Yet Another Journal

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» Tuesday, October 23, 2012
By the Sea But Up in the Air
Well, snellfrocky. It looks like my Saturday Yorktown narrative has vanished. I don't know how or why. But that's for later.

Today we had breakfast, then headed for the Virginia Air and Space Center, which was only a few miles south of our hotel, in Hampton. We found the museum easily and public parking in a garage catty corner from it. Wow, Atlanta would do well to remember this...free parking, instead of soaking people.

This is a small, but very solid museum. I would recommend it especially for parents who have children just getting interested in either aircraft or spacecraft. There are tons of hands-on items for both children and adults, and it's small enough—you can see all of it in about three hours—that younger children won't be overtired.

For adults like us there are some great items of interest: my favorite was the Apollo 12 space capsule ("Yankee Clipper") which took Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Dick Gordon to the moon and back. While there were several common airplanes there, like a Stearman, a Pitts Special, and an F104, James said there were many rare planes as well, including one called "Silk Purse" because it has been gutted by NASA and really was a sow's ear at one time. It was used to test thrust vector. Another plane investigated lightning. Most of the unique planes were from NASA Langley, which is nearby. (James is disappointed because when he was assigned here in his Navy days, Langley used to have a welcome center, but it has been incorporated into the Air and Space Center.) There was also a nice exhibit on the Ploesti raid during World War II, and a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. (I saw something quite nice as I looked at the latter: an African American man came by with what looked like his daughter and granddaughter. He very reverently wiped the fingerprints and streaks off the display front.)

The space gallery had a bunch of hands-on items for the kids, plus a test model of the new Orion spacecraft that may one day take men to Mars. In a prominent stand was a piece of moonrock. There's also a fragment of a meteor that they are certain came from Mars due to its composition. One of the old lunar module trainers is there, and there is a full-size mockup of the Mars rover "Curiosity."

We took the opportunity to see the 3D IMAX film Air Racers. This intersperses the history of aviation with a young man trying to beat his father's record in the Reno Air Races. His father was the youngest person to win, and he was trying to outdo him. There is an opening bit with two World War II pilots in a dogfight that looks really cool in 3D. Nice soundtrack, too.

We had lunch at the cafe there, too, and were done about two o'clock. In the lobby we had seen a flyer for something called Air Power Park, which was only a few miles from our location, so we went. This is a geodosic dome with chiefly models, but also some memorabilia like aircraft equipment and pilot memorabilia, but the draw is outside, a collection of military aircraft and rockets and missiles. One of the rockets is a "Little Joe" which launched test Mercury capsules. There are only two of them left, including this one.

The back of the park is bordered by a bit of river and marsh with a dock to access the water, and I took a few snaps of the quiet water as well.

Just as we were about to leave, the attendant started talking with us. Well, you know what happens when two airplane fans start talking! He started out telling us how he had painted the "Grumpy" nose art for the aircraft in the Ploesti tribute. It turned out he could not use the original nose art because it was no longer politically correct. He finally did some research and discovered that the Ploesti flight group had used Disney cartoon characters as nose art, and decided to do the "Grumpy" on the aircraft instead. It turned out the actual airplane he based the original nose art on also had a "Grumpy" on it after the raid! He is the head of the Tidewater IPMS group and they have won the right to hold the Nationals in 2014. He was telling us about the money crunch that has the Air and Space Center in a bind, and how the Air Power Park was actually closed down for nine years because there were no funds for it, and just reopened last year. He recommended several museums in the area, too.

We were going to the hobby shop we tracked down the other day, but detoured to a very small needlework shop on the way. The store was pocket-sized but the proprietors welcoming, and they had a nice stock of things, including specialty threads. I bought a small remnant of brown cloth, a kit of a Thanksgiving turkey, and a band sampler that is apparently one of a series of states; it attracted me simply by being a pattern of autumn leaves and sailboats. There is only one minor reference to Connecticut that can actually be changed by fixing one letter.

We arrived at the hobby shop ten minutes before closing. The owner didn't even greet us as we came in, and James didn't like the organization of the store much. He didn't see anything unique there and we left, picked up some Chinese food next door and came back to the hotel.

And now we're watching Big Bang Theory because it's the best thing that's on television.

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