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I arrive in the gift shop of the Yankee Air Museum, excited for the history that waits inside. I draw in the Rosie the Riveter posters, the aircraft models, and war books that are hung up on their shelves. “Can I help you, Miss? ” The woman at the counter is retired, no doubt a woman that had a lot of experience either building aircrafts or helping in the war efforts during her time. “Yes I called earlier; I’m an English Student at Washtenaw. I was hoping to get an interview or tour of the museum. ” “Go right on in; John will be giving the tours today. He will be the one wearing a white cap.
” She is kind and amiable, definitely a good fit to be working at this museum. Walking into the hanger, I am immediately greeted by eight aircrafts posted up on all corners of the building, with a few lingering in the middle of the building. A volunteer asks me if I am here to see someone in particular. He notices my notebook, and informs me not too many people come bearing note taking material. I inform him of my intentions to write a paper and to see John. The man points out John sitting at the flight simulator in the activity center. It’s the smallest section of the whole building, but by far the busiest section.
There are a lot of families in today. A baby girl and her sister are riding around in airplane cozy coops. One is a Spad13; the other a Navy Tomcat, with a little pinup girl painted on the front. As the girls Flintstone themselves through the building, the pulleys make the propellers spin around. They move pretty fast considering they are propelled by the children’s feet. A couple boys are huddled around the Xbox Kinect in the Activity Center; which creates a simulation of the Mars Rover Mission. The object of the game is to get the Rover onto Mar’s surface as safely as possible.
This is done by having children dance and simulate pressing buttons to drop the Rover. The youngest boy controlling the Rover throws his body up like an X, as he does so, the Rover parachutes down to Mars. Behind the game is a replica of Mar’s surface, and a mini Robot Rover that kids can move about the playing field. A dad and his two year old son move the controls of the Rover with ease. Looking around on a broad spectrum, seven easily identifiable aircrafts hang about the building. There is a Spad 13, a UH-11, a Glider, a Phantom F4-C, a Cessna, a P38, and a section of a Bomber. Beside each aircraft is a mannequin.
Some are dressed as pilots, some are corporals, others are grunts, but my favorite mannequin is Rosie the Riveter. She sits smiling in her red polka dot bandana and blue overalls. John walks up to me. He wears a white hat that says ‘Yankee Air Museum’ on the front. His shirt is a bright orange Disney polo with a little emblem of Goofy on the front pocket. His zip-up jacket has a symbol of little molecules that surround the words ‘Air Traffic Control Operator,’ on the upper right hand side. “Hello Jenny, are you ready for the tour? ” he bellows through his pepper salted goatee. He has been informed of my arrival.
We shared background information before the tour. John went to Intelligence School, just like me. He speaks fluent Russian, was an Air Traffic Controller for twenty years, and is retired. He seems to be extremely knowledgeable on everything in the Aviation Industry, and there are no doubts in my mind that there isn’t a whole lot he doesn’t already know about aircrafts. The first airplane he brings us to is the Spad 13. It is only partially constructed to show its skeleton and all the cables that run through the spar holes. It has the same archaic wing features that resemble something the Wright Brothers may have created.
However, it definitely lacks the bulkiness of the Wright Brother wings, and it holds a fuselage to carry a passenger. John starts the tour off with a history lesson, letting me know that in World War I Americans weren’t interested in the war, until the Germans sunk the Lusitania ship. After that day, Americans employed French engineers to create a good fighter aircraft. The Spad 13 fit the bill; it was reengineered from a German plane with the radiator employed on the outside of the nose, which allowed the plane to move a whole 15 mph faster than any German plane.
John points to a small placard that sits in front of the aircraft it says 40,000 on it, he notes that this is the number of man hours that has gone into reconstructing the plane at the museum. This segways him into an explanation of the number of people that were working at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in the 1940’s. Next to the Spad 13 sits Rosie. He asks me, “Now, Jenny if all the men are out fighting in the Vietnam War who will build the Bombers? ” I shrug, “The women? ” He answers, “Yes, at that time women didn’t really work, but Ford had a different mindset, he employed 40,000 women who moved up here from Alabama,
Louisiana, and South Carolina to help make the Bombers. And he paid them an unheard of five dollars an hour. ” John points to the rivets on the Bomber and asks me, “How many rivets do you think one Bomber holds? ” They look like little uniform ants, I start counting a couple, there are so many it probably would be easier to guess how many ceiling tiles one Wal-Mart has verse guessing the rivet count on one Bomber. I’m right. John chirps in, “Give up? ” He talks rather fast and I know there is a lot more to see so I nod. “Well Jenny, there are 400,000 rivets on one Bomber, and here at Willow Run one Bomber was made every hour.
