Visiting The Air Mobility Command Museum

Military history, Air Force, planes

Air Mobility Command Museum

Two years ago as we were heading home from Florida we stopped outside of Augusta, GA. Looking for things to see in the area, we found the Army Signal Corps Museum at Fort Gordon. It turned out to be a fascinating visit. Did you know that the US Weather Service was formed from the Signal Corps? We learned that there are many such museums across the country for The Army, Navy and Air Force.  We saw a sign on our way to Delaware Seashore State Park for the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB and planned a visit. Steve will explain the history of this branch of the Air Force in the video below. The museum is accessible without going onto the base and there is no entrance fee..

C-5 engine, plane

Steve With C-5 Engine

We parked and started wandering through two buildings displaying restored engines. One was a C-5 engine. To give some scale Steve (6′) stood next to the engine. Later this year the museum will be obtaining a C-5 for display. Most of the restoration work and guide service is done by 120+ volunteers. (Chari) When I was in the Air Force and stationed at Altus AFB, OK the C-5 was the newest transport plane. The base was a pilot training base for the C-5. I had an opportunity to tour the plane and sit in the pilot’s seat. No, they didn’t let me fly it!

C-5, plane

C-5 Super Galaxy Taking Off From Dover AFB

We weren’t sure which way to go next or if we could just walk out to the planes unescorted. A man riding a bicycle stopped and asked what planes we wanted to see. “What ever we can see” we answered. “I don’t get out of the office much but let me show you my favorite then you can tour on your own”. He never did say who he was but we had the feeling he was the museum director. He returned with keys to the C-124A and took us inside. He explained that the plane had been found in terrible shape and had taken hundreds of hours to restore. He spoke of the history of the plane and how just getting supply trucks up the very steep ramp with no side rails was a feat in itself.

Our Private Tour

Our Private Tour

Inside The C-124

Inside The C-124

Cockpit Of C 124

Cockpit Of C 124

From there we wandered around the display area while 40s swing music played over the loud speaker. All of the planes are well marked and have a plaque giving a brief history of their use and time in service.  Rather than talk about this in written format, we’ve put together a video similar in style to the tour of Norfolk Harbor. Enjoy!


Then inside is an extensive collection of memorabilia related to early military aviation including the development of roundels that Steve talked about in the Udvar-Hazy post. While Steve was exploring some exhibits, I watched a video on the use of gliders in WWII and D-Day. I didn’t have time to see the whole film but what I did see was very interesting. There are several simulators where you can try “flying” or landing a plane. A long hallway leading to the museum store is lined with photos and short biographies of Congressional Medal of Honor winners from all branches. Did you know there are over 3,400 Medal of Honor recipients?

Inside The Museum Hanger

Inside The Museum Hanger

Early Roundels

Early Roundels

Another Change In 1918

Another Change In 1918

insignia 2

1917 Style

1940 Version

1940 Version

More Changes In 1942

More Changes In 1942

Again in 1943

Again in 1943

insignia 8

Current Version

museum, airplane

Pint Sized Plane

Congressional Medal Of Honor, museum

Wall Honoring Medal Of Honor Winners

(Steve)   I thought this might be a good place for another “history lesson”.  Chari began this post by saying MATS, the Military Air Transport Service, was a combined Command of the Air Force and the Navy.  It came into being under the newly created Department of Defense on June 1, 1948.  Less than a month later, the first major crisis of the Cold War erupted, and MATS faced a huge test.  As you are about to read, it performed magnificently. 

I received most of my information for what follows on-line and copied directly in some instances from Wikipedia.  To read about this more fully, please see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Blockade

 Operation Vittles        The Berlin Airlift

At the end of the Second World War, the Allies (England, France, The United States, and the Soviet Union) partitioned Germany into four sectors.  The city of Berlin, lying wholly within the Soviet sector, was also divided into four sections, each governed by military authorities from Allied forces. 

 I won’t go into the entire history of the Cold War, but for now, suffice it to say that tensions were rising between the Soviets and the Western powers. 

