F-100s in Action: Operation Mobile Baker

I know I’m getting a little ahead here, but I just spotted this video on YouTube that I wanted to pass along. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubwF-G-plMM

It’s a video of a 1956 operation that Arnold took part in while he was flying F-100s at Foster Air Force Base in Texas. Although there’s several types of aircraft in the video, the F-100s are clearly the rock stars!

The operation was called Mobile Baker, and it was part of the Nineteenth Air Force’s mission to develop a “tactical air strike force concept” that used a “self-sustaining task force” to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice. I know we do this routinely these days, but in 1956, air refueling was still a relatively new concept, and picking up a squadron and flying half way around the world was a novel idea. And I wasn’t even born yet!

Writer’s Retreat Produces Outline for The Propeller Under the Bed

I’m spending the weekend with friends in Sandia Park, New Mexico, where I’ve been having a “mini-writer’s retreat.” There’s nothing like getting away from home for a few days to clear the mind and make forward progress! In addition to the solitude and lack of distractions, the gorgeous New Mexico view from their dining room helped me stay focused. See below:


I finished the first chapter except for a few minor tweaks and finally (I think) finished my outline. Here is the list of chapters (still subject to change, of course):

1. The Pilot’s Rock

2. The Itinerant Pilot

3. The Accidental Engineer

4. The Balloon Pilot

5. Safer in the Air?

6. The Dream Begins

7. Vietnam, Part I

8. Vietnam, Part II

9. The Propeller Finds a Home

10. Sidetracked in Seattle

11. Colleen’s Cub

12. The Thunderstorm Pilot

13. Loss of His Co-Pilot

14. Airplane on a Diet

15. First Flight

16. Seepless in Seattle

17. Are We There Yet?

18: Aftermath: Accolades and Awards



I’m planning to post a little more material from the first chapter later this week. Talk to you then!

The Pilot’s Rock

Numerous airplanes flew daily over the farm where Arnold lived as a small boy, and this likely fueled, at least partly, his early interest in aviation. That he saw so many airplanes in the 1930s was a coincidence of geography and geology. A straight line connecting the present-day Chicago-O’Hare and Minneapolis-Saint Paul airports passes close to Mount Horeb and the dairy farm where Arnold lived. The farm, owned by a family named Donald, also housed an attractive landmark for early pilots with only rudimentary navigation equipment — a Glacier Age limestone remnant the size of a ten-story building that dominated the surrounding terrain.

In 1940, John Steuart Curry, a prominent Midwestern “artist-in-residence” at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, portrayed the massive rock pillar in an oil painting as a favor to a member of the Donald family. The painting hung, unknown by the art community, in the home of a Donald family descendent for more than sixty years. It is now on display at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin[i]. You can see a picture of it on page 74 of the pamphlet in this link (warning, big file): http://www.arts.wisc.edu/artsinstitute/pdfs/Arts%20at%20Wisconsin%20history.pdf

The land encircling the present-day “Donald Rock” is a county park, but in the 1930s, the Donald family rented the farm to various tenants, including Arnold’s parents – his father Emil, who had immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1919, and his mother Bertha. In 2010, Arnold and his youngest sister, Tere Widstrand, sponsored a bench in the park dedicated to the memory of their parents. You can see Donald Rock as it appears today at this link: http://donaldpark.org/welcome/?page_id=222

[i] Gayle Worland, “Curry Favor,” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), July 26, 2006.


Mad for Models: Do You Remember Your First Airplane Model?

Do you remember your first model airplane kit? Let me know if you do! Since I grew up around airplanes I don’t really remember building a specific model first, but I do have some vague memories of a plastic fighter airplane with lots of decals. I always wanted models with lots of decals – I guess decals were the precursor to today’s stickers that everyone (including me) loves to put in scrapbooks. And I loved those tiny paint jars, although I’m not sure how much of the paint actually wound up on the models themselves. My sisters and I could always find other things to do with it.

The picture below is a Comet model I bought about 30 years ago – it’s survived 14 military moves and has obviously turned into a retirement project! If I ever get it built, I’ll post it on the blog – not sure I’ll have enough nerve to fly it. You wouldn’t me to cry when it crashed, would you?


So what does all this have to do with my book? When we last left Arnold, he had just taken his first airplane flight at age eight. However, that flight didn’t come close to quenching his growing thirst for aviation; instead, it was like a shipwreck survivor gulping a cup of ocean water – it only makes one more desperate for the thing they cannot have.

Unable to fly real airplanes, Arnold eagerly purchased his first model airplane kit that same year. Like most small boys, he lusted for one of the expensive Cleveland Model & Supply Company kits that promised to teach the builder “how an airplane works, how it is put together, what makes it fly, [and] why it has to be the way it is,” but at four dollars they were well out of reach.  Instead, he wound up with a ten-cent model that turned into a huge disappointment. Upon opening the box, he discovered four pieces of balsa wood and a set of drawings. He had to transfer the drawings to the balsa wood to outline the pieces, carefully excise the pieces with a razor, and then glue them together. It was just too much for an eight-year-old, and the model turned into a mess.

However, the model fiasco was just a temporary setback; three years later, Arnold bought another kit. This kit cost a quarter, but it promised a flying model powered by a rubber band and small propeller. The more expensive kit also had pre-stamped outlines on the balsa wood, and between that and his improved eleven-year-old dexterity, he assembled the new model with few problems and learned how to fly it. The picture of my model kit above shows how Arnold’s kit would have looked.