STRATEGIC AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

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One of my hobbies is studying the history of the Cold War. In late November and early December of 2006, my wife and I took a trip that combined visiting our out-of-town children/grandchildren with visits to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, KS, and the Strategic air and Space Museum which is outside Omaha, NE. I have been to the Air Force Museum many times, but this was my first visit to the other two.

The privately funded Strategic Air and Space Museum opened in 1996 as a place to preserve the many aircraft that the Strategic Air Command had previously displayed outdoors at Offutt AFB. This impressive structure contains samples of the aircraft, spacecraft, weapons, and components that were essential to winning the Cold War. The museum is not as "polished" as the Air Force Museum and many of the aircraft on display are still in need of some additional restoration. But, considering that there are no tax dollars involved, it is truly remarkable. The volunteer staff is extremely enthusiastic and friendly. Our guided tour was conducted by an extremely knowledgeable veteran of the Korean War. If you haven't been to this facility yet, I would highly recommend planning a trip.

Strategic Air and Space Museum

The building is striking and the ICBMs outside set the tone of military might.

SR-71

The first sight upon entering is this magnificent SR-71. It is resting on three podiums in such a way that it is level with the mezzanine on which the main entrance is located. (Thanks to Dale for the correction that it is on podiums rather than suspended from the ceiling.)

SR-71

Here's another view of the world's fastest production airplane. Note the holiday decorations that were in place during our late November visit.

SR-71 Engine

Upon descending the stairs to the main exhibit floor, one immediately finds of the engines from the SR-71. Anyone even vaguely familiar with turbojet engines will recognize that this is no ordinary engine.

If you want to know more about the SR-71, here's a great book that I'm presently reading. It's "Lockheed Blackbird" by Paul F. Crickmore. It covers everything from the technical aspects of the airplane to detailed descriptions of many missions. some of the material has been recently declassified. It's a great read! You can help support his site by ordering it from Amazon using the link to the right.
 

U-2

This U-2 is also suspended over the exhibit floor. Though having a very similar mission to the SR-71, the aerodynamics in this airplane are markedly different. Both the U-2 and the SR-71 are both products of the legendary "Skunk Works" of Lockheed. Kelly Johnson directed both of these projects as well as the P-38 Lightning of WWII fame.

U-2 mirror

The U-2 is the only aircraft produced with a factory installed external mirror. Our tour guide explained that is was to determine whether or not the U-2 was leaving a contrail. If a contrail was visible, the pilot would adjust the exhaust temperature to eliminate the tell-tale track.

RB-45

This reconnaissance bird goes back beyond the U-2. In the early 1950s as the Cold War developed, the United States had a pressing need for information about the location of military installations and other strategically important facilities in the Soviet Union. The fledgling Strategic Air Command had the best and most powerful long-range strike capability in the world, but there was a problem. The location of strategically important targets was mostly unknown. Brave crews flew extremely secret and hazardous missions over and along the borders of the USSR Many of these crews never returned and their fate has never been learned. Only recently has information about these missions become public.

Albatross

One of the most pristine airplanes in the museum is this Albatross. Airplanes like this one flew the search and rescue missions for airmen downed at sea during the 1950s and into the 1960s. Many lives were saved the Albatross crews who risked enemy fire and rough seas to save the downed combat or recon crews.

F-101 Voodoo

I grew up about five miles from Griffiss AFB in upstate New York. Sleek (for their time) jets like this F-101B "Voodoo" helped to shape my fascination with aviation. The 49th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Griffiss provided defense against Soviet bombers that might have attacked over the North Pole and through Canada. As a young boy, watching a "scramble" of fighters and SAC bombers was a real thrill. Of course, I had no idea how deadly serious the Cold War could become at any moment.

F-102

Another fighter/interceptor operated by the 49th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Griffiss was the F-102. This delta winged beauty also captured my imagination as a young boy.

F-84

This gorgeous F-84 is an example of one of America's earliest jet fighters.

KC-97 tanker

Aerial refueling was and still is critical to long range missions. The first large-capacity, production tanker was the KC-97. The mismatch between the high performance jets that needed refueling and the lower performance piston-powered tanker, made for many challenges for both crews.

KC-97 boom

This is a view of the boom operator's station in the rear of the KC97. The museum does a great job of explaining the operation of the "flying boom", including a separate boom with the inner workings exposed mounted on a stand below the attached boom. The separate display boom can be seen in the lower portion of the picture.

