One of the big surprises on our recent trip across the Midwest was the National Museum of the US Air Force. It wasn’t one of my choices, but it did end up being a favorite. I’ve been in enough military museums to know that there are always plenty of textiles, usually in the form of uniforms, but this one proved to be loaded with things of interest.
The museum is huge, and it begins with the earliest of days of aviation. It is appropriate that the museum is located in Dayton, the home of Wilbur and Orville Wright, pioneers of winged flight.
It’s important to note that the Wright Brothers got started in transportation with their bicycle shop in Dayton. Opened in 1892, by 1896 they were making their own brand of bikes. The bicycle was not just a toy; it was an important method of transport, and was especially embraced by women. I was happy to see an example of a Wright bicycle in the museum, and was especially happy to see that it was a woman’s bike.
Starting with World War I, there were plenty of uniforms on display. Most of these items belonged to Stephen Thompson of Dayton, and includes a sock with a bullet hole. Thompson was shot in the leg and because of the unavailability of medical help, he used his own pocket knife to remove the bullet. The bullet is there somewhere.
These items belonged to Lt. Robert Wanamaker, who survived the war, and Lt. Fred Morton, who did not. Wanamaker was shot down by German ace Ernst Udet who took some of the fabric from Wanamaker’s plane as a souvenir. Even though he was badly injured, Wanamaker autographed the scrap for Udet! When they met again in 1931, Udet returned the fabric to Wanamaker.
When the war ended, many french women embroidered banners in appreciation of all that American squandons had done in service to France. This illustration by George Barbier was in a 1919 issue of fashion magazine Gazette du Bon Ton.
The museum had a display of six of the banners. I’m sorry this photo is so poor as these were so beautiful.
As expected, there were lots of World War II leather jackets. Members of flight crews sometimes decorated their own jackets, but in many cases there was one member of a crew who became the unofficial designer. The jacket above was worn and decorated by Robert Dean of Dayton. All the bombs are dated and labeled.
Artists at the Walt Disney Studios designed many of the official squadron insignia.
You can’t really tell, but that is Donald Duck and his nephews on this jacket worn by nurse 1st Lt. Evelyn Ordway, on the bottom right of my photo.
All the above items were worn by nurses, most of whom flew on evacuation missions and tended to the wounded. It’s interesting how different the items the women wore for their work from the official uniforms.
The museum has a large display of items from woman flyers and pilots.
WASP stands for Women Airforce Service Pilots, a paramilitary group of women pilots who were trained to fly non-combat aircraft.
There was also an area dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen. This jacket belonged to Colonel Edward Gleed.
There was an interesting exhibit on the Holocaust, and the role of the Air Force in freeing captives in concentration and prisoner of war camps.
On a much lighter note, there was a nice tribute to comedian Bob Hope, who did fifty-seven tours for the USO, entertaining American troops.
During the Korean War, American airmen took to decorating their headgear. At the top, a Korean painter decorated this helmet with scenes from Korean life. The middle cap was painted with the Thunderbirds emblem. On the bottom cap, Major Joseph Turner kept a record of his 101 missions.
The museum does a really good job of showing a wide range of uniforms and personal artifacts. Had this museum just contained aircraft, I’ve have been looking for the nearest bar.
But even some of the “planes” were amusing. This is not a UFO; it’s an Avro Canada VZ-9AV Avrocar, a 1950s attempt at making a vertical takeoff craft. It was an expensive failure, but an fun ending to our visit.
The National Museum of the US Air Force is located at Wright Patterson air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s free and well worth a visit.