Tuesday, December 6

Oldfool Leads to the Lost Ark

It's strange how sometimes we pick up stuff from the Internet that the authors never intended. A recent post on the excellent blog "Oldfool" is a case in point. You see, it led me to find out where one of the largest treasure troves of Southern California and, indeed United States aviation history has wound up. In fact, a modern day "Ark of the Covenant" to an aeronautical engineer such as myself.
The trail started here. Within that post, was the comment

"...college at the Northrup institute of Technology in Inglewood, California."
That comment caused me to reflect on my own association with Northrop University, where I co-taught a composites design course for a number of years. I still remember the photo of Jack Northrop in the library. THAT caused me to peruse Wikipedia, where I found what I already knew: Northrop University was no more. My recollection varied from Wikipedia a bit, with the law school playing a more prominent role in my memory about the downward spiral, but basically, the place went kaput as described here.

Still, the Wikipedia article raised a question: "What happened to the aviation collections?" Specifically the "American Hall of Aviation" and the "David Hatfield" collection. It seems to me that the vanishing of collections with a half million pieces would leave a trace somewhere. A half million pieces of aviation history. GONE! It was like the mystery of the Ark of the Covenant, as popularized by a movie, entitled "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Like an Internet version of Indiana Jones, I started to search on the topic. It was pretty quick that I discovered that Northrop University has more or less been taken over by a pretty good Charter High School. On their web site, there was nary a word about what happened to either the American Hall of Aviation OR the David Hatfield Collection. Hmm.
Northrop Institute of Technology, Transformed into a Very Good Charter High School - Via Google Streetview
Looking futher, the trail led to a former Lockheed employee by the name of Carol Osborne. Due to her interest in the whole thing, she inherited some of the artifacts and was named as the executor of the collection.
Carol Osborne, Surrounded by Amelia Earheart's Sister and Bobbi Trout. In 1987 Via 2009 Airport Journals
It happened this way: from "Airport Journals"

Although Northrop University campus still exists, its doors were closed in 2003. Many of the historical pieces that were located in the library are now in storage and owned by the Museum of Flight or Osborne. The AHAH library was legendary to aviation and Hollywood.

Prof. Hatfield had a passion for aviation history and had already authored 12 books, from mythology to his "Pioneers of Aviation: A Photo-Biography" series. By the 1980s, Hatfield was producing a series of videotapes called the "History of Flight," chronicling the subject from ancient times to the exploration of space, all for the purpose of educating young people and future generations. He was amazed with the new technology. When Hatfield passed away at the age of 77, he left behind his aviation history and videotaping equipment to an astonished Carol Osborne. It changed her life.

Besides uncounted thousands of photos, the collections included interviews with over 450 aviation pioneers before their passing. Over a dozen had their licenses signed by Orville Wright. Yes, THAT Wright brother. It is an irreplaceable collection. Video interviews with the pioneers at the very beginning of aviation. Mostly, these are people connected with Southern California.

The question remains, however, "what happened to all this stuff?"

The "Airport Journals" article offered a clue. Namely, the "Museum of Flight." But WHICH Museum of Flight. I first went to the logical ones in Southern California, but found no joy there. I saw a few mentions of the collection, but nothing about where it resided.

Almost by chance, I happened upon a Southern California website that provided insight into the mystery. Here, it stated:

Carol Osborne explains that, as Dr. Hatfield's Executor, she only dealt with his personal property.
The large Northrop University / American Hall of Aviation History collection went first to Santa Monica 'Museum of Flying' and then to Seattle 'Museum of Flight'.
I don't understand why our local Southern California aviation history is in a truck cargo container, un inventoried after years. It should be here, in our area, where we will take care of it and display it.
The similarity with the movie became obvious. Hence the video clip below, though instead of the "government guy," we could substitute the "Boeing Museum Guy" instead.

Still, there is hope for the aviation legacy of California, hidden away in a Seattle museum. From the "MUSEUM OF FLIGHT" web pages, we find references to both collections, though neither is available to the general public. Specifically,




Oldfool said...

I've never even thought about all that stuff. It being something I can do nothing about I just sort of blanked it out.
It was a good school and was one of the forks in the road that I am not sorry I took. It was a major stepping stone for me.

Steve A said...

jachmilli, we just want to remind tha spam using "beach cruiser" may make it past the spam filter but not me.

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