Bob Rasmussen

Bob Rasmussen is still surrounded by airplanes. When he flew the slot with the Blue Angels in the late '50s he had them front, left and right. Now they surround his office at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. In his 13 years as director of the museum, he has tripled the museum's size and collection, and now has his eyes on some unique airplanes that Mother Nature has been storing at the bottom of Lake Michigan for over 50 years. In this month's Profile, Capt. Rasmussen, who is also an accomplished aviation artist, talks with AVweb's Joe Godfrey about life as a Naval aviator, flying with the Angels, running the museum, and the interesting medium he uses for his paintings: watercolors.


Bob RasmussenRobert L. Rasmussen was born May26, 1930, in Sacramento, Calif. and grew up in the small farming community ofRio Vista. He got hooked on aviation thanks to the barges full of warbirds thatparked in the river by his home during WWII. He had enough talent to win an artscholarship to a school in San Francisco, but he was more interested in theairplanes flying out of NAS Alameda across the bay from the school. He left artschool, got the required college credits, joined the Navy, trained at Pensacola,and spent 30 years as a naval aviator. For three of those years he flew as a BlueAngel. He served two cruises in Vietnam as commander of Fighter Squadron 111during "Rolling Thunder," the round-the-clock bombing missions overNorth Vietnam. He was Chief of Staff for a navy carrier division, commanded anammo ship, commanded the now-controversial Roosevelt Roads base in Puerto Rico,and headed the aviation assignment division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Heretired as a Captain in 1983 with 650 carrier traps and 5,000 flight hours inhis logbook.

Four years later, after serving as development director of the Naval AviationMuseum Foundation, he became director of the NationalMuseum of Naval Aviation, a job he still holds. When you enter the museumyou see a bronze sculpture that he designed depicting naval aviators from thefive major wars of the 1900s. And you’ll see several of his watercolors hangingby the gift shop and in the art gallery. Most museum visitors don’t get to seethe rest of Captain Rasmussen’s paintings, which line the hallways around hisoffice, and which earned him the R. G. Smith Award for excellence in navalaviation art. But they do benefit from his philosophy that a museum can bothhonor its subject and still be a fun place to go. Kids are all smiles whenthey’re sitting in the open cockpit area working the controls of a Harrier or aSea Cobra. An exhibit called "Home Front" depicts life at home duringWWII. There’s an IMAX theatre and a combat simulator ride. Part of the floor ofthe museum is an exact replica, except for length, of the deck of the LightCarrier Cabot, complete with superstructure. And, of course, there’s thecollection of aircraft, both inside and outside, up and down, including fourBlue Angel A4F Skyhawks suspended in diamond formation from the ceiling. Themuseum is one of the star attractions on the Gulf Coast, and last year nearlyone million people visited the museum.


How did aviation get into your life?

Everybody my age was interested in aviation in World War II. I was 11 whenthe war started and aviation was a big part of the war on the west coast, whereI lived. I got really hooked when the Army Air Corps started sending planes upfrom San Francisco to Sacramento to have them reworked. The Sacramento River ranby my home and the barges full of airplanes — most of them were P-39s and P-40s— would stop there because it was about halfway. So a group of us would sneakdown there at night onto the barge and sit in the cockpits and pretend we wereaviators. I was hooked on the whole aura of aviation but the smell is whatreally stuck with me. To me there was something special and almost hypnoticabout the smell of a military airplane.

I was too young to get into World War II but I did get interested in militaryaviation during and after the war. After high school I had a scholarship to anart school in San Francisco, but I only lasted a couple of weeks there. Othermore pressing interests called. The school was across the bay from Alameda NavalAir Station and as I watched the planes I decided I’d rather be up there thandown here. The San Francisco cable cars had advertisements on the overheads, andI saw one that said "Be a Naval Aviator" which sounded pretty invitingto me. You needed 60 credit hours to do it, so I left art school, which was acommercial school with no college credits, and enrolled at Sacramento StateCollege. As soon as I had my 60 hours I applied for aviation training and thatwas the end of my civilian world for about 30 years.

