The Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade

With a few parallels in aviation history, especially in the years immediately following WWII, former Yugoslavia benefited from supplies by a great number of countries. As a matter of fact, the air force of this newborn communist republic was formed at first from leftovers of retreating Germany and conquering Britain, followed by the establishment of a supply line initially from the USSR, and later the US and again Britain.

The special political ability of marshal Tito, who ruled uncontested as a communist dictator since the foundation of Yugoslavia in 1945 until his death in 1980, and the credit he benefited from especially in Britain, allowed him to keep out of the sphere of influence of the USSR since 1948. In a strategic position on the border with NATO countries like Italy and Greece, Tito adopted a detente policy of ‘equal-distance’ between the two opposing blocs over the Cold War period (even though NATO did not trust him fully, as testified by the deployment of a SAM defense line in northeastern Italy, see this post).

Of course, most of the military supply was of Soviet make, especially after the death of Stalin and well until the end of communism in Europe and the bloody fragmentation of the Yugoslav state. However, concerning civil aviation, autonomy from Moscow allowed the adoption of western aircraft, like the French Aerospatiale Caravelle and much of the Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas inventory, in the major national airline JAT – something which happened very rarely anywhere in the communist bloc over the years of the Cold War, another notable instance being Romania, again a ‘semi-autonomous’ communist dictatorship, who refused the Soviet Tupolev Tu-134 in favor of license-built British BAC 1-11s.

Another effect of the autonomy from the USSR was the creation of a national aviation industry, which especially in the case of SOKO, produced military trainers and light attack aircraft of good success, which despite ageing, are still flying today.

More recently, the fierce conflicts raging over the Balkans in the 1990s have created a major active front for modern aviation, where the air force of Serbia – which inherited the geographically central part of Yugoslavia and its capital city, Belgrade – confronted the NATO alliance in an open conflict. The unbalance of forces allowed the western coalition to quickly establish air superiority, which did not come without a few notable material losses however.

A rich display of this peculiar aviation history, actually tracing back to WWI and the early years of aviation, can be found in the Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade, which despite being in today’s Serbia, acts as a kind of Yugoslav Aviation Museum. As a matter of fact, it was founded as such back in the years of Tito, and opened in its current building nearby ‘Nikola Tesla’ civil airport of Belgrade in 1989, when Yugoslavia was still a reality.

This short post provides an outline of what you can find in this museum, with photographs taken on a visit in April 2019.

Sights

The museum occupies a relatively large area in the vicinity of the airport of Belgrade, and is made of an open-air exhibition, open-air storage area, and big mushroom-shaped building hosting an indoor exhibition.

The ‘gate guardian’ is a SOKO J-21 Jastreb, a nice light multi-role aircraft from the 1960s, powered by a British Rolls-Royce Viper jet engine.

Indoor exhibition

The entry hall of the mushroom-shaped building features is a good example of the architectural style from the late communist era. The ground floor hosts a small exhibition about the early days of aviation in the former region of the Balkans, with documents from WWI years. Among the items on display, you can find early pilot’s licenses from notable war pilots, likely granted after training abroad, and actually written in French.

The main hall of the museum can be found upstairs. This large can be walked on two levels. Most aircraft are to be found on the lower level, but a few are suspended to the glassy circular sidewall of the mushroom, lighted from behind by the sunlight – so that taking pictures is just a nightmare!

The centerpiece of the collection is an exemplar of the SOKO J-22 Orao, a twin-engined – two Rolls-Royce Viper turbofans – light ground-attack and trainer aircraft from the 1970s. Designed jointly by Yugoslavia and Romania, this model equipped the Yugoslav (then Serbian) air force during the 1990s, where a handful exemplars are still flying today.

Indeed a clean design with an interesting performance, this aircraft was possibly the last heir of the Ikarus-then-SOKO lineage, originated back in the years before WWII. In this respect, some unique exemplars of aircraft are preserved in this museum, witnessing the existence of a school of skilled aircraft designers in Serbia, not much known in the western world.

A key figure of the Ikarus design bureau, Dragoljub Beslin led the design of Ikarus S-451, a nice, very small, twin-prop attack aircraft flown in 1951, especially designed to sustain high load factors in maneuvers at high speed.

