Aeronautics has a great tradition in the US, as witnessed by the many air museums and collections pointing the territory of the Country from coast to coast, with a density unrivalled in any other place of the world.
Some of these, like the museum of the USAF in Dayton, OH, the Udvar-Hazy branch of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. or the museum of the Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL, stand out for their size and the completeness of their collections, as well as for rare or unique items they preserve – not just prototypes or experimental aircraft, but also ‘last exemplars’ of once widespread species.
Among less extensive collections, all with something interesting to showcase, there are some featuring not only a static exhibition, but also shops for carrying out restoration work, and capable of maintaining a group of flying aircraft. The following photographs are from two such places I visited in Pennsylvania and upper New York state.
National Warplane Museum – Geneseo, NY
Also known as ‘1941 Historical Aircraft Group Museum’, this museum is located at the end of Big Tree Lane, to the west of the little town of Geneseo, home of a campus of the State University of New York – actually the museum can be spotted from the campus. The collection there is hosted mainly in a single large hangar, located to the south of a field with a fairly long grass runway.
The collection is made up of flying aircraft and aircraft awaiting restoration to a flying condition. This makes the place unique, in the sense it is basically an active airbase for historic aircraft more than a museum.
At the time of my visit there were two examples of great Douglas designs, a C-47 Skytrain and an A-20 Havoc. The former is a surviving WWII veteran, more recently flown back to Normandy – where it had dropped paratroopers during the operations of the D-Day – for the 70th anniversary of the disembarkment. Both are in flying or almost-flying conditions.
Other Douglas aircraft here are an A-26 Invader and a more rare B-23 Dragon, a twin-engined bomber of the pre-war years awaiting restoration. The A-26 suffered a nose gear collapse in summer 2016.
An interesting sight is an exemplar of North American B-25 Mitchell, in the attack – possibly ‘G’ – version with a monster 74 mm cannon in the nose compartment.
A more unusual sight in this part of the world, an Antonov An-2, which at the time of my visit was having the engine refurbished.
Most notably, the place is the home base of a Boeing B-17, but I couldn’t see it on my visit for it was away for taking part in an airshow.
I am not totally sure all aircraft actually belong to the local collection, as due to the quality of the shop I guess they bring in some aircraft from other places for restoration or specific maintenance.
On the outside there are a handful of statically preserved aircraft. These include another C-47 used during WWII for the perilous flights between India across the Himalaya to continental China and the British colonies occupied by Japan, and a Fairchild C-119 Boxcar, having served in many continents in the years following WWII, and presented here in the colours of the RCAF.
The site is busy with historical rides and airshows, you can find news and further info on their website.
Mid-Atlantic Air Museum – Reading, PA
This museum is located on the northern side of Reading Regional Airport, an intermediate size infrastructure with two asphalt runways for general aviation and regional commercial flights.
In the museum it is possible to find many aircraft in flying or nearly flying conditions, together with an extensive collection of planes on static display.
Among the highlights of my visit, I could see a beautiful North American B-25 Mitchell in perfect flight condition. Another interesting aircraft is a Douglas R4D, a naval version of the C-47. I came to the museum looking for this exemplar in particular, since I had seen a photo of it in my childhood on the great book by Arthur Pearcy ‘Sixty Glorious Years’, and also flew in the virtual version of it on many trips in the good old MS Flight Simulator 98… Plus I always liked the bare metal colors with minimal trim adopted by the NATS.
A truly unique sight of the museum is the Northrop P-61 Black Widow. As of late 2016, this aircraft is still undergoing a lengthy restoration notably to a flyable condition, which would make it the only flying P-61 in the world – of the only four surviving today.
Another very uncommon sight is one of the two surviving prototypes of the Custer “Channel Wing” from the early Sixties. This design was based on the idea to exploit the acceleration of the flow nearby the propellers to generate extra lift on purpose-designed, circular shaped wing sections. Unfortunately the aircraft failed to enter the market, but the idea was not just fancy, for blown flaps and accelerated aerodynamic flows are solutions not seldom used on aircraft today. A wind tunnel model of the same aircraft can be found in the entrance hall.
A rare aircraft in the US, you can spot a Vickers Viscount turboprop formerly of Capital Airlines, a company with its roots in the Northeast and Pennsylvania, later to merge into United. Another liner on display, a 1952 Martin 4-0-4 in the colors of Eastern.
A Fairchild C-119 Boxcar formerly of the Marine Corps and many other aircraft can be admired in or around the main hangar of the museum. Some very knowledgeable volunteers help with the tour and are available for questions. At the time of my visit, I could not see all the aircraft in the collection for some of them were away to take part in airshows.
They operate a very informative interesting website.
Appendix: Local Airshow in the Amish Country
As I was visiting the area of the Amish tradition in southern Pennsylvania, about 35 miles southwest of Reading I came across a curious airshow at the Smoketown Airport S-37.
For sure the strangest thing flying that day – and for many days before and after – is a kind of paragliding, propelled flying-jeep. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about this curious project, but as you can see from some pictures below it really can fly.