Don’t miss these 5 Air Force Museum exhibits when you go see Memphis Belle

A tall black curtain surrounds a large corner of the World War II Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. If you stand in just the right spot (between the German Junkers Ju-88 and the V-2 rocket) you can see the top turret, tail and propeller tips of the B-17F Memphis Belle - another “crown jewel” of the museum which is about to be unveiled on May 18.

The Memphis Belle was the first Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe, a stunning task considering the odds that only 25% of bomber crewmen survived the war. The bomber and the crew returned to the U.S. for a War Bonds tour and is considered the most famous plane of WW II.

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Just as important is the rest of the story of WW II aviation, and the Museum has much to offer. 

The Doolittle Raiders exhibit takes you to the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet where B-25 Mitchell bombers were prepared to launch a raid on Tokyo, Japan. The twin-engine bomber is lashed to the aircraft carrier deck and loaded with bombs and ammunition for a surprise attack. Artifacts and the silver goblets used to toast the survivors are included to tell the story.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots program began to break the gender barrier for military pilots during WW II when it was formed in 1943. More than 1,000 women pilots graduated from the program and supported the war effort by becoming flight instructors, tow pilots for gliders and gunnery targets, ferrying aircraft and other duties.

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Racial barriers were also being broken in WW II. The Tusk egee Airmen exhibit tells the story of providing equal opportunity and training in the U.S. Army Air Forces that lead the way for integration of all the armed forces.

The Nazis were on the cutting edge of aviation technology in WW II and the museum has excellent examples the first jet fighter aircraft and rockets that terrorized Europe. The twin-engine Messerschmitt Me 262, V-1 Buzzbomb and V-2 rocket are located with a Junkers Ju-88 and Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet.

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To complete the story of WW II aviation, the B-29 Superfortress nicknamed “Bockscar”, includes a replica of the atomic bomb “Fat Man” that was dropped by the bomber over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, the second and last nuclear weapon ever used. Included in the display is a replica of the atomic bomb Little Boy that was dropped by B-29 Enola Gay three days earlier on August 6.

Several WW II aircraft have been moved out of the gallery, but most will be returning after the opening of the Memphis Belle exhibit according to Air Force Museum sources.

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