 In June of 1948, the Soviet Union, in an attempt to gain complete control of Berlin, closed all land routes; road, rail and canal; through their sector of Germany to the city.  This would mean all supplies; food, fuel, everything required by the population of a city, would be delivered through Russian sources, and ensuring their complete control.  To force the Allies to cede control, the Russians stopped supplying the non-Soviet sectors of Berlin.  The people of West Berlin had at this time a 36-day supply of food and 45-day supply of coal. 

Military forces in the western sectors of Berlin numbered only 8,973 Americans, 7,606 British and 6,100 French.  Soviet military forces in the Soviet sector that surrounded Berlin totaled one and a half million.  The “Cold War” was facing its first real crisis.

General Lucius D. Clay, in charge of the US Occupation Zone in Germany, summed up the reasons for not retreating in a cable to Washington, D.C., on June 13, 1948: “There is no practicability in maintaining our position in Berlin and it must not be evaluated on that basis…. We are convinced that our remaining in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for good or bad, it has become a symbol of the American intent.”  General Clay felt that the Soviets were bluffing about Berlin since they would not want to be viewed as starting World War III. He believed that Stalin did not want a war and that Soviet actions were aimed at exerting military and political pressure on the West to obtain concessions, relying on the West’s prudence and unwillingness to provoke a war. Commander of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) General Curtis LeMay reportedly favored an aggressive response to the blockade, in which his B-29s with fighter escort would approach Soviet air bases while ground troops attempted to reach Berlin.  Clay vetoed the plan.

Although the ground routes had never been negotiated, the same was not true of the air. On 30 November 1945, it had been agreed in writing that there would be three twenty-mile-wide air corridors providing free access to Berlin. Additionally, unlike a force of tanks and trucks, the Soviets could not claim that cargo aircraft were some sort of military threat. In the face of unarmed aircraft refusing to turn around, the only way to enforce the blockade would have been to shoot them down. An airlift would force the Soviet Union into the position of either shooting down unarmed humanitarian aircraft, breaking their own agreements, or backing down.

Enforcing this would require an airlift that really worked. If the supplies could not be flown in fast enough, Soviet help would eventually be needed to prevent starvation. Clay was told to take advice from LeMay to see if an airlift was possible. LeMay, initially taken aback by the inquiry, which was “Can you haul coal?”, replied “We can haul anything.”

British Air Commodore Reginald Waite had previously calculated the resources required to support the entire city. They would need to supply seventeen hundred calories per person per day, giving a grand total of 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive. Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.

Lucius Clay launched “Operation Vittles” on June 25, 1948.  The next day thirty-two C-47s lifted off for Berlin hauling 80 tons of cargo, including milk, flour, and medicine. The first British aircraft flew on June 28. At that time, the airlift was expected to last three weeks.  By July first, the system was beginning to get underway, but quantities of food were extremely limited and didn’t come close to supplying the amounts required to sustain the city. Rhein-Main Air Base became exclusively a C-54 hub, while Wiesbaden retained a mix of C-54s and C-47s. Aircraft flew northeast through the American air corridor into Tempelhof Airport, then returned due west flying out on through the British air corridor. After reaching the British Zone, they turned south to return to their bases. The British ran a similar system, flying southeast from several airports in the Hamburg area through their second corridor into RAF Gatow in the British Sector, and then also returning out on the center corridor, turning for home or landing at Hanover. On July 6 the British Yorks and Dakotas were joined by Short Sunderland Flying Boats. Their corrosion-resistant hulls suited them to the particular task of delivering baking and other salt into the city.

Accommodating the large number of flights to Berlin required maintenance schedules and fixed cargo loading times. Smith and his staff developed a complex timetable for flights called the “block system”: three eight-hour shifts of a C-54 section to Berlin followed by a C-47 section. Aircraft were scheduled to take off every four minutes, flying 1000 feet higher than the flight in front. This pattern began at 5,000 feet and was repeated five times. This system of stacked inbound serials was later called “the ladder.”

