Day 3: Thursday, April 19, 2007
This morning we had a different DC-3 provide our wake-up call, followed by a T-6 four-ship and a Bonanza which was, for some reason, flying straight-and-level at full throttle on the extended runway centerline at 100 feet. “Pfft” to them all! I was already enjoying my morning tea on our veranda. I’m learning that the day starts early whether you like it or not when you attend Sun ‘n Fun.
We got the first real rain of the week last night. It pounded our tents for hours. At least it was warm. Although the day dawned dark and threatening, by show open at 9 there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Attendees trickle in and out of the show grounds as the week grinds along. Some are folks who have flown in and are just taking the sky machine out for a constitutional, but many are new arrivals, folks who for whatever reason couldn’t be here earlier. People who want to “do” Sun ‘n Fun but have limited time find ways to fit the show into their schedules. We had two retired airline captains in the campsite next to us the first two nights. When they left, their prime spot was quickly grabbed by a couple from California, who plan to leave later today. I fully expect the site to be snapped up in seconds by someone newly arrived.
Airplanes come and go too. I went looking to get a shot of the aerobatic Beech 18 I described the other day (it was high-gloss burgundy and black, very nice), but it had left. And while the F-18s had gone too, there’s a Berlin Airlift C-54 that wasn’t there before, and an as-yet undetermined number of new P-51s. And today’s flying alarm clock DC-3, which was liveried as a C-47 in D-Day markings.
A Spitfire’s front office.
I mentioned the Florida Air Museum in passing earlier. It’s a large facility on the south edge of the Sun ‘n Fun property, and while its focus is primarily on sport aviation, they also hold a handful of military aircraft (including that recently-acquired F-14 from the other day) and a very elaborate exhibit about Howard Hughes’ HK-1 Spruce Goose. They don’t have the airplane itself — it’s in the Evergreen museum in McMinnville, Oregon, and I do hope to get out there to see it one of these days — but they do have a large scale model that’s impressive enough. There’s also a moving cutaway of the HK-1’s Pratt & Whitney R-4360, four-row radial engines. Watching all that hardware move, you can see how those monsters really worked.
Out front there are two of the rarest aircraft you’re ever likely to see. The Convair Sea Dart was one of those Stunning Aviation Disappointments of the 1950s. Or perhaps put more charitably, it was an airplane whose time never really came. Originally conceived by the Navy as a way to base fighters in forward areas without relying on large, easily-targeted land facilities, it was haunted by engine and flight control problems during its protracted development program. The Navy ultimately decided it would be easier to defend land facilities than maintain expensive floating mobile fighter bases, making the Sea Dart a novelty, and a footnote in combat aviation history. But it’s still one of the coolest-looking airplanes ever built. It was, and is likely to remain, the only supersonic, water ski-borne flying boat ever built. If memory serves, the Florida Air Museum example, a YF2Y-1, is one of two that survive.
The other oddity is a Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon. I don’t know any airplanes named after fish that enjoy a good reputation, and this one’s no different. It was apparently intended to honor Lockheed’s senior test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon, who flew it in test. This time the thinking was that a VTOL fighter would eliminate the need for runways, thus denying a potential weakness to the enemy. The British eventually validated this concept with the Harrier, but that airplane seems downright conventional next to the XFV-1. With a nearly 6000 horsepower turboprop engine, counter-rotating propellers, and tail-mounted landing gear, the XFV-1 was supposed to take off and land while sitting on its tail. During flight test it became apparent that the airplane taxed the skill of even experienced test pilots and would never be acceptable for everyday line service, so the whole idea of tail-sitting fighters (Convair was working on one, too) was scrapped. Thankfully, not so the prototype, so we can still get a look at one of Kelly Johnson’s very few bad ideas.
The museum collection also includes two of my favorite aircraft, a Hawker Sea Fury and a Westland Lysander. Under normal circumstances, I’d expend a lot of time and words on them, but at Sun ‘n Fun, there’s always more to see, more to do.
Tomorrow is my last day at Sun ‘n Fun 2007.
…and King Cobras