Airborne Again

Those of you familiar with my novels or with me personally, know that I’m a big fan of aviation. From a young age, I’ve always liked airplanes and flying. When I was a teenager, I joined the Civil Air Patrol and got to ride in small planes as a cadet. When I got to High School, my dad bought a Cessna 150 and I learned to fly in it. I never did complete my license, but I racked up lots of time in that old trainer.

Skip forward thirty years and now I have kids in CAP and I’m an adult member. This past weekend I finally got to train as a Mission Scanner for CAP. It was my first time back on a small plane in three decades. For at least one sortie, I even got to fly search grids in the Cessna 182 assigned to my CAP Squadron. It was a fun day of classroom work and actual flying.

I spend many hours a month attending CAP meetings, training and activities. For someone like me who writes about imaginary starfighter pilots, being able to fly with an actual civilian auxiliary of the USAF, is invaluable writer fuel. I never got to fly in the Air Force, but in CAP I can be part of an aircrew and help my fellow citizens by finding downed aircraft, missing persons or helping to assist the AF with air intercept missions.

If you’ve always wanted to do something like that, look up the nearest CAP squadron near you and attend their meetings. It’s a great organization for aviation-minded students and adults.


The Bugatti 100 Race Plane

I was surfing through Deviant Art this weekend and found some pretty cool computer renderings of airplanes. One in particular really struck me as clean and elegant. Then I looked at what the artist had named it – Bugatti 100. What? He named an airplane after a race car maker? That’s crazy.

So I looked up Bugatti 100 and low and behold it’s a real airplane! The car designer built one version of his futuristic airplane back in 1941. Right after completing the prototype in the second story of a furniture store in Paris, the city was invaded by the Nazis. Bugatti had the plane taken apart and hidden in the country inside an old barn. The Germans never found it and neither did anyone else for 37 years!

It now resides in the EAA Museum in Oshkosh Wisconsin. The first and only Bugatti airplane, painted Bugatti blue. The plane’s swift looks were not the only thing interesting about the design. Several elements were later used in modern fighters. Duel, rotating and counter rotating propellers, a cooling system later used by the P-51 and forward swept wings were just a few of the innovations of the Model 100.

Now the actual airplane never flew, but the design is so unique and ahead of its time, some aviation buffs in Tulsa OK, are building a replica that they intend to fly this summer for the first time. You can check out their progress here. I’ll be checking in on this team later this year to see how successful they are.


An Airplane Story

The other day I was at Target, picking up my copy of True Grit with a friend from work. We came upon a WW2 documentary about fighter planes. There was a Japanese plane on the cover with a six bladed propeller. I told my friend that it was odd that a documentary would feature a fake plane on the front. I knew my WW2 planes pretty good, and I was sure there was no Japanese fighter that looked like that.

The next day the incident got my curiosity and so I googled for information on it. Turns out I was only partially correct. There was a six bladed propeller driven Japanese fighter in WWII. But it never flew. It was designed by Tatsuo Hasegawa for the Tachikawa aircraft company. The Ki-94-II was originally intended to be a B-29 bomber intercepter with two, engines in a push pull configuration. But the design was deemed too complicated. So Tatsuo designed a more conventional version and it retained the same model number. This one was approved and construction began in 1944. There was to be a six bladed propeller version, but the first one built had a four blade prop.

The Ki-94-II was supposed to fly the day the war ended with Japan. It never took off that day and was later confiscated by allied forces and sent to the states where is was examined and destroyed. Hasegawa went to work for Toyota after the war and helped to design one of the most successful cars ever made – the Toyota Corolla.

One last footnote about Tatsuo Hasegawa. He designed a new type of airfoil for airplane wings which he used on the Ki-94-II. He patented the design and years later, NASA reinvented the airfoil and found that someone had already patented it back in 1942!

And that, as the man used to say, is the Rest of the Story.