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Endeavor at the California Science Center Sunday, June 22, 2014 12:06 PM
This past November I paid a visit to the California Science Center and took a few dozen pictures of the some of the exhibits including the Space Shuttle Endeavor, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules, EVA suits, fighter planes such as the T-38 and F-20 and many other items they currently have on display.

This was the first time I'd actually seen the Shuttle up close since I'd visited the Rockwell Plant in Downey that built it - where they had a full sized mockup and display - when I was a kid and more recently the final landing of the Endeavor at L.A.X. after it's flight around the country atop it's 747 Carrier.

I actually shot video of that landing while standing practically at the end of the L.A.X. runway - which is including in the detail section of this post.

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F-20 and T-38


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I have to admit this was a special moment for me, particular the fact that the Endeavor chase planes were both Northrop;/Grumman F/A-18 Hornets. I'd worked for Northrop for over a dozen years at their B-2 plant in Pico Rivera and sometimes in Palmdale, the West Complex plant that builds the F/A-18 was just a few blocks south along Aviation Blvd. from where I shot this video.

Again, as a former Northrop-ite, the thing that truly struck me when I finally did visit the California Science Center where the shuttle is currently housed is that hanging from the ceiling in the foyer of the center is that Last F-20.

The Final One.

Northrop had built the F-20 as independent contract using their own money, not the government's. The intention for the plane had been to used as an overseas fighter the U.S. could sell to it allies and not have to worry about being in a situation where other countries have the exact same technology that our own pilots are using. This had proved to be a problem in the past when the U.S. had sold F-14's (the Grumman built "Top Gun" plane) to the Shah of Iran only to him overthrown and our planes end up in the hands of the Ayotollah. The F-20 was a fast, austere and agile fighter that was intended to be the solution to that problem - other it didn't work out that way.

Over the years California based Northrop built planes had run into a firewall when pitted against Texas based General Dynamics fighters such as the F-16 and their powerful lobbying control in Congress. An early single engine version of the F-16 had faced off against the Northrop YF-17 only to have the General Dynamics plane chosen. After modify the YF-17 to fit for the Navy and Marines by adding it's second engine - which when flying over water the Navy finds a useful item - the single engine F-20 which had been a meld between the YF-17 and the very success Northrop T-38 trainer were again pitted against the F-18 for a contract with the National Guard once Congress changed the law in the mid-80's to require any planes sold by the U.S. to already be in use by at least one U.S. Force. At the time the last available unfilled contract was with the National Guard and you guessed - they choose the Texas based F-16 which by this time was much older technology.

Once that final contract was gone, the three prototype F-20's were flown in airshows and tended to wow the crowds with it's dramatic 8-G turns. Unfortunately the fighters super agility proved to be one of it's largest undoings as one of the planes was lost apparently after the pilot completed a low altitude 8-G turn and lost consciousness. The second was lost as the pilot had two airshows in the same day and flew directly from finishing one to the other. During his final move at the second show - which was a high-g turn right over the runway which was completed while inverted, where he would then lower his gear flip the play over and immediately land - he ran out of fuel while in the inverted position and crashed canopy first onto the runway.

So there is only one F-20 left. And it's hanging from the Ceiling of the California Science Center right next to a Northrop T-38 that is it's technological ancestor. They even look alike.

Also, they have the Space Shuttle.

 

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