Category Archives: Airplanes

Visting the Udvar-Hazy Center,29 Dec 16

Since we aren’t currently on a Cruise ship in the Carribean, sipping sugary rum drinks and wondering how the hoi polloi get by (this is a subject for another post, perhaps– we had to cancel our cruising plans) we decided to go visit the Udvar Hazy museum of flight and aeronautical technology near Dulles Airport, Chantilly, VA today. I took about 109 pictures, which I’d love to embed as an album on here, or even a slideshow. Sadly, Google’s move from Picasaweb to Google Photos makes identifying single albums in Google Photos next to impossible. So it goes. Below are a few links to many pictures of aircraft. The slide show works, but you won’t be able to read my comments. Mass adding of photographs also eliminates captioning somehow, so if you want to read my reverant, sometimes snarky, sometimes awe-struck commentary, you’ll have to go directly to the album, below.

Click here for SLIDESHOW

Click below to see the album

Enjoy. We had a blast visiting this museum.. it always has something new tucked away in a corner I haven’t seen yet.


Alexander Graham Bell was a noted authority on Kites

Here’s an interesting fact of the day.  Alexander Graham Bell, the man credited with the discovery of the modern telephone device, was absolutely gaga about heavy lifting Tetrahedral style kites.   Indeed, he spent the last part of his life feverishly working on kite design and launches at in his laboratory in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.  Bell began building kites in 1899. He was led to experiment with them because of his interest in the flying machine problem.  Orville and Wilbur Wright’s accomplishment at Kitty Hawk was still several years off, and the idea of lifting a manned heavier than air contraption was most decidedly not only on their minds.  Bell’s belief (shared by a large cadre of men) was that a successful kite will also make a successful flying machine. A kite that will support a man and an engine in a ten mile breeze will probably also support the man and engine when driven by a motor at the rate of ten miles an hour. This proposition had not been actually proved at the time, and it was a driving preoccupation with Bell.

A cross section of Bell's efforts during his lifetime, compared to the Wright Brothers and other early kite designers.

A cross section of Bell’s efforts during his lifetime, compared to the Wright Brothers and other early kite designers.

Bell’s earliest involvement with kite-building and heavy lifting designs arose from a preoccupation with the Box Kits of Lawrence Hargrave:

Early Hargrave Kite. there was a series of these.

Hargrave was an inventor and early aeronautical engineer from Australia, who had been designing box style kites since 1892. The problem with his designs was that they worked very well in smaller sizes but rapidly lost efficiency the bigger you made them.  Bell connected greater lifting area to greater wing size, and his designs sought to arrive at the efficiency point where lifting was not compromised by the weight of a larger sized wing.  To accomplish this, Bell designed some of the most beautiful aerial contraptions ever– tetrahedral kite designs.

Tetrahedrons are a sided polygon, connected in a pyramid shaped framework which is an inherently strong structure. A tetrahedral kite is formed when two sides of the four sided figure are joined, then a number of these are joined together into a large tetrahedral kite.

As you can see, the kite designs were in a number of shapes and sizes, and gradually larger with more lifting ability.

Bell was able to prove that you can create a large kite, of any size desired, without any increase in the weight to sail area. Extra bracing in larger kite structures is not really required as the tetrahedral cell braces itself. In theory the more cells you add to a structure the stronger it becomes.   Bell’s tetrahedral cells were made separately and are were 10 inches on a side. They were made from spruce rods, and covered with bright red silk. Each cell weighed about an ounce, and were joined with metal fittings. The towns people of the nearby small town Baddeck, in Nova Scotia, Canada, enlisted to make tetrahedrons, providing employment for many people.

The Cygnet, not on its barge. You can spot the pilot and the mount for an engine in this picture.

The apogee of Bell’s work with lifting kites was probably the Cygnet (above).  This was a gigantic unholy monster of a kite, with 3,393 cells assembled by Bell’s loyal Nova Scotian citizenry.   It was so large and unwieldy that it was difficult to launch from land.  So Bell and his associates built a small steam ship to launch her from and performed launches from a local lake.

