Concrete Ships and California Beaches

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

While beaches, ships, and oceans fit well into the California landscape, the last thing I expected to find at Seacliff State Beach in Altos was a scuttled concrete oil tanker. Yes, you did read that correctly, the ship was made out of concrete, that heavy, friable, and not very tensile material.

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

So that begs the question, why would anyone build a ship out of concrete and place it in an undulating, variable environment like an ocean? The answer is timing, need, and history. World War I depleted the ready supply of steel required for shipbuilding, so the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company located in Oakland, California took a radical approach to building ships. They based their designs around the building material common on dry land…concrete.

Starboard side of ship.

Starboard side of ship. Some structural remnants and ship fittings are still visible.

Port side. You can see the rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) on the sides of the ship.

Port side. Rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) show on the sides of the ship.

On May 29, 1919 they launched the oil tanker S.S. Palo Alto, also know as “The Cement Boat.” The launch turned out to be ill timed as WWI ended and no one wanted the ship. It was docked in Oakland for ten years until the Seacliff Amusement Company purchased the ship in 1929 and sailed it (maiden voyage) to Aptos, California. At Seacliff State Beach, it was scuttled near shore and a long pier was then built out to the ship. The company then transformed the oil tanker into an entertainment mecca with arcades, a dance hall, gambling area, a dining room, and swimming pool. Again, timing doomed the ship’s active life. The depression ran the company out of business, and eventually the S.S. Palo Alto was stripped of its contents and metal.

In 1932 a fierce winter storm cracked the concrete hull. The company eventually sold the ship to the state of California for a $1. Now you can walk the pier out to the end where the S.S. Palo Alto is parked.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

For years, people fished off the ship hull until it deteriorated so badly the state finally closed it to people.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

You can see from this photo, though, that it has taken on a new life as a haven for birds. In the case of the photo below, it is covered in cormorants that dive deep into the ocean for fish.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Historic photos of the ship grounding at Seacliff can be seen at: http://bit.ly/1NIWiC1.

The S.S. Palo Alto has a sister ship, the S.S. Peralta, also an oil tanker which was launched in 1921. Over the years, it served as a sardine cannery and now acts as a floating breakwater on the Powell River. For more information on the S.S. Palo Alto or other concrete ships, these links might be of interest:

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/paloalto/

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/peralta/

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Thanks for stopping by. Here’s one last photo showing the pier, part of the beach, and the ship.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

ARIA: The Unusual Aircraft Spawned by the Apollo Mission

In the 1960s, the US launched (pun intended) into a new frontier…space and the race for the moon. The US discovered that in order to achieve this lofty goal, it required a premier agency to oversee the program, thus the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created. NASA quickly noticed a need to acquire launch tracking and telemetry data in hard to reach locations around the world. Thus a military program/aircraft was built called the ARIA.

Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft The nose held a small, steerable satellite dish.

Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft
The nose held a small, steerable satellite dish. This plane is pictured at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

The ARIA (Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft) mission collected telemetry data during launches in locations where signals would be lost by lack of ground stations (particularly over the oceans). Why does that matter? Believe it or not, space, even around measly little old Earth, is a big place. When NASA launches into space, it does so along a particular trajectory. If the craft deviates for any reason, then it will enter space on a slightly different path and could easily become “lost in space” (ie. the telemetry tells NASA what orbit the vehicle is in).

Mission requirements caused the deployment of personnel around the world. Sometimes this took the plane to a small island in the middle of an ocean with a less than nominal (read dangerous/difficult/no alternate landing site) runway. Other times, the planes landed in paradise. Below are listed a few of the sites and what led to the design of a fun logo “ARIA World Tours” seen in the photo below.

ARIA program stickers

ARIA program stickers

Deployments (a few from a long list):

  • Easter Island
  • Thule, Greenland
  • Guam
  • Tahiti
  • Recife, Brazil
  • Saipan
  • Sidney, Australia
  • Singapore
  • Capetown, South Africa
  • Cold Lake, Canada
  • Dakar, Senegal
  • Ascension Island

Also lost over time is the meaning behind “AGAR,” the call sign used for the aircraft. If anyone knows when or how the name AGAR came about (it was used first at Patrick AFB and carried forth), please let me know so I can pass it along.

At a recent union for those involved in the ARIA mission, my husband and I toured the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. In a corner behind a huge rocket engine nozzle, we found this note about the mission: “A system of 14 ground stations, 5 instrumented ships, and 8 aircraft made up the Manned Spaceflight Network in 1969. The network provided data for tracking and communicating with Apollo 11. Look closely for the plane’s large round nose, which housed tracking instruments.”

Blurb about the ARIA mission at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, DC.

Blurb about the ARIA mission at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, DC.

The original ARIA aircraft were built on the Boeing C-135A frame and designated EC-135As. Later they were augmented by used Boeing 707 aircraft and were called EC-18s. They flew missions from 1968-2001 from the following locations.

