Saturday, November 21, 2009

National Museum of the US Air Force – Dayton, Ohio

Wow! That’s one way to describe the National Museum of the US Air Force. It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2008 when we ventured up to Dayton, Ohio. The Museum is located on the grounds of the historic Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Wright brothers used a portion of the base as a testing ground for their aircraft. The Patterson moniker comes from Frank Stuart Patterson, who was killed in a crash at the base in 1918.

The collection of aircraft inside the three hangers is amazing. The first hanger on the right is entitled “Early Years of Flight.” There are aircraft on the ground level, aircraft suspended from the roof, and scores of other displays, like the Wright Brothers’ wind tunnel, information on observation balloons, and over a dozen balloons. Some of my favorite aircraft in this section include a Fokker Dr. I and a Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. Across the hall from this show room is an exhibit entitled Air Power Gallery, focusing on World War II. There are almost sixty aircraft in this exhibit (can you begin to see the scope of things here?) including a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress, a Boeing B29 Superfortress, and a Messerschmitt ME 163B Komet. Once again, there are engines, weapons, including models of the A-bombs Fat Man and Little Boy, and scores of other exhibits; there are ones on D-Day and other airborne operations, glider pilots, and the Tuskegee Airmen. After leaving the WWII gallery, visitors come upon the Modern Flight Hanger, larger in size than the previous two. This gallery is not as visually enhanced as the other two exhibits, but still contains over fifty aircraft. Among this number are a Lockheed EC-121D Constellation, a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, several helicopters, and a Mig or two. There is the fuselage of a B-29 bomber that you can walk through, a lot of different munitions, like missiles and laser-guided bombs, and many other exhibits on the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Next visitors come upon the Cold War Gallery. The lighting in this gallery is much better, much like the first three. There are scores of aircraft in this gallery as well, including a B-2 Stealth Bomber, a Boeing WB-50D Superfortress, a U-2, and a Lockhead SR-71A “Blackbird.” On leaving this gallery, one comes to the Missile and Space Gallery to be greeted by the Command Module from the Apollo 15 expedition, a Mercury spacecraft and a Gemini Spacecraft. In the next , very tall room are a collection of missiles, including two Titans, a Minuteman, and Peacekeeper. There are also a collection of reproduction satellites and exhibits on John Glenn, Bernard Schriever, and Robert H. Goddard.

There are many other attractions at the National Museum of the US Air force . There is an IMAX theater. There is a presidential gallery containing planes used by presidents, including JFK’s Air Force One. Next to this gallery is a Research and Development Gallery. Both of these require a special bus trip. Outside the main hangers is a outdoor air park, containing a Starlifter, Hercules, Lodestar, along with the WWII-era tower, and other planes and exhibits.

Undoubtedly, there is more to do here than a person has time for in one day; that is why we are planning to go back. The special tower into the hanger where the staff restores aircraft (advance reservations must be made) is on our list.

From a Teacher’s perspective: Elizabeth was not able to go on this trip. (It was the day after Thanksgiving. I was shopping.)

From a Historian’s perspective: The sheer number of exhibits, and their quality, is overwhelming.

From an eight-year-old’s perspective: Nathaniel really enjoyed the space part of the gallery, especially the Apollo 15 capsule. He is very interested in the mechanics of flight and found the museum very engaging, if a bit much to take in. He really enjoyed the statue of Icarus, as we had just studied Greek mythology.

So, what if you are not into military history? Go for the technology. The number of rare planes, cut-away engines, and other exhibits should make this museum appealing on a variety of levels. You can learn more by visiting the museum website by following this link. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free, except for the IMAX. Special thanks to my father-in-law for taking this trip with us.