Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Battle Aboard a Doomed Dirigible: And a Battle for a Doomed Dirigible Hangar

In this Ronald Reagan movie, the airship U.S.S. Macon is called the "Mason" but other than that the details of Moffett Field, in Sunnyvale, California, remain key plot points in the 1940 thriller.

I've been out at Moffett Field several times this past week, donating a little time at the Historical Society as they host the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour.  The tour brings a B-17 "Flying Fortress," a B-24 "Liberator," and a P-51 "Mustang," to Moffet each year.  These are among the last of the World War II planes of their kind that are still flying, and they are used to remind people all over America of the amazing work the World War II generation did for all of us.

The planes landed in the shadow of Moffett's historic Hangar One (and will stay there through 9/28/2011), an enormous local landmark designed to house the U.S.S. Macon, an airship the Navy hoped at one time would be part of the future of naval aviation. And though the airships didn't turn out to be much use, the hangar remained--a stunning local standout of a structure.

If you fly into the San Francisco Bay Area, you can't miss Hangar One.  It is huge.

When you see Hangar One next to a car, you get a better idea of its size.

After the Navy deactivated the base, in 1994, NASA, now the landlord, determined the huge dirigible hangar was filled with PCBs and asbestos and other such toxins, and closed the hangar to the public.

The Navy is working on the clean up--which involves removing the hangar's outer skin. And NASA has promised to restore it--something which has a lot of people crossing their fingers, since budgets for everything--not to mention restoring big white elephants like old dirigible hangars--have been so tight.

It was easy to spot the first of the work this weekend when I was at Moffett. The tarp reminded me of all the "blue roofs" we saw back in Florida after all those hurricanes came through in 2004.

It is difficult to imagine what Hangar One will look like when it is just a frame.

This tale of mine seems to be wandering, but it all brings to mind a 1940 movie, "Murder in the Air," starring Ronald Reagan as "Brass Bancroft" a G-man in search of spies.  He dons a Navy seaman's uniform, boards the airship "USS Mason" (no typo) at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California, and foils the evil bad guys from stealing our secrets.

The evil bad guys are not identified as Germans, as I recall, since we weren't yet at war with anybody, but they were sinister Europeans of some sort.  Reagan, in his role as Bancroft, does manage to keep them from gaining the secret to the "Inertia Projector."  If you've never heard of such a thing, it is a sort of beam-like-deal that, when shot at something, stops it in its tracks. Kind of like a big ray gun, only it doesn't kill you, it just stops a mechanical thing from running. Cool. Like a missile shield. Or "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Stop projecting that inertia. Immediately!

"O.K. kid. You're going out there as a swabbie, but you're coming back as Commander in Chief!"

I'm hoping NASA really will restore old Hangar One and not leave the Bay Area bereft of its icon to Navy dreamers.  Maybe the airships didn't work out.  Maybe there never was such a thing as an "Inertia Projector" either.

But as Ronald Reagan proved: some dreams do come true.  I like the idea of having a memorial to such dreams.  And, since Northern Califorian is very unlikely to have a memorial to Ronald Reagan at any time in the near future, I hope we can hang on to Hangar One. It will do nicely as a substitute.

Robin and her father, out at Moffett in 2009, with a P-51 Mustang behind us on one side and Hangar One behind us on the other.  
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