Another unique specimen is the twin-jet Ikarus 451M, the first jet aircraft built by Yugoslavia. Same designer as the S-451, this unusual jet-engined taildragger flew in 1952, but was soon superseded by more modern models, in those years of quick-paced development of aviation technology. Again, the engines were from the West, in the form of two French Turbomeca Palas turbojets.

Another member of the ‘Ikarus 451’ family – it must be said this Yugoslav one is likely the oddest model numbering systems ever created… –  the T 451 MM Strsljen (Hornet) features a more convincing configuration, resembling the single-engined British BAC Jet Provost and the Italian Macchi MB 326, both rather successful trainers from the late 1950s. On display is actually the ‘Strsljen II’ version, which is a attack/training version with more thrust than the first series aircraft. This model was conceived to operate from unprepared runways, and featured two Turbomeca Marbore II French turbojets. The aircraft flew in 1958, but an air force contract was not granted.

Some functional wind tunnel models of other aircraft, actually never reaching the 1:1 prototype stage, are on display. These include a rare ekranoplane design, the UTVA 754. With a mechanic-monster-like appearance like all ekranoplanes (the most famous being probably the Bertini-Beriev preserved at the Russian Air Force Museum in Monino, see here), this machine was designed in 1982 in the then-Yugoslav town of Zagreb, today the capital city of Croatia.

A medevac aircraft conceived for easy conversion between floats and wheels, the UTVA 66H can be visited also inside. The indigenous SOKO is represented by a number of models. These include the SOKO G-2 Galeb, a successful trainer/light attack aircraft from the 1950s, built around a single Rolls-Royce Viper turbofan. During its long history it was exported to several international operators, and gave birth to the more recent SOKO J-21 Jastreb. The Galeb was in service with Serbia until 1999.

Another section of the museum features aircraft of foreign make which witness the intricate history of alliances of both the pre-WWII Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the post-WWII communist Yugoslavia. Most remarkably, these include a Messerschmitt Bf-109-G! The history of this particular aircraft is not very clear, some sources stating it was captured from Bulgarian air force. As a matter of fact, Yugoslavia acquired about 70 Bf-109-E from Germany in 1940, which in turn furiously invaded from north in a quick an violent campaign in spring 1941.

Next in line is nothing less than a British Hawker Hurricane! A group of Hurricanes were acquired from Britain in the immediate pre-war years, and even license-built in Belgrade in a small number – Yugoslavia apparently purchased aircraft seamlessly from both opponents at the outbreak of WWII. Later on, Hurricane-equipped squadrons of Yugoslavia fought back on the side of the Allies from bases in southern Italy, finally regaining control over the Balkans.

In a similar fashion, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V witnesses the involvement of British-supplied national air force squadrons in the liberation of Yugoslavia from the German invaders.

In the closing years of WWII, Yugoslavia benefited also from the help of the USSR. This is witnessed by a massive – and pretty rare, out of former soviet republics! – Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik. This big attack aircraft, possibly the most famous Soviet aircraft of WWII, equipped three squadrons in the Yugoslav air force, and helped in the fight on the so-called ‘Srem front’ north of Belgrade. An often overlooked sector of the European front, substantial operations were carried out since late 1944 until April 1945, with the forces of Nazi Germany slowly retreating under the offensive of the Red Army (including Bulgarian divisions) and of Yugoslavia from the south. These operations involved 250’000 troops on either side, thus engaging the Germans and draining resources from mainland defense. At that time, an entire division of the Yugoslav air force were equipped with this aircraft type, kept in service until the 1950s.

Similarly, an elegant WWII Yakovlev Yak-3 fighter of Soviet make can be found nearby in the colors of Yugoslavia.

After the end of WWII, Tito was determined not to surrender his political and economic independence to Stalin. In this high-stake gamble, he made no secret of his thoughts, and sought international recognition from the west. As expected, Stalin showed no sense of humor in that matter, and as the USSR broke relationships with Yugoslavia, this country faced the risk of isolation and of Soviet invasion in the early stage of the Cold War (late 1940s).

Over the years, the good relationship established with the western Allies during WWII were strengthened further, and most incredibly for a communist country, the US provided aircraft and helicopters, in the form of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, Republic F-84G Thunderjet and (much later, in the early 1960s) North American F-86D ‘long-nosed’ Sabre.

