Monday, September 19, 2016

More Hidden History Of The Sierras

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an evolution of the earlier P-36 Hawk radial engine aircraft. In 1938 Curtiss-Wright modified its model P-36 Hawk to accept the Allison 1710, a V-12 inline liquid cooled engine.

Designated the XP-40, the prototype took its first flight in October, 1938 and was serial number 39-156.

A wartime picture of a P-40 that is much like the subject of this post.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk Specifications

Wingspan: 37 ft. 4 in.
Length: 31 ft. 8 in.
Height: 12 ft. 4 in.
Empty Weight: 6,000 lbs
Gross Weight: 8,850 lbs
Top Speed: 346 mph
Service Ceiling: 25,000 ft.
Range: 950 miles
Engine: One Allison 1040 hp V-1710-33 (C15)

The weapons installed were two 0.50-inch machine guns, mounted in the upper nose and synchronized to fire through the propeller arc and one 0.30-inch machine gun in each wing.

On October 24, 1940, 19 Curtis P-40 Warhawks of the 57th Pursuit Group left March Field at Riverside, California, to fly to McClelland Field, in Sacramento, California. A short time after takeoff, the aircraft encountered heavy overcast conditions, and many of them became separated. Four planes went down in the area of Kings Canyon, resulting in one pilot being killed, and three pilots parachuting to safety.

The P-40 Warhawk (Ser. # 39-213) flown by 2nd Lt. John Harold Pease suffered engine problems, suddenly filling the cockpit with smoke. Pease forced the cockpit open to vent the smoke and saw that his propeller had stopped turning, forcing the pilot bail out over the rocky and cold High Sierras.

Remarkably Pease landed unscathed, gathered up his parachute and hiked to a deserted hunter's cabin using his parachute to keep warm.

This airplane crash site location has remained unknown for almost 75 years until a cross country hiker spotted the wreckage. A SoCal aviation wreck expert, Pat Macha put together a group of seven hardy souls to hike out and validate the wreckage on-site and identify key components of the plane.

Starting at 8 AM it would turn out to be a long day of cross country navigation for the hikers to reach and inspect the hidden site.My friend Alan and I sported well prepared packs.
In my pack I toted:

5 liters of water due to high temps and unknown water source availability
decent first aid kit with emphasis on foot care, also water purification tablets
Wouxun UV8D radio
ESEE-6 blade, Delica folder and a Gerber Multitool
Bic lighter
light fleece, long sleeved shirt, windbreaker, gloves and shemagh
maps, compass, SPOT beacon and GPS
small camera
foil survival blanket
food to last the day with a little extra
large trash bag
spare batteries
toilet paper


Sharing the woods with bears.

This tag from the aircraft's body positively identifies this wreck as a Curtiss 87 series, manufactured on June, 1940

The left and right landing struts with the gear assembly that rotated the tires to fit flush with the wings.

The Allison V-12 looked much like this before the crash

 After the crash the engine block is broken and the internal parts strewn about.

 The engine's mechanically driven supercharger vane assembly, slightly flattened from original condition. The impeller is the rusty section and the fixed diffuser (cast aluminum) is behind it.

This color photo shows a great view of the supercharger's impeller in a functioning engine
 The gear drive on the back of the impeller plate.

These diagrams will help to understand the function and placement of the supercharger (on the far right of the engine cutaway diagram)

 This factory image shows the impeller's gear train that derived power from the big V-12 engine's crankshaft.
This factory image shows the whole air induction assembly with inlet screen, carburetor, supercharger housing and air intake manifold.

 The pilot's oxygen demand regulator with a data plate describing disassembly procedures.

The engine's oil Y-drain valve, part number 37D6114-6, a design also used on radial engine planes.

The oil Y-valve can be spotted in this factory diagram with the handle colored green.

Other pieces of the wreck:

Portion of aluminum skin with  a small air scoop, unknown function.

The seven happy and tired explorers after their all day discovery hike was over. Photo courtesy of Pat Macha

Altogether we were on the trail for 10 hours, most of that being hiking time. This trip thoroughly tested my endurance and my land navigation skills and I felt confident that I could handle an unexpected emergency and overnight stay.

Please respect aircraft wrecks sites so that other adventurers may see them intact. Many sites are protected by a host of federal and local laws.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hike to the Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout

Tahquitz Peak Lookout at its elevation of 8,846 feet is the highest lookout in the San Bernardino National Forest. It is also the forest’s longest continuously operated station, serving some 77 years, and is the only lookout located inside a Wilderness area. This is a zoom lens shot of the lookout nestled on the high peak.

The terrain is very similar to the Sierras and the Devils Slide trail is well groomed and never really steep. The first leg of the hike is 2.5 miles to Saddle Junction. This is Alan on the last stretch of trail before the fire lookout.

Recent fires have closed a number of areas and trails.

