Monday, March 22, 2010

Albuquerque's claim on aviation history

Quite a lot of aviation history is housed in Albuquerque museums. The city's Art Museum, for instance, has two superlative collections related to aviation, and many examples of them can be viewed on line. The Museum's Flickr set of photos on the Albuquerque Municipal Airport contains a look at the style of commercial aviation at mid-Century that is stunning in its quality.

A lot of the pictures look like they were commissioned with promotional intentions, but the realities of the times they portray come through just fine. Most of the airliners are DC-3s and Constellations. There is also a glimpse of the adjacent Kirtland Army Airfield in which the photographer has captured no less than eight B-29 bombers.

Of even more historical interest is the set of photos which is currently on exhibit at the museum, the Frank Speakman Collection. The selection shown on line at Flickr covers most of the life of the first Albuquerque Airport, from the time it was established by Speakman in 1928 until it was taken over by the the Air Corps near the onset of WWII.

Right from the start, two of the early commercial airlines flew Ford and Fokker Tri-motors in and out of Oxnard Field, as it was known shortly after its opening. As time went on, just about every major air celebrity passed through Oxnard including Lucky Lindy and (unlucky)Amelia Earhart. Planes in the great air races of the 1930s such as the Bendix also frequently made Albuquerque a stop on their way, including this magnificent Wedell-Williams Special in 1934.

The Google Earth image below shows the east end of the main field of the present-day Sunport. At the top-center of the picture it is possible to discern some remnants of the original Albuquerque Airport as it was first developed by Speakman. The diagonal track going up to the left is the smaller of the two runways; it intercepted the mile-long main runway at its eastern extreme.

The image below shows a closer view of the location of the old airport; it provides a perspective similar to a high quality aerial photo made of the airport in 1931 from what I would judge to be about eight hundred feet above the ground. The photo is not one included in the Flickr set.

While visiting the exhibit yesterday at the museum, I made a quick sketch of the early aerial photo showing the position of the runways in relation to the mountains east of Albuquerque, as well as the main airport buildings. It looks to me like they were located right near that major T-intersection at the lower left.

It would be fun to superimpose an image of the photo on the Google view, or on a current aerial from the same perspective. No doubt many other features of the early installation could be identified.

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