The Plane Facts : Questions Still Fly Over Science Museum’s Jet

Times Staff Writer

Sure, airliners often arrive late these days, but . . . a DC-8 in a three-year-long holding pattern south of USC?

The retired jet, donated by United Airlines, is Los Angeles’ Aluminum Goose, the front-yard showpiece of the California Museum of Science and Industry.

And passers-by still register surprise over the sight of a 118-foot-long plane at the corner of Figueroa and Exposition.


“Oh, yes, we get calls from people who wonder if maybe it landed on the freeway and taxied off an off-ramp,” said Lauren Pomerantz, whose position is “senior explainer” for the museum.

Then there was the call from a witness who said someone was trying to take apart the jet.

Grand theft, airline?

“It turned out to be a 15-year-old kid with a screwdriver,” Pomerantz said. “He was trying to take off some lights and other parts from the underside of the plane.”

The 21-year-old DC-8, which flew an estimated 18 million miles (17,999,999 more than the Spruce Goose), currently is not open for tours, like its more spacious competitor in Long Beach.

“We hope to open it in the future,” said museum curator Eugene Harrison. “But physically it would be a very expensive job. And we’d have to deal with such problems as air circulation. If it was in the 90s outside, it would be more than 100 inside.”

Occasionally a visitor boards surreptitiously anyway.

“One kid climbed up the wheel well and was running around in the cargo hold,” Pomerantz said. “Some others have gotten inside, too, though we can’t figure out how.”

Wing-walkers can also be a problem on the DC-8, whose official name is the “City of Los Angeles.”

“A father will lift his kid up there to take a picture,” museum security officer Harold Lytle said. “We have to ask them to get down because it’s dangerous.”

A group of grade-school children visiting from Ontario one recent day gave the DC-8 good, if not rave, reviews.

“I liked getting close enough to touch it,” said Scott Kasper, 11.

“I liked it--to look at,” said Jack Swogger, 11, explaining that he has never flown because he is afraid of heights.

Ray McCamey, also 11, said he would feel safer flying aboard the Spruce Goose. Why?

“It can land on water,” he pointed out.

The Ontario children were well behaved, one boy jumping back in horror when he leaned on one of the plane’s tires, causing it to spin. (The plane rests a few inches off the ground on a platform.)

Towed out of Long Beach just after midnight on June 18, 1984, the DC-8--sans wings--glided quietly through the friendly streets of Southern California, arriving at Exposition Park at 5:15 a.m., bruising only a few tree branches in the process. The wings were then reattached.

While the red, white, blue and orange craft dominates the front yard, known as the Corwin Denney Air and Space Garden, it is not alone. There’s also a 43-year-old DC-3, donated by Union Oil Co. of California, as well as some out-of-use freight, fuel and luggage trucks scattered about.

“A gardener at the Rose Garden wondered if we’d started a mini-airport,” museum spokesman Percy Della said.

“We think the display is an opportunity for people who don’t get any closer to the outside of planes than their window seat,” said curator Harrison.

However, a closer look shows the strain of inactivity on the vehicles. The luggage truck has two flat tires. The tail of the DC-3 is ripped.

The United jet’s four engines seem to have sucked in items ranging from soft-drink cans to peanut shells. And few other DC-8s offer such inscriptions on their wheel flaps as “Osgood and Diane Forever May 27, 87.”