Sorry folks, no pics this trip. Too busy just visiting and looking around....

Took a very short trip with my son Jean-Luc today, to the Yankee Air Force Museum in Belleville, Michigan.

Posting here because it would make a much better trip in the summer than in the winter. Since it's close (just 30 minutes from SO's house in Dearborn, MI), it's just about the perfect motorcycle trip for me. We'll go back when it's warmer, on the bike though.

The YAF museum is off in a corner of Willow Run Airport. The airport was built during World War II as part of the Ford aircraft factory, which was built to manufacture B-24 bombers for the war effort. Apparently Consolidated (the company that designed the B-24) couldn't fill the demand, so Ford stepped in and built B-24s under license. Not as strange as it sounds, many companies converted to defense production during WWII.

A personal connection is that my uncle flew on B-24s over Germany. I never met the man, he didn't come home, but I've heard the story many times. They were hit, the crew bailed out. Some landed among German soldiers and were captured, sitting out the rest of the war as POWs. Others, my uncle included, were captured by civillians and hanged.

You can see the museum before you arrive, thanks to the tall tail fin of the B-52 (and a few other neat aircraft) sitting outside the museum hangar.

We went in, paid our admission, and were given directions to a self-guided tour.

Upstairs in what looked like former offices are several displays of
paraphernalia: pioneer woman fliers, pioneers of flight, equipment, a fabric-covered tailfin from the WW1 era, a bullet-riddled piece of sand-colored aluminum with German WWII markings.. Miscellaneous flight equipment spanning from the start of flight up into the 1960s or so, plus a few displays on the space shuttle, and clippings telling the history of the site.

One area is on "Rosie the Riveter", the stereotypical female factory workers that filled the factories when the men went off to war. My guess is that was one of the un-intended consequences of WWII, women realizing they could have a job in a factory and hold their own. Many of the employees in the B-24 plant were female, judging by the photos on display.

There are also statistics from the B-24 factory days. At peak, they produced one B-24 per hour, day after day. Every day they used 4.5 tons of rivets.. The town of Willow Run was built to supply housing for plant workers. The plant, visible across the airport, is currently owned by GM.

From upstairs, we could see out into the hangar. The hangar is part of the tour as well, so off we went.

The hangar is un-heated, huge, and there's maintenance being done of the flying aircraft. The YAF is a museum that actually flies a few of the aircraft they own (a B-17 and a B-25 are kept air-worthy). Since the planes are flown in the summer, winter is shop-time. From above in the small displays, the place looks like my Dad's shop but with antique aircraft instead of antique cars.

One of the first planes we saw as we entered the hangar was a silver B-17, its aluminum cowlings off the engines, the big radials bristling with air-cooling fins, looking for all the world like a *bunch* of big Harley motors all bolted to a single crankcase, V-twin plus V-twin plus V-twin rotated 360 degrees around the crank. Some cylinders were painted black, others were bare aluminum and looked freshly cleaned and assembled. I suspect when you're working on a 60 year old plane, you sometimes take
what you can get. Tools are scattered about, work is in progress.

Up on the wall are some wings, and we can peer right down the innards and see the aluminum stampings that make up a wings, then corrugated metal over that for strength, the aluminum sheet over that.

Then a B-25, also with its engines visible and cowlings off, and I see that the B-25 engines look just like the B-17 engines but with twice the cylinders. Imagine a pair of B-17 spliced together, back to back.

Complex intakes and exhausts, but at least comprehensible.

Then past a jet fighter, and F-105 I think, being restored. I understand piston engines enough to find familiar components, but jet engines are something else. I know how they work in theory, but am lost just looking at them. One large jet engine is on an engine stand, and I just look, wrinkle my brow, and move on.

Along the back wall of the hangar are smaller displays, cockpits taken out of relatively modern jet fighters. Most people I know are probably too big to be fighter pilots, and I think even many racing jockeys would find the quarters cramped.

And then a WWII glider, a troop transport. They were towed aloft two at a time behind a DC-3, for air assaults in various places in WWII. The DC-3 would get near the target, let the gliders go.. The gliders would land at night in fields, soldiers spilling out, and the assault would begin. The display brings two things to mind for me... One, that the silent landings of gliders at night would've certainly been a surprise to opposing forces. Two, flying one of these things on a one-way flight would've been terrifying to the glider pilots. It would've taken a unique sort of person to fly one of these.

According to a volunteer, the gliders were also built by Ford, but in nothern Michigan where the trees are. The gliders were mostly fabric covering a wood frame, and the wood frame was attached to a metal welded-tube frame.

Then along the third wall are some doors, nothing says we can't go in, so we enter the woodshop.

I expect to see a room of wooden airplane parts, but instead the volunteer inside tells me I missed it by a week. They had a former glider pilot in last weekend, making parts for the glider restoration, and the volunteer tells me he was a heck of guy to talk with.

This volunteer explains that he doesn't do aircraft parts, but acts as a carpenters and go-fer. He shows me a small crate he made to ship one of the cylinder assemblies from the B-17, the head and cylinder nestled safely inside. I ask what such a unit is worth, and can they still get parts for the big planes?

He replies that the cylinder assembly is priceless, no more are being made, but they still blow up every now and then so the value of the ones still in existence is going up every year.

We talk about the engines a bit, and how they all look the same with just more or less cylinders, more or less rows of cylinders. He says that's right, that the B-25 with its double-row engine is very quick compared to the B-17, that he took a ride last summer in the nose of the B-25 while holding a video camera, and it was quick and fast and an incredible thrill. I have no doubt.

He invites us back in the summer, when they raise money for restoration with airplane rides in the B-25 and the B-17. About $400 for an hour, roughly. Pricey, sure, but I'll bet it's a good time. He also invites us to join, donate time and money and work on the old stuff. I wish....

Back into the hangar, and we see a 4-row radial engine. Huge, with extremely complex intake and exhaust tracts. I can barely imagine designing that all with paper and pencil instead of CAD terminal.

Finally we duck into the gift shop to browse. I buy a "Rosie the Riveter" coffee mug for Sharon (my SO), her mom was a defense plant worker back then. It's closing time, the museum is having a Christmas party as soon as they can get the last visitor out, and I don't want to hold them up.

Neat visit. I'll go back in the summer, when I can spend more time, and look over the airplanes outside as well.

Yankee Air Museum
2041 Willow Run Airport - East
Belleville, MI 48111

GPS Co-ords:
N 42.24099
W 83.51336