The National Museum of the United States Air Force is an icon of National Aviation Heritage and a repository of national treasures. According to its website, the museum is “the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world.” It is located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. Yes, that is the same location where the Wright brothers perfected their plane. You can actually plan an entire aviation week, encompassing nearby attractions related to the history of flight. I will write about some of these in later posts. The museum is free, and there is ample free parking.
SCOPE & SIZE
To say the museum is large is an understatement. It has over a million square feet, not including the outdoor Air Park and Memorial Garden. The galleries are formulated around historical events, so that the planes and artifacts themselves, tell a story of our nation’s history in each major war. There is also a strong emphasis on the history of flight, innovation and space exploration, as these are also directly correlated to the history of the US Air Force. Each gallery is supported by historical information from the time period, such as newspaper articles, photos, films, related artifacts, and aviators’ personal stories. Well-organized galleries in a series of connected hangers, tell the history of innovation relating to flight, such as those related to early flight, WWI, WWII, space exploration, and the Cold War.
It is difficult to fully appreciate this museum in one day, due to its sheer size. Each gallery took us about 2-3 hours. If you have time, I would recommend arriving early, or splitting up your visit. If your time is limited, I recommend formulating a plan for your visit, so you don’t miss anything you have in mind.
The atmosphere at this museum is so welcoming, that you find yourself wanting to visit again. It is run by volunteers who are always eager to answer questions and say hello. One volunteer selling the souvenir photographs told me that some people actually spend an entire week to go through all of the collections.
Guided tours are offered Free daily at 10 a.m. (Early Years and World War II Galleries), 11:30 a.m. (Korea, Southeast Asia, Cold War and Missile Galleries), 12 p.m. (Fourth Building), 1:30 p.m. (Early Years and WWII Galleries) and 3 p.m. (Fourth Building).
You can find a 360 Tour here and the Museum Website here to plan your visit. The 360 tour includes a map of the galleries. The museum includes the following galleries, each hyperlinked below on their site:
Early Years Gallery
World War II Gallery
Korean War Gallery
Southeast Asia War Gallery
Cold War Gallery
Research & Development Gallery
Global Reach Gallery
KIDS & EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
There are kids scavengers hunts and activities on the kids section of their website . You can print these ahead of time. There are many diverse events through the year. An array of programs are available for schools and other educational organizations on the Education section, which includes a teacher guide for each gallery and lesson plans.
As a teacher, I was impressed by the quality, organization, and alignment to historical learning of these materials. Parents may want to take advantage of these guides too, as they are excellent resources to read in the car or for Personal learning days or for STEM Homeschooling days. Click here to access the Resource guides.
This weekend, there is a special family event:
Destination Space Station • Nov. 19 Learn about the International Space Station and spaceflight from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., plus build your own space station from recycling materials.
STEPPING INTO HISTORY
This museum left quite an impression on me, which was a bit surprising, considering I am not a huge plane fanatic. My husband served in the US Army, so I planned this trip for his birthday. I found myself enjoying it immensely. It is one of among the best museums I have ever been to around the world, for both its authenticity, quality, and historical integration using artifacts to explain key events in American and World history. As my daughter said, “It really feels like you can understand what it was like to be there.”
You feel like you are stepping into history, and in some cases you really are, as you can board many historic planes. The picture above shows our two older girls immersing themselves in an exhibit about the Berlin Airlift. The museum prompted my kids to ask historical questions. They were eager to go back after our first visit. I left feeling an immense respect for the contributions of our aviators to the history of our nation.
It is evident that the curators of this museum have taken extensive care and attention to detail in compiling these collections. They continue to expand their collections today. It is important to note that many individuals contributed to the state of the museum today, working over several decades to conserve national treasures and artifacts important to the legacy of our nation. In their mission statement, the museum states their sense of responsibility to the history of the United States Air Force and American people stating, “We are the keepers of their stories.” This mission comes across passionately.
