The passing of time

Landmarks make a city. Can you imagine Seattle without the Space Needle or St. Louis without the arch?

Aviation and history buffs in the Silicon Valley are pondering the idea of a landscape without Hangar One, the dirigible hangar that dominates the grounds of Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. The grand old building, which loomed majestically over orchards and then business parks, is facing destruction.

The 198-foot-tall structure was built in 1930 to house the USS Macon airship. Over the years the Army, NASA and the Navy used the mammoth hangar to store all means of aviation conveyances.

The Navy closed Moffett in 1993, but the hangar remained and housed, among other things, the base museum. In 2002 it was determined that the hangar, which was built at a time when the environmental hazards of certain building materials were not known, contained toxic levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). It became off limits. The Moffett Field Historical Society relocated the museum to an adjacent building.

When the first newspaper reports indicating that the hangar might be torn down appeared, a shudder went through aviation and history buffs in the South Bay. By July the Save Hangar One committee (SaveHangarOne.org) was formed. The committee wants to see the hangar preserved or reused. One suggestion is to cover it with photocells so that it can be used to collect solar power.

No matter what happens to the old building — be it recycling or destruction — it is sure to carry a hefty price tag.

I have a personal attachment to the hangar because I grew up near there and some of my earliest memories involve the mammoth building. Dirigibles are part of our family culture. Dad saw the Hindenburg when he was a lad in New Jersey and it left a great impression on him. When we attended air shows at Moffett Field, Dad told us about the great Zeppelins the hangar was built to house. Because of its size Hangar One was often used for displays during the public events. It was at one of these that my father persuaded my mother to take a ride in a balloon that was tethered inside. This was no small thing as she was wearing a skirt, yet managed to get into the basket with all due modesty.

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU”RE HAVING FUN

To those of you who have shared your pilot watch stories with me over the years, I regret to inform you that the AOPA Timex I have worn since I joined General Aviation News in 2000 has finally given up the ghost. I wrote about it when I got it and many of you wrote back sharing your own experiences. It is common ground. A large watch — one that is easily seen from at least 25 yards — is how pilots identify each other away from the airport environment, after all.

When the Timex was new, AOPA President Phil Boyer saw it during an interview and remarked he liked to see people wearing the team colors, so to speak. Over the years the casing got cracked, the markings wore off and one of the buttons disappeared. When I saw Boyer in April at Sun “n Fun, he saw the watch again, a little (well, okay, a LOT) worse for wear, and remarked that perhaps it was time for a new one.

I spent most of this summer trying to find a replacement timepiece. Air shows are great places to shop for watches if you are a pilot. I was amused when a salesman from a higher-end company tried to get me to buy a watch that cost more than a car payment. It wasn’t a watch, it was a commitment. Then there was the woman at the jewelry store/watch repair place (I made one last stab at resurrecting the Timex) who tried to get me to buy a fancy watch like you would wear to a dinner party. I explained I needed something that is durable and easy to use, preferably with an alarm on it. Besides, I told her, the diamonds would clash with my flight bag.

Fortunately, a friend came through and another AOPA Timex graces my wrist. I”ll let you know how it does.

Meg Godlewski is one of four people who contribute regularly to this column.

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