If Dayton isn’t the birthplace of aviation, it is certainly the nursery. The Wright brothers developed their 1903 flyer in Dayton and continued flying in Dayton between 1904 and 1910. The US Army also conducted its own early flying at nearby McCook Field during and after World War I. Its fitting that the USAF chose Dayton to house its museum.
The USAF museum (in its current form) opened in 1971 and has been continuously expanded since that time. Packed into several unbelievably massive hangars (I’m not kidding, a B52 almost looks toy-like in one small part of a hangar, the National Museum of the United States Air Force is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. The collection has grown to more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles, plus thousands of aviation artifacts on display.
I love air museums and I try to get to as many as I can. It doesn’t get any better than the world’s largest. This place has long been on my list of places to visit. When I found out about a model contest being held in Dayton, I thought there would never be a more perfect time to go.
I got to enjoy the museum over about 6 hours split into two days and I will try to hit as many highlights as I can in this article. One unexpected surprise walking up to the entrance was a memorial park where hundreds of memorials have been dedicated to commemorate the military service of individuals, units and organizations.
Upon entering the large atrium entrance you are met with very friendly staff as well as the largest air museum gift shop I’ve ever seen! You should grab a map despite the fact the collection being split up into logical eras. And just start walking and enjoy the hangars chock full of artifacts, information and displays. 6 hours was barely enough to see it all; I was definitely rushed. Maybe I will get the opportunity to go back someday. I hope so.
The Early Years
I’ll admit I rushed through this exhibit until the very end and I regret doing so. There is a TON of information everywhere in this exhibit and it would take hours to read it all. From what I did read, a number of the airplanes in this section are reproductions (but not all of them). The one thing I notice right away was that the lighting in this hangar is dim. Actually it was dark and very hard to see the planes and photograph them. Perhaps there is a reason for the darkness in this area but its too bad really.
he highlight for me was definitely the shiny silver Northrop A-17A – it looked like a streamlined 1930s sportscar. You can definitely see the lines of a future Dauntless dive bomber with this airplane:
They had some imaginative displays as well – I loved this one:
World War Two
Its funny – as I continued through the museum, the lighting gradually improved. And what can I tell you? As a fan of WW2 aircraft, this was like walking into a candy store. I finally saw a Lightning and not one, but two Thunderbolts! There was a lot of German and Japanese war prizes as well as one Italian fighter.
Highlights for me were definitely the Thunderbolts, the Lightning and the Airacobra. There was also a very accessible Zero that I photographed from every angle. There was a George but that section of the museum was roped off for some reason, so I couldn’t get right up to it.
I enjoyed this section a lot and I learned some very interesting things. To begin, there was the RF-86 “Haymaker” – a modified photo-recon Sabre with extra tanks as well as massive bulges on the sides of the fuselage. I have an Academy Sabre in the stash and now I know what I will be doing with it. I also liked the very unique defection story about the Mig-15 on display. Another highlight is the twin mustang. For some reason I thought this was a prototype fighter – something that was an idea only. Nope – the twin mustang was actually used early in the Korean war.
The thing I came to quickly realize as I was wandering around the Vietnam era aircraft is how much I do not know about the air war in Vietnam. There were tons of informative displays and a huge varied collection of airplanes.
The highlights were the displays and aircraft that were “wild weasels” as well as the display featuring the Huey that did special missions into Laos. I’m also looking at the early F-111 in a whole new light.
Jammed packed with all sorts of shiny birds! Considering the length of the Cold War, these are the aircraft that I grew up with. And the lighting was so much better in this hangar. The B-36, B-47 were certainly highlights. But they also had a collection of long nosed Phantoms as well as the SR-71.
I’m a big fan of the Valkyrie and I knew to expect it in this hangar. I mistakenly thought it would be the only plane worth looking at in this section. Was I wrong! I did not expect the YF-12 or the YF-23… not to mention the Tacit Blue and the Apollo capsule!
I have come to appreciate art at aviation museums and military museums in general. This was no exception. The only problem here is that the camera cannot capture the size or colours of these great pieces. The F-105 and B-52 paintings were particularly striking.
Definitely another highlight was all of the imaginative displays peppered throughout the museum. These are very well done.
This museum is incredible and definitely worth the trip all on its own. When coupled with an IPMS show, then its a sealed deal for even a modeler with only a passing interest in aviation. One whole section I have not posted was the “missile room” mainly because of the difficulty I had in taking pictures. But in that room were all three Minutemen, atlas, both titans and even the MX. So weird to see these up close. I was fascinated by the riveting on the titan:
I’ve done a couple other museum write-ups on this site and I really enjoyed those visits. However, I think this one will definitely stick with me for a long time. Believe me, these are only a fraction of the photos I took and I didn’t capture everything. 6 hours is barely scratching the surface.It was great to see all these historic airplanes and I definitely got some inspiration for some future modeling projects – especially that RF-86 conversion.