I’ve included a link to the history of the museum from the Air Force Museum Foundation for those interested in exploring these aspects. Our family decided to become members. As of November 14, 2016, the minimum starting donation is $30, which is tax-deductible, and provides a magazine subscription, a calendar and 20% off the museum store and cafes. If you plan to visit more than once or want to support their mission, it is worth asking about it on your way in. My daughter decided to buy an Air Force jacket at the Museum gift shop (pictured below) and some astronaut ice cream on the way out, so inquiring about membership early, would have been worthwhile. We ended up joining on our third visit.
A new fourth building recently opened this summer, featuring Space & Global Reach, Research and Development, and Presidential galleries with more than 70 additional planes. You don’t want to miss this gallery. Below is a slide show of some of the highlights.
According to a recent press release from the museum site,
“During the official Grand Opening Ceremony on June 7, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the stories that will be told in these four galleries feature fascinating and important aspects of the Air Force mission. This new building is full of compelling stories of men and women who for many decades have served and defended this nation,” said James. “These people, their stories and the weapon systems they designed, developed, flew, maintained and supported are worthy of recognition and will be highlighted in this magnificent new building to millions of visitors for generations to come.. . .Among the stories found in the fourth building will be the VC-137C Air Force One (SAM 26000), which was used by eight presidents – Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton; the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie; the C-141C Hanoi Taxi, which airlifted the first American prisoners of war out of North Vietnam in February 1973; the Space Shuttle Exhibit featuring NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer; and a massive Titan IVB space launch vehicle that weighs 96 tons. . . . “- Rob Barbua, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force website, June 7, 2016
The new 40.8 million gallery includes several one- of-a kind, historical planes, such as the retired Air Force One, SAM 26000, VC-137C (Boeing 707) pictured above. According to a 2013 article on CNN, a few years ago, this plane had been closed to the public, due to lack of funding for buses to the outdoor yard, so its recent reopening in the new, indoor gallery is very exciting. This plane saw many key events in American history; it is the same plane that transported JFK to the ill-fated trip to Dallas on November 22, 1963 and you can stand before the very spot on-board where Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination. Boarding this plane, I felt a deep sense of history overcome my every sensation-the musty smell, the overwhelming feeling of sadness knowing it had transported JFK’s remains and the sense of connection to history knowing it had been the workplace of all the presidents after Kennedy until 1998. In the same gallery, you will find two prior planes use to transport Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, which display Air Force insignia instead and have a very different look. The planes transporting Presidents changed during Kennedy’s presidency, as Jaqueline Kennedy commissioned designer Raymond Loewy for an update. The plane became a symbolic extension of the White House in the air, proudly displaying the American flag and Presidential seal. This same aircraft took Nixon took to open relations with China and was later used by eight Presidents until 1998, the last being President Clinton( John King, National Museum of the United States Airforce, Aircraft Catalogue, 2015 edition, purchased at the museum gift shop).
The new wing also includes a focus on STEM learning for kids, and a few virtual reality transporters. I will write about this wing a bit more in-depth in another posting, to do it justice. If you forget to bring a stroller, you will find a multitude of neat, little metal strollers on the wall near the bathroom, as well as wheelchairs and motorized scooters. I thought this was especially useful since the galleries are quite large. We brought our own stroller, but Emma wanted to take these metal ones for a spin.
Taken together these galleries create a sense of emotional connection to the aviators and key events in their time period. Each exhibit adds to a historical sense of time and place, creating a reenactment of history. The authenticity of the items and their meticulous restorations and upkeep, add to the allure of the museum. In addition, the layout allows you to see how key events in history influenced one another, in relation to military history and world events.
If you have school-aged kids, the museum has added technology portals in each wing where they can learn about events through photos and quiz-questions to test their learning as they go.
I loved that they included historical content, such as newspapers announcing the start of WWI next to the planes, telling a chronological story. It is also enjoyable because the museum is laid out so that you can go as in-depth as you would like into each gallery. It has side galleries dedicated to more specific aspects, such as Disney’s role in creating art for Aviator jackets.
