among jets and giants

Cal Aerospace Museum F86F Sabre

Last week we went to the Aerospace Museum of California in Sacramento, which I’d wanted to visit for ages but as always, never get around to it. I grew up near the RAF Museum in Hendon, living about a mile or so away, yet it wasn’t until 2019 on a brief visit back to London (there was an Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl there) that I finally visited. The California Aerospace Museum has a pretty amazing collection of planes and helicopters, and to quote the Bard, I love all that shit. When I was a kid I was obsessed with war planes, fighter jets, army helicopters. I loved the Spitfire of course, who didn’t, but was a big fan of the Tornado, and of the classic F16. In my primary school, probably because of our proximity to the historic RAF Hendon Aerodrome (now the site of the RAF Museum, and Grahame Park Estate) divided the kids into four houses, common in British schools (magical or otherwise; round our way your wand would be broken and your broomstick half-inched), and those four houses were named after great fighter planes: Phantoms (blue), Harriers (red), Jaguars (green) and Tornadoes (yellow). I think they were the colours anyway. Come to think of it maybe Jaguars were blue. Were Phantoms black? They might have been green. I don’t care. I was in Tornadoes, we were yellow. We got house points for good deeds, doing well at stuff (most of my house points were for drawing) (I might have lost some for drawing on the table though), and sports day. I did have pictures of planes on my bedroom wall; my big sister went out with a guy called Neil for a while and he worked at British Aerospace, so he brought me some brilliant prints of fighter jets. I used to draw my own ones, overloaded with all kinds of missile and machine gun, helicopters too. One of my favourite shows was Airwolf. Anyway the nine-year-old me was in heaven seeing all these old American fighter planes. It’s mostly open air, all the planes and choppers are displayed around the outside of the main hangar building, which mostly holds exhibits and engines and things about space, as well as an enormous aircraft called ‘Makani’, a many-propellored ‘energy kite’. Even thought it was morning it was very hot and hard to spend too much time outside. I particularly liked seeing the banana shaped helicopter and the Sikorsky ‘Jolly Green Giant’, and was enthralled with the fighter jets (no F16s, sadly). I got to draw a couple of them – the F86 Sabre (above), which had the logo ‘CALIF-ANG’ on the side (I made my wife take a photo with it, since she goes by Ang (short for Angela) and is from Calif (short for California). I love the US Air Force logo, that big star, it’s so classic. I also drew the McDonnell-Douglas F-4C “Phantom II”. I had to draw a Phantom, in honour of that old school house (my friend Wayne was in Phantoms). I always thought they were a British plane but of course that fighter originated in the US, and was exported to the RAF. This one flew extensively in Vietnam and is supersonic. We were able to go inside some of the larger planes, and in one huge Korea and Vietnam era plane there was a man who had participated in combat missions in Vietnam in that very plane, not as the pilot but as one of the crew on the plan, and who had parachuted from it many times. His stories were fascinating, and when asked if he enjoyed his time serving in the Air Force he said yeah, because he was up in the sky – it was much less fun for those on the ground. I’d like to go back and draw more some time, spend a few more hours there, but maybe at a cooler, less oppressively sunny time of year. 

Cal Aerospace Museum F9C Phantom II

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