Early Friday afternoon I met Linda at the Metro North Railroad Station in White Plains, NY. The car was packed, the Mapquest directions were printed and the GPS was activated. We headed directly to the Cross Westchester Expressway and the Hutchison River Parkway North. Even though it was early in the day, the trip north up the Merritt to New Haven, Hartford and the Massachusetts Turnpike was fraught with slowdowns, delays and heavy traffic.
Finally, we reached the Mass Pike, headed for Route 495N, which circumvents metropolitan Boston, and headed north to Portsmouth, NH and the Sheraton Hotel on Market Street. The two hundred thirty mile trip was slowed down by all of the above and the Friday rush hour realities. We arrived about 30 minutes later than planned, checked in and since we were hungry, we headed out to dinner. Portsmouth is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. It is the fourth-largest municipality in the county, with a population of 20,784 according to the 2000 census.
When we arrived the town was hopping, and all the streets surrounding Market Square; Market, Congress, State, Daniel, etc, were being traversed by all sorts of folks. Many were in for the evening, and others were interested in the Portsmouth Air Show, which was to be held on Saturday and Sunday at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, formerly the Strategic Air Command's Pease Air Force Base.
We were interested in lobster, and a few places were recommended. We decided to drive into Kittery, Maine, which is only a mile, or so, up the road, go to the discount outlets and eat at the Weathervane Seafood Restaurant on Route 1. The Weathervane seems to be quite popular, and there are many locations in Maine and New Hampshire. We ate outside, the food was good, especially the onion rings, the lobster and the grilled tuna. We then drove up the road to the Outlet Malls, visited a few including Reed & Barton, Wilson Leather and Van Heusen. We found out that our Francis I silver place settings had risen 1000% in value since our wedding back in 1969. Because it is late in the season, and the economy could be better, it wasn’t hard to play, “let’s make a deal.” There were all sorts of tremendous sales and triple discounts.
Finally after strolling around until darkness, and because the stores were closing for the day, we headed back into Portsmouth, which was still bustling. This area which was settled in the early 1600’s was first explored by a European named Martin Pring in 1603. The village was settled by English immigrants in 1630 and named Piscataqua, after the Abenaki name for the river. Then the village was called Strawberry Banke, after the many wild strawberries growing beside the Piscataqua River, a tidal estuary with a swift current. Strategically located for trade between upstream industries and mercantile interests abroad, the port prospered. Fishing, lumber and shipbuilding were principal businesses of the region.
At the town's incorporation in 1653, it was named Portsmouth in honor of the colony's founder, John Mason. He had been captain of the port of Portsmouth, England, in the county of Hampshire, for which New Hampshire is named. In 1679, Portsmouth became the colonial capital. It also became a refuge for exiles from Puritan Massachusetts. When Queen Anne's War ended, the town was selected by Governor Joseph Dudley to host negotiations for the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, which temporarily ended hostilities between the Abenaki Indians and English settlements of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire.
The days as a port, or a refuge from Puritanical intolerance, are long over. The days of the Triangle Trade are long over, and now the city enjoys a reputation, well-deserved, as a summer tourist Mecca.
We were pretty tired by 9:30 pm, and we made our way back to the Sheraton, which is almost in the center of town. As we arrived in the lobby, we met a number of the pilots and the ground crew who fly and service the US Navy’s Blue Angels. This elite flying group has been performing since 1946 when it first started doing aerial acrobatics with WWII era propeller-driven planes like the Hellcat and Bearcat.
When initially formed, the unit was called the Navy Flight Exhibition Team. The squadron was officially re-designated as the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron in December 1974. The original team adopted the nickname Blue Angels in 1946, when one of them came across the name of New York City's Blue Angel nightclub in the New Yorker Magazine. The team introduced themselves as the “Blue Angels” to the public for the first time on July 21, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska.
The squadron's six demonstration pilots fly the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year. Since their inception, the “Blues” have flown a variety of different aircraft types for more than 427 million spectators worldwide.
