National Museum of the Air Force

by Melanie and Jim 

You may have seen some of our posts about our travel to Yellowstone and back. That’s only one of the four road trips we’ve done in the past few weeks. Recently we also headed the other direction, to southern Ohio. On the way we visited the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton.

The museum has a number of galleries inside. The interior collections include the early years of flight, aircraft from World Wars One and Two, Korea and Vietnam, and current times. There are cargo planes, a variety of fighters and spy planes, intercontinental missiles, and experimental craft. Presidential and other executive transport planes, space travel, and Cold War air memorabilia are shown. Outside the huge hangars are more planes and a memorial park.

As we wandered through the spacious fourth building, we asked a gentleman, one of the docent volunteers at the museum, if he knew when the Air Force came into being. He nodded and said, “I do.” And he told us.

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Air Force as a separate service in the US military. On July 26, 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act, which established the Department of the Air Force. Seven weeks later, on September 18, 1947, the USAF began operating. (September 18 is considered the Air Force’s “birthday.”)

He pointed to a nearby airplane, Sacred Cow, and told us it was the aircraft Truman was aboard when he signed the act. The pen with which he signed it was displayed in a case outside the airplane.

Sacred Cow – used by presidents Roosevelt and Truman.

On the subject of presidents, the museum had a large display of aircraft used as Air Force One by several of them over the years. The one pictured below was used by President Kennedy. We walked through the narrow plane from front to back. As we reached the back exit, a small sign indicated that the seats on one side of the aisle were removed in order to transport the body of Kennedy back to Washington from Dallas after his assassination.

Smaller planes are also used to reach smaller airports or to take officials representing the president to foreign countries. Some of them are shown in this video.

A nearby plane was the Hanoi Taxi, a C-141 used for transport to and from Vietnam. One famous passenger was Bob Hope for his USO tours. More consequential were the POWs transported home in 1973, including John McCain. At the front of the plane, those men signed their names on the flight engineer’s panel. The signatures are still there, including a few that have been re-signed at later dates by the same former prisoners. You’ll not be surprised to know I cried on seeing the writing on the wall. (Later still, the plane was one used for evacuation from Hurricane Katrina.)

One of Jim’s lifelong interests is space exploration. The museum’s emphasis is on military aircraft rather than space, but there are some items that illustrate the arc of the space program, as well. Below you can see the Apollo 15 capsule. Of the 29 astronauts in the Apollo program, 14 were either Air Force officers or had Air Force experience.

The shuttle’s docent said this model was used for training astronauts prior to launch. Note how enormous the cargo bay is. Jim recalled filling out the application forms for the Teacher in Space program in 1985.

The intercontinental missiles were developed during the Cold War to deliver nuclear warheads. Several of them were on display because they were part of the Air Force. These were capable of launching single warheads as well as the multiple warhead weapons. A model of one of those was on display with 10 warheads. These missiles also delivered spy satellites to orbit.

It was a pretty interesting place. If you get the chance to visit, you should. And make sure you take a few moments to visit with some of the docent volunteers. They could tell you a few stories.

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8 thoughts on “National Museum of the Air Force

  1. Mrs. P

    Great outing! I remember being amazed at how little space the astronauts had in the Apollo crafts…quite an impressive feat. I guess I should quit complaining about the legroom when I go flying. 😉

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      1. Mrs. P

        …and somehow they think the pretzels will make up for it. My dinosaur mindset is kicking in…I miss the old days when travel of most sorts was pleasurable and service oriented. 😉

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  2. shoreacres

    What an interesting place. I had no idea there was an Air Force museum there, and I’d forgotten that Wright-Patterson is there. You certainly have evoked a memory for me, though. My first airplane flight was from Des Moines to Washington, D.C. It was on a prop plane, of course (this was 1964) and the flight was rough.

    The flight also was full of military brass on their way to Dayton, our intermediate stop. I was so afraid that sixteen year old me was going to get airsick, but I didn’t. One of the military men in his full uniform did, however. I didn’t laugh, but I smiled inside, and got over a lot of insecurities right then and there.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Funny how memories generate, isn’t it? Now and then I deliberately free-associate memories and watch how far they can take me. I’ll bet you have a lot of other memories associated with that trip.

      We’ve been to other air museums, also. The Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center was fascinating, and I’d probably put it at the top of my list. The Museum of Flight in Seattle (connected with Boeing as a non-profit) is top notch, too. This might be a close third, but I’ll bet other people would rank them differently, depending on their personal interests. I’m SO glad we made the time for visiting this museum on our trip. It would have been easy to skip it, as it wasn’t really on our path.

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