Friday, May 12, 2017

NASCAR in the South, Part Six: May 12, 2017--Carolinas Aviation Museum and Streetside Classics

At last: flying my own McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II!
Our schedule was open on this day, letting us tour around the Charlotte area.  A slight change of pace was in order as we decided to look at airplanes instead of cars this morning, driving to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, home of the Carolinas Aviation Museum.

Entrance to the Carolinas Aviation Museum
North Carolina has a strong connection to aviation history as it was in this state that the Wright Brothers conducted their flying experiments, culminating in the first successful controllable powered flight on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk.  The first exhibit upon entering the museum is a replica of that famous Wright Flyer airplane.

A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum was founded in 1992 and was originally housed in a hangar built in 1932 at the airport, but subsequently moved to its current climate-controlled facility in 2010.  The collection includes around 50 static display aircraft, as well as artifacts related to aviation history in North and South Carolina.  There is an emphasis on military aircraft but some very interesting civilian ones are present as well.  There is material related to Piedmont Airlines, which was founded in North Carolina in 1948 and operated until merged into USAir in 1989.  The successor to that airline, the current American Airlines, maintains an important hub operation at the Charlotte airport, and we saw a great deal of airliner activity during our visit.  Control tower conversations are piped into the museum.

Of course, the centrepiece of the museum is a civilian aircraft, a US Airways Airbus A320, registration N106US.  It was this airplane, Flight 1549, that was departing LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, headed to Charlotte, when it collided with a large flock of Canada geese near the George Washington Bridge, immediately losing all power.  In a flight that lasted only 208 seconds, the quick-thinking and very experienced pilots successfully ditched the Airbus in the Hudson River.  With the proximity of boats all 155 passengers and crew were safely out of the airplane and the river within 24 minutes with no fatalities.  This was a remarkable feat as water landings of airliners have never been this successful and the flight was the subject of a 2016 movie.  The airplane was acquired by the museum in 2010.

Although most of the aircraft are Cold War jets, there are some other worth exhibits.  I particularly liked the beautiful Savoia-Marchetti S.56C biplane amphibian.  An Italian design, it was first flown in 1924 and license production began in the United States in 1929, where 43 were constructed over the production run.  This particular airplane was owned by Zachary Smith Reynolds, the youngest son of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds, who began flying at age 14 and was the youngest person to receive an Air Transport Rating at 17.  He bought the S.56C in 1930 and had it converted to a single seater with extra fuel tanks for a planned around-the-world flight.  Reynolds had the airplane shipped to London and flew it to Hong Kong, although he covered ocean portions by boat. This is one of only two surviving S.56s, the other being in a museum on Long Island, New York.

Not mentioned in the signage, Reynolds was a high-living type.  Married at age 18 to the daughter of the founder of the Cannon Mills textile empire, he conducted an affair with a bisexual actress seven years his senior.  He married her following divorce from his first wife but died under mysterious circumstances seven months later, aged 20.  First thought to be suicide, a coroner's inquiry ruled it as a murder and police charged Reynolds' wife.  A lack of evidence meant she was soon freed, although pressure from the powerful Reynolds family may have been placed on authorities to avoid a scandal.  If he would have survived until reaching 21, Smith Reynolds would have inherited $17 million.  As it was, his siblings fought over the inheritance.

Lockheed TV-2/T-33 Shooting Star flown by the US Navy

LTV A-7E Corsair II used in Operation Desert Storm (left); McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II, used in Marine Corps flight testing (right)

McDonnell Douglas F4-B Phantom II

Douglas A4D-1 Skyhawk
Douglas D558-1 Skystreak experimental jet, one of three constructed for testing in transonic flight regions.  Maximum speed of this straight wing airplane was 650 mph.  This example, built in 1949, was flown 81 times, and its pilots included noted test pilot Scott Crossfield .
McDonnell Douglas F4-B Phantom II

Gyrodyne QH-50 DASH co-axial helicopter anti-submarine drone, first flown in 1963 and meant for ships too small to carry a full-sized helicopter.  755 were built before the program ended in 1969.  Although considered expendable some remain in operation for towing targets at the White Sands test range.
Boeing-Stearman N2S Kaydet training airplane, one of some 10,620 built for numerous Allied airforces.  Production began in 1934 and ended in 1945.  Many are still flying.

The ERCO Ercoupe was designed by engineer Fred Weick to be the safest airplane on the market, using interconnected rudder and aileron controls.  It was produced by various manufacturers from 1940 until 1969.  Weick went on to become noted as the designer of the famous Piper Cherokee line of light aircraft.

Douglas C-47 in Piedmont Airline colours.  The DC-3 was the civilian version.

Cockpit procedures trainer used for familiarizing Boeing 727-100 pilots with the airplane
Grumman Gulfstream II business jet, Serial No. 001, first flown in October 1966

Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-7B, built in 1957 and in airworthy condition following a six year restoration project started in 2003.  It has been on static display in Charlotte since 2014.

Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger (left); McDonnell Douglas F-101B Voodoo (right)
Following our visit to the museum, it was time to look at cars again.  The Charlotte/Concord area has a number of interesting car dealerships that are basically consignment houses focused on collector cars.  I had seen advertising for several of them and we decided to visit Streetside Classics, not far from the Charlotte Motor Speedway and our hotel.  The showroom boasts 50,000 square feet and inventory is usually around 260 cars.  The model must be successful as the firm has six locations in the South and Southwest.  Cars range from Corvettes (lots of them) to elaborate hot rods to 1930s sedans.

We were not the only Corvette owners visiting the showroom that day!

1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible, occupying the whole lobby


A very eclectic mix, from Lincoln Town Cars to 1950s Chevy Gassers

REO Touring Car

Shelby Cobra Replica

An unusual replica, this is a Beck Lister.  Beck Development was noted for Porsche replicas but also offered this model, a version of the Lister Knobbly racing car of 1958.  The original used Jaguar engine in 1958, while the Beck car generally meant to be powered with a Chevrolet V8; suspension was from a C4 Corvette.  Performance would be equivalent to a Cobra's.

If one engine is good, two must be better!

Dale Earnhardt Sr. worship
Our "NASCAR in the South" tour concluded with the final official event, a superb prime rib and king crab Farewell Dinner at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Club.  Everyone was present, including many members of the Queen City Corvette Club who had been active with us throughout the tour.  Another great event and we were all sorry to see it come to an end.

Continue on to the final Part--Homeward Bound--here...

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