Viewport: Naval Aviation’s 100th Birthday
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2011
"Viewport," by National Air and Space Museum director J.R. Dailey, opens each issue of Air & Space magazine. The column highlights the Museum's ongoing efforts to preserve the history of aviation and spaceflight. This article appeared in the February/March 2011 issue of Air & Space.
Coral Sea. Midway. Leyte. The epic sea-air battles of World War II still largely define naval aviation in the public mind. In this centennial year, I look forward to the activities that will help us remember those events—but also to examinations of the significant developments that preceded them and of the progress made since. In the National Air and Space Museum, visitors will find artifacts from all eras of naval aviation.
At the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia, we exhibit a 1942 OS2U-3 Kingfisher scout, a 1959 F-8 Crusader, and a 1974 F-14 Tomcat. A 1912 Curtiss Model D pusher, similar to aircraft flown in the Navy’s earliest experiments, is in the Early Flight gallery in the Museum on the Mall. And in our gallery of Sea-Air Operations, one of the most famous aircraft from World War II is on display: the Douglas SBD Dauntless, the legendary dive bomber that sank four Japanese aircraft carriers during the 1942 Battle of Midway. You can read about the Dauntless in the feature “100 Years of Naval Aviation,” which recounts 10 historically important highlights in the century since the U.S. Navy bought its first airplane (p. 48). Choosing only 10 historic aircraft or events from a span of 100 years is a difficult task, and since the editors are bound to catch some flak for all the airplanes not included in their list, I’ll be the first to add one I think is important.
For stories of bravery and incredible airmanship, you can’t beat the Consolidated PBY Catalina, a long-range patrol bomber designed to find and attack enemy ships. During World War II, it saved thousands of lives. One Catalina pilot was awarded the Medal of Honor for a 1944 rescue operation conducted in stormy seas off the coast of New Guinea. He had put that big flying boat down three times in 18-foot swells to pick up B-25 crewmen shot down by the Japanese. Overloaded, with 24 people on board, and headed back to base, he received a radio message alerting him to another downed B-25. Back he went, to save six more airmen.
Stories like that remind us that it’s not the aircraft we celebrate as much as the people who flew them. We have invited several of those people to speak at evening events at the National Air and Space Museum throughout the coming year. Retired Rear Admiral Robert Shumacher, an F-8 Crusader pilot who was shot down and taken prisoner during Vietnam, will describe how American POWs supported one another through the ordeal. At the Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture, held every year in May, retired Rear Admiral Edward L. “Whitey” Feightner, a nine-victory World War II ace, will recount his experiences as a fighter pilot, an early Blue Angel, and a Navy test pilot. For a schedule of the evening lectures, check the Museum’s Web site: nasm.si.edu/events. And go to the magazine’s Web site, airspacemag.com, for 100 suggestions of ways to learn more about naval aviation.
J.R. Dailey is the director of the National Air and Space Museum.