• Dick Bong writes home

    Posted on May 17th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments

    In the nearly 12 months since Dick Bong had been away from home he had written home about twice a week. He had written additional letters to his siblings, friends and other Bong relatives. In his letter of May 17, 1942 he provides more of his impressions of the P-38 Lightning and we get a glimpse of the 21-year-old’s ties with home.

    Dear Mom:
    Well I now have 7 hours in the P-38. It certainly is quite an airplane. It’s the fastest I have ever flown and is the easiest plane to fly that I have yet flown. However, it is nothing to get careless with. One boy was killed out here yesterday.

    P-38E lands at Hamilton AAF, California; USAAF photo

    P-38E lands at Hamilton AAF, California
    USAAF photo

    Dick continued his letter with comments about cookies in a care package…”I guess I told you that (the) cookies arrived and were promptly did away with in the proper manner.” Other comments regarded relatives living in California and acquaintances from home entering the military. Like most in the service, Bong wanted to ensure everyone had his correct mailing address. “Be sure when you write to me”, he wrote, “you address the letters to the 49th Pursuit Squadron here at the field.” He continued with a question that implies he missed his parents.

    How about that deal of coming out here? … Dad ought to be able to get away for two weeks right after the seeding is done. Let me know about it anyway. I have no expenses here to amount to anything so I could send you a $100 now and another hundred the first of the month. After that, I won’t have any use for money at all, I suppose. I’ll have to send my radio home before I leave too, I suppose.

    I guess that is all for now.

    Love, Dick

    It will be 29 days before Dick’s next letter home. An unusual event with a valid reason. Maybe it was the P-38’s speed, maybe it was the ease with which Bong found it flew, maybe it was his youthful exuberance. What ever the cause, a few weeks after writing this letter young 2nd Lieutenant Bong found himself in hot water. So much so that he would soon be standing at attention in front of the 4th Air Force Commander, Major General George C. Kenney. It would prove to be a meeting that would extend far beyond the office walls.

    70th Anniverssary MOH logoThe Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Richard Bong being awarded the Medal of Honor on December 12, 1944. Touring Wisconsin with the Bong Anniversary Tour is just part of this educational effort. Learn more about the tour, where you can experience the story through a multimedia presentation, and other Bong information at the website.


  • WAHF Remembers Richard Bong

    Posted on May 7th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments

    bong_logoanniversary_logo70th Anniverssary MOH logoThe Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) announced a state-wide celebration recognizing Richard Ira Bong at the Wisconsin Aviation Conference in Wausau today.  In addition to the announcement, the organization showcased its Bong/Medal of Honor exhibit and distributed event materials. Keynote speaker for this evening’s banquet is WAHF board member John Dorcey who will provide an overview of Bong’s life. Major Richard Bong received the Congressional Medal of Honor, December 12, 1944, at Tacloban Airfield, Philippine Islands.

    Bong Veterans Historical CenterIn collaboration with the Richard I. Bong Veteran’s Historical Center, Superior, Wisconsin, the celebration of Bong’s achievements will include presentations across the state by WAHF speakers throughout the year. His accomplishments will be conveyed by a multimedia presentation, four-panel exhibit, limited edition Bong trading cards, and a model of the Lockheed P-38 aircraft he flew.

    WAHF exhibit at 2014 Wisconsin Aviation ConferenceWAHF speakers are available to travel throughout Wisconsin, giving presentations that highlight Bong’s background and the events that led to him being selected as a Medal of Honor recipient. Representatives from service clubs, historical societies, EAA chapters, flying clubs, or any interested parties are encouraged to contact WAHF about scheduling a presentation. To request a speaker, call Rose Dorcey at 920-385-1483 or send her an email. Read the WAHF press release.