My first airplane ride was from my home to Pensacola to begin flighttraining, and I was sicker than a dog the whole trip. Not because there wasrough air, it was just like sitting in this room. I thought "I’m going tobe some kind of naval aviator." But that was the last time I was everairsick. I guess I was always too busy after that.

What airplanes did you train in?

I came to Pensacola in 1951 and started flying at Whiting field early in1952. The first airplane was the SNJ Texan, which, for a novice, was a realhandful of airplane. I guess that every airplane is a real handful, but for meat that time that bird with its 600-horsepower radial engine was a real thrill.Intimidating, but exciting. We had several primary training fields in Pensacolathen. Right now we only have two. We bounced around from field to field in thePensacola area in various phases of initial flight training. Then I went toCorpus Christi, Texas for advanced training in the F6F Hellcat. In those days wehad two carrier qualification periods, one in the SNJ and one in the Hellcat. Wetrained on the Light Carrier Monterey — CVL 26 — then later on the the LightCarrier Cabot, which is replicated here on the floor of the museum.

Blue Angels 1957 Standing left to right: Lt. Sheldon O. "Lefty" Schwartz, #3; Cmdr. Edward B. "Ed" Holley, Officer In Charge/Flight Leader, #1; Lt. Robert L. "Ras" Rasmussen, #2; Kneeling left to right: Lt. Nello Pierozzi, #4; Lt. Mark Perrault, #7; Lt. Herbert P. Hunter, #6

Do you remember your first trap?

I remember I was scared to death. None of the carrier training is dual —ever — so you have to rely on your training. We had gone through a lot of fieldcarrier landing practice, but when it came to the real thing I felt I was justalong for the ride. It’s hard to say you’re in complete control of any carrierlanding, but especially the first couple of landings are especially challenging.

In those days we took our parachute off to land aboard ship, which is astrange feeling. These days they have much better capability to egress from theairplane in case of emergency, but in those days the only low altitude emergencyoption was to land in the water and we didn’t want to get trapped in theparachute if we wound up in the water. I completed the required six landings onmy first day. It was the ultimate high of my life, at least at that point.

Did you see combat?

Not in my first tour in the fleet, but I had my share in the 60s, during theVietnam conflict. My first assignment was to VF-51 at Miramar in San Diego. Thesquadron had just returned from an air combat cruise in Korea. They were flyingF9F-5s on the cruise, but when they got back we transitioned to the F9F-6Cougar. We finished this transition and deployed on the Philippine Sea at aboutthe time the war ended so I never saw any combat in Korea.

I spent three years with the squadron. We were operating off a straight deckcarrier with a jet that was really designed for an angled-deck carrier. Thestraight deck carriers were designed for WWII airplanes, and it was interestingoperating a high-performance jet from a straight deck carrier. There were nobolters, you had to make it every time.

How many wires did a straight deck carrier have?

There were nine wires, plus three barrier wires, and then a 12-footbarricade. The barricade was eventually raised to 21 feet because jets couldeasily bounce over the 12-footer. There was a downside to the higher barricadethough; on more than one occasion the jet would take a wave-off and not getenough height to get over the barricade and go smashing into the pack at thefront of the deck. That happened once on our cruise, and that was always a realpossibility. So the advent of the angled deck, around late 1953, was necessaryfor the progress of naval aviation.

What other changes in design did you see?

I saw hydraulic catapult technology improve, and then eventually steamcatapults. In the training command we used the WWII vintage H4 hydrauliccatapult for the F6F, which was a jolt in the rear, but nothing like the jolt wegot when launching in a jet like the F9F-6. With 20 knots of wind across thedeck the F6F only needed about 60 knots boost from the catapult, but the F9F-6needed about 130 knots flying speed to get comfortable, and the maximum thecatapult could deliver was 94 knots. So even with 30 knots of wind on the deckyou’re still on the edge. There were many times when we couldn’t fly because wedidn’t have enough wind. Those problems were all solved with the technologyadvances in carrier aviation in the 1950s and 60s.

