Dayton’s National Museum pays homage to many fantastic flyers.
History takes flight at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located just six miles northeast of Dayton, on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Launched in 1923, the National is the world’s oldest and largest aviation museum, attracting more than one million visitors every year.
While many people are fascinated with flying, others are drawn to the museum for personal reasons. “A lot of parents and grandparents flew in Word War II,” says Sarah Swan, a public affairs specialist at the museum.
Visitors who have family members who were in Vietnam are intrigued by the C-141 Hanoi Taxi, which joined the collection last fall. In February 1973, it was the first aircraft to arrive in Hanoi to retrieve POWs returning to the United States.
Certainly the 17-acre museum features enough aviation to satisfy any flight of fancy. There are more than 300 aircraft and missiles, along with engines and vehicles. You’ll even find a WWII 8th Air Force Control Tower and clothing worn by famous personnel, including Ronald Reagan.
Reagan’s pea coat is part of a permanent collection of uniforms, which includes both early flight suits and modern space suits. Also on display: General Jimmy Stewart’s A-2 jacket and P-38 ace Major Richard I. Bong’s B-3 sheepskin jacket and boots.
One of the newest exhibits, “Airmen in a World at War,” features World War II uniforms, decorations, honors and memorabilia from aircrews representing a variety of countries, including the United States, Great Britain and Germany.
Consider the U.S. aircrews’ “Mae West” lifejacket, named for the Hollywood star. The yellow jacket, which gave wearers a buxom appearance, provided buoyancy during water landings.
STROLLING THROUGH HISTORY
The museum makes it easy for visitors to grasp significant developments in the Air Force, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
User-friendly galleries are in chronological order, beginning with spotlights on the Wright Brothers and ending with the Missile and Space Gallery. The Early Years Gallery features the first military heavier-than-air flying machine. The plane was purchased by the Signal Corps for $30,000, and it remained the only Army airplane in use for nearly two years.
Fly forward to the Air Power Gallery, which houses the collection of World War II aircraft, including the Bockscar, the sleek silver B-29 Superfortress that, on Aug. 9, 1945, dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
The Cold War Gallery, part of the $22.7 million, 200,000-square-foot Eugene W. Kettering Building, houses one of four surviving Convair B-36s. The formidable intercontinental bomber, replaced by the B-52, was never used in combat. Some credit the peacetime to the plane’s mere existence.
The Research & Development Gallery features the only surviving XB-70 Valkyrie, an experimental plane built mostly of stainless steel and titanium that flew three times the speed of sound.
The latest gallery addition, the $3.2 million Missile and Space Gallery, opened in 2004. Constructed as a 140-foot-high missile silo, the gallery lets visitors view the Titan I and II from ground level or from an elevated platform. The gallery also features some items from the museum’s space collection, including the Apollo 15 Command Module and Mercury and Gemini capsules.
But not all aircraft on display are retired. “We have the world’s only permanent public display of a B-2 Stealth Bomber, which the Air Force is still using,” Swan says.
In the Presidential Gallery, the museum displays several presidential aircraft, including planes used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The plane that carried Roosevelt was specifically designed for presidential use. Nicknamed the Sacred Cow, it flew Roosevelt to the U.S.S.R. for the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
But the jewel in the museum’s presidential collection is the VC-137C Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, the first airplane known as Air Force One, which was used by John F. Kennedy, and continued to serve as the presidential transport through Richard M. Nixon’s first term.
Visitors are permitted to walk through the famous aircraft; its distinctive blue-and-white color scheme is due to JFK’s insistence that he wanted the plane to have a special appearance. It set the style for presidential aircraft to come.
The 26000 carried Kennedy to Germany, where he gave his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech, and to Dallas, before he was assassinated. Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office on the aircraft.
As Kennedy’s body was interred at Arlington Cemetery, the aircraft glided by at a lofty 1,000 feet, dipping its wings in salute.
MIDWEST AIRLINES offers daily flights to and from Dayton. Details can be found at
YOUR MUSEUM GUIDE
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE
1100 SPAATZ STREET WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB 937-255-3286
Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
EDUCATION & EVENTS:
Imparting the story of aviation is a museum mission. To further the cause, the facility hosts regular family days. Upcoming family days are July 21 and Aug. 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Here are two upcoming and popular events also hosted by the museum:
GIANT-SCALE, RADIO-CONTROLLED MODEL AIRCRAFT AIR SHOW
AUG. 31 TO SEPT. 2
Sponsored by the Dayton Giant Scalers, the show attracts about 10,000 people over the weekend. Many perform aerobatics during daily shows.
DAWN PATROL RENDEZVOUS WORLD WAR I FLY-IN
Featuring authentic and replica World War I aircraft, the Fly-In takes place every other year and is hosted by the museum and the Great War Aeroplanes Association.