Monday, September 21, 2009

Tractors, Airplanes and Railroads - Day 2

Day 2 of our whirlwind vacation found us in Omaha, NE. The Strategic Air and Space Museum is located near there (in Ashland, NE). It is an awesome museum and I hope to illustrate why I think so.

The entrance to the Strategic Air and Space Museum

From 1946 until 1992, the Strategic Air Command headquarters (SAC) were at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. I had one of those dream jobs that ultimately was controlled by SAC's existence. SAC was in charge of the U.S. land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based ICBM missiles. SAC also supported the refueling tankers we all see in the U.S. Air Force commercials. These huge tankers refueled air craft in-flight: bombers, strategic aircraft, fighter escorts. In 1992, the "Cold War" ended, hence SAC was no longer needed. Or so we thought.

The museum houses many aircraft, all my favorites. I love learning that the B-36 (the Peacemaker) and the B-47 (the Stratojet) were needed during World War II when US thought that Britain would fall to the Axis Powers. In 1941, we believed we would no longer have nearby airstrips to launch our bombers, so that meant we needed longer range bombers. However, neither the B-36 nor the B-47 actually became usable until the War was over.

A B-36 crew consisted of a small city: a pilot, copilot, two navigators, bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, radar operator, two ECM operators and five gunners (15 crew members in all!).
The B-47 was totally different - swept wing, it needed only a crew of only 3. Eventually, one third of all B-47 were kept on alert at all time.

There is so much more about the two aircraft! The B-36's nickname was the “Magnesium Monster”. Lieutenant General James Edmundson likened it to "...sitting on your front porch and flying your house around. Both the B-36 and the B-47 were the featured aircrafts in the Jimmy Stewart movie "Strategic Air Command".

But I want to take you on to the SR-71 Blackbird. It is the aircraft I still cherish. The SAAM has an SR-71 right in its lobby - hard to miss, impossible to walk around.

The "SR" stands for strategic reconnaissance. AKA, a spy plane. Not a bomber, not a fighter.

The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. It was retired twice, with the permanent retirement sticking in 1998. Plenty of history has been written about the Blackbird - much can be found with a simple Google search. But just walking by it takes your breath away.

I don't like the 'why' of these aircraft existence. My admiration shines, though, in the crews who believed in these aircraft. As afraid as a crew-member might be, he trusted his plane. I totally detest war, I hate it all. But the aircraft - well, they are awesome. If we can build these...

So, back to the museum... don't miss it if you are ever in Ashland/Omaha area. I bet you meet a fellow visitor with real life experience on one of the aircraft. Talk to them - their stories enrich everything, including your day! We will never live the history these people have.

"Peace is our profession" - The SAC motto.

If you glance through the structure windows as you leave, you can catch one last look at the Blackbird.
Why not look? It is a masterpiece.

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