I wanted to continue to fly at the time I reached the end of my obligatedservice, and the airlines were hiring like crazy. So I did consider that. But atthe same time that opportunity came along, I got a chance to come back toPensacola and fly with the Blue Angels, and I did what every other 25-year-oldwould have done. And I’ve never regretted that decision.

How do you get picked to be a Blue Angel?

In my day it was a pretty casual setup. It’s much more formal and structurednow. But in those days, it was mostly a case of who you knew and where youhappened to be. You had to have a good endorsement from your commanding officerand it helped if you knew someone that was already attached to the Blue Angels.Then, as now, they pick their successors. I happened to be sharing an apartmentwith a couple of guys, one of whom had just come from the Blue Angels. Thatcertainly helped. So I think for me, it was a case of being in the right placeat the right time.

Most people believe that Blue Angel pilots have to be especially talentedaviators. But I’d say that any of the people in my squadron could have come backhere and been successful. We used to watch and be awed by what the Blue Angelsdid when we were junior officers and I’m sure junior officers still do that. Ourattitude, which is probably still the case, was that you had to be some kind ofsuperwhiz pilot to even attempt those maneuvers. When I joined the Blues Iquickly found out that just is not true. Just about everybody I know that’scompetent enough to fly airplanes off of ships can do the Blue Angel routine ifthey get the right training. In fact, I think landing an aircraft on a ship atnight in bad weather is a lot harder than what the Blue Angels do.

Can you give us some history of how the Blue Angel teams evolved?

Originally, in 1946, there were only three pilots, then they went to four,then four plus what they called the Beetlebaum, which was an SNJ painted to looklike a Japanese Zero. The four would do a show, then they’d put on a mockdogfight with the SNJ. Then they went to four in formation plus a soloperformer. All those changes took place in just a few years. In 1953 they addedanother solo so they had four in formation plus two solo performers. That’s whatwas in place when I arrived in 1956 and it hasn’t changed.

The year I joined the Blues we juggled airplanes a lot. When I got here, wewere flying the F9F-8 Cougar. We transitioned to the F11 Tiger in April of 1957,two months after we had started the show season. So that year we flew the firstfew weeks of the season in the F9 and went to Grumman and picked up six brandnew Tigers and started the transition into the new plane. We would practiceduring the week in the F11 and go fly the weekend shows in the F9. We flew ourfirst show in the F11 in July of 1957, then the F11s — all of them, not justours — had to be grounded for some mechanical reason. So we shifted back to theF9 for a few shows, than back to the F11 to finish out the year. It was prettyhectic … but interesting.

Normally the tour of duty with the Blues is for two years. Once in a whilethey keep somebody there for three years, because of an anomaly in the rotationor something else. Basically they bring two or three new people in every year. Ioriginally came in to be one of the solos, but a day or two after I arrived oneof the diamond pilots was killed in an accident during practice, so they put mein that position. I was with the Blues for three years because one of ourreplacements was lost in training just as my two-year tour was up. Somebody hadto stay on, and I was a bachelor and I was enjoying it, so I stayed. I flew theright wing for the first year and then shifted to the slot.

The slot seems to me like it would be the most work.

We slot pilots like to make it look that way. [Laughs.] In the echelonformation and the trail maneuvers it is more difficult, but in the diamond it’sactually easier. Four has more responsibility to keep the formation honest.Sometimes the slot can see things in the formation that the leader can’t see.Sure you have a better visual picture in the lead, but the slot often has abetter feel for the whole situation. I think just about any slot pilot wouldtell you that.

Can you give us an example?

The slot man can often tell when the rhythm of a maneuver is off, or if theleader’s not pulling enough g’s during a maneuver, or if the roll rate is toofast or not fast enough. Not that this would always cause the formation to comeapart, but you want it to be as clean as it can be.

