Statement on Exhibition of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay

Press Release

Friday, November 7, 2003 (All day)

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Claire Brown, 202-633-2371, brownch@si.edu
Peter Golkin, 202-633-2374, golkinp@si.edu

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More Information

The National Air and Space Museum issues the following statement on the petition from the Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy. A list of frequently asked questions regarding exhibition of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay follows the statement. A press release on the restoration of the B-29 can also be found in the Press Room (Aug. 18, 2003).

Statement

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has received and reviewed the petition from the Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy concerning its new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center adjacent to Washington Dulles International Airport, which opens on December 15, 2003. The new facility will ultimately display 200 airplanes and 135 spacecraft. One of the airplanes is the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan.

The petition advances the idea that the display of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, as one of the 200 airplanes in the center, should be used to "stimulate a national discussion of U.S. nuclear history and current policy."

The National Air and Space Museum has, since opening in 1976, been committed to the mission given to it by Congress in its founding legislation, which says:

The National Air and Space Museum shall memorialize the national development of aviation and space flight; collect, preserve, and display aeronautical and space flight equipment of historical interest and significance; serve as a repository for scientific equipment and data pertaining to the development of aviation and space flight; and provide educational material for the historical study of aviation and space flight.

The National Air and Space Museum tells the story of the development of flight and chronicles the history of the technologies that have made flight possible.

The text of the label describing the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay is as follows:

Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay

Boeing's B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II, and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments. Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines, and two nuclear weapons.

On August 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Bockscar (on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio) dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Enola Gay flew as the advance weather reconnaissance aircraft that day. A third B-29, The Great Artiste, flew as an observation aircraft on both missions.

Transferred from the U.S. Air Force

Wingspan: 43 m (141 ft 3 in)
Length: 30.2 m (99 ft)
Height: 9 m (27 ft 9 in)
Weight, empty: 32,580 kg (71,826 lb)
Weight, gross: 63,504 kg (140,000 lb)
Top speed: 546 km/h (339 mph)
Engines: 4 Wright R-3350-57 Cyclone turbo-supercharged radials, 2,200 hp
Crew: 12 (Hiroshima mission)
Armament: two .50 caliber machine guns
Ordnance: "Little Boy" atomic bomb
Manufacturer: Martin Co., Omaha, Nebr., 1945
A19500100000

This type of label is precisely the same kind used for the other airplanes and spacecraft in the museum. Its intent is to tell visitors what the object is and the basic facts concerning its history. Over the 27 years of its existence, the museum has carefully followed an approach which offers accurate descriptive data, allowing visitors to evaluate what they encounter in the context of their own points of view.


Frequently Asked Questions About
Exhibition of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay

Q. How will the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay be exhibited?
A. The exhibition plan for the Udvar-Hazy Center is unique, best described as enhanced open storage. Each large artifact will be displayed with an individual label and grouped into sections providing historical context. The Enola Gay will rest on three eight-foot-high stands to enable viewing from various levels.

Q. Why is this particular aircraft representing B-29s in the national collection?
A. Our goal is to collect artifacts that have maximum exhibition potential by virtue of their rich histories. The Enola Gay was used to carry out the first atomic bomb mission and is perhaps the best-known aircraft from World War II. The B-29 is an extraordinarily important aircraft from a design and manufacturing point of view, and from a general combat operational perspective in World War II. There is no story about the B-29 or World War II that you cannot tell with this particular airplane. The Enola Gay has been in the Smithsonian collection since 1949. Only 30 B-29s still exist and 25 of those are in museums. Of the 15 B-29s built for atomic bombing missions, only two exist--Enola Gay and Bockscar.

Q. Why did the National Air and Space Museum restore the Enola Gay ?
A. The primary responsibility of a museum is to care for its collection. Although this artifact is 99% original, it had to be disassembled and was in very poor condition after being stored outdoors for several years. Therefore, a decision was made to restore it as fully as possible. This was completed in house over ten years as resources were made available. Other museum aircraft have also been restored for the Udvar-Hazy Center, including the Aichi Seiran, the 707 Prototype Dash-80 and the 307 Stratoliner, which were restored to flying condition by the original manufacturer, Boeing.

Q. How will the Enola Gay be treated in education programs for youngsters?
A. In describing the artifact, the museum's education staff will provide background surrounding the aircraft and its role in World War II that will be age appropriate.

Q. Why isn't the B-29 being exhibited in the museum's flagship building on the National Mall?
A. A B-29 is too large to be displayed fully assembled at the Mall building. Portions of the aircraft were displayed downtown in the 1990s but the aircraft could only be reassembled in the kind of space provided by the Udvar-Hazy Center aviation hangar.

Q. Will there be films, video presentations or publications specifically related to this artifact at the Udvar-Hazy Center?
A. Over time, the museum plans to add interactive components to major artifact displays at the Udvar-Hazy Center. This feature will not be available for the opening in December and content has not been finalized. Brassey's Publishers Ltd. is publishing a new book, "The Enola Gay : The B-29 That Dropped the First Atomic Bomb," which discusses the aircraft and its mission for the general reader. It is scheduled to come out in December 2003.

Q. As one of the most famous artifacts in the museum's collection, will there be any special programs in the near future?
A. Our major priority for the Udvar-Hazy Center at this point is installation of the artifacts to make our Dec. 15 opening deadline. We hope to have some lectures and other types of programs scheduled by spring. Since all of our programs relate to the collection, it is likely we will focus on this aircraft, as well as the many other air and space vehicles on display.

Q. What do you say to those who believe this display of the aircraft glorifies nuclear war?
A. The exhibit plan at the Udvar-Hazy Center, including the Enola Gay label and text in its section, does not glorify or vilify the role this aircraft played in history.
We invite the public to come and see the exhibition and share their impressions with us. Many aircraft associated with major military actions are in our collection and can be found in galleries on World War I, World War II, etc. We regularly seek visitor feedback and, despite welcoming more than 9 million people a year, have not documented this concern.

Q. What was the total cost to restore the Enola Gay ?
A. It is impossible to calculate this because restoration occurred as time and labor
were available. Many of the more than 300,000 estimated man-hours were volunteered.

Q. What is the legacy of the B-29 Enola Gay ?
A. In the end, the Enola Gay played a decisive role in World War II. It helped bring the war to an end in that after the bombing of Nagasaki, shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, surrendered unconditionally. But perhaps more critically, it profoundly affected our concept of major conflict and the importance of maintaining global peace. In addition, the Enola Gay , as a B-29, was the most technically advanced aircraft ever flown for its time. The crew was protected by pressurized environments, and the craft carried enormous bomb loads over a tremendous range. The B-29 was the mainstay of American nuclear deterrent capability early in the Cold War.