Saturday, 17 September 2016

The second of two episodes in our visit to Washington D.C. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum - Part 5 of our holiday.

Boys of all ages dream of visiting the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, which is certainly one of the most popular of the vast array of museums in the city!  Laid out on two huge floors in the National Mall, it holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It was established in 1946 as the National Air Museum and opened in 1976.  There is also a separate annex of 71,000m2 (760,000 sq.ft.) in Virginia, opened in 2003, which houses workshops, archives and items too large to fit into the city centre museum, like the B-29 Enola Gay and an Air France Concorde.

The Wright brothers were pioneers in the design and building of heavier-than-air powered aircraft  and, of course, made the first successful fights in 1903, taking it in turns to pilot their Wright Flyer I. The engine was designed from scratch by their mechanic, and cast in aluminium, to produce 12 horsepower! The  wooden propellers were hand carved, driving the plane to its  longest flight of 260 metres (852 feet) before the plane was flipped over by a wind gust and damaged beyond repair. I think this must be a replica!
The Albatros D.Va was a  WW1 single-seater fighter aircraft used by the Imperial German Air Service. 1,612 of this version were built before production stopped in early 1918, but the plane continued in operational service until the end of the war.  The earlier models were put into service in November 1916, but many design faults, including wing failures (oops!), caused  Albatros  to respond in 1917 with this final version, which featured a stronger airframe. This modification made the D.Va  heavier while failing to cure entirely its structural problems! An uprated Mercedes engine produced 180 horsepower to offset the increased weight of the aircraft, but the celebrated "ace" Manfred von Richthofen was less than complementary about the plane's capabilities!

The Fokker D.VII was another, better designed and more successful, WW 1 fighter. Germany produced around 3,300 of these in the 6 months before the War ended. Interestingly, although first powered by a Mercedes engine which didn't perform very well, the Fokker D.VII was to receive a much more powerful engine from a then fledgling company, BMW - they did well later too! The aircraft was so highly regarded, that the Armistice which ended the war in November 1918 specifically required Germany to surrender all surviving examples to the Allies! These survivors saw continued service with many other countries in the years after WW 1.

The French SPAD (an acronym for a long French company name!) XIII  first flew in April 1917; over 8,000 were built and its Hispano-Suiza engine was made under licence in many Allied countries including the USA, but it proved to be unreliable at first. As time went by, the serviceability was improved and the plane remained in service until 1923.

A mock-up of a German aircraft workshop from about 1918.  I think the engine on the right is the BMW 240 horsepower type used to power the Fokker D.VII above.

After the shocking daylight air-raid on England by the Germans in 1917, the politicians took control.  Responding to the public fear of further attack and desire for revenge, in 1918 they amalgamated the Royal Flying Corps with the Royal Naval Air Service to create the RAF, which was designed not only to protect Britain from aerial attack but to bomb German cities.

The Mitsubishi A6M5 "Zero" is a long-range fighter aircraft and was operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy. More than 10,000 were built between 1939 and 1945. The A6M5  was usually referred to by its pilots as the "Reisen" (zero fighter), "0" being the last digit of the Imperial year 2600 (1940) when it entered service with the Imperial Navy. Well, I never knew that! The Zero was considered the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, combining excellent manoeuvrability and very long range. This example is believed to be one of 12 captured by the Americans on a Pacific island in 1944.

The Messerschmitt Bf 109, Germany's best known WW II single seat fighter aircraft, formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe's fighter force.  The Bf 109's outstanding performance was demonstrated during the 1936 Olympic Games,  but it first saw military service in 1937, when 24 were shipped to Spain during the Spanish civil war. Equipped with a Daimler-Benz inverted "V" engine, more than 21,000 were built. This particular aircraft was captured from a German pilot who deserted in Italy in 1943 and was then shipped to the US for evaluation.

