Category Archives: Aviation

Celebrating 70 Years of “Aiming High” at the U.S. Air Force Memorial

September 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force, which was formally established as a separate military service by the National Security Act of 1947. Previously, various ground-based air reconnaissance, combat and support units had existed as part of the U.S. Army.

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The U.S. Air Force celebrates its 70th Anniversary in 2017.

What better way to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Air Force than to visit the Air Force Memorial?

Given the relative young age of the Air Force (compared to Army, Navy and Marine Corps, which were all established in 1775), it is rather understandable that for most of its existence, the Air Force had no memorial of its own.

In 1991, leaders of two Air Force veterans’ organizations began an effort to build a memorial to those who served in the Air Force and its predecessor organizations.

The memorial sits in Arlington, Virginia along a high ridge adjoining Interstate 395, the main southern arterial into Washington, D.C. With views of the Potomac River, Pentagon, and other official buildings spread out below, this location fittingly evokes the aerial nature of the Air Force mission. Arriving and departing aircraft from nearby Reagan National Airport add to the effect.

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Official Washington as seen from the U.S. Air Force Memorial.

Architect James Ingo Freed, (who also designed Washington’s Holocaust Museum) studied how to use the physical location to capture the essence of the Air Force and the dedication of the men and women who have served in its ranks. The resulting venue is sleek and streamlined, with minimal adornment and flourish, as if inspired by a modern aircraft.

The most prominent feature of the memorial is three vertical, arc shaped steel spires, meant to evoke the image of soaring flight. The spires are arranged in a triangular pattern with the highest reaching up to 270 feet.

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The Air Force Memorial’s most prominent feature, three steel spires reaching skyward.

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The U.S. Air Force “Thunderbirds” perform the High Bomb Burst maneuver.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

The spires are also reminiscent of a contrail pattern formed by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Air Demonstration Squadron as they perform their “breaking bomb” maneuver. The lack of a fourth spire alludes to the “missing man” formation, used by Air Force flying units at funerals and other events to mark the loss of a comrade. Given their height and prominence, the spires have also added an additional landmark to the Washington, D.C. skyline.

Just to the west of the spires is a wide walkway connecting two highly polished granite inscription walls. The northern wall lists Air Force Medal of Honor winners. In front of it is a small glass contemplation wall to remember our airmen who are no longer present.

Commemoration Wall

Mementos left at the base of the memorial’s contemplation wall

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The visage of one airman from the honor guard sculpture.

On the opposite southern wall are displayed the Air Force’s core values:

Integrity first,

Service before self,

Excellence in all we do

In front of the southern wall is a sculpture of a four-member Air Force honor guard, keeping watch over the Memorial and adding a human element to the lofty arches and inspired words.

The colors of the Memorial’s features are muted, again like a modern aircraft, metallic spires, polished dark granite walls, gray statues, and the glass contemplation wall. The only other prominent color is green, from the manicured lawn and the trees ringing the parking lot.

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The honor guard sculpture and spires reflected in the southern inscription wall.

Woman and FlagsWhile most aspects of the memorial are clearly visible, one is not: silence.

A certain stillness permeates the venue, bringing a sense of quiet to a busy corner of Arlington. Given this setting, along with the views, designs and significance of the memorial to members of the Air Force, it is a common location for promotions, concerts and other special ceremonies, so you may be sharing your visit with larger gatherings and even the Air Force Band.

(You can check event calendar for a listing of special events at the memorial.)

Some visitors, upon seeing the Memorial for the first time, remark about its unique designs and features and how they are relevant to the Air Force experience. President George W. Bush addressed this in his remarks at the memorial’s dedication on October 14, 2006.

He said: “A soldier can walk the battlefields where he once fought, a Marine can walk the beaches he once stormed; but an airman can never visit the patch of sky he raced across on a mission to defend freedom. And so, it’s fitting that…the men and women of the Air Force will have this memorial, a place here on the ground that recognizes their achievements and sacrifices in the skies above”.

Spires and Sky

The U.S. Air Force Memorial is located at 1 Air Force Memorial Drive, Arlington, VA, 22204. The memorial is free and open every day but December 25. Daily hours of operation from October 1 through March 31 are 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM and from April 1 through September 30 are 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM.

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Route Recon

The Air Force Memorial is easily reached by car, from the Pentagon or Pentagon City Metro stations or bus. From Visit the Air Force District of Washington Website for more information.

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Mess Call

The nearby Pentagon City neighborhood has a wide variety of dining options. Pentagon City is located about 1 mile from the Air Force Memorial. When exiting the Memorial, take a left onto Columbia Pike. At the first intersection, take a right on Joyce Street and cross underneath I-395 and you will enter Pentagon City. Take a left on Army-Navy Drive and you will see several parking garages on your right.

Experience the Great War Above the Trenches at the National Air and Space Museum

The list of ‘Must Sees” for most Washington, DC visitors includes the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It is one of the city’s most visited attractions, welcoming over 6 million people each year. It is easy to understand why. It is near the Mall, admission is free and the extensive collection of all things that fly attracts people of all ages. There are literally thousands of items on display, as well as a planetarium, an IMAX movie theater and flight simulators.

Some of the best military-themed exhibits within easy walking distance of the Mall can be found at NASM. In 1991, NASM opened Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air examining the budding role of aviation during the First World War. The exhibit contrasts the romanticized view of the experiences of World War I pilots with the starker reality of combat aviation. The exhibit entices you to enter with a bright red movie theater façade, complete with flashing marquee and similarly colored Pfalz D.XII fighter aircraft suspended overhead.

