Pima Air & Space Museum, Day 2

March 6, 2022

We’ve found that many museums and other attractions in the southwest allow visitors to bring their dogs along. That policy is probably, at least in part, so that people don’t leave their dogs in their cars. For whatever reason it is, we’re good with it.

Gunther was able to join us on the second of our two visits to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson. The exhibits that we saw on March 6 were all outside. It was a lovely day and there happened to be an airshow training program taking place at a nearby airfield, so we saw plenty of planes on the ground and in the air. As I wrote in the posting about our first day’s visit, there are hundreds of airplanes on the grounds of the museum, and taking them all in, even with a two-day pass, is a lot to handle.

I finally remembered to take a picture of a museum’s exterior so I’ll include this photo. That’s a Douglas A-4C Skyhawk in the foreground. It was a carrier-based bomber produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and later McDonnell Douglas, from 1954-1979. The Skyhawk, which played active roles in conflicts ranging from the Vietnam War through the Falklands War, could carry the bombload equivalent of a World War II-era Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. It had a top speed of 670 MPH; about 3,000 were produced.
This was one of the many, many formations of aircraft that flew over the saguaro cactus of Tucson in the days that we were camping there. The pilots were training for upcoming airshows, taking off and landing at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. They usually flew in groups of three or four, and some of the formations included vintage aircraft like this A-10 Thunderbolt with P-51 Mustangs and others featured current airplanes like the F-22 Raptor flying alongside World War II and Korean War-era craft.
The aircraft on the outside grounds of the museum are lined up in long, long rows, grouped mostly by their era. The museum is a big complex — Nancy and Gunther and I walked four miles during our visit that day. That’s a Vought F-8 Crusader, produced beginning in 1957 and retired as a fighter by the U.S. Navy in 1976, in the foreground. It was also a carrier-based jet, and the last American-made fighter to use guns (20mm cannons) as a primary weapon. Crusaders, which could reach 1,227 MPH (Mach 1.8, or 1.8 times the speed of sound), were used to take low-level photographs of missile installations in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962; they saw most of their action later during the Vietnam War.
Rotary-wing aircraft fans aren’t left out: here’s a row of helicopters starting with the Sikorsky UH-19B Chickasaw. This cargo helicopter was introduced into U.S. Air Force service in 1950 and retired by the U.S. Navy in 1969. The UH-19 had a crew of two, could carry 10 troops, and had a maximum speed of 101 MPH. This particular UH-19B is one of about a dozen Chickasaws on current display in the United States.
A museum visitor and her ill-behaved dog take a look to the skies at the ongoing training operations while standing in front of another big helicopter, the Mi-24D Hind-D. This Russian-made gunship has been in operation since 1974 and has seen action in nearly every conflict since then, including the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). the Gulf War (1991), and in this year’s operations in Ukraine (both the Russians and the Ukrainians have Mi-24s). The Hind has a maximum speed of 208 MPH and has a substantial range of armament capabilities. Almost 2,700 Hinds have been produced, and armed forces all over the world have them in their inventory. They’re very menacing aircraft; it’s unfortunate that the paint used to protect the canopy is nearly the same color as the rest of the helicopter.
One more widebody whirlybird: this is the Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low, a USAF combat search and rescue helicopter in service from 1974-2008. The Pave Low had a crew of two pilots, two flight engineers, and two gunners, with a top speed of 200 MPH. It weighs 16 tons empty.
From a design standpoint only, I love me some MiGs. This product of the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau is a MiG-29 Fulcrum, which entered Soviet Air Forces service in 1982 and is still in use by a couple of dozen air forces today (including those of Russia and Ukraine). It was developed to compete with U.S. fighters like the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Fulcrum has a top speed of 1,500 MPH (about two times the speed of sound, or Mach 2). This particular aircraft is one of seven MiG-29s currently on display in the United States.
