Cradle of Aviation

Cradle of Aviation, Bethpage

In less than 100 years New York’s Long Island has seen aviation and aerospace grow from a group of virtual backyard tinkerers into centres of excellence that produced many of the best aircraft and spacecraft in the world. Although 240 Long Island companies still produce a wide variety of aircraft and aerospace parts, nowadays there is nothing to compare with the WW II and post WW II glory days when big aircraft manufacturing firms like Grumman and Republic Aviation (formerly Seversky Aircraft) employed tens of thousands of people to design and build tens thousands of excellent machines. The recently opened Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, Nassau County, tries faithfully to record that era and link it with important aeronautical events elsewhere.

A beautiful Grumman F-11 Tiger dominates the atrium.

Long Island was a natural centre for developing aviation. It was close to New York and the Island itself is relatively flat, devoid of big rocks and solid trees. WW I provided an initial impetus, with military flying training and operational airfields dotted all over the Island. In the 1920s big firms like Curtiss and Sikorsky were based in nearby Garden City while Sperry and Fairchild set up in Farmingdale. Charles Lindberg took off from Roosevelt Field for Paris in 1927. All these are within walking distance of the museum.

Grumman legacy

In 1930 Grumman in Farmingdale and later at Bethpage and Calverton, all on Long Island, started to produce aircraft for the USN. Over the next 70 years these aircraft became as famous for their performance as their durability. Working closely with USN aviators and engineers, the Grumman “Ironworks” built a series of aircraft that matched or bettered the performance of anything flying at the time. Importantly, they were resistant to sea water corrosion and rugged enough to withstand both battle damage and the rigours of deck landing. In 1943 Grumman had 25,527 workers on its payroll (Thruelson 1976 p 141). Nowadays, Grumman is part of a politically-engineered corporate conglomerate and its Long Island facilities no longer design and build aeroplanes.

Lawrence HargraveGrumman F3F
This museum photo (left) accompanies the Lawrence Hargrave box kite exhibit. At right is a Grumman F-3F.

The museum displays one of only two Grumman F3Fs left in the world, but Australia is not forgotten. In a rare acknowledgement of his seminal influence, a Lawrence Hargrave replica box kite is featured here. Hargrave is described as an “Englishman who migrated to Australia in 1866” and his “curved aerofoil” box kite research of 1893 is correctly acknowledged as an important early contribution to understanding aerodynamics.

Over 30 years in planning and building, Nassau County poured more than US$40 million into the Cradle of Aviation Museum project while private and commercial donors nearly matched these funds. The museum is built on the old Mitchel Field, originally a major WW I military air base. The buildings include two refurbished hangars with new sparkling glass facades that divide into eight galleries housing 60-odd aircraft and spacecraft. Most exhibits are original, others are restored or replicas. There is also an Imax theatre and “essential” add-ons such as a restaurant and gift shop. The museum expects 400,000 visitors a year.

Linberg's Jenny
The museum’s Curtiss Jenny, once owned by Charles Lindberg.

A number of aircraft are suspended from the four-storey atrium ceiling, including a dominating swept wing Grumman F-11 Tiger in “Flying Angels” livery. In contrast, in one gallery is a delicate-looking “stick and string” WW I-era Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplane that, coincidentally, was once owned and flown by Charles Lindberg. There is also a Grumman F-3F biplane fighter, one of only two left of the 163 built in the nearby Farmingdale factory.

In the WW II-era gallery, a Grumman F-4F Wildcat/Hellcat, dredged from the bottom of Lake Michigan hangs in mute testimony to both the restorer’s art and the dedication of those who seek to preserve history. Another restored aircraft in the museum is a rare Republic F-84 Thunderjet, rescued from Death Valley where it was slated for use as a ground target at a Navy test range.

A Republic P-47 Thunderbolt stands in US Army WW II colours. The “jug” proved an effective mount in Europe for American top-scoring aces. It had a massive cockpit, in contrast to the British Supermarine Spitfire that tended to be “pulled on” rather than boarded. This gave rise to the quite unfounded Thunderbolt’s reputation for strange evasive action when jumped by enemy fighters. Instead of breaking into a maximum rate turn, like a Spitfire, it was said that the Thunderbolt’s cockpit was so big that all the pilot had to do was to “dance madly around the cockpit” to avoid unfriendly bullets.