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This Pfalz D.XIII Fighter is painted bright red for its Hollywood movie role.

Inside the theater, a short, looped film explains how Hollywood adapted stories of World War I pilots for American audiences. Nearby a child’s bedroom exhibit features books, games and toys from the post-war period celebrating the glory, bravery and derring-do of World War I flying aces.

Turn the corner and a somber reality sets in.

The lighting fades and the sounds of combat emerge. Ground combat and life in the trenches are portrayed. The focus shifts to a more detailed examination of the roles pilots and aircraft would play during the war as observers, fighters, bombers, and conducting photo reconnaissance missions. Three early battles in the war, Tannenburg, the Marne and the Somme are briefly examined where the warring parties learned both the great potential and many pitfalls of deploying aircraft into combat.

During the Battle of Tannenburg and the Battle of the Marne, respective German and French commanders successfully countered enemy troop movements detected by aerial observation. During the Somme however, the British learned the limits of using aerial observation. While pilots could detect troop movements, they would not assess the morale, or the level of training of the enemy units detected below. British commanders also experienced the difficulties of coordinating simultaneous air and ground operations.

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Albatross D.Va Fighter – The German military built over 4,800 Albatross fighters of all types during World War I. Only two are known to exist today. This Albatross D.Va fighter on display and one other at the Australian War Museum in Canberra.

For the aviation enthusiast, the highlights of the exhibit are likely the Smithsonian’s restored vintage WWI aircraft. In addition to the Pfalz D.XII fighter, other German aircraft include an Albatross D.Va, and Fokker D.VII fighters. There is a Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe fighter from the United Kingdom and a French Voisin Type 8 bomber.

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Fokker D.VII fighter – Two mannequins representing a pilot and ground crewman inspect the Fokker D.VII fighter. Developed to counter more advanced Allied fighter aircraft, the Fokker D.VII fighter was introduced to front line squadrons in April 1918. Some historians and aviation experts considered the Fokker D.VII to be one of the best fighter aircraft of World War I. The plane was so highly regarded the final Armistice required the Germans to surrender all Fokker D.VII fighters.

There is also a SPAD XIII fighter. This French made aircraft was known for its sturdiness and ability to perform during dog fights. Multiple air services flew the SPAD XIII’s because of its excellent reputation and performance. In addition to the French, it was flown by the British, Italians, Belgians and Russians.

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The SAPD XIII Fighter. The number “20” on the side is the aircraft’s identification number, assigned by the aero squadron.

As the U.S. entered World War I with no combat ready aircraft, the SPAD XIII was also used by U.S. fighter squadrons of the American Expeditionary Force. The SPAD XIII on display was assigned to the 22nd Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service.

It was piloted by Lieutenant A. Raymond Brooks who named the aircraft “Smith IV” after his sweetheart’s alma mater. Lt. Brooks won one of his six aerial victories in Smith IV; other squadron pilots achieved additional victories. After being sent to the United States for a Liberty Bond tour in 1918, Smith IV was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1919.

There are no American made aircraft in the World War I exhibit, but a de Havilland DH-4, manufactured by the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company can be found in the “Looking at Earth” exhibit, downstairs in Gallery 107.

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De Havilland DH-4. This U.S. made bomber and observation aircraft would continue to serve the U.S. Government many years after the war.

As the U.S. was preparing to enter the war, the military began looking at various Allied aircraft designs that might be adapted and built in the U.S. The DH-4 was modeled after the British de Havilland bomber and the DH-4 would serve the U.S. Army Air Service in the same capacity. The first models began conducting combat missions in August of 1918.

The DH-4 on display was a prototype, flying many flights and experiments to test the aircraft’s design. Although it never saw combat, this DH-4 is fitted with the standard military compliment of combat equipment: six 25 lb Mark II bombs, two DeRam DR-4 cameras, two fixed, forward-firing .30-caliber Marlin machine guns, and the observer’s position is armed with two flexible .30-caliber Lewis machine guns.

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SMILE! A mannequin demonstrates one role of the de Havilland DH-4, as a photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Because the NASM is such a popular destination, it can become very crowded in the spring and summer. Planning ahead can save you some valuable time. Use the “Visit” section of the NASM website to see what is currently on display, learn about the day’s special programs, get helpful tips, and buy tickets in advance for any of the IMAX movies or the planetarium. It is important to remember visitors must pass through metal detectors to enter the NASM and certain items are prohibited.

If the NASM Mall location leaves you wanting to see more about aircraft and space exploration, the NASM has a second complex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located about 28 miles from downtown Washington near Dulles International Airport. Several Smithsonian Institution museums, including NASM, offer extended hours during the spring and summer. You can find more information at: http://www.si.edu/visit/hours#ExtendedHours

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ROUTE RECON

The NASM is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 6th Street, Southwest. There is no onsite parking, but there are several commercial lots nearby. The nearest Washington Metro stations are the L’Enfant Plaza Station on the Yellow and Green Lines and the Smithsonian Station on the Blue and Orange lines. Both stations are about a two block walk to the NASM.

MESS CALL

The Wright Place Food Court offers a variety of fast food meal options from Boston Market, Donatos Pizza and McDonald’s.