I had to hold back my emotions as I photographed the blue and gold F/A-18C Hornet aircraft approaching the Udvar-Hazy Center on November 18, 2020, by the realization that my photography career had, in some way, just come full circle. My journey began back in 1973 when I had the good fortune of being assigned as the photographer for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver could have been the U.S. Navy’s frontline carrier-based dive bomber for much of World War II, but problems with its development delayed its introduction and saddled it with a bad reputation.
Throughout her military career, Lt. Col. Christine Mau has helped prove that women can perform, outstandingly, in some of the toughest positions in the United States Air Force. And, as a fighter pilot, she has done so with only a small community of female military pilots.
What truly captivated me this summer was feeling a personal connection to the history of aviation. I’ve always been interested in the topic, largely because my dad was a Marine Corps fighter pilot. Until this summer I hadn’t had a chance to truly dive into the subject, and finally learning about what my dad did as a pilot has given me a new perspective on his career. He flew F -18s for most of his pilot days, but he also flew F-4 Phantoms, the same plane used for simulator rides here at the museum. I’m sure piloting the simulator isn’t nearly as thrilling (or difficult) as flying a real fighter jet, but it gave me a small taste of my dad’s everyday job. As soon as I hopped out of the ride, I emailed my dad to tell him how exciting my three minutes of pretend-jet-flying had been. He responded by telling me, not for the first time in my life, that he had the “best job in the world.” I never understood the excitement he felt until now.
When Secretary of the Navy William J. Middendorf II commissioned the USS Smithsonian, CVM-76, on June 28, 1976, he announced in authentic navy parlance that “the floors are now decks, walls are bulkheads and stairs are ladders. "Welcome Aboard!” Visitors to the gallery may not realize that exhibits artisans built the gallery using the decks, bulkheads, ladders and other parts removed from five famous American aircraft carriers.
The high-flying long-range North American P-51 Mustang escort fighter was a war-winning weapon for the United States and its Allies during World War II. As American Mustang pilots protected bombers and pursued their enemies in the air over Europe and the Pacific, they earned a place for themselves and their airplane in the annals of military and aviation history. The availability of surplus Mustangs and other fighters such as the Corsair, Bearcat, Airacobra, and Lightning after World War II and into the 1950s helped create what we call the “warbird” community today.