We turned in for the evening and got up early, went to breakfast downtown in Market Square at Popovers on the Square, found the post office on Daniel Street and headed for an outdoor farmers market by their government center. We made our way back to the Sheraton where we met Dana and Jon, who drove up from Boston. We packed our gear for the air show and made our way to Portsmouth (Pease) Airport and parked in the furthest lot from the field. The traffic even at 10 am was incredible. We could have waited for the shuttle bus which was looping from parking area to parking area, but we decided to walk and after 15 minutes we entered the already crowded airport. Luckily we met Dana’s beau Craig, who drove from his home in Manchester, NH, and we all started to wander around all the parked planes. There weren’t too many WWII era veterans except a pristine North American B-25J Mitchell two-engine medium bomber.There were 10,000 built and the last one which saw service was flown in 1979 in Indonesia. The B-25 first gained fame as the bomber used in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raid, in which 16 B-25Bs led by the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, attacked mainland Japan four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The mission gave a much-needed lift in spirits to the Americans and alarmed the Japanese who had believed their home islands were inviolable by enemy troops. While the amount of actual damage done was relatively minor, it forced the Japanese to divert troops for the home defense for the remainder of the war. The raiders took off from the carrier USS Hornet, about 650 miles from the Japanese home Islands and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss. However, 15 subsequently crash-landed en route to recovery fields in Eastern China.
These losses were the result of the task force being spotted by Japanese fishing vessels forcing the bombers to take off 170 miles early, fuel exhaustion, stormy nighttime conditions with zero visibility, and lack of electronic homing aids at the recovery bases. Only one landed intact; it came down in the Soviet Union, where its five-man crew was interned, and the aircraft confiscated. Lt. Col. Doolittle was promoted to the rank of general, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and it was presented to him by President Roosevelt. He later was in command of the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean and then the 8th Air Force based in London, which handled all European and German strategic air raids.
This plane, nicknamed Panchito would later take off and be flown on simulated low-level strafing and bombing runs. The B-25J Mitchell bomber was named after the legendary Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, who was a highly decorated flying officer during the First World War. Mitchell, who was considered the “Father of the Modern Air Force,” was an outspoken critic of the United States Army Air Force in the years after WWI. He demonstrated successfully that air planes could be used to sink battleships. Mitchell did not share in the common belief that World War I would be the war to end war. Mitchell stated, “If a nation ambitious for universal conquest gets off to a flying start in a war of the future,” he said, “it may be able to control the whole world more easily than a nation has controlled a continent in the past. Mitchell pushed for an independent air force and eventually was able to participate in the Naval/Army Project B bombing demonstrations fifty miles off Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. In a series of exercises sanctioned by the Army and Navy, which were conducted by Mitchell, and separately by the Navy Department a number of old and obsolete American vessels were bombed and sunk, and the were culminated by the sinking of the Ostfriesland, a German-Austrian, supposedly, unsinkable battleship. Mitchell was criticized by his unorthodox method of dive-bombing.
Mitchell experienced difficulties within the Army, notably with his superiors and sharply castigated Army and Navy leadership. The War Department had endorsed a proposal to establish a “General Headquarters Air Force” as a vehicle for modernization and expansion of the Air Service, but then backed down before objections by the Navy, incensing Mitchell. Because of his friction with the US Navy, he was demoted and later, after he accused the Navy of malfeasance when it came to the crash of the dirigible Shenandoah, he was ordered to be court-martialed by President Coolidge.
He was convicted in late 1925 of insubordination and his military career was basically ended. He was supported in the trial by Henry Arnold, later our WWII head of the Army Air Corps, General Carl Spaatz, Fiorello La Guardia, and the legendary WWI hero, Captain Eddie Rickenbacher, the “Ace of Aces,” who shot down 25 German planes, and later founded Eastern Airlines. Mitchell was one of the most far-thinking air power visionaries that America had ever produced.
In 1942 (6 years after his death), President Franklin Roosevelt, in recognizing Mitchell's contributions to air power, elevated him to the rank of major general (two stars) on the Army Air Corps retired list and petitioned the U.S. Congress to posthumously award Mitchell the Congressional Gold Medal, “in recognition of his outstanding pioneer service and foresight in the field of American military aviation.” It was awarded in 1946. There’s a fine almost accurate film, The Court Martial of Bill Mitchell, starring Gary Cooper. The next time it is on, make sure you watch it!
Meanwhile, back to the Air Show! The airport continued to fill up with tens of thousands of fans, military personnel and the curious. There were continuous demonstrations of air acrobatics starting with Army Golden Knights flag jump, the Firebirds Aerobatic Team, and various demonstrations of aero acrobatics from the smaller single and double-winged craft. At 11:45 am, one of the big boys, a USN McDonnell-Douglas F/A 18F Super Hornet roared down the runway. This bird’s thrust is incredible, and its power is startling. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, is a larger, evolutionary redesign of the F/A-18. Compared to the Hornet, the Super Hornet is larger, heavier and has improved range and payload capability.
The F/A-18E/F was originally proposed as an alternative to a completely new aircraft to replace existing dedicated attack aircraft such as the A-6. The US Navy's Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron switched to the F/A-18 Hornet in 1986, when it replaced the A-4 Skyhawk. The Blue Angels perform in F/A-18A and B models at air shows and other special events across the US and worldwide. This 56 foot long engineering marvel has a wing span of 40 feet, its afterburner thrust at take off is 17,750 lbs, its maximum speed is mach 1.8, or 1190 mph, and it weighs in fully loaded at almost 37,000 lbs. As this plane streaked over our heads, we could hear the sonic boom it created when it broke the sound barrier at over 660 mph.
The next demonstration was from a Brazilian seven high performance prop planes, called, Esquadrilha da Fumasco, or Smoke Squadron Demonstration. These pilots were incredible. Their maneuvers were quite precise as they flew in various formations, in parallel and often upside down. The “Smoke Squadron,” with more than 2900 demonstrations accomplished in Brazil and abroad since 1952, flies seven aircraft in their aerial demonstrations. The team flies the T-27 Tucano, a military aircraft built by Embrear Aircraft in Brazil. The EMB 312 Tucano is a low-wing turboprop-powered two seat basic-advanced military trainer aircraft Recognition features include low-set unswept wings without tip tanks. The Tucano, known in Brazil as the T-27, is used in the missions of basic training, tactical support and war against drugs. This basic trainer is an aircraft with tandem seats.
The next high-performance planes to grace the sky were the General Dynamic’s USAF F16CJ Falcon and the F-15 Strike Eagle. These planes are equally remarkable and their speed, climb and maneuverability were awe-inspiring. The Fighting Falcon is a dogfighter with numerous innovations including a frameless bubble canopy for better visibility, side-mounted control stick to ease control while under high g-forces, reclined seat to reduce the effect of g-forces on the pilot and the first use of a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire flight. Although the F-16's official name is “Fighting Falcon”, it is known to its pilots as the “Viper”, due to it resembling a viper snake and after the Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper starfighter. This relatively inexpensive super fighter, which is flown in various forms with 25 air forces around the world, comes in with a price tag of $14 million and can fly with a speed of over mach 2.0. It is 49 feet long with a wingspan of 32.67 feet, and has a thrust of and afterburner 28,600 lbs. It has been in service with the USAF since 1978.
The F-16's first air-to-air combat success was achieved by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) over the Bekaa Valley on April 28,l 1981, against a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter, which was downed with cannon fire On June 7, 1981, eight Israeli F-16s, escorted by F-15s, executed Operation Opera, their first employment in a significant air-to-ground operation. This raid severely damaged Osirak, an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction near Baghdad, to prevent the regime of Saddam Hussein from using the reactor for the creation of nuclear weapons.
