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he opts to keep his project the private endeavor that it's been thus far.

But I sure hope to hear from him. The story of the AJ-2 is interesting all by itself, and the story of its return to the air is one that I really hope to document.


Spend enough time snooping around small rural airports, and before long, you'll unearth some interesting finds. On a sunny summer day in 2008, I unexpectedly happened upon one of only two or three airworthy Percival EP-9s in the world. I felt fortunate to document that aircraft for the world to see. This year, I was able to further document it with a full photo shoot. I even got to fly it for a bit. All as a result of sticking my nose in forgotten corners of sleepy little airports.

A similar discovery occurred back in 1999. I was flying out of Ann Arbor and decided to pop into Al Meyers airport down in Tecumseh, just for fun. Not a whole lot was going on that day, so I decided to have a look around. Peeking into the main hangar, I discovered one of the nicest-looking airplanes I'd ever seen - what I would later learn was the one and only Andrew Smith AJ-2, manufactured in 1981.

Fortunately, I had a camera. Unfortunately, it was a very cheap camera unaccompanied by any sort of knowledge or talent. These are the photos I was able to shoot in the hangar:

Lacking the foresight to examine the dataplate, I left the airport not knowing what aircraft type I had just photographed. I wouldn't learn much more about it for nearly ten years.

A few years ago, a friend found some great info about it in the October 1981 issue of Sport Aviation. Jack Cox interviewed A.J. himself and shot these photos of the beautiful airplane:

The interview revealed that the aircraft was designed as a cross-country touring aircraft. It had two seats. The passenger seat was intended to serve as a baggage area when only the pilot was aboard. The engine is a Lycoming IO-360. It makes about 215 hp and has a custom, "one-off" McCauley constant-speed prop. Long-range cruise (55% power) reportedly resulted in 200 mph and 40 mpg. Normal cruise (75% power) was said to be 250-255 mph and about 23-24 mpg.

At one point, A.J. raced it in an air race called the Oshkosh 500, a race that rewarded the most speed for the least fuel. He won the race with an average speed of just under 218mph while burning only 19.2 gallons to cover the 500 mile long course.

For the airframe, A.J. utilized techniques developed by the Germans in WWII. It consists of bulkheads spanned by balsa and foam. The wing is one piece, designed to be easily replaced with an updated version that contained retractable gear. The updated version was, to my knowledge, never manufactured or mounted. The wing pictured uses a NACA 64212 airfoil, 12% thick, with a constant section and a .5 taper ratio with no twist. The lack of twist produced undesirable stall characteristics, so A.J. added stall strips and rigged the ailerons up a quarter of an inch, providing an effective twist.

The airplane has a T-tail that also uses NACA sections - 9% for the horizontal, and 12% for the vertical. The tailwheel is a Henry Haigh locking version mounted on a Wittman-type tapered rod spring.

The AJ-2 is now registered to an individual in rural Wisconsin. An individual I hope to meet. With any luck, the AJ-2 will receive the full photo shoot it deserves.

In the meantime, I continue to scour the web for additional photos of the aircraft. Here are my latest finds: