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Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Enola Gay & Bockscar, Little Boy & Fat Man… National Museum of the Air Force

Today, August 6th, in 1945 the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” dropped over Hiroshima (Japan) the first nuclear bomb, “Little Boy“, used in combat. I guess you have had the chance to read about it in several places along the day. A couple of years ago I wrote a post about that story touching it from different points of view that I had experienced in the previous years: Hiroshima Peace SiteManhattan Project, Einstein’s “The World as I see it“, Genbaku Dome, Sadako Sasaki’s origami,  the  “Enola Gay“, Enola Gay’s Navigator’s Log replica at Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson…

… last November, we visited the National Museum of the Air Force (1) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. That museum enables the visitor to get more close-up experiences to the story of that August 6th of 1945.

As several other aerospace museums it counts with its own B-29 Superfortress… however, if the Enola Gay is displayed at National Air & Space Museum at Dulles, this one displayed at the National Museum of the Air Force (Dayton) is Bockscar, the aircraft which dropped the Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, three days after the atomic attack against Hiroshima. You can read about Bockscar in the site of the museum, here.

Bockscar, the B-29 which dropped "Fat Man" atomic bomb over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Bockscar, the B-29 which dropped “Fat Man” atomic bomb over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

At Pima Air and Space Museum (Tucson) you could see a replica of Little Boy, however at National Museum of the Air Force (Dayton) they have in display a full size (a 4.4 tonnes, 3m-long bomb) replica of it:

Full size replica of atomica bomb Little Boy, launched over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Full size replica of atomic bomb Little Boy, launched over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Seeing the bomber B-29 Superfortress from up close is impressive, even more if they are either the Enola Gay or Bockscar, but a completely different experience is going inside the cabin of a B-29. At the National Museum of the Air Force (Dayton) they have at the exhibit dedicated to the Korean War a B-29 walk-through fuselage in display. See here its virtual tour.

B-29 fuselage.

B-29 fuselage.

See below some of the pictures we took of the inside:

Actually, you can get very close to experiencing that by going to the virtual tour at the National Museum of the Air Force (Dayton), where you can go through all sections of the bomber B-29 Superfortress Bockscar. Find the link here.

B-29 Superfortress Bockscar virtual tour.

B-29 Superfortress Bockscar virtual tour.

Finally, see a map displaying US Army Air Forces operations in the Pacific at the time:

Map of US Air Force Pacific operations.

Map of US Air Force Pacific operations.

(1) I haven’t yet written a post about that museum in this blog but my brother Jaime has, find it here; a superb piece of aeronautics information.

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Hiroshima and the Enola Gay

Today, August 6th, in 1945 the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” dropped over Hiroshima (Japan) the first nuclear bomb, “Little Boy“, used in combat. I guess you have had the chance to read about it in several places along the day. However, I thought of writing this post in order to connect several points related to the story, some of which I have only discovered quite recently…

Hiroshima

Luca and I, together with some friends visited Japan during the summer of 2008. A mandatory stop was Hiroshima. There we visited the Hiroshima Peace Site, museum and park.

You can spend several hours in the museum: from reading about the life in Hiroshima prior to the war, during the war and before the bombing, about the Manhattan Project, learning from specific cases of victims of the bomb, several testimonies, replicas from wounded people, etc. Some parts of the museum are truly shocking.

In the museum you could read several letters related to the Manhattan Project, for example these two from brigadier general Leslie Groves (in charge of the project) and Albert Einstein:

Letter from general Leslie Groves (Peace)

Letter from brigadier general Leslie Groves (Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

Einstein’s letter to F.D. Roosevelt (Hiroshima Peace Memorial).

Some years ago, I read the book “The World as I see it“, from Albert Einstein in which he explained retrospectively his thoughts at the time of supporting the Manhattan Project. I already wrote a post about that book and recommend the reading of it.

In the Memorial Park, two things caught my attention: Genbaku Dome and the story of Sadako Sasaki.

Genbaku Dome

The dome (also called “A-dome”) was the only structure in the area which was left standing. This is because the explosion of the bomb happened at about 600m above the dome and about 150m away horizontally enabling the structure to stand the nearly vertical compression it suffered due to the blast.

