Wings Around the World

The First Douglas DC-3, “The Spirit of Santa Monica”

When I first moved in Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966, a large chunk of the City of Santa Monica consisted of the Douglas Aircraft plant between Ocean Park and Airport Boulevards. It is long since gone. All that remains is a small Museum of Flying that mostly celebrates the legacy of Donald Douglas and his company. Out front, permanently mounted, is the first DC-3, “The Spirit of Santa Monica.”

The first airplanes to circumnavigate the globe was a team of Douglas World Cruiser planes piloted by U.S. Army Air Service pilots in 1924. A number of displays at the museum dedicate that Herculean 175-day series of flights.

When it was located a couple blocks north, the Museum of Flying used to be bigger, but then it was forced to move out to the boonies. After a few years, a much smaller museum came back. No matter, it’s still fun.

When I look back over the last hundred or so years, the biggest miracle was the airplane. Man has wanted to fly ever since he learned how to use tools, but it was only about a hundred years ago that passenger flight became possible. My two-hour flight to Albuquerque next month would have been impossible. I would have had to board a Santa Fe train that takes many more hours to cover the distance. And before the Transcontinental Railroad, it would take 20 miles a day by horse and wagon—if I were lucky.

Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica in the 1940s

Probably the best aviation museum Martine and I have visited is the one in Palm Springs. It’s so mhuge that one could easily spend two days exploring all the exhibits. There is also a nice one on the outskirts of Paso Robles north of San Luis Obispo. Probably what makes these museums fun is that there are so many retired pilots acting as docents who have their subject down cold. Within a few years, as the World War Two generation fades into memory, many of these airports may no longer be viable. So see them while you can.

Couldn’t They at Least Get Crimea in Exchange?

Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 Fighter from World War Two

Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 Fighter from World War Two

If you’ve seen the above photograph, it was in February 2013 when I wrote a posting about the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica. At the time, I was impressed by the Yakovlev Yak 3 fighter. When Martine and I looked for it today, we were told that the museum gave it as a gift to the Russian people. Did the Russian people give anything in exchange? Not really, but the Russian Consulate in San Francisco did send a Christmas card.

According to one aviation website:

Design began at the end of 1941 of a single-seat fighter using the new VK-107 engine, requiring the least-possible drag, smallest dimensions and weight consistent with a manoeuvrable and tough machine. Due to delays with the new engine and pressure to build the maximum number of aircraft already on the production lines, this new Yak-3 programme was shelved. A new small wing was developed and tested along with other changes on a Yak-1M in late 1942, and the first Yak-3 prototype was flown in late 1943. Although evaluation aircraft flew in combat, the first series Yak-3s did not enter operation with the 91st IAP until July 1944. The Yak-3 was found to be an exceptional dogfighter at altitudes up to 4000m. Its improved performance was remarkable, particularly as the initial non-availability of the VK-107 engine forced reliance to be placed on the VK-105PF-2 that had powered earlier Yaks. Built to a total of 4,848, the Yak-3 achieved fame and a very high score rate against German aircraft in 1944-45. The Yak-3 equipped the famous Free French ‘Normandie-Niemen’ unit, and achieved its peak of perfection when the VK-107A engine of 1268kW became available in limited numbers from August 1944, the type’s maximum speed then improving to 720km/h at 6000m.

Russian fighter pilots and ground crews actually preferred the Yak 3s to the P-51s and Spitfires being sent via Lend Lease. Could it be because the instructions were in Russian?