FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Burbank’s Gemini Space Capsule of Love

By On August 24, 2018

Once upon a time (1969) in Verdugo Park play area, could be seen and played on, a genuine Gemini Test Space Capsule. It was donated to the City of Burbank Parks & Recreation Dept. by Weber Aircraft Corporation of Burbank, once a landmark corporation of Burbank.

The capsule was originally used to test Gemini capsule ejector seats on a rocket sled test track at China Lake California U.S. Naval Test Station.

This photograph dates from 1969, after the capsule had been placed in Verdugo Park, its new home. Pictured from left to right are C.E. Heimstadt, the Vice-President of Weber Aircraft, John Whitney, the Mayor of Burbank and George Izay, the Burbank Parks and Recreation Director. A commendable sense of civic pride is apparent, and the children appear to be content, scrambling over the attraction.

When the Gemini program was superceded by the Apollo program, the capsule was donated to Burbank. The photo shows the mock-up – proudly bearing the Weber Aircraft logo and “Burbank, California” – sitting attached to a rocket sled.

The capsule was fired down a track at hundreds of miles an hour, and then the ejection seats (with seated dummies) would be blasted clear. Once, it malfunctioned and the rockets powering the sled broke loose and shot through the back of the capsule, which had to be rebuilt before testing could continue.

The following text is from the Project Test Engineer for Weber Aircraft Corp Gordon Cress… “I worked on the Gemini System from the onset in late 1961 to its completion in 1964. I was the project test engineer for Weber and supervised/conducted all the off-the-pad, sled and in-flight ejection tests during that period.

This photo is from 1964 and shows the test crew, with the capsule painted and with proper doors installed. You can see the rocket array in back. L-R, Robbie Robinson, Gene Burkey, Gordon Cress, Carl Mogren, Glen King, Bob Redding, Sol Sirota, Mal Hale, Lloyd Thompson and Don McCauley (MAC)

My sled test crew shown in the photo are L-R, Robbie Robinson, Gene Burkey, Gordon Cress, Carl Mogren, Glen King, Bob Redding, Sol Sirota, Mal Hale, Lloyd Thompson and Don McCauley (MAC).”

He continues with a story about the 2nd picture above… “The photo with the Weber World on the side of the boilerplate spacecraft (by the way, the units shown in the photos are called boilerplate vehicles and not mockups).

BP vehicle #3 had the white boilerplate fixed hatches and the BP vehicle #3A had the operational Gemini hatches for the later tests. Anyway, we had an artist come up to China Lake and he spent one whole day painting the Weber World on the side of the BP spacecraft.

The next morning when the McDonnell and NASA guys got there they just had a fit and demanded that we paint over the Weber logo. So the artist’s work never made it to a test and this is probably one of the few pictures with the logo that exist.”

Sadly, the capsule is no longer there, having been removed in the early Nineties. As America and Burbank moved from the socio-industrial Cold War mode to peacetime, citizens found other uses for the attraction.

A lady who works in the city’s Parks and Recreation department stated that it was taken away “…because they had no idea of how many kids were conceived in it!”

I would like to acknowledge the contributions to this article (Photos & Text) by Wes Clark, Gordon Cress & Matt Sparks.

NOTE : The Gemini escape system provided a means for safe escape of the astronauts through use of the ejection seats while the vehicle is still on the launch pad, during boost and after spacecraft reentry. Actual usage is determined by the altitude, the type of emergency, the system condition, the mission phase, and the astronaut evaluation of the problem. The Gemini Escape System was qualified for use up to a maximum altitude of 70,000 feet.  Above that altitude the astronauts would stay with the spacecraft  and/or use its main parachute system for recovery.  Subcontractor for the ejection system is Weber Aircraft.

SAVE THE DATE’S!

TRUE TALES FROM BURBANK

From the Authors who brought you “Lost Burbank” & “Growing Up In Burbank” Comes the third exciting installment of the Burbank Trilogy…

                “True Tales From Burbank”  

Stories from Los Angeles’s most surprising suburb!

 Home to the likes of Disney and Warner Bros., Burbank has a fascinating history beyond the glitz and glamor of its entertainment industry. Discover the true story behind the mysterious Night Riders and how the Druids came to visit. Learn about the plans to film biblical epics in town and the how the Crank Conventions came to be. Delve into tales of rodeo queens, Hollywood stars, Mouseketeers and a flying lion cub. Wesley H. Clark and Michael B. McDaniel, take you on a surprising and whimsical tour of the people, places and events of this historic San Fernando Valley city.

Wes and Mike will be in town October 10 through the 16.

Book signings will be at Auto Books on Magnolia Oct 13th from 9 am to noon.

Bell Cottage on Magnolia Day TBA.

All new slide presentations will be at The Burbank Historical Society Saturday Oct 13th at 2 pm and The Buena Vista Library Oct. 16 at 7pm! Watch for more dates and times! Books will available for purchase and signing! Don’t miss the True Tales Burbank Tour!