Artifacts like a bicycle sold by the wright brothers and jackets worn by Aces during WWI add personal stories, and tell the history of flight in their own right.
I encourage you visit to this museum with your whole family; you will leave with a renewed sense of respect, awe, and admiration for the history of flight. Everyone will find something to enjoy. When we were at dinner, and I was asking everyone if they had fun on our day, and my two-year old raised her hand and said, “Me, Me, planes.” She enjoyed the ample room to walk around, the family flight simulator, and getting on the different planes.
My older daughters left with a deeper appreciation of our nation’s history. I have a science background, so exploring the spirit of innovation that drove so many later advancements, most impressed me. I especially enjoyed seeing the Apollo 15 Command Module on loan from Smithsonian, in the Research and Development Gallery.
I enjoyed watching my husband explain to my daughters some of his own combat history, as they boarded a cargo plane used to transport soldiers. My daughters could actually board a C1-30, and he could explain some of his experiences.
I will continue writing about our visits to this museum, as we explore specific galleries, so check back for Part II later this month.
Some good friends of ours called us to join them on a road trip to Vermont. The type of trips they like to do are a bit different, in the sense that they enjoy searching for superlatives around the world. At times, this has been an interesting feat, such as when my best friend dragged me up hundreds of stone steps of the Tower of Hercules, the oldest lighthouse in the world, in Galicia, Spain. I’ll leave writing about that for another time, but let’s just say they have ambitious goals when they travel. The great thing is they do a ton of research before traveling, so we get to see some very unique things. We left our house in southern Dutchess at about noon. I honestly always figured Vermont would be a much further drive, but parts of it are actually not very far.
My friends made a list in order of the bridges we saw that day: three bridges in New York including, Buskrik, Rexleigh, Eagleville, and one in Arlington, VT. At the end, I will give the logistics if you want to find these yourself, like I said they are much better at planning, so we really maximized our time to see many landmarks in one trip.
The first bridge was The Buskrik, one of 29 historic bridges in New York, and crosses the Hoosic River. The Buskirk bridge was built in 1857, to give some perspective, that is the same year as the Panic of 1857, the first worldwide financial crisis and Buchanan was president. The Buskrik is notable because it has the earliest surviving Howe Truss design (Buskirk Bridge wiki 2016).
While writing this article, I found myself wondering what average person cares about the history of bridge design and its many intricacies? What I found out is this “Howe Truss” was famous in engineering history because it was the first support structure to use mathematical stress analysis; it used a combination of iron and wood rods, and it would later be adopted for use in railroad bridges (NYS Covered Bridge Society, 2015). As bridge historian Eric DeLony wrote, “The Howe truss may be the closest that wooden-bridge design ever came to perfection. For simplicity of construction, rapidity of erection, and ease of replacing parts, it stands without rival” (DeLony 1994:11). – See more at: https://www.tn.gov/tdot/article/bridges-historybridges#sthash.GDVcPEWr.dpuf
The entire crew crossed the bridge by foot and the girls enjoyed seeing the inside workings of the wood supports. Amada pointed out a sign which read, “25 Dollar Fine for Driving on This Bridge Faster than a Walk”, and I explained to her this was the time of horse buggies. As you can see in the photos above, the Buskrik has a winding road surrounded by picturesque looking homes and provides a beautiful backdrop for photos. As one kayaker described the scene, “The bridges rose from the landscape almost as naturally as the trees surrounding them.” (Bailey,TimesUnion article, 2015). It may be a beautiful experience to kayak this river and take in the view of the bridges from below.
You may also notice old Victorian-style homes, surrounded by towering maple, willow and elm trees. During the winter, the snow drapes over them and creates a gray cloud that highlights the expansiveness of the open countryside, but I am sure in the fall the colors would be beautiful. There are many antique shops along this route as well, and many have very reasonable prices, so leave some time to stop.