The years of Kennedy administration saw a significant improvement of the relationship between Tito and Khrushchev, and this led to a switch to Soviet aircraft in the form of the supersonic MiG-21, which equipped the Yugoslav air force in substantial numbers over the following two decades. An exemplar of this iconic and ubiquitous aircraft, an unquestionably well-performing aircraft in his age, is preserved in the museum. By the way, the early 1960s saw also the widespread adoption of SOKO Galeb trainers and the phase out of older British/US models.

Other peculiar exhibits in the indoor part of the museum are the wrecks resulting from air fight operations during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s. On the national (Yugoslav) side, the tail cone of a SOKO G-4 Super Galeb – a totally different design from the quasi-homonym G-2 – damaged by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile in 1991.

But much more material is from NATO countries, resulting from combat during operation ‘Allied Force’ against Serbia in 1999. Most notably, you can see a substantial part of the wing of a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the famous stealth aircraft downed by a vintage Soviet SA-3 Goa surface-to-air missile in March 1999, as well as a landing gear, ejection seat, pilot’s helmet, Vulcan cannon and some smaller parts of a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon downed the following May, again due to an SA-3 missile. The first stage of the missile which hit the Nighthawk is on display too.

These are basically the only aircraft lost in action over enemy territory during that operation.

An apparently easier prey, General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs were used in great numbers, some twenty of them being downed. One wrecked example is put on display.

More items of the kind include parts of NATO missiles, including HARM anti-radiation missiles and cluster-bombs containers.

On the upper level, you can find a mostly photographic exhibition mainly about the national carrier JAT. Interestingly, not a single Soviet-made model appears in the pictures, whereas you can find Boeing 707s, 727s, 737s, Douglas DC-9s, McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s, Aerospatiale Caravelles and ATR-42/72s – clearly a strong commercial bound with the West, pretty unusual for a communist country!

Another Yugoslav airline started operations to a later date – Aviogenex. This apparently did use aircraft from the USSR, in particular Tupolev Tu-134s, later flanked by Boeing 737s. Aviogenex ceased operations much later than the end of Yugoslavia, and operated as a Serbian company for some years.

One of the most iconic brutalist monstrosities in northern Belgrade is the skyscraper which used to host the headquarters of this airline – it looks like a good setting for some ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Judge Dredd’ movie…

Some more panels include descriptions of airport history and modern operations in the nearby airport of Belgrade. The history line of the national aviation industry is also presented in detail through historical pictures.

Some more aircraft can be found on this level, as well as a SA-3 Goa missile in a non-operative paint scheme, likely for training or telemetry tuning purposes.

Outdoor exhibition

The large area around the building is split between a small outdoor exhibition prepared for the public, and a larger storage area with many more aircraft which can not be neared nor walked around.

The displayed aircraft include an Aerospatiale Caravelle in the colors of JAT. This exemplar was one of three operated by this airline, and was active between 1963 and 1976.

A much elder transport, a German (French license-built) Junkers 52 with P&W engines represents a fleet of four such aircraft operated by the Yugoslav air force, complementing another group of originally German aircraft captured during the war.

An aircraft of historical significance is an Ilyushin Il-14 twin-prop transport. This aircraft was a personal goodwill gift from Khrushchev to marshal Tito, and the founding member of Yugoslav presidential fleet.

A couple of Lisunov Li-2 and some original Douglas C-47 Skytrain, of which the former is a license-built Soviet version, are on display, albeit not all complete. A MiG-21 Fishbed and a Kamov twin-rotor helicopter are also on display.

Another extremely rare item from the post-WWII years, a Short SA.6 Sealand amphibious aircraft of British make has made its way to Belgrade, after years as a transport aircraft in the Yugoslav air force.

The non-visible part of the museum features a rather impressive collection of MiG-21 in several versions, SOKO J-21 Jastreb and SOKO J-20 Kraguj in a large number, a SA-2 Guideline soviet-made SAM launcher with two missiles, and a number of partly assembled aircraft and wrecks.

A mystery item is a part of an allegedly US aircraft, apparently a part of the tail empennage of a bigger transport – any suggestion about this item welcome!

