Thanks, Dad

dickie

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I lurk here a lot, don't really post much because I believe that if there's nothing constructive to be added to the conversation, it's best just to sit back and observe. Also, most of the questions I would have are usually asked and answered by the sharper members here before I get a chance.

One thing I have noticed over the past few years since I found this forum is that many of you are current or former industry insiders with access to knowledge that would otherwise stay packed away in dusty storage units or forgotten until their eventual disposal. And I have a feeling that almost everything I have seen so far is just scratching the surface.

While I have a deep appreciation for what you all do here, not to mention the site itself, I can't help but reserve most of my gratitude to my dad for sparking my interest in everything airborne when I was still in diapers.

Dad started working at General Dynamics with his father in California when I was born in 1984. This was where I got my first plane ride, although I was too young to remember it. There's a picture of me sitting in the cockpit looking pretty happy. I do remember going for walks and seeing the big "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters flying low overhead.

When I was just 2, we moved to Ohio and he had a few jobs including coachbuilding Jaguars for Hess & Eisenhardt and then worked for Kenner toys, which meant I always had the coolest birthdays and Christmases. It was around this time that I started collecting airplane toys and building and launching model rockets (including a cool Estes SR-71) with my dad on the farm.

I knew about all of this, but what I didn't know is a story he told me just a couple years ago seemed worth sharing: My dad was a machinist by trade but also worked with wood as a hobby. I forgot whether he was with Kenner or a small model shop that built scale replicas at the time, but what he told me was this: they received a contract from another company who apparently had a government contract to build a relatively large model of an odd-looking plane. He was kept from seeing the whole thing, only the parts he was working on, but the completed model was kept in the shop covered with a tarp or blanket and the shape was pretty distinctive. When the truck came to pick up the model, it had a military escort and was guarded by M16 carrying personnel during loading. He later found out the model was related to the HAVE BLUE/f-117, but unsure exactly what it was.

We moved to the Fort Worth area in 1988 and Dad started working for GD with my grandpa again. This time he was wearing a tie instead of his blue workshirts and pulling 12+ hour workdays. Mom and I used to drive to the plant sometimes to take him lunch and watch the F-16s take off and land at Carswell. I remember seeing the last B-36 several times as a very young kid, walking around it in total awe at the size without realizing its significance until it was gone. It was around this time that I started to develop a serious interest in aircraft, almost to the point of obsession. I say almost because I stopped just short of tracking tail numbers... but I bet I was the only 6-year-old that could identify every one of the various machinery that was a constant presence in the skies over Fort Worth in those days. The usual F-16s and B-52s, trainers in their bright red/white/natural colors, AWACS and tanker C-135s, and the occasional F-15s and C-5s.

Dad made sure we were at all of the airshows hosted at Carswell and the nearby airfields. I've seen the Thunderbirds, Blue Angels and Red Arrows perform multiple times. I've sat in more cockpits than I can remember anymore. I was the only kid I knew that waited anxiously for the new issues of Code One to come out, even if I didn't understand most of the articles. The stacks and stacks of promotional pictures from GD and Lockheed, including time-yellowed and pin-holed "vintage" calendars and posters I collected at one point were so heavy my closet shelves collapsed under their weight. The space under my bed was crammed with die-cast fighters, bombers and aircraft carriers. I could recite all the dialog from Top Gun by the time I was in first grade, although now that I'm old enough to know better that's not necessarily a bragging right. Most of my fights with my brothers usually started because they would break my Revell models playing with them, and ended more than once with me pulling a Spitfire wing or Mirage nosecone out of my skin. I guess you could say aviation is in my blood now.

One time Dad was invited out for a tour of some of the Lockheed facilities in California and came back with Ben Rich's Skunk Works book, which I read and reread religiously. I guess that was what sparked the curiosity that eventually brought me to SecretProjects.

As I got older, the interest never waned. Dad was laid off from Lockheed when Clinton cut the defense budget in '91 or '92 and we packed up the whole family and moved to Michigan where dad had a job with a small aerospace contractor that went under shortly after he started. The next job was better though, they handled the contract to build the tooling for the X-33 VentureStar's fuel tanks and while that contract lasted I managed to snag some cool posters. The real benefit of Dad working there to me was that his boss was on a P-3 Orion crew so we got free airshow tickets, even though the only venues were a 2 hour drive from home. That, and on my 12th birthday I got a ride in his Christen Eagle, the first and only time to date that I have had my hands on a flight stick. That experience ruined every roller coaster and thrill ride for me, probably for the rest of my life.

