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Rainbow Circles of the Air Line
Oakland Tribune, April 8, 1923, pages 2 & 4
Burr H. Winslow    Claire K. Vance    Harry W. Huking    William F. Blanchfield

By Jack Bell

Complete Ring of Color Instead of Bow Witnessed
From Ships Flying Over Sierra Nevadas

STRANGE and beautiful are the sights from the heavens, below and above, and no more beautiful sight has been witnessed on land or sea than the rainbow circles viewed from an air mail ship.

When up in the heavens the rainbow ceases to be a bow. It becomes a complete circle. Pilot Burr H. Winslow tells of seeing these circles.

It is onlyt by aggressive argument taking an opposite view of some known fact in flying that Winslow or any of his buddies will "open up" and tell a few of the unusual experiences of the Red Line road. Then when they see that they have been drawn in for enlightening information, they close up like the proverbial clam.

During the summer, when the days are perfect, and the weather conditions are all that a man could ask, these hardy men who take the one in a undred chance during the storm and hurricanes periods across the Hump have what they call "pleasant rides."

"Many times during rain storms that hovered over the tops of the Sierra last summer, when the ships were kept up in the higher altitudes, rainbow circles appeared," says Winslow.

"It is a very common sight to see the entire circle of a rainbow coloring. As a matter of fact it is not a ranbow. It is a perfect circle and it is beautiful.

"There are the narrow-banded shades of every color. There are regular lines of reds, purples, greens and white and every shade - a banded haze that shines with the brilliancy of precious stones. Inside of the perfect circle the dark rim, or outline of the massive ring, is shaded into a very dark line.

"[xx] perfect space and variegated coloring, the parallels circle into a core that is true [xx] darker than the outer rim of the great ring. The colors within the circle are spaced just exactly like the ordinary half circle, or ordinary rainbow.

"It is an odd sight, to be sure, and one that is hard to describe, and will never be forgotten. It comes in glaring brilliancy, then grows dim. The effect can be likened to the Northern Lights, in the [xx].

Other unusual sights are frequently seen by the flyers. Pilot Claire K. Vance on February 15 at a point just over the Hump, near Colfax, on his way to San Francisco, was startled out of the ordinary by witnessing a falling meteor.

"I was running along taking things easy," he relates, "when something forced my attention ahead of the ship some distance - perhaps a quarter of a mile. There was a streak of reddish, whitish light with a hazy smoke trail, for all the world like a falling rocket, that I saw distinctly between the wings of my ship ahead.

"It was gone in a flash, but I passed throught the smoke haze that trailed it for quite a distance below, but was traveled too fast to even think of trying to locate it or where it fell. It seemed to have fallen in the greated wooded gorges somewhere in the vicinity of the headwaters of the branches of the American river. It was something I have never seen before."

Pilot Winslow describes another interesting phenomenon of the airman's fision - the mirage:

"In the matter of mirages, they are rather uncommon. But they appear high up in the altitudes. Strange country appears at times. A vision may last many seconds [xx] comes back to normal.

"Sometimes there is the desert. One can pick out the waving palms. There are the lakes and shadows. Then there may be a coast line in the far perspective, and small boats in the offing. But never have I seen living things.

"The great desert places are uninhabited, in the mirage, and always with the water in lakes, both large and small. The appearance from [xx] one views the mirages from the ground in the southwest. There is nothing sensational about them, and one does not see them as often as upon the ground. But they do happen, and the small space of time in which they are visible helps to pass away the time on a hot day when perspiration trickles down one's face from the heat way up in the altitudes, and, believe me, it gets hot up there. The only thing a pilot needs is his hood and googles, and that's plenty."

February 10, 1923, Harry W. Huking and his ship 164 came through an experience out of the ordinary. Huking left San Francisco in the fog. He nosed his ship up to 11,000. He is the only pilot that packs a thermometer in his cockpit. When he soared and whined over Sacramento the thermometer showed six degrees below zero. He was dressed for the weather, however.

It was here that he had run in between the tule, or ground fog, and the thick layer of clouds that covered the whole sky as far as he could see. He had entered the space between the cloud lines.

"For a few minutes it was all right - just like flying through two sheets of white paper. Then the top layer would come down and close me in. I would remain on level keel and, after a minute, would again emerge into the vast theater. The sun shone through just enough to make the view and surroundings wierd and ghostlike. In and out, in and out, I flew - the clouds closing and closing. Gee Christmas! It was a funny feeling that came over me as the two solid banks of mists came together, blanketing every avenue of view in every direction.

