Category Archives: Bizarre

We Visited Sunspot National Solar Observatory in New Mexico on Saturday. This Is Our Report.

We got close as 20 meters away from the main telescope and took some close-up shots of the surrounding buildings.

Editor’s note: as you already know by now, Sunspot National Solar Observatory, New Mexico, has been evacuated along with the small town that supports it on Sept. 6. The facility was evacuated “as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue” and it remained off-limits since then. No further details were provided while the FBI investigated the issue. You can find many conspiracy theories online: from the need to keep a Solar Flare that will terminate us secret, to the imminent Alien Invasion. However, some interesting coverage can be read at the War Zone here and here. Now the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) organization that runs the observatory has released a statement according to which the facility will return to normal operations today, Sept. 17. Here below is the only piece of information about the reasons for the evacuation included in the statement:

“We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.”

On Sept. 15, journalist and The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Rosenwald visited the observatory. Here’s his first hand account along with video and pictures:

I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Saturday, September 15 for a commercial drone photography assignment. I was aware of the Sunspot, New Mexico solar observatory mystery, and, given that it was only 100 miles away from Las Cruces, I decided to see what I could find out after I completed my work. I didn’t expect to see anything spectacular. It had been a week since the initial incident, and I knew that security guards were at the site. Even so, the popularity of the story meant that there was still demand for reliable, unique new images of the facility.

When I arrived at the front gate, I was greeted by three uniformed, armed security officers. They were friendly, but said that they weren’t aware of how or why the facility had been evacuated. I recorded video and took photos near the gate. Several curious onlookers showed up in vehicles, and left while I was filming.

National Solar Observatory

According to a security guard, one of the residents at the facility didn’t fully evacuate. He camped at the edge of the property, next to an unmarked campsite complete with a fire ring 20 meters from the main gate. By the time I got there, he had left the campsite and returned to his home. Apparently, he was frustrated with the evacuation and lack of updates. Sunspot is not simply the location of a telescope. It’s a self-sufficient town complete with its own post office. People have homes in Sunspot.

A Security guard informed me that the nearby Apache Peak Observatory grounds were open to the public, adding that I shouldn’t use my vehicle headlights after 7pm to avoid interfering with telescope operations. After a final chat with the guards, I drove back down the road from Sunspot, and turned onto a separate road that led to the observatory on Apache Peak.

Welcom sign.

Upon arrival, I parked in the guest lot, walked to an outcrop that overlooks the valley that cradles White Sands Missile Range, and spent several minutes taking photos. I was running out of daylight, so I didn’t walk onto the telescope grounds. Instead, I drove down the access road, parked, and hiked cross-country to the perimeter of the solar observatory in Sunspot. I spent several minutes recording video and taking photos of the Dunn telescope and surrounding buildings. It started to rain during the hike, which led to the development of a rainbow near the telescope.

One of the vehicles that could be spotted at the facility belonged to the Sunspot Fire Department NM.

I didn’t see any people, signs of an evacuation, or anything else that seemed unusual or notable. At sunset, I returned to my vehicle. As I traveled down one of the access roads, I passed several bow hunters, free-range cattle and deer.

A close up view of the top of Dunn telescope.

I was satisfied with the images I brought back, but the ongoing mystery left me with a desire to remain, and continue investigating the area. Unfortunately, I had to go back to Tucson.

Here below you can see the video filmed by the Author at the National Solar Observatory on Saturday:

Rock Band Honors Gary Powers With New Song on U-2 Incident Anniversary

“Powers Down” is a tribute to Francis Gary Powers, the late U-2 pilot recipient of the Intelligence Star, by rock band One Man Mambo.

During the late 50s, with the approval of Pakistani Government, U.S. President D. Eisenhower established a secret intelligence facility in Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), equipped with a runway that allowed U-2 spy planes to perform secret missions over the majority of the Soviet airspace.

On May 1, 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit conference in Paris, pilot Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Badaber on board its “Dragon Lady” Item 360 for a mission over the Soviet Union. The task was to photograph ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk and then, landing at Bodo, Norway.

The flight was hardly a surprise, since Soviet defenses were pre-alerted by the U-2 unit “10-10” piloted by Bob Ericson: some weeks before, he had overflown some of the top secret military installations such as the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the SAM test site, the Tyuratam missile range and the Dolon airbase with its Tu-95 strategic bombers.

According to some Russian sources, just after the U-2 was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered all the air unit commanders on duty “to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane’s course, and to ram if necessary (see for details: – Russian language only).

Some fighters took off immediately but like the previous alerts, all the attempts to intercept the foreign plane failed. Eventually the U-2 was hit and shot down by the first of three S-75 Dvina surface to air missiles fired by a defense battery.

According to Russian sources, it is interesting to know how Pilot Gary Powers, after successfully bailing out from the plane, was soon captured by the Russians and was found with a modified silver coin which contained a lethal saxitoxin- tipped needle…to be used in case of torture!

After the event, the whole Soviet air defense system was obviously in red code but the lack of coordination brought to a curious incident often hidden by the ordinary tale of facts: the SAM command center was unaware that the foreign plane had been destroyed for more than half so that at least 13 further anti-aircraft missiles were fired, one of them shooting down a MiG-19 and killing his pilot, Sergei Safronov.

The episode became of an outstanding relevance among the international community and represented one of the higher peaks of the face off between the two nuclear superpowers.

On May 1, 2018, 58 years after the incident, One Man Mambo, a rock band founded in 2016, releases a tribute to Francis Gary Powers.