Here’s an earlier MiG, and one of my favorite aircraft designs as well, the MiG-21 Fishbed. This is the most-produced supersonic fighter in the world, introduced in 1955 and still in use by some countries’ air forces. It has a top speed of 1,350 MPH. Almost 11,500 MiG-21s were built, and we’ve seen two of them: we saw another of these aircraft on display in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in November 2021.
This big boy (it’s almost 20 feet tall and weighs 31,000 pounds empty) is the English Electric Lightning, introduced in 1960 and retired by the Royal Air Force in 1988. This is the only British-designed fighter that reached Mach 2. It was developed to protect the United Kingdom from potential attack by Soviet nuclear bombers. This particular Lightning is one of only two on current display in the United States.
Staying with European manufacturers for now, here’s a Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet, a fighter in production from 1973 to 1991 and built cooperatively by France’s Dassault Aviation and Germany’s Dornier Flugzeugwerke. France’s air force used the Alpha Jet primarily as a trainer, and Germany’s air force used it as an attack jet. About 500 aircraft were built; the jet, which had a two-person crew, had a maximum speed of 620 MPH at sea level.
I didn’t know that Hawker Aircraft, which built the WW II-era Hurricanes that, along with Supermarine Spitfires, ably fended off German attacks during the Battle of Britain, also built jets. This is the Hawker Hunter, which was introduced in 1954; the last combat craft was retired (by the Lebanese Air Force) in 2014. The Hunter had a maximum speed of 623 MPH. Besides the Royal Air Force, 21 other overseas air forces used the Hunter.
The Pima Air & Space Museum also has a good variety of civilian aircraft. This is a Cessna 172M Skyhawk. The Cessna 172 is the most-produced aircraft ever built: since 1956 more than 44,000 have been produced by the Cessna Aircraft Company of Wichita, Kansas, and its partners. It has a cruising speed of 140 MPH, with room for one pilot and three passengers. In 1911, a farmer in central Kansas named Clyde Cessna built his own airplane. He tested further aircraft in Enid, Oklahoma, but when Enid bankers refused to lend him more money, he moved his operations to Wichita. Cessna is now a brand of Textron Aviation, which also owns the Beechcraft and Hawker Corporations. This is one of four different Cessna models that my dad, Steve Goering, has flown. That’s a Lockheed L-049 Constellation airliner, which had been restored by Trans World Airlines, behind the Skyhawk. This particular airplane started out as a military transport but was later to converted to civilian use as one of the first aircraft in TWA’s fleet. The airliner had room for between 62 and 95 passengers and a maximum speed of 377 MPH.
Two more airliners, with that same museum visitor and her same ill-behaving dog in the middle. On the right is a Boeing 737 and on the left is a prototype of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Almost 11,000 737s have been produced since 1966; they are capable of carrying up to 215 passengers. The Dreamliner, in production since 2009, can carry between 250 and 290 passengers and has a range of about twice that of the 737 (more than 6,400 nautical miles vs. up to 3,850 NMI). The Dreamliner’s top speed approaches 600 MPH.
I don’t know how old this young boy is or how tall he is, but he does provide a good sense of scale for one of the Dreamliner’s jet engines.
It wasn’t part of a program at the Pima Air & Space Museum, but seeing these Heritage Flight Training Course aircraft flying in formation overhead was pretty thrilling. That’s a North American Aviation F-86 Sabre (capable of Mach 1, or 678 MPH) flanked by a pair of North American P-51 Mustangs (top speed of 440 MPH), all being followed by an Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (top speed of 1,500 MPH, or 2.25 times the speed of sound). I write a lot about the speeds of all of the aircraft we saw at the museum because I’m always impressed with the rate of technological development following World War II. The Mustangs are propelled by a completely different technology (um, a propeller) than the jet-powered Sabre and the Raptor, of course, but the Sabre, introduced in 1947 and just five years after the Mustang, is 50 percent faster than the P-51. There’s a span of just 58 years between the introduction of the Sabre and the Raptor, which has a top speed more than twice that of the Sabre.
Here’s that same formation, with visitors to the Pima Air & Space Museum watching from below. It struck me that the Mustangs, introduced 80 years ago and still capable of flying alongside an F-22 Raptor (with the latter throttled waaay back, naturally), were airborne above hundreds of other aircraft that will never be in the air again but still served their respective purposes.