KC-97G

This side view of the KC-97G tanker shows the extended engine nacelles which covered the massive Pratt and Whitney R-4360 radial engines. One of these engines can be seen on a stand beneath the wing.

P&W Wasp Major R-4360

This cutaway of the Pratt and Whitney "Wasp Major" R-4360 engine shows the inner components of this beast. It was used not only in the KC-97 tanker, but also in the B-36, XB-35 Flying Wing, the C-124 Globemaster, and the C-119 Flying Boxcar. It represents the most technically advanced and complex reciprocating engine ever mass produced in the United States. This engine was not available until shortly after the end of WWII. It was in the Air Force Inventory until the early 1970s.

P&W Wasp Major R-4360

This view shows the opposite side of the "Wasp Major" R-4360 engine. For those not familiar with piston engine terminology, the "R" indicates that it is a radial engine (cylinders mounted around the center of the engine like spokes on a wheel). The number, in this case 4360, indicates the displacement of the engine in cubic inches. By comparison, a Ford Mustang GT engine has about 350 cubic inches of displacement. The engine weighs more than 3400 pounds and develops a maximum of 3500 horsepower. It contains an internal gear-supercharger. The following additional information was submitted by Ross: The R-4360 had several variants including the:R-4360-25 with 3000 takeoff horsepower, R-4360-4 had 3500 horsepower, R-4360-53, -59, and -63 had 3800 horsepower, and the -59B had 4300 max horsepower.

P&W Double Wasp R-2800

While on the subject of engines, this Pratt and Whitney "Double Wasp" engine was one of the major workhorses of WWII and the early years of the Cold War. Designated the R-2800, it has 18 cylinders and a displacement of 2800 cubic inches and produced up to 2800 horsepower. Achieving one horsepower for each cubic inch of displacement was considered quite an engineering feat at the time. It powered many legendary airplanes such as the F-4U Corsair, the P-47, the F-6 Hellcat, the B-26 Marauder, the A-26 Invader, the DC-6, and the Lockheed Constellation. And, thanks to reader Rick Ward for pointing out my omission of the C-124 Globemaster in this section.

B-36

Here is the first bomber specifically designed to carry nuclear weapons. It is the B-36 "Peacemaker". Though the name may seem odd for an airplane with such devastating power, it was quite fitting. Once the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1950, the military strategy of the United States shifted to deterrence rather than winning a third world war. This airplane put all of the major cities of the USSR within range of U.S. nuclear-armed air power and made the prospect of war very uninviting. The airplane bridged the gap between piston and jet power for bombers. It has six of the Pratt and Whitney "Wasp Major" piston engines mounted in a pusher configuration plus four turbojet engines mounted under the wings. Remember that each of the piston engines has 28 cylinders so this airplane has a total of 168 cylinders plus four jet engines! The flight engineer was a very busy person with 168 cylinder head temperatures gages to watch plus the EPRs and exhaust temp indicators for the jet engines. Plus, there was fuel flow, oil pressure, and lots more to go wrong.

Mk-36 Hydrogen Bomb

This is the casing of the Mk36 hydrogen bomb. It is an example of early U.S. nuclear devices such as those carried aboard the B-36 bombers.

Goblin

Long range bombers like the B-36 encountered another problem when it came to war planning. They were in need of fighter protection, but there were no fighters with nearly enough range to escort them. This XF-85 "Parasite" or "Goblin" was tested as a possible solution to the problem. The small fighter was to be carried on a trapeze arrangement in the bomb bays of several of the B-36s that would accompany the nuclear armed bombers. If attacked by enemy fighters, the "Goblins" or "Parasites" would be released, start their turbojet engines, and protect the formation of bombers. Once the battle was over, they would fly in close formation below the bomber and maneuver the large hook back onto the trapeze arrangement so that they could be pulled back into the bomb bay for the ride home. Note the lack of landing gear on the XF-85. The project was abandoned due to extreme difficulty in re-connecting with the bomber. The turbulence beneath the massive B-36 was just too great for the delicate maneuvering needed. Now I've often said that I would fly anything with wings, but the prospect of being the pilot of the XF-85 just doesn't seem like a good idea.

