College Park Aviation Museum

The central place for Chet’s aviation career was the College Park airport, where events such as Langley Day (which Chet moved from Washington Hoover in 1933) and other events took place.  Although College Park Airport remains an active airport–the oldest continuing airport in the United States–it is also the home of the College Park Aviation Museum, and on a recent visit we took a look at what it had to offer.  This is just a sampling of what’s there.

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The entrance to the College Park Aviation Museum.

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An historical sign which outlines the history of the College Park Airport.

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A Monocoupe 110. In some ways the Monocoupe was the single most successful plane for Chet’s Langley Day competitions, as a perusal of the winners will show.

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The Washington Air Derby trophy, which was actually first prepared for the first competition at Washington Hoover in 1932.  Note that George Brinkerhoff, whose flying service at College Park was famous, moved his operation from Washington Hoover, as Chet would do with the Washington Air Derby in 1933.

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A plan for College Park’s hangars. These were built during World War I and were pretty much all of the buildings the airport had during Chet’s day. They were useful for the Langley Day competitions and, er, the Quiet Birdmen parties.

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The west end of College Park airport. At one time there was a runway which more or less paralleled the B&O railroad, but it is gone. That railroad is still active but now also includes Washington’s Metro.

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Although the airport made a very nice wide angle poster of this, they did not know that it comes from the 1939 Langley Day competition: we have other photos of the Goodyear blimp there.

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The eastern part of the airport, now the main part and the location of both the Museum and the terminal. The rise behind the runway appears often in Chet’s photos and films of College Park, the scene of so many of his triumphs.

Running Rusty

greyhoundNostalgia is a powerful thing.  As people get older, they became teary-eyed for the “good old days,” especially if they think that life was better–and more moral–in the past than it is now.  While there’s no doubt our civilization isn’t what it used to be, growing up in South Florida was a lesson in just how immoral life in these United States could be.  It was (and is) a region fully equipped with the vices of the day — including all kinds of gambling such as jai-alai, harness racing and of course the dog track.  The only people who seemed to suffer for running gambling operations were the poor Cubans who tried to run a bolita (lottery) operation; after spending years jailing immigrants trying to make a living, the state of Florida (along with most states) does well with its own.

pbkennelAcross the lake from where I grew up was the Palm Beach Kennel Club.  Our family never went but when we watched the news every night we’d see Buck Kinnaird’s sports broadcast on Channel 5.  (Click here for WPTV’s 50th Anniversary Commemoration in 2004, which gives more information on the early years of the station.)  Dog races don’t take too long, so the film clip of that night’s race went by pretty fast.  (In truth, I think they always used the same film clip every night.)  The track operated a steel rabbit named Rusty.  When the race began Rusty was started just ahead of the dogs.  The dogs would race while chasing Rusty, and it was the objective of the track to keep Rusty just ahead of the dogs.  They usually succeeded in doing so; their occasional failure resulted in the inglorious end of the race.

Florida finally put an end to dog racing, but only for the dogs. For the rest of us too much of life has turned into a dog race where whomever we feel is in control of our situation is “running Rusty” in front of us.  From youth onward we’re motivated — pushed and shoved in some cases — to achieve goals which we may have had nothing to do with formulating and which, deep down, we really feel we neither want nor are able to accomplish.  If and when we reach these goals it seems that success is more elusive than ever because the “track owner” is moving Rusty faster than we can keep up by either making new demands or enticing us with new things to go harder for.  This is called “being challenged” and of course has its upside but in many cases it’s manipulation, pure and simple.

One of the promises of technology was to enable us to have more leisure time and more control over our lives.  Sad to say the real result is to turn our lives in to a 24/7 “on demand” race where there’s no escape from anything.  The more productive we become with our technological tools the faster “Rusty” is run and the more fatigued we get.

Fortunately the real “track owner” of this world never intended to run people in a perpetual dog race.  Jesus told us “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly-minded, and ‘you shall find rest for your souls’; For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)  His race is rather simple:

  • There is only one really important objective: “What good will it do a man to gain the whole world, if he forfeits his life? or what will a man give that is of equal value with his life?” (Matthew 16:26)  Our main objective is eternal life.
  • He has promised he will give us the strength to run the race:  “Why, then, do you now provoke God, by putting on the necks of these disciples a yoke which neither our ancestors nor we were able to bear? No, it is through the loving-kindness of the Lord Jesus that we, just as they do, believe that we have been saved.” (Acts 15:10-11)
  • He has run the race and won, so can we: “Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. Weigh well the example of him who had to endure such opposition from ‘men who were sinning against themselves,’ so that you should not grow weary or faint-hearted.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Jesus Christ sets before us a simple race to run, a clear objective and a straightforward way to get there.  And that’s a lot more than people and institutions can claim these days.

