Saturday, February 16, 2013
Fun at the USAF Museum, and on the road
Miss D. and I have had a pleasant road trip so far. We spent a couple of nights with relatives of hers in Dayton, taking the opportunity to go on the behind-the-scenes tour of the aircraft restoration hangars at the USAF Museum. These are separate from the Museum itself, on the grounds of the USAF base there, so attendance is restricted and there are additional security precautions to be undergone before they let you through the gates.
The restoration hangars are fascinating repositories of aviation history. I was dumbfounded to see a rather decrepit Wasserfall ground-to-air missile, dating from the last years of World War II. This was the first ground-to-air guided missile in history, and I hadn't known that any had survived the war. It'll be restored for ultimate display at the USAF Museum, but when that'll happen I don't know. I hope they can give it a higher priority - it's one of a kind, as far as I know. Wikipedia has a picture of it in the restoration hangar, although its nose section is missing.
There were two B-17 Flying Fortresses in the restoration hangars. The most famous is, of course, the original Memphis Belle. Her restoration is far advanced, and she's scheduled to go on display in the Museum in late 2014. The other is The Swoose, the oldest B-17 (a D model) still in existence. She's in very poor condition, and stored in piles of parts and bits and pieces. Her restoration is in progress, but proceeding very slowly. According to our tour guide, the USAF Museum possesses all three surviving B-17's known to have flown in combat during World War II - one on display, and the two already mentioned undergoing restoration. All other B-17 survivors are aircraft that never went into combat, being used for training in the USA or not getting overseas in time to see action before the end of the war.
It's surprising to note how small those World War II bombers are in comparison to modern aircraft. A captured MiG-25 Foxbat is also awaiting restoration in the hangars after being dug out of the sand in Iraq. Its fuselage, with its two mammoth engine compartments, is significantly larger than a World War II B-17, despite it having only a single pilot compared to the B-17's multiple crewmen. Also, modern jet strike aircraft can carry a much heavier load of much 'smarter' weapons than the older planes. Early models of the B-17 could lift only 4,000 pounds of bombs, while later models could hoist up to 17,600 pounds of weapons in overload for short missions - usual bomb load was 8,000-10,000 pounds. By contrast, an F-16 can carry 17,000 pounds of armaments under its wings, and the new F-35 can lift 20,000 pounds internally and externally.
There are many other aircraft under restoration, ranging from tiny single-engine high-wing observation, liaison and utility planes to jet bombers like the B-47 Stratojet and one-of-a-kind airplanes like the XC-99, the largest piston-engined land-based transport ever built. All in all, the tour gave some fascinating insights into the complexities of restoring these very old aircraft, and the challenges of returning them to authentic historical condition for display. I wasn't aware, for example, that an historically accurate restoration inevitably means that the aircraft will most likely never fly again, because they can't meet modern FAA standards in their original form. If they're to be restored to flying condition, they have to be equipped with additional modern instrumentation and equipment that isn't historically authentic.
This morning we left Dayton and began a leisurely return trip southwards. We met DaddyBear at the Louisville Zoo this afternoon, and wandered through the exhibits for an hour or two before adjourning to a local restaurant for a belated lunch. It's the second time Miss D. and I have enjoyed his company. We'll have to get back here more often - he's worth visiting.
We're staying in a local hotel tonight. We'll get a leisurely breakfast in the morning, then take in a bourbon distillery tour on the way south before we reach home by late afternoon. It's been a pleasant, relaxing few days. Normal blogging will resume either on Sunday evening or on Monday, depending how tired we are when we get home.