New technology rests beside the old at U.S. Air Force Museum

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DAYTON – Each year, about 1.2 million visitors pour through the doors of the U.S. Air Force Museum at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, to interface with Air Force history. What they soon discover is a place that projects a striking image of the service’s present and future as much as it preserves and portrays the Air Force’s past.

The museum’s collection of modern and futuristic aircraft has come into sharper focus in the weeks following the start of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The 24-hour news blitzkrieg featuring around-the-clock footage of U.S. air power pummeling Taliban targets has crystallized the museum’s role in informing the public about the Air Force’s evolving mission, and the weapon systems and platforms it uses to perform that mission.

“As proud as we are to educate the public about people, aircraft and campaigns from previous eras, we’re just as proud of our efforts to show them what our nation’s Air Force brings to the fight today,” said retired Maj. Gen. Charles D. Metcalf, museum director.

“We provide our visitors an opportunity they can find few other places, which is the ability to see up close a number of aircraft that the Air Force is operating today.”

Modern hangar. The museum’s modern flight hangar holds more than 70 of the museum’s aircraft and missiles, including airframes representative of those participating in Afghanistan operations or homeland defense, such as the B-52 Stratofortress, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and RQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

Other related aircraft on exhibit at the museum include the B-1 Lancer and two AC-130 Spectre gunships. One of the gunships saw combat action in Desert Storm, when its crew intercepted and attacked a convoy of retreating Iraqi troops on the Al Jahra highway, inflicting significant damage on Iraqi equipment.

Future crafts. Thanks to a constantly growing aircraft collection, the museum is fast becoming a place to see the emerging dimensions of the future aerospace force – characterized by stealth, precision, global reach and even unmanned systems.

Besides the Predator, visitors to the modern flight hangar can view the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter and the YF-22, the prototype of the Air Force’s next-generation air superiority fighter.

The museum plans to roll out a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber in 2003, which will mark the first permanent public exhibit of the aircraft.

Tracing advances. Museum visitors can gain a greater appreciation for technological advances and how they have transformed the nature and lethality of air power over the years, said Jeff Underwood, museum historian.

“The U.S. Air Force Museum has a long tradition of displaying aeronautical technology in a manner that illustrates the past, present and future directions of air power,” Underwood said.

“For example, one can follow the progression of stealth technology from the earliest Tacit Blue aircraft to the current and future capabilities as demonstrated in the F-117A stealth fighter and the F-22 Raptor, respectively. This technology will be incorporated into the new joint strike fighter, which will be flown by all the services.”

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