This past weekend my wife and I visited the Weisbrod Aircraft Museum, in Pueblo, Colorado. Until a few years ago I had no idea it existed. But ever since I’d heard about it…several people over the years continued to point it out to me. So, last Saturday, while brainstorming what to do and I went out to check our mail, a plane flew overhead, and I remembered this museum.
The museum lies in Pueblo East, which you can find at this link and scrolling to the very bottom. It consists of two hangers and an outside static display. It’s only open three – six hours per day, and if you’re anything like me, with an interest in air- and spacecraft, you’ll need all that time. It’s only $10/person, retirees notwithstanding.
When you arrive, you’ll enter the standard-looking airport building that announces the museum, and which houses the gift shop. You’ll pay, sign a register (if so inclined), chat with the volunteers (if so inclined), and then someone shows you through into Hanger 1’s entrance. If the hanger docent is available, s/he then gives you an overview of the museum arrangement, which may include showing you a diorama of the original layout of the base built during WWII. Points to where you’re standing in the diorama. Depending on the time and your questions, you’ll get all kinds of docent-related history. If there are many visitors there the docent won’t be able to spend too much time with you, but s/he does wander about and will connect with you as you wander about, answering any further questions you’ll have.
This is the first hanger, the one you entered. It’s composed of earlier aviation history and aircraft from WWI, WWII, Korean War, and some later artifacts. It’s main exhibit is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress in the center of the hanger, but has so much more, including collections of uniforms, models, dioramas, and, of course, aircraft. You can get inside some of the aircraft, e.g., the bomb bay to the B-29.
When we entered here we were introduced to today’s docent. I could totally have his name wrong, but I believe it might have been John Henry? Anyway, I’ll just call him “John” for ease of discussion. John was quite knowledgeable and gave us a great overview of the place. He actually spent a fair amount of time with us and we ran into him multiple times as we wandered about. One of the cool things he mentioned was an actual copy of the WWII Japanese Instrument of Surrender on display, which is the actual surrender document with the Japanese—it is one of three on public display (the other two are displayed at Washington, D.C. National Archives, and the other I think he said he thought was in England somewhere). He said there are a total of six copies of the Instrument of Surrender.
Like the Civil War, WWII stuff always heavily resonates with me. I feel it’s because two of my reincarnations were in these two conflicts, as I’ve detailed over the years. So when I came upon a downed B-17 diorama it just grabbed the heck out of me. All-things WWII affect me this way. I am no fan of war and I don’t focus on it with my visits to these kinds of places, but I am heavily fascinated by the aircraft, history, and people of the era. So I…hovered…about the WWII section a bit, taking in the, well…haunting reminders?…of that era. It’s quite a creepy feeling.
In the center of the hanger was the B-29. You cannot go through the entirety of that plane, like I did with the B-17 several years ago, but you can get inside the bomb bays and look around, so that’s what I did. The sites and smells just take me away. There’s a smell to all aircraft that just take me back to my Air Force days…not sure what those smells are, but I’m sure it’s a mix of all the oil, grease, and metal. I love that smell. I”m sure it’s on ships, too.
Another section showed some WWI and II German and allied uniforms and aircraft, and over there John caught up with us and told us some of the interesting facts associated with them, including the very first “Batman,” or men. I did some research afterwards and found that it was the WWI’s 185th Aero Squadron. These guys actually flew at night. Now remember, this is WWI…in crafts consisting of fabric and spars. No fancy anything in the cockpit. Anyway this squadron flew at night and were called “The Bats.” They also came up with the patch that is displayed in one of my pictures below, so they are the very first “Bat Men”!
At the S.E.5 display, was this black-and-white image of one set of pilots. The faces of these guys halted me in my tracks. The intensity of their looks was unsettling.
What were they like there, alone, up in the air in their cockpits?
How many survived their missions?
How many had they killed?
What were they like as humans?
How had the war affected them?
I looked at every single face and felt I was there with them or they were right there with me. Some really stood out, like the first row center guy. Click on the picture and see if it doesn’t affect you the same way.
