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PFM Membership Meeting - April 6, 2002

PFM Members around food table

The April membership meeting was held on Saturday, April 6, in the main hangar at Old Kingsbury Aerodrome. Members began to arrive around 5:00 PM, and found a nice buffet spread waiting for them, with lots of good things to eat and drink. As usual, the members can walk around the hangar and examine the progress of the various projects. This evening, center stage was held by the Curtiss JN-3 full-scale model that will end up in the Pancho Villa Museum in New Mexico. The meeting proper began around 6:30, led off by an Roger Freeman who gave an update on the status of the Foundation. Ed Moore, an intern currently working with PFM, also gave a brief talk on plans for a temporary home for the Pioneer Flight Museum and ways to expand its educational mission.

Don Chew

Mr. Don Chew was the speaker for this meeting, and he gave a presentation on "Ship of Dreams", about rigid airships.Mr. Chew, currently a resident of Brighton, Colorado, has enjoyed a varied career in aviation. He is a graduate of the Spring Garden Institute and the Spartan School of Aeronautics (A & P and Flight Engineer)(an A & P certificate is an Aircraft and Powerplant Mechanic's certificate). He has spent over 42 years in all phases of maintenance for small and large fixed and rotary wing aircraft, holding an Inspector's Authorization rating for over 30 years.

Between aviation assignments, Mr. Chew has designed and built off-road vehicles (competition and non-competition), off-road accessories and electrical devices. He has performed as Crew Chief for Mickey Thompson's off-road racing cars and trucks.

Mr. Chew led off by distributing (with the help of his grandson, Julian) reproductions of a Hindenburg passenger ticket to each of the attendees. He pointed out that the price (converted to dollars) was $405.00, at a time when a new car cost about $550.00. He followed that with a video (done by Lufthansa) about the golden age of the Zeppelin. The film reviewed the history of the dirigible from the early days before World War I up to the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. Air travel has never been so luxurious or so comfortable! The ride was so smooth that a fountain pen could be balanced on end for hours at a time.

Display table of Zeppelin information

As part of his presentation, Mr. Chew also brought two display tables worth of Zeppelin artifacts and pictures. He discussed the Hindenburg's vital statistics, pointing out that it was about as long as the Titanic, and capable of lifting over 400,000 pounds. One interesting artifact he presented was a glass mineral water bottle. This was a vital piece of instrumentation on the big airships, used to determine the true altitude of the ship. The crew would drop it out of a window and time its fall. Once that time was known, a chart gave them the airship's true altitude, which also let them determine the current barometric pressure.

Of course, the commercial airship business never recovered from the Hindenburg disaster. While it lasted, it was the absolute peak of luxurious travel, and Mr. Chew's presentation brought that era to life. He was also fortunate enough to have seen a small part of it. One of his earliest memories is of the U.S. Navy airship Los Angeles flying over his house in New Jersey in the late 1930's - right at the very end of the era of the great dirigibles.

After the presentation, Bill Shupe reminded the attendees of a couple of upcoming events, people mingled for a brief time, and then departed, thinking wistful thoughts of an earlier, more luxurious, time.