High Desert Hangar Stories: The Best of Bob 2020

We hope you enjoy this selection of some of Bob Alvis’ most engaging reminiscences and historical insights into aerospace and aviation milestones, in the Aerospace Valley and far beyond! Printed copies of this special edition of Aerotech News are available at our usual distribution points throughout the Antelope Valley. To subscribe to our newsletter, which includes Bob’s semi-monthly High Desert Hangar Stories column, please click here. Click on any of the titles listed below to read that story in greater depth.

War Comes to our Skies in Los Angeles

Here in the Antelope Valley, our Aerospace industries have always hummed along without much worry about the battles of the world coming to the skies over where we, the citizens, produce the products that keep us free, safe and well-defended.
Looking over some old documents in my Dad’s collection of World War II memorabilia, a bulletin dated 2-25-42 caught my attention. After reading it, I realized I was looking at a document that addressed the famous “Battle of Los Angeles,” when it was thought that Japan was attempting an air raid on a major American population and manufacturing center here on the West Coast.

Joe Walker the family man. (Courtesy photograph)

Joe Walker: Aviation Hero and Family Man

A couple of phone calls last weekend with some childhood friends ended with me having a conversation with Jim Walker, one of Joe Walker’s kids. We got on the subject of community service and how the test pilots of that time were very family- and community-oriented.

Michael Collins in his spacecraft. (NASA photograph)

The Lonely Rocket Man

Back in the 1970s, Elton John sang a haunting song about a lonely astronaut in a fictional space fantasy, speeding through the universe, surrounded by the science and silence of his lonely journey.
Nobody in the real sense of that song and its words could have ever come closer to that reality than Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.

The City of Hollywood and its crew, in theater. (Courtesy photograph)

The Major’s Hat

Traditions and superstitions in the Air Force have been around since the first aviator painted a picture on his aircraft. Muroc instructor Capt. Russell J. Smith liked to share stories of his time flying combat over Japan in a B-29 called City of Hollywood. Smith crossed paths with one Maj. Milton R. Kirms of Hollywood, a novelist and scenario writer. As luck would have it, he was working for Air Force Magazine when he met up with Smith and his crew before they shipped out to New Guinea, and he managed to talk his way on board to fly some of those first missions over Japan. Wherever Kirms went, an old uniform hat went with him. Crew members called it the “Major’s Hat,” or the “High Hat.” It was just an old, regulation officer’s green hat, and on those first missions it was soaked with New Guinea sweat and mold but, on those missions the hat — and the City of Hollywood — made it home unscathed.

From the Muroc Mirage newspaper: Visitors view a camera-gunnery exhibit during Army Day at Muroc Army Air Field. (Courtesy photograph)

Muroc’s Great Army Day Celebration

I got to thinking about all the shows I have attended here in the Antelope Valley over the years.
My first recollection is as a little boy when Dad, sometime in the late 1950s, took me and the rest of our family out to the dry lake bed at Edwards to spend a day enjoying all things that fly. Those trips are what inspired me, years later, to see about the possibility of bringing back this family-friendly tradition to our home here in the AV. The results are what we now see growing again every year in our skies, entertaining new generations of aviation fans.

Ground control to Major Larry and may God’s speed be with you! Can I have your stuff if you don’t make it back, say his friends! (Courtesy photograph)

Larry the Lawn Chair Pilot: Urban legend or True Story?
When it comes to us men, there is always a constant edge that is living with us just below the skin level.
More times than not it’s what can make us great, but it’s also why we can suffer some epic failures. Let’s face it, folks — comedian Tim Allen has made a boatload of money making us laugh at the way men are “wired,” sharing experiences and the love for extreme things and ideas that any sane man would know dang well would probably be better off left alone. We guys can all grunt in unison when we see the big and powerful or over-the-top experience succeed or go terribly wrong, and deep down inside, no matter the outcome, we would secretly say ‘heck, I could do that,’ or even worse, ‘if I’d done that, it wouldn’t have been a failure!’
The XB-70 Valkyrie flies in a four-ship formation with an an F-4 Phantom, an F-5, a T-38 Talon and an F-104 Starfighter) June 8, 1966. (Courtesy photograph)

The loss of the XB-70 Valkyrie: Seconds that Last Forever

Sitting here, looking at the calendar and seeing “6/8/2020” staring at me instantly takes my mind back to the tragic loss of the XB-70 Valkyrie on June 8, 1966.
It occurred to me that the final seconds of men’s lives and the B-70 may not be well known by current generations, so this week I just want to share the story of those few seconds, to paint the picture of how something bigger than life can all be gone in just the blink of an eye.

Tailwheel with some big-time fans at an auxiliary field north of Lancaster. (Courtesy photograph)

Tailwheel: The Mascot of War Eagle Field

As the saying goes, if you’re performing, never follow a child or animal act for you will surely fail!
My apologies to anyone who has ever fallen victim to that, because this issue’s story is a yarn of a beloved pet that sure goes a long way in bringing a smile to one’s face.  
Lancaster’s War Eagle Field had its fair share of colorful characters during its World War II heyday. In the very dangerous business of training young men to fight a war, those colorful characters helped to keep the serious a bit less stressful, even just for small moments, and helped our warriors make it through the days and nights of training. So here’s the special story of one small mascot.

Vietnam Wall Panel 13 Row 6 (Courtesy photograph)

A Tale of Two Davids, and a Mission for the Books

I heard a Special Forces soldier say recently that his greatest hero is the Vietnam veteran. In his words, he said the reason that today’s soldiers are treated so well is directly related to the disrespectful way the Vietnam veterans were treated upon returning home.

Officials at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force were asked to remove the artwork from Bockscar, which dropped the second atomic bomb, and also remove the name of the Enola Gay. The museum stood firm, and history remains intact. (Courtesy photograph)

The Case for Preserving WWII-era Nose Art

Some time back, I met a graphic novel author at a local air show who wanted me to review his work and give an opinion.
I never really shared my thoughts with anybody else regarding his work — I was just happy to think that a French writer and author valued my take on his craft, and wanted a thumbs up or down on his high-end comic book works.

Jesse Brown with his fellow pilots from Squadron 23. (Navy photograph)

Jesse L. Brown & Thomas J. Hudner: The Story of a Hero and his Wingman

We are all aware of the struggles and triumphs of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Many hoped that after the war, their distinguished service and success would open doors of opportunity for African Americans to continue to serve as pilots in the military. But that would not be the case, as struggles to overcome racial barriers were still a challenge, especially in the civilian world where the education needed to realize those dreams of flight would still be hard to come by.

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