Posted: 11/8/2008 9:29:53 PM
THE IMAGE ABOVE IS A PAID ADVERTISEMENT
The Air Force’s oldest active duty plane, a Convair-580, stands ready for its last flight as Crew Chief James Hooper prepares to free the flying simulator from its tug bar Friday just before it left Niagara Falls for a museum in Ohio.
Dennis C. Enser/Buffalo News
Updated: 11/08/08 08:07 AM
Nostalgia soars along with final flight of Calspan's Convair 580
Air Force bids adieu at Falls to oldest plane on active duty
By Bill Michelmore
Old fly-boys and flight engineers said goodbye to a trusted friend Friday when the oldest active airplane in the U.S. Air Force was retired and took off from Niagara Falls International Airport for its final flight to a museum in Ohio.
The 1955 Convair turboprop, which has been flown by the likes of astronauts Buzz Aldrin, James Lovell and Deke Slayton, has been used as an in-flight simulator by Calspan Corp.’s Flight Research Group for the past 40 years.
Some tough ex-test pilots were teary-eyed as they gathered outside the Calspan hangar and watched the plane roll down the runway and lift off for the flight to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.
“It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend,” said Phil Reynolds of Williamsville, Calspan’s first program manager for the Total In-Flight Simulator (TIFS).
“That airplane is my whole career,” added Reynolds, whose 42-year-old son, Danny, was born three weeks before Calspan got the contract to use the Convair 580 as an in-flight simulator.
“This is a momentous day,” said Norman Weingarten of Williamsville, Calspan’s in-flight simulation program manager. “No other research aircraft has accomplished as much. It has been active continuously for 40 years through to this year assisting in the development of new aircraft and training of test pilots.”
Weingarten then turned toward the plane and said, “We salute you.”
Before the plane left the hangar for the last flight, 87-year-old Nello Infanti, a fighter pilot in World War II, delivered the blessing.
“I’ll say what I’ve said to many crews before getting in the air,” said Infanti, an aeronautical engineer and a graduate of the Aerospace Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. “Be careful out there, don’t get lost and don’t ding my . . . airplane.”
Standing next to Infanti was Bill Milliken, 97, of Williamsville, who headed flight research at Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo for many years and who got Infanti into test pilot school.
Piloting the plane on its final mission was John Brundage of Ypsilanti, Mich., with Paul Deppe of Amherst as co-pilot, Mike Sears of Wheatfield as chief aircraft inspector, James Hooper of Grand Island, crew chief, and John Babala of North Collins, flight test engineer.
The 53-year-old Convair was still frequently used for in-flight simulation right up to its retirement, said Bruce Magoon of Wilson, a retired Air Force test pilot who is now Calspan’s manager of flight research. The plane was retired for economic reasons, he said.
“We may have seen the last major piloted system in-flight simulation,” he added.
Calspan President Louis H. Knotts said the retirement of the in-flight simulator program would make way for the company’s Lear jets in continuing in-flight simulation, including development of unmanned aircraft.
Built in 1955 and modified into an in-flight simulator by Calspan from 1967 to 1970, the aircraft has been used by the Air Force, NASA and the commercial aircraft industry.
The simulation takes place in a separate cockpit attached to the plane’s nose, which has a computer-controlled system that duplicates all the responses of a variety of aircraft, from a 747 to a space shuttle.
The system is similar to ground simulators used by aircraft manufacturers, Weingarten added, except “the simulation is done in the actual flight environment so all responses and visual cues are real.”
The Convair simulator has been flown by more than 180 evaluation pilots in the development of B-1 and B-2 series, the Space Shuttle and supersonic transports, as well as researching aircraft control systems. It has flown more than 2,500 research flights and was most recently used to help develop new bombers.
Research crews would climb from the original cockpit to the nose cone simulator by literally crawling through a tunnel.
“It’s like crawling from the 1950s to the 1990s,” noted Reynolds.
Time finally caught up with the airplane as it lifted off into a place in history.