Air Mobility Command Museum
Dover AFB, Delaware
You can't fight a war without stuff: equipment, munitions, fuel, food, people. Flying that stuff where it's needed is the job of the Air Mobility Command. And America needs the Air Mobility Command because America wins wars (most, anyway) not by brilliant military tactics, but by using a lot of stuff.
The mission of the Air Mobility Command Museum is to tell the story of moving all that stuff around. The facility is a behind-the-scenes place, where the display mannequins carry clipboards and monkey wrenches, not rifles. But don't be fooled -- these air truckers get shot at just like any other soldier.
The museum occupies a corner of sprawling Dover Air Force Base. It includes one hangar, dating to World War II, and an air park outside to display all of the planes that can't fit inside the hanger. That's most of them, since the aircraft are cargo ships of considerable size. The names say it all: Stratofreighter, Cargomaster, Flying Boxcar, and two huge Starlifters in which visitors are sometimes invited to sit in the pilot seats.
The 1948-49 Berlin Airlift was made possible by America's air-hauling capability. Jack, our tour guide, repeatedly mentions that dust from the sacks of coal carried by the Airlift was still inside the museum's vintage Skymaster when it arrived here. The B-17 Flying Fortress is another of the Museum's notable planes, the only survivor of the terrorist-sounding "flying bomb" project of 1948, where surplus aircraft were turned into radio-controlled weapons of mass destruction -- a kind of one-way package delivery system -- presumably against evildoers with the audacity to do things like blockading Berlin.
Jack said that the "alert runway" at Dover was right next to the museum, where fighters were "plugged in and hot 24-7." He shows us a Douglas Air-2 Genie, a 1.5 kiloton nuclear bomb with no guidance system -- it just flew wherever it was pointed. With a range of only six miles, you wouldn't want to be anywhere near a jet when it fired a Douglas Air-2 Genie. "All we needed was just one hothead that wanted to make a name for himself," Jack says, "and we would have been in an all-out war. It was that close."
The museum has its share of odd artifacts: a refueling boom that hangs from the ceiling, a 1972 Ford that was stored on a cargo plane for 18 years before it arrived here, a real bomb with a coin slot in its casing that acts as a donation box. The staff are all volunteers, and not necessarily ex-aviators or crew. "We're so equal opportunity, we even let retired Navy people work here," cracks Mike, the museum director.
Mike said the museum is working on getting a C-5 Galaxy, the largest American cargo plane ever built. "We're paving more area outside, a little at a time, so that we'll have a place to put it. It is not a small item." For now, the museum displays one titanic C-5 engine, rated at 1.3 million horsepower. "It's the largest aircraft in the world," Jack says of the C-5, barely containing his pride. "No, wait," he corrects himself. "The Russians do have one that's two feet longer. But they can't keep it in the air."
Update: The museum opened its C-5 to the public on November 9, 2013. It's eight stories tall and as long as a football field, the biggest plane on display anywhere (except for the Spruce Goose). This particular aircraft once launched a full-size ICBM while in flight, the only aircraft ever to do so (No other plane would be big enough). The C-5 sits outside, but visitors can wander around inside it on the third Saturday of each month.