Seventy years ago, a formation of United States Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters was photographed as it roared over an unidentified foreign field. It's hard to spot the familiar US insignia of the white star on a blue circle, but the black and white stripes the Lightnings wear stand out easily - which is a very good thing. In 1944, in the months leading up to the invasion of Nazi occupied France, the Allied planners of Operation OVERLORD realized that on the day of the invasion - D-Day - the skies over the invasion zone would be filled with aircraft.
When we think of D-Day, we tend to envision the waves of landing craft approaching the beaches and Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) with barrage balloons in tow, or maybe waves of C-47s winging away from their bases in Southern England with their paratroopers. These are powerful visuals and while the soldiers and paratroopers really did do the heavy lifting of liberating France, these images overshadow a remarkable and invisible war that is often forgotten.
This, the 87th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s epic solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927, gives us an opportunity to revisit the diminutive Ryan airplane that carried the twentieth century’s best known aviator into history.
The National Air and Space Museum Archives hold biographical information on many people related to aviation, but it is still surprising to find articles about one Antonie Strassmann, a famous German actress of the 1920s. The few clippings indicate a fascinating story – a woman pilot who had performed on stage and in silent movies, who flew in balloons, held a world record in cycling for women, and loved to box. But was Antonie really one of these aviatrixes of the 1920s who were often accused of donning a flight suit and goggles for the sake of publicity only?
Most of the thousands of World War I photographs in the collections of the Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department are grimly utilitarian – aerial views of trenches, aircraft and details of their construction and the damage they sustained during dangerous missions. But the young pilots who flew those missions had a reputation for light-heartedness, and found their fun wherever and whenever they could.
The National Air and Space Museum boasts an extraordinary collection of record setting balloon baskets and gondolas. There is Explorer II, which carried U.S. Army Air Corps Captains Albert W. Stevens and Orvil Anderson to a record altitude of (22,066 meters) 72,395 feet on November 11, 1935. In August 1978, Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman made the first balloon crossing of the Atlantic in Double Eagle II.
On April 3, 1964, Jerrie Mock stood next to her Cessna 180 at Dhahran Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The crowd of men before her looked puzzled and then one of them dashed forward to look into the cockpit. In her book Three-Eight Charlie, Mock recalled: “His white-kaffiyeh-covered head nodded vehemently, and he shouted to the throng that there was no man. This brought a rousing ovation.”
On February 16, 1994, a significant milestone in American aviation occurred when the Federal Aviation Administration certified the first GPS unit for use in IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) operations. Twenty years later, GPS has become the dominant form of en route navigation as well as the primary technology for guiding aircraft in low-visibility approaches to landing.
On the evening of Friday, February 21, friends of legendary pilot Bob Hoover will gather with him at Paramount Studios Theater in Los Angeles to celebrate his “Lifetime of Achievement.” We doubt this Red Carpet event will make Access Hollywood but of course that is not the point. Instead, these friends will gather to honor an exceptional man with extraordinary flying skills and, hopefully, to hear Bob tell a few more of his incredible stories.