"A short time before this I had a frozen-up ship - the time I was lost and landed after a fight with the fog up at the Carl Barnes' ranch sixteen miles north of Reno. The rough motor on this day was bad, but on this trip between the sheets of thick clouds I became a bit nervous, believe me. Say, you don't know the funny feeling that comes over us when we are actually lost up there 12,000 to 14,000 feet above the earth and in a dense fog - a fog that actually leaves a [xx] swiftly moving ship.

"As the old boat slams through the sound of the motor is deafening. The ear drums seem to receive the full force, and pretty soon a headache follows, although our ears are always protected with either cotton or with powder puffs. That terrific hammering in the thick atmosphere is a hard experience.

"There is nothing much to do except [xx] directions as she had been in when entering the narrow passage between the fog sheets. I did this and tried to gain more altitude. I got her up to 15,750, and suddenly I came out into the clear, beautiful sky, just beyond the Hump, but out of my course a few miles. Say, Reno when I came down towards the field never looked so beautiful, never.

There is another matter of clouds that we all have varied experiences with - the long, Frenchy bread loaves of clouds with an occasional great puff ball. Now, it is a general rule to keep out of the clouds, of course. When the sky is filled with this sort of cloud we contour them. That is, when we approach one of 'em we take up over them in a zoom, attain the top and glide down, for all the world like riding the surf. There is a 'kick' in this practice, which is good flying and a proper method to keep out of the clouds. It is recognized as one of the arts of the game, and there is no unusual element of danger attached to this regular method we employ to advance the mail.

"This zooming and long gliding is fascinating, as well as exhilerating, and is a perfectly normal way to handle a ship. We cut the motor as we reach the top of the glide and then pick her up again when we make the ride up the hills of clouds. Fine sport, and we make good time, too."

Rain, winds, fog, cloudes and other caprices of the elements are the pilots' constant company. During the winter there enters the factor of snow. February 9, 1923, Pilot Blanchfield made the greatest effort ever seen on Reno field in attempting a take-off. The snow was deep and the wind was blowing a gale.

He taxied out from his blocks onto the faint line of the runway. Down the field the winds swirled the snow in a thick, heavy dust. Drifts began to appear. It was useless to drag the runway with the big trucks that are employed.

Down the field he started, the tail skid cutting down through the snow, tearing a furrow like a miniature snow plow. The propeller in full function, almost to its maximum speed, threw great clouds of blinding white. Then into a whale of a drift the great white bird drove, almost burying [xx] the propeller blade.

The tail rose up, but was quickly grounded with the superman control of the ship. But he had failed to take off.

The Motor Macks, bundled up and red of face and wet of hands, turned the ship and head it tail to the gale and flurrying snow clouds. Blanchfield taxied back to the head of the runway again, the [xx] from both ends of her wings.

Down the runway he thundered again. The spume of white hid him from view as he passed through the big drift that had blocked him on his first try. On he went, almost half way down the field. It looked very much like he would make his way into the air, when again - punk, he went into another big drift, one wing dragged down and half buried in the snow.

The ship looked for all the world like some great wounded bird that had come to earth to die. The motor was cut and again Blanchfield gave the high sign to the Motor Macks to come and give him a lift again.

Backing the ship from out the great bank of snow, they again turned it back up the runway.

Again Blanchfield started down the field, the propeller doing its very maximum of speed. The ship could not be seen from the sides of the runway. There was the roar of the mighty Liberty motor as the growls came back through the fitful swirls of snow and gale.

Everyone thought that he would soon be in the air. He lifted her off the ground, he said afterward, and then the weight of the snow pack on the gear held him and she would not take the air. A side wind almost turned him turtle. He cut his motor and gave it up as a bad job.

"That's the first default for many a day," he said, "Isn't it a shame? But after that last try I found I had no chance to get the ship in the air."

When the ship was dragged and [xx] into the peace and safety of the hanger, the Motor Macks and other observers stood about waiting for Blanchfield to get out of his cockpit.

Fine chance! He was packed in that little cockpit with snow like a sardine in a can. Had he succeeded in getting in the air the chances are that he would have been frozen to death before he had traveled fifty miles. There was the top of the stick and the path cut through the packed snow that marked his foot control. There were the merest holes through the tightly packed ice and snow that led his trained hands to the switches. Even the instruments were covered.

The Motor Macks took small shovels and, with the care of handling fresh eggs, began the task of loosening the snow pack from about his body. It was packed up to his neck. They lifted him out. He was stiff from lack of circulation and a bit cold, that's all. That's enough, isn't it?

By Jack Bell

(Copyright, 1923 by Jack Bell)

Continuation of Article

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