National Museum of World War II Aviation

I hadn’t visited the museum, right here in Colorado Springs, before because a new building was under construction. I finally made it on a breezy, rainy Saturday. I stayed about 3 hours. There are 20 or so planes in three hangers, all of them flyable. Not long after I arrived, I joined a tour to a fourth hanger where restoration work is done. The guide was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

The most interesting plane in that hanger was a PBY Catalina. From the sign, “This plane was delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force, which used it for anti-submarine patrols flying from Reykjavik, Iceland. Post-war, the plane served at various locations around Canada before it retired from military service in 1962. It was converted to a water bomber and spent the next 32 years as a firefighting platform.”

As the guide talked about all that went into restoring a plane, I began to wonder if “restore” was the right word. I asked how much of the plane was original. He said 20% or less. He said there was an example of a recently recovered plane in the main hanger. Here’s what that one looked like.

To get from this to a flyable aircraft seems more like reproducing than restoring. But I quibble. Some of the planes in the museum were more like the Catalina—used for other things and restored to the way they looked during the war, but never as bad off as this.

Waco JYM. From the sign, “The Waco JYM was developed in 1929 to meet the increasing demand in the 1920s for rugged air mail planes. The JYM has a single back seat for the pilot and a forward seat that could handle two slim people or packages, with a metal cover that could enclose the packages or the empty seat. For mail, there were two compartments with a lockable cover in the fuselage, one forward and one aft of the pilot. Charles Lindberg flew this plane as part of his post-Atlantic trip public relations work for Northwest Airlines.”

Grumman F3F Flying Barrel. From the sign, “The Grumman F3F-2 was the last Navy and Marine biplane fighter. It entered service in 1936, and retired from front-line service in 1941. Its short operational life served to underscore its role in the Navy’s transition from biplanes to monoplanes.  This aircraft was originally assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron VMF 2, later re-designated VMF-211, in 1937. Records indicate it crashed into a mountain at Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii Jun 24, 1941. It was recovered in 1980s and subsequently restored to the magnificent, flyable aircraft it is today. The insignia on the side of the aircraft include the blue wasp with boxing gloves of squadron VF-7 assigned to the U.S.S. Wasp and the fuselage ID of 6F6 of the Enterprise squadron.”

F3A-1 Corsair. A Navy fighter, build by Brewster. No Brewster’s Corsairs reached the front lines. From the sign, “This Corsair was assigned to VMF-914 at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station. On December 19th, 1944, it crashed in a swamp ten miles southwest of Cherry Point while on a Ground Controlled Interception training mission. The pilot parachuted but was killed. The remains were salvaged in 1990.”

SBD Dauntless. From the sign. “The SBD Dauntless was the most effective U.S. dive bomber of WWII. It sank more Japanese shipping than any other Allied bomber. Navy and Marine SBD squadrons were credited with sinking Japanese carriers in the Battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. This aircraft crashed in Lake Michigan on May 14th, 1944, following engine failure after takeoff from the USS Sable, a modified excursion steamer used for training at Great Lakes Naval Air Station. The aircraft’s remains were retrieved from Lake Michigan in the mid-1990s.”

Grumman TBM Avenger. From the sign. “The Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers built for the Navy originally carried the designation of TBF. The Avenger came into service in 1942 to replace the Douglas Devastator, but in its first combat at Midway in June 1942, it fared badly. Five out of six were shot down during an unescorted attack on Japanese ships.” There was no information specific to this particular plane.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning. From the sign, “The P-38 Lightning was the only successful twin-engine air superiority fighter of the war. It served in both Europe and the Pacific. P-38s were preferred in the Pacific because flying was either over dense jungle or the ocean; the safety of a second engine was important. The engines of the P-38 were turbocharged, so the aircraft maintained its excellent performance even at very high altitudes. The leading American Ace during WWII was Richard Bong with 40 victories, all scored in P-38s. For a time, Bong flew with the 39th Fighter Squadron. In total, 1,800 Japanese planes were destroyed by P-38s in the Pacific. This aircraft was dug out of the jungle near Finschhafen Airfield, Papua New Guinea, where it had been buried following the war. On a mission on December 31st, 1942, pilot Ken Sparks was flying this aircraft and was credited with two aerial victories. He downed one Japanese aircraft by gunfire and found himself engaged with another. While approaching each other a high speed head on, the Japanese banked left but hit Sparks’ outer right wing. It tore several feet from the wingtip, but the Zero lost its wing and crashed. Sparks went on to have 11 aerial victories in several different aircraft.”

North American B-25 Mitchell. From the sign, “In 1939, the U.S. Army Air Corps put in an order for new class of “medium” bomber. The proposal called for a twin-engine plane capable of flying 300 mph, carrying a 3,000-pound bomb load, and having a 2,000-mile range. The B-25 became most famous for outstanding work in the Pacific Theater. There, specially modified aircraft carried eight (and sometimes more) machine guns that fired forward, attacking Japanese shipping and airfields. B-25s also skipped bombs off the water and into Japanese ships. “In the Mood” was built on August 29th, 1944, in Kansas City and became a trainer, first at Turner Field in Georgia, and then at twelve other fields, until it became surplus in 1958. She was a spray tanker for about ten years. It has flown off several carriers, was in the movie Pearl Harbor and is the only B-25 to takeoff from a carrier in dry dock.”

