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06/01/1999

Douglas MacArthur, Bob Feller and the Eternal Airplane

Public television had a fascinating program on General
Douglas MacArthur last month. The program reminded me of
an April day in 1951, when I was employed as an Aeronautical
Research Scientist at the NACA (National Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics) Lewis Flight Propulsion
Laboratory in Cleveland. (I wasn''t a "rocket scientist". They
worked in the rocket lab across the street at NACA.) That day
we heard that MacArthur, having just been fired by Harry
Truman and on his way to Washington, was to stop briefly at
the Cleveland airport at lunchtime. NACA (now NASA''s John
H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field) borders the airport
so we went over to see this heroic, but controversial man.

MacArthur was there with his wife and son and the mayor of
Cleveland. However, being then an avid baseball fan, just as
exciting to me was Bob Feller presenting a memento, I believe
an autographed baseball, to MacArthur''s son. I don''t remember
anything that MacArthur said that day but do remember being
surprised by the fact that his hands were shaking quite
noticeably as he spoke. However, I recall vividly listening to
his dramatic "Old soldiers never die. They just fade away"
speech to Congress the next day. Some weren''t impressed,
including Truman, who didn''t watch or listen but in private
called the speech "a bunch of damn bullshit" (source:
"Truman" by David McCullough). Truman wasn''t one to
mince words!

In hindsight, Truman''s appraisal might well apply to our
group''s project at NACA. The project involved fundamental
studies on the properties of materials under radiation in
anticipation of building a nuclear-powered airplane. Can you
imagine the hue and cry that would arise today if such an idea
were proposed or the impact of a crash involving such an
aircraft, with the potential environmental consequences? In
those days, however, the effects of radiation were still not truly
understood or appreciated and the idea of a plane that could
stay up in the air for weeks or months was considered very
attractive.

To work on this project, I had to obtain an Atomic Energy
Commission "Q" clearance. In my two years at NASA, the
only secret document I saw contained details of the
Brookhaven nuclear reactor facility. I saw the same details in a
newspaper just a few days later! Security, however, was not
an insignificant issue. When I arrived at NACA Lewis in the
summer of 1950, I found that a member of our group, William
Perl, had left either shortly before or shortly after I arrived. I
never met Perl but was told that he had played first base on the
group''s softball team that I joined.

But Perl did more than play softball. That summer he appeared
before the Rosenberg Grand Jury, denying any association with
Julius Rosenberg and others in the espionage case, which
ended with the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Perl
was arrested in March 1951 and in 1953 was found guilty of
perjury and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Decoded Soviet
documents reportedly indicated that Perl was truly a spy and
had given the Soviets information leading to a special tail-fin
design for the MIG fighter used in Korea against the forces led
by one Douglas MacArthur. To me at the time, it was
inconceivable that any red-blooded American who played
baseball or softball could be a traitor.

I am indebted to a friend, formerly a member of the FBI, who
suggested trying the Internet to confirm my impressions of the
Perl case. I was surprised and disheartened by the anti-Semitic
sites that turned up when I typed "William Perl" into my search
engine. I did not log on to these sites but did find a definitive
site on the Rosenberg trial from the University of Missouri that
gives biographies of all the characters in the case.

But what about that airplane that will stay airborne for weeks
or months? NACA''s successor, NASA, has not given up the
quest. In the June 1999 issue of National Geographic there is a
nice picture of NASA''s Centurion, a curious looking "flying
wing" over 200 feet wide with about a dozen propellers and
powered by batteries (lithium?). NASA is targeting an altitude
of 100,000 feet for this most unusual unmanned craft and
hopes to eventually have an "eternal" plane powered by solar
power, which will also charge the batteries to maintain altitude
at night. The potential usefulness for monitoring weather,
surveillance, telecommunications, etc. could conceivably take
some of the pressure off the more expensive satellite facilities.
The use of less exotic unmanned aircraft for surveillance in the
Kosovo conflict has been reported.

Returning to Bob Feller, some years later, probably 1966, I
turned down a chance to meet with him at a Cleveland hotel,
where he was employed in what I believe was some sort of
public relations capacity after his retirement from baseball.
The hotel gift shop offered baseballs autographed by Feller and
I purchased one for my younger son. The clerk asked if I
wanted to meet Bob when he signed the ball but, being a
dedicated scientist, I foolishly opted to hear a paper at the
scientific meeting I was attending and missed my chance. I
don''t have the foggiest idea what that paper was about but
never would have forgotten meeting Feller. Oh well, at least I
was present at Yankee Stadium when Mickey Mantle hit his
500th home run!

A personal note. In his weekly review last week, Brian
Trumbore failed to mention that I also holed two other shots in
my round and that I used an 8-iron to hole the 125 yarder. I''m
surprised that, with his interest in history, he did not mention
that Elbert Jemison, a Golf Digest panelist and a USGA rules
official, carried an 8-iron with him in the fall of 1943 when he
shipped off to the UK. He was assigned to General George
Patton''s unit and Patton discovered the 8-iron. Jemison was
allowed to keep it and Patton said, "By God, if you can kill
Germans with it, use it!" The 8-iron accompanied Jemison
when he hit Omaha Beach 30 days after D-Day and he carried
it with him throughout the war. [Source: "Golf World"]

Allen F. Bortrum



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-06/01/1999-      
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Dr. Bortrum

06/01/1999

Douglas MacArthur, Bob Feller and the Eternal Airplane

Public television had a fascinating program on General
Douglas MacArthur last month. The program reminded me of
an April day in 1951, when I was employed as an Aeronautical
Research Scientist at the NACA (National Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics) Lewis Flight Propulsion
Laboratory in Cleveland. (I wasn''t a "rocket scientist". They
worked in the rocket lab across the street at NACA.) That day
we heard that MacArthur, having just been fired by Harry
Truman and on his way to Washington, was to stop briefly at
the Cleveland airport at lunchtime. NACA (now NASA''s John
H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field) borders the airport
so we went over to see this heroic, but controversial man.