Visiting

The museum is located to the northwest of the airport of Belgrade. It can be easily reached by car from the access road going to the main terminal area. Website with info in English here. Parking ahead of the entrance.

The museum can be visited in about 2 hours by an interested subject, much less if you have just a mild interest in aviation. Much paneling is in double Serbian and English language, allowing to get the most from your visit.

Despite being fully operative, the place has a somewhat rotting appearance especially from the outside, as mostly typical to former state-run institutions in former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, some form of protection for the aircraft in the outside exhibition is hopefully to be considered by the management, otherwise the aircraft with literally disintegrate to the action of the elements in a matter of some years.

Warbirds in Texas

The immense state of Texas is in the foreground of the panorama of historical aviation, thanks especially to the CAF – the Commemorative Air Force (website here) – which maintains and operates some of the Nation’s finest airworthy warbirds. This privately financed, non-profit organization feeds the programs of many airshows everywhere in the US, and carries out an invaluable function in preserving the legacy of many aircraft designers, manufacturers and military servicemen especially from WWII and early Cold War years.

The birth of the CAF in Texas is not just by chance. The Lone Star State bolsters an extremely long and rich tradition in aviation. Training airfields were established in Texas earlier and in a number greater than any other State during WWI. Fort Worth was the birthplace of one of todays few surviving major airlines in the US – American Airlines – back in the early 1930s.

Aircraft manufacturers associated with Texas include Consolidated – most of the iconic WWII B-24 Liberator bombers  were manufactured in Fort Worth – and North American. Consolidated later merged into Convair, owned by General Dynamics since the Fifties. Many aircraft of the Cold War era were actually manufactured in Fort Worth, including the record-breaking B-36 Peacemaker and B-58 Hustler, or the highly successful F-16 Fighting Falcon, still in service today in many air forces of the world, as well as a good deal of other types. As of today, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopters are both headquartered in Fort Worth.

Needless to recall, Houston has been one of the major focal points of world astronautics since the beginning of the space age.

In such a cultural setting, and considering the general financial wealth and the abundance of oil typical of Texas, it is not surprising that warbirds, even though fuel-thirsty and expensive to maintain, are present here in an exceptional concentration. Where possible, they are maintained in airworthy conditions, otherwise they are kept in great consideration in world-class air museums.

This post covers only four rich collections out of the many you can find in Texas. Two of them are ‘airworthy collections’, whereas in the other two warbirds are preserved for static display. Considered together, these four sites are probably already a good reason for an aviation-themed trip to Texas!

Photographs are from an extremely hot August 2018.

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Cavanaugh Flight Museum, Addison, TX

This renowned collection just west of downtown Dallas is split between a big group of exceptionally well-kept and airworthy prop-driven aircraft, and a number of warbirds on static display, some of them jet-powered. Website here.

The museum occupies a few hangars on a very busy general aviation airport (Addison Airport), where executive jets, helicopters and smaller propeller-driven aircraft operate all around the clock. 

The collection is hosted in four hangars and on an external apron where you can walk around freely. Not all aircraft are around here at any time, some having been flown out to some airshow, or for maintenance. In the first hangar you can find a handful of perfect airworthy replicas of WWI fighters from both sides of the front line.

Just besides are a North American B-25J-NC Mitchell, a ground strafing version of the famous medium-range bomber, and a veteran of WWII.

There are also a Vultee SNV-2 Valiant, a De Havilland Tiger Moth, a Ryan PT-22, all training planes from the Forties. In a corner you can see also a Piper L-4J, the military version of the J-3 Cub, and a Stinson L-5E, similar to the former in shape and mission type.

A Pitts Special aerobatic biplane is hanging from the ceiling in an inverted attitude.

The second hangar hosts a Fairchild PT-19 Cornell, an ubiquitous US military trainer from the Forties, in a distinctive light blue colorway with a yellow fin. Together with a yellow Stearman N2S-4 Kaydet biplane and a North American T-6 Texan, both good old trainers, they share the scene with a handful of stunningly preserved icons from WWII.

These include a Grumman F-4 Wildcat and a massive Grumman TBF Avenger – both in the dark blue colorway of the US Navy. 

