WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — People lined up as early as 7 a.m. Wednesday to be among the first in line for the grand opening of the new fourth hangar at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
When the ribbon was cut and the barriers dropped inside the 224,000 square-foot building around 9:15 a.m., hundreds scurried to one of four galleries — Presidential, Research and Development, Space, and Global Reach — to see what previously was available only with a ticket and a shuttle ride to another part of the massive base.
The $40.8 million expansion, privately financed by the Air Force Museum Foundation, contains dozens of aircraft and aerospace vehicles including VC-137C Air Force One (SAM 26000), which was used by eight presidents – Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton; the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie; the C-141C Hanoi Taxi, which airlifted the first American prisoners of war out of North Vietnam in February 1973; and a massive Titan IVB space launch vehicle that weighs 96 tons.
“It’s a very eclectic collection they’ve put together,” said Springfield resident Robert Hiller. “Being able to match these four sections together (it) really blends well.”
Katherine Caillouet, 13, of West Milton arrived with her family 90 minutes before the doors officially opened at 8:30 a.m.
“My father just wanted to come early to get a good spot,” she said.
Caillouet had a better spot than most once inside as she, along with 15-year-old Andre Sonntag, were chosen by officials to help cut the ribbon.
“I was very thrilled that I was going to be one,” she said. “I found it really exciting.”
Two of the more popular exhibits were the SAM 26000 and The Independence, a Douglas VC-118 which served as President Truman’s aircraft.
“Quite bigger than I thought it would be,” said University of Dayton student Micaela Sprenger after descending the portable staircase from the SAM. That plane carried Kennedy’s body back to Washington, D.C., after his assassination and is where Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president.
“Being able to walk through, it’s just fascinating,” Sprenger said.
In addition to the four galleries, the new hangar has three science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning nodes and myriad simulators.