ANN Correspondent Does Complete Museum Walk-Around (Part Two of
By ANN Correspondent Rob Milford
By 10:30 on your average morning (in fact, every day but
Christmas day) the outside line will have worked it’s way
through security, and the steady stream of 10,000 people per day
will make their way into the huge Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Museum at
Washington Dulles International Airport (VA).
It is sensory overload.
No matter how many other museums you’ve been to, no matter
what you fly, or how cool you are, you go back to being a ten-year
old for a short while, as you take it all in. The colors and shapes
and aircraft that defined the last century, and define what we fly
today leap out from the exhibits, making you feel like you're on an
epic journey through time. My childhood heroes flew these birds
into combat. Now, they fly at airshows I attend, and write about. I
am still overwhelmed.
I am not taking the rational approach to viewing this huge
place. I am wandering aimlessly, bumping into things, chatting with
people as we look up in wonder at the real planes that made
history. The Northrop N-1M. The first, functional flying wing. From
the 1940’s until today, flying as the B-2 Spirit. Its bright
yellow dazzles you.
Look over there. All you see is World War Two aircraft. The
RAF’s Hurricane IIC, the Japanese Aichi M6A1 Seiran, the
sub-launched floatplane that could have bombed Los Angeles or the
Next, a pair of combatants, one restored, one looking like they
just pulled it from the hanger, and it’s just a fuselage. The
Kasanishi N1K2-Ja Shinden Kai “George” looks factory
fresh. The Kawasaki Ki-45 KAI Toryu “Nick” the
twin-engined fighter, with it’s cannons angled up. A FW-190F,
alongside the Arado AR-234B bomber, and this is the one with two
engines, not two pairs of engines. Flying top cover, a Grumman
F6F-3 Hellcat, and a Vought-Sikorsky OS2U-3 Kingfisher, along with
a plane that got those aviators started, an N3N-3 “Yellow
Peril” with floats.
The P-47D Thunderbolt
and P-38J look like they just landed from a mission. Towering above
that display area, on hydraulic lifts that raise it another eight
or ten feet in the air, the B-29 that changed history. The Enola
Gay. It is magnificent, breathtaking. Incredibly shiny, that
aluminum polished to a high gloss. I remember one of the staffers
telling me of the problems they had getting the wings back on the
aircraft this summer, for the first time in more than 40 years,
since it had been flown to Washington, and then disassembled. They
had a time of it.
In comparison to the other aircraft of the era, it’s size
is staggering. I wonder if the B-29 was the largest operational
U.S. aircraft of it’s time, or do we sneak the B-15 or B-19
in there, as a “one-off” flyer? The small birds are
represented as well, with the Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A (German,
sub-based single seat helicopter, towed) and the Kugisho MXY7 Ohka
Model 22, (Japanese, aircraft launched, pilot flown, single seat,
suicide bomber). There is a Stinson L-5 Sentinel, and a Frankfort
TG-1A glider trainer, and a Boeing-Stearman N2S-5 Kaydet.
I tear myself away from the planes I know so well, and want to
crawl all over. But, of course, that won't do. First, there are
security guards wandering around, and they would frown on that,
second, there are about 60 more planes to go… and I want to
see them all! That Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” is the
classic mid-war aircraft, kind of clunky, but you know the
designers were getting at and there is that famous picture of Ralph
Royce flipping one over. That leads in the general direction to
World War I era and earlier aircraft. It’s immediate
predecessor, the Boeing FB-5 is flying above it all, alongside a
Nieuport 28C.1 and on the deck, a Spad XVI.
I get on the cell phone to another buddy, Mark, who is thrilled
by flying wires and fragile wings. He wants me over the ropes, and
getting a cockpit shot so he can get his scale models more
authentic. That didn’t happen. The Caudron G.4 is there, a
Benoist-Korn Type-XII, and then, I spot a plane I haven’t
seen in 40 years.
The Langley Aerodrome A. This big bruiser was competition for
the Wright Brothers. Samuel Langley was out of his league. The
engine was huge, 50 horsepower or so. The control of the aircraft
was non-existent. The props are fabric covered. I wonder
“What the hell was this guy thinking?” There are
volumes written on this bird. There it is… restored in all
it’s glorious failure. Lessons to be learned there, for
Time for a break, and they have installed a snack bar at the far
end of the hanger. They bring in three or four kinds of boxed
Subway sandwiches and you have bottles of coke, sprite, water.
Nothing fancy, but a lot better than what was offered at the Garber
facility in Silver Hill.
I start chatting with
other folks wearing Wright Centennial hats and sweatshirts,
we’re comparing notes on how wet we got. A South African
Airways 747 pilot, Les Rhind, from Durban, brought his wife and
infant child for a visit…he’s agog at all this.
“it’s fantastic!” he says. He’s spotted a
Ju-52M, and they have one of those in the airlines “Historic
Flight” unit. He flies itand he’s thrilled to be here.
Two guys from Colorado, Dan Smith and Bob Combes, from Longmont,
are in there, grinning like kids at Christmas. They had the same
idea I did: combine trips back east, and add the new NASM. They
planned on a quick run-through downtown, but they’ve been
visiting there for 27 years!
“This is awesome now…imagine what it will be like
in two years, when they have 200 aircraft in here!” Dan jumps
in “There is stuff in here that no one would ever see.
I’m thrilled that someone saved it. I wouldn’t be
surprised if it gets to be twice this size! Nothing that another
300 million dollars wouldn’t cover!”
They would like to see more general aviation, but Dan tells that
his mom worked on the line in Burbank (CA), building P-38’s,
and as he stood there looking at the P-38J on display, another guy
started talking about how HIS mom worked on the line. Small
We sit there, talking planes, looking at the Concorde (Air
France) and Fed Ex’s first plane. Fred Smith named it Wendy,
for his daughter, and it’s a Dassault Falcon 20. If I knew
then, what I know now, I would have invested in that little
start-up company in Memphis in 1974.
And right next to that, another old friend, and this is an
interesting trivia question: What’s the longest name of a
production aircraft? If I said Bob Hoover, would that give you a
hint? How about N-500RA? Here it is, (until someone comes up with
one better): North American Rockwell Shrike Commander 500S.
That’s 40 characters. This is Sweetie Face, that he flew for
years in airshows all over the world. In a nearby display case, one
of Bob’s flight suits and one of his hats. I did look inside,
and there is NOT a green bottle of Tanqueray.