Just besides are a licensed version of the Messerschmitt Bf-109G of Nazi Germany built by Hispano Aircraft in Spain, and a nice replica of a Soviet Yakovlev Yak-3M.

Cross the apron, you can find some more great classics from the Forties. There are an immaculate Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and two North American T-28 Trojan trainers in the colors of the Navy. In the background you can spot a sizable Heinkel He-111 twin, a licensed version manufactured by CASA in Spain.

The last hangar shelters an aggressive Douglas A-1H Skyraider in the colors of the USAF. This version of the massive single-prop features a single seat and is especially reinforced for increased bomb load to carry on ground attack missions.

This is surrounded by a series of pretty famous jet attack aircraft, including a McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II, a North American F-86 Sabre and a Grumman F-9F-2B Panther with foldable wings and the distinctive blue and red colors of the Navy. 

There are also two classic fighters from WWII, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIII and a North American P-51D Mustang. The latter is so polished that you can clearly see your image reflected in its skin panels!

On the outside apron you can see parked three Soviet-made jets from WWII – a MiG-15 UTI and a MiG-17 in the colors of the Red Army, and a more recent MiG-21 in the colors of the North Vietnamese Air Force. Close by, a PZL Iskra trainer, once ubiquitous in the former Soviet bloc.

There are also a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, a Grumman S-2F-1 Tracker patrol aircraft of the Navy with folded wings, a Republic F-105 Thunderchief awaiting restoration, and a Vought A-7 Corsair II.

Scattered around the museum are also a few helicopters, and even a Sherman tank.

During my visit I could see two movements of aircraft taxiing out for take-off. The first was a Cessna O-2 Skymaster, a model extensively used in Vietnam for FAC missions. This has been refurbished with fake underwing rockets. You can see it in the vid below.

The second was a Douglas EA-1E Skyraider in gray Navy colors. This is the early warning version, designed for a crew of three and originally mounting a dedicated radar platform. You can watch (and hear!) the difficult startup of the huge Wright radial engine – it was around 100°F outside! –  and the aircraft taxiing with folded wings. Unfolding starts only seconds before the aircraft gets out of sight.

Forth Worth Aviation Museum, Fort Worth, TX

This museum hosts a little but highly valuable collection of US aircraft on static display. The museum is totally volunteer-run. These folks are doing an exceptional job preserving their aircraft. As you can see from the pictures, there are many exemplars being actively refurbished in a hangar to the back. The museum is located on the southeast corner of Fort Worth Meacham general aviation airport. Website here.

All aircraft are preserved outside, but you get access to the museum grounds through a lounge, stacked with wonderful memorabilia, technical specimens, paintings and rare pictures.

A showcase is devoted to the Convair B-58 Hustler, a record-setting Mach 2 bomber from the Fifties, produced in slightly more than 100 exemplars, which were all manufactured in Fort Worth. This iconic delta wing, four-engined jet was exceptional for the number of ‘firsts’. Among them, it was the first aircraft with a computerized flight control system and an integrated navigation platform. You can spot part of this analog computer, a bulky stack of black metal parts.

There are scale models of the Cessna O-2 Skymaster, and based on the themes of the merchandise in the museum shop there is actually a predilection for that aircraft and the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, which had a similar mission, i.e. observation, reconnaissance and forward air controller (FAC).

Actually, among the first aircraft you meet outside there is a Cessna Skymaster. I was so lucky to visit on August 19th, the National Aviation Day, when the museum recruited many veterans to stay besides their respective aircraft and tell their story. I spent a little time with Doc Lambert, Nail 66, one of the pilots of FAC missions over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, who allowed me to have a long look inside his Skymaster. Among the testimonies of his war operations, he told me some anecdotes. Most FAC missions were performed with only the pilot on board, which caused a pretty high workload. Furthermore, the aircraft was not equipped to counteract any weapon shooting up from the ground. This meant that a typical flight was an uninterrupted sequence of strong turns to avoid being hit from ground fire, something that also helped in searching for grounded crews, or enemies hiding in the jungle. As a result, you had to be accustomed to such way of flying, or a strong sense of nausea would come to disturb you pretty soon. This regularly happened with visiting high-ranking USAF staff on demonstration flights…

The museum owns another Skymaster, which was undergoing refurbishment in a black livery at the time of my visit, similarly to an operational USMC version of the OV-10 Bronco.

