Originally uploaded by mike_s_etc.
Back in the 80’s, my father and I visited Dayton twice for the air show held there each summer. They were great trips, as Dayton’s a big show with serious ground and aerial displays. A bonus of each trip was the chance to visit the USAF Museum, which is chockablock with terrific planes and memorabilia.
One of the exhibits we enjoyed was this Martin B-26 Marauder, a type that also went by the names Flying Coffin and Widow Maker. The 5,266 of them built were hot ships in WWII, and the type earned its place in the Museum, racking up the lowest loss rate of any Allied bomber in the war despite its fearsome reputation among pilots.
On our second trip, we headed over to the museum to look around, and were there near closing time. The planes are housed in giant hangars, and with few people in them and dim lights, we made our way from plane to plane. As we approached the B-26, we could see two couples, both older, and their quiet voices carried clearly across the still distance between us. The men were veterans of the 9th Air Force, and had served aboard B-26’s, and their wives were asking them about the planes. One woman looked up for a moment and asked her husband how he boarded the plane, which stands well off of the ground. Without missing a beat, the man stepped over the rail, reached under the nose gear door, and – without looking – unlocked and lowered a ladder that was stowed there. He explained the ladder, and restowed it, again without looking, and stepped back over the rail.
It was so amazing to me, and my father, as we watched this moment – the man so comfortable with the machine that after 40 years, he still knew where to reach without a moment’s hesitation and the plane so perfectly restored that the ladder was poised for his touch. I felt sure that the men and the plane were as eager to return to service as that ladder had been.
If you like this, I encourage you to check out this summary of all of the aviation photography I have featured here.