When I was a kid, I was fascinated by World War II aircraft. My father loved to build model airplanes and would take the time to build them for me, putting in the painstaking time to add detail in the decals, to make sure that none of the model glue was visible, and especially to paint the built plane with realistic accuracy—from the camouflage to the yellow propeller tips. Whenever a pilot was visible under the canopy, he would paint the face, the cap, the goggles, and uniform in realistic colour.
I would proudly display these airplanes on my bedroom bookshelf. If the landing gear was up, I would suspend the planes with fishing line from my ceiling.
Eventually, I would destroy them in spectacular ways. But that's another story.
I remember the P-51 Mustang, the Corsair, the Lancaster, and the Albatross. I also had models of fighter jets from the Korean War and the Cold War, and throughout the American race for airspace superiority, but it's the Second World War planes that were my favourite.
Most of these planes were brought back to my memory as we toured the Pima Air and Space Museum, on the southeast end of Tucson.
Sure, we have a great aircraft museum in Ottawa, but what makes this one special is that scores of airplanes from all kinds of eras sit outside, year-round, and don't deteriorate. The Sonoran Desert, with its dryness, keeps the metal from eroding. Special paint is placed over the canopies and windows, to keep the sun from damaging the interiors—you barely notice that the cockpits are covered up.
We arrived shortly after the museum opened and quickly learned that if you want to take one of the guided bus tours of the nearby Aircraft Boneyard, you're best to line up before the doors open. As we stood in line, we watched the time slots being removed, one by one, from the schedule board. We were lucky enough to fit on the final bus, which leaves at 3:30. That gave us plenty of time to wander the museum grounds—both inside and out—and drive into Tucson for lunch before our tour started.
All the while we wandered outside (tip: bring lots of water, because it's hot and dry out there), A-10 fighter jets took off from and landed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, on the other side of E. Valencia Road. Those air-support planes were so silent that you could barely notice them, but my love of flying machines always got the better of me, and I was able to capture a few photos of them.
The highlight of Pima was the 60s spy-era, supersonic jet, the SR-71. It's hard to believe that this piece of technology was as old as me. It was so fast that you could fly from New York City to Los Angeles, and have to set your watch back in time.
I loved seeing some World War II fighters and later jets from my model-building days. I was especially taken by an old Albatross, which reminded me of the model I destroyed in such a dramatic fashion: fire and an explosion were involved, and I may share that story some day.
For lunch, I asked Google to find the closest brew pub, and it came up with Nimbus Brewing Company. Situated only 15 minutes away from Pima, in what we thought was a dodgy industrial park, the brew pub offered a perfect selection of food and drink for everyone in our party (aged 4 to 51). I'll be reviewing the beer I tried in an upcoming Beer O'Clock blog post.
The boneyard tour was informative and it was interesting to see so many aircraft in all states of disrepair, but I would stress that it's something you should do only if you have a great love of military aircraft. You cannot leave the bus. You can only shoot photos through windows, so it limits your photo creativity. Our guide was knowledgeable and friendly, but if looking at hundreds of parked planes doesn't interest you, skip it. I took a couple of photos but quickly realized that I would never look at them, let alone share them, and so I stopped shooting, sat back, and listened to our guide.
And wondered when we would be returning to the Pima parking lot.
As much as I love aircraft, if I can't get up close and personal, I'm not interested.
One last word on Tucson: Pizzeria Bianco, on E. Congress Street, is a must visit for their delicious wood-oven pizzas, their local craft beer, and warm atmosphere. Late in the evening, they were able to seat eight of us without any fuss.
On my next post, I'll share our experiences of our last day in Phoenix, with a trip along the Apache Trail, a visit to a ghost town, and a metal concert in Mesa.
If you love old planes, you can see more on my Flickr page.