OSHKOSH, Wisc. – Wherever you travel where aviation history is prominent, you’ll fly straight into aerospace heritage in Antelope Valley, whether it’s the Smithsonian in the nation’s capital or Oshkosh , Wisc.
Antelope Valley aviation fans or pilots and those who love them flock to Oshkosh for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s “Fly In,” an annual conference on all things with wings from around the world.
The “Fly In” usually takes place in July, and my daughter, Grace, who lives nearby, tells me that “RVs and tents will be lined up miles outside Oshkosh Airport. Then the planes arrive in bursts of silver and colorful splatters of paint.
Driving down the access road to the airport and museum, we first spotted a C-47 “Skytrain” transport of the kind that sent 13,000 paratroopers into the angry skies over Normandy in the opening hours of June 6, 1944.
The EAA Museum houses a pantheon of innovators and pioneers. At the EAA museum, during a recent family visit, we found a gallery dedicated to the Rutan brothers, Burt and Dick.
It was after passing remarkable replicas, homages to the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of Saint Louis and a racing plane that Jimmy Doolittle flew to a world record long before he and his B-25 task force Mitchell does “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”. .”
In itself, the display of all aircraft designed by Rutan is breathtaking for aviation enthusiasts.
Burt Rutan invented some of the most innovative air and spacecraft of the past half-century, including the Voyager “around the world on a single tank of gas” and the incredible SpaceShipOne and Two, which ushered in the dawn of flight private industry space. . Dick Rutan is the daring Vietnam War fighter pilot who flew Voyager, accompanied by Jeana Yeager, unrelated to Chuck Yeager.
Within the multiple galleries are racing planes, seaplanes, test planes, experimental planes and especially historic planes.
The museum’s Eagle Gallery features the famous WWII warbirds in both replica and original form. The gallery features two variants of the P-51 Mustang, the finest long-range fighter of the war. There is also a Vought Corsair from the Pacific War as well as a Mitsubishi “Zero” fighter of the type flown by Japan in the attack on Pearl Harbor that embroiled the United States in the greatest war of the story. A Messerschmitt Me-109 hangs above one of legendary Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson’s early masterpieces, the twin-boom supercharged P-38 Lightning.
In the Women’s Air Service Pilots gallery was a photo of Chuck Yeager, the smiling World War II fighter ace in a flight suit, chatting in the cockpit of a jet fighter with Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman to cross the sound barrier in 1953, just under five years after Yeager inaugurated the world’s first sonic boom flying the Bell X-1 named after his wife Glennis, “Glamorous Glennis”.
What a pair, those two, Yeager and Cochran. They were both comrades and friends. Cochran, a formidable test and race pilot in her own right, was the architect of the Women’s Air Service Pilots, the WASPs of World War II.
In the decades before women were admitted into the ranks of combat aviation, the 1,000 WASPs overseen by Cochran paved the way for a legacy of bomber and fighter flying. To free the men for combat flying, the women hauled aircraft, performed flight tests, and towed targets. They didn’t get veteran status until decades after the war they helped win. Thirty-eight WASP pilots died in the line of duty.
In 2010, some 65 years after the end of World War II, surviving WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington DC, hosted by journalist Tom Brokaw, author of “The Greatest Generation”. Among the pilots honored were three Antelope Valley WASPs, Marguerite “Ty” Killen, Irma “Babe” Story and Florabelle Reece.
To have them with us in 2010 was a treasure of honor and human history. They all died along with the millions of other World War II veterans, leaving us only their memories.
Ty Killen, whose nickname “Ty” meant “Tiny”, described how during the ceremony at the Congressional Gallery, she rushed into Brokaw’s arms, kissed him, “and gave him a big kiss !”
Killen recalled how she met future Senator Barry Goldwater twice. Once was during the war, when she was refueling the plane of the future national candidate. “I’m sure he thought I was a man, a tiny little one.” The next time, about 20 years later, he was about to receive the Republican nomination for president.
Ty Killen, “Babe Story” and Florabelle Reece made a “farewell tour” visit to the Antelope Valley Fair in the mid-2000s where they were surrounded by young girls and women, seeking autographs from the pioneers of aviation who had so dared to fly for the United States during the greatest war in history.
And the three women have been invaluable, teaching life lessons in the classrooms of retired Lancaster High School teacher Jamie Goodreau, and also accompanying Bob Alvis, Aerotech News writer and aviation historian, during class visits.
Thus, the legacy of the WASP program is commemorated in a large gallery in Oshkosh, along with the background and importance of the WASP flyers to the future of women flying in the US military.
You can’t walk a few dozen steps at the Oshkosh Museum without catching a glimpse of the story of Yeager, the anti-Mach pilot famed for breaking the sound barrier first in the sky over Muroc Air Force Base on October 14, 1947.
In 1949, the base was named after test pilot Captain Glen Edwards, who rose to fame flying the YB-49 flying wing. This legacy gave us Edwards Air Force Base and the B-2 stealth bomber.
From the Smithsonian Museum of Air & Space on the Mall in Washington to the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum in Oshkosh, the Antelope Valley’s legacy in air and space history is overwhelming.
Editor’s Note: Dennis Anderson is the author of three published military aviation novels, “Target Stealth”, “Blackbird”, and “Arthur, King”. A veteran Army paratrooper, he works on veterans issues and continues to do military parachute jumps from a vintage D-Day C-47 transport with the non-profit Liberty Jump team.