Grumman F-6F Hellcat, scourge of the WW II Pacific Theatre

Grumman F-6F Hellcats shot down 5,200 Japanese aircraft (Tillman and Lawson 1998 p. 36) which adds up to two thirds of all enemy planes destroyed by Americans in the Pacific. A total of 12,272 F-6Fs were built (Angelucci 1990 p 236) and their 2,000 hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10 engines gave them a ceiling of 39,400 feet (Thruelsen 1976, p 194). These stark facts, however, obscure the important ability of the aircraft to respond with the pilot. In this regard it became one of the very few aircraft, like the Spitfire, Sea Fury and Skyhawk, that became known as a “pilot’s aircraft”.

What the museum does not show, because the task is not easy, is the amazing family-linked morale that went with the Long Island aircraft factories, and especially with Grumman. “Everybody, if they didn’t work for Grumman, they knew somebody who did,” Bill Kelly of Hicksville is quoted as saying in a recent article (Gootman 2002). He worked there for 17 years. This was the basis for Grumman’s relaxed management style and a worker information feedback system that fostered outstanding shop-floor pride.

In the post-WW II museum display, among the jets and missiles, is a trusty piston-engined S-2F Tracker. Its Wright 1820-82 radial engines delivered 1,525 hp and date back to a 1930s design, but its electronic fit included very modern innovations such as the latest ASW radar and a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) boom. Grumman built about 950 Trackers, including those flown by the RAN. In contrast, Faireys built only 256 contemporary ASW Gannets in Britain (Angelucci 1990).

Among the missiles is a pair of Bullpups, including the thousand-pound warhead AGM-12C version. Visually guided and powered by a relatively tiny Thiokol LR-68 rocket, it was first used in Vietnam and became the forerunner of many of today’s precision-strike stand-off weapons.

The locally designed and built Grumman Lunar Landing Module.

Finally, there is a comprehensive space age exhibit, including the locally designed and produced Grumman Lunar Landing Module LM-13. Six identical modules landed 12 men safely on the moon between 1969 and 1972. The museum’s particular craft was scheduled for the cancelled Apollo 18 mission in 1973.

Getting there

To get to the museum by car, head east from New York along the Long Island Expressway for about 30 minutes and turn off at the Meadowbrook Parkway for East Garden City and the Charles Lindberg Boulevard. Then look for the museum signs. Alternatively, the museum is only a short taxi or bus ride from Garden City, Mineola and Westbury railway stations. There are a number of entry packages that vary from US$16.50 to US$12.50 (seniors) for full tours, including the Imax theatre. The museum is open seven days a week, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, from 1000 to 1700. Check out for details.


Angelucci, E. Rand McNally encyclopedia of military aircraft. Crescent Books: New York. 1990.
Gootman, E. Museum honours runways in the land of the expressway. New York Times 20 May 2002 p B6.
Tillman, B. and R.L. Lawson U.S Navy fighters of WW II. MBI Publishing Company: Osceola.1998.
Thruelson, R. The Grumman story. Praeger Publishers: New York. 1976.

Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Getty entrance
The Getty Museum entrance, from the tram terminal.

It’s not a maritime, military or aircraft museum, but the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles is mind-blowing. Its unique position in the Santa Monica mountains, together with Richard Meier’s deceptively simple-looking and clean-cut architecture, stamp it as one of the best homes for a museum-grade collection, ever. On top of that, there are unique displays inside the museum, a beautiful artist-designed garden outside, and regular performances, lectures and other events in its Harold M. Williams Auditorium and other locations.

Stunning architecture
The J. Paul Getty Museum is noted for its stunning architecture.

The Armada Museum in Madrid and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington might well have the best-kept and most valuable inventories of military items in the world, and the USS Intrepid Museum in New York might have one of the most dramatic settings for any military museum. However, none match the balanced elegant opulence of the purpose-built Getty Center and its contents that include illuminated manuscripts, drawings, photographs, paintings, furniture and sculpture. One interesting purchase is the magnificent 1889 Van Gogh canvas, Irises, late of Alan Bond fame. Instead of being hidden in some dank boardroom or private collection, it sits well in the Center’s Impressionists Gallery, for all to enjoy.

watrer maze
The water maze at the bottom of the garden.

Oddly, there was considerable organised local resistance to the Getty before construction on grounds that varied from “ecological disaster” to “too white”. Fortunately, these objections were overcome by equal persistence, negotiation and logic.

