The Early Years of aviation at the National Museum of the US Air Force

Sopwith Camel photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay.

Sopwith F-1 Camel

Recently my husband and I took a trip over to Dayton to visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Neither of us had been there in many years, and certainly not since the Museum’s expansion. Thus we had no idea what to expect other than an enjoyable day looking at some beautiful aircraft and learning about the history of the USAF—quite good things on any day, really. The Museum can also boast of being the world’s oldest and largest (hey, this is America, kids!) military aviation museum, so we knew there’s be plenty to make the drive worthwhile.

Early Years gallery at the National Museum of the USAF. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

Welcome to the Early Years gallery! We actually went through the Museum a bit backwards. Still had fun, though.

Well! I’m happy and even eager to tell you that our expectations were vastly exceeded: The Museum is wonderfully arranged, full of fantastic ships and tons of history on the easy-to-read-even placards, and it’s a terrific way to spend a day (particularly a very, very cold winter’s day!).

O-47B

Sliver of the Museum’s O-47B, an observation ship developed in 1934.

Nor are they exaggerating about the size: Three gigantic hangars are filled with ships, and there’s also a missile & space gallery as well as an IMAX theatre, outdoor exhibits (it was too cold & windy for us to enjoy these during this trip) and a memorial park, as well as smaller galleries connecting each hangar.  IT’S HUGE, and I’ve been to Texas! My recommendation is that you arrive first thing in the morning, drop some coin into the donation boxes (admission is free), and enjoy yourself, planning to spend your entire day here. Yes: The entire day. Again, it’s HUGE. And so much fun!

Spad VII photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

Spad VII, flown by the American volunteers of France’s Lafayette Escadrille. These were flown by French, British, and Americans until the war’s end. The Museum’s Spad was restored at Selfridge, the Air Base in my home state of Michigan. I felt a connection, oh yes I did.

Set in Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, it’s important to remember that the Museum is dedicated to America’s airmen, past, present, and future, and particularly those who have lost their lives wearing her uniform. These brave men are repeatedly brought back to our minds throughout the Museum via their stories, pieces of their destroyed ships, and a humbling gallery of Medal of Honor recipients in Kettering Hall. These reminders are far from maudlin, however; it’s all so well-presented, and looking at the collection of planes and other aircraft, we of course felt so proud to be part of a nation that has produced so many tremendously brave, selfless men.

US Air Force Medal Of Honour Recipients

Wall in Kettering Hall honouring the Air Force’s Medal of Honour recipients, from the branch’s birth to the present day.

By the way—before getting deeper into this, if you would like to know more about a specific plane, just click on the image. For nearly every single aircraft, I gathered what information I could—specs, history, interesting tidbits—and it’s posted on the Flickr page.

The galleries are set up by conflict—the Early Years gallery, which focuses on the beginning of man’s adventures in the air and World War I. The remainders are (of course) the World War II gallery (my own favourite—the ships are just so beautiful and incredible), the Korean War, Southeast Asia War, and the Cold War, as well as aircraft being used by the Air Force today.

Avro 504K photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

Chassis of an Avro 504K (do planes have chassis? I’ll have to ask my grandfather!). Airmen learned to fly in these prior to heading over to Europe.

Today I’m sharing some of my favourite Early Years Gallery photos with you. As you can imagine, I took oodles of photographs—though I highly recommend you bring your tripod (I did not, being a ditz); the Museum welcomes them, something many places do not do. Thanks, Air Force! I wish I’d brought mine, but there were plenty of kids running about on the day we visited, so perhaps it’s good my camera stayed on my person.

Avro 504K photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images. All rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

The Avro 504K.

Though the WWII gallery had my favourite ships in it, this gallery had plenty to admire, and somewhat more importantly for our purposes, the ships are smaller. As in shorter, meaning I could get more detail shots. I’m only 5′ tall, after all, and in the shoes I had on that day a mere 5’2″. Many more of these early aircraft had their props and engines closer to eye-level for a short person such as myself, so they were easier to shoot.

P-26A "Peashooter"

Boeing’s P-26A “Peashooter”. This one completely charmed me!

Not only that, but as you can see from this P-26, some of them are quite colourful, while others have parts made of natural wood and canvas; being brighter made them a little easier to photograph as well than the later ship (you should have seen me later in the day, standing beneath a B-52, jaw agape and eyes probably as big as tires). For instance, this DeHavilland DH-4 prop:

De Havilland DH-4, copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

Isn’t that woodgrain gorgeous?! Obviously this ship was a bit taller than some of the others (from my perspective), but it worked out in my favour. She reflected more light, too, perhaps because of her engine’s angle as much as her lighter colours. DeHavilland’s DH-4 is actually the only American-built aircraft that saw service during WWI; the rest of our fleet was obsolete by the time we entered the war.

Martin MB-2; copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

Martin MB-2

Look carefully at this one and you’ll see why I fairly danced over for a closer look: Her wings fold backwards! Isn’t that spiffy? Of course, the reason for that is her 34-foot wingspan, one that prevented her from entering a hangar. That feature, in addition to her pair of Liberty V-12s, made her particularly memorable.

Note the shadow on the wall behind her, too; I tried getting a few shadow shots but don’t think I was using the right lens. We really, really want to return and see the entire Museum (we were unable to finish this time), so I’ll have to do a better job next time. Here’s a closer look at one of those V-12s:

Martin MB-2

O-47B copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. PInning to this page is okay!

Another of the O-47B—that gleam definitely caught my eye, as you can tell!

The O-47B here is actually painted up as a O-47A in the Ohio National Guard’s 112th Observation Squadron. This is one of her 975hp Wright radials. Hellooooo, gorgeous.

Spad XIII C.1; copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images. All rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

A Spad XIII C.1

Again, I really wish I’d brought my tripod and a better camera strap—one allowing for quick lens changes until I get another body—but think I did pretty well, considering. And, once more, we had a wonderful time looking at and reading about all of the aircraft; other visitors of all ages seemed to be having a great time, too!

Next week we’ll look at some of the WWII ships. Have a beautiful weekend, and if you happen to be in Dayton, definitely visit the Museum!

USAF Museum photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay!

You can also keep up with the Museum via TwitterPinterest, and Facebook.

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One thought on “The Early Years of aviation at the National Museum of the US Air Force

  1. Pingback: WWII Aircraft at the National Museum of the US Air Force | Victory Rolls and V8s

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