  • Civil Air Patrol seeks Congressional Gold Medal

    Posted on April 9th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is the most recent cosponsor of senate bill S.418. He signed the bill on March 26, 2012. So far five Wisconsin representatives have cosponsored the house version, H.R.719. The bills, if passed, will award the Congressional Gold Medal to World War II veterans of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). Representative Bob Fisner (D-CA) introduced the bill on February 15, 2011. He has since been joined by 163 cosponsors. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on February 28, 2011. Johnson brings the total senate cosponsors to 82.

    You might wonder what the Civil Air Patrol did to be considered for this prestigious award. The Coastal Patrol, as the CAP was originally known, was created by presidential executive order on December 1, 1941 as part of the Office of Civilian Defense. Antisubmarine operations using civilian volunteer pilots, flying their personal aircraft, began in March, 1942. The program lasted for 18 months. The civilian patrol experiment was an overwhelming success.

    During the 18 months of combat operations the Coastal Patrol sank two enemy submarines and attacked another 57. That success came with a cost. The Coastal Patrol lost 90 aircraft at sea, 26 crew members were killed, and seven were seriously injured. Fairchild Model 24s and Stinson 10As were two of the more common aircraft used but many other types were pressed into service. As the program developed, aircraft were armed with 50 and 100-pound bombs and 325-pound depth charges. The program began operations from three bases eventually growing to 21 facilities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

    WAHF inductee Logan A. “Jack” Vilas was active in the Coastal Patrol and founded an unofficial club for Coastal Patrol personnel. Coastal Patrol pilots who, during a mission, made a forced landing on the water were made members of the Duck Club. By the end of the 18 month program, 114 pilots survived a forced water landing. Pilots from 16 of the 21 Coastal Patrol bases were club members.

    The Coastal Patrol flew other than antisubmarine missions – target towing, search and rescue, border patrol, disaster relief, and emergency transport. During the war 60,000 adult members had volunteered to serve their country through the Coastal Patrol. A total of 824 Air Medals were awarded by executive order of the president for service as flight crew on antisubmarine missions for the Coastal Patrol. By the end of the conflict nearly 750,000 flight hours had been logged, while 150 aircraft were lost, and 64 members killed. Like the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) these aviators had been promised veteran’s benefits. Benefits never materialized for either group. The WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

    You can assist the CAP Congressional Gold Medal recognition effort in two ways. First, contact your senator and representative and ask them to support S.418 or H.R.719. Second, help locate CAP veterans. If you, or someone you know, served in the CAP between December 7, 1941 and August 15, 1945 and was 18 years old, or older, during that time you or they will be eligible for the award. Upload their information into the World War II Congressional Gold Medal database, or send it to Holley Dunigan.

    FMI: http://www.americainwwii.com/stories/guarding.html

  • History comes alive

    Posted on March 31st, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    There are many opportuntities for you to experience Wisconsin’s history come alive this spring. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame will be participating in some of these events and attending others. We hope to see you there.

    West Allis Historical Society

    April 16
    History of Mitchell International Airport
    West Allis Historical Society
    West Allis
    The West Allis Historical Society will host a presentation by long-time Mitchell Gallery of Flight director Chuck Boie. Boie, a retired corporate illustrator from Milwaukee, is an expert on the airport’s history. The Mitchell Gallery of Flight is a museum located within the airport’s terminal. The presentation includes numerous images, many of which are not available elsewhere.

    The West Allis Historical Society is located at 8405 West National Avenue.  The program begins at 7 p.m. is free and open to the public.


    May 3
    Wisconsin Veterans Museum (WVM) Gala
    Monona Terrace
    The Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s (WVM) Foundation will hold its annual fund raiser on Thursday, May 3. The event, held at the Monona Terrace, will include a reception, dinner, and booksigning. The evening’s keynote address features historian and writer Hugh Ambrose. Ambrose, author of The Pacific, served as historical consultant for the HBO miniseries of the the same name. Ambrose will share his journey in writing the book and work on the video series.

    Tickets are available online or by phone at 608-264-6086. All proceeds from the event support the development of educational programs and exhibits at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.