The following year, during Operation Peace for Galilee (Lebanon War) Israeli F-16s engaged Syrian aircraft in one of the largest air battles involving jet aircraft, which began on June 9th and continued for two more days. At the end of the conflict, the Israeli Air Force credited their F-16s with 44 air-to-air kills, mostly of MiG-21s and MiG-23s while suffering no air-to-air losses of their own. F-16s were also used in their ground-attack role for strikes against targets in Lebanon. IAF F-16s participated in the 2006 Lebanon War and during the attacks in the Gaza strip in December 2008. The 44 aerial kills is a remarkable record that may never be equaled in our time.
The last of the big muscle planes that entertained the huge throng at the Portsmouth Airport was the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle all-weather ground attack strike fighter. It was designed in the 1980s for long-range, high speed interdiction without relying on escort or electronic warfare aircraft. The Strike Eagle, a major derivative of the F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, proved its worth in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Allied Force, carrying out deep strikes against high-value targets, combat air patrols, and providing close air support for coalition troops. The E variant of the F-15’s first flight was on 11 December 1986. The first production model of the F-15E was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in April 1988. Production continued through the 1990s until 2001 with 236 produced for the Air Force.
It has also seen action in later conflicts and has been exported to several countries. United States Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles can be distinguished from other U.S. Eagle variants by darker camouflage and conformal fuel tanks mounted along the engine intakes. It’s a big plane 63 feet long and wing span of 42 feet. Its fully loaded maximum weight is 81,000 lbs., and it can fly at a remarkable mach 2.5 or more than 1650 mph, The Israelis used a version of the F-15 in aerial combat over Lebanon in 1999.
After the aforementioned flight of the 66 year old B-25, we were thrilled by the USMC Blue Angel’s own Lockheed C-130T Hercules, which is nicknamed “Fat Albert.” This mammoth plane ferries all the operational staff and the pilots to all the air show venues..Its speed, turning arc and power were on full display.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin. Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship (AC-130), for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol and aerial firefighting. It is the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. Over 40 models and variants of the Hercules serve with more than 60 nations. This workhorse is 97 feet long, with a wingspan of 132 feet. It can also carry 96 passengers or 64 fully armed troops, and even 2 armored personnel carriers. It has a maximum speed of 366 mph. It can carry a hug load of 155,000 lbs. This plane is known for its ability to land in a very short runway. The Israelis used a similar plane in the raid on Entebbe to rescue the passengers on the downed plane in Uganda.
Finally the apex of a sensational afternoon was the appearance of the six Blue Angels and their F/A-18’s. Their familiar box patterns and cross-over flights were beyond belief. They were not flying at the speed generated by the earlier muscle planes, but the precision was masterful, and their execution flawless. As we moved in the general direction of the exit, we met a few of Jon’s friends, who drove from Brookline, leaving there at noon and arriving at the show at 3 PM!
By 4:30 pm we were all worn out from the sun and being on our feet, and we made the correct decision to get to our cars before everyone had the same idea. We were lucky, and even though the normal time to downtown is about 15 minutes, we were back at the hotel in a manageable 40 minutes from the time we left the grounds. Others were not so fortunate and some of the delays and traffic tie ups were monumental. It took Dana and Craig another hour to get out of the airport and to the Sheraton. We all cleaned up, and headed out once again to downtown Portsmouth and a very nice Italian restaurant on State Street named The Roasa Restaurant. Since we weren’t able to eat at the airport, due to unreasonably long lines, we were all hungry, and therefore we all ate heartily. We started with great garlic bread, brushetta, and wonderful spicy stuffed clams. We had entrees of veal parmesan, egg plant parmesan, and chicken and sea food picatta. Intelligently we skipped dessert and made our way back to the center of town. We strolled through a few of the still-open stores and eventually got back to the hotel. The younger generation headed back to their homes, and we had to “hit the sack.” Linda fell asleep quite quickly while I was finishing up some post cards and when my head nodded while I was reading Alan Furst’s, “The Spies of Warsaw,” I knew it was time for lights out.
