A Venturer Reports: A New Crew Visits the National Museum of The Air Force

We are a brand-new Crew in the northeast part of Michigan’s lower peninsula.  Our chartering organization is American Legion Post 274 in Oscoda, Michigan.  This is the story of our first trip as a Crew, a Tier II adventure.  There are six of us who are ‘active’ Venturers in our Crew and four more who are ‘inactive.’  The ‘inactive ones pay dues but don’t show up or participate much.  Of the six of us who are ‘active’, four participated in this trip.

Our ‘mission’ was to visit the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and attend the opening of the exhibit featuring The Memphis Belle.  Three of us gathered after school on Friday the 18th of May for the long (6+ hour) drive to Dayton, Ohio from Oscoda, MI.  One of our Venturers, Morgan, lives in central West Virginia.  Her parents brought her whole family to meet us in Wilmington, Ohio where we ‘camped out’ at the airport – the whole trip had a decidedly aeronautical theme.  Morgan only had a 4-hour drive, but she left later and arrived last.  We got to bed about 0030 in the morning.

Crew 7 fixing breakfast at the hangar at the airport

            Going to bed late cost us the next morning.  No one heard the alarm!  We awoke at 7:30 AM and cooked breakfast at the airport.  Our fare consisted of scrambled eggs, sausage and cheese.  Erykah was our Grubmaster for the trip and she planned great meals.  Since we planned to fix sandwiches at the museum, we loaded up our ice chest loaded with drinks and sandwich fixings and headed out to the National Museum of the Air Force about 40 minutes away.  Our late awakening resulted in an arrival at 0940 instead of 0900.  The massive green expanses around the museum were already filling with vehicles.  This was a huge event.

Venturing Crew 7 of the Water & Woods Field Service Council in the parking area at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

            Security was tight at the museum.  No backpacks.  When we walked in the doors, we had to empty our pockets into buckets and walk through metal detectors.  We got our cameras, phones, and wallets back once we got inside.  There were a lot of people at the museum and more were arriving every minute.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force

Pete (our Advisor) is a member of the museum and he went to the Gift Shop to buy each of us a museum patch.  The patches had the image of a P-40 ‘Warhawk’ fighter on them from World War II.  We all have the old red wool ‘jack-shirts’ used by the Boy Scouts of America since the 1950’s.  We plan to put our scouting history on the backs of them as part of our Crew uniform.  This trip was our first Scouting event for three of us.  Erykah has been a Venturer for over a year in another Crew and has a bunch of patches on her wool coat.

Crew 7 Venturers in front of ‘Bock’s Car’, the B-29 that bombed Nagasaki

The National Museum of the Air Force is immense – and admission is free – so it is a perfect place for a ‘low budget’ Crew like ours.  Our first stop was the World War II exhibit hangar.  The hangar held lots of important aircraft light the B-29 ‘Bock’s Car’ that dropped the second atomic bomb in World War II.  The new exhibit honoring The Memphis Belle was also in this part of the museum.  The Memphis Belle is the second bomber in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) to survive to complete twenty-five combat missions.  For years, the plane was on loan from the Air Force to the City of Memphis where it was on display at the airport.  Memphis did not have the ability to maintain the historic aircraft so in 2004 the Air Force asked for it back.  By 2005 it was being restored by volunteers for display at the National Museum of the Air Force.  Today, it probably looks better than it ever looked in combat.  The Memphis Belle is named for the fiancé (Margaret Polk) of the aircraft commander (Captain Robert Morgan).  The aircraft is so famous because the Army Air Forces dedicated it to a bond-raising publicity tour of the United States when it was flown back from the ETO.  The crew of the Memphis Belle met the 25-mission requirement in a variety of aircraft but most of them flew all but 4 missions in The Belle.  The Memphis Belle flew its last mission without its famous crew because when they reached 25 missions, the plane only had 24.

Crew 7 with The Memphis Belle in the background

The Memphis Belle is gorgeous after restoration.  Some of the 25 bombs painted on the side of the aircraft representing missions flown in combat have stars over them signifying Squadron, Group or mission leadership responsibility.  Swastikas on the fuselage represent Nazi fighters shot down by the crew.  When we go to the Belle, she was mobbed by visitors taking pictures.  We spent a good 20 minutes at the exhibit then finished seeing the World War II hangar went back to the parking lot to get lunch.  We shared sandwiches and sodas, then split up into two groups to try to see some more displays in the huge museum.  The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the largest aviation museum in the world.  For those of you who have been to Air & Space on the National Mall in Washington DC and the Udvar-Hazy center at Dulles Airport, this museum is larger than both combined by more than a factor of two.