Lt. Rasmussen Lt. "Ras"

One time we were performing in Las Vegas, on the 50th anniversary of poweredflight. We were in the F11 and we went into a loop. A loop is a relativelybenign maneuver, but not something where you can make many mistakes, especiallyat a high and hot environment like Las Vegas. And we were not accustomed to thatenvironment with the F11. I was flying slot, and I could feel, almost from thestart of the maneuver, that we were not pulling enough, or were perhaps a littletoo slow . So I began talking to the lead, trying to maximize our power, gforces and other factors throughout the maneuver. The slot is always the mostcritical on power and controllability in the formation used for the loop. And,if we were to recover from the bad start we had, it would require the lead tofly his aircraft as close as possible to the performance edge without exceedingthe capability of the wingmen, and especially the slot. Being able to feel themaneuver from the slot and passing this on to the lead was helpful in workingthis out.

We were very slow going over the top of the loop (well under 100 knots). Wedidn’t have the speed necessary to put the necessary g’s in starting down theback side without stalling. That’s an especially critical point because, if youput too much in you stall or mush and not turn the plane around the pitch axis.Too little and the same thing results without the stall. The bottom line is thesame, you simply may not have enough vertical room to avoid hitting the ground.

We all realized well before this that we had a real problem but all we coulddo was see it through trying to maximize the performance of the airplanes. Wewere at maximum power and right on the edge of the stall all around the backside. Fortunately, the two wingmen simultaneously moved out of the formationseveral feet as we started to bottom out of the loop which gave me theopportunity to slip up a little higher into the lead jet wash. I don’t know ifthis made a difference but it might have. We blew up a huge ball of dust as webottomed out, and observers claimed that they were surprised that it was not aball of fire.

As we started up again the lead called me on the radio with one word: "Ras?"His meaning was clear. Being a bit of the ham, I waited just a second beforeresponding. The rest of the guys never let me forget that little bit ofmelodrama.

We never made that mistake in a maneuver again either.

Just to get there takes a lot of ego. How do you train to fly as a team?

There is a lot of ego involved, for some more than others. But it cannot be abig part of the experience, it has to be controlled to make a good team. It’slike any other type of military flying, you can do it if you have the rightleadership and training and attitude and a bit of flying talent. And it helps tokeep in mind that you are not as special as people will undoubtedly say you are.

There’s a lot of camaraderie. To say that you’re all best buddies all thetime is probably stretching it. We each had our individual lives, but we stucktogether much more than any other group I’ve been with. Most of us werebachelors, so most of us lived together on the base in bachelor’s quarters. Infact, being a bachelor was one of the unofficial requirements until just beforeI joined.

Are there other traditions that have changed or been abandoned over theyears?

Originally you had to be a former naval aviation cadet as opposed toreceiving your commission from the Naval Academy or ROTC. That’s no longer thecase. The policy of having one of the demonstration pilots be a Marine startedin 1952 and, of course, that’s still in place.

We only had six airplanes. I think there are 12 now, but we only had six, soI always flew in the same airplane. And we didn’t have the luxury of ever havingan aircraft unavailable for a performance…and they practically never were.

What happens when you wake up and you just feel like hell? Does it evencross your mind to cancel a show?

When you’re 25 or 26 it doesn’t matter so much. I couldn’t do it today, butback then you’d just grit your teeth and go out and do it. Our show was about 35minutes. It’s a little longer than that now. But it’s 35 minutes of veryconcentrated hard work. You’re tense physically and mentally, and when youfinish you’re pretty much exhausted. If you start the routine exhausted orfeeling like death warmed over, it’s only that much worse.

There’s no backup pilot?

