“All I have to do is dream”; B-23 stories from the field

The Everly Bros,  those two crooners who made such lovely music in the 1950s, come to mind as prior expected rains evaporate in model algorithms, consumed, obliterated by Fortran “End” statements somehow, and but at the same time they produced yet another wet dream (oops, an ambiguous expression that needs to be clarified immediately) , a model rain “dream” of very wet proportions in Arizona, 10 days away.   Below, from IPS MeteoStar, whose maps are so good they’ll soon be charging money to see them, this deluge:

A lot of Arizona rain is predicted during the 12 h ending at 5 PM AST, February 22nd.  Comes out of the sub-tropical Pacific, as have earlier predicted heavy rains that have disappeared in a succession of later model runs, kind of jilting the writer who developed great emotional attachments to those maps, but, as happens in life, too quickly.
A lot of Arizona rain is predicted during the 12 h ending at 5 PM AST, February 22nd. Comes out of the sub-tropical Pacific, as have earlier predicted heavy rains that have disappeared in a succession of later model runs, kind of jilting the writer who developed great emotional attachments to those maps, but, as happens in life, too quickly.

BTW, I am noticing its windy outside now (4 AM).

Stories from the Field

Went to the Pima Air  and Space Museum and boneyard yesterday.  Saw some nice Altocumulus, some distant ice in clouds on the eastern horizon.    The University of Washington bought a lot of planes, well, two, from the boneyard here from PASM, two Convairs over the years, a 240 (non-pressurized), and a 580 (pressurized), which were then subject to having a lot of pylons hung on them and holes drilled in them for instrument purposes.

One pleasant surprise was that they also had a 1939 Douglas B-23 “Dragon”,  the aircraft yours truly spent his first nine years in as a “flight meteorologist” with the University of Washington’s Cloud Physics Group (later, “Cloud and Aerosol Research Group”) before it crash landed in Kingman, Arizona, and had to be replaced.  No people had to be replaced, which was fortunate.

The B-23 went unmentioned in the PASM tour.

But on field projects here in Arizona and around the world, our B-23 always brought a small crowd of aircraft aficionados who wanted to see something rare, of WWII vintage.   Few knew what it was since only about 25 were manufactured.  It was a failed project.

Possibly because of not being very fast, could cruise at 65-75 kts, it wasn’t so good as a military aircraft, but that made it great for sampling clouds; you were in them longer, and the instruments worked better at lower true airspeeds.  Most aircraft in our era were flying at 100 kts while sampling clouds, and corrections had to be made for measurements that we did not have to make.

Seeing the B-23 was such a treat, bringing back warm memories of vomiting on flights, the cramped crew spaces, lots of G’s in those 90 second returns to the same cloud we had just gone through, wings vertical, blood rushing to the head, then this awful feeling of it going back down out of the turn when leveling off, to get back into a Cumulus turret or back into a power plant plume to see how many noxious chemicals it still had in it.

How did we get so many people (five or so) and so much stuff in there?!

And, of course, with the B-23 being unpressurized meant getting out the oxygen tube, sucking on that, when flying above 10, 000 feet; at times we got well above 20, 000 feet, lips, fingernails turning blue in spite of oxygen anyway.

But it also had a fantastic attribute that made “all the difference” in our scientific work, a viewing dome toward the back of the fuselage, which turned out to be my position as a crew member; sitting in a swivel chair,  checking the cloud field for ripe sample candidates.

The dome allowed us to go exactly back to the place we had just come out of a turret, so that how clouds changed as they aged could be measured more accurately than other reseaerchers could do.  Here’s a backward view from “the bubble” on the B-23 as it was called, taken by the author.

Looking back at sampled clouds.
Looking back at sampled Cumulus cloud tops.

Having such a great look back also caused us to discover that our B-23 was compromising our  measurements in second samples of clouds at below freezing temperatures by producing copious amounts of ice in narrow tubes in  clouds that could be as warm at -8 C (about 18 F).  We dubbed this phenomenon, APIPs, for Aircraft Produced Ice Particles, in later publications (1983).

It was a controversial, even suspect finding at first due to the high temperatures at which we observed it; no other aircraft researchers had reported it while doing cloud sampling over many years, but  the phenomenon was verified  a few years later in independent studies using other aircraft (1991).  That finding still stands out as one of our most important, most cited ones.

But there were hazards associated with the plastic viewing dome on the B-23 in those days.  It was not thick enough to stop grapefruit sized chunks of ice from blasting through it, ice that had been collected on the airframe during long periods of flight in icing conditions, that either melted off,  or was ejected suddenly by inflating a rubber boot at the leading edge of the wing.

I had just stepped away to sit down on “Final” going into Sacramento’s Executive Aviation AP in January 1977 when such a chunk crashed through the “bubble” within seconds after I strapped in.  Below, what the bubble looked like after it got bashed:

busted bubble 1977One of the “fun” things about having an old aircraft (1939), too, is the need to manually rotate the HUGE props to get it so it would “turn over”:

Circa late 1970s.  Engineer, Jack Russell, and Research Prof Larry Radke, position blades for engine start.  They're having a good time.
Circa the late 1970s. Engineer, Jack Russell, and Research Prof Larry Radke, position blades of the University of Washington’s B-23 for engine start. They’re having quite a good time.  Cloud instrument pods hang from the wing at left.

The B-23 at the PASM:

DSC_2722
A view of the Douglas B-23 at the Pima Air and Space Museum. Seemed forlorn amid the giants there.  The one Washington had owned was previously owned by Howard Hughes and used as an executive aircraft.  Our B-23 aircraft was featured in Air Classics magazine cover story in 1986, “Dragon’s Last Flight.”   It had been repaired to flight ready condition in Kingman, AZ, then eventually restored to its original condition (dome removed), and now resides in the Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.

DSC_2721

Yesterday’s clouds from the PASM

DSC_2719
12:48 PM. An Altocumulus band, pretty much the only sign of the trough that passed over us yesterday afternoon and evening, following by the north winds at the ground.

 

2:55 PM.  Cumulus, containing a little ice, right of center, and icy tops on the eastern horizon, visible from the PCAM.  Much colder air aloft was east of us yesterday, allowing these clouds, and some ice to form.
2:55 PM. Cumulus, containing a little ice, right of center, and icy tops on the eastern horizon, visible from the PASM. Much colder air aloft was east of us yesterday, allowing these clouds, and some ice to form.

The End

2 thoughts on ““All I have to do is dream”; B-23 stories from the field”

  1. Your accounts of doing cloud physics research while aboard a post war era aircraft brought back memories for me when I was 10 years old. It was 1954 and I was about to take my first airplane ride. It was aboard a Douglas DC-3 regularly scheduled flight. Even at that tender age I knew I wanted to be a meteorologist some day. So for many days prior to the flight I was hoping that there would be plethora of clouds at various heights that the plane might fly through so I could actually see the “insides” of clouds. Never mind fog. I had been in fog many times and it wasn’t particularly interesting to me at the time. I wanted to see “the guts” of real clouds. Unfortunately on the day of my flight there were only bands of altocumulus clouds in the sky. The trip was made at an altitude of 6000 feet, well below the pretty mid level clouds that eluded my private investigation.

    In later years I became a meteorologist and got to fly through all types of clouds while travelling about. To this day I find flying through clouds fascinating. Doing cloud physics research as you did must have been a fascinating part of your academic career. I am a little envious.

    1. Thanks for your experiences in “old aircraft” David. I am just now discovering I had some comments! Egad! Brain going.
      Yes, I often think back to those 30 years or so of flying in clouds and wonder if I appreciated them enough at the time.

      a

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