Wednesday, June 30, 2010

National Museum of the United States Air Force

 The entrance to the Museum.

It has been over a week since we left Wright-Patt AFB, OH, but for some reason, it seems much longer than that.  I have been thinking about the AF Museum since we left and how I could adequately describe what we saw.  I have come to the conclusion, I cannot, by any means, provide the description it deserves.   The Museum is one of those places that encompasses so much history it's hard to take it all in.  I felt very humbled and blessed as we walked through all the airplanes and exhibits.  I wish all of America would take the opportunity to visit the Museum.  It is free -- yes, I said FREE -- to the public and is open seven days a week 9:00-5:00, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  Volunteers man the many desk areas, provide tours, etc, in four-hour shifts.  What an honor it was to stroll through history and appreciate those who made this Museum possible.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum.  More than 400 aircraft and missiles are on display, most indoors, and draws over 1.3 million visitors every year.  The Museum dates back to 1923 when the Engineering Division at Dayton's McCook Field began to collect artifacts for preservation.  In 1927, it moved to Wright Field and in 1954, as the Air Force Museum, it moved to its first permanent facility -- Bldg 89 of the former Patterson Field -- which had been an engine overhaul hangar.  At that time, many of the aircraft were parked outside and exposed to the weather.  In 1971, the current facility was opened.  The Museum has more than tripled in square footage since then and includes three  buildings, plus an IMAX Theater. 

The Museum contains many aircraft of historical and technological importance to aviation, as well as memorabilia and artifacts relating to history.  One area that especially captured my attention was the Holocaust area.  Almost 36,000 Army Air Force (AAF) personnel were confined in prisoner of war  (POW) camps in Europe.  Under the 1929 Geneva Convention, these POWs had certain rights, but these rights were not always honored by the Germans.  Conditions varied widely from camp to camp and officers usually fared better than enlisted personnel, who faced beatings and malnutrition.  The treatment of Jewish POWs ranged from being ignored or segregated to brutality and even death.

One such Jewish-American prisoner was Pvt Alvin L. Abrams from Philadelphia, PA.

Pvt Abrams was sent to the Berga concentration camp where he was subjected to hard labor and barely survived the death march after the Germans evacuated the camp in April 1945.  In the above picture, he is being cared for by American forces at a hospital in Germany. This was just one of the many stories portrayed in pictures and words in the Museum -- from WWI to the current war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Alan was on a mission to find the two main aircraft he worked on while on active duty -- the C-130 at Little Rock AFB, AR, and the F-111 fighter plane at Cannon AFB, NM.  

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules -- affectionately referred to as "The Herk" is a four-engine turbo-prop military transport aircraft.  Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation and cargo transport airplane.  The versatile airframe has found many uses, including as a gunship, for an airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol and aerial firefighting.  It is the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide.  Over 40 models serve with more than 60 nations.  In 2007, the C-130 became the fifth aircraft to mark 50 years of continuous use with the Air Force.

The Herk was the first aircraft Alan worked on while on active duty at Little Rock AFB, AR.  The model shown here is an AC-130A

While stationed at Cannon AFB, NM, Alan worked on was the F-111 fighter jet.  The following aircraft was assigned to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at Lakenheath, England.


Originally known as the TFX (Tactical Fighter X), the F-111 was conceived to meet the Air Force's requirement for a new tactical fighter bomber.  The Air Force's F-111A first flew in December 1964 and the first models were delivered to the Air Force in 1967.  In all, 566 F-111 of all models were built...159 of them were F-111As.  Although the F-111 was unofficially referred to as the "Aardvark," it did not receive the name officially until it was retired in 1996.  An interesting feature of the aircraft was its wings.  While in the air, the wings could be swept forward for takeoffs, landings, or slow-speed flight, and swept rear-ward for high-speed flight.  The F-111 could also fly at very low level and hit targets in bad weather.  Maximum speed is 1,452 mph. 

I fondly remember the loud noise this aircraft displayed on takeoff -- they rattled the windows of the courtroom at Cannon, making it difficult to hear.  Oftentimes, court would pause until the F-111 was actually in the air.

