Naval Aviator, Astronaut, Businessman
Dale Gardner was one of only six Space Shuttle astronauts to fly the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) propulsion backpack. On Discovery’s STS-51A mission in November 1984, he flew untethered to capture the errant Westar 6 communications satellite and steer it back into the orbiter for return to Earth. His crewmate Joe Allen retrieved another communications satellite, Indonesia’s Palapa B-2, the same way. Allen flew the MMU that is displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Discovery; Gardner flew an identical one that remains at Johnson Space Center.
Both Allen and Gardner captured their assigned satellites using a “stinger” device (a training mockup is in the stored collection), and then used the MMU to stop each satellite’s slow rotation and hand it off to the Remote Manipulator System arm operated by Anna Fisher. That part of the job went as planned, but latching the nine feet long by seven feet wide, 4,400 kg (9,600-pound) cylindrical satellites into the payload bay proved to be much harder than anticipated due to a slight hardware misfit. The crew reverted to “Plan B” and literally manhandled the two satellites into place. Allen credited Gardner with quick thinking and directing Plan B.
Gardner was the spacewalking astronaut holding a For Sale sign in a humorous photo taken at the end of this salvage task. This mission marked the first retrieval of satellites from space for return to their owners, avoiding a complete loss of insured property. The Westar was refurbished and later re-launched, proving the value of this new ability.
Before the retrieval effort, the STS-51A crew successfully deployed two other communications satellites. This freed room in the payload bay to bring Palapa and Westar home, and also gave the crew bragging rights for the first (and only) “Two Up, Two Down” satellite deployment and retrieval mission.
Gardner entered the astronaut corps as a mission specialist in 1978 after serving in the U.S. Navy as an aviator and project manager assigned to the F-14 Tomcat development. He was a member of the first operational F-14 Tomcat squadron and served two tours on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He logged over 2,000 hours flying time in more than 20 different aircraft.
Gardner also flew on Challenger (STS-8 in 1983) along with the first African American astronaut on the first shuttle mission to launch and land at night. In both flights, he logged a total of 337 hours (14 days) in space, 12 hours in two spacewalks, and more than an hour in the MMU.
During the almost-three-year pause in shuttle missions after the 1986 Challenger tragedy, his next assigned flight was cancelled. Gardner returned to active duty in the Navy, serving in the U.S. Space Command and holding senior positions in Space Control. In 1990 he moved on to a career in the aerospace industry and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, from which he retired in 2013.
Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.
On April 3, 1964, Jerrie Mock stood next to her Cessna 180 at Dhahran Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The crowd of men before her looked puzzled and then one of them dashed forward to look into the cockpit. In her book Three-Eight Charlie, Mock recalled: “His white-kaffiyeh-covered head nodded vehemently, and he shouted to the throng that there was no man. This brought a rousing ovation.”
What in the world was an American woman doing flying a plane alone to Saudi Arabia where no woman was allowed to drive a car? Well, actually Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock was flying her Cessna around the world and she was already two weeks into a flight that no woman had yet completed, not even the indomitable Amelia Earhart. On her round-the-world attempt with her navigator Fred Noonan in 1937, Earhart disappeared without a trace into an afterlife of speculation and theory. Now, 27 years later, here was Jerrie Mock, a mother of three with 750 hours of flight time, a newly-minted instrument rating, and a determination to see the world. She also had a 1953 Cessna 180, a rugged single-engine four-seat airplane officially named Spirit of Columbus, for her Ohio hometown, but which she affectionately called Three-Eight Charlie, per its registration number N1538C, or simply Charlie, the aviation alphabet code word for “C.” Today, Charlie is suspended at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it celebrates Jerrie Mock as the first woman to fly around the world (March 19-April 17, 1964).