This amazing shot shows a Boeing B-17 almost leaping out of the painting on the back wall! 
The top plane is a Macchi C.202 Folgore (Lightning), designed in 1940, almost unknown outside Italy, but  the most effective Italian fighter used in WW II.   It achieved excellence handling and speed by using an imported Daimler-Benz engine!
The plane underneath is the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang. It is a long-range single-seat fighter / fighter-bomber used during WW II, the Korean War and other conflicts until it was withdrawn in 1957.  Designed in only 3 months in 1940, and fitted with Rolls Royce supercharged Merlin engines as an upgrade in 1942, it was supremely fast. it is considered the best fighter of that time and was ordered in large quantities by the USAF.

The German V-1, introduced in combat in June 1944 was the world’s first operational cruise missile.  Thousands of pulse-jet powered V-1s, also known as “buzz bombs” were launched against the cities in Britain.  They were slow and inaccurate, and they could be intercepted and shot down. People knew that when they heard the buzzing of the missile stop as its fuel ran out, it was about to drop to the ground and explode, so they sought cover in  underground shelters when they could. The later V-2 was a larger, more formidable vertically launched German rocket, but WW II was almost at an end by the time it was ready for service and thus thankfully little used.

We had problems with so much of Washington being renovated! Here is another example!   Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight on May 21, 1927 flying this Ryan Airlines NYP named "Spirit of St. Louis" the 5,810km (3610 miles) between New York and Le Bourget airport near Paris in 33 hours 30 minutes. Lindbergh became a national hero and won a $25,000 prize offered by a New York hotelier. He later gifted the aircraft to this museum.

The Northrop Alpha was an American single-engine, all-metal,   fast mail/passenger transport aircraft used in the first years 1930s.  The Alpha entered service with Transcontinental and; Western Air (the future airline TWA - now defunct!) making its inaugural flight on April 20, 1931. The trip from San Francisco to New York, for example, required 13 stops (wow!) and took just over 23 hours. TWA operated 14 aircraft until 1935, flying routes with stops all over the USA.

In 1947, the US began trying to bridge the gap between manned flight in the atmosphere and space flights. The experimental Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager, to break the sound barrier in that year, is well known. As  development was carried out over the years, the title of world’s fastest and highest flying aircraft fell to the X-15 above.  First flying in 1959, it was lifted to an altitude of 12,000 metres (40,000 ft) by a Boeing B52 bomber.  During the test, it attained an altitude of over 106 km (67 miles) and in 1967 it reached 7,292 km (4,534 mph) 

More US rockets! Left –  the Minuteman III, a missile prepared for training. Centre – Aerobee 150 was first flown in 1955.  Right - Scout-D, which appeared in 1972, was a low cost  launch vehicle for boosting small payloads into low earth orbit. Various models used from 1960 to 1994. You can judge their height by looking at the size of the visitors walking about!

Surveyor was a US project to develop basic techniques for soft landing on the moon to survey for suitable landing sites. Of the 7 launched from 1966 to 1968, five landed successfully and transmitted pictures, sampled lunar soil and performed chemical analyses.   You will remember that the first manned moon landing was in July 1969.

Well, that concludes my two photo galleries of sights we managed to see during our 3 days in DC. If you like museums and memorabilia, you'll certainly have an almost endless supply places to go, but do plan the trip and make sure you have enough time to see what you want to see!




Also see my daily diary HERE


and My Life Before Charente (updated 09 April 2016)  I will get back to this eventually!




Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The first of two episodes in a too-short visit to Washington DC - Part 4 of our holiday.

Our friend very kindly lent us his car and we drove south from Delaware on the I-95 to the nearby Baltimore Airport, which has a massive multi-storey car park offering easy parking at reasonable rates. The BWI (standing for Baltimore-Washington International, in case you were wondering!) airport has its own dedicated rail station and we caught the train to Washington, as parking in central Washington  was said to be next to impossible to find, and expensive if you did find it!  
On the way, we discovered that American inter-state highways  can be very scary for we country folk! To have  massive trucks, which travel at the same speed as the cars, bearing down on us  at up to 110 kph (70 mph) or more  was a nerve-wracking experience until we became more used to it. Overtaking on both sides seems to be permitted, too, so eyes-in-back-of-head are useful! The warning note stencilled on the mirror is very necessary!

