Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mileage Run: USS Midway + San Diego Air and Space Museum

It's that time of year again. That time where I simply don't have the time to fly. Since I last flew over a month ago, we've spent a week in Mexico for our anniversary, visited family out of state, and now I've flown to California and back. Rough life, I know.

December is also prime time for a mileage run. As I explained on here the last time I did this, it's basically a trip to earn enough frequent flyer miles to hit a threshold for elite status. With no more business trips planned for the year, I was sitting a few thousand miles short. I found a cheap ticket for a quick overnight to San Diego back in October. All told, I added just under 5,000 elite qualifying miles to my account for just over $250.

CVG-LAX | DL1933 | 737-800 | Seat 18A, Economy Class | 4h 59m
LAX-SAN | DL4656 | CRJ-700 | Seat 12A, Economy Class | 0h 52m

After barely making it onto my flight at CVG this morning (there was a fire alarm in the main terminal; I made it thru security and to my gate with about five minutes to spare) I touched down at SAN just after noon, local time. My Uncle Tony, who lives in downtown San Diego, met me at the gate. We said hello and started off on a whirlwind adventure* around the city.

* Regarding my uncle, he's the ultimate tour guide in... well, roughly any city anywhere in the world, to be honest. He's also capable of covering an absurd number of sites and miles by foot on any given day. So that's a) where I get it from and b) the backdrop for the rest of the day's fun.

San Diego Harbor and the Coronado Bridge

The final approach into SAN always results in good views out the window

Walking into town from the airport

We walked to Little Italy and grabbed some fresh produce at the Mercato. It's a weekly farmer's market with many delicious goodies to bring back to wintry Ohio! Then I dropped off a few things at my hotel before walking to the USS Midway, which was a little over a mile by foot.

The USS Midway Museum is spectacular - an entire aircraft carrier, now permanently docked in San Diego and converted to a museum showcasing naval aviation. I was there for over three hours and only left because they were closing for the day. Next time I'm in town, I'll devote an entire day to it. Take a look at the map - you can literally roam almost the entire carrier, from the laundry deep down near the stern to the Captain's Bridge high above the flight deck!

Without a doubt, the best part of my visit was having the privilege to speak to Cdr. Stan Abele, a WWII Corsair pilot and volunteer docent at the museum. He not only survived a Kamikaze attack on the USS Bunker Hill in 1945, but also shot down a Kamikaze himself. We talked about training in Piper Cubs and Taylorcrafts (I mentioned I've flown both) and how they pretty much threw you into the fire. Civilian flight schools were enlisted to train pilots, then the new pilots went back home, awaiting deployment orders.

He had a book of photos that chronicled his time in the service. From early flight training, to grisly images of the Kamikaze attack, through to retirement, everything was there. He spoke of the attack and just how lucky he was; the ready room was completely destroyed in the attack. He left the ready room and started walking to his airplane just 30 seconds before the plane hit.

We talked for probably five minutes and then I listened for at least five more, as he flipped through his photo book. Eventually it was time to continue on my tour - and to allow others to speak with him. I thanked him for his service and my my way upstairs to the flight deck.

F4U-4 Corsair in the Hangar Deck

The museum has these nice placards for their volunteer docents

Cdr. Able, speaking to another lucky visitor

As you can see below, I wandered around for a while, taking photos of the aircraft on board. More docents offered explanations of jobs on the flight deck - from the catapults to the arresting cables and everything in between. It was raining off and on, but I enjoyed the views of both the aircraft and the surrounding city.

Panoramic view of the flight deck

Everything is arranged to highlight the workings of an active carrier

E-2C Hawkeye

Unconditional Surrender statue as seen from the Midway's flight deck

F-14 Tomcat

F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet

It was unusually cold (50 degrees) and wet for San Diego!

The sun still made a welcome appearance from time to time

Looking across San Diego Bay towards the Coronado Bridge

They also offer tours of the island. After climbing up about four flights of very narrow "stairs" (stairs on a ship are more like ladders with slightly deeper rungs) you pop out up top. We toured the aviation bridge / flight operations area (air traffic control tower), navigation rooms, and the bridge. Then I went below deck into the Captain's Quarters - where much of the real command took place.

His stateroom was quite nice, complete with its own galley and adjacent to a large conference room. All of this was only feet away from the true brains of the operation, the task force planning room. There, large screens and command stations provided the capability to manage an operation across an entire battle group. Pretty impressive.