One of the highlights from our time Up North was visiting Wright Patterson and the museum there. There was way too much to take in all at once, and I hope to go back someday so I can mentally catalog all the planes I know I've seen before but just can't seem to remember in any detail. In the meantime, Dad had a VHS camcorder with him for most of the trip and narrated the walkthrough of the museum - all I need is a working VCR

We eventually found our way back to Fort Worth when Dad took a job with Bell Helicopter working on their 609 project. Things had really changed since we left, Carswell had become NAS Fort Worth and the B-52s and most of the F-16s had been replaced by F-18s and C-130s, which in my opinion aren't anywhere near as fun to watch. Eventually the 609 fizzled and the other project my Dad was working on saw him making month-long trips to Agusta in Italy until that dried up too. His traveling did take him through DC one time, and he was lucky enough to tour the Smithsonian and the Udvar-Hazy center, including their storage location where they keep the "neat" stuff that's not on normal public display. When he came home I got a full report of what he saw, but nothing could beat actually being there.

Now he works for Piper in Vero Beach, FL and I am still here in Fort Worth. He sends me pictures of the launches from Cape Canaveral taken from his back yard. I send him pictures of whatever comes through Carswell, which I can see from the parking lot of my work. Sometimes I can catch the F-35 flying with an F-16 chase, or the occasional BUFF taxiing when I'm sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot just outside the base.

I have sort of a "bucket list" when it comes to this kind of stuff, some of it realistic and some not so much, but all of it includes my dad. Ideally, I would at least like to visit and tour Wright Pat again, I am hoping they have the Iraqi Mig 25 on display by the time I get there and I really want to see the XB-70 in particular. I'd like to visit the Smithsonian and check out the Udvar-Hazy complex, including the storage stuff where they apparently have the Horton's flying wing and an Avro saucer project - probably the Avrocar. The AMARG combines my love of crawling through junkyards and seeing interesting aircraft up close. The USS Lexington in Corpus Christi is relatively close and accessible, but there's not really much to see there. Unrealistically, I'd love to go to Duxford, Paris for the big show, and probably way out there on the improbability scale is the Russian Air Force Museum.

Thanks to this forum and its members, I can at least get to see some of the more exotic stuff secondhand. And since I send links to most of the cool stuff I find to my dad, so can he.
 

Stargazer2006

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Glad you did more than lurk today... Thanks for this heartfelt and often poignant piece of autobiography, and for that opportunity to get to know a new member! You were a lucky kid and teen, no doubt. Wonder how much of all the stuff on your shelves you've actually kept, but I'm sure much of it would be dream material for many of us if you got round to scanning them... :)
 

dickie

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Boxes in the 'rents attic... most of it was simple artist impression promotional work for "mundane" stuff like the F-16 that Dad collected while working at GD, I like to think some of it was "donated" from fellow employees who moved on and neglected to clean out their desks and cabinets. Definitely worth looking for up there now that temps aren't in the 110 F range.

What I DO have readily available from my collecting days is a set of binders full of aircraft fact cards that I received from a mail-order company. I guess sort of a lesson in fiscal responsibility since it cost me $8 a month in 90's money for 20 "cards." I will get pics on my phone - only camera available - and you guys can tell me how worthless they are today. Back before hi-speed internet was in every home, these were how I expanded my aerospace horizons. That and watching WINGS on Discovery with Dad. I literally have this huge thirst for knowledge but I'm also a natural skeptic and thoughts of what could be out there vs. the practicality of them existing in the real world keep me up at night sometimes, haha.

I think all of the past issues of Code One, which I got only after they had been dogeared and coffee mug stained, fell victim to the moves and were either lost or destroyed.

One thing I wish we had kept were some of the cool desktop models, I know we had an X-33 but I forgot what else we had sitting around. OH and when my dad's brother, Uncle Bob, worked indirectly on the A-12 (flying Dorito version), there were some posters and stuff that came with that. I will definitely see what I can dig up this weekend while he's home and bring my results around.
 

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