|National Naval Aviation Museum|
Our tour guide's anecdotes turned yesterday's visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum into an aerial adventure. The museum located at the Naval Air Station Pensacola was a must-see stop for Tim and I as we passed into the Florida Panhandle.
|The Blue Angels|
Our only regret was that we missed the performance of the Blue Angels, the elite fighter jet demonstration squadron, that took place here on Veterans Day, but that just gives us another reason to return.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Kincaid had a story for every plane he pointed to. His histories were entertaining and revealed each plane's importance to wartime aviation. These are the ones that stuck with me.
|NC-4 Flying Boat, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean|
Designed to be an anti-submarine vessel during WWI, the NC-4 Flying Boat's flight in May 1919 from Naval Air Station Rockaway Beach, NY to Lisbon, Portugal beat Charles Lindberg's solo flight across the pond by eight years. Accompanied by its sister airplanes (the NC-1 and the NC-3 which unfortunately crashed in the Azores), the NC-4 took 19 days to accomplish the feat making stops along the way in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Azores Islands. Navigation aids were non-existent in this early era of aviation. In order for the Flying Boats to cross the ocean, 22 Navy ships spaced across the flight path approximately 50 miles apart sent up smoke signals during the daylight hours and red flares at night for the pilots to follow. Hearing its history was even more absorbing when one learns that its crew members had to walk the wings in-flight to service the four Liberty engines that powered the craft. Yikes! I will never complain about the discomforts of a transatlantic flight again!
|Lt. Commander Edward Henry O'Hare|
Being from Chicago, Tim was especially interested in the story of Lt. Commander Edward Henry (Butch) O'Hare, the first naval recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and for whom Chicago's O'Hare Airport is named. On Feb. 20, 1942 and despite the loss of his teammates, O'Hare positioned his F4F Wildcat fighter airplane between his aircraft carrier and the advancing Japanese formation of nine attacking heavy bombers. His citation reads,
"Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lieutenant O'Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down five enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action--one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation--he undoubtedly save his carrier from serious damage."
This is the stuff of Hollywood! Interestingly enough, his father, Edward Joseph O'Hare, was Chicago mobster Al Capone's accountant who turned against him and helped the FBI convict Capone of tax evasion. His story was retold in the movie, The Untouchables.
Due to German and Japanese submarine activity off the East and West coasts of the United States, another training area was needed where U.S. Navy pilots could practice taking off and landing on aircraft carriers. Lake Michigan was the best choice, but it also became known as the Navy's cold water storage unit because of the aircraft that were lost to its waters during training forays. Shown in the photo above, a Wildcat airplane similar to that flown by O'Hare is on display at the museum, one of several resurrected and restored planes.
Finally, former President George H. W. Bush in World War II was a 20-year-old naval pilot when under attack he ditched his plane near Chichi Jima, a small atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese commander who held the island practiced cannibalism, directing his officers to eat the livers of the eight unfortunate pilots in Bush's squadron who were swept ashore.
|Aircraft flown by President George H.W. Bush|
Bush, however, brought his plane down further away from the island but caught his parachute on the tail of his plane during his exit. He managed to free it, and once in the water, scrambled into the life raft. Fortunately for him, there was an American submarine in the area that surfaced and rescued him. Unfortunately, this happened on the first day of the submarine's 30-day mission leaving Bush no choice but to join in the sub's operation until its mission was concluded.
My uncle, Byron Slade, was also a naval pilot who flew Wildcats off aircraft carriers during World War II. He passed away in 2008, but hearing these stories brought his memory close again. He, too, had some amazing stories to tell.