The following F-111 actually came from Cannon AFB, NM and depicts the ejected capsule where the pilot and co-pilot sit.

Following is the commemorative quilt in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the United States Air Force.

Little Rock's patch

Although you cannot read Cannon's patch, it shows the NM symbol and F-111 and we wanted to include it.

The presidential fleet is housed in a separate hangar inside the gates of Wright-Patt AFB.  Since we have retired military IDs, giving us access to Wright-Patt, on Sunday, we were able to drive to the hangar that contains the presidential fleet -- among other aircraft.   To us, this was a very special section of the Museum.  We were able to go inside the airplanes and browse as long as we wanted.  We couldn't help but notice that the visitors who rode the bus from the Museum to this section did not have much time to explore the fleet.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first sitting president to fly in an airplane, a Pam-Am crewed Boeing 314 in 1943 to Casablanca.  Concerned about commercial airliners transporting the President of the United States, the USAAF ordered the conversion of a military plane to accommodate the special needs of the Commander in Chief.  The Secret Service reconfigured a Douglas C-54 Skymaster as a presidential transport. 

This aircraft -- nicknamed the "Sacred Cow" -- included a sleeping area, radio telephone and a retractable elevator to lift Roosevelt in his wheelchair.

After Roosevelt died in 1945, then Vice President Harry S. Truman became President.  Aboard the Sacred Cow, President Truman signed the document that created a separate United States Air Force.  He replaced the Sacred Cow with a modified C-118 Liftmaster named the "Independence," which was christened on July 4, 1947.  Presidential pilot Lieutenant Colonel Henry Myers, who also flew the Sacred Cow coined the name Independence to represent patriotism and the name of President Truman's hometown in Missouri.

The U-4B was the smallest Air Force One and the first presidential airplane to have only two engines.  It also was the first to carry the blue and white paint scheme.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower used it from 1956 to 1960 for short trips.

Probably the best-known Presidential aircraft is SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000, which carried Presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton.  This US Air Force Boeing VC-137C was the first jet made specifically for use by the President of the United States.

My presidential wave.

Built in 1962, it served many presidents over three decades, carrying heads of state, diplomats and other dignitaries and officials on many historic flights.  Because President Kennedy did not name his aircraft as previous presidents had, the news media popularized the call sign "Air Force One" as the aircraft's name.  On October 10, 1962, the airplane entered USAF service directly from Boeing's assembly line.  President Kennedy had it painted blue and white instead of the usual military colors to give it a distinctive look.  The "United States of America" was emblazoned on the fuselage and an American flag was painted on the tail.   The airplane carried eight presidents:   Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton.  In 1990, it left the presidential fleet but continued to fly government officials, including Secretary of State James Baker.

President Kennedy flew aboard this SAM 26000 to Dallas, Texas, where he was assassinated, and it was on this airplane where President Johnson was sworn in as the president. 

The crew did not want President Kennedy's body to be flown back to Washington in the cargo hold.  So, a wall was cut and removed so the casket could be placed in the rear cabin.  Two rows of seats were removed and the President's casket was placed there.  Mrs. Kennedy sat in a seat opposite the casket.

This communication facility enabled the president or other officials to remain in contact with Washington, DC, or any other part of the world.  It was amazing to see how the technology has evolved over the years.

Visitors are allowed to walk through the presidential aircraft.  Plexi-glass was installed by the Museum to protect the inside of the airplanes, which leaves only 17" where one can walk.

As we left the National Museum of the United States Air Force, we were both proud of our service to the Air Force.  It will be something we will carry with us forever.  It took a lot of time, effort and devotion to plan, organize and develop such a contribution, not only to the Air Force, but to men and women everywhere who have served this great country we live in -- the United States of America.  

There is so much more to see than I have depicted here.  Our prayer is that you will read this blog and be inspired to take a trip to Dayton, OH, to see this Museum for yourself.
Again, as we celebrate the 4th of July this week, may we continue to remember those who have served and are serving to protect this great nation.  Take a minute this 4th of July to thank a vet.

As we leave OH, may God continue to bless our voyage and our family and friends, wherever they may be.

Don't forget to check back to see where we go next.

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