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National Museum Of The United States Air Force A Showpiece
A collection of planes and memorabilia are featured in this hangar at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Several hangars are on the roughly 20-acre site, each focusing on a unique part of aviation history.

Photos By Mike Burghardt

If you travel on Veterans Day weekend or Memorial Day Weekend, there are a lot of museums covering our country’s great history and the military that you can visit. Air museums are very popular and aviation enthusiasts young and old will enjoy them.

If you have an interest in the history of flight and military aircraft, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio is the place you need to go to. The museum started in 1923, with a small engineering study collection and now has grown to over 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles along with thousands of artifacts. The museum complex consists of four aircraft hangars and outdoor displays covering well over 20 acres. Exhibits consist of aircraft utilized in World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War as well as all the modern-day conflicts. From the first aircraft, including a precision-built replica of the Wright Brothers 1909 flyer (the real one is at the Smithsonian Museum of Flight) through the development of jet power, breaking the speed of sound and entry into space and space travel. There is also a larger collection of Presidential aircraft, including the Boeing 707 utilized by John F Kennedy. This is the same plane he used to fly to Dallas, Texas on that fateful day in history. It includes descriptions of the temporary changes that were done to return him “home” in his casket, in addition to his staff and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The-then Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President on this plane, following Kennedy’s assassination. All aircraft displays also have plaques describing their specifications and history.

The indoor portion of the museum consists of four large hangars, with a fifth in future plans. The hangars are divided into galleries, reflecting different parts of aviation history and development. These sections are “The Early Years Gallery” (beginning of flight and WWI planes), “The World War II Gallery”, Korean War Gallery”, “Southeast Asia War Gallery”, “Cold War Gallery”, Missile Gallery”, “Space Gallery”, “Research and Development Gallery”, “Global Research Gallery”, and “Presidential Gallery”. In these galleries you can see aircraft from the beginning through today. One of the two B-29 Bombers (The Bockscar) that dropped the bombs on Japan to end World War II (the Enola Gay is in the Smithsonian Air Museum next to Dulles Airport in Washington D.C.), along with prototypically correct versions of the bombs themselves (“Little Boy” and “Fat Man”). You can see the first F-22 and the YF-23 Black Widow, which competed against the F-22 (YF-22) in the contract design, testing and bidding process. There is a B-1 Bomber, B-2 Stealth Bomber, B-52, SR-71 and YF-12. Believe it or not, there is even a “flying saucer” that flew (though not so well). One highlight of the museum is the only XB-70 (experimental bomber). Only two were built and one was lost during a test flight with its escort plane (F-104 Starfighter) in a mid-air collision. This conceived bomber utilizes six huge afterburning jet engines to propel this huge aircraft to speeds in excess of Mach 3 to 3.2 (three times the speed of sound). The XB-70 (1950’s until 1964) was phased out due to funding limits before it was mass produced as a bomber. The two were utilized by NASA for research studies in aerodynamics and propulsion for supersonic aircraft. You can see the SR-71, YF-12, X-15, X-1 (first plane to break the sound barrier) and the list goes on. It is amazing when you think about the first flight in 1909 and then going three times the speed of sound before 1964, how fast our country advanced in aviation.

The outdoor section consists of an ever-changing variety of planes of various types. There is also a park area that displays memorials and monuments celebrating the USAF Squadrons, with history about each included. There is also a rail car that was built and designed to launch missiles during the Ronald Reagan era. It was a design that really did not pan out and was phased out at the end of the cold war.

If you are thinking that is a lot to see and absorb in one day, you are correct. If you have an opportunity to travel there and see the museum, plan on two days, if possible. It will not hurt your bank account, as it is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and the admission and parking are free. You can view their website for special events (some of those allow you to get in the cockpit of various planes). Bring your camera or video camera, with tripod or monopod, and have a great time with your entire family.

The museum is at 1100 Spaatz St., Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio 45433; near Dayton. For additional information, call (937) 255-3286.


Mike Burghardt is a retired U.S. Navy veteran who served aboard the USS Enterprise CVN-65. He currently covers NHRA racing events for the paper, contributing articles and photos.

The Memphis Belle is just one of the iconic planes on display in Ohio, part of the history of the U.S. Air Force.
Among the unusual items on display is this ‘flying saucer’ that was a test model for the Army; it did not fly well.