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United States Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio

Gulf War, Rocketry, United States Air Force

Have you ever wished you could see a collection of past United States presidential aircraft? Maybe you would like to see the history of flight, with models of the first airplane built by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, their bicycle shop, to models of man’s other early attempts at flight-failed attempts at making helicopters and planes, early balloons, and other models. Do you wonder what the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in World War II looked like? Maybe you would like to see models of space capsules, or even the actual capsules.

You can see all those exhibits and much more at the United States Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio, the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. Admission is free, and the museum is open daily, except for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

One of the newest exhibits to arrive at the museum is the C-141 “Hanoi Taxi,” which was the first aircraft to carry prisoners of war from Vietnam to the United States. The aircraft arrived at the museum on May 6, 2006. The aircraft in February 1973 arrived in Hanoi to pick up returning American prisoners.

In the Early Years section of the museum one can see a replica of the 1901 wind tunnel the Wright brothers designed to test airfoil designs. The tunnel was a key in helping to develop the plane they made their historic flight in.

The museum also contains an exact replica of the 1909 Wright Military Flyer. The Signal Corp purchased the plane in 1909 for $30,000. It was the world’s first military heavier-than-air flying machine. It 1909 it was used to give flight instructions to Lieutenant. Frank P. Lahm and Frederick E. Humphreys. In 1910 Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois taught himself to fly. By March 1911 the airplane was already considered no longer fit to fly, and the original plane is on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

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The original plane had a wing span of 36 feet 6 inches and a 4 cylinder 30.6 horsepower engine, traveled at a maximum of 42-miles-per-hour, weighed 740 pounds, and could not fly for longer than an hour.

In the World War I section of the museum, not only are models of American planes shown, but also examples of planes from France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Topics are covered such as American Aces and air power support during the war.

Examples of some of the types of World War I aircraft include: the Curtis JN-4D; the SPAD VII; the Standard J-1; the Thomas-Morse S4C Scout, the Avro 504K, the Nieuport N.28C-1, Fokker Dr.1; and the Caquot Type R Observation Balloon. A model of the Kettering Bug Aerial Torpedo, the first cruise missile is also on display.

The Curtis JN-4D, was a Jenny, America’s most famous World War I airplane and was used primarily for flight training, but some had machine guns and bomb racks for advanced training. It had a span of 43 feet , a length of 27 feet 4 inches, and a height of 9 feet 10 inches, could fly at 75-miles-per-hour, cost $5,465, and could fly for 2.5 hours.

The Standard J-1, the Thomas-Morse S4C Scout, and the Avro 504K were also used in training.

The Caquot Type R Observation Balloon was used on the Western Front in France and was named for its designer, Lieutenant Albert Caquot. It measured 92 feet long and 32 feet in diameter and could stay aloft in winds up to 70-miles-per-hour. Two passengers could fly up to 4,000 feet high and could observe for up to 40 miles.

There are a variety of models of aircraft from other wars too, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the cold war. In addition there are sections with exhibits on modern flight, Presidential aircraft, space flight, and missiles.

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Besides a replica of the first atomic bomb, there are models of missiles, including: the Minuteman II Mission Procedures Trainer, an ICBM missile; the Douglas PGM-17 “Thor;” the Chrysler PGM-19 “Jupiter;” ConvairSM-65 “Atlas;” Martin-HGM-25A “Titan I;” Martin-SM “Titan II;” Boeing LGM-25A “Minuteman I;” and many others.

The modern flight section shows a variety of aircraft from the Gulf War and Post-Gulf War including: from the Gulf War, the EF-111A Raven; Lockeed F-117A Nighthawk; the McDonnell Douglas F-4G Wild Weasel; the Panavia Tornado, and others; and from Post Gulf-War, the Rockwell B-1B Lancer; the Northrop B2 Sprint; the Boeing X-32 JSF; and others.

The aircraft in the modern flight section all have much higher capabilities than the planes in the sections of planes from earlier years did. As an example, the Lockeed F-117A was developed to be able to attack high priority enemy targets but avoid detection by enemy radar, a feature that would not have once been possible. It was first used in Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 and was used in the Gulf War in 1990-1991.

It has a span of 43 feet 4 inches long, a length of 65 feet 11 inches, a height of 12 feet five inches, weights 52, 500 pounds, cost $42,600,000, and can fly at high subsonic speeds, with a cruising speed of 684-miles-per-hour for an unlimited range, with aerial refueling.

The Space Flight History Gallery has sections on Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, the German V-2 in WWII, the manned orbiting laboratory, rocket propulsion, Atlas launch vehicles, Titan launch vehicles, and earth satellites and space vehicles.

Featured are the Apollo 15 Command Module, the McDonnell Gemini spacecraft, the Mercury Spacecraft, and the Martin X-24A. Visitors can also learn about spacesuits, from a 1958 Litton Suit, to an Integrated Life Support System. A featured video is “Man in Space.”

Visitors to the Presidential R & D hangars must now use the shuttle bus service to get to see the planes. They are no longer accessible by driving a personal car from the main part of the museum. Free reservations are required for the first-come-first served tours. Government issued ID’s, such as a driver’s license, are required.

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The planes which one may see include, the Douglas VC-54C “Sacred Cow,” used by President Franklin Roosevelt, the first president to fly while in office, who attended the Yalta Conference in 1945 after using the plane, the Douglas VC-118, used by President Harry Truman to fly to discuss Korea with General Douglas MacArthur, the Lockeed VC-121-E “Columbine III,” President Eisenhower’s personal plane from 1954 to 1961, and variety of others used by different presidents.

A variety of free and paid movies may be seen in the museum on space, flight, and related topics. Some of the movies you would pay to see are in the huge IMAX Theater. According to a website about the movies, the large screen and the type of production used, makes the experience so real you feel as though you can tough what you are watching. Some of the topics in the IMAX movies are fighter pilots, the magic of flight, and helicopters in action.

The museum is off of Interstate 75, and travelers off of other major routes, such as Interstate 70, should have no trouble reaching it. A tour of the United States Air Force Museum is something that can take you hours, if you want to look at everything in detail, and you won’t soon forget a trip.