B-52 Cockpit

The real workhorse of the Cold War (and Vietnam, and the first Gulf war and Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq) was the mighty B-52. The museum has a B-52 on floor display, but I somehow neglected to get a picture of it. their "BUFF" is a little rough and still in need of some restoration. But this cockpit more than makes up for that! It is right on the floor for visitors to climb in! I have not seen a B-52 cockpit available for the public at any of the other aviation museums I have visited, including the Air Force Museum in Dayton.

B-52 Cockpit

Here's a closer shot of the B-52 cockpit. I sat in the cockpit and imagined what it was like for those Cold Warriors in the alert facility to hear the claxon, run to their airplanes and get airborne within minutes. They did all this not knowing whether the claxon signaled a drill, a false alarm, or the beginning of WW III. The museum also has simulators for some of the other crew positions in the B-52 but they are in unlit glass cases and can't be easily seen nor photographed. Hopefully, they will correct this. I only wish that I lived closer to the museum so I could volunteer there and help with some of the work that needs to be done.

If you are a "cockpit nut" like I am, here's a book that I keep close at hand for ready reference. It is "Cockpits of the Cold War" by Donald Nijboer. It's filled with full-color photos and great narrative. It includes both Nato and Warsaw Pact aircraft. You can help support this site by ordering it from Amazon using the link on the right.
 

Quail Missile

As a teenager around Griffiss AFB, a Quail missile like this one slung beneath the wing of a B-52 was a familiar sight. The Quail was actually a decoy. It was powered by a General Electric turbojet engine, the same engine that went on to power the T-38. Intended to be released by the B-52 as it approached hostile territory, it would fly in formation with the bomber and provide electronic countermeasures. It was designed to mimic the performance and radar signature of the B-52. The Quail was in service for more than 10 years.

The following correction was submitted by Richard Thorne, MSGT USAF ret.
"Just a couple of minor corrections from someone who was there.  The Quail was carried in a "Pack" of four missiles carried in the rear bombay of the B52s.  The wings were folded to conserve space.  The pack contained tracks that unfolded and extended below the bombay doors.  The missile was attached to a "Carriage" containing motors that took the missile down the extended tracks.  At the end of it's travel the wings would spread and the small jet engine, using ram air to turn the compressor, would start.  If all systems were operational the little missile was released and began its preset flight pattern.  All this was performed automatically without any computers.

Secondly, The J-47 jet engines utilized on the B36 did not use the EPR (engine pressure ratio) system to monitor engine performance.  The J-47 was considered to be performing properly if the RPM was between 98 to 100 percent of max RPM and did not exceed exhaust gas temperature limits.  The first engine to use the EPR system was the Pratt & Whitney J-57 used on the B52 and other aircraft."
Thanks, Richard! GB

If you are as much a fan of the B-52 as I am, here's a book you will love! Boeing B-52 Stratofortress provides information of the development and deployment of this workhorse. It covers the early days of the Cold War up to operations in the first Gulf War. You can help support this site by ordering it from Amazon using the link to the right.
 

B-58 Hustler

Here is a little known but very interesting Cold War bomber. It is the B-58 "Hustler". This delta wing, supersonic bomber was built for low-level penetration of Soviet defenses. Both the nuclear weapon and the auxiliary fuel were carried in the pod below the fuselage. This was the first airplane to employ a crew module ejection system rather than individual ejection seats. For a variety of reasons, the B-58 was only operational for a few years. My knowledge of this fascinating airplane is lacking and I intend to study up on it in the near future.

Thanks to Gregory Matson for the following correction: Regarding the B-58 ejection system.  It was not a crew system.  However due to the Mach #'s the plane was expected to see they had an individual ejection system that was a capsule where a clamshell like device would come down rotating from head to foot.

MiG 21

The MiG series of Soviet fighters were the constant nemesis of America's warplanes throughout the Cold War. This MiG 21 provides a contrast between the sophisticated design of U.S. fighters and the spartan Soviet design philosophy. However, the spartan appearance does not mean that they were not formidable adversaries.

MiG 21

The MiG 21 on display sports the markings of North Vietnam. Note the speed brake extended below the fuselage.

