As promised, today we get to head back to the Air Force Museum in Dayton! Last week we looked at early aircraft and WWI planes; today I have planes from the second major conflict of the 20th century to share with you. Just as with my earlier post, if you’d like to learn more about a specific plane, just click on the photo; it’ll take you to the photo’s page on Flickr, where more often than not I’ve included information about each ship.
Perhaps our only disappointment was one ship we missed: The world-famous Memphis Belle—the real thing, not an imitation, as anything you’ve seen at an airshow is very much not the real Memphis Belle—is at the Museum, being lovingly restored by the Air Force. She can only be viewed on Fridays, however, and you must register in order to visit. I hope to be able to do this soon (Hubby just needs to get a Friday off)! There are many imitation and mock-up Memphis Belles out there, but the real deal is right here in Ohio, after spending decades sitting in Tennessee. There’s a very good article about the Memphis Belle and the ongoing, years-long restoration (with some good photos) here.
Do not let that lead you to believe there are no historically astounding aircraft more easily accessed at the Museum, however. Above you see The Bockscar, the ship that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. She is the first ship plane we saw upon entering the gallery, and to be frank, not realizing at first, I thought she was simply beautiful. Rounding her wing, though, I saw the mockup of Fat Man by her side and realized what I was looking at (her sister, the Enola Gay, is at National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.).
To stand so close to such a piece of history was…well, my stomach dropped a bit, and I was rather awestruck.
Rumour has it the Bockscar is haunted by a little Japanese boy. Normally I don’t put any stock in such “hauntings”, but in this case I am not sure I can shake that. Also, what a contrast—that this ship that brought death and horror to so many (100,000 Japanese were killed in Nagasaki) and life (to the half-million men predicted would earn Purple Hearts alone in Operation Downfall, our alternative to the atomic bombs) was, in and of itself, a rather beautiful thing. Very strange. It’ll sound odd, but I think this aircraft bears a burden, if ever inanimate objects can do so.
Various presidential aircraft are at museum as well, including the Air Force One used by John F. Kennedy; the gallery was apparently closed for some time, and will re-open on a limited basis this October. If you’d like to see these aircraft, keep in mind that since they’re on a restricted section of the base, you’ll need government-issued photo ID; foreign visitors will need their passport. I wanted to let you know so as to head off any possible disappointment at the pass!
Talking to Dad about our visit to the Museum last night, I’d like to re-iterate that you really want a full day to take in the Museum, to which admission is free. We actually did not make it through the entire Museum, and thus missed out on more recent aircraft and things like the Berlin Airlift exhibit (which looked amazing). Even those only nominally interested in looking at the ships and reading the bare minimum will probably find they spend much more time than anticipated here, having an entirely wonderful time, too.
I also suggest you wear very comfortable shoes. Being me, I was wearing a darling vintage Air Force blue shirtdress with bright red buttons and belt, and slipped on a pair of 2″-ish low-heeled red pumps to match. Now, I (was told several times I) looked cute as pie, but by the time we reached the WWI portion of the Museum, I was also beginning to wish I owned a pair of lower-heeled shoes or even flats (a true concession to comfort for those of you who know me well)!
Granted, I was excitedly racing around like a child in a candy store, my 15-pound kit over my shoulder, which did not help, but…Well. As the only flats I own are my snow boots and “puppy walkers”, I’m in the market for a pair of very chic, very vintage-esque low-heeled or flat shoes (that will be worn probably once or twice a year, as I utterly detest flats, but hey, for some things they are worth it). Preferably in leopard print (the perfect neutral) or red (as I’ve so many red accessories).
So. Consider yourself alerted as to proper footwear (vintage dresses being perfectly appropriate and of course perfectly comfortable as well).
Finally, food. If one is going to wander through three or four aircraft hangars, one will be building up an understandable appetite. Happily, there is a fair-priced cafe upstairs, and my husband said his cheeseburger was “actually pretty good”. I would caution my fellow celiacs, however, that there are not many options—I had a Snickers, for Heaven’s sake!—thus it is smart to either look up nearby celiac-friendly restaurants or bring one’s own meal from home (there’s a picnic area outside that’s sure to be ideal for a midday meal during the summer!).