I chatted with another docent down there. His name escapes me, but he was a sailor on the USS Missouri during the Gulf War. We chatted about the massive firepower of the Iowa-class battleships. He said their 50-cal guns firing 2,700 lb shells - using the original trajectory computers from the 1940s, no less - were accurate to 40 foot circle from a range of 20-25 miles out!  It's just amazing to me. He worked on the guns and said there was a space of about six feet behind the gun. When it fired, the recoil was about four feet. Do the math. Needless to say, you wanted to be plastered against the railing when someone pressed the FIRE button.

ATC ran things from this spot on the island

Looking across the bow from the Captain's Bridge

Every ship has its helm, of course

Radio room (wow... and yikes!)

Climbing back up after touring the Captain's area below deck

One final shot of the flight deck

It was getting late and I still had so much to see. I went below deck, into the heart of the ship, to tour the many areas that truly make any carrier a city at sea. From the chow lines to the barber shop to the hospital to a full U.S. Post Office, every necessary service was available on board.

Chow line for enlisted men

Hatch leading to the Officers Quarters


Still ready for (vintage) movie night

Lots and lots of laundry equipment

I certainly appreciate improvements in storage technology!

Before I knew it, it was 5:00 pm and the museum was closing. I never made it to quite a few things below deck. As I said earlier, I absolutely will go back - and plan to spend far more time - next time I'm in San Diego. The USS Midway truly is an amazing museum for aviation, history, and naval buffs of all types.

Though the museum was closed, my own adventure was far from over. I just to happened to plan my trip on the weekend of San Diego's annual December Nights festival. Uncle Tony and I walked up to Balboa Park from downtown and enjoyed a bunch of things being offered - gyros, coffee, and Turkish Delight from the Turkish food stand, delicious drinks, local garlic fries. Everything was delicious.

One other neat thing about December Nights is that they open all the museums in the park to the public for free. So we spent about fifteen minutes wandering around the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Now, being from Dayton, I'm a bit biased and/or have high expectations. After all, the USAF Museum is massive and often considered the best in the world. Accordingly, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the SDASM; they have some nice exhibits but it's pretty small and cramped. Perhaps it would be worthy of a return visit another time when it's not overrun by throngs of people.

World War I Gallery

I see what you did there...

Reproduction Gee Bee R-1

North American P-51D Mustang

Chance Vought F4U Corsair

One of the food pavilions at December Nights

Balboa Park was all decked out for Christmas

I started to hit a wall (it was something like 9:00 pm local, midnight at home) and we left the park after the museum. I grabbed a bag of tasty produce from my uncle's condo; nothing like bringing fresh citrus from California in December. We said our goodbyes and I climbed into bed at the Holiday Inn Express downtown. Let me tell you, that felt wonderful after walking close to 11 miles in under ten hours!

View of the city from my hotel room

You probably know me as a night owl but I was up bright and early the next morning since I had a 7:00 am flight home. I grabbed the free shuttle from the hotel to the airport at 5:30 am and was through security a couple minutes after entering the airport. Thanks, TSA PreCheck!

SAN-DTW | DL1248 | 737-800 | Seat 18A, Economy Class | 4h 17m
DTW-CVG | DL5072 | CRJ-700  | Seat 3A, First Class | 1h 15m

Both flights were good, though my last leg was delayed over four hours. The inbound plane was stuck on the ground in Arkansas due to the icy weather down that way. In hindsight, I should've volunteered to get bumped in San Diego. They were asking for volunteers but it would've put me back at CVG five hours past my scheduled arrival. When all was said and done, it would've been one hour later and I would've been $400 richer. That's how the cards fall sometimes.

A festive McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport

Mileage runs certainly aren't for the average traveler or faint of heart, but I've always been a fan. There's a fun little bit of adventure in jetting across the country, taking in a few local sights or bites to eat, and coming straight back home. There's no telling if or when I'll take another one.

As for flying as it relates to my own piloting, the complexities of limited daylight and the busy holiday season have smashed into each other again this year. I'd love to get in five more hours this month to hit 300 hours before the calendar rolls over to 2014. In fact, I'm still going to try and make it happen. However, travel and early winter weather are making it quite difficult. Let's see if I can pull it off at the very last minute!


  1. Looks like an awesome turn and burn. I hope to do San Diego one day, maybe after the BAC fly in up in Portland then travel down the coast in 08Romeo. Thanks for sharing the pictures! No way these bones would be able to do 11 miles without wheels....oh to be young and healthy :)

    1. That it was, Gary. This was my third (and shortest!) trip to San Diego. Great city, usually perfect weather, and tons to see and do. I'd honestly go back just to visit the Midway again. And my uncle, of course!