The B25 Mitchell is the kind of bomber used in the 1942 Doolittle Raid, as seen near the conclusion of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor and probably some other, better films.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our road trip to New Orleans continued as my wife and I spent much of Day 3 touring the National WWII Museum. Of all the buildings in the complex, the tallest was the most fascinating and contained the largest objects of all: half a dozen military airplanes suspended in midair.
(See that yellow-and-orange dot in the faraway window that kinda looks like a Ms. Pac-Man fruit? That’s my lovely wife.)
The U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center (a building enormous enough to command its own subtitle) was made possible by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and a $15 million donation from Boeing. This may literally be the most expensive non-skyscraper we’ve ever entered.
Sure, the Boeing Center’s tanks in the previous chapter were intimidating, but the first things you see are entire planes cruising overhead, strung from some rather powerful cables. These are not scale models.
If you stand in just the right positions, some of them look like they’re still in action, all swooping and divebombing. The Douglas SBD Dauntless was like the superstar of the Battle of Midway, at which several of these sank multiple Japanese battleships.
This particular SBD (at right) was recovered from Lake Michigan in 1990 after being lost in a 1944 training mission, and restored back to display condition. At left is a Vought F4U Corsair — lighter, faster, the aircraft of choice for the famous Black Sheep squadron.
The General Motors TBM Avenger is a torpedo bomber that also represented at the Battle of Midway. Unfortunately, only one of the six in attendance made it out intact. Future President George Bush the Elder flew one of these during the war. This one appears to be surveilling the gift shop.
The P-51 Mustang has an extensive resumé from WWII and all the decades after. This particular craft was one among the hundreds used by the Tuskegee Airmen, as seen in 2012’s Red Tails.
The largest plane in the pavilion is Boeing’s own pride and joy, the ubiquitous B17 Flying Fortress. This particular ship, dubbed “My Gal Sal”, made an emergency landing in Greenland in 1942 and wound up abandoned for over fifty years. And now it’s here and doing much better.
Famous names who piloted or manned B-17s during the war included Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Norman Lear, Tom Landry, and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. One of the more notable B17s, the Memphis Belle, played a sizable role in one of the books I bought from the Museum gift shops, on top of its starring role in an eponymous 1990 Matthew Modine film.
Down at ground level is the fuselage of a seventh plane, the B24 Liberator. With over 19,000 produced since the war, they’re reputedly the most produced American warplane in history. 2nd Lt. Louis Zamperini, subject of the book and film Unbroken, flew B-24s until his fateful crash in the Pacific.
The Boeing Center boasts four levels from which visitors can view their impressive collection, the third and fourth being merely catwalks. I went all the way up while Anne, not a fan of heights, drew the line at the second floor and waited patiently for me down below.
The perspective from the fourth floor provided a fun opportunity to take photos above the planes. How often does anyone have the opportunity to loom over two midair planes at once, instead of vice versa?
Meanwhile, several stories below, those formidable land vehicles keep getting smaller and smaller.
Once more, with feeling: planes!
As of this writing my wife and I have never flown before. A few weeks ago, we made plans that will change all that. When we took these photos in July, we had no idea we’d soon be facing the opportunity to step inside one of their large peacetime descendants. We loved this photo set in and of itself at the time, but in hindsight it’s taken on an added dimension that for me is exciting and frightening at the same time.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]