After lunch, I went with Nona and Jamie to see the Presidential aircraft.  Morgan, Erykah and Pete headed to the Cold War exhibit.  Pete is a former B-52 pilot and he wanted to show his group the huge jet with eight engines that he flew when he was on active duty.  At the Presidential aircraft, there were gateways you had to fit through before boarding the aircraft because the plexiglass covered walkways were narrow and if you could not fit through the gateway, you could not fit through the aircraft on display.  The planes were very cool and it was fascinating to see such unusual engineering as the elevator from the back of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s plane that allowed him to get to the ground despite his inability to walk.  President Roosevelt had polio as a child and the damage to his nerves eventually confined him to a wheelchair.

Our next stop was the cafeteria above the missile exhibit.  We purchased some sodas, sat down and gave our feet a break.  Since this was the opening weekend for the Memphis Belle exhibit, the area around the National Museum of the United States Air Force had lots of exhibits by re-enactors.  We saw a few but then headed inside to avoid a rain shower passing through the area.  When the rain left, we did get back outside to take in a few more exhibits and buy some ice cream.  We met up with the rest of our Crew at the Information Desk.  Pete had gotten us tickets to see the 1990 movie – ‘The Memphis Belle’ scheduled to start at 4:30 PM.

Crew 7 outside the National Museum of the Air Force after the rain

The movie, ‘The Memphis Belle’ had been digitally restored.  It wasn’t so much an accurate portrayal of the Memphis Belle’s last mission as it was a compendium of B-17 bomber stories from World War II compressed into a single mission.  It did make a few things crystal clear.  The skies over Europe in World War II were a deadly place to be and the crews who flew in them exhibited unusual courage as they fought to keep our world free from tyranny!  The movie was accompanied by people involved in making it and by a gentleman who works with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).  The EAA operates one of the last flying B-17s and he had amazing stories about people he had made actual B-17 flight possible for.  For instance, one elderly gentleman had dropped provisions to people in a Nazi concentration camp as a pilot of a B-17 at the end of World War II and another person had been a prisoner in that same camp.  They both got rides in the B-17 but they also got to meet each other for the first time through the EAA.  There were many more incredible stories like this one discussed after the movie.

After a full day at the National Museum of the Air Force, we stopped at Kroger to replenish our larder for dinner and then headed back to the hangar to cook dinner.  As it turns out, for dinner, we invented a dish called ‘June Bug Special.’  Weird right?  When Jamie and Erykah were making dinner, a June Bug got into the food and the next time they stirred, they saw it, retrieved it and discarded it.  We ate the dinner and it was pretty good.  Then we went to bed after cleaning up the dishes.

On Sunday, we got up at 7 AM, packed and made breakfast.  This time we had biscuits and gravy courtesy of Morgan and me who were the cooks.  We made the biscuits in a Dutch oven as part of the cooking requirement for RANGER and everyone loved them with the sausage gravy we cooked up.  To avoid burning the biscuits, we found three rocks and elevated the biscuit dough on pie plates in the oven, so the dough cooked evenly on all sides.  They were sublime, flaky and altogether wonderful!

Morgan in the cockpit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Morgan was the first to leave with her parents!  Erykah was not happy saying good by to her best friend.  Everyone gave her hugs.  After Morgan left, we packed up the car and started the long drive home.  The trip to the National Museum of the Air Force was a long drive but it was amazing and totally worth it.  We got back to Oscoda around 6 PM and hung out on the Lake Huron beach until our Crew Meeting at 6:30.  We elected Jamie to be our Crew President that evening and made our plans for our second Crew Trip – a car camping trip into the Huron National Forest for fishing!  More on that in our next article.

We give the National Museum of the Air Force two thumbs up.  It is a GREAT place to visit.  If you want to try to arrange hosting, the two closest Scout Councils are Tecumseh Council in Springfield, Ohio and Miami Valley Council in Dayton, Ohio.

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