There are about 400 aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum, inside hangers and outside on the ground, and each of them has an interesting story to tell. I wanted to limit the number of photos in this posting to 10 or 12, but couldn’t decide what to exclude. I didn’t include photos of the EWACs (early warning and control) airplanes like the Grumman E-1 Tracer that flew over Europe during the Cold War, or the bombers like the couple of Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses on display. Even with the two-day pass, we could have spent a lot more time looking at these airplanes and learning about their place in history.

Pima Air & Space Museum, Day 1

March 4, 2022 – Tucson, Arizona

Until 1947, the U.S. Air Force was a component of the U.S. Army (during World War II the branch was known as the United States Army Air Forces). In 1966, during a celebration of the anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Air Force, military commanders in the Tucson area realized that many of the historic World War II- and 1950s-era aircraft stored on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base were being lost – as was much of U.S. military history. Airplane parts were being sent to smelters so their metal could be used in modern aircraft production. Base officials began to set aside examples of the aircraft along the base’s fenced perimeter so that the public could see them. Although the practice saved many aircraft from the smelter, this wasn’t an ideal solution. The Tucson Air Museum Foundation of Pima County was formed that year, and the foundation found a 320-acre site of BLM land just south of the Air Force base. The foundation’s first aircraft acquisition was a B-24 Liberator. Many years (and hanger constructions and aircraft acquisitions and hanger expansions) later, the Pima Air & Space Museum is the country’s largest non-government-funded aviation museum. The museum has more than 100 civilian, military, and experimental aircraft in its four indoor hangers (totaling a quarter-million square feet) alone, as well as many more parked on the grounds outside for a total of about 400 aircraft.

This overhead shot of the Pima Air & Space Museum shows the extent of the museum’s collection [for a sense of scale, the two large gray aircraft next to each other on the left side are B-52 Stratofortresses (Stratofortressi?); they each have wingspans of 185 feet]. The four hangars open to the public are at the top of the photo (courtesy of the Pima Air & Space Museum).

Recognizing that its collection is large and takes aircraft enthusiasts a lot of time to visit, the museum smartly offers a two-day pass that Nancy and I took advantage of. Because March 4 was pretty breezy, we opted to spend that day looking at the aircraft inside the hangers. I’ll share just a few of the ones that I enjoyed viewing, listed in order of their year of introduction.

