A Celebration of Air Power
The United States Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio is the focus of an array of events and activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of powered flight, even as another chapter of the history of the USAF is being played out in the Middle East. Dayton, home of the Wright Brothers, is the cradle of aviation, and the national museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the world's largest and oldest aviation museum.
As a major part of this celebration a series of exhibitions has been organised at the Museum, totaling "Over 250 Original Paintings By The World's Most Renowned Aviation Artists", and extending over the whole course of the 2003 from January to December. At the invitation of the Museum, I attended the opening on April 12th of the second exhibition in the series titled "Air Power", featuring 58 paintings by Wilson Hurley, Bill Phillips, Roy Grinnell, Dru Blair, Craig Kodera and myself (somewhat curiously, I had not been relegated to the following show in the series, in June, "Aviation Art Worldwide", which will bring in the overseas artists, including the other Brit Robert Taylor, Tiro Vorster, Don Connolly and the French painters of Les Peintres De l'Air).
On arrival at Wright -Patterson AFB, we were treated with generous hospitality and housed in the Hope( after Bob, of course ) Hotel on base. Among other things the following day, we were led on a fascinating Behind The Scenes Tour of the Museum by the Director Major General(Ret) Charles Metcalf, followed by lunch at a charming downtown restaurant hosted by the Director and the Senior Curator Terry Aitken.
The Museum has over 300 aircraft and missiles, and is very much in a state of flux at the moment, with the integration of a huge new hangar( the Eugene Kettering Gallery) as well as a new Missile Gallery. Exhibits and aircraft are in the process of being shuffled about as new ones are being brought in. Nevertheless it was a pleasure to see and feel in the metal many "old friends" I had previously committed to canvas over the years. Always stunning by its sheer scale is the unmistakable B-52 which dominates the Modern Flight Gallery…and looking up at it one cannot but feel sympathy for the Iraqi Republican Guard, the most recent group to receive its attentions. The story goes that during the negotiations at Dayton over the Kosovo Crisis, they had pointedly seated Slobodan Milosevich close by the vast open bomb bay of the bomber! The Restoration Division was, as always, especially interesting, and the Research and Development/Flight Test Gallery has the sole remaining example of the massive and incomparable XB-70 Valkyrie, as well as a range of other record breakers. Outside the museum on the ramp was the surprise sight of a Gulf-camouflaged Tornado GR1, tail code CN, parked alongside a Russian MiG-23 Flogger!
The culminating event that evening was Dinner in the Air Power Gallery, where we were seated in between and under the aircraft, followed by a Concert with the USAF Band of Flight. Afterwards we all adjourned to the Exhibition itself where I met up again not only with my American coexhibitors but with other members of the ASAA who attended the occasion….among them Charley and Ann Cooper, Paul Rendel and Andy Whyte. For myself, some of the most impressive works at the show were those of Wilson Hurley, an artist whose work was unfamiliar to me, and who was unfortunately absent due to illness. In particular I was impressed by his atmospheric and dramatic "Air Strike at French Fort", showing an 0-1A Bird Dog target spotter in Vietnam leading in a strike by a F4 Phantom….it took me a few minutes to finally spot the F4 within the wide vista of the painting.
All in all, a most enjoyable couple of days. I stayed on a couple more days in Dayton with American friends, savouring life in Small Town America. Throughout we were blessed with perfect sunny Spring weather….which seemed to have followed me back to the UK. I'm looking forward to returning to Dayton in September to attend a reunion, by which time the museum may hopefully have on show a B-2 which at present is under restoration!
Ronald Wong GAvA June 2003