Admission freeThe museum may be found near the I-10 and I-405 freeways. Look for Getty Center Drive exits and follow the signs. Restricted car parking is available, subject sometimes to prior reservations, at a nominal $5 cost. Admission is otherwise free. Details may be found at the web site: There is also a 24-hour information hotline on 310 440 7300. The Center is closed Mondays and major holidays, but open 1000 to 1800 weekends and 1100 to 1900 other days.

First, visitors approach the museum from a car park that leads to a tramway. Big-windowed 90-seat trams whisk people up a kilometre or so of track to the forecourt. Glimpses of buildings are seen on the way, but nothing quite prepares anyone for the shock of white marble and breathtaking architecture.

Water feature
This restful water feature quietly anchors one end of the 100-metre open spine.

The series of inter-linked buildings share common architectural themes. These themes include walls and floors faced with identically-sized squares of fossil-bearing travertine marble, rough-hewn or smoothed, together with enamelled aluminium panels and squares of glass to decorate and enhance natural illumination. Once inside the main entrance, a central 100-metre open-air spine forms a wide “breathing space” with gentle contrasts of marble and Alhambra-like water features and trees blending into a pleasing whole. There are seats and refreshment stands for visitors here. On either side of the breathing space are uniquely different buildings that house and protect the museum’s priceless artefacts.

Hanging baskets
One corner of the gardens.

The museum was commissioned by J. Paul Getty, initially to house and display the vast collection of art and sculpture that he and his family had amassed over the years. With remarkable foresight and generosity, he endowed the museum trust with sufficient funds to run the museum.

The gardens, designed not by a landscape gardener, but by artist Robert Gerwin are “a continual work-in-progress that changes with the seasons”. They are spectacular at any time of the year. They include sculptured lawns, flowering trees, bushes, shrubs and acres of flowers. There is a rare “water maze” at the bottom of a tasteful waterfall fed by recirculating water. A stream has been cleverly constructed to emit a variety of babbling brook sounds, for those visitors who have the patience to listen for them. Two huge “hanging baskets” of flowers dominate one section. At every corner, and there are many, another vista opens as yet another beckons.

Research and scholarship

Everywhere in the Getty Center, it seems, are glimpses of natural or manufactured beauty supported by standards of excellence and scholarship. They all meld discretely but firmly with functionality. Finally, the museum’s acknowledged research centre and cultural activities anchor it well into the forefront of Los Angeles’ attractions. The Getty sets a new high standard for museums, military or not.

Spy Museum

Spies and counterspies museum, Washington

Visitors to the new International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, see an introductory movie and are encouraged to choose one of a dozen or more “spy identities”. Additional identity information may be gathered during the self-paced tour and a computerised interrogation towards the end evaluates how successful they might be as spies. Or maybe they are more likely to be shot. The whole thoroughly entertaining and highly educational experience is a credit to the designers.


Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum building, at 800 F Street, Washington, DC, coincidentally used to house
the headquarters of the Fourth District, US Communist Party.

Modern terrorist operations are inextricably intertwined with intelligence and counter-intelligence interactions. A recent visit to the museum coincided with press comment about the death of A.M. (Abe) Rosenthal, the legendary New York Times editor, in early May 2006. It also coincided with the replacement of Porter Goss, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other senior American intelligence and counter-intelligence leaders in the wake of a number of related fiascos.

Spying, as the museum points out, is a craft based on lying and deception. It is made easier if those guarding secrets are less than loyal and capable. Goss, a G.W. Bush political appointee, distinguished himself by replacing senior professional intelligence specialists with cronies and party hacks. He pursued a number of inept policies, including using the CIA in largely vain attempts to track dozens of government-sourced press leaks. He has been accused of directing vast agency effort more towards the suppression of the airing of administration dirty laundry, than of protecting the country.

Who is the traitor?

The museum vividly demonstrates how spies and “traitor-whistleblowers” have flourished since Biblical times. It shows clearly that there is a very big spy iceberg under the tip that is known to the public. It also shows that there are very few important “state secrets” not known to the “other side” and there are very few important bureaucracies not infiltrated by “spies” of some sort. Red herrings and whistleblowers are everywhere, it seems, and none more so than in a country that has an educated, aggressive and free press, the sine qua non of any democracy.

