On January 27, 1997, I attended the 30th anniversary memorial ceremonies commemorating the Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee – the three men who were supposed to have made the first flight of the Apollo program, before a tragic pure-oxygen fire in the command module took their lives during a launch pad test.
People who have never watched a shuttle launch in person often ask me what it was like.
It’s a very unique experience – I’ve never seen anything else that compares to it.
Few could ever forget the tragic Columbia accident, when when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
The break-up was caused by damage incurred when a small piece of foam insulation broke off the External Tank during launch and struck the left wing’s leading edge, damaging the thermal protection system. As a result, the shuttle wasn’t properly protected from the intense heat of re-entry and compressed hot gases penetrated the internal wing structure, destroying it and causing the break-up of the vehicle.
In October 2002, one of our spacecraft models was taken to the International Space Station to be used as a training aid for astronauts in preparation for their EVA. Here’s the press release that came out at the time:
You might recognize this beauty as the F-4J Phantom, otherwise known as the “Black Bunny.”
You can see the Playboy Bunny image on the tail fin that gave this model its nickname.
The F-4 fighter-bomber was used extensively during the Vietnam war and continued to be one of the primary fighter planes for the U.S. Military through the 1970s and 1980s.
This F-4J Phantom was painted glossy black to see if that would make it less visible during night flights, while the bunny on the tail was added as comic tribute to Hugh Hefner, whose own custom-built DC-9 sported a similar paint job.
Rumour has it that old Heff didn’t like the military ripping off his design and threatened to sue for copyright violation. But when the military spokesperson pointed out that doing so might direct some unwanted attention toward Hef’s personal financial situation, the multi-millionaire backed off pretty quickly.
As it turned out, the black paint job didn’t get the hoped-for results, and future F-4s were given a low-visibility gray paint job that blended in better with the sky day or night.
Too bad… just look at that picture. The F-4J Phantom was a cool-looking bird.