The next bridge was the Rexleigh, built in 1874. Salem was a small town, but the bridge is indicative of a time when the town’s economy was strong with the ushering in of the railroad era (GEotourism Mapguide, National Geographic 2016). The Rexleigh reflects the transition between wooden and iron bridge structures of the 19th and 20th centuries, and is unique because it has “iron shoes” fitted with timber into iron rods and is one of ten bridges still standing in the Northeast, using the “Howe Truss” design (Town of Salem, 2015).
The Rexleigh is also amazing because you can see an abandoned four story stone structure in the same view as the bridge. Some investigating suggests that this structure provides major historical narratives of Salem’s history. This stone structure appears to have survived for several decades, and a bit of research suggests that it was originally the site of a Grist (grain) mill built in 1795 aided by Revolutionary War General John Williams (Salem Historical Committee, The Salem book, Volume 2). The country’s first grist mills were built in this area of the Northeast, so it is interesting to see how a structure that was once so important in its day, now stands deteriorating on the river side as a reminder of a bygone era.
The mill was later used for various industries as the town prospered, including the manufacture of cement, the site of the Manhattan Shirt Company mill, a marble mill shipping cut marble to Chicago, and even a hippie commune in the 70’s. (Lakes to Locks Passage: The Great Northeast, GEotourism Mapguide, National Geographic 2016).
The third bridge we visited was the Eagleville, also in Salem, NY. The natural view surrounding the Eagleville Bridge is amazing. The bridge is flanked by towering trees and you can clearly see the river down below. This bridge crosses the Battenkill river which flows between Vermont and New York and is regarded for its natural beauty.
Reading The Battenkill: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Trout River, I discover that there is another covered bridge in West Arlington, VT near the New York state border that also crosses the Battenkill which is worth a visit. The author describes the scene of people visiting this covered bridge for the first time,
“My guests invariably remark that the scene looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, sweetly sentimental but too good to be true. It is something out of Rockwell, I answer, while pointing out the late artist’s home and studio only a few hundred feet from the covered bridge. . . . If our tour continues downstream through the rolling farmscapes of Salem, Jackson, Easton, and Greenwich, New York. . . the scenery does indeed look just like many of the late artist’s bucolic primitives. . .” -John Merwin, The Battenkill: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Trout River.
A Brief History of Covered Bridges
The history of covered bridges in America is an interesting one; these bridges were born out of economic necessity after the Revolutionary War, yet they have a certain level of artistry that makes them pieces of pragmatic art in rural landscapes. Covered bridges are a prime example of American ingenuity. According to Smithsonian, bridge making began as a craft and developed into an exact science over time (Smithsonian & Natural Park Service 2005). They illustrate the important interplay between a variety of disciplines and talents in the process of discovery. When the girls reflect on this trip when they are older, I hope they realize that whatever career path they choose, anything that drives their passion to be creative is equally important from a historical perspective. I also enjoyed that this trip exposed them to aspects of engineering from an early age, as I don’t remember myself as a child being exposed to it.
According to Smithsonian, “of the 10,000 or so covered bridges that once graced the American landscape, fewer than 800, scattered across 29 states, remain.”(2005). Today, these bridges are seen as historic pieces and fortunately, were added to the National Register of Historic places in the late 60’s and early 70’s before disappearing completely. Although many were lost, I am glad my children are able to experience this type of living history. A museum would not be able to replicate the experience of seeing these bridges in situ.
Before their existence, ferries were required to transport goods and most of these enabled merchant monopolies that could slow economic growth in small villages and towns (Hedges, 6 Things You Must Know About Covered Bridges). Bridges were covered to prevent decay, prolonging the life to the underlying wood structure (Smithsonian & National Park Service 2005). As time went on, more attention was given to the aesthetics and also to the underlying trusses, as engineering methods diversified and improved (TDOT 2016). Around the world, American bridges were admired for their length and elegant engineering and people traveled great distances to see them (Smithsonian & National Park Service 2005). Covered American bridges spanned great lengths with strength and efficiency (Smithsonian 2005). Perhaps one notable example was the Waterford Bridge, built in 1804 by Theodore Burr in Saratoga county, NY; it was the first to span the entire Hudson River and surprisingly, held up for 105 years (US Dept of Transportation, FHA, 2015). You will hear Burr’s name mentioned if you pay attention to architectural history.