Our MARC train at the station. The national service, Amtrak has very high fares, just like the UK trains! There is however another district train service (MARC) which offers sensible prices, about which our friend tipped us off. We got TWO return tickets on this train for the 45 minute trip to Washington's Union station at the bargain price of $14!!

Washington is a city jam-packed with spectacular museums, memorials and monuments; they are scattered everywhere, so it is difficult to visit them all in a short time!  On arrival, we soon discovered that the hop-on hop-off bus services (there are several available) give one a good impression of where everything is, and of course, you can break your trip to get a closer look at those sights which interest you! One could spend weeks visiting all there is to see and in hindsight we could have stayed a lot longer! However, we tried to fit in as much as possible in the three days we had, but we really only scratched the surface! Here are some views....... in no particular order, or importance!
The National Mall with Washington Monument - under construction! No grass to be seen and temporary fencing everywhere! What a disappointment for tourists; how the authorities could do this in the high tourist season and why they didn't do it in phases so visitors could access some of it at least, is hard to believe!! Tip: stay away from Washington until summer 2017 by which time the work should be finished!

In Lafayette Square Park, a 7 acre space just north of the White House, there are several monuments to both American and foreign war heroes. This one from 1853 celebrates Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the US and a national hero after he defeated the British in 1812 at New Orleans. How times change!


The Smithsonian Institution " the Castle"  is built in red sandstone from the state of Maryland, giving it its striking appearance.Smithson was a British chemist who bequeathed his fortune to the United States! More evidence of Smithson's legacy later!


The White House needs little commentary. There was obviously a security operation in action when we were there and squads of Secret Service personnel appeared almost from nowhere to clear the large crowds of pedestrians from the area. That's why there is only one person (a security man) in this normally crowded scene!

The 19th (yes,not a typo) and latest in the long line of Smithsonian  museums, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens  later in  September 2016. There are about 8,000 square metres (85,000 sq feet) of exhibition space, including 3,000 objects,185 videos and 13 different interactives to try.


The bronze and granite Albert Einstein  statue, outside the National Academy of Sciences in Constitution Avenue, was built in 1979, the centenary of his birth. The signboard is headed "The Celestial Map" It is said that if you rub his nose, a bit of knowledge will be transferred! See the mark?


Next door to the Natural History Museum on Constitution Avenue, the American History Museum does what it says on the tin! It houses exhibitions on all aspects of American daily life, including histories of technology, invention and innovation, business and consumerism, music, and popular culture.

The Federal Reserve building. "The Fed" as it is commonly called, carries out  functions similar to other central banks, like the Bank of England for example, setting interest rates and  financial policies.

The statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, also in Lafayette Square Park, was installed in 1891. The Marquis was a hero of the American War of Independence (1775 - 1783), providing French assistance to the Colonies in their war against the British.


The Lincoln Memorial is set at the far west end of the National Mall and was dedicated in 1922. It has been the site of many famous orations, of which the  "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King is one. Designed by Henry Bacon, the monument features 36  seven feet diameter columns (one for each of the US states during Lincoln's presidency).


Outside the Natural History Museum is this  eye-catching Central American sculpture of an Olmec ruler. One of 17 similar heads discovered in the area, the 6 ton original is made of basalt and was sculpted without iron tools or the use of wheels! It was excavated in 1946 by an archaeologist from the Smithsonian and is on display in a museum in Veracruz.This one is actually a replica, made  in Mexico from volcanic rock and presented  to the US government in 2001 by the Mexican state of Veracruz. 

General Sherman was commander of the Army of the Tennessee during the 
American Civil War, fighting for the Union cause. The artist commissioned to design the monument unfortunately died in 1900, before it could be completed, but it was however finished in 1903 through the efforts of several contemporary sculptors employed by his widow.