    May 4
    Operation Greatest Generation
    Railroad Museum
    Green Bay
    A day-long celebration and recognition for the Wisconsin men and women who shaped the course of history during World War II. Actvities include WWII vehicle exhibit, WWII re-enactors, tours of General Eisenhower’s European command train, and the 132nd Army Band. Featured guest speakers include Hugh Ambrose, author of The Pacific, and James Magellas, WWII veteran and author of All the Way to Berlin.

    Operation Greatest Generation runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all veterans, their guests and the public. The National Railroad Museum is located at 2285 South Broadway in Green Bay. An RSVP is strongly encouraged. For more information and to RSVP, visit the Wisconsin Veterans Museum website or call 608-266-1009. Additonal information and directions to the National Railroad Museum are avilable at their website.


    2012 Wisconsin Aviation Conference logoMay 7-9
    Wisconsin Aviation Conference
    Chula Vista Resort
    Wisconsin Dells
    The 57th annual conference, the one conference where all of Wisconsin aviation meets, is scheduled for May 7-9. There will be 12 educational sessions including the following topics: NextGen, marketing techniques, attracting and retaining FBOs, aviation insurance, and airport economic impact statements. Beyond the educational opportunities, there will be association meetings, award ceremonies, and networking opportunities.

    The conference is sponsored by the Wisconsin Airport Management Association, Wisconsin Aviation Trades Association, Wisconsin Business Aviation Association, aviation consultants and suppliers. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is one of more than 40 exhibitors. Additional information is available at www.wiama.org or by calling 715-358-2802.

  • A spring week in London, 1918

    Posted on March 24th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    It was in the spring of 1917 that Rodney Williams, like many others his age, answered the call. The Carroll College (Waukesha, Wisconsin) student joined the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Training would be a year-long adventure for Williams, a year that would see him in Wisconsin, Texas, and Ontario, Canada. Late in 1917, after assignment to the 17th US Aero Squadron, Williams shipped out from New York for advanced training in Great Britain. In Spring 1918, Rodney and other members of 17 Sqaudron were at RAF Turnberry. There they would receive advanced training in gunnery and aerial combat. Williams recorded his experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a diary dated from Winter 1917 to April 21, 1919. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum holds Williams’ 97-page, single-spaced manuscript in its archives. We share Williams’ details of a week in the spring of 1918 just as he wrote them with punctuation and spelling unchanged.

    Lt Rodney Williams AEF

    Lt Rodney Williams

    Following a train ride from RAF Ayr and Turnberry to London –

    “We arrived in London at 6:00 AM a tired and hungry lot for we had been unable to secure sleeping compartments for the journey down from Scotland. The only other alternative was sleeping (if you could) in a crowded day coach. Also we had no refreshments since tea the afternoon before, except a cup of coffee at Leeds which had scalded my mouth and tongue unmercifully. We went no further than the station restaurant to satisfy our hunger. After that we hailed a taxi and in a short time were reporting at RAF Headquarters. Here we were told to report to the Central Dispatch Pool in London. Evidently our early arrival in France was to be delayed.

    The CDP was an organization for furnishing pilots to fly machines from one place to another as needed in England and also flying new machines across the channel to France. The necessary number of pilots was secured by utilizing flying officers who had completed their training courses and were waiting for orders to proceed to France in addition to a regular staff of pilots who were resting from the strain of a six to nine month period of service at the front. Each morning the pilots on duty would report for orders where upon they would receive directions to proceed to some ‘acceptance park’ or other aerodrome, and take a machine to its proper destination, whether it be in England, Scotland, or France. Maybe a pilot would be gone several days on one trip before returning to the CDP, this was because it was necessary to return by train, or by boat and train if from France. Some times however instead of recrossing the channell by boat a large Handley-Page aeroplane would bring fifteen or sixteen pilots back at one trip thus saving anywhere from a half to a whole days time for each one.

