By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Located in Dayton, Ohio, the National Museum of the Air Force resides on the grounds of Wright Patterson AFB. It is the world’s largest aviation museum, and for aviation enthusiasts, it is the Holy Grail of aviation history.
With 19 acres of indoor display exhibit space, the museum has plenty of room for more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display! The museum features several galleries featuring collections such as WWII, space, Korean War, missiles, Cold War, and many more!
The presidential gallery features several aircraft used as Air Force One, the most famous being “SAM 26000.” The Boeing 707 entered service with President Kennedy and was used to fly JFK to Berlin for his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech. It was also the aircraft used in Lyndon Johnson’s searing in as president in Dallas, and then used to transport President Kennedy’s body back to D.C. following his assassination. This aircraft was in service until the current 747’s arrived in 1998.
The Research and Development (R&D) gallery houses my favorite aircraft, as well as other aircraft models I built and displayed in my room as a boy. The lone surviving North American XB-70A “Valkyrie” was designed in the late 50s. The Valkyrie was to be America’s supersonic, high-altitude bomber capable of Mach 3+ speeds! Due to advances in surface to air missile technology and more advanced ICBM’s (intercontinental ballistic missiles) coming in service, the XB-70 was cancelled. The USAF was still interested in the Valkyrie, however, and two were purchased for research and development of supersonic aircraft designs.
The Valkyrie was equipped with six General Electric YJ93s, producing 30,000 pounds of thrust each while in afterburner. The “Six Pack” propelled the Valkyrie to a top speed of 2,056 mph (Mach 3). As it flew, the Valkyrie’s outer wing surface would pivot downward, up to 65 degrees, and “compression lift” would occur as a shock wave was created by the leading edge of the engine splitter vane. Compression lift accounted for 5 percent of the Valkyrie’s total lift.
In June 1966, tragedy struck the Valkyrie program. While flying in formation for a General Electric photo shoot, an F-104 piloted by Joseph Walker struck the right wingtip of Valkyrie #2. The Starfighter then rolled across the wing of the Valkyrie. tearing off both vertical stabilizers. The Valkyrie flew normally for a few moments and then began to become uncontrollable. The Valkyrie was equipped with a pod style ejection system. When ejection was initiated, the seat enclosed like a clam, protecting the pilot from the high speeds. Pilot Al White ejected from the Valkyrie and was severely injured with a crushed arm when it was caught in the clam shell. Co-Pilot Carl Cross never ejected and was killed, as was Starfighter pilot Joseph Walker. The reason for the crash has been labeled pilot error by some, although all the pilots involved were experienced with tens of thousands of flight hours. Some believe the Valkyrie’s compression lift system pulled the Starfighter into its wake and caused the collision.
Valkyrie #1 would continue R&D duties with the Air Force until its retirement and on February 4th, 1969, when the Valkyrie made its last flight to Wright-Patterson AFB.
For you WWII buffs out there, the WWII gallery is incredible! A P-40 “Warhawk,” a P-51D “Mustang,” a B-17, and B-29 Bombers are all there. The Axis powers are well represented by the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero,” the Junkers JU88D, a V-2 rocket, and the world’s first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmidt ME-262.
The museum also has a unique WWII display in the Air Park with a reproduction of a 1942 8th Air Force control tower. During WWII, the 8th AF controlled more than 100 airfields in England, and these control towers were standard. These towers will have you break out your copy of Memphis Belle and watch it again.
Also located in the Air Park are WWII “Nissen Huts.” These buildings, designed by Canadian engineer Lt. Col Peter Nissen, were cheap, quickly built, and used for recreation halls, offices, and small homes. These huts were previously located at Debden AB, England and were later donated to the museum.
For you space enthusiasts, the museum houses the Apollo 15 Command Module, an SR-71 “Blackbird,” and the X-15. The X-15 was a rocket-powered hypersonic research aircraft. The X-15 was launched from a B-52 at an altitude of 45,000 feet and began its journey into space at a speed of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7). A little-known fact about this aircraft is that pilots who flew it were awarded astronaut wings.
The museum has too many exhibits to list, so you’ll just have to go there and see it all for yourself. If you plan ahead, you can visit while the Dayton International Airshow is ongoing, or you may get to hear a guest lecturer during the museum’s “plane talks.” In 1961, the museum hosted an event with WWI Ace Eddie Rickenbacker.
If you love all things aviation, the National Museum of The United States Air Force is waiting for you!
Location & Website: 1100 Spaatz St, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433, www.nationalmuseum.af.mil
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there.”
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at [email protected].