It looks as though the entire population of Oregon west of the Cascades has moved to the two-mile strip of coastline east of the high-tide line for the weekend. No surprises there, since temperatures in Portland and other Willamette Valley cities and towns have been setting or tying high temperature records for much of the week. We planned accordingly, doing our sightseeing during the week, staying close to home today. I took the photo above on a beach walk a short drive away.
Odel has a greater interest in airplanes than I do, buta double-header of air museum visits on Thursday and Friday had something special for me, too: two of the biggest wooden structures of their kind.
On Thursday, we visited the Tillamook Air Museum, 50 miles up the road in Tillamook, Oregon – best known for the Tillamook Cheese Factory tours. The museum houses a collection of 30+ airplanes and interesting exhibits, but the building itself was the big draw for me. Described as “the "World's Largest Free-Standing Wood Structure" (206 feet wide, 1072 feet long and 192 feet – over 15 stories - high), it is almost impossible to convey how massive this building is. Covering 7 acres and looming over the nearby buildings, cars and planes, it is an almost irresistible draw.
I had no idea that blimps had been used to protect ship convoys during WWII. The Air Museum is housed in a blimp hanger that could hold 8 K-ships, one of 17 wooden blimp hangers constructed by the U.S. Navy. Two hangars were built at the Naval Air Station Tillamook. Hangar "B" was the first one built, completed in the spring of 1943. Hangar "A" (destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1992) was completed in only 30 days.
A short movie detailed the building of the hangers, required to be built of wood due to wartime shortages of metal. According to the movie, the wood for ALL 17 hangers (including those on the east and south coasts) was harvested and milled in Washington and Oregon. When Oregon’s winter rains came, vehicles and tractors were mired in mud up to their axles. When the fog rolled in, crane operators, attempting to lift the crowns of the arches into place on the side pillars, weren’t able to see the tops of the pillars; spotters with radios relayed commands to the operators. Unbelievable! Amazingly, there were no serious injuries or deaths on the whole project.
These photos were part of the display in the exhibit room. On the left, the 8 inflated K-ships rest inside the hanger. On the right, that thing that looks like a centipede? Those are men carrying a deflated, folded K-ship! That really tickled me.
On Friday, we headed east, back to McMinnville and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. The two sleek museums (one for aviation, the other for space travel) and an IMAX theatre offer a completely different experience from the down-home Tillamook Air Museum, and the price reflects it ($32 per person included an IMAX movie vs $7.50 in Tillamook).
Here is another “biggest wooden structure” of its kind: the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes amazing flying boat. Don’t ask me why (I don’t know the answer), but I have always been interested in seeing the Spruce Goose – and I loved it.
Once again, it is a sight too massive to convey in a photo (taken with my camera, anyway). A nearby sign described it as “bigger than a football field”: while the wing tips would reach beyond the goal posts on each end, the tail and nose would be in the laps of the fans. It has a fascinating history, conveyed in a video that we watched while sitting in airplane seats that are used throughout the museum as rest areas and video viewing areas. Another interesting tidbit: the wing floats were filled with inflated beach balls to help provide buoyancy!
Way back in the mists of the dawn of time, Odel was a fighter jet pilot. Some of you have heard him say that he has “one more take off than landing” and know the story of his ejection from an F-4 Phantom – the close call, his close-to-final thoughts (“what would John Wayne do?”), and the second desperate yank of the D ring that finally ignited the rocket pack and blew him out of the cockpit just before the jet crashed to earth. Well, here is the cockpit and the position of the famous D ring! We carry one just like it (slightly used) in the bay of our motorhome – maybe a good luck charm?
Next we headed over to the IMAX to see “A Pilot’s Story”, following a fighter jet pilot through Operation Red Flag, a training exercise for the top Air Force pilots – the Air Force equivalent of “Top Gun”. We sat back in our chairs, settled in – and I immediately got airsick! Odel watched the movie with interest; I closed my eyes tightly each time we saw the pilot’s viewpoint, peeking out occasionally to see if the horizon was back where it belongs. Oh, well – the seats were comfortable and the theatre air conditioned. :)
Then we were off to the Space museum, filled with artifacts and exhibits of space travel, along with Shuttle landing simulators where we each were able to land our space vehicle safely. One of my favorite exhibits was a replica of Sputnik, tiny – about the size of a beach ball - and shiny, hanging from the ceiling. On a nearby wall, we read:
Soviet space chief Sergei Korolev designed Sputnik to be spherical, like a moon, and highly polished, to brightly reflect the light of the sun. He wanted earthlings to see the satellite with their own eyes and remember it always. “The first Sputnik must have a simple and expressive form, close to the shape of natural celestial bodies,” he said. “It would forever remain in the consciousness of people as a symbol of the dawn of the space age.”
I think he accomplished his goal – I certainly remember watching Sputnik pass overhead in the nighttime sky.