    While stationed at the CDP (I was only there a week) I witnessed the last bombing raid that the Huns made on London. It was a warm sring evening and the streets were filled with busses, taxi cabs, and other vehicles besides the thousands of foot passengers. Tho only ten o’clock I had retired and as my bed stood beside an open window I had been lying there listening to the night sounds of the great city. It seemed as tho I could feel it pulsating like the heart beats of some mighty monster.

    When the sirens shrieked out their gastly warning I sat up in bed and leaned out of the window; almost instantly the throbbing of the night life increased in rapidity even as my own heart beats had. Motors raced by and the foot passengers hurried home or to nearby raid shelters, policemen blew their whistles and the lights began going out. Then the pulsating, which had become a virtual race, settled down to a faint murmering as of distant waters and finally absolute quiet reigned except for an occasional taxi hurrying along in the darkness or a commanding voice from the street crying, “Put out that light.” Just as the lull before the storm this period of death-like quiet is the most terrifying part of the raid. Like the ruslting of the trembling leaves when the first gust disturbs their calm and heralds in the coming downpour even so was that first shaft of light which mounting skyward stood as a signal, followed by one search light after another, here, there and everywhere until the surrounding sky seemed filled with torrents of light; some waving to and fro and some standing still, others weaving a triangular web in which they hoped to enmesh the night raiders whose Engines could now be heard droning out the familiar O’ou-O’ou-O’ou. Suddenly almost beneath my window, BANG! WHR-ish! went an anti-air craft gun and the shell whistled up, up, and then burst into numerous fiery red particles flying in every direction. Afer a few seconds the report came back – just a distant, “Oh!”

    Then BANG! BANG! BANG! went the rest of the battery and soon the air was filled with the roar of the guns and the whir of the shells as every anti-aircraft battery in and about London put up the barrage which was a very curtain of fire around the city thru which the Huns dared not penatrate. For a half hour this kept up as Hun after Hun arrived and failing to break thru the barrage dropped his bombs near the suburbs and started home ward and all this time the broken fragments of shrapnell were falling on the roofs and in the streets like hail. When the Huns started away from the barrage they were not thru however for then the night flying home defense squadrons got in their work. Little sparks of red and bluish light could be seen chasing each other across the sky in groups of 20, 30, 40 or even a hundred, and I knew them to be tracer bullets from the machine guns of the airmen aloft. After a particularly long burst of these tracers from one gun I noticed a spark in the sky as if some one had lit a match and then it began growing larger and larger till suddenly flames shot up thirty or forty feet in the air and a Hun machine came whirling down in a mass of flames. Six other raiders were brought down that night before they reached the channell. It was some 20 minutes after the last raider had departed before the “All Clear” was sounded thru the streets and then the lights were turned on and people came pouring out of the tubes (underground railway stations) where they had taken shelter. Once more traffic was resumed and the city throbbed gently on. The last raid was over (but the Huns were the only ones who knew it; it had become too costly for even those spend thrifts of frightfullness.)

    The next day I was ferrying a machine to France and while crossing Kent flew over the wreckage of one of the Gothas which had been shot down by a night flying scout. It was a huge ugly looking machine painted all black, but now badly smashed and little resembling the machine that had started out so triumphantly not twenty four hours before on its murderous mission.”

    Sopwith Camel

    Lieutenant Rodney Williams, and the 17th Aero Squadron, would eventually make it to France. He would shoot down the squadron’s first aerial victory and eventually five total victories. He would also be wounded in the thigh during his last combat sortie, spending the last weeks of the war recuperating in England.

    Returning to Wisconsin, Williams would work as a salesman and manager at the Waukesha Airport. Later, he served as manager of the Jefferson County (Wisconsin) Dairy Improvement Association, retiring in 1971. He attended several reunions of World War I aviators. He died at the Wood Veterans Home in Milwaukee in 1972. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wisconsin) has on display a replica of Sopwith Camel D6595 that Williams flew while with the 17th. Williams was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2002.

