What’s in Store at the National Museum of the US Air Force

An Inside Look at The National Museum of The United States Air Force's Aircraft in Storage

The rare Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor.


EDITOR’S NOTE: On Wednesday, February 28th, 2024 a suspected tornado hit Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, causing damage to several NMUSAF-owned aircraft stored outside and to several buildings, including one of the hangars visited by VAN for this story. At the time of publishing it’s unclear whether any of the aircraft inside the hangar suffered any damage.

Lockheed F-104D Starfighter 57-1322 served with the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing at George Air Force Base, California. It spent  1977 to 1995 displayed at Grissom Air Force Base, and then was on display at the Huntington, Indiana airport before being returned to the NMUSAF in 2016, along with the T-33 behind, 51-6754, which was displayed in a park in Huntington, Indiana. The F-104 wings were used to restore F-104A 56-0754, which is on display in front of the museum.
Lockheed F-104D Starfighter 57-1322 served with the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing at George Air Force Base, California. It spent 1977 to 1995 displayed at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana, and then was on display at the Huntington, Indiana airport before being returned to the NMUSAF in 2016, along with T-33 51-6754 (visible at rear) which was previously displayed in a park in Huntington. This aircraft’s wings were used to restore F-104A 56-0754, which is on display in front of the museum. This F-104 and T-33 were two of the airframes which suffered damage in the February 28th, 2024 storm.

Story and photos by Nigel Hitchman, with research support from Adam Estes.

I was very fortunate to be able to arrange a quick tour of the National Museum of The United States Air Force (NMUSAF) storage areas at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio a few months ago. This was comprised of the main storage hangar full of aircraft, together with another large climate-controlled storage area of artifacts, engines, and other items, plus a few stored outside that had recently come off display or recently arrived. Other aircraft were also stored in the restoration area along with current projects.

While some aircraft have been here in the storage areas for a long time waiting their turn for restoration, others are newer arrivals or aircraft that were previously on display mostly from the old outside display, or those that were displayed in this hangar when it was the Annex open to the public. There are also a small number of aircraft returned from display elsewhere and are stored awaiting a new assignment.

Here are some of the aircraft present, covering a little more than half the aircraft in storage:

B21-29 CASA 2.111 B21-29 is a Spanish license-built Heinkel He 111H built after World War II with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. These were operated by the Spanish Air Force until the late 1960s, and many of these aircraft participated in the famous film The Battle Of Britain, standing in for their German-built wartime counterparts. This particular CASA 2.111 was donated to the NMUSAF in 1971 and by 1973 was on external display in Spanish AF markings. It was removed to storage in the 1980s.
CASA 2.111 B21-29 is a Spanish license-built Heinkel He 111H built after World War II with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. These were operated by the Spanish Air Force until the late 1960s, and many of these aircraft participated in the 1969 film Battle of Britain, standing in for their German-built wartime counterparts. This particular CASA 2.111 was donated to the NMUSAF in 1971 and by 1973 was on external display in Spanish AF markings. It was removed to storage in the 1980s.

CASA 352L T.2B-244 is a Spanish license-built Junkers Ju 52/3M built after World War II, which served in the Spanish Air Force up to the end of the 1960s. It was donated to the NMUSAF in 1971 and displayed outside in Spanish markings until the late 1980s when it was painted in the WWII German markings seen here and moved into storage in recent years.
CASA 352L T.2B-244 is a Spanish license-built Junkers Ju 52/3M built after World War II, which served in the Spanish Air Force up to the end of the 1960s. It was donated to the NMUSAF in 1971 and displayed outside in Spanish markings until the late 1980s when it was painted in the WWII German markings seen here and moved into storage in recent years.

Lockheed Ventura II AJ311 was built for the Royal Air Force in 1942 but never delivered, instead going to the USAAF as a B-34 Ventura, slated for transfer to Brazil. This didn't happen either, so AJ311 was converted to an RB-34 used for lightning strike tests in St Paul, Minnesota, then went to open storage before becoming part of the NMUSAF loan program and displayed at Pueblo Weisbrod Air Museum from 1986 until 2011, when it was transported to Dayton for storage.
Lockheed Ventura II AJ311 was built for the Royal Air Force in 1942 but never delivered, instead going to the USAAF as a B-34 Ventura, slated for transfer to Brazil. This didn’t happen either, so AJ311 was converted to an RB-34 used for lightning strike tests in St Paul, Minnesota, then went to open storage before becoming part of the NMUSAF loan program. The aircraft was displayed at Pueblo Weisbrod Air Museum from 1986 until 2011, when it was transported to Dayton for storage.

The Northrop YC-125B, painted as s/n 48-626, first flew in 1949 and was intended to provide troop transport into forward operating bases and arctic rescue via short unprepared airstrips. 23 test aircraft were ordered, but the program was unsuccessful and they were all retired by 1955. Sold on the civilian market, several went to Mexico and two to Bolivia, with the substantial remains of one still surviving. Two aircraft are preserved, one at Pima, Arizona, and this one, which was on display for many years until recently removed. It is currently up for disposal with the NMUSAF sadly deciding it is surplus to their requirements. 48-626 was restored to represent 48-622, which was based at Wright-Patterson AFB in 1950 and used for cold weather trials. The original 48-622 was restored for the museum, but crashed on the ferry flight from Tulsa to Dayton in June 1988.
The Northrop YC-125B, painted as s/n 48-626, first flew in 1949 and was intended to provide troop transport into forward operating bases and arctic rescue via short unprepared airstrips. Twenty-three test aircraft were ordered, but the program was unsuccessful and they were all retired by 1955. Sold on the civilian market, several went to Mexico and two to Bolivia, with the substantial remains of one still surviving. Two aircraft are preserved, one at Pima, Arizona, and this one, which was on display for many years until recently removed. It is currently up for disposal with the NMUSAF sadly deciding it is surplus to their requirements. 48-626 was restored to represent 48-622, which was based at Wright-Patterson AFB in 1950 and used for cold weather trials. The original 48-622 was restored for the museum, but crashed on the ferry flight from Tulsa to Dayton in June 1988.