The next morning we made our way to the post office on Daniel Street and drove over to the base of the World War I Memorial Bridge, a vertical iron lift bridge, which was dedicated in 1923. We parked at its base and walked from one side to the other. The bridge straddles the Pisquataqua River from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Kittery, Maine. It’s a rare occurrence when one can walk over a bridge from one state to another.
This old bridge is rusting quite a bit and according to posted signs, here and about, there seems to be a concerted effort to save it from condemnation. After coming back to our car in Portsmouth, we decided to drive across the bridge on Route 1 and explore a little of the Maine coastline and look for a place for breakfast. After driving around for twenty minutes we came to the conclusion that everyone was eating in Portsmouth. We got back to the bridge, made our way to Market Square, and stopped at the Bakery Café, which is right across the street from the Popover Café and had breakfast.
Our objectives on this Sunday morning were to see the Fuller Gardens and have lunch at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa. The Fuller Gardens is a wonderful turn of the century estate garden founded by the former Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Alvan T. Fuller for his wife Vila who loved flowers and had a fondness of roses. The Governor, who served in the House of Representatives, as Lt. Governor and Governor of the Bay State from 1925 through 1929, was best known for allowing Sacco and Vanzetti to be executed.
The garden was designed in the 1920’s by the noted landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff. Governor Fuller also had a beautiful home known as Runnymede-by-the-Sea which was located just up the road from Ocean Drive. Unfortunately for lovers of architecture, Fuller requested in his will that the residence was to be removed after his and his wife’s deaths (in 1958 and 1959), and it was torn down in 1961. But the Fuller Foundation, which was established by the Governor, called for the maintenance of the gardens. There are two thousand rose bushes, a Japanese garden, a statuary garden, and a hot house. His son, Peter was a Harvard man, ran the Fuller automotive empire, and when I was in college he had a big Cadillac dealership on Commonwealth Avenue. He was a bit of an eccentric and did things in big ways.
On the night of Jan. 29, 1977, shortly after 10:30 p.m., he climbed through the ropes and into the ring at Boston's Hynes Auditorium to engage in fisticuffs with another well-healed sportsman. The first millionaire in the ring was Muhammad Ali, who was contributing his body to this effort. Peter Davenport Fuller, who had arranged this fandango, had bought multi thousands of dollars worth of ducats to give out to friends and associates for his charity of the moment and evening, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts of Roxbury.
In the ring, as always, Ali looked every inch the entertainer posing as a fighter with his almost unmarked profile, which had been cultivated by years of bobbing and weaving and the Madison Avenue illusion of being a bored participant. The charismatic Ali, always liked a show where he was the center of attraction.
In the other corner, Fuller, a man whose father had been governor of Massachusetts and had left an estate of $12 million, looked like Jimmy Cannon’s version of a “pug” who would be right at home in the Bogart film, “The Harder They Fall.” As he warmed up with his stretches, faux sparring and neck arches it was hard to perceive that here stood a man who had belonged to toney clubs, served on the boards of various local institutions of higher learning, and bred horses on his humungous “ranch” in North Hampton, N.H. (including the most famous last-place horse in history, Dancer's Image, disqualified winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby). Later it was determined that the horse should not have been disqualified for using a commonly used pain-killer for sore joints. Forty years after the disqualification, he still believed that he was a victim of a set up, due to his being a wealthy civil rights sympathizer from Boston who offended the Kentucky racing aristocracy by donating Dancer's $62,000 prize for a previous victory to Coretta Scott King two days after her husband's murder.
Getting back to the fight, Fuller had actually trained with a high level of seriousness. At 53 years of age, giving up 43 lbs and 20 years to the younger and prettier Ali, Fuller may have taken this charade to his head. He may have actually wanted to hit the former champ. This Boston blue-blood, who has had every toy that he has desired, seemed with his broken nose and street jargon, more like Rocky than a Cadillac Dealership owner and a dilettante of the arts who decorated his car show room with expensive reproductions of the European Old Masters. After a few rounds which featured mostly dancing, some sparring, a few taps here and there, Peter Fuller went back to obscurity.