Who is the spy and who is the traitor? Pulitzer Prize winner and never politically correct Rosenthal won international acclaim for eloquently reporting the horror of German extermination camps after WWII. Remember the Nazi guards who later claimed to be merely “doing their duty”?

Later, Rosenthal was denounced as “treasonous” by the Nixon administration in 1971, when he had the intestinal fortitude to publish the Pentagon Papers, the secret US Government history of the Vietnam War.

Frank Rich

Frank Rich in a 14 May 2006 Times Op-Ed piece also asks who is the real enemy? Is it the whistleblower and publisher or the government official who tries to cover up top level mistakes and corruption with lies and deception?

Rich went on to say, recalling the Vietnam era, “Today we know who the real traitors were: the officials who squandered American blood and treasure on an ill-considered war and then tried to cover up their lies and mistakes.” Despite earnest-looking endeavours to control terrorism, he warns how this situation might endure today. For instance, he warns that the “warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA)” and the CIA might have serious counterproductive consequences.

Mundane donkey-work, such as the routine analysis of billions of telephone company records, can divert precious time and expertise away from the main threat. It is one thing to shape a giant effort to crack an Enigma cipher or to protect D-Day secrets. It is another to trawl millions of telephone records hoping to find terrorist-related calling nodes or other information.

Data overload

The NSA wiretaps produced a “gusher of data”, Rich asserts, that “wasted FBI time and manpower on wild-goose chases and minor leads while uncovering no new Qaeda (sic) plots.” It happened before. The NSA intercepted a vital Al Qaeda message on 10 September 2001 saying “Tomorrow is zero hour”. Under General Michael Hayden (recently promoted to head the CIA) the NSA failed to translate that message until 12 September, the day after the terrorists attacked.

The International Spy Museum shows how espionage intrigue, obfuscation and misplaced trust, frequently based on an old boy network, not only protected dozens of real spies over the centuries but even persecuted innocent scapegoats.

DreyfusEmile Zola
CAPT Alfred Dreyfus (left) was wrongly convicted of “spying” and spent five years as a Devils Island prisoner.
The author Émile Zola was wrongly convicted of libel and sentenced to prison, but he escaped to the UK.

Some spies and their spymasters are brilliant. They obtain priceless information using consummate skill. Others fail to see the obvious, make stupid errors of judgement or are betrayed by trusted fellow workers. As the exhibition suggests, paranoia and expediency are never far away when it comes to protecting state secrets. Sometimes scapegoats, such as Captain Alfred Dreyfus, are tried and wrongly punished for “traitorous activity”. Novellist/journalist Émile Zola’s “J’accuse!” famously unmasked the real culprit, but the French Army had to be pushed into prosecuting the real spy and pushed even harder to reinstate Dreyfus. Meanwhile, Zola was tried for libel and sentenced to jail, but he escaped to England.

Aldrich Ames

In one very interesting museum film clip, two self-styled “dumb blonde” counter-intelligence agents discuss how in 1994 they brilliantly caught out Aldrich Ames, a senior fellow CIA counter-intelligence operative who had been passing vital secrets to the Soviet Union for nine years. Ames was responsible for the most damaging penetration ever of the CIA. His efforts led to the identification and ultimate execution of many American spies and the compromise of more than 100 covert operations during the Cold War. Ames is presently serving a life sentence without hope of parole.


Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames, a very senior CIA counter-intelligence officer, betrayed
his fellow co-workers and his country. He is serving a life sentence.

In contrast, not that far removed from reality in a temporary movie-related special exhibit, Emma Peel’s seductive leather pants stand alongside John Steed’s lethal bowler hat. A selection of 007’s paraphernalia shares display space with Max Smart’s shoe telephone. Nearby, a real-life but seemingly fictional video tape features the late and unlamented Senator Joe McCarthy in full “reds-under-the-bed” flight.

Book first

The International Spy Museum may be found on F Street between 8th and 9th in downtown Washington DC. Bookings are required (advance internet bookings are accepted) and adult tickets cost $15 ($14 for seniors and less for children). Plan to stay at least two hours. Four hours will permit a fuller exploration of each boutique-style exhibit and time to watch the videos that accompany most of them. Two-hour street parking is cheap but not easy to find (go early), but the museum is close to a Metrorail station and parking garages.