“Gary Powers’ U-2 mission over the mighty Soviet Union has fascinated me since I took U.S. History in high school” said band member Lazar Wall in an email to The Aviationist. “Particularly impressive were the ramming attempts by a Sukhoi fighter jet, and the unfortunate death of a Soviet pilot whose MiG got hit by friendly fire. The Iron Maiden song Aces High, about Spitfires and ME-109s in the Battle of Britain, was definitely an influence on Powers Down. Our band released its first aviation-related song at the end of last year. Flight 2933 is a tribute to the Chapecoense players and staffers from Brazil who perished in a 2016 air accident.”

The song, titled “Powers Down” will be on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services May 10.

Meanwhile, here’s the lyric video of the song, in case you are interested in a quite unusual (at least by our standards) way to honor one of the world’s most famous pilots:

Top image credit: CIA / RIA Novosti

The description of May 1, 1960 incident is taken from our previous article “Airspace Violations – Episode 5” that you are strongly suggested to read for more details.

Did you know that the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit was inspired by the WWII B-29 Superfortress bomber?

The cockpit of Star Wars iconic, futuristic  spacecraft is based on the style coined by the WWII B-29.

Did you know that the Star Wars saga most famous spacecraft featured a cockpit clearly inspired to a World War II heavy bomber?

Well, the iconic greenhouse-style window of the Millennium Falcon was designed with the style of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a strategic bomber flying 30 years before Han Solo and Chewbacca first appeared driving the iconic spacecraft into the hyperspace, in mind.


As already explained here when we first published a quite unique walkaround video of the last flying Superfortress, the Boeing B-29 was a four-engine heavy bomber operational during WWII designed for high-altitude strategic bomber role that become particularly famous for carrying out the devastating atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

After the war, the advanced B-29s carried out several tasks including in-flight refueling, antisubmarine patrol, weather reconnaissance and rescue duty. The B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: jet fighters and electronic weapons. The last B-29 was retired from active service in September 1960.

The Superfortress featured pressurized cabin with the peculiar windows layout, tricycle dual wheeled landing gears, and a quite-advanced-for-the-time, remote, electronic fire-control system that controlled four machine gun turrets that complemented a manned, semi-automatic, rear gun turret.

Indeed, you most probably remember that gun turrets also equip George Lucas’s spacecraft and are used by both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to fight Imperial TIE fighters as the Millennium Falcon escapes Death Star in Episode IV.

Anyway, the connections between WWII aircraft and Star Wars go well beyond the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit or manned gun turrets: it’s not a secret George Lucas draw inspiration from WWII newsreel and movies. Among them, 633 Squadron (1964) and The Dam Busters (1955) film about one of the Royal Air Force’s most famous raid in WWII against the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, pivotal to Hitler’s industrial heartland in the Ruhr Valley, inspired the famous Death Star attack featured in “A New Hope.”

Image credit: Wiki (top), Lucas Films

Danish F-16 fighter pilot grows a mustache to honor a legendary U.S. Air Force ace pilot and becomes his look-alike

An F-16 fighter pilot grew a bulletproof mustache to honor a great fighter pilot and became Robin Olds’s look-alike.

Thomas “MET” Kristensen is a combat pilot of the Royal Danish Air Force.

Even though his name may be new to you, he’s actually quite famous, as “MET” is the man behind the world-famous Fox-2 selfie shot while he was firing an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile from an RDAF F-16.

In an email to The Aviationist, Kristensen explains:

“I’ve just been deployed in Estonia with the Royal Danish Air Force F-16 detachment, to carry out air policing over the Baltic States. In this context, I acquired myself a bulletproof mustache in honor of a great fighter pilot who introduced it during the Vietnam War.”

The great pilot mentioned by “MET” is Robin Olds, a U.S. Air Force ace, with a combined total of 16 victories in World War II and the Vietnam War.

Olds, who retired as Brig. Gen. in 1973 and died in 2007 at the age of 84 (you can find many websites, books about him and his career), was also famous for the mustache he grew in Vietnam. The Wiki page has an entire section about Olds’s handlebar mustache.

Kristensen grew his own mustache to honor the legendary pilot and, as you can see in the pictures taken during the Baltic Air Policing deployment by photographer Casper Tybjerg, a Nikon Ambassador, the similarity with the original shots of Robin Olds is astounding.

Left is Col. Robin Olds (image from Wiki), right is “MET”.

Robin Olds

Image credit: Casper Tybjerg and Wikipedia (via Thomas Kristensen)


Polish Olympic Champion’s use of Air Force roundel causes controversy

A Polish athlete won the gold medal using a helmet decorated with the Polish Air Force emblem

Kamil Stoch, the best Polish ski jumper, was allowed by the Polish Ministry of National Defense to use the Polish Air Force roundel on his helmet during the Sochi Olympics and the badge on his helmet caused controversy well before the Putin’s Winter Games started: some media outlets argued that if the world champion had failed, then the comparison to the Smolensk crash, would have been inevitable.

A bit far fetched considered that the 2010 Polish Air Force Ty-154 crashe caused 96 fatalities!

Fortunately, Kamil Stoch won the gold in the men’s normal hill ski jumping on Feb. 9.

The Polish Ministry of Defense considers the use of emblem as an act of patriotism.

The Air Force checkerboard is the national marking of the Polish aircraft. Initially it was used as personal insignia of Stefan Stec, a Polish fighter pilot, and then in December 1918 it became a national roundel.

Photo Credit: Grzegorz Momot / Polish Press Agency

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist


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