Historic America

National Museum of the United States Air Force

Aircraft fanatics and lovers of all military history will enjoy this collection of historic aircraft. See the airplanes that made history, including one that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.

It’s no secret I prefer my feet firmly planted on the ground. I love military history, but air warfare holds no particular appeal for me. Still, it was hard to pass up an opportunity to see the National Museum of the United States Air Force on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in western Ohio. I was thoroughly impressed by its collection of historic aircraft, particularly from the Second World War. The WW2 bomber “Memphis Belle” was finally on display.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The museum spans several large interconnected Air Force hangers and features examples from all periods of militarized flight. You could spend hours getting lost among the displays. The Early Years Gallery includes a World War 1 era British observation balloon, and a dog fighting German Fokker Dr. I and U.S. Thomas-Morse S4C Scout.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The World War II Gallery is the most interesting and expansive. The museum has examples of a wide variety of fighters and bombers, including experimental German jet aircraft like the Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet and the intimidating Me 262A Schwalbe, the world’s first operational turbojet aircraft. Fewer than 300 saw combat. Pieces of the “Lady Be Good,” a Consolidated B-24D Liberator bomber that went down in the Libyan desert, are on display.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The “Memphis Belle,” a Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress that famously flew 25 combat missions over German-occupied Europe, was recently restored and unveiled to the public May 17, 2018, the 75th anniversary of the plane’s 25th mission. I just happened to visit the museum shortly after this exhibit opened. It was awe-inspiring to see the storied plane up close and personal.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Bockscar, the B-29 superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, is also on display, as is a replica of the 10,000-pound atom bomb “Fat Man”. The Cold War Gallery features several advanced variants, including this Mark 41 Thermonuclear Bomb, first produced in 1960. It’s hard to believe such horrific destruction could come from such a comparatively small device. The museum also features examples of more modern aircraft, including the A-10A Thunderbolt II and even a Predator drone.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The National Museum of the United States Air Force, at 1100 Spaatz Street in Dayton, Ohio on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, is open daily, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, but closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. General admission is free but there is an extra charge for the Air Force Museum Theatre and flight simulators. Call (937) 253-4629 for more info.

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