The Cygnet I was launched on 6 December 1907, a certain Thomas Selfridge,* already getting a name in early aeronautical circles, piloted the kite as it was towed into the air behind a motorboat, eventually reaching a height of 168 ft. before crashing. This was the first recorded heavier-than-air flight in Canada.  The kite definitely could hold a person in the air, but further experiments with the design demonstrated many limitations.; the most obvious being the great difficulty in steering such a large rigid structure in the air.    Further experiments with a powered version of the Cygnet, the AEA Cygnet and the Cygnet III, were judged unsatisfactory — the kite could lift a man, but steered around in the air with only great difficulty.

Bell continued with the notion of powered heavier than air aircraft even in the wake of the Wright Brothers until 1909, with the launch of his last experiment, the heavier than air craft Silver Dart, which was more of an early airplane than an actual kite.

Conclusions:  Lifting kits were hardly a failure from the perspective of design, but they ultimately couldn’t provide the military functional requirement to have a steerable aircraft that could carry significant loads up into the air and land again.   Bell was a pioneer in the effort, contributing as much or more to the study of aeronautics as he did to audio technology.. yet he is hardly a footnote in the science of flight today, when compared to his other great contribution, the telephone.

* Lt. Selfridge had also become the first person killed in a powered heavier-than-air flight in a crash of the Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia, on September 17, 1908.

Emphasizing the story aspect of wargames

Conflict goes hand in hand with drama; and military conflict generates dramatic moments by the bushel load.  Very rarely are games presented as stories; as players, we tend to get caught up with either the history as it really was or the tactics of the situation we are in, or the mechanics of the game simulating the event.  There are all kinds of players out there.  One kind that I admire is the kind that can recognize the story aspect of a game and does what he or she can to try to communicate that to you in some fashion.  Like “Stuka Joe”, for instance.  Whomever that is.  Check out his video of a recent B-17: Queen of the Skies game.  Joe invested in a component upgrade and took pains to give the game a multilayered three dimensional look– and shot the event as a dramatic narrative instead of a series of dice roles (which is mostly what B-17 is– looking things up on a table and rolling a number of D6s).  Dice rolls aren’t even mentioned, just the results.  The result is a fun, dramatic narrative as “Diamond Lucy” makes her second trip over the skies of Occupied Europe.

I particularly liked the idea of inserting the faces of people the author knows as crew members on the “Diamond Lucy”, instead of just a nameless Ball Gunner, Tail Gunner, Flight Engineer, etc. Nice touch!

An Aerodrome 2.0 game at Fall IN! Somewhere over the Pacific…

I had opportunity to play Aerodrome 2.0 for the first time at the recent Fall-IN! convention, hosted by the designer of Aeordrome himself, Mr. Stan Kubiak.  Stan was running Aerodrome 2.0 all day long on Friday. I actually was planning on attending a different event, but as the GM did not deign to show up, I had some free time, and since I like Air games and this game was open at the next table, why not.

Corsairs Attack!

The game plays almost exactly like Aerodrome 1.0, which is his World War One game that came out first.   Essentially the player plays the pilot of the airplane which is represented on the table by a model on a stand.  Each plane has a series of maneuvers which are conducted on a hex grid.   Players program three phases of activity in advance, then move the plane models to see if they guessed where the enemy plane would be in time to shoot it down.  This is a mechanic common with many airplane combat games, such as Wings of War and Blue Max.    Players program movement and attacking using a very visual aircraft pilot display.

aerodrome2 board

The Aerodrome 2.0 board

Players conduct maneuvers per three phases, left to right, using a series of pegs and .22 cartridge casings for gunfire.  All of this is pretty much like Aerodrome 1.0– the real difference between 1.0 and 2.0 is the speed of the airplanes and the maneuvers they can conduct.