By the second week, 1000 tons were being delivered daily.  For an operation expected to last only a few weeks, this was considered sufficient.  But the Soviets ridiculed the project.  Referring to “the futile attempts of the Americans to save face and to maintain their untenable position in Berlin.”

At a meeting with General Clay in late July, the National Security Council recognized that a long-term program would be necessary.  Deputy commander for operations of the newly formed MATS, Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner took command of the operation. Tunner had considerable airlift experience, successfully reorganizing the wartime Hump Airbridge between India and China, doubling the tonnage and hours flown.

Eight squadrons of C-54s—72 aircraft were deployed to Wiesbaden and Rhein-Main to reinforce the 54 already in operation, the first by July 30 and the remainder by mid-August, and two-thirds of all C-54 aircrew worldwide began transferring to Germany. 

On August 13, bad weather caused an accident, involving three C-54s.  No one was killed, but the airport was closed and all stacked aircraft awaiting landing were sent home.  As a result several new rules were adopted, including instrument flight rules to be in effect at all times, regardless of weather.  Also, each aircraft would have one chance to land.  If it missed, it would return home rather than attempt another landing.  There was an immediate decrease in delays and accidents.  Tunner saw that it took just as long to unload a three and a half ton C-47 as a ten ton C-54. One of the reasons for this was the sloping cargo floor of the C-47s, which made truck loading difficult. The C-54’s cargo deck was level, so that a truck could back up to it and offload cargo quickly. Tunner decided to replace all C-47s in the Airlift with C-54s or larger aircraft.  He saw that ground crews taking refreshment breaks were taking up valuable time going to and from snack bars and forbade them from leaving their work areas.  Jeeps were set up as mobile snack bars.  Unloading of aircraft began as soon as engines were shut down, and the turn-around time before take-off back to Rhein-Main or Wiesbaden was reduced to thirty minutes.  The “ladder” was altered from a plane taking off once every four minutes to once every three, with the vertical separation reduced to 500 feet rather than 1000, maximizing use of available aircraft.  Aircraft maintenance schedule were instituted at 25-hour, 200-hour, and 1000-hour intervals, further maximizing efforts. 

Crews of local Berliners, working for increased rations, replaced military crews for runway repairs and unloading aircraft, and with experience, became extremely efficient.  The times for unloading continued to fall, with a record being set by the unloading of an entire 10-ton shipment of coal from a C-54 in ten minutes, later beaten when a twelve-man crew unloaded the same quantity in five minutes and 45 seconds.

By the end of August, after only one month, the Airlift was succeeding; daily operations flew more than 1,500 flights a day and delivered more than 4,500 tons of cargo, enough to keep West Berlin supplied. All of the C-47s were withdrawn by the end of September, and eventually 225 C-54s (40% of US Air Force and US Navy Skymasters worldwide) were devoted to the lift. Supplies improved to 5,000 tons a day.

Gail Halvorsen, one of the many Airlift pilots, decided to use his off time to fly into Berlin and make movies with his hand-held camera. He arrived at Tempelhof on 17 July on one of the C-54s and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the aircraft. He introduced himself and they started to ask him questions about the aircraft and their flights. As a goodwill gesture, he handed out his only two sticks of chewing gum, and promised that, if they did not fight over them, the next time he returned he would drop off more. The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over, and he replied, “I’ll wiggle my wings.”

The next day, on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, “The Chocolate Uncle” and “The Chocolate Flier”. His commanding officer was upset when the story appeared in the news, but when Tunner heard about it he approved of the gesture and immediately expanded it into “Operation Little Vittles”. Other pilots participated, and when news reached the US, children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon, the major manufacturers joined in. In the end, over three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin, and the “operation” became a major propaganda success. The candy-dropping aircraft were christened “Rosinenbomber” (raisin bomber) by the German children.