There were several other planes, but these were the ones that caught my attention. There were also several displays, most of which contained the personal effects of a particular WWII pilot. I get why they are there, but uniforms all begin to look alike after a while. The history of major air battles and missions were spaced throughout the hanger, but they were too brief to be intriguing to me—if I want to know about things like that, I read books. But still, it was well done and I wouldn’t be surprised if I go back at some point.

The gift shop included parts of recovered WWII that could be purchased, but I settled for a museum magnet and a small model of a P-38 Lightning.

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The Short, Sad Life of a Say’s Phoebe

In the spring of the first full year we lived in our house, I noticed a Say’s Phoebe repeated attempting to build a nest on a narrow ledge on our front porch. The nest kept falling off the ledge long before the bird finished building it. I ripped the roof and one wall off an old birdhouse and nailed it up under an overhang on the porch. Before the day was through, the phoebe was building a nest in it.

The phoebes returned the next year, but did not return in 2020. This year they got a late start because a pair of House Finches used the nest early in the spring. But when they moved out, the Say’s Phoebes came back. We new they had laid eggs when they began getting aggressive when we went outside.

On July 4, I climbed up and took this photo of four just-hatched babies in the nest. They couldn’t have been more than a day or two old at the time.

Every few days, I took an update photo.

July 9

July 13

July 16

July 19 at 8:00 am. Only two of the four babies were still in the nest.

July 19 at 1:00 pm. One of the remaining babies left the nest. It landed on the roof right outside my study window and spent eight or ten minutes observing the world.

July 19 at 10:10 pm. The phoebe was taking some practice flights around the yard. As I was working at my desk, I was startled by something large flashing right past the window at high speed. My fears were confirmed. A Cooper’s Hawk grabbed the phoebe and carried it to a nearby tree. As I watched, the hawk tore into the bird. For a while, I could tell the phoebe was still alive. It flapped a bit and turned its head toward the hawk and opened its mouth in what I presume was a threat posture. It did no good. Within minutes, all that was left was a small pile of feathers in the neighbor’s yard. One of the parents called repeatedly from the top of our tree, but that did no good either.

I understand nature and even like hawks. But this was just a little bit too close to home—geographically and emotionally.

One phoebe remained in the nest. It was gone when I went outside at 6:30 on July 20. Hopefully, it and the first two made it to the open space where there is cover.

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Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo

I went to many competition rodeos as a kid with my parents, but the only rodeo I’ve seen in the past 30 years was just a performance and not very exciting. I knew Colorado Springs hosted a competition rodeo each year, but it took until this year before I got around to going. It was held at the Norris Penrose Event Center, a venue built specifically for rodeo.

We arrived an hour and a half early to look at the vendors and exhibits—which was about an hour longer than we needed. With time to kill, we decided to experience all the rodeo had to offer and headed for the BBQ buffet tent. The food was much better than we expected and we didn’t regret the choice at all.

Our seats were on the west end, near the bronco and bull chutes, which put them further from the roping and steer wrestling chute. But that was OK because the roping and steer wrestling tended to come further into the arena. The bulls, in particular, tended to stick within a couple of feet of the chutes.

It was definitely a conservative crowd. The rodeo opened with a prayer by … I forget. He didn’t mention Christ, but he definitely prayed to the God of the Bible, thanking him for creation and asking for safety for the performers. He ended with “And if any steers or calves happen to get hurt, thank you for the meat.” Which I thought was great.

It was a pleasant night—a little hot for the first half-hour or so, but then becoming pretty much perfect. Many in the crowd showed little interest in actually watching the rodeo—getting up repeatedly to get pretzels or beer or whatever. This made for a constant parade past us, which was annoying. Neither of us understood more than a third of what the announcer said.  Without further ado, here are some photos and video of the action.

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Animal #74 — Mountain Cottontail

sylvilagus nuttallii

Goldfield, Colorado — Vindicator Valley Trail

Thursday, July 15, 2021 — 2:07 pm

Mountain and Desert Cottontails are both widespread in Colorado, and I’ve never found a definitive way to tell them apart—if anyone has. I saw my lifer Desert Cottontail near La Junta, where the elevation along the Arkansas River is just above 4,000 feet, so I feel pretty confident about that one. I see cottontails in my neighborhood all the time and have never been sure which species they are.

Belinda and Elizabeth came to visit for a couple days. On Thursday, I took them up to Vindicator Valley and hiked the trail past the old gold mines. I saw this cottontail on the hillside below the first big mine hoist. The elevation there is almost 10,000 feet, and since every bit of information I can find says that Desert Cottontails don’t go above 7,000 feet, I feel confident that this was a Mountain Cottontail.

I saw it hopping away from me as I walked down the trail. It went about four feet to cover beneath a bush, where I took this photo. The hair in the ears and on the feet of a Mountain Cottontail is longer than on a Desert Cottontail, and the ears are rounder, but without seeing two of them right next to each other, these marks aren’t worth much.

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Sandstone Ranch Open Space

On the way home from Rocky Mountain National Park, I stopped and hiked four miles at a new open space north of Palmer Lake. It was about 80°, and clear, but a nice breeze off the mountains kept things from being oppressive. The trail meandered in a loop over rolling hills with some unusual rock formations scattered about. There were some patches of Ponderosa Pine and Scrub Oak. I saw 16 birds, which isn’t bad for the middle of a warm July afternoon.

Female Lesser Goldfinch

Purple Locoweed in the foreground with Sulphur Flowers in the back.

Yellow toadflax, also known as Butter-and-Eggs

Prickly Poppy. These are big (the photo is close to life-size) and floppy and look like they’re made of tissue paper.

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