Best preserved aircraft on the front row, which are clearly visible from the public road ahead of the museum, include a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star training aircraft, and a Northrop F-5 Tiger II in a fake Soviet camouflage once used by aggressors in flight academies.

On the same row you can spot a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, a type in service since the early Sixties, and shown here painted in the colors of the Navy. The beautifully restored Vought A-7B Corsair II nearby was deployed to Vietnam three times with VA-25 on board USS Ticonderoga and USS Ranger.

Next is a massive Republic F-105D Thunderchief, a very nice example of this Mach 2 fighter-bomber from the early Sixties. This very aircraft was stationed in Europe, tasked with carrying tactical nuclear ordnance. The roomy bomb bay designed for the scope can be observed from inside. After more than ten years in the USAF, this aircraft went on to serve with the Air National Guard in the Seventies, and was finally disposed of in 1983.

Right besides the F-105 you find a McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II in the colors of the USMC Aviation. This very aircraft is a Vietnam veteran, and it was later converted into a target drone, but luckily never used in this role. The collection features another F-4, again a Vietnam veteran.

Cutting edge technology from the late Seventies is represented by a Grumman F-14D Tomcat. This plane is a war veteran, it flew missions during Desert Storm and over Afghanistan, and it was often used on FAC missions and for training at home. It was retired in 2007.

The Tomcat is sitting next to an imposing Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter. This too is a Vietnam veteran, and suffered also some damage on combat duty. The avionics of this big helicopter are totally analog. Next to it you can find a Convair TF-102 Delta Dagger interceptor built for combat and training. This very aircraft was flown by President George W. Bush.

Other training aircraft on display from different ages include a Vultee BT-13 Valiant single-prop, a Cessna T-37B Tweet and a Douglas TA-4 Skyhawk. The latter was used extensively for training purposes on board USS Lexington.

Two totally authentic Navy veterans are a Vought F-8 Crusader and a McDonnell-Douglas F/A 18 Hornet. The first spent its early career on board USS Lexington and USS Ranger in multiple cruises in the Western Pacific during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, being later assigned to several Naval Air Stations along its more than 20 years long career. The Hornet was deployed operationally from the late Eighties on board USS Midway and later on USS Independence, and spent its final years in the Blue Angels – of which you see the vivid livery today – being finally retired in 2009.

A special feature of this museum is the only existing mock-up of the McDonnell-Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II. Development of this attack aircraft was carried on in the Eighties and finally canceled by the Government. The flying wing configuration and the widespread adoption of composite materials made this platform unique, but also ahead of its times. This design was penalized by subsequent mass increases which caused its cancellation, but it represented a first chance to investigate concepts and technologies later adopted for operational aircraft flying today. The mock-up used to reside in the Fort Worth plant of General Dynamics, from where it made its way to the museum.

Other Cold War planes include a General Dynamics F-111E Aardvark, built in Fort Worth and assigned to Japan and Europe along its long operational career spanning the years 1969-90, and a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco formerly in service with the USAF.

Lone Star Flight Museum, Houston, TX

This stunning museum is located on the premises of the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. The installation is centered on a collection of mainly airworthy warbirds and classic planes.. It is really top quality, surely among the best displays of the kind in the Nation. Besides that, they offer a well-designed, recently-made, fresh presentation of the history of aviation in Texas, as well as didactic labs explaining the principles of flight through experiments and simulators. You can find their website here.

There are also meeting rooms and galleries for art exhibitions. Really a place to be for enthusiasts of ‘flying oldies’!

The collection is not huge, but it boasts a good number of notable aircraft still flying today. In the first hangar you can find many iconic designs from the Thirties and Forties. There are a North American T-6 Texan and two beautiful Stearman PT-17 Kaydet trainers. 

A centerpiece of the collection is an extraordinary Republic P-47 Thunderbolt – the fastest propeller driven aircraft ever – in a majestic colorway from WWII years.

At the center of the hangar, much room is taken by an airworthy example of the mighty Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Together with a few other models, this formed the backbone of the US bombing capacity during WWII. Stunningly restored, this aircraft can be booked for pleasure flights!

