Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dayton and the USAF Museum

OK, finally getting to the Dayton trip. We went to the Air Force Museum (now they want you to call it the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, but whatever.) Stopped by a rest area on I-71 on the way down and got a shot of a nice Blue Star Highway sign. These memorial highways are all over the country; the Wikipedia article doesn't list I-71.

Then to Dayton. The AF Museum is just a nice place to be. It's big, dark and clean. It smells like floor cleaner with a faint whiff of hydraulic fluid (you can never completely drain that stuff from the planes, and it doesn't evaporate like fuel does.) It has that Midwestern vibe.

Attraction number 1, and the main reason for the trip, was the spy satellites. Of course these are not flight articles (only bits of those were returned intact from space; I'll get to that later.) These are new to the museum since I last visited in 2011. They were classified Top Secret until last year, when they were unveiled at a big ceremony in Virginia marking the 50th anniversary of the National Reconnaissance Office, which built and operated them. Here's a KH-7 Gambit 1. 38 of these were launched between 1963 and 1967 to spy on the Russkies and other bad guys. They could shoot down our U-2s but they couldn't stop our eyes in space. That bulbous thing on the nose is the film return vehicle. The pictures were taken on physical film and sent back to Earth in an honest-to-God re-entry vehicle snagged by a C-119 aircraft as it parachuted down. (The museum has a C-119 as well, but interestingly, the descriptive sign still states it was used to recover "Discoverer XIV", which was the cover name given to some of the early spy satellites.)

Here's my son and me in a foggy picture of (part) of a KH-9 Hexagon. This baby is huge, about the length of a city bus.

It has four film return vehicles. The displayed article shows the vehicles in various states of disassembly so you can see the "guts". 

Oh, by the way, here's the Apollo 15 command module:

And here, in the R&D/Presidential gallery, is the only XB-70 you can see anywhere in the world. This triple-sonic, delta-winged, six-engined bomber was known informally as the "Jesus Christ" airplane, because that's what people said when they first saw it.

The R&D/Presidential galleries require verification of US Citizenship and a short bus ride. In there you'll also find the Boeing 707 (military designation VC-137C) used as Air Force One from 1962-1972. This was the plane that brought JFK to (and from) Dallas in 1963. It's the plane where that famous photo of LBJ taking the oath of office was taken. You can walk right through the plane and stand on the very spot of the event -- spooky!

At least you could. As of today (May 1), these galleries are closed to the public because, the AF tells us, of sequestration budget cuts. These kinds of inconveniences, which save virtually no money, are the doings of a rogue government lashing out at the taxpaying hand that feeds it. Anyway.

Here's the manufacturer's plate on the business end of the X-15's rocket engine. The plate says it was made in Denville, New Jersey. Today, not only is there no Reaction Motors Division of Thiokol Chemical Corp., the facility at Denville, New Jersey is an office park. The Denville Wikipedia page states proudly that the game of flag rugby was first played there, but says nothing about building the engine for the fastest airplane ever flown. But here is a good history of what went on there. I find it interesting that the company's first offices were in a bicycle shop. The Wrights would have approved.

And just for the hell of it, here's the Ryan X-13 Vertijet. Yep, it takes off like that - no runway needed. My son loved this one, but the Air Force didn't. Nothing like this airplane ever went into operation. The Ryan Aeronautical Company, founded in 1934 in San Diego, merged with Teledyne in 1969 and then Northrop Grumman in 1999.  

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