Two aircraft frame the approach to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. The first aircraft was introduced in 1951. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17A remained on the frontline of duty with many Warsaw Pact countries and their client states well into the 1980s. The MiG-17 went into action in Vietnam and in many of the African and Middle-Eastern conflicts of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. This Russian-built MiG-17 bears the distinctive insignia and camouflage pattern of the North Vietnamese Air Force. This aircraft is owned by the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. The second aircraft in the approach to the museum, the F-4C Phantom, was originally designed for use onboard Navy aircraft carriers. In 1962 the Air Force adopted a ground attack version of the F-4. This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
To emphasize the role of the United States Air Force during the Cold War years, the Memorial Garden includes a B-47 Stratojet. This aircraft was America’s first swept-wing jet bomber. The B-47 played a vital role in deterring Soviet nuclear aggression. This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The Prelude to World War II Exhibit Gallery explores Adolph Hitler’s use of propaganda to win the support of the German public, as well as his ambitions for Europe to be dominated by the Third Reich. In August 1940, once Hitler conquered Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, he turned his attention to the United Kingdom. This Battle of Britain Exhibit examines the plight of Great Britain as it stood alone against the Nazi war machine in the early days of World War II. A brief film presentation entitled “Britain Battles On” runs continuously in the gallery theater. While Germany was wreaking havoc in Europe and Africa, its ally Japan escalated its own campaign of conquest in the Pacific Theater. The Day of Infamy Exhibit examines the events surrounding the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The Combat Gallery houses original aircraft, engines and scale models as well as a multitude of exhibits. Inside the gallery is the Museum’s very own B-17 Flying Fortress being restored as the “City of Savannah” which was the 5000th airplane to have been processed through Hunter Army airfield in Savannah during World War II.
A second authentic aircraft is a Boeing-Stearman PT KAYDET. The PT-17 was one of the most widely used training aircraft in the United States. Hanging above the B-17 and PT-17 are four scale models including a P-51 Mustang, a German Me-109, a B-24 Liberator and a B-17 Flying Fortress.
The Crosley CT-3 Pup is one of only seven known to exist today. It was a lightweight jeep-type vehicle capable of being transported by air. Only six Pups made it overseas during the war, following testing at Fort Benning. Underpowered by a small engine, the Army quickly scrapped the project leaving few for posterity.
The Ploesti Diorama commemorates the 1 August 1943 mission flown by nearly 200 B-24s in a 2400 mile round trip to bomb at low altitude the oil refinery at Ploesti, Romania which supplied 60 per cent of Germany’s crude oil. This mission was one of the most daring and dangerous bombing missions of World War II.
Along one wall is the exhibit, Second to None, telling the remarkable story of the men and women of the Second Air Division including Fightin Sam, the actual nose section of a B-24 Liberator. The Deenethorpe Diorama shows the base of the 401st Bomb Group. Each 8th Air Force Bomb or Fighter Group had its own air base in England with a similar layout.
Additional exhibits include a Navigator Exhibit, an interactive Gunner Exhibit, and the Tuskegee Airman Exhibit.
The POW Exhibit explores daily life for those fliers captured by the Germans, including an examination of their treatment and living conditions.
In the Honoring the Eighth Exhibit, there are collections of artifacts from various World War II 8th Air Force groups. Rich in stories of heroism and artifacts, visitors view some of the personal valuables of the men of the 8th. (This gallery concludes with a brief film about the 8th Air Force that runs continuously in the Mighty Eighth Theater.)
The Hall of Valor exhibit honors a number of outstanding individuals who served with the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Included are the aces, the Commanders of the Eighth Air Force, and those awarded the Medal of Honor. These men paved the way to an end to the war.
The exhibit of World War II Cambridge American Military Cemetery & Memorial at Madingley, England is a fitting memorial to all Eighth Air Force personnel who died between 1942–1945. The 8th Air Force alone suffered an estimated 26,000 combat fatalities. The Museum’s Roll of Honor holds names of those who were killed while serving in the 8th Air Force during those years.
The Art Gallery displays paintings from the world’s leading aviation artists. Currently, the “Permanent Collection Exhibit” selected by guest curator, Keith Ferris, features 64 paintings by artists from around the world who specialize in aerospace subjects.
Early in the war the Allies had affirmed a policy of defeating Germany first and of accepting nothing less than unconditional surrender from the Axis powers. On 7 May 1945 the German Army signed an instrument of unconditional surrender at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Rheims, France. The Allies officially declared the next day, 8 May 1945, as Victory in Europe or V-E Day. All over England the Brits uproariously celebrated a return to peacetime and the end of nighttime bombing of their homeland.
Although finished fighting in Europe, America and other Allied countries were not done with the war. It would take several more months of brutal fighting and two atomic bombs to force Japan to accept unconditional surrender.
On 15 August 1945 Allied nations around the world celebrated Victory in Japan or V-J Day and the end of World War II. Japan signed the instrument of surrender on 2 September 1945 aboard the Battleship Missouri in the presence of fifty Allied generals and other officials including General Douglas MacArthur. World War II had ended.
The Post WWII exhibit provides an insight into the role of the United States Air Force and especially the 8th Air Force to the present. This exhibit includes the Commanders of the Eighth Air Force from June 1945 to the present. Artifacts include a McDonnell ADM-20C “Quail” Aerial Decoy Missile on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, a section of a B-52 vertical stabilizer, and a MiG 21 nose section and cockpit.
The Fly Girls of World War II exhibit is devoted to women in aviation, especially the role of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. This exhibit incorporates original artifacts, video and audio stations with narrations from oral history accounts, and photo enlargements.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors are surrounded by large format images of Avenger Field and a dedication wall commemorating the lives of the 38 WASP who perished while serving their country. An introduction to the earliest women aviators, including Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, and Harriet Quimby, provides the visitor with the pre-World War II history of women and flight.
The bulk of the exhibit follows the story of the WASP, the first women military pilots in American history. As envisioned by aviatrix Jackie Cochran, the WASP organization allowed females to complete domestic military flying duties, thus releasing males to complete combat-related operations overseas.
Fly Girls of World War II follows the development of the WASP organization under Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love, the training programs at Avenger Field, and the performing of essential flight duties during the war. The latter part of the exhibition touches on the post-war lives of the WASP and other groundbreaking women aviators after World War II.
The Memorial Gardens are a quiet testament to the cherished memory of our veterans. Stone walls and granite monuments with the names of those who valiantly served their country line the winding paths around a dramatic reflecting pool; each having been designed and funded by veterans and their families. Overlooking this reflecting pool is a life size bronze statue of 351st Bomb Group navigator, Ben Love created by sculptor Simon Maxwell. Sculpted with great realism and standing in his bronze pinks, A-2 jacket, and crusher, this statue becomes a symbol for all who served in the Eighth Air Force during World War II.