Tag Archives: Pima Air and Space Museum

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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XB-36 tires

Two years ago, in 2013, I visited the Pima Air and Space Museum near Tucson, Arizona. One of the airplanes that really catches your attention in it is the bomber Convair B-36 Peacemaker, with its 10 engines: six turnin’ and four burnin’ (I wrote a post about it here).

Ten engines: "six turnin' and four burnin' ".

Ten engines: “six turnin’ and four burnin’ “.

When I wrote that post, I received the following comment from a reader, Ian C.

If you are ever back on this side of the pond, the National Museum of the Air Force has an XB-36 tire. It is just ridiculously large.

Last year, in 2014, we travelled again to the USA and this time we visited the National Museum of the Air Force (1) in Dayton, Ohio.

Let me close the loop by showing you this famous tire accompanied by some facts about it.

XB-36 tire

From the Wikipedia:

The XB-36 featured a single-wheel main landing gear whose tires were the largest ever manufactured up to that time, 9 feet 2 inches (2.79 m) tall, 3 feet (91 cm) wide, and weighing 1,320 pounds (600 kg), with enough rubber for 60 automobile tires. These tires placed so much pressure on runways, the XB-36 was restricted to the Fort Worth airfield adjacent to the plant of manufacture, and to a mere two USAF bases beyond that. At the suggestion of General Henry H. Arnold, the single-wheel gear was soon replaced by a four-wheel bogie. At one point, a tank-like tracked landing gear was also tried on the XB-36, but proved heavy and noisy and was quickly abandoned. (2)

(1) See here the post my brother Jaime wrote about our visit to it.

(2) This is not the post to do so, but it triggers the need to write one day about the California Bearing Ratio, doesn’t it?

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Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima is a county in the South of Arizona, where the city of Tucson is located. Tucson is home of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where the US Air Force’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), known as “The Boneyard”, is located. I wrote about the Boneyard in a previous postIn order to visit the Boneyard, you need to visit the Pima Air & Space Museum and that is how I got to know about the museum.

The description of the museum from their website states (the emphasis is mine):

“The Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest aviation Museums in the world, and the largest non-government funded aviation Museum in the United States. You’ll see more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft including many of the most historically significant and technically advanced craft ever produced, both from the United States and throughout the world.”

Pimar Air & Space Musem (Tucson, AZ).

Pima Air & Space Museum (Tucson, AZ).

The museum has 6 hangars and one space gallery, plus an impressive exhibit outdoors, which can be visited with a tram or on foot (or both). You can see in the map below the arrangement of the museum:

Pima Air and Space Museum map.

Pima Air and Space Museum map.

Together with the plan the visitor is handed an inventory of the aircraft on exhibit and where are they located (in which hangars):

Pimar Air and Space Museum inventory.

Pima Air and Space Museum inventory.

As you can see from the inventory above, the list of aircraft exhibited at the museum is simply impressive, overwhelming. Add to that, that in this museum you can get as close to the aircraft as you wish.

In the website of the museum you can find brief explanations of each of the aircraft on exhibit (here). This aircraft index can be surfed very handily ordering the aircraft by different criteria. The information about them includes some technical specifications, a brief historical explanation and a picture of the aircraft (I would almost say that it makes up for a visit of the museum). A very good job on the part of the museum curators.

Some of the highlights (in my opinion) of the museum:

Find some pictures I took of some of these aircraft and others in the slide show below:

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The Pima Air & Space Museum has also facilities to restore the aircraft they get and bring them to a decent status to be put on exhibition. Some of the aircraft are on loan from the US Air Force Museum.

Within the museum there are plenty of US armed forces veterans willing to share with you detailed explanations or anecdotes from any of the aircraft. The tram visit of the outdoor exhibit is guided by one of these veterans… no need to say that the experience is fantastic.

It goes without saying it, that I strongly recommend to visit this museum as it is one of the best aerospace museums that I have ever visited. Couple that with the visit to the Boneyard and it is definitely a must for aerospace aficionados.

Finally, some tips to visit the museum:

  • plan your visit as early as possible (doors open at 9am),
  • allow yourself no less than 5 hours to comfortably visit the museum,
  • if the visit is in summertime, bring a bottle of water with you (which can be refilled in any of the many sources inside the museum),
  • plan to have lunch in the museum,
  • book yourself a place both in the tram to visit the outdoor exhibit and in the bus to visit the Boneyard (for this a photo ID will be necessary), as tickets sell out, be there at 9am.