Check further details and book your tickets on


National Air and Space, Washington

It’s not all high-tech space wizardry at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington DC, but there are so many spectacular sights demanding instant attention that it’s hard to focus on a single object when entering the front door. For instance, on the left might be a couple of nuclear-capable rockets, one Russian, the other American. Ahead could be a recovered Apollo space capsule. To the right is maybe a sample of rock retrieved from the moon.

There are probably more visitors per year to this museum than any other similar venue in the world.

Overhead everywhere are rare and sometimes very odd-looking aircraft, including a round-the-world single-seat twin-boomed non-stop piston-engined Orbiter and a stick and string Wright Brothers Flyer. To the right could be a big red Breitling Orbiter high tech balloon gondola festooned with bottles and mysterious gadgets.

Sea-Air Operations

In addition to the rest of the amazing aircraft and aerospace artefacts, the Sea-Air Operations Gallery is still functioning in the National Air and Space Museum. In Gallery 203, right at one end of the building and up the escalator, is a simulated aircraft carrier hangar, with a Douglas A4-C Skyhawk fighter bomber, a WWII Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless dive bomber, and a Grumman F4-F Wildcat fighter. The gallery also houses a bridge mockup, complete with television screens and loudspeakers that simulate bridge windows overlooking typically noisy carrier deck operations. In another corner is a carrier-style briefing room.

 Hangar Deck display

An A-4 Skyhawk is featured in the authentically-crowded carrier hangar display.

There are also a number of television screens dotted in and around the upper structure, each illustrating an important WWII aircraft carrier battle. There is even a deck landing simulator that awarded an “OK 3 wire” pass on first try by an experienced (but typically modest) ex-deck landing pilot. (Deck landing must be like riding a bike.)

One important feature of the museum is its interactive teaching gallery, How Things Fly. Here are a large number of wind tunnels and other machines that help people understand the principles of flight. Highly skilled and enthusiastic teachers run demonstrations several times a day.
There are seats for about 30 in the display area and these are typically occupied by students of all ages. Brochures amplify the lessons and encourage experiments at home using common household objects.

Linbeg's Ryan NYP
Lindberg’s Ryan NYP, the Spirit of St Louis.

An IMAX theatre inside the museum runs a number of films, at extra cost, and early bookings are advisable for the more popular shows. Docents are available for personal tours. Major displays include historic aircraft and missiles dating from the earliest days to the latest in space travel. The WWI gallery shows British, German and French, as well as American aircraft.

The Smithsonian is a vast complex of museum-related buildings. The National Air and Space Museum is part of the Smithsonian and is located near the corner of 7th St and Independence Av in downtown Southwest Washington. It is open from 1000 to 1530 in summer months. Check the Web site for details. Consider access by private car, underground railway or bus. Admission is free to the museum and to the demonstrations. The museum houses attractive souvenir shops and there are shopping-mall-type eating facilities adjacent to the building at the end opposite to the Sea-Air Operations Gallery.
A full day will fly by here for those with keen air and space interests. Other, more genteel, museums are nearby for family members perhaps not quite so thrilled by matters aeronautical.

When next in the Washington, DC, area consider visiting both the Udvar-Hazy Center, next door to Dulles Airport, and the downtown Washington National Air and Space Museum. Admission is free to both venues, but charges accrue for optional extras, such as the Imax theatre, bus transport between the facilities and car parking. Both centres house many important aircraft and spacecraft, including milestone civil aircraft.

Udvar-Hazy, Dulles

National Air and Space, Dulles

udvar2Out near Dulles Airport, Virginia, about 40 minutes by car from Washington, DC, is an important new Smithsonian aerospace facility, the huge Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (left).

A shuttle bus ($5 to $7 per person) runs between the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and the Udvar-Hazy.

One of its more interesting exhibits is the specially modified B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, perhaps the world’s most famous aircraft (and most infamous for some). Enola Gay, named after pilot Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr’s mother, was the aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped by Maj. Charles W. Sweeney from the B-29 Bockscar on Nagasaki.

The Japanese surrendered on 14 August 1945, ending a long and bloody war that had cost hundreds of thousands of lives and untold suffering. It may be strongly argued that it had the potential to cost many hundreds of thousands more, Japanese and American, if the slated invasion of the Japanese home islands had ever been executed.

Enola GayBockscar USAF Museum
Enola Gay at the Udvar-Hazy (left). Bockscar (right) rests in the USAF Museum, Wright Patterson AFB.