Introduced in 1939, the Curtiss P-40E-1 Warhawk was heavily used by not just the U.S. Army Air Force, but also the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force during action in World War II. With a production number of 13,378 aircraft, it was the third-most produced American fighter of the war following the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt. The Warhawk lacked a dual-speed supercharger and therefore couldn’t compete in high-altitude combat against the Luftwaffe’s fighters in Europe. It did, however, perform admirably in the theaters of North Africa, the Southwest Pacific, and China. The Warhawk had a top speed of 334 mph.
It was a tremendous pleasure to stand next to this aircraft, one of my favorites of all time. This is the Supermarine Spitfire Fr. XIVe. The Spitfire is recognized as the best British-made fighter of World War II. Along with the Hawker Hurricane, this is the aircraft (or rather, an earlier version of it) that defended London and its environs during the Battle of Britain (July-October 1940). Although more Hurricanes were involved with the battle, the Spitfire’s higher performance gave it a higher victory-to-loss ratio. The aircraft’s design was modified constantly during the course of the war, improving performance through engine changes, wing design, and other alterations. From an aesthetics standpoint I actually prefer earlier versions of the Spitfire in which the fuselage extends to the tail, but the bubble canopy afforded pilots much-improved views. That’s a Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 engine near the left wing, the same V-12 liquid-cooled model that would have been used in this model of Spitfire (earlier models used the Rolls Royce Merlin engine). The Griffon saw widespread use beginning in 1941 and remained in production until 1955. It had a rating output of 1,730-2,420 horsepower. In order to accommodate the Griffon engine, the Spitfire’s nose had to be redesigned and the propeller went from three blades to five. With the Griffon engine, the Mark XIV had a top speed of 446 mph – 20 percent faster than the first production models. Nancy and I appreciated that many of the aircraft on display at the museum had a representative corresponding engine next to them. The last Spitfires were retired from active duty in 1961, but about 70 (out of 20,351 produced) of the aircraft remain airworthy.
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator, introduced in 1941, was used by every branch of the U.S. military in every theater of the war. About 18,500 Liberators were made, including 8,685 by the Ford Motor Company at its Willow Run manufacturing plant near Belleville, Michigan (incidentally, we have camping plans at a campground near the site of that plant in August). The B-24 was the world’s most-produced bomber, multi-engine aircraft, and American military craft in history. The B-24 had a cruising speed of 215 mph (maximum speed of 297 mph) and a range of 1,540 miles. American technological advances by the end of the war (including the development of the B-29 Superfortress, which had a range nearly three times that of the Liberator) made the B-24 obsolete. The fellow in the blue vest at lower right is a docent for the Pima Air & Space Museum; although he’s not a World War II veteran, he had a lot of interesting information to share about the B-24. The youngest of America’s World War II veterans were born around 1927. My family has an interesting history with the B-24: one of my mom’s uncles and one of my dad’s uncles were best friends at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, and flew the Liberator from North Africa together, about 25 years before my parents met.
Here’s another one of my favorites: the North American P-51 Mustang. Before the United States’ official entry into World War II, British military authorities had approached North American to build P-40 Warhawks but the company decided instead to build a more modern aircraft of its own design. A prototype of the P-51 was rolled out about three months after the contract was signed, and the Royal Air Force was flying Mustangs in January 1942. The first Mustangs were underpowered compared to other contemporary fighters, but that problem was rectified when the P-51s were fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. This P-51D had six .50 caliber machine guns rather than the four in earlier versions and could reach an airspeed of 437 mph. More than 15,000 P-51s were built; the last Mustang left U.S. military service in 1957 and the last Mustang left other forces (the Dominican Republic Air Force) in 1984. Nearly 100 Mustangs in private ownership are still flying.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was introduced in 1944, toward the end of World War II, but it certainly left its mark. B-29s carried more bombs, higher, farther, and faster than any other bomber. Superfortresses had a maximum speed of 358 mph, a range of 4,100 miles, and a service ceiling of nearly 32,000 feet. Over 3,000 B-29s were built and many continued to serve not only as bombers, but as reconnaissance planes and fuel tankers, into the early 1950s.This particular Superfortress, serial number 44-70016, served with the 330th Bomb Group and flew a total of 32 combat missions over Japan. It was retired in 1959.
While most of the Pima Air & Space Museum’s collection is devoted to military aircraft, there are plenty of civilian airplanes on display as well – including some suspended from the ceilings of its hangers. This is a Taylorcraft BC-12D, introduced in 1945. It has a maximum speed of 105 mph. My dad, Steve Goering, became a licensed pilot as a young man and has since flown quite a few different fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. A number of years ago he flew a Taylorcraft BC-12 belonging to a family friend. That’s a Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, a helicopter introduced in 1963, behind the Taylorcraft – Dad flew one of those when he first went to Vietnam as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot during his in-country orientation flight in the late 1960s.