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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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North American X-15

I once wrote about how it took me some visits to different museums and reading a book to connect the dots and see what was the controversy in France about the Wright Brothers pioneering first flight.

It takes several museums to get a complete glimpse of the story of the X-15.

This experimental aircraft, powered with a rocket engine, was used to reach the edge of outer space and gather data for aircraft and space design. In doing so, it set several records of speed and altitude. To date it keeps the speed record of any manned flight with over 7,000 km/h (bear in mind that this a rocket engine, vs. the record for an atmospheric engine reached with the SR-71). The aircraft also flew several times above 50 miles, which by then in the USA was considered the limit for outer space, thus making some of its pilots being recognised as astronauts by NASA and USAF. The International Astronautics Federation (FIA), however, sets the limit at 100km of altitude. Still two of the X-15 pilots flew over that height being them also recognised as astronauts by the FIA.

The aircraft itself, the North American X-15, is displayed at the National Space & Air Museum at the Mall in Washington DC (which I first visited in December 2008) and USAF Museum in Ohio, while one of the mock-ups is displayed at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson (which we visited last May 2013).

North American X-15 the National Air & Space Museum in the Mall (picture from Ad Meskens).

The flight tests in which the X-15 set so many high altitude and speed records were performed at Edwards AF Base in Mojave (which we visited in May 2013). At the Flight Test Center museum you can read some displayes about its story.

Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards (public domain image).

Finally, the mother ships from which the different X-15 aircraft were launched were modified B-52 Stratofortress bombers. The two aircraft are displayed in the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson (which we visited last May 2013) and again the Dryden Flight Research Center which is also located at Edwards AFB.

NB-52, modified Stratofortress to drop X-15.

NB-52, modified Stratofortress to drop the X-15.

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The Boneyard

The US Air Force’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), known as “The Boneyard”, is one of the places that I had wanted to visit since many years ago. Luca and I visited it a couple of weeks ago.

The Boneyard is an aircraft and equipment storage facility located at Davis-Monthan AF Base near Tucson (Arizona). The are over 4,000 military aircraft stored at the place. Most of them come from the USA (not only from the air force, but from other services as well) but there are some aircraft from foreign countries. The aircraft are stored for several reasons and in different conditions.

  • Some of them are maintained waiting for a possible future use of them (be it with US armed forces or through some foreign military sale, that is the case of several old versions of C-130, F-16).
  • Other aircraft are kept so their parts can be used as spare parts for other active flying aircraft (e.g. C-130, KC-135).
  • Finally, there are aircraft which are stored waiting to be scrapped so the metal can be reused somewhere else.
KC-135 partly scrapped.

KC-135 partly scrapped.

Hundreds of C-130.

Hundreds of C-130.

There are whole fleets of retired aircraft: C-141 Starlifter (retired once the C-17 took over their role), half of the C-5 Galaxy fleet (the A versions, due to budget constrains and fleet strategic decisions), the Vietnam-era helicopters Hueys and Cobras

The Boneyard can be visited with a guided tour organised by the Pima Air and Space Museum (I will write about this museum in another post).  The tour is made with a bus which goes through the Boneyard very slowly and making several stops (though guests cannot exit the bus). The guides are veterans from the US armed forces, who have flown or maintained some of those models that you get to see. The wealth of knowledge that they have about them, the anecdotes and stories that they tell during the tour are worth much more than the 7$ that the tour costs.

The place is impressive, overwhelming. Not only there are thousands of aircraft but the seeing of them fully aligned, whole fleets of different models helps you put things into perspective:

  • World commercial airliner fleet (over 100 pax) has about 16,000 aircraft vs. the 4,000 at The Boneyard.
  • The largest airline fleets have about 1,200 aircraft.
  • Spanish AF has 14 C-130 Hercules vs. the hundreds of them you see at The Boneyard.
  • The dozens of retired Lockheed C-5A Galaxy that you can see there have a combined payload capacity of over 5,000 tonnes… which is more than the complete payload capability of any other air force in the world except the US one…

You may want to take a look at satellite images from the Boneyard here:

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