As I checked into the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, little did I know that the history of aviation flight testing was already waiting for me. I now discover the role he played on a small airfield, a springboard for many great names in the early years of aviation.
As my wife and I carried our luggage to the room, I stopped to see photos of everyone who had stayed here many years ago and commented on how many of them had ties to our Antelope Valley. As we settled in, we realized we were in the presence of the spirits we constantly talk about while telling the story of Antelope Valley.
But a story those walls kept secret was soon to come to life when a chance sighting of an old photo made me think of an old friend, the late Bob Cardenas, and the stories he shared about early flight. YB-49. wing test program and his historic sprint in Washington, DC, and a famous photo of him flying the wing on Pennsylvania Avenue.
There on the wall in the hotel lobby was a picture of Lindenberg/Winslow Airport and a YB-49 sitting on the ramp with people milling about. My mind started to reboot a bit and I remembered an aspect of that famous trip to Washington and back to Muroc that had something dramatic about it and here I was visiting the place where flyover country became the center of the events that took place on February 9, 1949. Luckily, the crew of this flight and Bob would end up spending a few nights in this hotel until the plane was repaired and ready to go.
The first-ever YB-49 flew from Muroc Air Force Base in California to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, DC, in four hours and 25 minutes to set a coast-to-coast speed record, whereupon President Truman ordered a flyover of Pennsylvania Avenue. at rooftop level to send a message showing taxpayers what the government was thinking of spending its money on.
Andrews’ return flight was not to be without controversy when four of the eight engines had to be shut down due to oil shortage. It transpired that at his stop at Wright Field on the return trip, the oil was never checked, or there was some more sinister act at play. The inspection after a successful emergency landing at the Winslow, Arizona airport revealed no oil was replaced in those engines at Wright after the Muroc-to-Andrew leg, raising suspicions of industrial sabotage.
On the way home with a failed aircraft, when they reached Durango, Colorado, it was decided that the best location for an emergency landing would be at Winslow Airport, as it had the longest approaches and flatter ones with a more than adequate trail to exit. The small community of Winslow, accustomed to the traffic generated by its presence on the famous Route 66, was about to receive a visit from a Cold War warrior who would make the highway a secondary part in the minds of many. people from this region.
With a successful landing, crowds began to appear and with little or no military presence on the ground, it fell to the small local Civil Aviation Detachment to take care of security until the Feds showed up. ! The wing drew crowds from across the region and as the aircraft waited for replacement engines to arrive from California, it became a must-attend event much to the chagrin of the Department of Defense.
It’s funny that even the local newspaper, the Winslow Mail, details the arrival and installation of the new engines and promotes the show as a public attraction! Hundreds of people came to see this unique aircraft. Then the day came, March 2, and hundreds of people came to the airport to view the incredible site. Now, in 1949, it was not a very common sight for the residents of a remote town in northern Arizona, and they watched with anticipation as the futuristic flying wing took flight on its way home.
While we were there, of course, we had to take a spin on the famous old airstrip. After all, I’m Bob, and that’s exactly what I do when I’m looking for a cool story and historical walk on missing tracks from years ago.
Out in the field, as the wind whistled around that old 1930s shed, I thought of the activity in that single structure, which for about a month was the home of a group of folks from Northrop and all over equipment that had to be transported by air. changing four engines on a YB-49.
Sitting in the old La Posada hotel bar, I thought back and wondered what this crew had ordered drinks as Bob Cardenas and his band of misguided airmen wondered how long they would sing the blues at an airport in a city that years later would become famous for the line of an Eagles song. What did they think, as they stood “on the corner of Winslow, Arizona” waiting for four Allison J35-A-15 turbojets to show up, maybe even on a “Flat Ford”.
Until the next time Bob comes out…