The North American F-86 Sabre was the best known aircraft of the United States’ first jet fighters. Design work began as World War II was ending in 1945, and the first prototype flew in August 1947. It was the first swept-wing jet fighter to enter American service, and, in a dive, exceeded Mach 1 – another first for an American aircraft. Sabres had a top level speed of 599 mph, and made their name during the Korean War. Eventually, 25 different countries would use Sabres in their armed forces. This particular model, an F-86E, was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in April 1951. It was first assigned to Japan and then transferred to Korea for the remainder of that war. It was retired in 1959.
The Grumman F-9F Cougar was originally envisioned to simply be a swept-wing version of the F-9F Panther, one of the first carrier-based fighters in the U.S. Navy, but despite retaining the F-9 designation it was a different aircraft altogether. The new design gave the Navy an aircraft capable of competing with the Soviet Union’s swept-wing MiG-15 aircraft, which was very effective in the skies over Korea. Grumman delivered the first F-9F Cougars in December 1952. This aircraft, an F9F-8P photo reconnaissance model, had a top level speed of 637 mph – still subsonic, but fast enough to compare with the MiG-15. In 1954, a U.S. Navy pilot set the transcontinental crossing speed record in a Cougar, completing the 2,438-mile flight in just over 3 hours and 45 minutes – it was the first time that the distance had been covered in less than 4 hours. Grumman produced almost 2,000 F-9F Cougars; the last Cougar was retired in 1974.
Introduced in 1958, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois is perhaps the most-recognized helicopter in the world. Versions of the Huey (the nickname is derived from the original U.S. Army designation of HU-1, and it’s certainly better known than “Iroquois”) remain in both military and civilian service today. More than 16,000 Hueys have been built since its introduction. Each branch of the U.S. military had its own version of the Iroquois by the mid-1960s, and the helicopter is perhaps best known for its use by the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a gunship, as well as cargo transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and other operations. The Army used 7,000 Hueys during its operations in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. The first Iroquois had a maximum speed of 127 mph and its various armaments included 7.62mm machine guns and 70mm rocket pods. My dad flew UH-1s as an Army instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he was an instructor; as well as in operations at Wertheim Army Airfield, West Germany; and at Fort Carson, Colorado. The particular UH-1 shown is from the 174th Assault Helicopter Company, deployed at Duc Pho in Quang Ngai Province from 1967-1970. The 174th was a sister unit of my dad’s F Troop, 8th Cavalry Regiment at Chu Lai, about 40 miles from the 174th. While at the museum I saw a few men my dad’s age walking slowly around this Huey – their memories were their own, but they were almost palpable.
This exhibit shows a variety of memorabilia from Vietnam-era helicopter operations. The U.S. Army Air Cavalry reintroduced the Stetson hat (to the left of the shirt) during the Vietnam War, and the Stetson hat is still worn during the Air Cavalry’s military ceremonies. The hats were originally worn beginning in the 1870s by U.S. Cavalry soldiers. The helmet, at right of the shirt, is a Gentex APH-5A worn by U.S. Army flight crew. The flashlight below the helmet is an Army-issued angle-head model. That’s a model of the Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe helicopter to the left of the flashlight, along with a model of a mobile field hospital. In the center is a U.S. Army M60D 7.62mm machine gun, as mounted on U.S. Army helicopters. This display brought back a lot of memories for me (well, not so much the M60, but the shirt, helmet, and flashlight certainly did).
The neat thing about a lot of aircraft museums is the range of technology on display. The first aircraft you see when entering the main hanger is a reproduction of a Wright Flyer, which the Wright brothers flew a few feet above the North Carolina sand dunes in 1903 with a top speed of 30 mph. Then there’s this Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, introduced in 1966 and with a top speed of 2,200 mph and a service ceiling of 16 miles above the Earth. Sixty-three years isn’t that much time, but look how far aviation advanced in that period. We’d put men on the moon and bring them back to Earth 66 years after the Wright Flyer took off. The Blackbird could fly across the transcontinental United States in a little over an hour – it took the F-9F Cougar 3 hours and 45 minutes to do that only 12 years earlier. I haven’t asked Dad, but I’m pretty sure that he has no hours flying the Blackbird; even if he did, he probably couldn’t tell me.
Here’s an aircraft that my dad did fly. The Bell AH-1 Cobra was originally conceived as a private venture, but Bell shifted its production of the helicopter to support wartime efforts in Vietnam and the Cobra was in the air over Vietnam by 1966. Although it doesn’t look much like the Iroquois, the Cobra and UH-1 have more than 80 percent of their parts in common. The Cobra has a top level speed of 141 mph, and was originally armed with two 7.62mm multi-barrel Miniguns or two 50mm grenade launchers, or one of both, along with either 7 or 19 70mm rockets, depending on the model of rocket launcher. Both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps continue to use modernized versions of the Cobra in their operations. This Bell AH-1S Cobra is close to the AH-1G my dad flew in Vietnam; the AH-1G is the original production model, and the AH-1S has an upgraded engine to the AH-1G.

