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The First Steps: Early Years at the National Museum of the USAF

Written by on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

There are quite a few exhibits in the National Museum of the United States Air Force, but on our virtual tour the best place to start is in the Early Years section. Spanning the years between 1901 and 1941, this portion of the museum displays some of the world’s first aircraft.

And where better to start than with the Wright Brothers? The first area you’ll meet upon entering the exhibit details the struggles the Wright Brothers overcome on their quest to master heavier-than-air flight. Here, you will find the Wright Bicycle, the device that inspired the Wright Brothers to begin their journey, as well as their wind tunnel, the early-day equivalent a modern cornerstone of aeronautical engineering.

Sitting across from these two artifacts is the Wright Military Flyer, the US Army’s first heavier-than-air military aircraft. Purchased for $30,000 in 1909, the Military Flyer remained the Army’s sole flyer for almost two years. Though the US Air Force had not yet been created, this famous aircraft was where its story began.

Further along in the exhibit are some of the world’s first biplanes, such as the training aircraft Standard J and the WWI fighter plane SPAD VII, which went up against the German Fokker DR.I.

Travelling deeper into the museum, it is easy to visually track the progression of aeronautic technology. Here, you will find much more complicated and advanced aircraft, such as the night bomber Martin MB-2, the all-metal Martin M-10, and the Royal Air Force’s Hawker Hurricane. And floating high above its heavier rivals is the massive Caquot Observation Balloon, which allowed US troops to see as far as 40 miles behind enemy lines.

While it may be easy to get lost in awe amid all of these massive planes, do not overlook any of the historic videos. You’ll also find the uniform of the US Army’s first enlisted airman, advanced military wind tunnels, and early bomb sights.

The Early Years section exits at the “Faces of the Holocaust” memorial, which offers chilling descriptions of German concentration camps through the words of deployed US soldiers, so parental discretion advised if you bring your kids. The memorial marks the divide between the simplistic, inelegant aircraft of WW1 to the perfected machines of mass destruction common in WW2.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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