CHAPTER 25. AVIATION

An invention that greatly changed the lives of Americans was that of the airplane. Although the Wright brothers made the first sustained, powered flight in 1903 and airplanes engaged in dog fights over Europe in the First World War, most observers regarded early aviation as belonging in the realm of inventors, military aviators, dare-devils, and barn-stormers. However, by the 1920s so many improvements had been made in airplanes that the wider public began to trust aviation.

New England Air Museum
Rt. 75, Bradley Airport, Windsor Locks, Connecticut
(Open daily 10-5, all year)

This museum has many airplanes on display. Unfortunately, many of them were damaged in October 1979 by a tornado that blew through the site. But there is still a lot to see here. For instance, there are many of the famous airplanes that fought in America's wars from World War II to Vietnam.

A number of important manufacturers and periods of time are represented here. The Douglass company produced a number of ground-attack aircraft, such as the Douglass A-26 Invader. The plane also served as a light bomber. With its devastating forward firepower of eighteen 0.5-inch guns, it supported the American drive into Germany during the winter of 1944-1945. This airplane, redesignated the B-26, also served in support of American operations in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The Douglass A-1 Skyraider proved its worth in the Korean War as the nation's best attack aircraft (used by the U.S. Navy). The A4D Skyhawk from Douglass is still another light attack aircraft used by the Navy.

The North American Company produced a number of outstanding fighter aircraft for the United States. Perhaps the most famous of these is the P-51 Mustang built in 1944. With its adoption in 1943 the Americans finally had a fighter with the range necessary to escort their heavy bombers to targets deep in Germany.

Another outstanding fighter was the Vought XF4U-4 Corsair, built in 1944. While the Mustang was used by the United States Army Air Force, the Corsair was used by the Navy in the war against the Japanese. Employing the most powerful engine available at the time, the Navy used the aircraft as a land-based fighter. In the Pacific it achieved an 11:1 kill:loss ratio. In addition, it played an important role in the Korean War where it was used as a ground-attack aircraft.

In the opening days of the Korean War the MIG-15 of the Communist forces proved in some respects superior to the American planes of the time. In 1952, however, American forces received the much superior and more maneuverable North American F-86F Sabre. The museum has an F-86A Sabre built in 1948.

Another outstanding plane from North American was the F-100A Super Sabre, which entered service in 1954. It was capable of sustained supersonic performance. The power necessary for this was provided by the development of the afterburner (where fuel is injected into the exhaust section to produce a thrust increase). You can also see the Vought F-8K Crusader (F8U-2), which was the first supersonic carrier-borne aircraft.

The Phantom was the single most important aircraft of the U.S. air forces in the 1960s and 1970s, playing an especially important role in the Vietnam War. The museum has an early version of the aircraft -- the McDonnell F-4A Phantom.

The museum also has quite a few small civilian planes. Look for the Granville A Gee Bee Sportster built in 1930. The Gee Bees were built in Springfield, Massachusetts and set air speed records for their times.

In addition, there is an exhibit area tracing the history of the development of the helicopter. Russian aircraft manufacturer and inventor, Igor Sikorsky, came to the United States in 1919. He set up a company at Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1939 Sikorsky was able to get his VS-300 helicopter a few feet off the ground, thus making the world's first practical helicopter. This invention led to the founding of the helicopter industry in the United States.

Other Sites to Visit

There are numerous sites to see in Hartford, Connecticut. See the Geographic Cross-Reference for a list of other sites to visit.

 

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