Even if it represents a smaller percentage of its total collection, the aircraft inside the hangers of the Pima Air & Space Museum are truly impressive. They’re historic, they’re beautiful, and some of them are terrifyingly efficient at what they were designed to do. There were dozens of other aircraft that I didn’t include in this posting: a McDonnell FH-1 Phantom, a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, a Hawker Hurricane, a Grumman F-11 Tiger, a Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt … the list of aircraft just under a roof at this museum is incredible. Seeing a Huey up-close again, as well as other aircraft that my dad has flown, was really rewarding. Here’s a fun fact: my birth in June 1969 was induced a few days early so Dad could see me before leaving for Vietnam. I was born in McPherson, Kansas, where my two great-uncles (the B-24 Liberator crewmen) were friends a quarter-century before I was born.

In another post, we’ll return to the Pima Air & Space Museum and take a look at the aircraft outside the hangers (some of which my dad has also flown).

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

November 12, 2021

We visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque. It’s a museum that had formerly been located on Kirtland Air Force Base, southeast of Albuquerque, but closed on Sept. 11, 2001, and then temporarily relocated to Old Town Albuquerque before opening in a new facility in 2009. It’s a very impressive museum, with many historical exhibits, plenty of room for traveling exhibits, and a great collection of World War II- and Cold War-era aircraft and missiles.

The museum starts with a historical survey of nuclear research, paying homage to the men and women who discovered the incredible power – for constructive as well as destructive purposes – of splitting an atom. There’s a good bit of exhibit space devoted to the United States’ development of the first atomic bomb, including artifacts from the U.S. Army facilities in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the materiel for the test and actual bombs was created. A short film describing the training of the crews of the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the B-29s that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was really interesting; it had interviews with many of the members of the Enola Gay crew (conducted some years ago) in which they said they viewed the operations as helping to bring a quicker end to hostilities in the Pacific. In the summer of 1945, everyone in the United States and the country’s allies wanted the war to end.

A replica of “The Gadget,” the test atomic weapon that was detonated at the Trinity site in New Mexico (now part of the White Sands Missile Range between Alamogordo and Las Cruces). It was dropped from a 100-foot tower during the operation. The test detonation, and the remarkable destruction that it caused, prompted Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Las Alamos Labratory, to reflect on the phrase “Now I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds,” which is taken from Hindu scripture.
A replica of Little Boy, in front, which was the first atomic weapon deployed in warfare, and Fat Man. Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, from the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, killing about 70,000 people (30% of Hiroshima’s population) and destroying about 75% of the city’s buildings and roads. The B-29 Bockscar deployed Fat Man over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, killing about 35,000 people. Japan, facing an imminent invasion of the Japanese archipelago, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, and a Soviet intention to begin hostilities, announced its intention to surrender on August 15, and signed the official documents on September 2, 1945, bringing an end to World War II.

It’s not easy, but I think it’s necessary, to learn about all of the destruction caused by these atomic weapons. I was moved to see the atomic bomb replicas, realizing that the actual weapons killed many tens of thousands of civilians but also ended a war that Japan was willing to continue with perhaps many more casualties than even Little Boy and Fat Man caused. The idea of an Allied invasion of Japan’s islands, similar to the D-Day invasion of Europe, had, frankly, never even occurred to me – I had never thought about the fact that there had been plans to invade Japan that were developed because of the necessity to keep the Manhattan Project under wraps even to the majority of the U.S. military. Because Japan was running low on military resources, it’s easy to surmise that the planned invasion would have gone the way of the Allies, just as it’s easy to see the victory would have come at a horrific human cost as well.