While a far cry from the average pilot of the era, defined as a male weighing 180 pounds, the petite Mock was also not your average suburban wife — to be honest, she was bored, and so she earned her pilot license at age 32. She and her husband Russell loved to fly around the Midwest and but she longed to visit countries she had always dreamed of as a child. Russ suggested a world flight and Jerrie enthusiastically said why not? So Russ and co-owner Al Baumeister outfitted the high-wing Cessna with dual directional finders and short-range radios, a long range high-frequency radio with trailing wire, an autopilot and three extra fuel tanks to extend its range to an impressive 3,500 miles. The Columbus Dispatch newspaper signed on as a major benefactor, while Cessna, Javelin Aviation, and others assisted as well. Mock prepared her routing, with help from an Air Force friend, making sure she would exceed the required official distance for a round-the-world flight of 36,788 kilometers (22,858.8 miles) and she gathered all required paperwork for the flight. She would even forsake her slacks for a more diplomatic drip-dry skirt and sweater set (taking off her high-heels while flying but looking all the while as a woman off to bridge club instead of flying around the world).
The tone of the flight changed dramatically when the National Aviation Association informed her that another woman, Joan Merriman Smith, was also considering a world flight; Mock quickly submitted her final paperwork as the official pilot seeking the first female round the world record. When Mock learned Smith would depart in her twin-engine Piper Apache in mid-March, to follow Earhart’s equatorial route, she moved up her departure from April 1 to March 19, two days after Smith. With a kiss to her husband and children, the “flying housewife” departed Port Columbus Airport, Ohio, eastbound for Bermuda. After dueling with icing over the Atlantic and sandstorms along the African coast, she inadvertently landed at Inchas Air Force Base in Egypt to be met by armed soldiers. Perhaps a male pilot would have been detained, but the bewildered soldiers kindly pointed out nearby Cairo International Airport a few miles away and, after dark, cleared her for take-off. While there she crossed off one of her life goals, visiting the pyramids. Perhaps it was her optimistic, practical nature that carried her through, along with attention to detail (Earhart take note) and a measure of good luck; Smith was not so lucky, beset with mechanical problems.
Diplomatic and military officials and local aero clubs often greeted her but Mock could find her own way around a town too. She relished the dramatic cultural changes in food and dress, as women’s full dark hijabs in the Middle East bloomed into brightly-colored saris or pantaloons of India. She became keenly aware of the dramatic difference in flight rules and the near total absence of the American concept of general aviation; controlled airspace and airports meant red-tape, delays, and outlays of cash. She worried: “Do you think it could ever get like this at home?” As she flew over Vietnam on a 13-hour flight from Bangkok to Manila, she noted: “Somewhere not far away a war was being fought, but from the sky above, all looked peaceful.”
With her four longest flights over the Pacific still ahead of her, the press only wanted to talk about the unfortunate Earhart. Undaunted because she had the proper equipment and training, Mock flew on without a hitch except for missing a luau in Hawaii — canceled by her overzealous husband who thought she would need the sleep (shades of Earhart’s husband-manager George Putnam?). On April 14, she flew the final and longest ocean leg of 3877 km (2,409 miles) from Honolulu to Oakland, California, and she arrived home in Columbus on April 17.
President Lyndon Johnson presented her with the Federal Aviation Agency’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service on May 4, 1964; however she did not win the female Harmon Trophy for that year – it went instead to Joan Merriam Smith who completed her flight 25 days after Mock. Perhaps Smith’s death in early 1965 had something to do with that. Mock later set several more distance and speed records.
Why did it take so long for this world flight to be accomplished? After Earhart’s loss it appears that no woman had even made a serious attempt. To be sure, World War II banned general aviation but though the annual All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race began in 1948, this great adventure remained. Potential pilots such as Jerrie Cobb come to mind but the most accomplished female pilot of the day, Jacqueline Cochran, who also had the money, never considered the flight. Cochran instead set her sights on becoming the first woman to fly the speed of sound and eventually set more records than any man or woman of the era. Perhaps it was her friendship with Earhart that made Cochran shy away from this one — she had feared for Earhart’s safety and indeed was not surprised when Earhart disappeared.
Whatever the reasons, Jerrie Mock made the flight and earned her place in aviation history. Today, she is as spunky as ever and she is still awaiting a movie on her record adventure — Hollywood please take note. Seven years ago she joined us for our Become a Pilot Family Day, held each June at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Independent as ever, the octogenarian refused to fly in a commercial airliner, instead making the trip from Florida as a passenger in the familiarity of two small general aviation airplanes.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Mock’s world flight, a display of selected paperwork, photographs, and her sunglasses is in the General Aviation exhibit station case at the Udvar-Hazy Center, not far from her beloved Charlie, both testaments to the character and accomplishments of Jerrie Mock.
