National Museum of the US Air Force

Wright-Patterson AFB

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park

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Ohio Opportunities

Since we were going through Ohio, I had to visit Dayton.  Dayton has a huge Aviation history clustered around the Air Force base, plus several National Park locations and the large Air Force museum that were on my eternally-growing list of places to visit.  Plus, after driving all day the previous day, I was eager to get out and stretch my legs.  Carol and I set out early in the morning and enjoyed a hearty breakfast with seriously strong coffee at the Fairborn Family diner.  Braced by caffeine, we then went started our tour of the National Museum of the Air Force.

Upon arrival, we saw large banners announcing the grand opening of the Memphis Belle exhibit this weekend.  What luck! We arrived during Memorial Day weekend, and accidentally stumbled upon a wonderful exhibit.  The museum itself is massive. I expected it to be large as it houses planes.  But even my generous expectations were laughable next to the reality of this place.  There are four hangers on site, plus a rocket silo and connecting hallways which are populated with displays, outside parks, and much more. You could spend several days just walking around this massive museum.

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Air Force Galleries

The museum is sprawling, but well organized.  The displays are grouped in galleries: Early Years, World War II, Korean War, Southeast Asia War, Cold War, Missile, Space, Research and Development, Global Reach, Presidential, Air Park, Memorial Park, etc.   Once I saw there was a Space Gallery, I asked if we could start there.  As luck would have it, the Space Gallery was the last hanger.  We strolled leisurely to the last hanger, oohing and aaahing along the way as we passed large and inviting galleries, and began our tour at the back working our way towards the front.

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Space Gallery, Hanger #4

When you enter the Space Gallery, the first thing you see is the large white shuttle training facility.  I immediately toured the training Space Shuttle.  You can walk around on the training grounds, but you cannot enter the command center or the living spaces of the shuttle.  But you can snap photos of what life would be like inside.  I\’m fascinated and in love with the space programs and our space exploration efforts.  The romance of exploration and discovery couldn\’t get more cutting edge then tossing machines into space and checking out the neighborhood.  I would love to be involved in something like this – but more like a Star Trek exploration. Where there\’s a cafe and private suite, and less about strapping yourself to a rocket and holding on for dear life. Or using the Space Toilet!

As with any large display museum, it is difficult to get good photographs of the museum contents.  Everything is so large and spread out that you can\’t just \’snap\’ a great photo of the larger spaces. But I tried to take a few panoramic images to properly capture the scale and size of the collection. But even this is insufficient.

The museum has a Titan Rocket!

A TITAN ROCKET. These things are massive!! How can I even capture the scale of this machine when I\’m standing under it, craning my neck to see the whole thing.  I couldn\’t get a good pano pic of the Titan Rocket due to it\’s position next to another massive machine, the XB-70 Valkyrie (shown below).  The Valkyrie is so long and wide that it is very hard to capture in a single photo.  But there she is; long, white and gleaming. And she is hiding the Titan Rocket that is laying on its side behind her. This place is massive. These machines are massive. Consider me impressed and amazed.

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And next to the Valkyrie is this adorable guy…  I shall call him \’Stubby.\’

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Kids Arrive

After a few hours, Tommy and his two children arrive to join us on the tour.  We re-tour the Presidential Planes, giving the kids the experience of being inside the museum exhibits (and not just strolling along the outside).  Then while they rode a virtual reality ride, Carol and I explored the rocket silo.  I found a fascinating display about food storage related to our various space programs.

Food Storage Exhibit

\"FoodThe food storage for Project Mercury is basically tin cans and aluminum squeeze tubes.  It doesn\’t look capable of carrying food into space.  And perhaps times has diminished the sophistication that these food storage solutions provided back in the day.  But today – they look like grandma\’s pantry items.

Project Mercury

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No matter what mission was involved, the This makes sense when trying to limit liquid weight excess.  But it looks – interesting, at best.   There are cans of noodles and oatmeal.  Meals must have been a fascinating experience. How do you open a can of noodles in space, and what do you make with those noodles?

Project Apollo

Next to the Mercury display was an Apollo exhibit.  The technology clearly has improved. More plastic is used and the tin cans are retired.  The food looks more appealing, but still quite dry.  There are accessory packets, too.   The fruit cocktail looks NOTHING like fruit cocktail.  Again, very fascinating.

Project Skylab

The last and final exhibit was food for the Skylab.  The containers look more sophisticated and also familiar.  I think I may have those stacking containers in my kitchen for when packing my lunches. The progress of storage and transportation was on display, both for space but also for our everyday lives. I thought this exhibit was both fascinating and familiar. I\’m sure I could have found similiar items in my grandparent\’s kitchen that looked like Project Mercury items, and the familiar items I recognized in the Skylab exhibit.

Now, how do we get a food replicator like in Star Trek? Earl Grey, Hot!

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Wars

Memphis Belle

Despite my heart-felt desire for a world of peace and mutual collaboration, the reality does not cooperate. There is no way to separate the technological advances and the wars they were employed under. The majority of the exhibits are organized by their involvement with wars.  We definitely wanted to see the Memphis Belle exhibit, so we strolled our way towards the World War II gallery.  We eventually found ourselves at the Memphis Belle, and reading the signage and posts. Tom and I were curious about the different symbols we found on the side of the bomber; including bombs, red and yellow stars, and a single swastika.

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This bomber has two ladies on either side, one in a blue and the other in red.  I couldn\’t find any information on the origin of this war art; why she was wearing two suits. Or was she two ladies? I can\’t be sure. If there was a sign explaining it, I missed it in the hustle of this popular exhibit.

Symbols

What are those symbols painted on the plane officially called?  Are they stamps? brands? nothing official?  I don\’t know.  But I found two friendly docents and inquired: what is the meaning of the red and yellow stars?  It seems the stars are representations of missions run by the Memphis Belle.  The red stars represent the missions the bomber led.

Now I feel old

While standing in line at the gift shop, Tom\’s kids were with me and looking at all of the items for sale.  Savi picked up a thimble and stared at it intensely.  Then she turned it upside-down and held it like a cup, and smiled as this was a familiar object now.  I blinked.

Savi never saw a thimble before.  She had no idea what it was for and how to use it. To her, it just became a doll-size cup with an upside-down airplane on it.  I asked her if she knew what a Thimble was – and she shook her head.  I could only shrug and promised to explain it to her later.

Then the checkout line moved and we were at another display.  And on this table was collectible teaspoons.  I just gave up and deflected.  One day I\’ll have to explain to Savi why these items were collectibles and how to use a thimble.

She made me feel so old!


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