The US Capitol, which is the seat of the US Congress - yet more scaffolding, which apparently will be removed in early 2017! The complex sits on Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. It was originally completed in 1800, but extensions, including that unmistakable dome, were added later.

A tranquil view north, snatched from an upstairs seat on the bus(!), across the Tidal Basin, with the Washington Monument ahead in the distance and the circular Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the right.

Finally a close-up of the Washington Monument; the centrepiece of the National Mall and at 169 metres (555 feet) it is both the tallest structure in the city and the tallest stone structure in the world. Construction started in 1848, but in 1854 the funds ran out and work only restarted in 1877, by which time the new stone had to come from a different source. The colour change in the photo shows where this took place! The needle was finally finished in 1888 and there's now a lift in the middle! Visitors are allowed in limited numbers every day on a first come-first served basis. Damaged by both an earthquake and hurricane in 2011, it reopened in 2014.

The second and final episode of our Washington experience will focus on probably the most popular Smithsonian museum - Air and Space!





Also see my daily diary HERE


and My Life Before Charente (updated 09 April 2016)  I will get back to this eventually!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Railways and the Amish community around Strasburg, Pennsylvania - Part 3 of our holiday

Strasburg, a borough in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is a haven of peace and tranquility,  although less than an  hour by car away from the roaring, snarling 8 (other numbers are available!) lane concrete dual carriageway with giant spaghetti intersections forming the monster superhighway Interstate 95, which runs south from the Canadian border, all the way down the east coast to Miami in Florida!

There are lots of photos and information to follow, so, if it all becomes too much, just look at what interests you!

The Pennsylvania Railroad was set up in 1846 and a track network linked the east coast, near here, with the steel town of Pittsburgh far in the west. 
The railroad museum was set up on agricultural land in Strasburg in 1975 with the aim of preserving as much as possible of local railway history. It is owned and operated by a State commission and supported by private funding and public donations. The collection comprises over 100 locomotives and carriages, half of which are housed in an indoor exhibition hall of 9,200  m2 (100,000 sq ft). While the vast majority are no longer operable, it is still an enormous thrill to stand next to these, now silenced, giants of early mass transportation and imagine them in action!

Number 1223 above is a 4-4-0 (four leading and four driving wheels) "American" type steam locomotive, the only surviving example of the D16sb class, built in 1905 for the Pennsylvania Railroad by the railroad's own Altoona Works for passenger service. This Workshop at one time employed 16,500 people! In its later life, the locomotive pulled local excursion trains   from 1965 until 1989, when it had to be removed from service, needing firebox repairs.  Very (too) expensive no doubt!


The 1902 built Class E7s 4-4-2 (but listed as a 4-4-0 for some reason!) locomotive with this number, 7002, allegedly set a  land speed record of 127 mph (203 kph) in 1905. When the loco was required to be displayed in 1939 at the New York World's Fair, it was found to have been scrapped (!), so it was decided to rebuild 8063, another of the same class, to look like the scrapped record breaker. It is the only survivor now and, like 1223 above, was gifted to the museum. I just love the cow catcher and headlight!


This "John Bull" is a replica of an 1831 English locomotive, built in 1940 by the local Altoona workshop.

Built in 1939 by Heisler Locomotive Works  this 0-8-0 loco named "D" has no boiler or firebox! It was bought by Pennsylvania Power and Light Company for hauling coal trucks at their power generating plant, after this 95 tonne heavyweight proved too much to bear for the rails at the site of its original owner,the Hammermill Paper Co! Called a fireless steam locomotive, it could carry enough steam in the huge front cylinder  for several hours operation. As steam was a by-product of the power  generating plant, the loco could easily be refuelled with steam when required, so the concept made economic sense at the time. This unit, displayed in 1940's style livery, was retired from service in 1969. 