There was also a M*A*S*H chopper, the Bell 47. Geez, that thing was small and fragile looking! I stood underneath and looked up into its engine—which you could see in its entirety, just hanging all exposed in its crisscrossed framework. Imagine being the the wounded strapped to the skids, being flown to a M*A*S*H unit, by this thing.
At the tail end of the F-104, was a removed engine. So, I stopped and looked inside, using my smartphone’s light and illuminated the empty engine compartment…and just imagined all that power and flames erupting out from here. The generated thrust. I really took in the design and layout of the the compartment. It blew mind, imagining all that power nestled in here and on freaking fire, sending this wind-borne “rocket” up and throughout the high-altitude skies. Wow.
The hanging piper cub above me reminded me of my 1970s Civil Air Patrol days in Lake Clear, N.Y. I had gone up in one, one or three times as a kid, and the last time I remember going up was over the actual lake of “Lake Clear,” which was across the road from our house. Just the pilot and me. It was a gray day and actually started to rain. I remember thinking how strange it was to see—experience—rain at altitude…in this tiny aircraft you could poke your finger through.
The AT-6 pedal car was cute!
This hanger is accessed at the far rear of Hangar 2. You exist Hanger 1 to outdoors and the flightline static display, and walk just a short bit to Hanger 2 on your left. This one contains more recent air- and spacecraft: jets, helicopters, launch vehicles (rockets, aka “boosters”), spacecraft (mock-ups and some actual parts and craft). There are also a rather good collection space artifacts, models, and exhibits, including a 1960s mock-up of a living room with a TV broadcasting Apollo 11’s landing, which was cool to check out. Another neat thing for me was to see some things I worked in/on in my career: 1) a T-37 Air Force jet trainer that I used while in navigator training as a Second Lieutenant (c. 1983 – 1984), and 2) displays of the Delta II 79XX launch vehicle we used to launch the GPS satellites I’d helped launch as an Air Force officer (c. 1985 – 1990) and contractor (c. 1990 – 2003).
This hanger had a T-37, aka an A-37 for the “trainer” or “attack” version aka the “Tweet.” I flew in this jet for Air Force navigator training, in 1983-84. As I detailed in my novel ERO, I didn’t have a head for numbers and ended up not making it through navigator training, but while there, my last bout of training involved flying in the Tweet. I have 11 hours in this thing, and about an hour or so doing “unusual attitudes” and aerobatics. This is the flight where they take you up and put you through rolls and loops and whatever, then put the jet into a non-normal attitude (orientation) and you’re supposed to correct the jet to straight-and-level. Well, lucky me, we were flying in the clouds that day and my Instructor Pilot (IP) did a really sneaky thing (I’m sure he was grinning the entire time) and put the Tweet into what looked like to me like a nose-down rollover dive, like coming out of a barrel role or something, and I never felt or noticed a thing as I sat there and looked out the cockpit. He just said something like, “Okay—right it!” and took his hand off the stick. I look to him—looked outside the cockpit into nothing but clouds—then to my instruments, and saw the above-described aircraft orientation. At least that’s how I remembered it! Anyway, had zero training on how to do that, but they just expected me to know how to do it, and I didn’t and I flunked that portion, because the IP had to right the jet. Yeah, not pilot material I guess!
Anyway, I loved flying in that thing! Just the two of us barreling through the air over the airspace of Northern California….
As I looked at this one before us, the instrument panel looked different than I remembered it. For one thing, when I flew in it, I remember an attitude indicator in the second-seat panel, and there’s not one here. So I think either the one I flew or this one was modified for one reason or the other, as in a “training/operational version” versus a “public viewing” version here. I took some shots form the second-seat position to show you how things look from there.
The other stop in this hanger was the space section, since we were running out of time. This is my background, with satellite operations and support (which I haven’t done for many years). And it was quite cool to see things on displays that I actually worked with: the Delta II Launch Vehicle!
