What is your favorite plane?

Earlier this year, before COVID shut everything down, I traveled to Texas to conduct some testing with one of our test aircraft. When landing in Waco for refueling along the way, we had to execute a go around because a wing of F-18s was landing in front of us and had not exited the runway yet as we were on final approach.

We did a quick lap of the pattern and landed and taxied into the FBO to get fueled up. We then had to wait in line behind them as the fuel trucks fueled them up first.

Here is a picture of our test airplane waiting for fuel with the F-18s in question in the background getting fueled up:



And then there’s…

The Northrop N-9M. This was a scale flying test unit for a proposed large flying wing (XB/YB35) in WWII, and heavily influenced the design of the B-2 about 30-40 years later. This particular unit was the last one. Sadly, it crashed last year and I don’t believe it was restorable after that.


Is that a Horten Ho 229?

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I like the B-25 variants, especially Devil Dog.


The nearby municipal airport (prior to Covid-19) would have a fly-in every year around this time, and you’d be able to see and tour several planes in the Commemorative Air Force.


One airplane is Little Nellie, the gyrocopter from James Bond You Only Live Twice. Packed in four boxes and assembled on site.

The second is a “favorite” only because of a story. My company was doing some work in the offices of Terrafugia, a street legal aircraft. We were at one side of the warehouse/factory, trying to figure out some construction for the offices. At the far end was a prototype, hooked up for testing. After a short but very loud test, the man running it yelled across the warehouse, telling us we should have our safety glasses on. (It’s true, there were signs saying they should be worn in the “factory”, but we were in and out of the offices and the guide showing us didn’t seemed too concerned with this when we started. We were finished so we left.

Afterwards, I puzzled about this. Yes, safety glasses were important – that wasn’t the objection. But – if a part of a fully running aircraft engine flew off, thrown 100+ feet away to hit me, my eyes wouldn’t be the only thing I’d be worrying about!

I did have mixed feelings about these “flying automobiles” – they were promised long before I was born. Since I’m sure the non-disclosure agreement has lapsed and details are fuzzy, I guess I could say they were two-seaters vehicles that would be useful in more open areas than the Boston suburbs. I certainly would have doubts driving one on 128, or any Boston streets, though it is the size of a small car. A person I knew then would have bought it to skip most of the rush hour traffic (she was a small-plane pilot), jumping from a small grass airport near her house to a suburban airport, then drive the rest of the way into Boston.

But the safety glasses? That was not looking at the big picture thinking.

PSA: The thing you need to worry about with any operating aircraft engine is not the engine itself flying apart. All aircraft engines operate on the principle of moving air in order to create thrust. The hazards associated with this are that this strong airflow that is created will pick up small loose debris and throw that debris at you at high velocity. Standing directly behind any aircraft when an engine is operating at high power is never recommended, but if you are going to be standing there, you should have eye protection on at a minimum.

The second hazard area with prop engines like the Terrafugia vehicle has is in the “plane of rotation” of the prop. Objects that are in the air that get pulled into the propeller can get flung out radially from the prop in this plane. This can include gravel from the ground as well.

There is also a hazard area directly in front of engines - especially larger jet engines - where there is a risk of getting sucked into the engine. Safety glasses will not help you in this area. You just need to stay out of this area and keep any loose debris (like paperwork) out of this area as well.

Many aircraft have warning placards around their engines to try to help keep you aware of these hazard areas. But, those hazard areas can often extend far away from the aircraft which are too far away to read those placards.

I don’t typically wear safety glasses when I am walking around a ramp with operating aircraft, but I am always conscious of these two hazard areas and make sure that I avoid these areas if at all possible or avert my eyes away from the aircraft if I have to be in one of these areas (or if those areas pass through the area where I am standing due to the aircraft moving around on the ramp). I am always very aware of any operating aircraft whenever I enter a ramp area. Most people never enter such operating areas at airports as they are highly restricted (normally you need an AOA badge to enter the active areas of an airport unless you are being escorted to a private plane by someone with such a badge). Sounds like the Terrefugia facility was probably outside of an airport AOA area.