Jenny, see this imaginary line I’m walking on? ” He pretends like he is walking on a tight rope. “This is the line between Washtenaw and Wayne County. You see Ford did most of his business with Wayne County and he really liked Wayne County; however, he had to fight with them a lot. Ford had to pay taxes between both Counties because his plant was so big, but Ford found a loop hole that showed that his plant was on the County line, therefore, to get out of paying Wayne County taxes he simply turned all of his aircrafts 90 degrees to the left and had them go out onto only Washtenaw County lines.
In doing this, the plant avoided paying $300 tax money per aircraft built. 8,685 Bombers were built at the Willow Run plant; the last 300 built were never flown, and instead broken down into appliances because by that time the country was sick of the war. ” (“Our History. ” – Yankee Air Museum) He moves to a display of the cockpit the gunners sat in. We’re almost at his favorite display model that sits beside this one, the Air Traffic Control Model. He explains to us the difficulty of becoming a pilot during that time and how more than half got washed out during the IFR training portion of their schooling.
He says, “While most men weren’t cut out to be pilots, there were other jobs that they could do instead, most notably the air gunner. The heaviest a man could be was 140 pounds because he had to be able to not only fit in the gunner bubble, but also wear all his winter gear–temperatures could go below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. ” John confident and friendly went on to explain, “The ride to Germany was miserable to say the least, but once he started firing his weaponry, temperatures could rise to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in his bubble.
Unable to take off his winter apparel, the gunner, if he was lucky enough to survive came home drenched in sweat in below freezing temperatures. ” John takes me to the Phantom F4-C, which has to be my favorite aircraft there. Everything holds a purpose in its design. What is especially interesting is how the aircraft is painted white on the under belly and camouflage on the top. The reason for this is to make the enemy believe that they are only seeing the ground if they take a picture from above and sky from below. Below the ailerons on almost all the aircrafts there, is what looks like large missiles.
This one by far is the largest. Maybe it is to fool the enemy, because it definitely fools me, but the missiles are nothing more than fuel tanks. The Phantom is large and bulky. It carries a swept wing design and a wide horizontal stabilizer. John says, “There weren’t too many of these built due to the outrageous fuel costs that they imposed on flight. ” The Mannequin in front wears a green flight suit, just like all the other mannequins he is skinny, but this one wears a large helmet with a sun visor, and carries a hand pistol slung over his right shoulder.
What I find most interesting about him are the pants he wears over his suit. The purpose for the pants is to keep his body from expanding in higher altitudes. The last aircraft we visit is the UH-11. It’s a helicopter, and just like most of the other aircrafts there, it is painted green. The UH-11 is made of magnesium and aluminum to stay light. There are no chairs inside the cargo section of the helicopter, only metal bars that hold canvas seats. The bars are connected by pull-pins.
One could easily disassemble the body of the inside of the helicopter and turn it into an air ambulance. There are two mannequins that sit in this aircraft: a grunt and a gunner. The grunt is decorated in his uniform and holds all sorts of gadgets on his tactical belt. Sitting behind him holds his canteen, on his left side strings his gas mask, on his right—a grenade that sits on his ammo pouch. Strung up by his neck a smoke gas can lingers. John speaks a little bit on another man that works in the building that flew this very UH-11.
He is featured as one of the mannequins and holds a mural of picture taken in Vietnam with troops landing on enemy ground. After the tour, John thanks me for coming out. As I shake his hand, I think about the women who created all the Bombers and how crucial they were to whole operation of the war. I am thankful for the Yankee Air Museum. I thank John for his time and knowledge in everything we saw today. On my way out, the cashier waves a friendly goodbye. She lets me know I am most welcome to volunteer there any time I want.