Aviation history

Will the Bomber Gas Station’s B-17 fly?

The Stuck at the Airport road trip team visited Oregon recently to check on the status of a World War II-era B-17 Flying Fortress that served for years as a roadside attraction along the highway in Milwaukie, OR, not far from Portland.

The non-profit B-17 Alliance is restoring the B-17 in Hangar “C” at Oregon’s historic McNary Field/Salem Municipal Airport and we were delighted to get a tour.

You can learn more about the project, and the history of this airplane on the B-17 Alliance Foundation’s site and in the piece we put together for The Points Guy site. But here’s a short version of the Gas Station Bomber story.

Milwaukie, Oregon gas station owner Art Lacey purchased a decommissioned B-17 bomber, one of the iconic four-engine “Flying Fortresses” used by the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II, in 1947 and used the “Lacy Lady” to turn his service station into a roadside attraction.

Into the late 1950s, motorists could climb up into the airplane for a look-around while their automobiles got filled up and serviced and then have a meal at the adjacent Bomber Restaurant.

The gas station closed in 1991 and in 2014 the B-17 Alliance moved the plane to a hangar at Salem Municipal Airport for restoration.

The group estimates that in addition to thousands of hours of volunteer time, it will take more than $6 million to get the airplane airworthy by, perhaps, 2037.

What we’re watching: The Mechanician

(Courtesy State University Archives)

The Wright Brothers didn’t do it alone.

Their sister, Katharine Wright, was an essential part of the team. She ran the brothers’ bicycle shop when they were off doing gliding tests in Kitty Hawk. And she was essential when it came to taking care of the Wright Brothers’ business and social matters.

And, without Charles E. Taylor, the Wright Brothers’ planes would have never gotten off the ground.

Taylor, a self-taught machinist, worked as a repair person in the bicycle shop. And it was Taylor who Orville and Wilbur turned to when they needed a wind tunnel to help them with improvements for the 1902 glider.

It was also Taylor who designed and built the first successful airplane engine for the Wright Brother’s first pioneering powered flight in 1903.  And it was Taylor who improved and fixed the engines for many years after.

Thanks to this story in the Metropolitan Airport News, we learned all about Charles E. Taylor. And about a short film that highlights his mostly forgotten role in aviation history and in the Wright Brothers’ story.

See the film, by Joshua Lang and Natalie Wong, below. Be sure to watch for the rare footage of Taylor describing how he created parts from scratch.

(Charlie Taylor at the Wright Company factory in 1911. Courtesy Wright State University Archives)

What we’re reading: His Majesty’s Airship

(R101 during a test flight over Westminster, London in 1929. Credit: Alamy)

We’re just past the anniversary of the May 6, 1937 crash of the Hindenburg. The zeppelin – or rigid airship – famously met its demise in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 people; 13 passengers, 22 crewmembers, and one worker on the ground.

But when you read S.C. Gwynne’s new book, His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine, you’ll wonder why zeppelins were still flying by that time at all.

Gwynne’s book is about the R101, a 777-foot-long zeppelin that crashed in 1930.

At that time it was the largest, most technologically sophisticated, and most expensive aircraft ever to fly. And it was designed to be better than any of the airships Germany had constructed.

For a zeppelin, (or blimp), it was quite swanky. R101 had two floors of fifty heated sleeping berths, bathrooms, cooking, and dining facilities, and a smoking room.

In October 1930, the maiden voyage of the steel-framed, linen-draped, hydrogen-filled airship was supposed to take fifty-four passengers from England to India and back – a 10,000-mile journey.

But as Gwynne thrillingly and meticulously documents in this book, the building of R101 and the entire journey were doomed by bad decisions, inflated egos, faulty technology, and bad luck.

On October 5, not long after leaving England, the British airship R 101 carrying 54 people crashed on a hill in Beauvais, France. 8 people escaped, but 2 of those people died later from their injuries bringing the total death count to 48.

Meet the author of His Majesty’s Airship

S.W. Gwynne, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and a New York Times bestselling author, is currently on a book tour in support of His Majesty’s Airship.

The Stuck at the Airport book club is going to see Gwynne at Town Hall in Seattle on May 15. He’s also making stops in Hudson, OH (May 10), Corte Madera, CA (May 16) and other cities.

From the SFO Museum: Matchbooks & Air Sickness Bags

The SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has more than 150,000 objects related to the history of commercial aviation and to the airline industry.

As part of its 52 Objects series this year, they’ve pulled out this matchbook showing the route map for Continental Airlines.

Squeezing as much as possible onto a promotional item is nothing new. A while back we found this air sickness bag in the SFO Museum database which could be used for scoring a gin rummy game and/or turning in your film for processing.

Museum Monday: Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum

Famed aviator Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897, and lived there until 1908, when her family moved to Des Moines.

Today Atchison honors its most famous hometown hero with a wide variety of attractions.

Those include the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, a life-size statue of Earhart in the arboretum known as the International Forest of Friendship, and the annual Amelia Earhart Festival, held the third weekend of July.

Atchison is also home to the Amelia Earhart Earthwork, a one-acre portrait created by Kansas artist Stan Herd in 1997 using plants, stone, and other materials.

Courtesy Kansas Tourism

New: Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum

The general aviation airport in Atchison is, no surprise, called the Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport.

And it now sits adjacent to the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum which will have its grand opening on April 14, 2023.

The museum centerpiece is the world’s last remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E airplane.

And this plane is named Muriel, in honor of Amelia Earhart’s younger sister, Grace Muriel.

The fully restored Lockheed Electra is identical to the plane Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were flying in 1937 when they disappeared during their ill-fated attempt to fly around the world.

Surrounding the plane are 14 interactive STEM-inspired exhibit areas and activity stations. Visit them all and you’ll learn about Amelia Earhart of, course, but also some history, culture, science, technology, aviation, engineering, mathematics, and more.

Museum visitors can scroll through digitized images of Earhart’s mechanic logbooks, compare the inner working of airplane engines then and now, learn about celestial navigation, practice packing the plane, and squeeze into the full-scale replica of Muriel’s cockpit.

After listening to recordings of radio interviews with the real Amelia Earhart and watching an uncanny computer-generated Amelia Earhart video, museum visitors can try ‘being’ Amelia Earhart.

Museum admission includes a chance to fly Earhart’s red Lockheed Vega 5B in a virtual reality simulator. And the flight programmed includes the same route and challenges (bad weather, mechanical problems, etc.) Earhart faced during her 15-hour flight on May 20-21, 1932 when became the first woman to fly nonstop and alone across the Atlantic.

The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum in Atchison, Kansas will have its grand opening on Friday, April 14.

(Read more about the museum in our story on Runway Girl Network).