For more information click here.

All New Testament quotations taken from the Positive Infinity New Testament.

Built for the Crimea – Broken up at Charlottetown: The Long Life of the Steamer M.A. Starr — Sailstrait

Today warships are rarely converted for commercial use but up until 1900 many naval vessels were not much different in design from their civilian counterparts. One ship with a naval beginning was a regular sight in Charlottetown harbour for more than twenty years – and may still be resting beneath the harbour’s sand and mud. […]

via Built for the Crimea – Broken up at Charlottetown: The Long Life of the Steamer M.A. Starr — Sailstrait

Appeal for the Abaco Islands, and Mercy Chefs

Readers of this blog will know that my family goes back a long way visiting the Bahamas in general and the Abaco Islands in particular.  We had some exciting times, almost sending our ship to the bottom and riding out a storm.

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The fateful 1965 cruise of the Pem-Don I, from the time it left the Port of Palm Beach until it hit the reef.

This beautiful paradise, which looked like this when we visited:

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Hope Town harbour, 1965.

Now looks like this:

There are many people and organisations that are mobilizing to help with this, one I’m supporting is Mercy Chefs.

Mercy Chefs is led by Gary LeBlanc, who started out in the hospitality business as a bar tender at the Monteloene Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  He started Mercy Chefs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and South Louisiana (another place I have family and business interest in.)  His mission is to set up a field kitchen (with South Louisiana calibre food) to feed first responders and those devastated by Hurricane Dorian.  He’s also working on getting water purification equipment into the Abaco Islands; clean water is essential for living.

I’m asking you to join me in supporting Mercy Chefs and their work in the Bahamas.

You can learn more about Mercy Chefs and donate here.

Sometimes It Pays to Give Your Professor a Little Attention

I was forced to broaden my horizons in my PhD pursuit.  That’s because, although I’ve done coding since I was eighteen, I had to acquire a deeper understanding for two things: linear algebra and numerical methods.  It’s no understatement to say that both of these are at the core of the advances wrought by computerisation, whether we’re talking about statistical analysis or (in my case) simulation.

After my initial boffo performance, I turned to my Iranian friends for more help.  So they let me use some of the books they found useful for study back in the “old country”.  One of those was a sizeable book entitled Applied Numerical Methods by Brice Carnahan, H.A. Luther and James O. Wilkes.  As was the case with their wedding video, the heart skipped a beat, because the middle author, Hubert A. Luther, was my Differential Equations teacher at Texas A&M, forty years ago this spring.

Applied Numerical Methods was, AFAIK, the first really comprehensive textbook which combined linear algebra, numerical methods, and coding (in their case, FORTRAN IV) in one text.  Although some of the methodologies have been improved since it was published in 1969, and languages have certainly changed, it’s still a very useful book, although a little dense in spots.  Many of the books on the subject that have come afterwards have learned from its mistakes, but still refer back to the original.

Dr. Luther taught me the last required math class in my pursuit of an engineering degree at Texas A&M.  It wasn’t an easy class, even after three semesters of calculus (which I did reasonably well at).  Although he was originally from Pennsylvania, he acclimated himself to the Lone Star State with western shirt, belt and string tie, the only professor I can remember who did so. The start to his course was especially rough; the textbook was terrible, he was a picky grader, the scores I got back were low.  I thought I was facing the abyss…until another one of those “aha” moments came along.

We (the engineering students) were standing outside our Modern Physics class, which came before Differential Equations.  I found out I wasn’t the only one having this problem.  But one of my colleagues, a Nuclear Engineering student who went on to become my class’ wealthiest member, had a simple suggestion.  Go visit his office, he said.  He’s lonely (he was nearing retirement) and likes the company.  Your grade will go up.

I wasn’t much for visiting my professors, but I was desperate enough to try anything.  I made a couple of office visits.  I’m not sure how helpful his advice was, but his grading became more lenient and I got through the course OK.

Today I’m on the other end of the visitation.  I spend a lot of time in the office with no student visits.  Part of the problem comes from scheduling, both theirs and mine.  But I’ve found out something else about student visits: the students that come to see you really care about what they’re supposed to be doing in your class.  Although there are still students who think it their duty to “tough it out” without asking questions, many others just want to get through in the quickest and least time-consuming way they can find.

I’m glad I took my classmate’s advice and made the office visits.  But there are two other lessons I have learned since that time.

The first is that I wish I had taken a numerical methods course taught by Dr. Luther, it would have prepared me for what I’ve been doing both before and during the time of my PhD pursuit.

The second is that, when I started my MS degree twenty years later, I took a course over basically the same material taught by a Russian.  I found out that there was a great deal I hadn’t learned from Dr. Luther, and that American math education leaves a lot to be desired of.  So sometimes making the way easier up front comes back to get you in the end.