No. If there’s an emergency you go with one less pilot. In the three and ahalf years I was with the team we never had one pilot cancel because ofsickness. We had pilots who flew with minor illness, with the sometimesreluctant stamp of approval from the flight surgeon. On one occasion we had apilot who had a painful back spasm that would only go away when he was seated.So once he was seated in his jet he was fine, but getting in and out was a bitdicey. The lead once had to take a local shot to eliminate a muscle pain thatwould otherwise have made it difficult or impossible for him to fly the high gmaneuvers. The bottom line was that we never missed a performance or even had anaircraft out of the lineup because of sickness. I guess that we were lucky inpart that we never had a debilitating sickness situation, but we were alsopretty healthy and we knew our limitations, so even if it was strenuous anddifficult at times we never exceeded these limitations.

Did you have a particular place that you liked to perform?

I like the Midwest most because of their enthusiasm. They didn’t see a lot ofNavy planes and in those days didn’t see many military aviators at all. As aresult an appearance of the Blue Angels was a major event.

I’ll never forget Mason City, Iowa. We flew out of a base around Minneapolison one of those crystal clear days. We flew over the field for our openingmaneuver and it looked like a million people. There were probably ten or twentythousand people in Mason City, so it was obvious that they had drawn people fromall over the state.

We were not scheduled to land there because the runway was only 5,000 feet orso, but our public affairs officer radioed us about the enthusiastic crowd so wedecided to land. We managed not to run off the runway, but while taxiing back inechelon we kept getting slower and slower. Then we realized we were sinking intothe hot asphalt taxiway that was not built to handle heavy jets. About that timethe crowd broke through the barrier, the snow fence, and we shut down. You wouldhave thought we had won World War Three. The crowd was just amazing. I thinkthat was my favorite place. There were other big crowds, like in California andNew York, but they saw so much Navy that they weren’t the die-hard fans thatyou’d find in the Midwest. But they were all fun.


Battle of Midway "Old Nick One": A VF-111 F-8C Crusader cats from the USS Oriskany

What did you do after the season ended?

Our season was over in late November. Now they finish in early November. Wetook December off and in January took off for either El Centro or Key West tobegin training and working in the new people.

What did you do after the Blue Angels?

First, I married a girl from Pensacola, with whom I just celebrated a 40thanniversary. I then went to a fighter squadron in Oceana flying F11Fs. This wasa much different F11, with all the guns and extra weight of a fleet configuredaircraft on it. Of course, it wasn’t sleek and blue and polished like the one Iwas used to in the Blues. I made a couple of deployments to the Mediterranean onthe USS INTREPID, most of which was uneventful.

I did have one interesting flight while preparing to deploy. One night I wasdoing carrier qualification off the coast of Virginia with another pilot. Wecouldn’t get the last landing in because the weather was so bad. We got down tobingo fuel so they sent us to the beach. They told us we were about 65 milesoffshore, but we were more like 105, and we were right down to minimum fuel asit was. The field was supposed to be 10,000 overcast, but when we got there itwas 1,500 overcast and 800 broken. As we got close the pilot who was leading meran out of fuel and had to punch out. Fortunately he was recovered. In fact,that was probably one of the first ever successful night helicopter recoveries.I came in on a radar controlled simulated dead engine approach with my fuelgauges on zero. It was a nail biter, not something you want to do every day.

After that I became an aide, working for the Deputy Commander of the AtlanticFleet. Then I went to postgraduate school at Monterey. About that time theVietnam conflict started and we naval aviators worried that we would be left outof the war because we were stuck in school. Our wives did not share that worry.Well, that sure turned out wrong, because it lasted 10 years and we got morethan our share of it. I did two cruises in Vietnam, one as the Executive Officerof VF-111 and one as Commanding Officer. I was on the Oriskany when she burnedin 1966. It was during the "Rolling Thunder" period of the war, wherewe had major strikes into North Vietnam, sometimes three a day, for months andmonths. It was a difficult time for us, we lost about 20% of our air wingaircrews.

Following that, I had a tour as an aviation assignment officer in Washington.Then I got an assignment back on the West Coast to be Commander for Air Wing 19,when I was unexpectedly selected for Captain and got derailed. It wasunfortunate for me because being an Air Wing Commander is the plum assignmentfor an aviator. I was an Ops officer and Chief of Staff for a carrier divisionin the Vietnam era, then took command of an ammunition ship, which took me backout for another 12 months. I was gone for about 30 months out of three years.