MacArthur was there with his wife and son and the mayor of
Cleveland. However, being then an avid baseball fan, just as
exciting to me was Bob Feller presenting a memento, I believe
an autographed baseball, to MacArthur''s son. I don''t remember
anything that MacArthur said that day but do remember being
surprised by the fact that his hands were shaking quite
noticeably as he spoke. However, I recall vividly listening to
his dramatic "Old soldiers never die. They just fade away"
speech to Congress the next day. Some weren''t impressed,
including Truman, who didn''t watch or listen but in private
called the speech "a bunch of damn bullshit" (source:
"Truman" by David McCullough). Truman wasn''t one to
mince words!

In hindsight, Truman''s appraisal might well apply to our
group''s project at NACA. The project involved fundamental
studies on the properties of materials under radiation in
anticipation of building a nuclear-powered airplane. Can you
imagine the hue and cry that would arise today if such an idea
were proposed or the impact of a crash involving such an
aircraft, with the potential environmental consequences? In
those days, however, the effects of radiation were still not truly
understood or appreciated and the idea of a plane that could
stay up in the air for weeks or months was considered very
attractive.

To work on this project, I had to obtain an Atomic Energy
Commission "Q" clearance. In my two years at NASA, the
only secret document I saw contained details of the
Brookhaven nuclear reactor facility. I saw the same details in a
newspaper just a few days later! Security, however, was not
an insignificant issue. When I arrived at NACA Lewis in the
summer of 1950, I found that a member of our group, William
Perl, had left either shortly before or shortly after I arrived. I
never met Perl but was told that he had played first base on the
group''s softball team that I joined.

But Perl did more than play softball. That summer he appeared
before the Rosenberg Grand Jury, denying any association with
Julius Rosenberg and others in the espionage case, which
ended with the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Perl
was arrested in March 1951 and in 1953 was found guilty of
perjury and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Decoded Soviet
documents reportedly indicated that Perl was truly a spy and
had given the Soviets information leading to a special tail-fin
design for the MIG fighter used in Korea against the forces led
by one Douglas MacArthur. To me at the time, it was
inconceivable that any red-blooded American who played
baseball or softball could be a traitor.

I am indebted to a friend, formerly a member of the FBI, who
suggested trying the Internet to confirm my impressions of the
Perl case. I was surprised and disheartened by the anti-Semitic
sites that turned up when I typed "William Perl" into my search
engine. I did not log on to these sites but did find a definitive
site on the Rosenberg trial from the University of Missouri that
gives biographies of all the characters in the case.

But what about that airplane that will stay airborne for weeks
or months? NACA''s successor, NASA, has not given up the
quest. In the June 1999 issue of National Geographic there is a
nice picture of NASA''s Centurion, a curious looking "flying
wing" over 200 feet wide with about a dozen propellers and
powered by batteries (lithium?). NASA is targeting an altitude
of 100,000 feet for this most unusual unmanned craft and
hopes to eventually have an "eternal" plane powered by solar
power, which will also charge the batteries to maintain altitude
at night. The potential usefulness for monitoring weather,
surveillance, telecommunications, etc. could conceivably take
some of the pressure off the more expensive satellite facilities.
The use of less exotic unmanned aircraft for surveillance in the
Kosovo conflict has been reported.

Returning to Bob Feller, some years later, probably 1966, I
turned down a chance to meet with him at a Cleveland hotel,
where he was employed in what I believe was some sort of
public relations capacity after his retirement from baseball.
The hotel gift shop offered baseballs autographed by Feller and
I purchased one for my younger son. The clerk asked if I
wanted to meet Bob when he signed the ball but, being a
dedicated scientist, I foolishly opted to hear a paper at the
scientific meeting I was attending and missed my chance. I
don''t have the foggiest idea what that paper was about but
never would have forgotten meeting Feller. Oh well, at least I
was present at Yankee Stadium when Mickey Mantle hit his
500th home run!

A personal note. In his weekly review last week, Brian
Trumbore failed to mention that I also holed two other shots in
my round and that I used an 8-iron to hole the 125 yarder. I''m
surprised that, with his interest in history, he did not mention
that Elbert Jemison, a Golf Digest panelist and a USGA rules
official, carried an 8-iron with him in the fall of 1943 when he
shipped off to the UK. He was assigned to General George
Patton''s unit and Patton discovered the 8-iron. Jemison was
allowed to keep it and Patton said, "By God, if you can kill
Germans with it, use it!" The 8-iron accompanied Jemison
when he hit Omaha Beach 30 days after D-Day and he carried
it with him throughout the war. [Source: "Golf World"]

Allen F. Bortrum