Also as an Air Force officer, some 30 years ago, I was part of a military launch complex for launching the first operational GPS satellites, specifically GPS II, though I even got to run supports (not launches) on GPS I as well, for testing purposes. Part of my unit’s responsibility, the 1st Satellite Control Squadron (1SCS), later changed to 1st Space Operations Squadron (1SOPS), was to put into orbit these “birds.” We used the Delta II 79XX (we worked with the 7925 series) series to do that. They were extremely reliable. In my time supporting this mission, both in and out of uniform (again, MANY years ago…) we only experienced one failure: an explosion. When you think of how many have been shot up there, and in my time we also did the 24-satellite constellation, that mean 24 times you’re launching payloads into orbit (not counting all the other payloads used elsewhere). That 24 times EVERYTHING has to go right. And for a while, until GPS IIR-1, it did. I was scheduled to go onto grave shift to support this launch that fateful IIR-1 launch day, January 17, 1997. On my dayshift I and a coworker, Dee S., went to watch the launch in the base’s auditorium with the rest of those who wanted to. As we stood there and watched another beautiful launch, I said, “Welp, looks like we’re going in tonight.” Then Dee said in an interesting tone, something like, “Not so fast…it’s not over yet….”
And 13 seconds into flight—it exploded.
As explosion debris rained down upon Cape Canaveral, weirdish things happened. People who’d been there told me that you’d see one car in a parking lot utterly obliterated by the falling debris…while the car immediately beside it was completely untouched. I mean, you’d think that such incredibly hot, burning debris would torch anything nearby, but that wasn’t always the case.
And there’s one more thing: all through our training on this new GPS Block IIR satellite, cause yes, it was different than the previous GPS generations, we had an interesting…foreshadowing…happen. In all of our documentation were diagrams and depictions of “expanded views” of the satellite. You know what this is…it’s when a graphic pulls out elements or parts of an overall “thing” to show the detail and placement of something.
But it’s also called…an “exploded” view.
All through our year or so of training we kept badgering our instructors by calling such images “Exploded views! Exploded views!“, which just annoyed the heck out of our instructors, because they felt it would jinx the launch. They insisted we use “expanded view.” We had a lot of fun at our instructors’ expense as we all tried to casually incorporate “exploded view” into any conversation that pointed to said…exploded…view….
Guess they were correct.
So, that was my part of any kind of exciting space program history. I was a 1SCS Mission Controller (in charge of running an individual satellite support, where you “go up” on a satellite in orbit), a Crew Commander (in charge of an on-duty crew for the shift, as well as running supports, and the senior CC was also in charge of the area [room module] we worked in), and an Interim Chief of the Standardization and Evaluation branch (in charge of maintaining unit standards and performing evaluations of procedures and people coming through training) within the 1SCS before I left the military for civilian life. So, coming here and seeing something other than Apollo program artifacts—seeing something I actually worked on in the space program—was pretty cool! As everyone well knows, it’s the manned space program that usually gets all the attention. Thanks, Weisbrod Museum!
There were all the shuttle patches up on a wall, so I looked for a particular astronaut I knew, one who helped me with some technical details in my novel ERO. We’d briefly worked together as Air Force lieutenants up at a northern-tier phased-array missile warning and space track unit, called the Parimeter Acquisition Radar, Attack Characterization System, or “PARCS.” It was also called Concrete Missile Early Warning System (CMEWS) , and later Cavalier Air Force Station (CAFS). The system was designated AN/FPQ-16. This guy was coming in as I was “PCS-ing,” or leaving, for a new assignment that turned out to be Falcon (later “Schriever”) AFS (later “AFB”). We overlapped each other by a couple of months. Anyway, see if you can figure out who it is:
This static display is outside the two hangers, including some odd-looking aircraft! Many of the static are also on-going restoration projects. An historic beacon tower is just south of Hangar One. We didn’t spend too much time here—by this time we were quite hungry! But we looked a things for a few minutes, then made our way out.
This is a pretty cool, “cozy,” museum. It’s nicely arranged and has videos and docents that room the two hangers (we saw our docent in Hanger 2 as well). It’s nice to be able to ask questions and get knowledgeable answers. It’s sad that so much of aircraft design revolves around wars, but its the design and function that fascinates me.
I don’t seem to be “built” to be a pilot…I barf at being thrown around in twisting and spinning aircraft…but I still enjoy flight. And being up in something with just you and a pilot can be a religious experience. Flight gives you totally different perspectives. As the actor Harrison Ford said in an interview, we live in a two-dimensional life down here on the ground…up in the air is a three-dimensional one…and he likes it.
So do I.