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ENDEAVOUR 2012, MAIA/MERCURY 1938

CALIFORNIA IS home to a lot of the space industry, and many of us here were wacko about seeing the welcome-home flybys of the Space Shuttle Endeavour atop its Boeing 747 transporter.

Daughter Suzanne witnessed this historic occasion from the 17th floor of her El Segundo office building not far from LAX’s Runway 25L. She texted her excitement and pics as the aircraft did a couple of low approaches as part of its Los Angeles tour.

At the same time, wife Dottie and I had chosen the middle of the Downtown Disney parking lot in Anaheim. A goodly number of people agreed with us that the vastness of the lot gave us an excellent view of whatever path the 747/Shuttle and its T-38 escorts selected.

One couple we met had direct ties with the Shuttle program. In fact, the wife’s grandmother and mother had also worked at North American, later North American Rockwell, lately Boeing Defense. Her husband had driven a big rig for the company, often transporting Shuttle-related hardware around the country. They brought an American flag to wave as the aircraft did its Disneyland flyby.

And, in fact, the Shuttle and its 747 passed almost directly overhead. We yelled and cheered; a woman nearby enthusiastically waved a hand-painted sign; another reported her heart rate soared to 140 beats/minute.

We all shared this woman’s enthusiasm.

A good time was had by everyone who witnessed this welcome-home flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

A day later, and quite coincidentally, I was perusing Aeroplane Collectors’ Archive No. 4, Great British Flying-Boats. This special-edition magazine is an absolutely fabulous collection of archival images and contemporary cutaways.

A beautiful magazine; I got my copy at Barnes & Noble.

An article is devoted to the Short-Mayo Composite, a duo of Maia and Mercury, two aircraft working together on a single mission. This had to be one of the more unorthodox means of carrying the mail across a vast British Empire in the late 1930s.

Mercury rode atop Maia, but only until the duo reached altitude. Then Mercury disconnected and continued on her long-range mail delivery duties; Maia returned to base.

The idea was based on firm logic: A fully loaded aircraft uses a significant proportion of its fuel in its takeoff and climb to cruising altitude. Minimize this and, presto, the aircraft has enhanced range.

In-flight separation. All images from Aeroplane magazine’s wonderful Collectors’ Archive: Great British Flying-Boats.

The Short-Mayo concept was given its first composite test on January 20, 1938. Later that year, with Maia‘s initial assist Mercury set an international record for seaplanes, a straightline distance of 5997.5 miles. Her actual route from Dundee, Scotland, to Orange River, South Africa, covered 6045 miles in 42 hours 6 minutes.

In subsequent mail service, she flew non-stop to Alexandria, Egypt—with extra bags of mail carried in her floats. The outbreak of World War II and developments of in-air refueling techniques put an end to Maia/Mercury operations. ds

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2012 by in Sci-Tech, Vintage Aero and tagged , , .
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