December 3, 2013
I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment with the curator who oversaw the restoration and display of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s MiG-29. I was early, and since the museum wasn’t open yet and it was cold outside, I sat idling in the car. That’s when I decided to take a closer look at the museum’s Memorial Park, a scattered collection of monuments next to the parking lot.
There was time to kill, so, braving the frigid (from the perspective of a Miami resident) Ohio morning, I strolled over and chose a path at random—one of many meandering through the tall trees. Most visitors, myself included, probably walk past this place quickly on their way into the museum.
What a shame. On this morning hundreds of memorials revealed themselves, many still covered with early morning dew as the fog burned off in the adjacent fields.
There were the expected tributes to the most storied units in Air Force history—the American Volunteer Group (better known as the “Flying Tigers”), and the Eighth Air Force, the iconic group whose B-17s and B-24s showed the value of strategic bombing (of course, depending on who you talk to). These art deco memorials were imposing, and sometimes surprisingly beautiful.
It was easy to overlook some of the smaller markers along the paths, but these also caught my interest. I spotted a plaque dedicated to the 442nd Troop Carrier Group, the ancestor to my old Air Force Reserve unit, the 442nd Fighter Wing. During World War II, the 442nd played a role in the Normandy and Operation Market Garden airborne assaults, and after the war the unit carried on its cargo heritage by flying C-124s and C-130s, until it was re-equipped with A-10 “Warthogs” in the 1980s. Nice to have a small connection here.
Some tributes honored lesser known units like the support personnel of the World War II 390th Bombardment Group and 5th Communications Group during the Korean War. Others were dedicated to a single person, such as 23-year-old Lieutenant David Axthelm, memorialized by the 13th Fighter Interceptor Squadron after the crash of his F-86D in 1953.
Next time you’re in the Dayton area, take some time to walk among the more than 500 memorials honoring the service and sacrifice of Air Force units and individuals.
November 4, 2013
There are a couple of A-7 Corsair IIs on I-75 that always catch my eye whenever I make the drive between Florida and Illinois. During a recent trek to rehab an old house and to take the kids to the in-laws, some new finds came into view, like the TA-4J Skyhawk next to a small airport in Kentucky — oh, and the ICBM I spotted behind the Gas-N-Go at the Cordele, Georgia, exit.
According to the Cordele plaque, the missile was placed there in 1969 by what was then the Confederate Air Force. It came from a silo in California, and was acquired with help from the local Chamber of Commerce. The Titan I was in service from 1962 to 1965, and in later Titan II form, was the launch vehicle for Gemini XI. Besides being next to the aforementioned Gas-N-Go (man, filling up the old minivan has gotten expensive), the website Roadside America helpfully notes that the formidable weapon, once designed to rain death on Soviet cities, is now conveniently located near a Krytstal hamburger restaurant.
Other attractions along our trip included the Don Garlits Museum of Drag racing, which features one of those A-7 Corsair IIs, a former gate guard at a Naval Air Station and now on loan from the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. Garlits’ museum is a must-see for any gear head, and also contains some interesting aviation treats. Garlits was once known for drag racing a few Navy aircraft on a runway, and even aboard a carrier. Inside, there’s a racer powered by an Allison V-12 that (according to the display) came from a Curtiss P-40. The display also says the engine once had a bullet hole in its crankcase. Garlits, in his youth, raced drop tank racers — cars fashioned from WWII aircraft external fuel tanks — but I searched in vain for an example.
Sure, there’s the National Air and Space Museum, but what about the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California? Or the American Helicopter Museum in West Chester, Pennsylvania? Headed through McMinnville, Oregon? Don’t miss the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, home of Howard Hughes’ massive Spruce Goose. Or, check out the atomic cannon in Junction City, Kansas.
-F-94C located in Erie, Pa.
-F9F-9 located in Tonawanda above Buffalo, NY.
-Two CF-101C Voodoos located FBO Gila Bend, Arizona.
-Four derelict DC-3′s located on US 63 north of Rolla, MO on Vichy Airport.
-B-26 Invader old route 66 El Reno, OK.
-South of Rolla MO, on US 63 Patton tank at Veterans Hall.
-B-52 located in Rome, NY.
Sure beats visiting the world’s largest ball of twine. (Clark Griswold never told you where, but it’s located in Kawker City, KS.)
February 15, 2013
The best thing about doing temporary duty at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio is the opportunity to tour the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the largest aviation collection in the world. With eight galleries housing more than 360 aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft, plus an air park and at least 20 other specialized exhibits, spending several days touring the hangars is a must-do for any aviation enthusiast.
There’s one gallery that, for me, is simply the best. It’s not even part of the main complex, but is on Wright Patterson proper: the Research and Development gallery. It’s accessible only by shuttle bus from the museum (unless you have a military ID and can enter the base directly). In this relatively small space is an amazing tangle of oddities, one-off test aircraft, and a starring lineup from the heyday of experimental flight.
There’s no fancy lobby or sales pitch about donating to the museum. Neither are there interactive displays, IMAX movies, or a gift shop. Enter the modest glassed-in entryway about the size of a dentist’s waiting room, and unfailingly polite, blue-jacketed volunteers will gesture to the hangar’s door. And you’re in.
Show up on a late afternoon weekday, and you may have the place to yourself — free to weave your way between a North American X-15, the sole remaining swing-wing Bell X-5, which was based on the captured Messerschmitt P.1101, and the pre-area rule XF-92A, which resulted in the F-102 and ultimately the F-106. The planes are jammed together with overlapping wings and noses pointing every which-way — as if a thrift shop keeper arranged them — and you’ll find yourself awestruck at seeing the X-1B, then suddenly gawking at the ungainly Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor with its reverse taper wings. Overhead, like a protective raptor guarding a nest, looms the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie, a Mach-3 bomber perhaps best known for the fiery crash that claimed Joe Walker, whose F-104 collided with the second test ship in 1966.
Other faves: The North American F-107A , with its unusual dorsal intakes, is considered by some to be one of the best fighters never built. Intended as a fighter-bomber version of the F-100, it featured a recessed weapons bay and all-moving vertical stabilizer. Then there’s the hot rod: the Lockheed P-80R, a postwar attempt to reclaim the world’s absolute speed record from the Gloster Meteor. The -80R featured a smaller canopy, modified air intakes, and shorter wing. Armament was removed and a fuel tank put in its place. Colonel Albert Boyd, who would become the first commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, set a new world’s speed record of 623 mph in the P-80R in June 1947. The P-80R is a treat, with a slick gloss gray skin and its vintage Lockheed logo on the nose.
If you’ve got time, step next door to another amazing collection: the Presidential Airlift gallery, that features the VC-137C on which President Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office after President Kennedy’s assassination. Also of note is the first purpose-built presidential transport, the VC-54C on which President Roosevelt flew to the 1945 Yalta Conference.
Want to visit the Research and Development gallery? It’s easy, even if you don’t have a military ID.