Robert C. “Bob” Mikesh’s interest in airplanes began early. He started building static and flying models of aircraft at age eight. At 14, he was teaching airplane recognition and information courses. By age 18, Mikesh had earned his private pilot's license . Over the years, Mikesh built more than 800 museum-quality models of different aircraft. During World War II, he made 1/32 scale models of N2S Stearman training aircraft and offered them to United States Navy pilots who graduated from flight training at Naval Air Station Ottumwa, Iowa. Today, many of Mikesh’s models are displayed in the Ottumwa Airpower Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. He made nearly all of them from scratch and in various scales.
Using a model kit manufactured by the Cleveland Model & Supply Co., Mikesh built this cutaway model of the forward fuselage of the Douglas C-47 Dakota military transport aircraft. He scratch-built the interior details (Smithsonian Institution, D3AE016E9BC02_005).
Mikesh served in the U. S. Air Force for 22 years. He flew propeller and jet aircraft, including the North American AT-6 trainer, B-25 Mitchell bomber, F-100 Super Sabre, the Douglas A-1E Skyraider and C-47 transport aircraft, and the Lockheed T-33. During the Korean War, Mikesh commanded a Douglas B-26 Invader and he and his crew flew night interdiction missions over North Korea. He named his B-26 Monie after his beloved wife, Ramona.
Mikesh served two tours flying combat missions during the war in Vietnam. He was a forward air controller flying the single-engine Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, and the twin-engine Cessna O-2 Skymaster, and he also flew the Martin B-57 jet bomber. Mikesh twice earned the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and 11 Air Medals were awarded to him. He amassed more than 5,100 flying hours in the Air Force. Later, he also flew in the United States as a civilian pilot.
After Mikesh retired from the Air Force, he joined the National Air and Space Museum as a curator. During his 21-year career at the Museum, he acquired more than 60 aircraft including the F-4 Phantom II, Boeing 367-80 (prototype for the 707 airliner), Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, F-105 Thunderchief, Lockheed U-2, B-25 Mitchell, and the Lockheed Constellation.
Mikesh managed the restoration and preservation of many Museum aircraft. Some of those restored aircraft are the Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero, Nakajima J1N1 Gekko, Aichi M6A Seiran, Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk, Me 262 jet fighter, Macchi C.202 Folgore, Vought F4U Corsair, and the Arado Ar 234, the world’s first jet bomber. Mikesh’s efforts to collect and restore aircraft helped to shape the National Air and Space Museum into one of the world’s most popular museums.
Mikesh wrote more than 20 books and 140 articles about Museum aircraft and on other topics related to aviation history. His book, Restoring Museum Aircraft, described in detail how to preserve historic aircraft, what treatments and techniques to use and when to apply them, and the methods used to document the work. Flying Dragons: The South Vietnamese Air Force described the history, organization, and operational activities of the South Vietnamese Air Force. Enthusiasts around the world considered Mikesh one of the foremost authorities about Japanese aircraft that flew during World War II. He wrote many articles and books on the subject including Japanese Aircraft Equipment, Broken Wings of the Samurai and Zero Fighter. Mikesh also authored three books in the series called Famous Aircraft of the National Air and Space Museum.
Bob always made time to share his vast knowledge of aviation history. He spoke often to the staff of aviation museums and to historians, scale model enthusiasts, and other groups interested in aviation. He mentored many of staff of the Aeronautics Department, imparting to us a sense of professionalism and attention to detail required in museum work at the national level. Bob will be missed by all who knew him.
Combat pilot, Smithsonian curator, accomplished author, and a builder of museum-quality aircraft models, Maj. Robert C. “Bob” Mikesh, passed away on Saturday, February 12, 2022, less than two weeks short of his 94th birthday. Bob will be missed by all who knew him.