Further aircraft on display in this hangar are a Piper L-4H, its civil counterpart, the J-3 Cub, and a similarly looking Stinson OY-1 Sentinel in military colors. 

A true rarity is a stylish Beechcraft D-17 ‘Staggerwing’. This aircraft was conceived in the Thirties as one of the first ‘executive aircraft’, with good handling capabilities, and nice interiors to provide good comfort on board. Despite all efforts, visibility from the front windscreen is probably not very good…

A Grumman F-6F Hellcat, an authentic warbird from WWII, painted in the colors of the Navy, a Fairchild trainer and an ubiquitous general aviation Beechcraft Baron complete the exhibition in the first hangar.

The second hangar hosts both prop-driven and jet-driven aircraft, most of them airworthy or otherwise being restored. The most classic designs in this room are a North American B-25 Mitchell medium-range bomber, a Douglas DC-3, a Douglas SBD Dauntless and a Grumman TBM Avenger.

Interestingly, the Mitchell is the only in the world painted in the colors of the Doolittle Raiders. This very aircraft did not see action during WWII, but later being flown by the CIA on covert missions, it was involved in JFK’s failed attempt to invade Cuba, overflying the Bay of Pigs in the days of operations.

The DC-3 flew extensively with American Airlines and later TransTexas Airways – later to be ingested by Continental, hence the livery – and is still airworthy today. Both the SBD and TBM on display are from WWII days, and are still flying today after restoration work.

While possibly disappearing in front of its illustrious colleagues in this hangar, an honest Cessna T-41 Mescalero represents here the training branch of the armed forces. This is basically the military version of the C-172, probably the aircraft manufactured in the highest numbers in history, and a platform where pilots of all sorts spend part of their training still today. The colors are very nice, and this aircraft is the cheapest you can rent for a ride at the Lone Star Flight Museum.

In the same hangar you can find also (slightly) more modern aircraft. There are three jet-powered aircraft from the early Cold War period. One is a Lockheed T-33A trainer, a very successful aircraft sold in high numbers in the late Forties. More impressing is an authentic Soviet MiG-15, which spent its years in service with the Chinese Air Force and saw action in Korea, opposing the F-86A in the first jet vs. jet campaign in history.

A Polish-built MiG-17 in an incredible ‘Red Banner’ celebration colorway completes the trio.

Close to the exit you can find a beautifully restored Douglas A-1D Skyraider. This aircraft is airworthy, and is an authentic veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam war, where it reportedly sustained extensive damage but was not shot down.

There are also a Sikorsky helicopter used for commuting to oil platforms off the coast of Texas, and a Cobra attack helicopter.

Outside, as a gate guardian on one of the access roads leading to the base, you can spot a NASA Boeing 707 used for zero-gravity flights on behalf of Johnson Space Center.

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, TX

‘Lady Lex’ – as it was affectionately called by its crews along its illustrious career – is an Essex class WWII aircraft carrier, and with 40 years of active service is by far the one that enjoyed the longest service life. Since the late Sixties it operated as a training platform, where many pilots of the Navy learned how to perform a carrier landing. 

Today this majestic vessel is permanently moored on the bay of Corpus Christi, where it is home to a fascinating history museum covering her long operational history. The corresponding website is here.

Highlights of the visit are first of all the ship’s bridge, from where you can also profit from a vantage view of the flight deck and of the bay – and of the thunderstorms afflicting the area in mid-August, of course.

Similarly interesting are the lower deck where aircraft used to be stored. This is huge, and some historic aircraft can be found here as part of a number of small exhibitions.

The forward compartments recall the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and display also some artifacts from the time, including pieces of the ill-fated battleship Arizona, and a banner belonging to the older CV-2 Lexington – CV-16 being the number of this vessel in Navy inventory.

An unusual topic is movies – some great scenes of ‘Pearl Harbor’ Hollywood drama starring Ben Affleck and Alec Baldwin were shot on USS Lexington, including an apparently genuine take-off of a B-25 from the flight deck! Other motion pictures partly shot on board Lexington are ‘Midway’ and the series ‘War and remembrance’.

Part of the quarters of high-ranking staff can be visited, including a canteen. These were typically used only when the ship was moored.