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9 Lost and Found Airplanes

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You might think that an airplane would be a pretty difficult object to lose, but there are still large areas of wilderness on our planet where planes can be hidden for decades. On rare occasions they are found again, against all odds. Over the weekend, I saw an article headlined Remains of Early 1900s Plane Found in Antarctica. Wow, I thought, that's a long time for a plane to be lost! In fact, it was the first plane ever taken to Antarctica, during an expedition in 1912. But the real story is not what I first thought. For one thing, the plane didn't fly to Antarctica -it was hauled there. And it wasn't lost all that time; it had last been seen in the 1970s. Still, it is a rediscovered plane, and so fits in with stories I had already collected about lost and found airplanes.

1. The Air Tractor

Australian explorer Douglas Mawson led a 1912 expedition to Antarctica and took along a 1911 Vickers single-engine plane. Their plans were not to fly the plane, which had wing damage, but to use it to tow equipment. It was used in this manner until the harsh conditions left it unusable and then the "air tractor" was abandoned. There the plane sat for decades, not worth the expense of moving it. In the 1970s, researchers took pictures of it nearly encased in ice, then it was not seen again -until New Years Day, 2010. A team from the Mawson's Huts Foundation had been looking for the plane for three years, along with other artifacts of early Antarctic exploration. A season of low ice and a very low tide at Commonwealth Bay on Friday exposed the few parts of the plane that survive, right where it was abandoned. The parts were photographed and then taken for examination still submerged in sea water while the foundation decides the best way to preserve the air tractor in the name of history.

2. Lady B. Good

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A US Army Air Corps B-24D named Lady Be Good was part of a bombing raid on Italy on April 4, 1943. It was the first mission for both the plane and the crew. Lady Be Good was the only plane of the mission that did not return to its base in Libya. Officials assumed at the time that the plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea. An extensive search was carried out, but no sign of the plane or crew was found. In 1958 an oil survey exploration crew was taking aerial photographs and spotted the plane in the Libyan desert. The plane had crashed, but was preserved well in the arid conditions. The radio and a machine gun still worked! But there was no sign of the nine-man crew. In 1959, a months-long search was conducted to find their remains. A trail was found, complete with signs left behind indicating what direction the men had gone, but the trail petered out and the search was abandoned. In 1960, the remains of eight of the nine crew members were found at various places in the desert. Among the items found with the bodies was a diary of co-pilot Robert Toner that revealed the tragic story. The nine men had bailed out before the crash; eight survived. The survivors walked 85 miles before five gave up and three continued to walk until they died. The remains of gunner Vernon L. Moore were never found.

3. The Volcano

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On August 15, 1976, a Vickers 785D Viscount operated by the airline SAETA took off from Quito, Ecuador en route to Cuenca. Flight 232 never made it. Searchers could find no sign of the plane, its crew of four, or any of the 55 passengers. The two most likely scenarios were that the plane crashed on the Chimborazo volcano or that it was hijacked by Colombian guerrilla fighters. Twenty-six years later, wreckage of the plane was finally found scattered across hundreds of meters on the mountainside of Chimborazo. Some think that melting glaciers on the mountain caused the wreckage to become visible by 2002.

4. Helldiver

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On May 28, 1945, a US Navy SB2C-4 Helldiver went down in Lower Otay Reservior near San Diego. Pilot E. D. Frazar and Army gunner Joseph Metz were on a training mission when the plane's engine failed. They swam to shore while the bomber sank. The Helldiver was left buried in mud at the bottom of the lake. In 2009, Duane Johnson and Curtis Howard were fishing on the reservoir when Johnson's fish finder found the plane. Reservoir officials enlisted a salvage company to bring up the plane, which was completely buried in sediment. The recovery will be slow, as drinking water and taxpayer money is involved.

5. Glacier Girl

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On July 15, 1942 an entire squadron of planes, two B-17 bombers and six P-38s, flew out of Maine heading to England. Bitter cold and bad weather over Greenland caused the crews to lose their bearings and low fuel forced landings on the Greenland ice sheet, hours from the nearest refueling base. Supplies were dropped three days later, and eventually the crewmen were rescued. The planes left behind were buried in snow and ice over the years. Sub-surface radar found the planes in 1988, two miles from their original location and 268 feet deep in the glacier. In 1992, operations began to bring the planes out. A huge recovery effort brought a P-38 up by forcing hot water down through the ice. After four months of work the plane was taken, in pieces, to Middlesboro, Kentucky for restoration. Now known as the Glacier Girl, the P-38 flew again in 2001.

6. Yosemite

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On July 19, 1962, a plane carrying four young men home from a Billy Graham crusade left from Fresno, California headed to Sacramento. The rented 1959 Piper Cherokee never made it. The wreckage was suspected to have gone down in Yosemite National Park, but the park covers over 761,000 acres and the plane was not found until 1994. A worker at the park happened upon the wreckage in an isolated area near Stubblefield Canyon. Personal effects linked the plane to the four missing men from the 1962 crash. The crash was so remote that mules were used to bring parts of the wreckage out.

7. Fairey Battle on Ice

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On May 26, 1941, four RAF airmen took off in a Fairey Battle aircraft from Akureyri, Iceland headed to Reykjavik. They crashed into a mountain in bad weather and all four died. The wreckage was found two days later, and the airmen were memorialized on site a week later. Not long after, the Royal Air Force pulled out of Iceland and the plane was left behind to disappear under the snow. Hordur Geirsson of Akureyri, who was born years after the crash, spent two decades trying to find the site of the crash. In 1999, a friend relayed to him records detailing the exact location of the plane. Also, unprecedented warm temperatures melted the glacial ice to the extent that the wreckage of the Fairey Battle could be seen. In 2000, an expedition that included relatives of the deceased airmen reached the spot.

8. Steve Fossett

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A single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon airplane piloted by businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett went missing over the Nevada desert on September 3, 2007. Despite a massive manhunt involving many agencies, volunteers, and even Google Earth, the plane was not found for a year. In September of 2008, evidence found by a hiker near Mammoth Lake led to the discovery of the crash site in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

9. Hellcat

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Lieutenant Walter Elcock crashed a Navy F6F-3 Hellcat fighter plane into Lake Michigan during a training exercise in 1945. Many planes suffered the same fate during World War II, but this one was brought back up in November of 2009. Andy Taylor, CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car arranged for his company to finance the recovery of the plane to honor his father, who was a Hellcat pilot in World War II. Elcock's grandson Hunter Browley explained how his grandfather caught the fourth wire of the carrier as he attempted to land the Hellcat and the plane's wing broke before plunging into the lake. Elcock was rescued by the Coast Guard, but the plane stayed at the bottom for 64 years. (Thanks, Steven!)

? Amelia Earhart

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The most famous lost plane of all is the Lockheed L-10E Electra that pilot Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan flew out of Lae, New Guinea on July 3, 1937 and was never seen again. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes that Earhart and Noonan made it to uninhabited Gardner Island (now named Nikumaroro Island). The group found some personal effects dating from the correct time period on the island in 2007, and plan an expedition to recover possible DNA evidence in 2010.

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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entertainment
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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