Meanwhile the New Hampshire shoreline was quite picturesque and with the 90+ degree weather, the beaches were jammed. As we drove south down Ocean Drive, there was a two mile backup coming north to one of the more popular beaches. It seemed everyone was either at the beach or at Sunday’s version of the Air Show.
Once we were finished at the Fuller Gardens we backtracked north about 6 miles on Route 1 to the Wentworth-by-the-Sea Hotel and Spa which is located in New Castle, NH. Wentworth is located on a secluded island not far from Ocean Drive. It is a sumptuous place with 161 guestrooms and suites. The “Grand Dame of the Sea”—as Wentworth by the Sea is affectionately known—has set the model for coastline New Hampshire accommodations for over a century. When it opened in 1874, Wentworth was the largest wooden structure on the state’s coast, a hub for social, business and political luminaries from around the world. The famed “Ship Building,” modeled after the elegant ocean liners of the day, was exceptionally popular and offered sunning ocean views, but every part of Wentworth is remarkable—the property is poised high above a bluff overlooking the ocean and river below, affording each guest room and suite with ocean and/or harbor views.
Though the building did fall on hard times in the 1980s, the Herculean efforts of a coalition of preservationists, community supporters and the non-profit Friends of the Wentworth executed an extensive renovation. Today, this Victorian lady has been fully restored and remains an enduring example of gracious hospitality merged with the most modern of conveniences.
In 1905 the hotel hosted the signers of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, ending the Russo-Japanese War. In accordance with the treaty, both Japan and Russia agreed to evacuate Manchuria and return its sovereignty to China, but Japan was leased the Liaodong Peninsula (containing Port Arthur and Talien), and the Russian rail system in southern Manchuria with access to strategic resources. Japan also received the southern half of the Island of Sakhalin from Russia.
Negotiations for the treaty were taken under the mediation of Theodore Roosevelt, for which he won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. The negotiations were begun by a call for peace by Roosevelt in May 1905, rather than by either of the warring states. The treaty confirmed Japan's emergence as the pre-eminent power in East Asia, and forced Russia to abandon its expansionist policies there, but it was not well received by the Japanese public. James Bradley, the author of “Flag of Our Fathers,” wrote a wonderful and provocative book about all of what transpired in the Pacific, in his latest book, ”The Imperial Cruise.” I recommend it for all. By the way, he was on The Advocates on June 23, 2010, and you might go into my archives at http://advocates-wvox.com to learn all about Teddy Roosevelt, and rise of the Japanese in the Far East.
But, getting back to the Wentworth, we headed to the wonderful restaurant called The Latitudes, with an outdoor veranda that overlooks the inlet and all the boats; large and small, which are docked there. The restaurant had been recommended to us by the docent at the Fuller Gardens. We parked behind the hotel, walked through the well-appointed lobby and strolled down to the restaurant. The food and service were quite good, plus all the diners seem to be chatting with each other – mainly about the air show. Our waiter was a charming young man who is a sophomore at UNH.
We started eating at the right time, because by the time we finished eating, there were people waiting for a table. After lunch, we took a leisurely stroll down to their wharf. We met a couple from Akron, whose daughter lives in the area, and they come to visit her every few months. On such a gorgeous day and in such spectacular surroundings, we can understand their desire to come back often! By 2:00 pm we were on our way to I-95, and we were headed home. It was a full weekend, with 500 miles put on the odometer, and indelible memories of those incredibly powerful machines racing across the sky. It was not much more than hundred years ago, after all our grandparents were born that man first conquered the air with a machine. Can you imagine telling that generation what we saw this weekend? They would have had us committed.
As a postscript (thanks to Craig’s sending us the article from the Manchester newspaper), we learned that the long food lines food, the shortage of water and traffic problems from the Saturday show were solved for the Sunday event!! More water, more police and fewer spectators meant shorter lines and quicker exits.