The US government donated Enola Gay to the Smithsonian in July 1949 but it was by far the largest exhibit in the museum’s inventory at the time and when they came to display it, no room could be found in the downtown Washington building. There was also considerable controversy whether the aircraft should ever be exhibited or preserved at all. The historic B-29 languished in the open at Air Force bases in Texas and Maryland until 1960 when museum staff, noting considerable airframe deterioration, disassembled the aircraft for preservation and storage in the Smithsonian’s nearby Garber Center in Suitland, Maryland.

Massive restoration task

The hard restoration work on the B-29 did not begin until December 1984 when it was found to require 300,000 hours of highly skilled effort. The task evolved into the largest single restoration project ever undertaken by the Smithsonian. Museum staff, volunteers and interns removed decades of corrosion then inhibited the bare metal and polished the aluminium skin to its original brilliance.

B-29 Specifications and early historyThe Boeing B-29 Superfortress had an interesting gestation period, all under the pressures and immediacy of war. The (then) US Army Air Corps issued a specification in February 1940 for a bomber that could carry a 909 kg bombload at a speed of 348 knots a distance of 4,350 nautical miles. (Interestingly, RAN Skyhawks, with buddy-tanker aerial refuelling, could do better than that.)

Boeing, Consolidated, Douglas and Lockheed all responded to the bid, but Boeing won the contract to produce two prototypes and a second contract followed in April 1941 for 250 aircraft. In contrast to contemporary designs, including the British Lancaster that also carried bigger bombloads further and faster, the B-29 crew were housed in three pressurised compartments. However, the B-29 also carried advanced navigation and bomb-aiming radar, together with a fire control system for coupled .5 inch machine guns and 20 mm cannon carried for self defence.

In April 1944, the first B-29 operational squadron landed in India. The results of its first high altitude missions were mediocre but by December 1944, using lower altitude night delivery tactics from the newly-captured Marianas, the B-29s’ incendiary bombs soon destroyed much of Japan’s industrial might.

Late in 1944, a batch of B-29s, codenamed “Silverplate”, were modified to carry either of the two planned operational atomic bombs, “Fat Boy” or “Little Man”. They discarded most of the armour and armament, installed optimised propellers and modified the bomb bay doors. B-29-45-MO, serial number 44-86292, delivered by the Glenn L Martin Aircraft Company on 15 June 1944, was one of these, becoming “Enola Gay”.

NASM exhibited parts of the aircraft, including the forward fuselage, two engines and vertical stabiliser, between 1995 and 1998 in its main Washington display hall. This exhibition attracted no less than four million visitors but it sparked off a heated, highly polarised and ongoing debate. One group claims the Enola Gay glorifies nuclear war and should never be displayed. They said the shameful aircraft should be either left to rot or placed alongside the equally politically insensitive B-29 Bockscar in a remote Air Force Museum. Others insist that, nuclear politics notwithstanding, this aircraft is an important piece of history. It must be preserved at all costs, they assert. They register horror at the museum’s attempts at compromise by watering down text that accompanies the Enola Gay display.

An F4-U Corsair in full deck landing mode greets visitors on arrival.

The Udvar-Hazy Center is handy to Dulles Airport and passengers passing through that airport might consider putting aside at least half a day to examine its contents. The building is a large hangar-like structure, 300 yards (274 meters) long and the equivalent of 10 stories high. In addition to Enola Gay, it houses a host of other important and invaluable aircraft, like a British Hawker Hurricane, a German Focke-Wolfe FW 190A-8, a Japanese submarine-borne Aichi Seiran and a rare American Lockheed P-38J Lightning. A total of 200 aircraft, some 80 per cent of NASM’s collection, are destined for the Center, and 80 had been installed when the facility opened last December.

Aiichi M6A-1German giuded bombs
Exhibits from WW II include the very rare Japanese Aichi M6A-1 Seiran, a submarine-borne bomber (left),
and an interesting selection of German anti-shipping and anti-aircraft missiles (right).

Also on display at the Udvar-Hazy are aircraft such as a French Concorde and even an F-35, well before the latter aircraft even entered squadron service. In a specially dedicated area is the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

FAA Museum, Nowra

FAA Museum, Nowra

Fred Lane Nat Gould
Ex-805 Commanding Officers Fred Lane (left) and Nat Gould admire the Museum’s Sea Fury after the
sad 2008 ceremony de-commissioning 805 Squadron.
Coincidentally, Nat Gould converted Fred Lane to Sea Furies at Nowra in 1950.