  • Patrick Air Force Base, Florida             1968-1975
  • Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio 1975-1994
  • Edwards Air Force Base, California       1994-2001

People who lived in Melbourne, Florida or Dayton, Ohio or Lancaster, California might remember seeing these odd aircraft.

ARIA Wright-Patterson Squadron located at Dayton, Ohio

ARIA Wright-Patterson Squadron located at Dayton, Ohio 1980s

So why did their mission end after 2001? ARIA’s replacement, a new satellite named TDRS (pronounced TeeDRiS), arrived in space. The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, was built by TRW corporation and is now in its fourth generation. A first generation satellite example hangs in the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. I snapped the photo below there last month. It makes me wonder if ARIA covered the launch of its replacement.

TDRS - First generation satellite in Smithsonian Steven R. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia. Photo by Parks

For more information about the ARIA, check out the following: ARIA video and website. Please be sure to leave comments or share a story or provide further information about the ARIA. Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

What’s in Your Favorite Pilot bar?

I’ve been in my share of aviation bars through the years from the Pancho Barnes room frequented by seasoned test pilots to the ones hosting pilots working toward their first set of wings. I’ve seen some interesting things. Photographed a good number of items, too. Some are typical things people might find in any bar, others are distinctly unique to those who enjoy the flying profession. Of course, because of the nature of aviation types versus the delicate nature of those who might be viewing this blog, I had to pick and chose photos.

Bits and pieces of aircraft give the right flavor and for an Air Force bar are pretty much essential. This can be a wing, prop, vertical stabilizer, an ejection seat (yes, I’ve seen one), a piece from a totaled aircraft (however it got that way), or perhaps landing gear.

Propeller above entry to crud table area.

Propeller above entry to crud table area.

T-1 Landing gear

T-1 Landing gear

Other basics usually include a bell found in most bars. Necessary in case someone commits a faux pas and is buying the bar a round. Also a variety of wood bar surfaces can be found from a full-fledged bar, to a wood surface where nicknames are carved and the tops scorched, to a bar table top similar to this table covered in resin, or a simple oak whiskey barrel for the smaller more private setting.

Standard "bar" bell

Standard “bar” bell

Temporary Emerald Knight's bar.

Temporary Emerald Knight’s bar.

Carved names and scorching on bar top.

Carved names and scorching on bar top.

Treasurers trapped in resin

Treasurers trapped in resin

In home pilot bar

In home pilot bar, whiskey barrel.

Now every bar needs a little action, so a Crud table is mandatory. The rules and variations for Crud will be discussed at another time (and at some places said game has been curtailed to reduce injuries (really?)). For more atmosphere, throw in some stain glass, a popcorn machine, a dart board, and hang a few decorations.

Crud game table

Crud game table

Squadron Stained Glass

Squadron Stained Glass

Snoopy from soda cans hanging at the Sedona Arizona Airport bar.

Snoopy from soda cans hanging at the Sedona Arizona Airport bar.

7-Up Biplane, Sedona, Arizona

7-Up Biplane, Sedona, Arizona

One thing I haven’t mentioned, which is quite common, is the beer mug (filled with beer, of course). Below are two typical mugs and a standard squadron mug rack. Some places have a little more creative display using things at hand…baseball bats, practice weapon, fire axe, electronics rack, handcuffs….

Close-up of pilot mugs in training squadron

Close-up of pilot mugs in training squadron

Typical wall mug rack in training squadron.

Typical wall mug rack in training squadron.

Creative Mug. Take a close look at how it's made.

Creative Mug rack. Take a close look at how it’s made.

A pilot needs something appropriate to wear, in particular if they are military. For a civilian pilot, almost anything goes (shoes and shirt usually required, unless in some exotic location and then you are a lucky pilot indeed). For military pilots, the appropriate attire is a flight suit, but once in a while formal attire is necessary. A savvy pilot can make a few adjustments of uniform to fit both ceremony and later bar visit. Simply remove the sleeves of mess dress shirt, keep the cuffs and attach them to new sleeves from material of your choice. This is easily hidden beneath your mess dress jacket.

Mess Dress shirt with "women's shoe" motiff.

Mess Dress shirt with “women’s shoe” motif.

And every party or visit to a bar is more fun with friends, family, or fellow pilots. So invite your buds and head to the bar. Below is a photo of a famous local watering hole for test pilots back in the seventies and eighties. The Pancho Barnes room at the Edwards Air Force Base Officer Club (name and layout since changed). Take a close look at some of the things in the background.

Test Pilot Class 83A in Pancho Barnes Room, Edwards AFB, California

Test Pilot Class 83A in Pancho Barnes Room, Edwards AFB, California

Over time as people find this blog post, I hope that to add items they have photographed (with photo credit) in aviation bars. All I ask is to keep it “clean.” Comment or contact me, and I’ll add your photos or you can send me a link to photos and I’ll be glad to add that. Thanks for stopping by. Remember 8 hours from throttle to bottle!

Fly safe.