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TOUR AT HILL’S AIRCRAFT MUSEUM IS A QUICK FLIGHT THROUGH HISTORY

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Walking up and down the long sidewalks between the planes at Hill's museum, I kept thinking of how impossible it is to imagine all that weight being lifted off the ground - like the huge single gear from a C-5 Galaxy, which the sign beside it said weighs 9,000 pounds and cost $931,328.

I tried to picture the big plane it belonged to lifting off the runway, its almost $2 million worth of wheels rolling faster and faster, then going light and skipping, and then the sounds of the hydraulics as the big wheels fold up into the belly of the wing as easy as a pocketknife being pocketed or an umbrella being folded.We looked at the huge Sikorsky helicopter, and the light M*A*S*H casualty evacuation chopper with its Plexiglas bubble, which next to the others was as tiny as a feather. I studied the seat and joystick, and could feel the whole thing tilting forward a bit and tucking to the right, curling around a Korean hill, the Plexiglas vibrating and the rotors spinning too fast to see.

When we passed the C-119, the "flying boxcar" - I told them with a tinge of pride how I had ridden in one from Salt Lake to Anchorage during summer camp in 1964 or '65, and how the seats along the sides were fold-down canvas cots. Shading their eyes with their hands, Rob and Andrew, on tiptoes, peeked through the tiny windows into the dark interior.

We studied the statistics on the Minuteman missile, how it could take off from a silo in Wyoming and be in Moscow in less than 45 minutes. We did the same with the big black SR-71 Blackbird spy plane - so long and flat and sleek it looked like something from "Star Wars," yet so obsolete they would put one here on public display. From the stats, we figured it could travel a half a mile in a second. I tried to picture how far a half a mile would be. Then I imagined it going that far in a second: a thousand one . . . .

Jared was looking at the cluster bombs by now, and a 2,000-pound smart bomb like those used in the Gulf War. I think it was the laser-guided one - I can't remember, there were so many, but this one had a glass eye in the front the size of a golf ball.

There was a red Tomahawk missile, about 6 or 8 feet long and tiny enough to go through a basketball hoop. I remembered seeing a series of photos once, in a book, of a Tomahawk hitting a concrete build-ing. In the first photo it is just barely piercing the concrete, like a finger dipped in water. In the second, the building begins to explode. In the third, a millisecond after the first, the frame is filled with exploding debris. A few more seconds and there is nothing.

The thing I remember most, though, was a display of the M-61 Vulcan cannon, a Gatling gun developed for the F-4 Phantom jets that were used in Vietnam. Nestled on a steel rack for display, it looked like a cocoon of something out of the movie "Aliens."

The sign next to the gun said it can fire 6,000 20-millimeter shells a minute. That's a thousand every 10 seconds, or a hundred per second.

I tried to picture a hundred of those thumb-sized slugs spewing out every second. The ground in front of me was eroded away by the thudding lead. They slashed through water and trees, splattering trunks into kindling, and pulverizing houses - and then there were the people.

Somehow, the vision melted off at this point. Interesting, how our minds divert to something else when the picture becomes too emotionally difficult to comprehend.

We went on to the room with flight suits and helmets with black plastic face shields that tend to make pilots look like insects with multiple eyes or no eyes at all.

In the van, while we had been gone, the sun had melted the ice in our drinks so that all that was left was tepid sugar water. My cup had been in direct sunlight, and the wax coating on the paper was soft and melted above the water line.

We rolled down the windows for a bit while the air conditioner built up. Before long it was pushing all the hot air out through the open windows. I pushed the buttons again and the windows closed, sealing in the cool, fresh air that by then was gushing into the cab through tiny adjustable louvers in the dashboard.

Compared to the hundreds of switches inside the cockpit of an F-16, the gauges and buttons in front of me were uncomplicated in the extreme.