  • Fritz Wolf: Badger State Ace

    Posted on January 28th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    The Wisconsin Veterans Museum unveiled a new World War II era exhibit, Fritz Wolf: Badger State Ace, during ceremonies yesterday afternoon, Friday, January 27. Fritz Wolf, a Shawano, Wisconsin, native and World War II naval aviator, flew with Claire Chennault and his fabled “Flying Tigers”. The exhibit includes numerous artifacts, photographs, and mementos from Wolf’s military service. A short video detailing a homecoming parade held upon his return from his AVG service in July 1942 completes the display. The exhibit will open to the public beginning Tuesday, January 31.

    Fritz Wolf exhibitThe new display is nestled among larger exhibits of the time period – Between the Wars, World War II, and Victory at Sea. This latter exhibit includes a large scale model of the USS Hornet (CV-8) outfitted with 16 North American B-25B aircraft of the April 1942 Doolittle Raid. Plans called for the B-25s to become an AVG bomber group in Chennault’s fledgling air force.

    Museum Director Michael Telzrow welcomed the score of visitors to the ceremony, sharing how the recently donated collection was obviously a labor of love for the Wolf family. He continued by saying, “It is a distinct honor to be selected as custodians of the rich and well-cared for collection.”  Wolf’s children, Catherine White, Linda Ryckeghem, and Richard Wolf, donated the collection to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum late last year. Telzrow then introduced the museum’s curator of history, Jeff Kollath. Kollath told of the Wolf materials’ depth and detail. He closed his comments stating, “The museum is most proud to exhibit the Wolf materials.”

    The Winter 2011 edition of The Bugle, quarterly publication of the museum, featured Fritz Wolf on its cover and included an article detailing his career. A reception for family and friends was held following the ceremony.

    Wisconsin Veterans Museum logoThe museum is unique in that it is a division of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. The Wisconsin legislature enacted law in 1901 requiring the state to establish a memorial dedicated to commemorating Wisconsin’s role in the Civil War and any other subsequent war. The museum meets the and exceeds the requirements of that law. Today, the museum’s exhibits include award-winning dioramas, full-scale replicas of Sopwith Camel and North American P-51 airplanes, a Huey UH-1 helicopter, and more. The current facility, located at 30 West Mifflin Street, on Madison’s Capitol Square, opened its doors June 6, 1993.The museum has 10,000 square feet of exhibit space with an additional 7,000 square feet of storage area. A gift shop, offices, lecture hall, meeting rooms, and a research area complete the museum’s facilities.

    Fritz Wolf was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) in 1989. Lance Sijan, a WAHF inductee in 2006, is also the subject of a Wisconsin Veterans Museum exhibit.

  • November is Aviation History Month

    Posted on November 9th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Jacques, experimented with filling paper and fabric bags with smoke and hot air during November, 1782. Their experiments continued, the balloons got bigger, and on June 4, 1783 they gave their first public demonstration. Their 28,000 cubic foot balloon, weighing about 500 pounds, lifted off from Annonay, France. The 10-minute flight covered a little over a mile. Jacques would be the first human to go aloft in a hot air balloon on October 15, 1783. The Montgolfier’s earliest experiments are recognized as the birth of aviation and are the reason we celebrate Aviation History Month in November. I want to share two stories with you today. One is an old story that is new to me, the other a more recent one.

    Hugh Robinson biography

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame has shared stories of Wisconsin’s First Great Year of Flight this fall. The year 1911 saw nine different aviators demonstrate various airplanes in 13 cities throughout the state. One of those pilots was Hugh Robinson. Robinson’s early background was very similar to many of aviation’s pioneers. He was mechanically inclined, owned a bicycle shop, designed and built engines and automobiles, and finally in 1907, built and flew a dirigible. The next year, while working as a chauffeur in Europe, he witnessed an aerial demonstration by Wilbur Wright.