This is one of the reasons we enjoy going to museums, I think: the information they display fill in a lot of gaps in knowledge that I didn’t even know we had.

The museum had many Cold War-era artifacts inside its building, including disarmed nuclear missiles (some large, some small) that were placed in readiness in Europe in the years following World War II.

“Writing a Wrong”

There was also a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution that examined the history of the incarceration of Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1945. “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II” displayed many artifacts from some of the 10 incarceration camps and many more smaller facilities in which 75,000 Japanese Americans were detained from March 1942 to March 1946. The families had to sell nearly everything they owned in their households and businesses, and carried only what they could take with them to the camps. Some decades later, the U.S. Congress recognized that the civil rights of these people had been violated and President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which formally apologized, and made restitution, to those who had been incarcerated. Some of the camps, which were all west of the Mississippi River, have been developed into U.S. national historic sites, and I believe an effort is underway to get Camp Amache, which was located in far southeastern Colorado near the Kansas border, national historic site status as well. I don’t remember when I first learned about the incarceration camps, but I do know it was well after I’d graduated from high school. It’s a dark period in American history, to me, and I think it needs all of the light that can possibly be shone on it.

World War II and Cold War Aircraft

The exterior grounds of the Nuclear Museum feature seven aircraft developed to deliver nuclear devices (or protect those that did), the sail from the nuclear submarine James K. Polk, and a large variety of disarmed nuclear missiles and rockets. I thought it was interesting that many of these photos have contrails in their backgrounds from aircraft originating from Kirtland Air Force Base.

A B-29 Superfortress, which was the model of bomber used to drop nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. A replica of the 100-foot tower used to test “The Gadget” at the Trinity test site in New Mexico (see above) is at left.

A B-52 Stratofortress on display. This particular bomber was shielded as protection from possible radioactive activity because of its proximity to nuclear weapons. First flying in 1952, a total of 744 B-52s were produced by Boeing until 1962. About 50 are still in service.
I was unfamiliar with this bomber. It’s a B-47 Stratojet, and it was developed to deliver nuclear weapons over the Soviet Union. They had a wingspan of 116 feet and had a top speed of 607 mph (for comparison, a B-29, powered by propellers rather than a jet, had a wingspan of 141 feet and had a top speed of 357 mph). More than 2,000 were produced beginning in 1947, and they were retired by 1977.

I was very happy to see examples of two of my favorite Cold War-era aircraft: the F-105 Thunderchief and the Soviet MiG-21 (they’re my favorites for no better reason than I just think they look awfully darned cool).

I managed to cut off the inlet cone on the front of this MiG-21 when taking the photo on my iPhone, which is unfortunate. The MiG-21 was developed by the Soviet Union’s Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in 1955 and is the most-produced supersonic jet in military history; almost 11,500 were built between 1959 and 1985 for more than 60 countries on four continents. This particular one has a B-29 on its six but it’s probably okay because the MiG is capable of a top speed of 1,300 mph.
A total of 833 F-105s were produced by Republic Aircraft from 1955-1964, and the last one flew in 1984. It was the primary bombing aircraft of the early years of the Vietnam War. This particular aircraft originated service at Spangdahlem Air Base in West Germany in 1962. That’s the sail of the U.S.S. James K. Polk submarine, launched as a ballistic missile submarine in May 1965 and decommissioned in July 1999, stealthily emerging from the sands of the New Mexico desert to the left of the F-105, an A-7 Corsair II in the immediate background, and the building for the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is behind the Corsair.

Much of the museum is devoted to the social impacts of living in a world protected and powered, and threatened by, nuclear power: bomb shelters, advances in nuclear medicine, and nuclear power as a source of sustainable energy.

We spent about four hours at the museum, and they were well spent. I learned much more about subjects and events that I was at least aware of, and I learned plenty more about events I knew nothing about. We talked a lot about the enormous amount of money spent on all of these weapons, and of the lives lost in combat as well as in maintaining them, but we recognize and appreciate that they were built to ensure that Little Boy and Fat Man have been the only nuclear weapons used in war.

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