The National Naval Aviation Museum and a cute optical illusion

Bleah!  I’m back from my trip to the Flora-bama area, but didn’t make any jumps — we were essentially weathered out Friday and Saturday, and by Sunday I’d had enough.  Most of my jump friends had already bailed, and though the weather looked like it might be better, I missed my wife and couldn’t stand to sit around another day without jumping.  If they did jump Sunday, it would be quite ironic, because the complete 10-hour drive once we left the beach was nothing but low clouds and rain.

On Saturday, once it was clear we wouldn’t be jumping earlier in the day, we hit the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum.  It was a pretty neat place, and it also contained one interesting (intentional) optical illusion.  Some pictures and description below…

The Museum is located on the grounds of the Naval Air Station Pensacola, and is the home to some 150 historic Navy, Marine and Coast Guard aircraft, all housed in a massive building:


It is quite fascinating to get up close and ‘hands on’ with massive jets like the McDonnell F3H-2M Demon, which was a precursor to the famous F-4 Phantom II:


Pensacola is also home to the Blue Angels, and Blue Angel jets are displayed prominently in the atrium:


Often, however, I found that the earlier WWII-era aircraft were more intriguing.  A number of the rarest aircraft of that era were actually recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan:


While ramping up the war in the Pacific, there was a real need to train pilots on carrier landings.  However, all existing carriers were committed to the war already, and there was a real risk in having any training craft on the Atlantic, where German U-boats could attack.  The military solved the problem by purchasing two Great Lakes luxury liners and outfitting them with flight decks.  Thus the USS Wolverine and USS Sable were born, and nearly 18,000 pilots were trained to land on them.

The aircraft used in the training were often fighters which had seen real combat in the Pacific but were no longer combat-worthy due to said damage.  As one might expect, training inevitably involved a lot of craft inadvertently ending up in Lake Michigan, which served as a ‘time capsule’ of sorts, protecting the fighters from being sold for scrap in the short term.   A number of fascinating airplanes have been recovered from the waters, including the only SB2U-2 Vindicator known to still exist in the world:


and an SBD-2 Dauntless which was a veteran of the Battle of Midway, still possessing bullet holes:


One probably couldn’t have a collection of WWI aircraft without a Sopwith Camel, and one couldn’t have a Sopwith Camel without Snoopy at the controls:


To me, one of the most interesting aircraft present was the Navy-Curtiss NC-4, a massive multi-propped plane:


The NC-4 has an important, but little known, place in aviation history as the first aircraft to make a flight across the Atlantic, albeit one with stops in the water.  The story is a fascinating one, though it was eclipsed only a month later by the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic by Alcock and Brown.

I promised an illusion, though, didn’t I?  A painting (by artist Stan Stokes) on the wall near the front of the museum caught my eye, which possesses a rather subtle illusion in the way it was painted.  The accompanying plaque describe the illusion as follows:

Upon viewing this painting, most people have the feeling that the perspective changes as one moves from one side of the picture to the other.  That is, it appears that you are viewing the starboard (right) side of the ship when viewing the painting from the right and the port (left) side when viewing from the left.  Nothing changes of course.  It is an illusion similar to the one that makes you feel that the eyes in a portrait are following your gaze.

Here are pictures of the painting from the left and right:


and here is the view from the right:


The explanation, from the plaque, it as follows:

The illusion is created by making the starboard (right) side of the ship a perfectly vertical line placing the view of the painting directly on a plane extended from and parallel to the starboard side of the ship.  If the artist had placed the view off that plane any significant amount the illusion would not have been effective.

I like to explain these sort of things a little more visually, and we can do so with a little understanding of perspective, in particular one-point perspective.  When we stand in the center of a pair of train tracks and look down the length of the tracks, we get a picture something like this:


However, if we were to stand directly on one of the rails, the picture would instead appear as follows:


Objects aligned directly along our field of view appear as straight vertical lines stretching to the horizon.  In most images, there is no object overly lined up this way, but in the painting the right side of the carrier is vertical, making it always the center of the view.  When we stand to the left of this line, it gives the impression that we are looking from left-of-center, or the left side of the carrier, and when we stand to the right, it gives the impression that we are looking from right-of-center, or at the right side of the carrier.

If you ever get the chance, I recommend a visit to the Naval Aviation Museum — it’s a pretty fascinating slice of history.

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