    Upon returning home to St. Louis, Robinson designed and built a monoplane that he exhibited at the 1909 St. Louis Centennial Exhibition. He met Glenn Curtiss while there, they became fast friends, and before leaving Curtiss had offered Hugh a job. Robinson was a Curtiss exhibition pilot when he visited Wisconsin. He made stops in La Crosse and Prairie du Chein during the fall of 1911. Curtiss and Robinson collaborated on various projects until Curtiss’ death in 1930. Robinson died in 1963. Serious students of aviation history will want to read the book, Hugh Robinson, Pioneer Aviator, written by George L. Vergara.

    Lance Sijan story

    A native of Bay View, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb, Lance Sijan was a star athlete during high school. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1965. Completing flight training, he was assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron/366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang AFB, Vietnam. Visiting Bangkok, Thailand, during R&R, Sijan returned to Da Nang in early November. His first mission back was 44 years ago today – November 9, 1967. He would not return.

    The story of Sijan’s fateful mission, the attempted rescue, his 46-day survival on the jungle floor, his capture and ultimate death in the Hanoi Hilton is one that every American should know. Sijan is known by his peers as a hero. He was a 26-year-old midwestern boy next door. He was doing his duty. He died, living the military code of conduct. I don’t have many heroes, but Lance Peter Sijan is one of them. Learn more about Sijan and his story in the book, Into the Mouth of the Cat, by Malcolm McConnell.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Austin A. Straubel

    Posted on July 4th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Austin Straubel’s grandfather, H. August Straubel, was among the early settlers of Brown County, Wisconsin. His family put down roots in 1846, later he would join the army and fight in the Civil War. History would repeat itself in Austin’s life.

    Austin was born to Carl A. and Alice C. (Van Dycke) Straubel on September 14, 1904, one of four children and the couple’s only son. Austin played tackle on the Green Bay East High School’s football team. He attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where he continued playing football. After graduating in 1927, he returned to Green Bay and worked at his father’s business, Midwest Cold Storage.

    “He went to Oshkosh to take flying lessons,” his sister, Florence, revealed in an interview. “He didn’t exactly sneak off to learn to fly, but he didn’t broadcast it to our parents.” Steve Wittman may have been Straubel’s flight instructor as Wittman had recently been hired to operate the airport in Oshkosh.

    Straubel joined the Army Air Corps in 1928 and completed military pilot training in Texas and March Field, California. Among other postings, Straubel spent time in the Philippines during the 1930s before returning to the states for additional training.

    7th Bombardment Group

    7th Bombardment Group

    It was December 7, 1941, and Major Straubel was commanding the 11th Bombardment Squadron, part of the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and things had just gotten crazy. The group was stationed at Hamilton Field, California, and their ground support troops had sailed on November 21 for the Philippines. Straubel’s squadron was preparing for their flight to the Philippines. Confusion continued and amazingly, orders called for some aircraft to fly west while others flew east.

    Joined by the eight others in his crew, Straubel flew Consolidated LB-30 (B-24) AL-609, via the African route, arriving at Singasori Field, Malang, Java, at 1130 on January 11, 1942. They were part of a mixed group of B-17s and LB-30s, some of which flew the Pacific while others, like Straubel, flew the Atlantic. Immediately after arriving each crew went to work removing their aircraft’s long-range fuel tanks and correcting maintenance discrepancies.

    Five aircraft were assigned the group’s first mission on January 16. Straubel would lead three LB-30s and two B-17s. The Liberators were to bomb the airfield at Langoan while the Fortresses were to attack ships in Manado Bay. Straubel would earn the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts that day.

