Weapons are good at inflicting damage. That’s kind of the point. The whole reason the “tip of the spear” works as a metaphor is because the tip is the part that hurts the most.
And so it was that despite various precautions, the landing in 1991 of military aircraft on the Mall, including a Marine Corps Harrier AV-8B jet, caused some boo-boos.
Answer Man wrote last week about the jump jet’s memorable vertical landing, which was part of the National Victory Celebration marking the end of the Gulf War. The column prompted a response from Bill Vodra of Alexandria, Va.: “I recall that debris blown up by the jet and the helicopters did collateral damage. Specifically, I have recollections that sculptures in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden took blast damage when the equipment came in, and had to be wrapped in protective cloaks before the equipment was flown back out.
“Is this another faulty memory of an aging man?”
It is not. Answer Man checked with the folks at the Hirshhorn, who said that several statues in the Sculpture Garden received an impromptu dermabrasion.
“Aristide Maillol’s sculpture [‘Nymph’] suffered the most damage, while all others had more minor damage,” the museum’s Madeline Feller wrote in an email. The bronze nude needed some repair. (It’s called “conservation” in the museum biz.) The statues were shrouded in protective material for the departure of the Harrier and assorted helicopters.
Ian Richardson of Glenn Dale, Md., remembers the big static display of armaments on the Mall. He witnessed a rather dramatic event involving the Harrier. “As you mention, the display of military hardware drew some protests, including the Harrier,” Ian wrote. “I happened to be nearby when several phials of ‘blood’ were thrown at the aircraft, which were swiftly removed with a military grade hose pipe.”
The red liquid was poured by members of the Atlantic Life Community, a loosely knit organization of religious activists. With them was former Catholic priest Philip Berrigan.
Ian feels a special kinship with the Harrier. His father, Bill, was a technical artist at airplane manufacturer Hawker Siddeley, later British Aerospace, outside London.
“In the days before computer graphics, he drew by hand diagrams of the aircraft systems that often resembled a plate of spaghetti,” Ian wrote. “He used to claim that when the U.S. Marine Corps were due to receive the first of the first-generation AV-8As from the factory, the Marines failed to provide any details of where to place the national insignia and other markings on the aircraft. So he was assigned the task. Apparently, the Marines were pleased with the result, and adopted his layout.”
Beatrice Fitch was struck by something that Capt. John Rahm, the Marine pilot at the controls of the Harrier, said in last Sunday’s column: “Thankfully I didn’t prang the landing.”
Wrote Beatrice: “I have never encountered this word previously. Is it just ‘pilot speak’? What verb is its origin?”
“Prang” is a delightful word. The Oxford English Dictionary definition: “To crash or crash-land (an aircraft); to damage (part of an aircraft) during a crash-landing.” The OED lists its etymology as “uncertain,” but it was apparently coined early in World War II by someone in the Royal Air Force.
It may come from the sound of metal-on-metal: prang! It falls in that category of understatement that the English so enjoy, where “having a spot of bother” for an RAF pilot meant encountering a squadron of Me 109s, German fighter planes.
The word can be used to describe any crash — you could prang a dockless scooter, for instance — but Answer Man has mostly heard it used with airplanes and sports cars. The latter is unsurprising, given that it was dashing pilots who embraced such peppy marques as the MG and Triumph during and after the war. You pranged your Spitfire. You pranged your Austin-Healey.
Now here’s a question for you: Frances Futrovsky of Silver Spring, Md., was going through boxes of old photos when she came across one taken around 65 years ago on the occasion of a school or club dance. The picture is of formally attired teens and is marked “Souvenir of Washington National Airport Hangar Room.”
Wrote Frances: “Whatever happened to the Hangar Room and where exactly was it?”
Anyone out there remember it?
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For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.