WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The new fourth building at the National Museum of the United States Air Force brought top Air Force officials to the Miami Valley, such as Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh III, and drew individuals from each coast of the country together.
“This national museum — our National Museum of the United States Air Force — is a vital link between American citizens and their airman, not to mention, air power enthusiasts from around the world.” James said. “Every year, this museum hosts about 1 million visitors. As the world’s largest military aviation museum, this remarkable facility links all of us who look skyward in wonder.”
The new building contains more than 70 aircraft, missiles and space vehicles, including those which transported presidents and housed historical moments. It features the Research and Development, Space, Presidential and Global Reach galleries, alongside three Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning nodes and simulators.
Before the fourth building started welcoming the public Wednesday morning, the galleries were housed off-campus. Museum guests would have to be bused to Area B of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in order to see the collections and visits would be limited to just 45 minutes at a time.
According to Rob Bardua of the NMUSAF public affairs division, less than 10 percent of visitors would make it to see the galleries. The fourth building will also protect some of the featured aircraft from weather elements.
“Throughout this museum, you experience the heroic achievements of battles won and peace kept,” Congressman Mike Turner said. “You experience the wonder of the innovative spirit that has kept our nation free and is evident in the achievements of the scientists and engineers that have followed in the footsteps of the Wright brothers.”
The official ceremony included James, Welsh, Turner, Chairman for the Board of Trustees for the Air Force Museum Foundation Philip Soucy and Director of the NMUSAF retired Lt. Gen John Hudson. Each delivered a speech during the building’s opening ceremony Tuesday, June 7. Welsh announced that each gallery would be named after the family that helped bring the aircraft belonging to the respective collections to life.
“This is a sacred place. This is our museum,” Welsh said. “It reminds us of ideas fulfilled, dreams realized and missions accomplished.”
Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd and Maj. Gen. Fred Ascani Research and Development Gallery
Clare Ascani is the sixth child of Fred Ascani, who flew some of the featured aircraft within the gallery and served as a combat leader during WWII and became the director of experimental flight test and engineering at Edwards Air Force Base in California. She traveled from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to attend the opening ceremony alongside 26 of her family members.
“He was a test pilot, he flew them all, and now they’re all under these incredible four buildings,” Clare Ascani said. “In 1960, it was just a dream and now we’re walking through these four buildings with all these planes underneath and it’s just astounding and I know he would think it’s totally amazing. We are so proud and honored to be a part of this.”
It features the XB-70A Valkyrie as well as aircraft dating back to World War II to the present.
William E. Boeing Presidential Gallery
Susie Boeing is the granddaughter of William Boeing, who founded the company that created the first aircraft to transport a president of the United States. She traveled from San Francisco to attend the ceremony.
“[Grandfather’s] story and legacy will continue,” Susie Boeing said. “To walk in this and see so many Boeings so well-represented, it’s moving.”
The gallery includes the VC-54C Sacred Cow, the VC121E Columbine III, the VC-118 The Independence as well as the VC-137C Air Force One. Although the current Air Force One, VC-25, is a few years from retirement, the William E. Boeing Presidential Gallery may welcome it in the future.
“I think the odds are very, very strong that the next Air Force One, when it retires some years in the future, will come to Dayton,” James said. “I think the odds are very strong, but it will be the judgment call of the secretary of the Air Force who is in office at the time of the retirement. I’m sorry to say that won’t be me because my days will not last quite that long, but my voice will live on and I certainly will take the opportunity to advocate and point to my successors and perhaps successors thereafter the importance [of this] location.”
Allan and Malcolm Lockheed and Glenn Martin Space Gallery
Allan and Malcolm Lockheed co-founded the organization responsible for producing Air Force military aircraft, missiles and other systems which helped move the military branch and United States move further into the sky. The gallery features NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer, which was utilized to provide astronauts with training for their missions.
Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Global Reach Gallery
The collection includes walk-through aircraft, such as C-141C Hanoi Taxi, which transported prisoners of war during the Vietnam War to freedom. James felt that this aircraft was an important part of the museum. It also includes the C-82, C-130E and C-21.
The fourth building is 86-feet tall at its peak and measures out to 224,000 square feet in size. It costed $40.8 million to construct, which was privately funded by Air Force Museum Foundation dollars.
And a fifth building? It’s possible.
“The sky is the limit, right?” James said. “I think as [technological] advancements continue to expand, a fifth building is perhaps very much in our future, but we’ll see.”