Onderzeeboots by the Zee

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The typical tourist sights in the Netherlands include tulips, windmills, canals, and various and sundry museums, all quite exceptional. The slightly less typical sights include two submarines which might well have played cat and mouse with each other during the Cold War: B-80, a Soviet Zulu-class submarine, and Tonijn, a Dutch Potvis-class submarine.

The Zulu submarine sits in Amsterdam’s harbor, in NDSM-werf, where it served as a stationary “party boat” that could be rented for events. To facilitate such soirĂ©es in a submarine’s exceedingly cramped conditions required the gutting of the hull, so now it’s just a shell. Given the copious graffiti on its sail and the general lack of upkeep, it seems deserted at this point.

GVB, Amsterdam’s public transit company, runs a free ferry to NDSM-werf from behind the main train station, and while you can’t access the submarine, there are several good vantage points to shoot pictures from.

Zulu Class Submarine in Amsterdam Harbor

Perhaps an ignominious reincarnation for such a machine, but it’s likely the other fate would have been the scrapper’s yard, and it’s quite an interesting conversation piece in an already picturesque city.

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A Portrait of the Blogger as a Young B-29 Flight Engineer

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Once upon a time, museums were much less formal affairs, such that a young lad could sit down at the flight engineer’s station in a partially restored B-29 Superfortress and play with the throttle controls:

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder . . .

The time? The mid-1970’s. The place? The National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio.

The Air Force Museum has a walk-through B-29 fuselage on display currently, painted in the likeness of the Korean War-era “Command Decision”. I would imagine this display to be the same one I sat in some thirty-five years ago, though at present the fuselage is completely restored, the various crew stations sealed off with plexiglass.

Our flight engineer on flickr.com by Gary Minnis via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike license.If you note the “Larry + Cathy” graffiti scratched into the paint just above our intrepid and amazed youth, I suppose you can see why they had to seal it off, but there’s something lasting about actually sitting in that seat, moving the throttle and mixture controls, that conveys a sense of history as a living entity, rather than a dusty display. I doubt my lasting fascination with all things aero would be quite so potent had I not had the moment happily captured above.

I’m sure, at that moment, I imagined myself to be not unlike this gentleman, an actual B-29 Flight Engineer.

Oh, to slip the surly bonds of earth . . .

(Image courtesy of Gary Minnis via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike license.)

A Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Helicopter Pilot

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To a young lad, can there be anything finer than an airbase open house?

Kiowa and Me

Um, no, not at all.

All those planes, all those helicopters, the vast expanse of the flight line and the cavernous hangars. It was like walking into an oversized toy chest. Plus you usually got to see the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels or, if you were really lucky, the Snowbirds perform.

I can’t quite pin down the location of this shot, taken at one of many open houses I attended at U.S. Air Force bases around the country, but that’s a U.S. Army Bell OH-58 A Kiowa behind me, serial 71-20571.

I haven’t been to a base open house in decades, even though one of the largest in the United States is held nearby every year at Andrews AFB. Perhaps the Andrews’ open house is just too large, the realities of the military mission too omnipresent.

Still, there was something special about a Midwestern base open house, the somewhat sparser crowds meaning more time to linger around the aircraft displays and shorter lines for walking through a B-52 or KC-135 over and over again. (I grew up on SAC bases, thank you very much.)

Despite it being the height of the Cold War (of which my young self knew naught), there was an innocence to the open houses then: this is our job, these are our tools. And, for a young lad, they were cool tools.

And, yes, the shades and the jauntily raked hat make the shot.