The G5s was a class of 4-6-0 steam locomotives built in the mid-late 1920s. It was designed to pull passenger trains, particularly on commuter lines, and became a fixture on suburban railroads (notably the Long Island Rail Road) until the mid-1950s. One of three surviving examples, 5741 above was selected in 1979  for preservation and display upon its retirement.


In a post WW2 effort to replace worn-out steam locomotives, two EP20 class passenger diesels were ordered and constructed in 1945 by the Electro-Motive division of General Motors (see, they didn't just make cars!). This surviving locomotive 5901 and her now defunct sister 5900 have the distinction of being the first pair of such locomotives delivered to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In the late 19th century, logging companies had to solve the problem of moving logs from the forest to the mill as cheaply as possible. Ephram Shay, a timberman, designed his own locomotive, which he hoped would cope with the steep inclines and sharp turns found in forestry areas. In 1880, he took the design to Lima Locomotive Works. The off-centre boiler powered a set of vertical pistons which in turn operated a geared drive shaft to turn the wheels.  The design grew and evolved; this is "Leetonia No. 1" from 1906, but between 1880 and 1946, over 2,700 examples of this rather different, but effective, design were produced.


What I would call an "Airstream" style passenger railcar used on local tracks. No detailed commentary was provided around it in this outside siding, but I liked the retro design!

This ginormous 4-8-2, Number 6755 in the M1b class, was another type of loco produced by the aforementioned Altoona Works in 1930. It was used predominantly in freight service, though it would occasionally be used for passenger trains. In 1953, this particular locomotive went back to the Altoona Works and was rebuilt. It continued to be used for freight service, but only for 4 years, when in January 1957, it was retired. Now this grand locomotive stands rather neglected and forlorn in the outside display area. I'm amazed by all those rivets!!


A modern (1939) replica of the John Stevens Steam Wagon from 1825. Stevens built the original locomotive as a concept and ran it on on a small circle of track in Hoboken, New Jersey. He chartered the first railroad in Pennsylvania in 1823, though it was never constructed! The boiler and safety valve of the original machine are now in the Museum of American History.


Built in 1918 by Heisler for the Chicago Mill and Lumber Co, No 4 is another geared locomotive along the lines of the Leetonia above. Despite its more diminutive size, it weighed about 50 tons!  It was the first locomotive purchased in 1966  for display at the museum.


Built in 1883 by Baldwin, this sweet little Olomana is a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge 0-4-2 saddle tank locomotive, used in sugar cane harvesting.  Not used since 1977, it is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. It was the third self-propelled vehicle to operate in Hawaii - well that's always good to know!


Built by Juniata in 1916, 1670 was one of the first B6sb class 0-6-0 engines built with some of the emerging new and improved design features available at that time. It toiled in freight yards until October 15, 1957, one of the last steam engines to be retired.


And now for something completely different! The Amish (or Pennsylvania Dutch) people, from European roots, have long been settled in this area, co-existing with modern society whilst quietly pursuing their own simpler, devoutly religious, family-centred and community based way of life, as it would have existed hundreds of years ago. The "old Amish order" do not allow electricity in their homes and do not drive cars. One would think this philosophy would have died out, but in fact, the Amish population has nearly TRIPLED since 1960 and while the tourist industry must provide a good source of income, they discourage too close contact with the modern world. They dislike being photographed and prefer farming to provide for their requirements. Their transportation is by means of horse-drawn carriages, buggies and carts, although sometime you may see  much more modern farm equipment pulled by horses!

Horses shaded from the hot summer sun and carriages awaiting passengers for tourist trips.

Immaculately manicured Amish farmland. Much work is done by hand!

A goat and an Alpaca in a kids' entertainment enclosure.

To finish, green, green, Amish farmland! I wonder if they use fertiliser? Probably not!

Thanks Nigel for all your research.



Also see my daily diary HERE


and My Life Before Charente (updated 09 April 2016)  I will get back to this eventually!