As winter approached, it became clear that while the amount of food being delivered would remain unchanged, coal supplies would have to be dramatically increased to heat the city, by approximately 6000 tons per day. Aircraft were available but runways in Berlin were already overtaxed.  Another 6,000 foot long asphalt runway was constructed at Tempelhof.  The French, meanwhile, unable to do more than supply their own troops in Berlin, agreed that they would build a new airport in their sector, on the shores of Lake Tegel.  There was an obstacle in the approach to the Tegel airfield, however. A Soviet-controlled radio tower caused problems by its proximity to the airfield. Pleas to remove it went unheard, so on November 20, French General Jean Ganeval made the decision simply to blow it up. The mission was carried out on December 16, much to the delight of Berliners, and provoking complaints from the Soviets. When his Soviet counterpart, General Alexej Kotikow, asked him angrily on the phone how he could have done this, Ganeval is said to have answered him laconically, “With dynamite, my dear colleague.”

Winter weather created another problem.  One of the longest-lasting fogs ever experienced blanketed the entire European continent for weeks. All too often, aircraft would make the entire flight and then be unable to land in Berlin. On November 20, 42 aircraft departed for Berlin, but only one landed there. At one point, the city had only a week’s supply of coal left.

The weather improved, however. More than 171,000 tons were delivered in January 1949, 152,000 tons in February, and 196,223 tons in March.

By April 1949 airlift operations were running smoothly and Tunner wanted to break the monotony. He liked the idea of a big event that would give everyone a morale boost. He decided that on Easter Sunday the airlift would break all records. To do this, maximum efficiency was needed. To simplify handling, the only cargo would be coal, and stockpiles were built up for the effort. Maintenance schedules were altered so that the maximum number of aircraft would be available.

From noon on 15 April to noon on 16 April 1949, crews worked around the clock. When it was over, 12,941 tons of coal had been delivered in 1,383 flights, without a single accident. A welcome side effect of the effort was that operations in general were boosted, and tonnage increased from 6,729 tons to 8,893 tons per day thereafter. In total, the airlift delivered 234,476 tons in April.

On 21 April the tonnage of supplies flown into the city exceeded that previously brought by rail.

The Soviets were humiliated by the success of the airlift, and the “Easter Parade” was the last straw.  Serious negotiations began, and on May 4, it was announced that the blockade would be lifted eight days later.  On the 12th a British Convoy drove through the Soviet sector of Germany to Berlin.

The blockade was over.  The airlift continued, however, until a comfortable surplus of three-months supplies was in Berlin, enough to provide plenty of time for operations to begin again if required.  They were not.  “Operation Vittles”, the Berlin Airlift was officially closed on September 30, 1949. 

In total the USA delivered 1,783,573 tons and the RAF 541,937 tons, totaling 2,326,406 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 278,228 flights to Berlin.

The RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) delivered 7,968 tons of freight and 6,964 passengers during 2,062 sorties. The C-47s and C-54s together flew over 92 million miles in the process, almost the distance from Earth to the Sun. At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.

Pilots came from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.

A total of 101 fatalities were recorded as a result of the operation, including 40 Brits and 31 Americans, mostly due to crashes. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation.

The cost of the Airlift was shared between the USA, UK, and Germany. Estimated costs range from approximately $224,000,000 to over $500,000,000 (equivalent to approximately $2.16 billion to $4.82 billion today).

The “Cold War” would continue however, for decades to come.

It was mid afternoon by the time we finished at the MAC Museum. We tried to see the Victrola museum but it was closed that day as was an old church and museum we’d passed on the way up. The town of Lewes (pronounced like Louis) which proudly calls itself the First Town in the First State has great kayaking possibilities and lots of history. We checked out Cape Henlopen State Park and found our trailer would work well in those campsites. So now we have a place to stay “When we come back…”

 museum, Dover

The Johnson Victrola Museum

Flying High At The Udvar-Hazy Center

Udvar-Hazy Center, airplane, Smithsonian

A Panorama Of The Udvar-Hazy Center

Although sunny the next day it continued to be cool and windy so we decided to go see the extension of the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport. This is the Udvar-Hazy Center. While a hefty $15 parking fee is charged, the museum exhibits and tours are free. After having visited we felt the cost was well worth it. There is an additional charge to see the IMAX movie.