In many ways, covered bridges are symbolic of a very different America, one that existed before the age of iron and steel. The ushering in of new technologies and rapid changes to American production after the civil war, led to the decline of this idyllic life, and with it things like covered bridges were replaced by more modern technologies necessary for a faster-paced life with trains and automobiles.
Other Places of Interest
If you are doing this route in warmer months, you may want to leave time to see the Shushan Covered Bridge Museum, housed in an actual covered bridge also along the route. It includes a one-room school house, farm equipment and admission is free, while donations are appreciated by the preservation society.
When you get hungry, check out the Madison Brewing company on Main St in Bennington, VT; they have a good selection of dark beers and decent burgers. Across the street, Angela and I visited a small antique shop. There are several cute shops and the Bennington museum is located on this street. The girls really enjoyed seeing old toys from the 1970’s in the antique shop. The owner showed us various items, but what we most liked were the old lanterns and oil lamps. He actually had an oil lamp that once was fitted on a car. I ended up buying an old fashioned kerosene lantern and he explained to me that I could buy some kerosene at Walmart and still turn it on. It is sitting on my desk now, as a reminder of our travels; it is also a reminder that in order to look forward, sometimes the past can help light the way. Here is a picture:
On the way home, we found a drive-thru coffee shop that served ice cream called Lumberjacks on Route 7. The unique thing about this place is that they served maple syrup, yes real maple syrup in the coffee lattes and mochas, and even on vanilla ice cream. You can even buy maple syrup in the drive-thru window. It was pure heaven. I highly recommend a visit to this spot, I think this is the way to end the drive.
If you really want to get into the specific intricacies of the bridge design, you can look up at the truss patterns, you can read about that here before you visit to see if you can identify them.
Logistics: Read below or see the brochure here:
BUSKIRK BRIDGE NY-58-04
The bridge is located between Rensselaer and Washington Counties in the Town of Hoosic-White Creek. This bridge is sometimes referred to as NY-42-02. On County Route 59 north of County Route 67, it is over the Hoosic River, a single span of 165 feet of Howe truss (NY State Covered Bridge Society).
Directions to the bridge:
Buskirk is located on State Route 67, west of Eaglebridge. Take Washington County Route 103 from State Route 67 north to the bridge in Buskirk.
REXLEIGH BRIDGE NY-58-03
Rexleigh Bridge was originally constructed in 1874 by Reuben Comins (Contractor & Builder) and George Wadsworth (Carpenter). It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, effective March 8, 1978.
It is located in the Town of Jackson-Salem, east of State Route 22 on Rexleigh Road. It is over the Battenkill, a single span of 107 feet of Howe truss.
Directions to the bridge:
From Salem, take State Route 22 south for 2 miles, turn left onto Rexleigh Road and proceed 1.5 miles to the bridge.
EAGLEVILLE BRIDGE NY-58-01
Eagleville Bridge was originally constructed in 1858 by Ephraim W. Clapp, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of March 8, 1978.
The bridge is located in the Town of Jackson-Salem, west of State Route 313 at Eagleville. It is over the Battenkill, a single span of 100 feet of Town truss.
Directions to the bridge:
From Cambridge at the intersection of State Route 22 and State Route 313, take State Route 313 toward Vermont for 6 miles. Turn left onto Eagleville Road to the bridge.
Delony, Eric 1994 The Golden Age. Invention and Technology. Fall:8-22. – See more at: https://www.tn.gov/tdot/article/bridges-historybridges#sthash.GDVcPEWr.dpuf