Then I was Commanding Officer of Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico for twoyears, then back to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, this time as the headassignment officer for aviation. I finished up my navy career in Pensacola asCommanding Officer of the Naval Aviation Schools Command — pre-flight school.Ending up here right where I started 30 years earlier was nice because it wasfull circle. My daughter and my niece both married naval aviators while I washere. I think that was probably a foregone conclusion since they were aboutcollege age when we moved here. My son is a naval aviator, flying FA-18s inVFA-105 at Oceana. I retired in 1983.

Did the people and the local politicians support the base at Vieques whenyou were there?

The relationship between the navy and the local leaders at Vieques was veryactive, open and cooperative while I was CO at Roosevelt Roads. There was noovert dispute with Vieques over the navy presence. Despite this, there was someeffort by political organizations in Puerto Rico to reduce or eliminate thenavy’s involvement in Vieques. A short time earlier the navy had shut down itslive impact range on the small Puerto Rican island of Culebra and it was obviousthat Vieques was vulnerable to the same type of programs that saw the end of therange at Culebra.

How has the museum changed since you’ve been here?

When I got here it was about one-third as big as it is now, and we had lessthan one-third the collection we have now. The artifact and archival collectionswere much smaller. There was no library. The staff was small and was pretty muchlimited by its size to basic operation and maintenance. There wasn’t the moneyor the capability or the people to run it like a first-class museum. We havebeen able to turn much of that around in the past several years.

My philosophy is that museums should fill the traditional role of beingeducational and inspirational and should represent the history of the communitythey serve, but in this day and age, they have to also be interesting and funplaces to go. I don’t intend to and won’t allow it to be a fun house, but wehave added some elements that we believe make it serve this philosophy. Forinstance we let people integrate themselves with our exhibits, includingairplanes. Our open cockpit area is unique to this museum, and it’s always fullof kids pretending to be pilots. When I became museum director, all theairplanes were cordoned off, not accessible to the public. I decided to removethe barriers and allow visitors to interact with the aircraft.

There were plenty of skeptics when I introduced this idea, so we wentincrementally. First I opened the ropes on the less vulnerable airplanes, andgradually we’ve opened up the wood and fabric airplanes, too. People respectthem and don’t abuse them. In fact, I think people appreciate it because theycan’t do this — get up close with the aircraft — anywhere but here.

Are there any airplanes you wish you had?

There are two that I really, really want and several others I’d like to have.The big gaps in the collection are F2A Buffalo, and we have a chance of pickingthat up. The one we have in mind came out of Finland, via Russia; now it’s inIreland and the Navy’s negotiating to get it here. The other one is the TDBDevastator which was the famous torpedo plane from the battle of Midway. Thereare three underwater that we know of, and we’re negotiating for them.

Who owns an airplane that’s underwater? Is it yours if you can dig it up?

It’s ours anyway. The Navy never gave up ownership. We’ve pulled 31 airplanesout of various bodies of water here and there. Most of them came out of LakeMichigan, two came out of the Pacific Ocean, our F6 Hellcat came out of 3,400feet of water off San Diego. The F3F was submerged in 1,800 feet of water offDel Mar, California. Of course they needed to be restored but they’re mostlyoriginal. Before we started pulling airplanes out of the water we didn’t haveexamples of these airplanes.

We didn’t have an SBD. We didn’t have an F4F or an F3F or SB2U Vindicator. Soacquiring these aircraft has been very significant for us. In addition to beingvery rare and valuable artifacts, they are basically undisturbed. Unlike anairplane that’s been crop dusting or been somebody’s hobby, or reconfiguredseveral times, these are basically untouched and historically accurate. It’sespecially gratifying to get the WWII airplanes because, when the war ended mostmany of those airplanes were pushed over the side or trashed or left where theywere. Most of those that did come back were ground up for scrap. The Navy, likeall the services, purposely destroyed most of the WWII fleet.