    Douglas B-18 "Bolo"
    Douglas B-18 “Bolo”

    On February 2, 1941, Major Straubel was joined by 2nd Lieutenant Russell M. Smith, copilot, and Staff Sergeant George W. Pickett, flight engineer. The three were flying a Douglas B-18 “Bolo” (36-338) to Bandung. Straubel, unhappy with the relationship between 5th Bomber Command and his 7th Bomb Group, had decided to meet with Major General Brereton, Deputy Chief of Staff. After meeting with Brereton, he departed for Malang with three passengers the next day. While flying through a pass near Surabaya, Straubel’s aircraft was attacked by Japanese Zeros and shot down. All aboard were killed in the crash or died shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital.

    Straubel was the first Brown County aviator to lose his life in World War II. The Brown County Airport Committee, in a March 20, 1946 letter, asked the Brown County Board of Supervisors to “consider naming the new Brown County Airport in memory of Austin Straubel.” The facility is widely known today as Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB). Straubel, buried in Java, was reinterred at Green Bay’s Woodlawn Cemetery on January 8, 1949.

  • Air Force Armament Museum

    Posted on April 20th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    A quick review of our Spring 2011 museum/history tour. We left Wisconsin on Friday, April 15. An RON in Paducah, Kentucky, set up our first history stop at the Shiloh National Military Park. After an early departure Saturday morning, we arrived at Shiloh about 3½ hours later. We toured the Interpretive Center, watched the 1950s era movie, Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle, and visited the bookstore. After a picnic lunch we toured the battlefield. We then continued south to Birmingham, Alabama, for our next overnight. After Ft. Rucker we drove to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida on Monday. We toured the National Museum of Naval Aviation yesterday.

    Entry at AF Armament Museum

    Plans for today called for a drive east to Eglin Air Force Base and the Air Force Armament Museum. Today was our third day in Florida and the Armament Museum is our third military aviation museum of the trip. The Air Force Armament Museum is located adjacent to Eglin AFB, just west of the main gate.

    The idea for an armament museum was approved by Eglin command staff in early 1974. Much like the Army Aviation Museum, a lack of facilities slowed the development process. Two years later, in 1976, the museum opened its doors for the first time, in a former Enlisted Club facility. The Air Force Armament Museum Foundation was established that same year. The on-base facility was closed in 1981 and the museum was again without a facility until 1985. In mid-November 1985 the museum again opened its doors, this time in a new 28,000-square-foot facility. The museum was now home.

    Gun Vault

    There are 25 aircraft displayed outside and four more inside the museum. In addition to the aircraft there are hundreds of munitions. A gun vault houses not only airborne guns but hundreds of pistols, rifles, carbines, and other munitions. Missiles and bombs are also well represented. A video tells the story of Eglin AFB and its role in munitions development.

    B-52G with Hound Dog

    The outside display included a Boeing B-52G Stratofortress or “BUFF” with a North American AGM-28B Hound Dog missile alongside. I spent six years working on the B-52H/Hound Dog system at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. The missile is displayed on a storage/transportation trailer but without the pylon (adapter between the missile and the bomber’s wing).

    AC-47 "Spooky"


    Other unique aircraft displayed outside include: Douglas AC-47 Gunship “Spooky”; the first Lockheed AC-130 Gunship “Spectre”, AF Serial No. 53-3129; a Martin B-57 “Canberra” and a Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Outside aircraft are a little weathered and suffer from bird droppings but these are minor distractions.

    AC-130 "Spectre"

    Inside exhibits include tributes to USAF Congressional Medal of Honor recipients including Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) inductees John Jerstad and Lance Sijan. Another exhibit was a tribute to the Doolittle Raiders. The “Raiders” did training and their aircraft were modified at Eglin early in 1942 prior to their April 18, 1942 Tokyo Raid. WAHF inductee Richard Knobloch was the copilot on Aircraft 13 – “The Avenger “.

    F-105 with munitions

    We enjoyed our time at the Air Force Armament Museum. Some of the displays are in need of minor repair while others are beginning to show their age. These are minor discrepancies and should not deter anyone from visiting.