My Own Hapless japanese

As for my own experience, I have played Aerodrome 1.0 many times under the expert eye of Hal Dyson, a past master at this system. He has cheerfully ran Aerodrome games at every convention (local to me) for most of the past decade and a half I’ve known him. I like the system a lot, the guessing and counter-guessing and projecting where you would be 3 turns from now is a fun element of these mechanics. My Japanese pilot rose up to meet the oncoming Wildcat, jinked left through a cloud bank when it became clear I was setting him up to be riddled with bullets, flew parallel to the Allied plane (see “pilots wave at each other” in the slideshow), did a barrel roll to reverse and fly straight to gain altitude, another reverse, and then a series of complicated hard right turns. Each time you pull a hard right you have to roll a 1D6 to see if you go into a spin, and my luck ran out on the second try– I was spinning down into the ocean, and thus a sitting duck. At this stage most of us were running out of ammo, and the Americans (save one) and Japanese (save me, in a spiral) headed to the edge to exit the battlefield. The last American DID have ammo and managed to save me from an ignominious fate of plunging into the sea by blowing my airplane to bits. YAY!

I had a great time, and was pleased to meet Mr. Kubiak and play the latest iteration of his system. It plays fast and well. Mechanically, it is not very different from Wings of War for me, though– the two games are very similar in that both players have limited maneuvers– in Aerodrome you use a Blue Max style chart, in Wings of War you use a series of three maneuver cards. Of the two, I’d choose Wings of War for the cost savings– you can have a pretty good game of WoW for a lot less investment than Aerodrome. For convention games, however, I still like Aerodrome for the visual appeal.



Aerial Parade

We started noticing some odd behavior out the window of my office this morning. First, a hovering Black Hawk helicopter about a mile off, marking his spot in the air.

Blackhawk, kind of fuzzy.  Click to see larger

THEN, the Air Force Thunderbirds zoom by, doing a weird aerial maneuver. A formation of three doing a fan out with a center spiral.

Go Thunderbirds, GO!

They usually do this in groups of six.

Attempt number one: LAME!

Thunderbirds aerial maneuver one

Attempt number two: SHOWS IMPROVEMENT!

Much Better, Thunderbirds!!

What was the cause of all this wonderful acrobatic activity?


(that’s a flight of A-10s sweeping by, making an impressive SKRREEEEEEEEEEEEEE! noise)

Turns out the GodAwful monstrosity next to the Pentagon, the thing that looks like three construction cranes, ISN’T a new close air defense item that will cast nets up to stop airplanes from crashing into the Pentagon. Too bad, that was my favorite theory.

Apparently it’s the new AIR FORCE MEMORIAL site, due to be dedicated with much pomp and circumstance tommorrow. Personally, I think it’s hideous, the most butt-ugly abstract memorial I’ve ever seen. The three “Swoops” are the cause for the mysterious “limited to three” maneuver the Thunderbirds have been practicing (and making a hash of– we were all thinking that maybe the Navy should lend them the Blue Angels to get the job done). They want their contrails to emulated the statue in midair.

What a pity this *thing* will be here for all the future generations to see… ugh.

Air Force Art Collection for 2006

C’est la Guerre and Bon Chance

Paul Yetmar, a LCDR in the Navy and friend of mine, dropped by with a gift today.

It turns out the Air Force maintains its own art collection, pertaining to aviation and flight topics. Most of them either feature an airplane of some sort or a memorable instance in military aviation history. Here’s an example of one, TOP COVER by William Marsalko. The imprssive thing about the Air Force art collection is that not all of the subjects are of American aviation, Top Cover demonstrates.

Every year, The Air Force selects a painting (or paintings) to be part of their lithograph collection. This year’s selection came as a bit of a surprise to me. Jim Dietz’s time series paintings of BON CHANCE and C’EST LA GUERRE feature the exact same scene and the same grouping of subjects. In the first painting, BON CHANCE (good luck!), a cheerful group of young RFC flyers in World War I are off for their morning patrol. The Reconnaissance officers all have their machine guns on their shoulders and the pilots display a typical cocky attitude. Take a moment to look at the painting. Whom is the young woman on the right looking at? In the second painting, C’EST LA GUERRE, what has transpired? Observe the behavior of the dogs in both paintings. What about the squadron officer, seen through the window in the first painting?

Pretty different for the Air Force, particulary at this gung ho point in history. A very commendable choice of subject, in my opinion. And here’s the great part. You can get these lithos for free! That’s right, the AF has printed them up by the pallete load and they are easy to obtain. Follow this link to the USAF Art Collection website to get more details.