I used to be on a ski patrol in Tahoe. When the helicopters came in to pick up a patient, there were extra patrollers in the LZ area for crowd control/safety in addition to the patrollers taking care of the patient. All the experienced patrollers would put on their ski goggles regardless of the weather/snow conditions at the moment.
Not much worry about a helo rotor, but standing there was like being in a snow storm. …just little things you learned along the way.

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This entry reminds me of a couple of interesting stories from my interview in St Louis at McDonnell Douglas my senior year of college.

First, the McDonnell Douglas plant was on the opposite of the St Louis Lambert Airport from the terminal buildings and used the same runways for test flights. At one point during my interview, I was being driven between buildings when the gentleman driving me noticed an F-15 and an F-18 taxing toward the runway. He drove up to the fence that bordered the runways. IIRC, we were just a couple hundred yard from the aircraft when they started their takeoff runs. To say the windows rattled would be a serious understatement. The F-15 went straight up and the F-18 very nearly so after two very short takeoff runs. BTW, during my time in college in Rolla, Missouri, we would regularly hear sonic booms from these test flights.

Second, in preparation of the interview I, of course, got a fresh haircut. While waiting in the barber shop, I picked up a copy of Popular Science and read an interesting article on one method our aircraft used to identify other aircraft. During the interview, I was being shown a cockpit simulator and the interviewer mention that you could see on the screen the type of aircraft being tracked (some flavor of MiG, I believe). He mention that, of course, how they can do that identification is classified. I responded that I thought I knew how they did it and proceeded to share what I had read in Popular Science. His response was, “Well, its suppose to be classified.”


The prototype was in an office park, inside a building, on the other side of a warehouse full of equipment and boxes, tied up to testing equipment and a vent for the exhaust. It wasn’t going anywhere. It was a testing prototype. I don’t know if the NDA can still be enforced (it was five years ago and the company got sold I believe, or I’d show a picture of the place.

Exactly. Well, not the gravel part. After I had left and was thinking about the need for safety glasses, I’d be more worried about anything flying 100 feet across the room and hitting any part of me, not specifically my eyes. Yes, safety glasses are important, but this was “wear a rain hat” in a hurricane thinking.

It can be just as bad here in New England, shoveling in a snow storm. :slightly_smiling_face:

To spin this back to the OP, my father told the story when he was a kid in the 1930s of when there was a barn-burner type pilot selling rides on his plane at a local fair. He and his brother spent the day trying to convince their parents to get them a ride. Until the plane crashed.

In the early days of commercial flight, when you took a flight it was on the “Commodore” to Europe, or the “Elizabeth” to New York – the name of the airplane being the identifying mark. Now it’s the 10:05 to Detroit. I’m still waiting for the ever so mundane 8:07 am, or maybe a later 3:37 pm flight, up to the Space Station.

Growing up in Bridgeton in early 60’s, every once in a while an F4 takeoff would get a little hot and produce a sonic boom - always added a little excitement to the day!

The SST had a distinctive whine, at least when at landing speeds. I grew up 8-1/2 miles from JFK and a little after 10 in the morning, right on schedule, I could hear it flying overhead, very different sound than the other planes.

Ah, fun memories of Battlefield 1942: Secret Weapons of WWII.

Low observables technology in its infancy.

I was at Grissom A.F.B. for an open house. They had the Thunderbirds there.
During a break in the action, a Cessna was taxing for take off. His route took him behind the Thunderbirds who were starting their engines ( a little too early). As the Cessna went behind the jets, their jet blast knocked the poor Cessna over onto his wing an prop. The Air Force had to pay for damages to Cessna.
How many people know that a C-130 can back up? I do.
At another air show, a C-130 was backing up to leave. When the props came up to speed, you could see a massive cloud of dust hurling towards some unsuspecting spectators.


So NASA uses a WB-57 which is a varient of a B-57 from 1953. It was used to track the Spacex capsule.

That airframe was old when I was a young pup.