The trails are well marked and many feature new signs. All that is needed to navigate is the day hike permit and the free USFS  paper map that outlines the trails.

The vegetation at lower altitudes is composed of a variety of trees and manzanita bushes but as you ascend the manzanita bushes grow smaller and the pine trees form a dense canopy, providing shade and welcome relief from the sun in summer months.

Many large boulders provide a look similar to the high Sierra mountains.

From Saddle Junction to Tahquitz Peak is another 1.9 miles and the lookout provides enormous vistas that reward hiker's efforts to trek there.

Volunteers staff the lookout and Carol gave a tour of the lookout's interior as well as demonstrated the device used for locating fires and lightning strikes.

The sighting devices were created by William "W.B." Osborne, a USFS employee and have been in service since 1915. 
The system is composed of a topo map of the area on a horizontal table with a circular rim graduated in degrees. Two sighting apertures are mounted above the map on opposite sides of the ring and slide around the arc.

Carol taking a sighting.

Carol explaining how the topo map and scales are used to estimate distances.

The device is used by moving the sights until the observer can peek through the nearer sighting hole and view the cross hairs in the further sight aligned with the fire. The fire lookout notes the degrees on the graduated ring beneath the sight. Early Fire Finders were capable of a crude estimate of elevation based upon the level and elevation of the table, calculating distance and rough position of the fire by reference to any distinctive terrain features and by use of the scale shown on the map. However, in actual practice, fire distance and location were normally established using two or more Fire Finder-equipped towers, using the intersection method to fix the precise location of the fire.Dispatchers at a central facility used a compass rose to mark lines of position from each reporting tower onto a large map to quickly find where the reported bearings intersect.

Overall Alan and I hiked almost 11 miles and ascended 2600' when exploring the trails. The temperatures were nice at altitude especially when strong breezes stirred the air.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Expedition Trailer At Coyote Flat

Coyote Flat is one of those great camping areas that offers a scenic remote experience in the Inyo National Forest with amazing views in all directions. Located near Bishop California, much of the Flat is at 10,000 feet or above. Plenty of interesting history rounds out the appeal from mining and ranching to a long abandoned US Army airfield. The natural beauty is a mix of lakes, forests, streams and meadows. Motorized visitors need to stay on the trails and note that some are difficult to follow so consult maps, satellite photos and bring a GPS too.

I drove in from Bishop and the initial switchbacks provide quite an experience with steep drop-offs to the side and some mildly challenging poor traction areas. I would not want to attempt this route with or without my trailer if the trail was wet or icy. Otherwise a good 4WD with low gears, decent ground clearance and appropriate tires will do fine.

The time of year can make quite a difference in what you may see. Because of the presence of Aspens you might have a chance to see some nice color amidst the stands of pine. In the distance you can see the Palisades Glacier. All of the forest fires made the air too hazy for good shots of the Sierras.

Many of the lakes receive water from either rain or snow melt so the prolonged drought has forced many of them to dry up. In fact, Rocky bottom Lake clearly does have a base that is well matched to its moniker. In this picture it is far below me and decidedly bone dry.

Despite the low water level Funnel Lake still offered great reflections on the still surface.

It was also a great view of Funnel Lake from the camp site that I chose.



 A telephoto shot of camp from the cliff above the lake

Sunsets were never a disappointment!

Every morning and evening some deer would come down to the lake to slake their thirst and nibble on small bits of vegetation.

The lake's reflection of the rocky shores made it hard to tell if the deer were really drinking water

Near the tree line some of the older trees offer quite a tortured exterior that reflects the weather that both nurtures and possibly destroys them

This forlorn tree trunk reminded me of a headless Greek statue with one arm raised in greeting.

This is an area worth visiting for four or more days. I used one day to drive on the truck trails over to Baker Creek and then enjoyed a leisurely  hike up to the Baker Lake

In the main area of Coyote Flat there was once a small military airfield:

At 9988’ above sea level, Coyote Flat was the highest airfield in North America until its recent de-comissioning and is one of the few military installations to have been based in the Owens Valley and immediate surroundings. In the 1960s, the Air Force Flight Center, Edwards Air Force base (AFFTC) took over 642 acres of Coyote Flat as a test site. The official explanation is that the Department of Defense used the landing strip to test the high altitude performance of helicopters and airplanes. More conspiracy minded individuals point out that AFFTC also ran Area 51 and that the inaccessibility of Coyote Flat kept operations far from prying eyes. In the last few years, control of the area was ceded back to the Forest Service which removed the three buildings, dug up the pavement, and surrounded the site with barbed wire in order to return the site to its natural condition. The Forest Service insists that the large “X” is meant to discourage landings. Even so, back country flying enthusiasts have found it possible to land on the airstrip without undo trouble.

I appreciate your visit to my blog! I hope that these write ups of mine will inspire you to seek out your own adventures. Fare well until we next meet.