I've wanted to go to the National Air Force Museum ever since a couple readers of this blog told me that it was quite the place if you're into military history and airplanes. Since I'd been to the Strategic Air Command museum between Lincoln and Omaha a number of times, we recently had the chance to go out to Dayton for tour of the National Air Force Museum located on the Wright-Patterson Air Force base (see map).
We arrived just around 11 a.m. on a warm Sunday in late Spring. The large parking lot was already filled to about a quarter mile from the main entrance. The Air Force Museum is broken into three main buildings along with an IMAX theater and outdoor displays. There's also a part of the museum that is a bus ride away, but I'll get into that later on.
The great thing about the National Air Force Museum is that it's free to get in. They have a rather large gift shop that you have to go through as you enter and exit the museum. Some of the things they have in the shop are pretty interesting - books, DVD's, pictures. But there's certainly a lot of touristy things in there, too.
The first main part of the museum has to do with early flight. There were a lot of interesting planes in there. Of course, I had the wrong focus setting on my camera so none of the pictures I took came out worth a damn. But they had the wind tunnels the Wright Brothers used in early tests of their planes. They also had some World War I planes, as well as post World War I planes and other exhibits of aircraft working up to World War II.
Moving on to the next exhibit, we went to the World War II - or Air Power- gallery. They had a number of planes on display from the World War II era, including this B-29 Superfortress that dropped an Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki, Japan to effectively end the war. (As always, click on the picture for a larger image.) The plane's name was "Bockscar", named after its captain, Frederick Bock.
And speaking of the A-Bomb, here's a replica of the "Fat Man" bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. It weighed just over five tons, was ten and a half feet long and five feet around, and produced the same effect as 21 kilotons of TNT. The Air Force Museum had a pretty interesting array of weapons - mainly bombs and missiles - that had been used for a number of years, including a replica of the "Little Boy" atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
Moving on in the National Air Force Museum, we came upon the Modern Flight Gallery, a series of planes that were used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Included in this area is the B-52 shown at the right. While they look huge in the sky, I'm still amazed that the fuselage of a B-52 is not much more wide than most semi-trucks on the road. But they can sure pack a lot of bombs in those things.
One of the things I like about air museums is seeing enemy planes up close. Here is a MIG-17 jet that was used by the North Vietnamese air force in the Vietnam War. The Egyptian air force gave it to the Americans in the mid-80's. How the Egyptians got their hands on it, I don't know.
One of the more cool things was the story of this plane, a MIG-15bis that was flown from North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War. The U.S. had suffered some pretty heavy air losses due to the advanced nature of the MIG-15's. They offered any North Korean pilot $100,000 dollars to fly a MIG-15 to the south. In September of 1953, a North Korean air force pilot flew this plane to the south and defected. The U.S. took the plane and did a heavy duty inspection of it and then offered to give it back to the North Koreans. They didn't reply to the offer, so the Air Force Museum has been showing this on display since 1957.
This is a MiG-21 plane on display in the same area. Only they sort of cheated on this one. This was actually made in Czechoslovakia and was used by the Czech air force before the fall of the Soviet Union. The Czech government gave it to the Air Force Museum, which, in turn painted on the North Vietnamese numbering and insignia. Still, it was pretty cool to see.
Two planes in one picture on this one - the plane above is a Boeing "Bird of Prey", which was a single seat stealth technology demonstration plane used in the 1990's. And below it is a Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor, one of the most dominate - if not THE most dominate - fighter jets in the world today. This is one of nine F-22A's that were built for testing and engineering purposes.
Moving on to the Missile and Space Gallery, this is the area that really got me geeked. Growing up in the early era of the Space Age, I was like millions of other little kids who thought it would be cool to be an astronaut. This is the command capsule for the Apollo 15 mission to the moon. Even at my age, I still said, "Wow!" when I read the sign saying it was Apollo 15.
They also had a Gemini B capsule on display. Although this capsule was worthy of flight, it never flew in a mission. It was used for testing and training. Actually, this craft was designed to be used as a vessel to take astronauts to the first orbiting space station, or Manned Orbital Laboratory, NASA had conceived in the 60's. However, the MOL never got the funding it needed and the project never got off the ground, literally and figuratively.
Of course, they had a Mercury space capsule on display. I saw the Mercury capsule that Gus Grissom had flown at the Strategic Air Command Museum a couple years ago and I was amazed at how small those things really are. A lot of people didn't realize that many of the original astronauts are not tall guys. It would take a pretty small guy to be able to fit in those things without suffering from claustrophobia.