March 15, Women in Aviation and Space Day, Udvar-Hazy Center.
Wendy Hollinger, publisher of a new edition of Jerrie Mock’s Three-Eight Charlie, and Curator Dorothy Cochrane will speak at 12:30 pm. Hollinger will also be signing books at the Museum shop.
Dorothy Cochrane is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
Conservator Lauren Horelick, Post-Graduate Conservation Fellows Anna Weiss and Peter McElhinney, and retired treatment artisan Karl Heinzel continue to prepare the Horten jet wing to move to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. We have pushed back the Horten move to early spring in order to concentrate on finishing the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver by March 15.
Conservation is studying four different aspects of the materials used to build the jet: wood, adhesives, metals, and coatings. The conservators have found three types of wood. The outer skin is made of plywood of varying shapes and thicknesses and reinforced in some areas with laminated lumber supports. These supports also serve to affix the plywood skin to the metal structural framework. Artisans during World War II used lumber in the construction of the canopy rear section, and elsewhere such as the aft end of the center section and in the air brake assembly. The small blocks of wood that serve as ‘spacers’ between the plywood skin and the metal airframe represent a third wood type that the conservators characterize as birch based on preliminary analysis. These blocks appear to be layers of thinner veneers stacked and glued under pressure to the required thickness. In this blog update, we will look more closely at the plywood and examine the lumber supports, spacer blocks, metals, and coatings in future updates.
Here is a small sample cross section of plywood removed from beneath a metal engine cover near the front of the aircraft. The wood is in good condition and is representative of much of the wood used throughout the plywood skin. The cross section indicates the plywood in this area is made from sheets of 5-ply wood that artisans during World War II stacked and glued under pressure to create a wooden panel of the required thickness. Note the grey colored adhesive layer between each 5-ply layer. Conservators examined the sample and photographed it using a Hirox 3-D Digital Microscope. The veneer width and the number of plys used to make the individual plywood layers is consistent with the historical records, see Lacey, P.M.C., Rutherford, H.C., Pollard, G.J.T., Austin, J.B. 1945. Investigation of Targets connected with the German Plywood, Improved Wood, Shuttle Block, and Joinery Industries, British intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee Final Report No. 348. Image by Pete McElhinney.
Identifying the wood species used to produce the plywood proved more complex than originally anticipated. Conservators identify wood by using the microscope to compare features visible in the three different cuts (or planes) from a sample piece of wood- the cross-sectional plane, the radial plane, and tangential plane:
The unknown sample is visually compared to known reference samples. Depending on the particular wood species, key diagnostic features, and visual patterns of diagnostic value are visible in each of the three planes described above.
With thin veneers as seen above in the first photo, the exposed surface area of the cross-sectional and radial planes available for analysis is quite small. Furthermore, the penetration of glue into the wood layer, and the pressure used to make the plywood can distort some of the microscopic features useful for species identification.
Identifying the plywood sample above started with the premise that the veneers most likely came from Common Birch (Betula pendula) or European Beech (Fagus sylvatica). Post-Graduate Fellow Pete McElhinney characterized the wood by processing the sample shown above to produce thin tangential sections of the individual veneers. He sliced thin sections through the 0.2 mm thin veneer ends and mounted the sections on a microscope slide.
We can see one of the main differences between the two species of Birch and Beech in the tangential plane. Ray cells are involved in moving materials within the woody stem, and variations in the number of cells comprising the width of the ray can aid species diagnosis. In Common Birch, the ray structures do not exceed four cells in width whereas in European Beech, the ray structure can measure up to twenty cells wide, see Schoch,W.,Heller,I.,Schweingruber, Wood anatomy of central European Species.
The gallery above illustrates the different ray widths of Common Birch and European Beech that implicate Beech (in combination with historical research) as the more likely wood used to produce the Horten IX V3 plywood panels.
