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ISSUE 175 - June 2011
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STRATEGIC AIR & SPACE MUSEUM
By Michael A. Likavec, Contributing Editor & Photographer
Chester, Virginia

On a hilltop, just off of I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska sits a building dedicated to preserving a unique part of our aviation history. The Strategic Air and Space Museum houses dozens of cold war aircraft, mostly those operated by the Strategic Air Command between the end of WWII and 1992, when SAC was succeeded by the U.S. Strategic Command, following the fall of the Soviet Union.

SAC is best remembered by many for its operation of the U.S. military fleet of long range bombers. Who can forget Jimmy Stewart as a B-36 commander in the 1955 movie, Strategic Air Command? That film, viewed by some as cold war propaganda, had some of the best air to air photography to come out of Hollywood. Stewart held a reserve commission in the Air Force when he made the film.

The first museum aircraft was delivered to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 1959. The name was changed from the Strategic Air Command Museum to the Strategic Air and Space Museum in 2001 to better recognize the full range of SAC activities, which included control of nuclear carrying ICBMs and other missiles.

Today the museum is housed in a 300,000 square foot facility which includes two giant aircraft hangers, an entrance atrium large enough to house an SR-71 Blackbird, a library, conference facilities, a gift shop, and a restaurant. The hangers don't seem so large until you realize that one of the two hangers has on display, not only the giant Convair B-36, but also a B-52 and at least a dozen other aircraft on the floor, along with simulators, support equipment and related displays. More classic warbirds hang from the rafters.

Dozens of books have been written about SAC's missions, aircraft and operations but to really appreciate these giants of aviation history, go to the museum and spend some time walking the now peaceful setting where these aircraft are preserved. Take some time to think about the men and women who kept these aircraft in the air 24 hours a day, everyday during the cold war.

If you can't visit the facility in person, take some time with these photos and our humble attempt to do justice to these great war machines and the fliers who piloted them around the world for more than four decades.

For additional information check the museum website: www.strategicairandspace.comThe museum is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m except for major holidays.

Fairchild C-119 aka the Flying Boxcar was operated by SAC from 1956 to 1973. Powered by Wright Radial engines developing 3500 hp each, the Boxcar had a payload of 30,000 lbs and could fly more than 2000 miles at 250 mph. Fifty six C-119s were pulled from mothballs and were flown in Viet Nam. These transports have now been replaced by newer, heavier and more complex aircraft but they have earned their standing in military history. This C-119 is now housed in hanger B at the Museum

 

SR-71 Blackbird in the Museum Atrium. The Blackbird was operated by SAC from 1966-1991. Some operational information on the SR-71 remains classified.

 

Overview of the floor in Hanger A. In the foreground is the F-101 fighter. Other aircraft in hanger A include the B-52, B-36. B47 and the B-58.

 

In additional to long range bomber missions SAC also had operational responsibility for ICBM and other missiles. Among others, SAC controlled Atlas, Jupiter and Minuteman missiles.

 

In addition to the SAC aircraft, the Museum offers numerous displays of training and support equipment. Visitors can get a close up feel for the B-52 panel in this training simulator.

 

Hanging from the ceiling of Hanger A is a pristine example of the U-2 spy plane. The U-2 was in operation by SAC from 1962 to 1991. The U-2 became the focus of international attention when Gary Francis Powers was shot down over Soviet territory in the spy aircraft on May 1, 1960, just weeks before a scheduled U.S. Soviet summit.
 
Michael A. Likavec, Contributing Editor & Photographer

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