  • National Museum of Naval Aviation

    Posted on April 19th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    We arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola (NAS-P) yesterday a little before noon. Check-in procedures were straightforward – after a paperwork review and vehicle inspection we were given our housing credentials and key. We were walking the very short distance from our “cottage” to the beach less than 45 minutes after arriving at the gate. Our long-time friend and host Tom Thomas had facilitated the process and made our extended visit possible.

    We spent some time on the beach. It was, after all, still winter back home in Wisconsin. We then took a brief tour of the air station. Our tentative plans for today were to watch the Blue Angels demonstration in the morning and then visit the museum. Forecasted low ceilings threatened the air show portion of those plans. After drinks and snacks with Tom and his family we returned to our cottage to dream of learning more about naval aviation and its history.

    National Museum of Naval Aviation

    It is right that we should visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation this year as it is naval aviation’s centennial. Four significant milestones in naval aviation history occurred in 1911.Eugene Ely landed aboard the USS Pennsylvania on January 18; Lt Theodore Ellyson flew with Glenn Curtiss in a hydroaeroplane on January 26; Captain Washington Irving Chambers drafted specifications for the Navy’s first aircraft on May 8; and the Navy’s first aircraft, the Curtiss A-1 Triad, first flew on July 1. May 8, 1911 is recognized as US Naval Aviation’s birthday.

    Blue Angels' demonstration flight

    The weather folks were correct. Today dawned with a fog that rose slowly to a low cloud base. The visibility increased only slightly faster. After breakfast and a wistful look at the gulf we headed to the flight line and what we hoped would be an air show. The US Navy Blue Angels call NAS Pensacola home. During the air show season, they practice to the delight of hundreds of adoring fans on an almost daily basis. Today was one of those days. Today’s flight demonstration (low, due to those pesky clouds) was unlike any of the other three we have seen previously. There is something about performing (playing) at home.

    Vought F4U Corsair restoration project

    After the air show, we slowly made our way past the nearly 50 aircraft displayed on the ramp between the flight line and the museum’s restoration hangar. The flight line is open for only a short period before and following the Blue’s demonstration. Other times a 20-minute trolley tour is available. The trolley departs from the museum’s main entrance. Sadly, tours of the restoration facility have been suspended.

    Curtiss A-1 Triad, the Navy's first aircraft

    The museum is open 9:00 to 5:00 daily. We arrived about 9:45, missing the initial crush. Guided tours are available throughout the day. The museum is, in a word, spectacular. The museum has nearly 300,000 square feet of exhibit space on a 37-acre campus. From the building’s architecture to the more than 150 display aircraft, from the I-Max Theatre to the simulators and trainers, the museum is educational, interactive, and inspiring.

    We had an early lunch at the Cubi Bar Café. The café is a recreation of the Cubi Point Officers Club in the Philippines that closed in 1992. More than a place to grab a quick sandwich and rush back to museum exhibits, the café provides visitors a unique glimpse of naval aviation history.

    Curtiss / Navy NC-4

    The museum has added an annex building, Hangar Bay One, displaying additional aircraft while a building that will house the National Flight Academy is nearing completion. We spoke with a number of docents and other volunteers. They were all, for the most part, Navy or Marine retirees who were happy to share their passion and knowledge of naval aviation and its history. We stopped at the Flight Deck Store and purchased, among other items, the soft-covered book, National Museum of Naval Aviation, the Aircraft Collection. We highly recommend that purchase.

    Blue Angels exhibit

    We ended the day sitting on the beach watching waves march tirelessly to shore, the shorebirds dodging the water as it slides up the sand, and navy aircraft returning to base after a training mission. US Navy aircraft have been in the pattern at NAS Pensacola since 1914, almost as long as naval aviation has existed. We can’t say enough about the National Museum of Naval Aviation. You must visit the museum and, if at all possible, visit the facility this year. Celebrate US Naval Aviation’s 100th year by experiencing its history firsthand.