I’m getting mine framed. Hanged if I know WHERE I’m going to hang these but I love ’em.

A Visit to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, expansion location for Air and Space

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

I have never been to this expansion facility to the Air and Space museum yet; the outrageous parking fees (12 bones!!) hav ing kept me away before now.

Some other holiday plans having fallen through, we bundled up the children and headed over there during the holidays.

On this map, these pictures represent ONLY those aircraft in the Northern Section of the hangar.

There’s so much to see here, I’m breaking this up into two sections, as people complain about posts with a gazillion pictures in them.

So without further ado, highlights from:

Cold War, Korea, Vietnam and Modern Era fighters

My children in front of the formidable SR71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane.

The museum actually has one of Curtis “Cold War” LeMay’s trademark cigars.

This is the Bell UH1 Iroquois, popularized in Vietnam and many ‘Nam war movies.

I was taking notes like a madman, but missed this. I *think* it is a Soviet SA-7 GTA missile.

Going ’round the corner, I pause to snap a picture of the new Joint Strike Fighter.

This is the Grumman A-6 Intruder, now out of service inventory.

This is the Lockheed Shooting Star, one of our first jets. Shooting Star pilots were in for a rude awakening when it went up against the MiG-15!

Speaking of which, here’s one now. Matched againsit is the North American counterpart:

The North American F-86 Saber, a strong match for the MiG-15.

And here’s a MiG-21 Fishbed

OUR version of the V-1 Buzz Bomb, built by OUR kidnapped German Rocket Scientists.

A shot of some aircraft gunnery

I was quite taken with the MiG-15 and F-86 being so close to one another, so I shot them again from another angle:

They’re like a matched set!!

We’ll close out with a little American Army GTA missile, the Little John:

Next Intallment: World War 2 and Interwar.

NOTE: Mark Onomarchos also has visited Udvar-Hazy, and had these pics to share on his SMUG MUG blog.

First Play: Burning Drachens (Wings of War)

Balloon Busting

Garrett (aged 7) and I tried out the new WINGS OF WAR expansion, BURNING DRACHENS, yesterday.

Gar loves this series and suggests it frequently. He is comfortable enough with the game to know what plane to pick (“the one with all the damage points, daddy!”), and he knows what a maneuver and a damage deck is (see previous games with “Watch your Back”).

Drachens introduces strafing, altitude changes, barrage balloons, and artillery. The only new planes are the Nieuport, the Pfalz, and the Albatros.

We chose the scenario where a single Nieuport tries to take down a barrage balloon protected by two AA guns. A single Albatross is protecting the German side.

I flew in from the left, dodging the AA (interesting mechanic here.. the shooting player has to guess where the plane will fly and try to land his arty shots there on the third execution of movement cards). This turned out to be easier to do than it looks, but then again I was outguessing a seven year old.

So none of the arty hit me, and I got inside his AA arc close enough to get two ROCKET shots off to hit the barrage balloon squarely. Alas, they didn’t do near enough damage to take out the balloon (9 out of 22 points) but it DID start a fire. So I pulled out of the stall, banked left, and got riddled with bullets by the Albatros, furiously defending his charge. That jammed my rudder left, and I had to fly in circles.

Gar made some mistakes here and maneuvered in the wrong direction… this resulted in me lining up on him ONE more time, to devastating point blank effect (but it also did for me). I was down quite a bit and flying in circles; Gar eventually crashed. Since a fire draws a damage card once per turn, it took 8 turns to blow it up..

A victory of sorts, but not a very decisive one.

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Flickr images appear to be dead. My apologies.

GAMEDAY: Famous Aces: Watch your Back!

Slaughter of the Innocents


The game series being played is WINGS OF WAR by Nexus, distributed by Fantasy Flight in the United States. Spawn (Gar) likes the first game of this series (Famous Aces), and wanted to try the follow up, Watch your back! Gar is seven, kind of impatient, and very smart. He can get very aggressive in a game system that he understands. He HAS shot me down before in the first game. Watch your Back! brings more airplanes into the game, but doesn’t appear to change the rulebook at all from the first game, which is a little confusing, as there are some new bits in WYB, like “blank” maneuver cards.

