The Enola Gay exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum closed on May 18, 1998. This web page provides images and highlights from that exhibition. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay" is now completely assembled and on display at the Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
The Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber used in the atomic mission that destroyed Hiroshima, went on display June 28, 1995 at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The display commemorates the end of World War II, as well as the role of the Enola Gay in securing Japanese surrender.
"It is particularly important in this commemorative year that veterans and other Americans have the opportunity to see the Enola Gay," Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman said. "The aircraft speaks for itself in this exhibit and, 50 years after its mission, it continues to evoke strong emotions, in those who look at it."
On Jan. 30, 1995, Secretary Heyman ended months of controversy when he announced his decision to replace a larger, interpretive exhibition with a less complicated display. "The exhibition you are entering does what I intended," Heyman says in his written introduction at the exhibit's entrance. "We have added some material on the Smithsonian's restoration of the Enola Gay and some explanatory material on the B-29 aircraft and the 509th Composite Group."
The focal point of the display is the Enola Gay, but visitors also see how the aircraft was painstakingly restored by Smithsonian experts. The story of the restoration by technicians, volunteers and interns, is told in a seven-minute video produced at the National Air and Space Museum by Patricia Woodside.
A video presentation co-produced by the Smithsonian and Greenwich Workshop of Shelton, Conn., tells the story of the Enola Gay's mission. It includes interviews with the crew before and after the mission and recent interviews with crew members, including mission pilot Col. Paul Tibbets.
Upon entering the exhibit gallery on the museum's first floor, visitors immediately confront a dramatic sight, the Enola Gay's gleaming, vertical stabilizer. The "circle R" marking, the insignia of another bombardment group, was painted on the stabilizer just before the Hiroshima mission and was intended to deceive the Japanese.
The exhibition text summarizes the history and development of the Boeing B-29 fleet used in bombing raids against Japan. The B-29 "superfortress," with its narrow wings, was designed for high-altitude, high-speed flight (up to 375 mph) over long distances. Its pressurized crew compartments were the first successful large-scale use of this technology. Flight crews respected the B-29 for its rugged construction. One crew survived the harrowing return flight of a 17-hour mission, flying through thunderstorms and darkness with two engines out.
The Enola Gay is one of 15 B-29s modified specifically for the highly secret atomic bomb missions. These airplanes were outfitted with new engines and propellers and faster-acting pneumatic bomb bay doors. The Enola Gay is one of 536 B-29s manufactured at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Factory in Omaha, Neb.
Another portion of the exhibit details the painstaking efforts of Smithsonian aircraft restoration specialists who have spent nearly a decade restoring the Enola Gay. It is the largest restoration project ever undertaken by the museum: About 44,000 staff hours have been spent on the restoration.
Unfortunately, the fully assembled Enola Gay, with a wingspan of 141 feet and a gross weight of 137,500 pounds, is too large and too heavy to be displayed in the museum. But several major components, including two engines, the vertical stabilizer, an aileron, propellers and the forward fuselage which contains the bomb bay, are on display. The remainder of the aircraft is at the museum's Paul E. Garber Facility where restoration is nearing completion.
One of the most elaborate portions of the Enola Gay restoration is the plane's cockpit. Only a few items were missing when the work began, and the cockpit has been restored completely, including all instruments and the crew stations. Restoration crew logbooks are included in the display, documenting the exacting nature of their work.
The bomb bay occupies most of the forward fuselage of the Enola Gay. Visitors can look inside and, just below the fuselage, see an atomic bomb casing very similar to the "Little Boy" weapon used on the Hiroshima mission. The bomb casing contains no nuclear material and presents no radiation hazard.
The Enola Gay display includes historical information about the bombing campaign in the Pacific and the events leading up to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic missions. There is a history of the 509th Composite Group, including a near-lifesize cutout of the Enola Gay's crew and a photo of mission commander Tibbets wearing the Distinguished Service Cross awarded to him after returning from the Hiroshima mission. Twelve men were on the Aug. 6, 1945 mission.
Like most planes in the 509th, this one had a nickname. Tibbets named the plane in honor of his mother, Enola Gay, and had the words painted on the side of the plane just before takeoff.
The last section of the exhibit focuses on the Enola Gay's mission. It features photographs of the crew before takeoff on Tinian Island in the Marianas; of the 509th training at Wendover Army Air Field in Utah; and of the mushroom cloud as seen from the tail gunner's position on the Enola Gay.
The wall text about the mission reads: "Tibbets piloted the aircraft on its mission to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. That bomb and the one dropped on Nagasaki three days later destroyed much of the two cities and caused tens of thousands of deaths.
"However," the text continues, "the use of the bombs led to the immediate surrender of Japan and made unnecessary the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. Such an invasion, especially if undertaken for both main islands, would have led to very heavy casualties among American and Allied troops and Japanese civilians and military. It was thought highly unlikely that Japan, while in a very weakened military condition, would have surrendered unconditionally without such an invasion."
There also is a sampling of original-size newspaper front pages with stories on the bombing, provided by UMI Company of Ann Arbor, Mich., and an area near the exhibit's exit where visitors can record their thoughts and offer their comments.
|Enola Gay - QTVR
Cockpit of "Enola Gay"
Image #W1998AE000 © Smithsonian Institution. Reproductions are not available.
< Interior Cockpit View:
Exterior Forward Fuselage: >
Nose of the "Enola Gay"
Image #W1998AE0002 © Smithsonian Institution. Reproductions are not available.
All photos © Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
Enola Gay Crew
Enola Gay Chronology
Gallery images and press release photos
Aft Fuselage Under Restoration at Garber Facility
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