Normally I cover out-of-town destinations in this column. However, from time to time, there are “trips” you can take around Colorado Springs that will be well worth your time. One opportunity I detailed a few months back is the Peterson Air and Space Museum. Another first-rate opportunity is just east of Powers Boulevard, near Peterson Air Force Base: The National Museum of World War II Aviation. It’s the only congressionally-designated museum exclusively dedicated to World War II aviation in the country.
First, a little background. My father’s generation fought World War II (Tom Brokaw has called them “The Greatest Generation”). So, the Baby Boomers, of which I am one, were only a few years removed from the war. As a young boy in the 60s I remember learning about the war, and some of the earliest books I read were of air combat over Europe and in the Pacific. (An excellent book is “Thunderbolt” by Robert S. Johnson. Another is the classic “Twelve O’Clock High!” by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay Jr.) After spending 21 years in the Air Force, even as a space operator quite a ways from any cockpit, I learned much about the air campaigns during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
The war in the air in World War II is still inspiring — some of the most heroic efforts in our nation’s history have come from those actions. It was also brutal, and the number of killed in the air war is staggering — many from training accidents. For those not exposed to the background of World War II airpower development, it might come as a surprise that there was quite a bit of controversy in deciding how to employ aviation assets. Very briefly, the Americans thought strategic bombing could cripple enemy ability to produce warfighting capability. And early airpower advocates thought the bombers could go in daylight, protect themselves with their defensive guns, and bomb accurately with the Norden bombsight. Some Army leaders were skeptical, and wanted tactical close air support to support their operations. British air leaders thought daylight bombing in Europe would not work, and advocated night bombing.
It turned out that the bombers did indeed need fighter escorts due to high losses. It also turned out the Americans bombing in daylight and the Brits bombing at night kept pressure on German industry around the clock. In the Pacific, carrier aviation made great strides in the war, and some of our greatest aces were produced in the struggle against Japan. The distances of the campaigns in the Pacific still boggle the imagination. You can put the entire landmass of the earth into the Pacific Ocean and still have room to spare. (Debates about strategy to conduct the Pacific war essentially came down to arguments between Adm. Chester Nimitz and his island hopping approach, versus the routes Gen. Douglas MacArthur advocated. It turned out the campaigns were mutually supporting.) Interestingly, Gen. MacArthur, even with his Army background and at his age, employed tactical airpower most successfully. Gen. George Kenney, his air commander, was innovative and devastatingly effective.
Getting to the museum is not difficult. Go south of Platte on Powers Boulevard to Aeroplaza Drive, turn east and go to Aviation Way. Turn left (north) and follow the signs. There are numerous aircraft to view, most of them still flyable. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. You can do a self-guided tour or have a docent take you around. The docent-led tours, which I recommend, start at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. See WorldWariiAviation.org for details.
Of special interest is the upcoming Pikes Peak Regional Airshow on Sept. 21 and 22. In addition to static aircraft displays, the schedule includes a number of flying demonstrations such as a B-17 Wings of Blue parachute jump and an F-22. See pprAirShow.org for specifics.
Doug McCormick is retired from the Air Force after spending 21 years as a space operator. His business, American History Tours LLC, specializes in taking people to see locations associated with significant American history. Contact McCormick at email@example.com.