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  • J.F. Rowan

A Winged Affair

Some of the static displays undergoing a "spiffing" up at Highland Lake Squadron in Burnet Texas

I was probably 4 years old when my dad picked me up and placed me carefully inside Henry Mazer’s Piper Super Cruiser. The rush of wind over my face from the prop wash through airplanes open door brought some welcome relief. The breeze also brought the aroma of exhaust combined with the scent of “Av-gas” which was, at least from my point of view at the time, somewhat pleasant. After that first flight with Henry, there has always been a love of aviation in my life. So it’s not surprising that during our time exploring, I have tried to incorporate that love affair into our adventure whenever practical. My latest aviation find was a small squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, Highland Lake Squadron in Burnet Texas. The Commemorative Air Force is an organization whose mission is to preserve wartime aviation artifacts both flying and non-flying. There are several squadrons throughout the United States.

(Note-As always, you can click on various links to learn more.)

Highland Lake Squadron

The Highland Lake Squadron, part of the Commemorative Air Force

The Highland Lake Squadron was located near our Inks Lake State Park base camp, an easy thirty minute drive through some gorgeous countryside. The museum is only open a few days a week so we were lucky that they were open while we were in the area. When we drove into the parking lot, a few static displays outside were being repainted. I laughed when I saw that two of them were the same models that I trained on (aircraft maintenance, Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls Texas), the T-37 and the T-38. We entered the side door of an aircraft hanger and into a room where we paid a very small entrance fee. The room also had several artifacts that we could explore including an entire gun turret taken directly from the nose of a WW II B-24 bomber.

Since it was early and not too crowded, I had the pleasure of having one of the volunteers accompany me around all the artifacts and later into the hanger where a few aircraft awaited our visit. He answered several questions and told a few stories along the tour. So many things to look at! Uniforms, instruments, photos and so much more. I thought about how lucky for local schools to be able (hopefully) incorporate this priceless collection of history into their history curriculum. Some of the more famous bombsights (Sperry and Nordon) that were so instrumental during WW II were there and even a bombsight from a German bomber of which only two exist in the world.

B-24 Gun Turret

Nose turret gun from B-24.

B-24 Gun Turret

Inside nose turret. You probably had to be about 5 feet tall and weigh about 110lbs in order to fit in there.

Nordon Bombsight

Nordon Bombsight System


PT-19 going through extensive maintenance.

German Bombsight

Rare German bombsight.

North American Navion L-17

North American L-17 Navion

Once our tour of the inside museum was finished, we ventured out into the hanger to look at some of the larger pieces. Unfortunately, the squadron had experienced an accident with one of their aircraft a few weeks earlier. A C-47 crashed during take-off and went up in flames at the end of the runway. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. (To see a YouTube Video of the crash, Click Here.)

All 13 passengers got out safely, but the aircraft was a total loss. The only thing that survived was the tail section which the squadron will re-paint, and hang inside the hanger. The squadron has a few other aircraft that usually are flyable. This day, however, one aircraft was at another location, and the other two flying aircraft were grounded for maintenance. It was a great visit made even greater by the folks that took such pride in preserving these priceless and historic artifacts.

In Other News...

Location Update:

We are refining plans for our departure on Tuesday, heading toward Las Cruces and possibly staying on some BLM land just north of town. We'll hopefully visit the White Sands Missile Museum before heading toward Hatch, NM, on Wednesday or Thursday. We look forward to cooler temperatures and less wind as we make our way out of New Mexico.

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