The RAN has assumed responsibility for the aircraft museum at Nowra and renamed it the Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM). CMDR Shane Moore, Director, Naval Heritage Collection, announced the transfer, to date from 1 September 2006, and the museum became “an element of the Naval Heritage Collection, a Navy Systems Command unit.” Terry Hetherington is the Senior Curator and Manager and it is planned that he should have three staff plus volunteers to support him. In 2007, the RAN Historical Flight was transferred to Navy Systems Command as an NHC element and is closely aligned with the FAAM, although the Flight will be kept as a subunit.

The old Australian Naval Aviation Museum’s name was changed to Australia’s Museum of Flight to reflect a wider community interest in aviation generally, to include civilian aircraft in the display and to encourage more people to visit. The latter did not happen. It will be interesting to see if the Fleet Air Arm Museum name change and other measures achieve the desired result of more bodies through the turnstiles.

Largest regional museum

The Fleet Air Am Museum at Nowra is both the largest regional museum and the biggest pure aviation museum in Australia. The RAAF Museum at Point Cook, the Australian War Museum in Canberra and Fighterworld at Williamtown all have very interesting exhibits, but Australia’s Fleet Air Arm Museum takes pride in having the biggest (and many say the best) display under the one roof open to the public. It certainly has the biggest and best display of naval aircraft in Australia. The aircraft range from a rare early 20th CAG Fairey Firefly Mk IV to the last of the RAN’s fighters, the A-4 Skyhawk. It also has a sleek well-stocked gift shop and integrated lecture theatre. However, the Fleet Air Arm Museum should never be regarded as being in competition with other museums. On the contrary, all of Australia’s leading aviation museums take pride in setting and maintaining a world-recognised standard for preservation of our aviation heritage, as they attract and educate our community.

Before the immaculate scale Sopwith Pup replica and Sycamore helicopter,
then-Australian Prime Minister Howard opened the new Aviation Hall in 2001.

Museum Foundation Chairman RADM Neil Ralph praised Naval Officers Club members RADM Andrew Robertson and CDRE John Goble for their dedication and efforts over the years to support the museum in his address of welcome to the Prime Minister in 2001. He also praised the large numbers of volunteers who contributed invaluable time and money. The late Soapy McKeon, also a Naval Officers Club member, was an ardent and resourceful supporter, but it was Andrew Robertson who initiated the museum idea when he commanded Albatross back in the 1970s. He was amazed at the waste of old naval aircraft and other heritage items. Some Sea Furies, still in their original cocoons, were sold and cut up as scrap metal. Ever since he retired he has been a self-effacing and tireless museum fundraiser and organiser.

John Goble demonstrated time and again that he retained the skills that he learned as a junior Lieutenant, washing and polishing museum aircraft. He too has been a hard-working fundraiser and organiser and is also patron of the Fleet Air Arm Association. George Beasley and John led a team that built a beautiful Sopwith Pup replica. They mounted it on a “flying-off platform” set above a gun turret from the WW I-vintage HMAS Sydney, attesting to the RAN’s oft-forgotten but seminal influence in aviation, long before the RAAF or even the RAF were even formed.

Australia’s WW I cruiser, HMAS Sydney, was the first ship in the world that launched a fighter that engaged an enemy bomber.

Australia’s Light Fleet Carrier, HMAS Melbourne, was the first operational carrier in the world to mount all three of the new inventions that revolutionised carrier operations with jet aircraft: the angled deck, the mirror and the steam catapult. Other carriers might have had one or two of these devices retro-fitted, But Melbourne was the first operational carrier with all three.


FAA Museum
One corner of the excellent museum.

HMAS Sydney II Model

One museum exhibit is an amazingly detailed interactive working model of the WWII cruiser, HMAS Sydney. Choose any one of a row of buttons to operate a number of her systems. For instance, one button trains the main armament and fires a broadside, complete with synchronised sound effects. Another trains the catapult, stows the crane and initiates a simulated catapult launch of her Walrus aircraft. Use the morse key to send a signal from her masthead lights and signal lamps.