Post-Graduate Conservation Fellows Anna Weiss and Peter McElhinney work in the Collections Department; Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
On the evening of Friday, February 21, friends of legendary pilot Bob Hoover will gather with him at Paramount Studios Theater in Los Angeles to celebrate his “Lifetime of Achievement.” We doubt this Red Carpet event will make Access Hollywood but of course that is not the point. Instead, these friends will gather to honor an exceptional man with extraordinary flying skills and, hopefully, to hear Bob tell a few more of his incredible stories.
It was an earlier legendary pilot, General James “Jimmy” Doolittle, leader of the Doolittle Raid into China in World War II and of 1930s air racing fame, who anointed Bob Hoover as the greatest stick and rudder man who ever lived. It means he really knew how to handle an airplane and an acknowledgment such as this only happens when a real gift is discovered, honed, and played out over a lifetime. You can read about Bob’s career in his own book, Forever Flying, and in countless other chapters, essays and online links, including the National Air and Space Museum, and numerous Halls of Fame and military and honorary medal citations: self-taught aerobatic pilot who overcame air sickness; World War II fighter pilot and POW; military and civilian test pilot charged with flying propeller and first line jet aircraft beyond their limits; aerobatic, air racing, and air show pilot. These are the nuts and bolts of Bob’s career. The Distinguished Flying Cross is perhaps his highest military honor but that was only the start. His career is the stuff of Hollywood legend and indeed there are at least two documentaries ready to spread the word.
Admittedly, many other skilled pilots have had remarkable careers so why is Bob Hoover so respected by his peers and beloved by the aviation community? It is the combination of his extraordinary flying skills, a diverse and enduring aviation career, and his interest in and commitment to people of the aviation community. Beyond the instructional and flight test efforts, beyond his practical knowledge of the art of flying and his intuitive aeronautical problem solving, is his genuine enthusiasm for his craft, his life, and people.
Bob loves to share his experiences with readers and live audiences as much as they love hearing him. You are with him as he repeatedly attempts escape from a German prison camp, finally commandeers a Luftwaffe FW-190, and then realizes he must be the “dumbest Army Air Force pilot ever to be flying an enemy plane into Allied airspace.” You are with him at the infamous test pilot watering hole, the Happy Bottom Riding Club near Muroc (later Edwards)Air Force Base, California. You are with him as he loses the chance of a lifetime — to become the first to fly the speed of sound. You are with him for “forty minutes of stark terror” in the cockpit of an out-of-control F-86 that he miraculously brings safely to ground. You are with him when his airmanship outshines the Soviets in Moscow and only the divine intervention of cosmonaut hero Yuri Gagarin saves him from Siberia. And you are with him when he gently convinces the notoriously crowd-adverse Charles Lindbergh to relax and enjoy himself with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
The respect that oozes from the public is palpable because he is telling stories about incredible success and tragedy, and he is telling stories on himself and his acquaintances. He’s advising us all to do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals, including swapping paperwork or going around authority, but to do so in a purposeful manner. He is not a saint. He will give you an honest account of a person or situation; he does not have an agenda. Fighter pilots are known to be an arrogant bunch, but you won’t find that with Bob. What you will find are determination, courage, self-inflicted wounds, compassion, and humor. Most of all, day after day, Bob Hoover is a true gentleman.
The Museum is proud to display Bob’s last airshow aircraft, a stock North American Rockwell Shrike Commander 500S, in which he flew the final iteration of his trademark energy management routine, accomplished with two-, one-, and no-engine maneuvers. You can look it up on You Tube where you will also find footage of him perfectly rolling his plane around its axis while pouring a glass of ice tea and not spilling a drop. Bob’s final flare of air-showmanship occurred in the fall of 2003 when he and his ferry pilot delivered the Shrike to the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Center in Virginia. After his approved fly-by of the Hazy Center’s Donald Engen Tower, he taxied the aircraft up and, much to everyone’s surprise, directly into the north entrance of the Center. Then Hoover, always the gentleman, calmly walked away after a distinguished career of test flights, crashes, performances, and perfect landings to airshow center. Bob, we join all your friends in saluting you!
Dorothy Cochrane is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.