In the quiet of the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia sits the U.S. Air Force F-100D “Super Sabre,” serial number 56-3440. 440 was in Vietnam from June 1965 until July 1970, but its most intense combat was seen 50 years ago, during the Tet Offensive.
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.
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.
Although the collection of the National Air and Space Museum contains some of the best air- and spacecraft, it also has one of the best collections of artifacts from the often forgotten days of ballooning. Before humans were able to fly into the heavens on wings or rockets, they first rose off the ground in balloons, often tethered to prevent complete flight.
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.
In a recent post, Tom Paone described the plans of William Powell, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, for a Confederate helicopter. In fact, Powell’s scheme was only the tip of the iceberg. In researching a scholarly paper on Civil War Planes, I have catalogued a score of plans for powered flying machines developed on both sides of the battle lines. Perhaps the most interesting of these was the work of Colonel Edward Wellman Serrell , a professional engineer serving with the Union Army of the James in 1864. Inspired by the well-known hand-held helicopter toy, Serrell had begun studying aeronautics several years before the War.
As my colleague Dr. Tom Crouch referenced in a previous post, our nation is currently in the midst of commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War (or sesquicentennial for you Latin fans).
The nation is in the process of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and those of us at the Smithsonian are very much involved, searching our collections for items that will help our visitors better understand the conflict that divided 19th century America. As might be expected, the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Museum of American Art preserve and display a wealth of objects, portraits, and images that help to bring the Civil War era to life. Who would have guessed, however, that the National Air and Space Museum would hold a single object used by more high ranking Union Army officers than any other surviving artifact in the entire Smithsonian collection!
Stranded. Six days from its home port of San Francisco, a luxurious Boeing 314 flying boat, the Pacific Clipper, was preparing to alight in Auckland, New Zealand, as part of the airline’s transpacific service when the crew of ten learned of the Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.