Battle of Midway "Turning Point": SBD Dauntless bombers dive for the kill

Why are there so many airplanes in Lake Michigan? Is it because of thetraining station at Great Lakes?

No, not directly. There were two carriers operating in Lake Michigan duringthe war, and they were the real source of the aircraft. The two ships —Wolverine and Sable — didn’t start as carriers, they were excursion steamers.The Navy bought them, cut the tops off, and made small training carriers out ofthem and trained student naval aviators on them. Virtually all of the navalaviators who became carrier pilots were taught the skill of landing on a carrieron these two ships. The few carriers we had at the beginning of the war were outthere trying to stay alive and later on in the war they were too busy to trainaviators. So Lake Michigan became the training ground for carrier aviators andalso, as the result of accidents that took place there, a graveyard of storedWorld War II aircraft.

What shape are those airplanes in after 60 years in water?

It’s fresh water, and it’s cold so it’s a pretty good place to preserve anairplane, which fit in pretty well with part of our mission of preservation ofthe history of naval aviation. This has not always been the case. A good case inpoint is the Hellcat. There were almost 13,000 Hellcats built, and there areonly about 25 left, and most of those are in civilian hands. The navy did notpreserve even one for history. The museum didn’t have a Hellcat until weacquired one from a civilian collector. So now when an older airplane comes offline,I make sure we get at least one copy of it even if we acquire it only forpreservation and often that preservation takes form of a loan.

We have 350 airplanes on loan throughout the U.S. We probably have requestsfor 1,000 different airplanes. We try to parcel them out to responsible museumsthat we believe are reputable. The Navy keeps title of the loaned property andit could always be recalled. But, for the most part, when we put it out on loanit’s going to stay there. If they treat it right and we don’t need it — andevery airplane on loan is a duplicate of what we have here so usually we don’tneed it — then it can stay there.

What if a generous AVweb reader wants to donate something? What are youlooking for?

I don’t accept something we don’t need. In other words, if we’ve already gota thousand flight helmets and somebody offers one, I probably won’t accept it.But I don’t want to discourage people from offering because that’s how we getmost of our small artifacts. Right now we are looking for artifacts from theVietnam conflict. Surprisingly, despite the length and scope of thatinvolvement, we have little in the way of artifacts to represent it.

How is the museum funded?

The museum receives funds both from the government and through the MuseumFoundation. I have 35 people working for me that are civil servants, and I’m acivil servant. I have another 20 people working for me that are employed by theMuseum Foundation. And there are about 300 volunteers. So it takes threedifferent categories of people and two categories of funds to keep the placerunning. Our budget is about $3 million a year and of that the governmentprovides about $2 million and the Museum Foundation provides another million.

Were you painting during your flying career or did that come later?

I’ve always known I could draw. I was drawing airplanes when I was a kid. Theart school experience sort of turned me off to art as a hobby, and I didn’treally have time for it when I was flying. So I didn’t do much with it until the’80s. When I came to the foundation they needed some artwork for promotionalpieces, and for some architectural renderings of things we were planning tobuild. So that’s how I got involved again, and I started painting aviation art.

I work exclusively in watercolors. I like the freedom of watercolors becausethey do their own thing and you can’t control them absolutely. Watercolors arechallenging in any art subject, but dealing with that unpredictability inaviation art is especially risky. You can spend hours on a painting and screw itup in a heartbeat and you can’t fix it. You can’t fix watercolors without itbeing obvious. So it’s an unusual medium for aviation art because it is a blendof the abstract that is necessary in watercolor and the historical realism thatyou have to portray in aviation art.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to pursue an exciting and rewarding career innaval aviation and to have a part in the development of the museum and of theart venue that celebrates that profession. Going back to the day I saw the"Be a Naval Aviator" sign in that San Francisco cable car … I’d doit all again in a heartbeat.

If you or someone you know has an interesting aviation storyto tell, please send an Email to Joe Godfrey.