I’d lived in the Washington DC area from 1972-1992 and took advantage of the many offerings at the Smithsonian museums. It’s the thing I missed most when I moved away. I remember the opening of the original Air and Space Museum with the moon rock and the Wright flyer. I thought they’d never duplicate it. Duplicate? No. Expand to include numerous last existing models and planes too large to fit in the downtown museum, yes. The Udvar-Hazy Center opened in 2003.  Eventually the Center will house 300 aircraft. With a donation from American Airbus an addition is being planned to house the Restoration Center now located in Maryland.

steven_udvar-hazy_ilfc.jpgSo who is Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy and why does the Center bear his name? He is a Hungarian immigrant who lived the American dream of becoming a billionaire by co-founding an aircraft leasing company called International Lease Finance Corporation. His company is one of the two largest aircraft leasing companies. ILFC began as the brainchild of three men in their 20s with the leasing of a single used DC-8 to Aeromexico in 1973. According to Forbes Magazine in 2011 he was the 409th richest man with a net worth of 3.2 billion. In 1999 he donated $65,000,000 to build this facility. His family fled Hungary in 1958 during the Soviet occupation.

Airplanes, Smithsonian

As You Enter

Air and Space Museum,

A Sea Of Planes

All visitors must go through a Security Check. You must open all closed compartments in your bags/purses. I never realized how many pockets my purse had until I had to stand there and open each one! Next time I’ll just bring my wallet. We went to the Visitor Information Center to ask about an IMAX movie on the Hubble telescope. Then we saw that there would be a guided tour called the Highlights tour at 2pm and decided to take it. Good choice. It is a two hour tour given by very dedicated docents. These tours are done mostly on weekends as the museum concentrates on school and organization groups during the week. We highly recommend you take this tour but if two hours is too long they do have a one hour version called Highlights Light. The docents are mostly volunteers with a background in aviation, engineering or military service. They take a three month course in aviation history, aeronautical engineering and aircraft design. Then they must present material on all the planes included in the tour to a proctor before they are allowed to lead a Highlights tour. Our docent told us the group also holds a study group where individuals are asked to research a specific plane and present the material to the group. Other tours are available on specific aircraft. Our tour was very comprehensive. We probably only remember 5% of what we were told. I’d repeat this tour in a heartbeat! Our docent was Bill Hamilton and he was terrific.

Udvar-Hazy Center Ceiling

Udvar-Hazy Center Ceiling

museum, tour

Tour Guide At Udvar-Hazy Center

Docent Describing Antique Plane

Docent Describing Antique Plane

Stephen P. Langley, history

Looking Up At The Langley Aerodrome

The tour started with early aviation when they didn’t even call them airplanes just machines. There was a furious competition to be the first flying machine. The Aerodrome invented by Stephen P. Langley made several attempts to fly but never was successful. There was a feud between the Langley/Smithsonian group and the Wright family over the claim of first to fly.  A brief video about Steven P. Langley and his Aerodrome has been embedded from You Tube: 

The Fowler-Gage biplane was built in 1912 and used for exhibition and line check flights in California. It and designer/pilot Robert G. Fowler earned a place in history when in 1913 this plane flew 54 miles from the west coast to the east coast of Panama. The flight was done over dense jungle where there would was no safe place to land. The plane was retired in 1915.

biplane, history

Fowler-Gage Biplane

Roscoe Turner, early aviation

Roscoe Turner With Lion Cub

Our docent went on to discuss a few of the larger than life “characters” who risked life and limb in the early days of aviation. One of the early daredevils was a dashing pilot from Corinth,MS named Roscoe Turner. The scarf you see displayed was not worn just for effect. In those early days of open cockpits they were needed to wipe the thin engine oil that was thrown backwards onto the pilot’s goggles. He was a barnstorming performer, air racer and flew wealthy passengers to Reno for Nevada Airlines. He set the transcontinental airspeed record in 1930 at 12 hours and 33 minutes. One of Turner’s sponsors, The Gilmore Oil Company (eventually Mobil), gave him a lion cub called Gilmore. The cub often flew with him and had its own parachute. You can see a picture of them at the rear of the display. If they only would stay small! It didn’t take too long for his pet to outgrow the cockpit. So Turner donated him to a zoo. However, he would still come to visit. He’d stand at the edge of the lion den. Then when unsuspecting visitors were watching, he’d jump into the pit and call his old friend. The now full grown Gilmore would come charging over, much to the horror of onlookers, only to jump up and lick his face! When Gilmore died he was stuffed and kept in the Turner home. He is now in possession of the Smithsonian. Roscoe Turner worked with Howard Hughes and he is a character in the 2004 movie about Hughes. I think we’ll watch that again.

