Saturday, December 29, 2012

The U.S. Air Force Museum - The Early Years

The National Museum of the Air Force tells the story of the U.S. Air Force in its many iterations.  But the story of the Air Force is pretty much also the story of flight as both histories overlap for the most part.
 Like every story, the story of flight has a beginning.  If we go back into myths, there is the story of Daedalus and his sun Icarus.  Daedalus was a master craftsman and was the architect of the labyrinth on Crete where the minotaur was kept.  Since the King didn't want the secret of the labyrinth to get out, he locked Daedalus in a tower.  In order to escape, Daedalus made a set of wings for himself and his son, Icarus.  He warned his sin not to fly too high but his son flew to close to the sun and the wax holding the wings together melted, causing Icarus to fall to the ground.  Daedalus survived and used his new found freedom to explore the Mediterranean.

If we go back to the late 1400's and early 1500's, there is the story of Leonardo Da Vinci.  He was an artist and also a bit of an inventor.  He conceptualised some elements of flight.

To get to an actual flight, we have to go to 1783 in France.  The brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier were inventors.  Well Joseph was the inventor and Jacques was the business end (there is a very funny Monty Python sketch called the Golden Age of Ballooning).  They ran a paper mill.  In 1782, they made a prototype of the device that would later take them up in the air.  So they are credited with the invention of the hot air balloon.
 For the next step in the history of flight, we could go to a number of places.  But instead, we'll go to a bicycle shop in Dayton.  The owners of said bicycle shop were Orville and Wilbur Wright.  Many people attempted to be the first with powered flight but the Wright Brothers were the first on that North Carolina beach in December of 1903.  I think it is a requirement that any museum dedicated to flight has a replica of the Wright Flyer of some sort.  The above plane is a replica of that (or a similar aircraft).  One of the amazing facts about the Wright Flyer is that we are investigating their practice of wing warping again.  I think there are less moving surfaces but there are some other issues.
 In 1909, the US Military purchased it's first aircraft, the 1909 Wright Flyer.  For 2 years, it remained the only aircraft in the US inventory.  It was in 1908, that Lt. Selfridge became the first US Military death when he was flying in an aircraft similar to the one above.  The Air National Guard base in Mt. Clemens would be named after him.  Even though it doesn't look like, there are a number of improvements in the above aircraft over the first Wright Flyer.  The above plane is a replica of the original.
 Also in 1909, Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly across the English Channel in the above plane.  Well, he didn't use that plane because that plane is a replica of his.
 Probably the next step in the Air Force is its participation in World War I.  The first American flyers used the SPAD VII depicted above.  The plane itself was a French design and build.
 I thought I was taking a picture of Jenny here but instead it is a Standard J-1.  This was used as a training aircraft by the American flyers.  The Jenny is more famous because of its use after the war.
 The above plane is the famed Fokker DR. 1.  It made famous by the Red Baron (Manfred Von Richtofen).  It's three wings gave it unprecedented maneuverability.  The above plane is painted in the colors of another pilot, Lt. Arthur Rahn.  It is a replica.
 The next plane is the SPAD XIII, which represented an improvement over the VII.  This plane is painted in the markings of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker who was the highest scoring American Ace of the war with 26 kills.
 The above plane is a Fokker D. VII.  It is an improvement over the DR 1.  By the end of the war, 1700 of these planes were produced.  The above plane is another replica.  Because of the materials used, many of the World War I planes have not survived.
 The next plane is a Martin MB-2.  I thought that this was the plane that Billy Mitchell used to demonstrate the potential of air power but I was wrong.  But still, Billy Mitchell is an interesting story.  He wanted to set up a demonstration of air power by sinking a captured German cruiser.  The cruiser was sunk but it didn't have damage control, so it wasn't a good indicator but still an idicator.
 The above plane is a Curtiss P-6 Hawk.  It was produced in the late 20's and early 30's and is the last biplane fighter built for the Air Corps.  The above plane is in the markings of the 1st Pursuit Group which flew out of Selfridge.
 This is an auto-giro which was one of the first attempts to make an aircraft that could make a short takeoff and landing.  Forward flight was provided by the propellor in the front, the rotors on the top permitted it to make a vertical landing.  This was the first auto-giro tested at Wright Field (home of the Air Force Museum).
 Next up is the Boeing P-12.  It was one of the most successful designs of the inter-war years.  This plane is in the markings of a squadron flying out of Hawaii.  It was retired in 1940.
 This plane is the Boing P-26 Peashooter.  It represented the first all-metal monoplane used by the Air Corps.  It could fly farther and faster than it's predecessors and represented the next wave in aircraft.  I seriously think the 1930's saw the fastest peacetime growth in aviation.
 This is the Curtiss A-17.
 This plane is the Hawker Hurricane.  It was the workhorse of the Royal Air Force and some consider it a better aircraft than the Spitfire.  This particular plane was used by a squadron of American pilots who were flying for the Royal Air Force before the US officially entered the war.
A Tiger Moth.

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