I wanted to see more planes in this system. The scenarios are fairly weak in both games, but you can ALWAYS generate a random dogfight if you have enough planes. I think there’s something missing in both rulebooks because I still have an imperfect knowledge of all the game components and what they do. Not everything is explained adequately– I suspect it’s a function of the translation.

Still, the basic dogfighting mechanism is fairly sound and very exciting– and the random dogfight is mostly what Gar and I like to play with. Wings of War can be a lot of fun in a “Blue Max”, “Ace of Aces” kind of way. This is a pictorial of our first game of Watch Your Back! together (as straight WYB.. we have played both games combined before). Sorry the pics were so blurry. A Palm Zire isn’t the best camera in the world. If you want to see a larger picture, click on it to view.

First Pic: starting position

Gar is not as sleepy as he looks, but it is close to his bedtime. He brought the game up as a classic stall tactic, and as we had a half hour I was keen on giving it a try.

Second Pic: my plane card

I’m flying the Italian Nieuport, which is really fragile compared to Gar’s Austrian UFANG. I’ve got 10 points of damage to play with, he’s got 17.

An Ill-Advised start!

This is not a good beginning; Gar turns tail and flys off in the direction of the table edge. I convince him that he is flying the far superior, more maneuverable plane, and he should go on the attack. He realizes his mistake quickly.

Chasing the UFANG

Gar, Gar, Gar…. tch tch tch… a beeline straight away from me is not a good idea, no matter what kind of maneuver cards you are playing, buddy!

Dang! too far!

Curses! Foiled by the long range. I have the Ufang in my sights, but he’s just THAT far enough away to get a long shot on him. He’s working on a dodge to the left, I can tell.

Slipping to the left..

I’m sideslipping left to line up another shot as he banks to the left. I have you now!!!

and again!

One again, moving off to the left.

Straight versus Bank...

Ooops, I don’t like this combination of maneuvers… HE CAN TURN INSIDE MY TURN! I may be in for it here!!!


Still NO SHOT! Blast! I have to move now..

Side slip versus tight turn

Another bad combo. I thought I could sideslip out of this bad position, but he turned inside again. He’ll be coming in on my flank here… FAST…


Well, I knew I was going to take some gunfire…


Eat it up, Daddy!

getting guns to bear.

Well, that hurt, but at least I can get my guns point in the right direction, eh?


Budda budda budda budda… eat hot flaming lead!!!!!


ONE MEASILY POINT???!! Aw c’mon…


We rapidly disengage and work new angles. Maybe an Immelman turn…?

blurry, but that's how it goes...

I work an Immelman turn, Gar heads away from me.

Second phase of maneuvering

I’ll get you yet, RED BARON!


This is where the battle went bad for Gar. he turns in exactly the wrong direction, and I’m the back of his plane like “stank on a pig!”

Another shot in!

The damage cards are not favoring me tonight! A mere 1 pointer!

Staying close

As long as I can stay with him and turn with him, I’ll get more shots in…

Bad news for Gar

The angle now favors YOURS TRULY!! Can I take advantage of this positioning?

More Flaming Lead

Eat more hot flaming LEAD!!! Aw, come ON!! Not another #@%^%$%^$ ONE card???!

Jinking out of there!

Gar wildly tries to jink out of the lne of fire… But I counter him nicely.. I have you NOW!!!

Not so FAST!

“Not with THAT card, Daddy!”

And guess what..To top that off.. my guns jam!


Gar expresses his righteous contempt for my gunfire standards…

Plucked for the kill!

Three turns of following close later… I clear my guns, line up for the shot… and hear:


We agreed that Gar was the victor, as he had less overall damage on his plane at the end of the game. He shook hands with me (he’s quite a sportsman), and thanked me for the game, then trundled off to beddy-bye.

SUMMARY: A great time was had by us both. I like the basic fighting system, but think the rulebooks need a re-edit to explain (adequately) what all the components DO in this game. I think the casual player would greatly love to see a better historical commentary about the actual historical planes being represented by these cards.. I know I would. The scenarios and a campaign system really need some work. Other than that, this is a great system which has born up against several replays.