Someone, maybe it was me, I don’t remember, asked Bill, our tour guide, about the insignia on the underside of the wings on various military aircraft, and he proceeded to give us a very interesting talk on the history of roundels.  I’d never heard of the  term, but apparently it goes way back, probably having its origins on a round insignia on the shield of a knight in medieval times.  France was the first country to order the application of roundels in 1912, which consisted of a blue circle surrounded by a white circle surrounded by a red circle.  The Brits originally used a depiction of their Union Jack, but quickly changed at the outbreak of World War I because someone decided it looked too similar to the German Iron Cross.  They started using a red-rimmed white circle, but again quickly changed because that was very similar to neutral Denmark’s insignia.  They settled on a reversed French roundel, a red circle surrounded by white surrounded by blue.  I always got a chuckle from the fact that the English painted what looked like targets on their aircraft, but was chagrinned to find out that our early roundels were quite similar.  Our first aircraft insignia, during the war with Pancho Villa prior to WWI was a red star, quite similar to that used by Russia.  Naval aircraft used an anchor on the rudder of its seaplanes.  When we got into the war in Europe, we mimicked the Brits and French with another “target” insignia, this one a white circle surrounded by red surrounded by blue.  We soon had the good sense, however, to change to a red circle in the center of a white star, surrounded by a blue circle.  This doesn’t look like a target at all!  This lasted until the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought us into World War II.  Someone decided that the red circle inside the star too much looked like the Japanese meatball (rising sun), the red circle insignia on their aircraft.  The red dot inside the star was removed.  The similarities of various nations, at least in times of poor visibility, caused many instances of “friendly fire” events, and a study revealed that the colors were not as important as the shape.  No one really saw that red dot inside our star anyway, but the round shape of the overall roundel could be confusing.  In 1943, we added a bar, or what looks like wings extending past the blue circle around the white star.  The entire symbol was outlined with a red line, which soon changed, I don’t know why, to a blue outline.  In 1947, a red stripe was added in the center of the white “wings”, and in the 70s the blue outline was eliminated.  It looks like these insignia will be forever evolving. 

Early Roundel

Early French Roundel

WWI US Roundel

WWI US Roundel

US Naval Aircraft With Red Dot

US Naval Aircraft With Red Dot

Modern USAF Roundel

Modern USAF Roundel

 

For a couple of interesting websites talking about this, visit the following links:

http://wwiisquadronpatches.com/NationalInsigniaHistoryUSAircraft.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_aircraft_insignia 

Well, we’d better pick up the pace here or this will turn out to be a thesis. Among the ten sections in the museum is one devoted to the aircraft of WWII. So many advances were made during this period. Many of them were break through technology by German scientists. For example the museum has the only existing Arado AR 234 B which is the first operational jet used in combat and outmaneuvered propeller planes easily. It was not as well known as another jet called the Messerschmidt 262 that appeared toward the closing days of WWII and briefly gave the Luftwaffe the air advantage it had known at the start of the war.

The one plane most everyone coming to the museum wants to see is the B-29 known as the Enola Gay. History has immortalized her pilot Paul Tibbits while the second plane and pilot that dropped the bomb over Nagasaki knows only anonymity. Bill, our guide, told us about a tour he’d had that included an elderly Japanese man. Bill said he was wondering what his reaction would be when they came to the Enola Gay. The man looked up and said “that plane saved my life.” Then he looked across at a Japanese bomber used for Kamikaze missions. He pointed to that plane and said “I was told to volunteer for a mission scheduled two weeks after the Enola Gay’s flight.”