FB-111

The FB-111 "Aardvark" had a rocky start. Dogmatic Secretary of Defense Mac Namara decreed that the Air Force and the Navy would both use the same fighter airplane and the F-111 was produced by General Dynamics. The problem was that the design served neither branch very well. Eventually, the Air Force took this modified version, the FB-111A as a low-level penetration nuclear-capable bomber. It was also America's first production swing-wing airplane. The FB-111 drew first blood when President Reagan ordered a strike on the Lybian dictator Moammar Ghadafi in 1986. It continued in SAC's inventory as a medium bomber into the 1990s. Reader comment from Tim S.: "FB-111's were used by SAC and never flew an actual combat mission. USAFE F-111F's and EF-111A's were used on the strike on Libya." Reader comment from Kevin C.: "The FB-111 saw combat quite some time before the Reagan years.  The aircraft was deployed in Vietnam in the early 70s.  A few of the early delivery FB-111s crashed in Vietnam due to engine failure.  Once the engine problems were worked out, the FB-111 flew with distinction for its brief run in Vietnam.  I don't recall the exact figures, but I remember reading that the FB-111 had the best survival record of all aircraft in Vietnam, with the United States losing only six aircraft over thousands of sorties."

B-1 Bomber

The B-1 is another supersonic bomber of cold War fame. Production of the B-1A was cancelled by President Carter but the B-1B was introduced during the Reagan administration. The B-1B is still in the inventory having seen action in every skirmish since the first Gulf war.

Thanks to Brett Redemske for the following additional information: "One interesting thing I thought you could add about the B-1A is that this plane was used as a test bed for the B-1B avionics and electronics packages. It is also 1 of 2 surviving aircraft. 4 "A" models were produced before the project was cancelled." (Brett, I tried to answer your email but my reply was bounced back - thanks for the info!)

British Vulcan

This British Avro Hawker Siddeley Mk. II "Vulcan" is a rare sight on U.S. soil. It was Britain's largest operational combat aircraft and was designed for strike and strategic reconnaissance roles. It saw action in the 1982 Falklands Islands conflict. This airplane is one of only three Vulcans on display in the United States.

I apologize for my negligence in not getting photos of the venerable B-47. It served as America's first all jet bomber and was a great deterrent weapon. A variant of the B-47, the RB-47 served a valuable reconnaissance role during the early Cold War. If you are interested in aerial reconnaissance, a must-read book is "By Any Means Necessary" by William E. Burrows. This non-fiction work is more exciting than most techno-thrillers and includes stories that have been only recently declassified. You can help support this site by ordering it from Amazon using the link to the right.

 

T-33

This T-33 isn't typically thought of as a warplane, but it played a very important role in the Cold War. It served as a trainer, personal airplane of sorts for some VIPs, manned target for interceptor training, plus a variety of additional duties.

ERCS Satellite

This Emergency Rocket Communication System (ERCS) could arguably be called a "doomsday weapon". Its mission was to provide SAC with an emergency line of communication to its missile squadrons in the event that direct communications were cutoff. In the case of a loss of direct communications under attack, SAC would activate the satellite, which would play its prerecorded message allowing a retaliatory strike. The system was in use from 1967 till 1991.

If the space race is your thing, here's a great book that I read last year. "Two Sides of the Moon" details the parallel moon races conducted by the U.S. and the USSR. Astronaut David Scott and Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov tell their personal stories as they each participated in their country's space program. The chapters alternate from one author to the other so that the timeline can be compared. You can help support this site by using the link on the right to order it from Amazon.  

Titan II Re-entry Vehicle

Another space item is this Titan II Re-entry vehicle RV shield. It was used to protect the Titan II nuclear warhead system from excessive re-entry heat and electro magnetic pulse during flight.

I am fascinated by the history of the Cold War. One of the most intriguing aspects of this dangerous time in our history is how close we came to nuclear war, not just once, but many times. Everyone knows about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, but this book includes the inside story of many more close calls. Thomas C. Reed is a former Secretary of the Air Force and does a remarkable job of putting the Cold War era in perspective. you know this book is legit since it includes an introduction by former President George Bush. The book is "At the Abyss - An Insider's History of the Cold War" and you can help support this site by using the link to the right to order it from Amazon.  

Colin Powell quote

This monument preserves the tribute that Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid to the Strategic air command upon its decommissioning on June 2, 1992.

As a young boy growing up in the shadow of a SAC base, I became enamored with the Air Force and the Strategic Air Command in particular. I read this book last year and I still take it out and refresh my memory with a passage or two from time to time. It includes a rather comprehensive history of SAC, including many little known sub-histories. It is called "A Cold War Legacy - A Tribute to the Strategic Air Command". I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can help support this site by using the link to the right to order it from Amazon.
 

 

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