The dome was initially scheduled to be demolished, but finally it was preserved, being today UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima.

Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima.

Sadako Sasaki

As I did in a post I wrote 3 years ago, in order to explain her story I will paste below an excerpt from Wikipedia‘s article on the history of origami (paper birds):

Legend says that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart’s desire come true. The origami crane has become a symbol of peace because of this legend, and because of a young Japanese girl namedSadako Sasaki. Sadako was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as an infant, and it took its inevitable toll on her health. She was then a hibakusha — an atom bomb survivor. By the time she was twelve in 1955, she was dying of leukemia. Hearing the legend, she decided to fold one thousand origami cranes so that she could live. However, when she saw that the other children in her ward were dying, she realized that she would not survive and wished instead for world peace and an end to suffering.   

A popular version of the tale is that Sadako folded 644 cranes before she died; her classmates then continued folding cranes in honor of their friend. She was buried with a wreath of 1,000 cranes to honor her dream. While her effort could not extend her life, it moved her friends to make a granite statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park: a young girl standing with her hand outstretched, a paper crane flying from her fingertips. Every year the statue is adorned with thousands of wreaths of a thousand origami cranes.   

The tale of Sadako has been dramatized in many books and movies. In one version, Sadako wrote a haiku that translates into English as:   

I shall write peace upon your wings, and you shall fly around the world so that children will no longer have to die this way.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial park paper cranes.

In previous posts in the blog I explained how I have repeatedly encountered these paper birds around the world: in NY Saint Paul’s Chapel (close to World Trade Center zone zero), in Manzanar War Relocation Center (where Americans of Japanese origin were kept captive during WWII)…

Enola Gay

The “Enola Gay“, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress (named after the mother of the pilot Paul Tibbets) that dropped the bomb has become known worldwide. You can see the actual plane at the National Air and Space Museum in Dulles (Washington DC), where it is on exhibit. I wrote about that museum in this post, and you can see the airplane in the image below:

Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” at National Air and Space Museum (Washington DC).

However, there are other aerospace museums where you can get closer to B-29 Superfortress aircraft, for example, the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, which we visited some months ago. There they had one B-29 on exhibit in one of its hangars:

Boeing B-29 Superfortress at Pima Air and Space Museum.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress at Pima Air and Space Museum (Tucson, AZ).

In the Pima museum, you could get really up close (not so in the NASM in Dulles) and you could get your head inside the bomb bay of the aircraft, the same bomb bay from which “Little Boy” was dropped from the “Enola Gay”:

Bomb bay of a B-29 Superfortress (at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ).

Bomb bay of a B-29 Superfortress (at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ).

Close to this B-29, they displayed two replicas of the Enola Gay and the bomb, “Little Boy”:

B-29 "Enola Gay" replica and "Little Boy" bomb replica (at Pima Air and Space Museum).

B-29 “Enola Gay” replica and “Little Boy” bomb replica (at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ).

And finally, you could see a replica of the Enola Gay’s Navigator’s Log. I was caught by surprise to find all this material at the museum. The original log, written by the navigator that day, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, was sold in a public auction some years ago for over 350k$.

While at the museum, I took some minutes to watch the replica, the route the plane followed, the points of reference it used, the notes he made… and especially, the line in which Theodore, at 9:15am, noted “Bomb Away” (the 10th line of the second box) just before turning back over the port of the island of Omishima (which is wrongly reported in the log as “Mishima”).

Replica of Navigator's Log of the "Enola Gay" (at Pima Air and Space Museum).

Replica of Navigator’s Log of the “Enola Gay” (at Pima Air and Space Museum).

The picture above hasn’t got very good quality, but you can read an account of those moments in the following passage from the book “Japan 1945: From Operation Downfall to Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (by Clayton Chun):

Excerpt from "xxx" by Chun,

Excerpt from “Japan 1945: From Operation Downfall to Hiroshima and Nagasaki” by Clayton Chun.

***

It was a long post this time, but I think it was worthwhile to touch the story from the several points of view I have “experienced” it throughout these last years.