From the outside of the Air Force Museum, you see a rather tall building on the south side of the complex. This is where they display the large rockets and missles. These intercontinental ballistic missles were the main deterrent from Soviet attack, whether it be a fact or perception. Included in this display was the Boeing Peacekeeper missle, a four-stage ICBM that could disperse up to 10 nuclear warheads at a range of over 6,000 miles and flew at 15,000 miles per hour. It was a bad-assed weapon and helped bring on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the 90's. 50 Peacekeepers were in place until 2003 when the Air Force began to dismantle them, finishing in 2005.
The final inside area had to do with planes from the Cold War and current air force aircraft. This is a picture from the balcony of the missile display area. In the foreground, not fully visible in this shot, is a U-2 spy plane. This area housed the most amount of planes, probably because of the unbounded military spending going on during the height of the Cold War.
This is a Convair B-36 Peacemaker which was the forerunner of the Boeing B-52. It's a tad larger than a B-52 and uses both rear-propeller motors and jet engines to give it bursts of speed. They have a B-36 and a B-52 side-by-side at the Strategic Air Command Museum in Nebraska. They're are two pretty impressive planes to stand next to. This particular B-36 is the last one to ever be flown when it made the trip from an air base in Arizona to the museum in 1969.
This is the Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" high altitude and high speed reconnaissance plane that took the place of the U-2. These bastards were some of the fastest planes ever built. It could fly up to 85,000 feet at speeds of over 2,000 miles an hour. The plane on display is the first operational SR-71, flying it's first mission in 1968 and flew nearly 950 missions in total. It has been on display since 1990 at the Air Force Museum.
Of course, there was a Lockheed F-117A "Nighthawk" stealth fighter plane on display. These have been in operation since the early 90's and are primary attack planes that give the American air force such immeasurable power against their foes. They can fly right in, undetected, drop their bombs, and skedaddle back to the base before anyone knows what hit them. It was pretty neat to see up close.
And this is a Boeing B-1B bomber plane. This plane can fly low level and high level missions dropping up to 84 bombs on a target. It can fly at just over the speed of sound at sea level due to the movable swept back wings on the plane.
It took us just over two hours to go through the entire indoor area of the National Air Force Museum. We could have gone through much more slowly, but we decided we didn't want to devote our whole day to the museum. We knew we missed a lot of stuff, or didn't realize the significance of some of the planes on display. But we still wanted to see some planes they had on display outside.
There's an area just to the east of the museum buildings that had a number of planes on display on a tarmac called the Air Park. The display included this Lockheed C-141 Starlifter that was dubbed the "Hanoi Taxi." This particular plane was the first to transport prisoners of war from Hanoi toward the end of the Viet Nam war. In two missions to North Vietnam, it transported 76 POW's to freedom. Now that was pretty cool to see.
Also on the grounds of the Air Park is a replica of a World War II air corps control center that was used by U.S. forces in England. We went inside and was taken on a short tour by an older gentleman who was serving as a guide for the building. We were talking to him about going through the museum so quickly and how we'd like to come back to really delve into the whole place at sometime in the future. He said, "Did you get a chance to go over and see the Presidential planes?"
I said, "What Presidential planes?"
He explained there was a Presidential plane museum off-site of the main Air Force Museum that housed a number of planes used by Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt up to Bill Clinton. Included in the display was the Boeing VC-137C Air Force One that was the plane used by Presidents Kennedy up thru Clinton. In fact, the plane on display was the one that transported Kennedy's body back to Washington after he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, and on which Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office. Now, that killed me as I wanted to see that plane so bad.
We walked back to the main museum to see if we could get a ticket on the bus to go see that exhibit, but they had already sold out for the day. Tickets are free, but are issued on a first come-first serve basis. I was truly bummed because we got there early enough to see the exhibit, although we may have had to wait a little while to do so. But that would have given us more time to see more of the planes in the main hall exhibit area. Oh well. Next time...
Before we left, we stopped off and saw some of the memorials at Memorial Park. The park itself is very large with a number of memorials and monuments interspersed throughout the area. It was getting late and we had a drive ahead of us back toward Indianapolis so we didn't dawdle all that much in the park. But it was a beautiful setting and very fitting for recognizing those who served and/or gave their lives in defending America's freedom.
We spent a total of 3 and a half hours at the National Air Force Museum. And I think we could have easily spent a full day in the place. Even though there were a lot of people at the museum, just the vast expanse of the place made it seem like it wasn't crowded at all. I think Cindy had a good time going through the place, but I think she would get tired of it after a while. I'd really like to get back out there sometime and spend more time. And to see the Presidential planes. Now, that would be cool in my book.