Friday, March 28, 2014

shady practices

So, more than a bit of a slow news week at Casa Del Flyover, but there are some old things I can bring up.  I don't really remember what brought it up, but something reminded me of a time back when I was a teenager.  For a while in my late teens, I volunteered at an air museum.

It was pretty cool, not only because I'm a serious mil air junkie, but because the museum was a very unique one.  Instead of just displaying full aircraft with the exteriors restored, this place just had cockpits.  Lots of cockpits. The place wasn't even officially opened when I got there, but the plan was to have an experience like no other air museum: they were to have fully restored cockpits, and have them open to the public 24/7.  Now, if that don't make you intrigued, I don't know what will.
Our T-38 pit.  Wish I had a before/after pic to show the contrast.
Now, restoring vintage military aircraft cockpits is a pretty daunting task.  A big portion of the facility (actually, most of it) was dedicated to to storing and cataloging original analog instruments.  No joke, I working a massive warehouse full of these things, with racks and racks of boxed full of original instruments.  My job, for the most part, was to go through the entire Indiana Jones warehouse of inventory and group the instruments together by type or by model number if we had an excessive amount of the same kind and label them so the guys restoring the cockpits didn't have to take all day trying to find the right, dial, display, ect.

Okay, not quite that big, but close.
Since this operation tried to be as accurate as possible, this involved very authentic instruments dating all the way back to the 1930s.  Those of you in the know will be reminded that back in those days, in order to make something "glow in the dark" for night flying, they went crazy by painting just about everything with this exciting glowing stuff called radium.  I was simply told that I can't afford to brake any instrument, but if I did, to let somebody know stat, cause that stuff will set of a Geiger counter like a like a cricket.  So, the running joke was that anyone among the stack of instruments for too long would become impotent.
Now imagine this dial, but all the markings were faded this deep brown color....that's the way they all were.
Lost of fond memories of that place, but after thinking about it, despite there only being trace amounts of radium in those dials, we were surrounded by hundreds of thousands of them, later found out that radium is nearly 1000 more time radioactive than Uranium, has a distinctly negative effect on sealing compounds, turns into the brownish black of radium nitride (which nearly all of the dials were colored this way) when exposed to air, all this and I distinctly remember a couple of incidents involving a case or two being dropped and shattered before...
Neat o!
Anyways, the museum didn't exactly do well in such a small community, with little to no advertising, so it aint there anymore, but thankfully the internet is forever, and you can see some of the cool crap I used to work with:

Below is a link to a page detailing how my boss got the B-52 pit and restored it. That sucker took years.  I was there just after he first got the thing, volunteered there for years, and it wasn't done till I was long gone.  One interesting thing to note is that the B-52 we had actually dropped bombs in anger during Desert Storm.

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