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National Air & Space Museum at Dulles

Let me quote from the Wikipedia:

“The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge” from a bequest to the United States by the British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829), who never visited the new nation. In Smithson’s will, he stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create an “Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men”.

“The Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum complex in the world, and many of its buildings are historical and architectural landmarks.”

During our last trip to USA, Luca and I visited both locations of the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian institution. I had already been at the one in the Mall and I already talked about it briefly in a previous post. I wanted to write about the museum at Dulles, close to DC international airport.

That museum is named after Steven F. Udvar Hazy, who is the CEO of Air Lease Corp, an airplanes leasing company. Previously he was chairman and CEO of ILFC, another leasing company, together with GECAS, one of the 2 biggest. The guy is a living legend or commercial markets: when he blessed or criticizes an aircraft it is seriously noticed by the manufacturers. He donated 65M$ to the Smithsonian to set up this museum and that’s why it carries his name. Thanks Steve! What a museum! The NASM is awesome!

The museum has dozens if not over a hundred of airplanes, satellites, rockets, helicopters, etc., in display, all tagged with small explanation of the aircraft.

On our visit we joined a free guided tour, another fabulous feature of the museum. Our guide was Bill Laux, a veteran pilot from the Navy. He was originally from Omaha where we would be going in a couple of days while he would be heading also in a couple of days to Belgium… crossing roads.

We stayed with Bill for about 2 hours, following one explanation after the other, one curiosity here, another detail there, etc. I remember visiting Ellis Island in NYC 2 years ago with a ranger who also filled the tour with stories. This is something I really like: instead of paying for a quick tour or audio-guide, they make use of the willingness of these volunteers to pass on their knowledge.

I have to admit that the session was for core aviation geeks, and I want to commend Luca for standing it. At the beginning we were a group of 10-12 people, wives and children included. The guide asked: “Who has got an aerospace background?” 4 or so of us raised hands… after 30 minutes of tour only Luca and those with aviation background continued with the tour (no sight of wives and children). After 1 hour 30 minutes, only Luca and me. After 2 hours the guide went “well, we’ve seen pretty much everything” :-). Thanks Bill!

I scanned one of the sides of the map of the museum to post it here. The map covers the Boeing hangar, but bear in mind that there is another hangar missing (James S McDonnell, which hosts a Space Shuttle), an IMAX cinema, the restoration hangar and the control tower.

I wanted to post it here so you can get a grasp of what we’re talking about. Airplanes packed side by side, one of top of the other… and not any airplane, some are unique pieces. Let me just comment on a few of them (of which below you can find the pictures):

  • The Space shuttle Enterprise: which never went to outer space as it was used only for training purposes, to let astronauts command the powerless flight after re-entry. Believe it or not, it was going to be named “Constitution”, trekkies had not stepped in.
  • A Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird: the reconnaissance aircraft which set the record as fastest aircraft back in 1976.
  • The Boeing 367-80 “Dash-80”, which as I already mentioned in a previous post, was the prototype Boeing built to test and market a new configuration for commercial jet aircraft, a configuration which all commercial aircraft have followed more or less ever since.
  • A Concorde.
  • The infamous B-29 Enola Gay.
  • The Langley Aerodrome A: a model that Samuel Pierpont Langley (a manned flight pioneer and secretary of the Smithsonian institution at the time) used to try to set the first heavier-than-air flight… he didn’t, as the model crashed in the Potomac river.
  • A Junkers 52 built by the Spanish CASA.
  • A Boeing 307 Stratoliner: the first pressurized commercial aircraft.

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I would only give one point of improvement for the museum: now you cannot get into the aircraft except for simulators, if they would just change that policy it would be just perfect (in the Mall you can actually enter in some models, e.g. Spacelab).

I forgot to mention some extras: the museum is free (free as in zero dollars), it has a transport leaving every hour to and from Dulles airport which costs just 50 cents, has lockers for big luggage free of charge, has a nice souvenir shop with plenty of aviation books and even a McDonald’s to recover some strength at half way of the visit…

In future posts I will comment some of the details of some aircraft… give credit to Bill, our guide.

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