The “Shoo Shoo Baby” is a ship that will be familiar to fellow The Best Years of our Lives fans, and sure enough, the Museum has her. The B-17 is the favourite of many flyers and aircraft fans alike. She also has, if you can’t tell by my photo, an incredible wingspan! She was also very, very popular with visitors, making it almost Glenn Miller exhibit, and there are plenty of amazing photographs fromimpossible for me to get a clear shot of her. That’s fine. I had fun anyhow, and put my new wide-angle lens to very good use in this particular gallery, believe you me.
One reason I definitely plan to bring my tripod next time around are some of the exhibits running around the perimeter of the WWII gallery’s hangar; there are uniforms from each nation participating in the conflict, there’s a the war. One shows a B-17 with her nose blown clean off—yet she made it home (thanks to a commenter, you can see more such ridiculously amazing testaments to the B-17’s toughness here).
There is also a photograph of a little Italian boy teaching American airmen basic Italian via English-to-Italian scrawled on the side of a plane in chalk: Things like “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Water”…as well as “May I take you for a walk this evening”. Gotta get the important stuff! Some of these weren’t as well-lit as I needed for handheld shooting, so again, I’ll bring my tripod next time to capture more of these bits of our history; the WWII gallery is, I think, a bit darker than the Early Years gallery—there are more exhibits along the walls, and they are dark in colour, whereas those in the WWI gallery are light, which of course bounces the existing light back onto the aircraft. Still, it was a good challenge for me, one I of course enjoyed!
If you’ll recall my photos from the WWI era, looking almost directly into some engines…Well, here is an example of what it was like to shoot the WWII ships!
Ah well. No amount of height in my heels would have saved me here!
Not all ships were favoured by airmen, for various reasons. For instance, this enormous and somewhat flashy Douglas B-18A was armed with nothing more than a trio of .30-calibre guns.
As you might expect, they didn’t do much in the way of front-line duty; as a commenter noted, “like a 1930s designs, not ready for prime-time war”. They were retired from the front lines by early 1942.
B-24s like the one below (the pretty lady was on the dark side of the ship, alas) had a greater range than B-17s, but this was at the cost of a lesser bomb load.
That despite being powered by four 1200-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830s! According the Museum, Liberators (I do like that name) were best used for long-range raids and over-the-Pacific missions. This B-24 flew missions in North Africa with the 512th Bomb Squadron. I’m not sure how she could have been made more useful, really—she’s not a bad ship, but again, not nearly as beloved as the B-17 was.
This Fledgling served as a training ship despite her good looks. She was difficult to pilot and land, making her ideal for teaching young airmen to fly high-performance ships like the B-26 and P-38.
Here’s another look at the P-47D Five By Five. Unlike many of the other aircraft in the WWII gallery, this one was a little more toy-like in appearance—but do not let that fool you. The P-47D “Thunderbolt” is armed with eight .50-cal machine guns and could carry 2,500 pounds of rockets! These, though small, were very popular aircraft due to their reliability and nimbleness at her top speed of 433mph (cruising speed being 350mph) in the air.
Of course, as I mentioned last week, the Museum is dedicated to America’s airmen, particularly those who died in the service of their country. Not everyone made it home, and here is another exhibit to remind us of those men:
That beaten-up piece of a plane’s tail was shot down from an American ship during the war; in the 1990s, it was rediscovered being used as a barn door in Germany.
My other plan for our next visit is to get the left side of the aircraft more often; of course, much of the ‘good stuff’ is on the right! There’s actually an exhibit of old WWII bomber jackets at the Museum, and of course I photographed several of those as well—the artwork is really marvellous—but shall save those for their own, later post.
Well, that is (most of) our visit to the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton! Feel free to peruse all of my photographs here, and if you missed the post about the WWI and early years ships, it’s here. I hope you, too, are able to visit some day, particularly if you are a lover of history or aircraft! Any favourites? I’m sure a few additional photos will pop up on our Monday escapes, so stay tuned. 😉