Eve-Eve Aviation Twofer
Contributor: Barry Fetzer
Good Christmas Eve-Eve fellow aviation history enthusiasts. We have an “eve-eve twofer” for you this evening about 28 hours before midnight on December 25th and the beginning of Christmas Day.
Aviation history is full of feats of great invention and risk. There’s sadness in aviation history. And there’s a measure of stupidity and pretentiousness and a lack of humility too, evident in the first of our twofer historical vignettes. But aviation history is mostly full of hope and gratitude, timeless Christmas messages, too.
Eve-Eve Twofer #1: Balloon Boy
According to History.com, “”On December 23, 2009, Richard Heene, who carried out a hoax in which he told authorities his 6-year-old son Falcon had floated off in a runaway, saucer-shaped helium balloon, is sentenced to 90 days in jail in Fort Collins, Colorado. Heene’s wife Mayumi received 20 days of jail time for her role in the incident.
The so-called ‘Balloon Boy’ saga riveted viewers around the globe two months earlier, on October 15, when it played out on live television. At around 11 a.m. that day, Richard Heene, a handyman, amateur scientist and father of three boys, called the Federal Aviation Administration to report that a large balloon in his family’s Fort Collins backyard had become untethered, and it was believed his son Falcon had crawled aboard the craft before it took flight. Minutes later, Heene phoned a local TV station, requesting a helicopter to track the balloon. A short time afterward, Mayumi Heene called 911.
“The homemade silver craft was soon being tracked by search-and-rescue personnel, as well as reporters, on the ground and in the air. The Colorado National Guard launched two helicopters to follow the balloon, and a runway at Denver International Airport was briefly shut down as the balloon traveled into its flight path. At around 1:35 p.m., the craft touched down in a Colorado field after drifting a distance of some 50 miles from its starting location. Rescue officials soon discovered the balloon was empty, prompting fears that Falcon Heene had fallen from the craft during its flight. A massive ground search ensued, and later that afternoon it was announced the boy had been found safe at home, where he reportedly had been hiding.
“Balloon Boy’s” alleged UFO-shaped craft. Courtesy Bustle.
“Suspicions that the entire incident had been a hoax intensified that night, after Falcon Heene told his parents during a live interview on CNN: ‘You guys said we did this for the show.’ Mayumi Heene later confessed to police the incident had been staged to help the family get a reality TV show. (The Heenes had previously appeared on the program ‘Wife Swap.’)
“In November 2009, Richard Heene pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public official (‘to initiate a search-and-rescue mission which in turn would attract media attention,’ according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors), while Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of making a false report. Richard Heene later claimed he pleaded guilty only to placate authorities and prevent his wife from being deported to her native Japan. In addition to jail time, the Heenes were required to perform community service and Richard Heene was later ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution for the search effort.”
And eve-eve Twofer #2, an aviation history vignette filled with hope and gratitude: The Voyager
On this day in 1986, according to History.com, “After nine days and four minutes in the sky, the experimental aircraft Voyager lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, completing the first nonstop flight around the globe on one load of fuel. Piloted by Americans Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, Voyager was made mostly of plastic and stiffened paper and carried more than three times its weight in fuel when it took off from Edwards Air Force Base on December 14. By the time it returned, after flying 25,012 miles around the planet, it had just five gallons of fuel left in its remaining operational fuel tank.
“Voyager was built by Burt Rutan of the Rutan Aircraft Company without government support and with minimal corporate sponsorship. Dick Rutan, Burt’s brother and a decorated Vietnam War pilot, joined the project early on, as did Dick’s friend Jeanna Yeager (no relation to aviator Chuck Yeager). Voyager‘s extremely light yet strong body was made of layers of carbon-fiber tape and paper impregnated with epoxy resin. Its wingspan was 111 feet, and it had its horizontal stabilizer wing on the plane’s nose rather than its rear–a trademark of many of Rutan’s aircraft designs. Essentially a flying fuel tank, every possible area was used for fuel storage and much modern aircraft technology was foregone in the effort to reduce weight.
“When Voyager took off from Edwards Air Force at 8:02 a.m. PST on December 14, its wings were so heavy with fuel that their tips scraped along the ground and caused minor damage. The plane made it into the air, however, and headed west. On the second day, Voyager ran into severe turbulence caused by two tropical storms in the Pacific. Dick Rutan had been concerned about flying the aircraft at more than a 15-degree angle, but he soon found the plane could fly on its side at 90 degrees, which occurred when the wind tossed it back and forth.
Photo of Voyager courtesy of Getty Images
“Rutan and Yeager shared the controls, but Rutan, a more experienced pilot, did most of the flying owing to the long periods of turbulence encountered at various points in the journey. With weak stomachs, they ate only a fraction of the food brought along, and each lost about 10 pounds.
“On December 23, when Voyager was flying north along the Baja California coast and just 450 miles short of its goal, the engine it was using went out, and the aircraft plunged from 8,500 to 5,000 feet before an alternate engine was started up.
“Almost nine days to the minute after it lifted off, Voyager appeared over Edwards Air Force Base and circled as Yeager turned a primitive crank that lowered the landing gear. Then, to the cheers of 23,000 spectators, the plane landed safely with a few gallons of fuel to spare, completing the first nonstop circumnavigation of the earth by an aircraft that was not refueled in the air.
“Voyager is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.”
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good flight!