30 March, 2006

Plane Pron

While I was in San Diego my mother and I went to the Midway Museum again (it was her first time). She had much the same reaction as I did--a combination of amazement, gratitude, and a sense of somehow trespassing. She said that she felt the urge to hush people and shoo them away, as if the layers of sailors who had served on Midway over its 50 years of service had hallowed it and so we should be reverent. I can certainly relate to that. It inspires such a bundle of thoughts and emotions: from pride in "American ingenuity" and power, to amazement at the skill and knowledge it took to run it, to gratitude for those who served on it and sometimes gave their lives in that service.

The best part about it is interacting with the museum docents and guides. They are all former Sailors or Marines, and many of them served on Midway at some point. They can discuss the displays and equipment around them in great detail, and often have interesting stories to tell. My favorite guides are the former pilots who talk with visitors about flying jets on and off the flight deck. They leave their listeners laughing at their jokes and amazed at the skill and courage of the pilots and the deck personnel who made it all possible.

The funniest part was when I was talking to a Vietnam-era piliot about the catapult. I expressed my amazement at the craziness of the job of a naval aviator, mentioning that part of me thinks it would be tons of fun, but the other part boggles at the thought of what they have to do. He said, "Oh, you get used to it. It's really no big deal for the pilot," thinking I was talking simply about the launch. It was very amusing to watch his offhand tone of voice and breezy bravado change when I said, "Oh no, I was talking about the landings!" I swear I saw him blanche a little as he said, "Oh, yeah. That's hard." I hope I didn't offend him when I laughed aloud!

[I tried to get some good photos, but it was pretty crowded and I had to grab shots where I could.]

The great thing about this time was that I went there armed with the knowledge that one of Lex's old planes was on the flight deck. It was there the last time I visited, but I didn't know it at the time. Kinda funny how lines cross: I've now "met" one of the planes he's flown more times than I've met Lex, haha! [higher res here]

This was my first up-close view of an F-4 Phantom (below). Very cool! According to the markings on the other side, it also served on U.S.S. Coral Sea as part of VF-51. [higher res]

More displays and areas of the ship are now open to visitors than when I was there last. This was the first time we were able to go into Primary Flight, the area from which the Airboss directs the movement of planes both on the ship and in the air. Our guide described the amazing amount of activity in that tiny room, and we marvelled. I don't know if it's done this way on more modern carriers, but on Midway the status of each plane was marked on the backside of a clear display in Pri Fly by a sailor writing backwards with a grease pencil so that the Airboss could have a constantly up-to-date reference at a glance. I liked this section even better than the Bridge. The first picture below is a view from Primary Flight, facing the stern. The second is from the Bridge, facing the bow (that's U.S.S. Nimitz in the background, if I recall correctly.

[higher res here and here]

It was truly thrilling to stand there with those views, imagining all the planes moving around the deck and and all the people busy with the jobs that made that amazing ship run... I was filled with such a sense of longing at that point that I honestly wished I'd joined the Navy.

If you are ever in San Diego, don't miss the chance to visit the Midway Museum. New displays continue to be opened below deck, and new aircraft are also being added. If I lived in San Diego, I think I'd pay for a full museum membership just so I could visit as often as I liked. It's a wonderful place.