WWII, airplane

Messerschmidt 163B

Arado 234B cockpit

Arado 234B cockpit

airplane, WWII

World War II Bomber

Enola Gay, WWII

Enola Gay Needs No Introduction

The First American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, were recruited from Army, Navy and Marine pilots to help defend China from Japanese aggression prior to our entry into World War II.

The First American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, were recruited from Army, Navy and Marine pilots to help defend China from Japanese aggression prior to our entry into World War II.

This plane was carried in pieces and assembled on the deck of a Japanese submarine.  It could be assembled three ways, the first being fully assembled, with pontoons, for take-off from the ocean surface.  It could be assembled without pontoons, and launched from the deck via catapult, recovery would be quite "iffy".  Thirdly, it could be assembled without pontoons and with a bomb welded to the fuselage. There would be no return possible for the pilot.

This plane was carried in pieces and assembled on the deck of a Japanese submarine. It could be assembled three ways, the first being fully assembled, with pontoons, for take-off and landing from the ocean surface. It could be assembled without pontoons, and launched from the deck via catapult, recovery would be quite “iffy”. Thirdly, it could be assembled without pontoons and with a bomb welded to the fuselage. There would be no return possible for the pilot.

One piece of trivia we learned was that the tip to tip wingspan of a B-29 was longer than the Wright Brothers first flight.

A brief video on the restoration of the Enola Gay has been embedded from You Tube: 

Then on to more modern Air Force and Navy planes. Here the most popular plane is the SR 71 Blackbird. The plane really is midnight blue not black but as our guide said, calling this plane The Bluebird just didn’t have the same ring. This plane flew coast to coast in the US in one hour and eight minutes!

Blackbird, jet

Looking Down On The SR 71

SR 71

SR 71 Profile

The Blackbird Is Really Blue

The Blackbird Is Really Blue

jet fighter, Smithsonian

Navy Jet Fighter

USAF Jet Fighter

USAF Jet Fighter

X35B Joint Services Fighter

X35B Joint Services Fighter

Oh, there’s a lot more to see here. The hanger style museum is eight stories high. Next on the tour were the  commercial aircraft. Airliners from the first luxury airliners like the Pan Am Clipper to the iconic Concorde are here. The Concorde was an engineering marvel but an economic failure. It carried 100 passengers at a cost of $12,000 per ticket. Then there is Steve Fossett’s Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer. This is the plane he flew in 2005 to become the first person to solo around the world without refueling. Now think back to that first Langley plane and realize all of this occurred in 50 years. One of the most intriguing stories was about the Dash-80 precursor for the Boeing 707 doing an aerobatic barrel roll when it was first demonstrated to the public. If you are interested in hearing the story, please click on the You Tube video below.

Pan Am Clipper

Pan Am Clipper

Underneath The Concorde

Underneath The Concorde

VA flight around the world

Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer

Last but not least we enter a separate wing devoted to space exploration. In 2012 the space shuttle Discovery was delivered for permanent exhibition. Previously the trainer Enterprise had been on display. It has been moved to the Intrepid museum in new York City. Also on display are Mercury and Gemini capsules, the Airstream Quarantine RV for the astronauts and the Canadian Arm that allowed the space shuttle to do experiments and repairs in space. Did you ever want to be an astronaut? While we did not have time to try it, there is a space shuttle docking simulator you can operate. For those of us who remember Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight, the moon landing and now the space station, this is a fascinating exhibit. there is a tour devoted to space exploration. The next time we come (oh yes, there will be a next time) we’d like to take that tour.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Engines

Space Shuttle Engines

Ceramic Tiles and Heat Shield On Discovery

Ceramic Tiles and Heat Shield On Discovery

Canadian Arm From Space Shuttle

Canadian Arm From Space Shuttle

Mercury Capsule

Mercury Capsule

Tight Quarters Aboard Geminii Capsule

Tight Quarters Aboard Geminii Capsule