The museum opens 1000-1600 every day but Christmas, Boxing and New Year’s Days. Fees range from $7 (adult) with concessions for children and serving defence force members. The roads are much improved and it now takes less than two and a half hours to travel from Sydney to the museum. For more details, log on to

RAAF Point Cook Museum

RAAF Point Cook (Williams) Museum

The otherwise immaculate F-51 Mustang looked decidedly dejected, with a big hole where the engine used to be. “It will be flying next week in the Air Show,” said the optimistic guide at the RAAF Museum, Point Cook. This confidence is built on years of experience at this, the oldest continuously operating military airfield in the world. In contrast, the Supermarine Walrus (Pussers Duck, below) is never expected to fly again, but it too is in an equally immaculate condition.

Supermarine Walrus

Established in 1914, RAAF Point Cook (now RAAF Base Williams) metamorphosed a number of times over the years but started as a flying training field with stick-and-string aircraft such as the Boxkite and the 1915 Maurice Farman Shorthorn. One Shorthorn has been restored at the museum and is on show next to other trainers, like the famous DeHavilland DH82 Tiger Moth and the more recent CAC Winjeel. The museum complex, established in 1952, also houses more lethal types, like the F-4 Phantom and Mirage, as well as facilities to rebuild, repair and preserve practically any aircraft. One major 2004 project is the restoration of a laminated wooden-fuselage De Havilland Mosquito bomber.

Point Cook’s concrete runways, laid down in the late 1940s, are too short for safe routine operations with aircraft such as modern jet fighters, but the field is eminently suitable for light aircraft and restricted flying by some operational types. Three days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 1 pm (except during Christmas and New Year holidays) the museum flies a variety of aircraft in an “Interactive Program” from the field.

No RAN HS 748?

However, it is disappointing to see aircraft such as a RAAF Hawker Siddeley 748 on the tarmac outside the museum when similar naval aircraft were withheld from the naval aircraft museum at Nowra. Instead of selling off those naval aircraft off at junk metal prices, just a little better understanding, foresight and planning might have seen at least one of the RAN’s HS 748s proudly displayed at Australia’s Fleet Air Arm Museum. Perhaps this is an example of the ambivalence found in some RAN and government circles about retaining and respecting the heritage of flying in the RAN.

RAAF Point Cook has a long tradition of working with the RAN. It was here that local seaplane expertise was developed, with the historic pier and launching ramps built in 1916 to service these types. A 1914-era Hangar 95 stands there today, complete with a famous dent in its side, put there by Captain White (later Governor of Victoria) when he crashed his Boxkite into it in September 1914. WCDR (later AVM) S.J. Goble (CDRE John Goble’s father) departed Point Cook in 1924 for his famous round-Australia flight in a Fairey IIIF seaplane. A Supermarine Walrus proudly displayed in the museum, reminds viewers of the role this remarkable aircraft and its associated RAAF 9 Squadron had in reconnaissance and gunnery with RAN WWII cruisers.

Number 1 course RAN reps
Nine of the 14 RAN student pilots of Number One Course who commenced their flying training in Point Cook in 1948. Eight of the original 14 went on to Royal Navy Operational Flying Schools in the UK.
(The newspaper caption lists names in right to left, not left to right, order.)

Nearly all pre-WWII Australian aircrew training, navy and air force, was conducted at Point Cook. In 1949 the RAAF assumed responsibility for all RAN pilot training, up to “RAAF wings” standard, with regular student intakes, initially at Point Cook. After graduating, naval pilots completed their Operational Flying School courses, initially in the UK, and qualified for “Naval wings” after demonstrating their ability to fly an operational type and deck land. Later, RAAF Uranquinty, NSW, assumed responsibility for initial pilot training in Tiger Moths, while basic training in Wirraways remained at Point Cook. Yet later, with new training aircraft types, like the Winjeel, Vampire and Macchi, RAAF Pearce, WA, and other bases housed various fixed-wing aircrew training schools.

RAAF Cadet College

The RAAF established their Cadet College at Point Cook in 1949 although, like RAN midshipmen and Creswell, RAAF cadets spend most of their academic training time around Canberra nowadays.  The college was relocated in 2005.

What will become of Point Cook? The museum hosted over 90,000 visitors in 2002. A number of proposals have been considered at various levels of government over recent years, but the future of the base seems fairly secure in the light of decisions made in early 2004. This means that the museum’s tenure, only 25 minutes from Melbourne, is also secure, despite the relocation of the RAAF College and despite vast hectares of brand new housing development going on all around it. The museum is open 1000 to 1700 Tuesday to Friday, except Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Admission is free. Search for further details.