The Douglas B-23 Dragon was a development and intended replacement for the B-18 Bolo. While it didn’t serve in World War II as a bomber, many were used for other duties. The NMUSAF's example, 39-0037, was built in 1939 and remained with the USAAF until 1946, after which it was owned by a succession of private owners for corporate transport or cargo. It was acquired by the museum in 1982 and was on outside display for many years in the colors you see here. At some point, work was started on conversion back to bomber status, but was discontinued and the aircraft has now been in storage for some years.
The Douglas B-23 Dragon was a development of and intended replacement for the B-18 Bolo. While it didn’t serve in World War II as a bomber, many were used for other duties. The NMUSAF’s example, 39-0037, was built in 1939 and remained with the USAAF until 1946, after which it was owned by a succession of private owners for corporate transport or cargo. It was acquired by the museum in 1982 and was on outside display for many years in the colors you see here. At some point, work was started on conversion back to bomber status, but was discontinued and the aircraft has now been in storage for some years.

Lockheed C-60A Lodestar 43-16445 was delivered to the USAAF in 1943 and then went to the Free French Air Force until 1945, when it was registered F-BAMA and operated as an airliner in France and Algeria. In 1951, it returned to the U.S. and was operated by various companies in the U.S. and Mexico until 1981, when it was flown to the NMUSAF and put on display in its USAAF colors. It was externally displayed for many years until removed from display recently.
Lockheed C-60A Lodestar 43-16445 was delivered to the USAAF in 1943 and then went to the Free French Air Force until 1945, when it was registered F-BAMA and operated as an airliner in France and Algeria. In 1951, it returned to the U.S. and was operated by various companies in the U.S. and Mexico until 1981, when it was flown to the NMUSAF and put on display in its USAAF colors. It was externally displayed for many years until removed from display recently.

The NMUSAF’s Douglas C-39, 38-515, is the only surviving example of the type and is somewhat a hybrid design, being a DC-2 fuselage with a DC-3 wing, center section, and tail area. 38-515 was delivered to Patterson Field in Dayton in July 1939. After flight testing, it was handed over to the 1st Transport Squadron, 10th Transport Group, also at Patterson Field, where it served for the next two years. Sold at the end of World War II to Pan Am, it then went to South America before it donated to the museum in 1970 and restored to its wartime configuration. It was on external display and then in the annex until 2000 when placed in storage.

The MiG-25 was a high-speed interceptor that entered service in 1970 and was capable of Mach 2.83. MiG-25s were delivered to Iraq from around 1980 and this example, MiG-25RB 020657, was found by US Forces in 2003 buried in the sand near Al Taqaddum Airbase to avoid its destruction by coalition forces. The wings had been removed and could not be found, but the rest of the aircraft was recovered and eventually arrived at the NMUSAF in 2006 and has been in storage ever since.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 was a high-speed interceptor that entered service in 1970 and was capable of Mach 2.83. MiG-25s were delivered to Iraq from around 1980 and this example, MiG-25RB 020657, was found by U.S. forces in 2003 buried in the sand near Al Taqaddum Airbase to avoid its destruction by Coalition forces. The wings had been removed and could not be found, but the rest of the aircraft was recovered and eventually arrived at the NMUSAF in 2006 and has been in storage ever since.

There is also a Mitsubishi A6M Zero in a crate, recovered from the South Pacific Islands some years ago, but the identity was not readily available. The crate is marked “Zero No. 10”. I wonder if there were nine more at one time!

Lockheed T-33 14286 was supplied to France as part of the MDAP program and operated by the French Air Force on loan from the USAF. When operations finished it was flown to England, where a large number of USAF-owned former French Air Force aircraft were gathered in the 1970s. Many went to museums, including this one, which went to the IWM Duxford, latterly displayed in the American Air Museum until taken down in the reorganization in 2016, and then shipped back to Dayton. It is seen here in the storage hangar, still on the shipping structure it was put on at Duxford.
Lockheed T-33 14286 was supplied to France as part of the MDAP program and operated by the French Air Force on loan from the USAF. When operations finished it was flown to England, where a large number of USAF-owned former French Air Force aircraft were gathered in the 1970s. Many went to museums including this one, which went to the IWM Duxford. It was latterly displayed in the American Air Museum at Duxford until taken down in the reorganization in 2016, and then shipped back to Dayton. It is seen here in the storage hangar, still on the shipping structure it was put on at Duxford.

The Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor: First flown in 1949, the XF-91 was developed as an interceptor with both a General Electric J47 turbojet engine and a Reaction Motors XLR11 liquid propellant rocket engine. Republic designer Alexander Kartveli took inspiration from the Heimatschützer (home protector) Messerschmitt Me 262C prototypes, which installed a series of rocket motors to increase the speed and climb rate of the aircraft. Two Thunderceptors (46-680 and 46-681) were constructed and were flight tested at Edwards AFB. A distinctive feature of the XF-91 was that the surface area of the wingtips was greater than that of the wing root areas. This was because at that time, swept-wing aircraft flying at low speeds and high angles of attack often suffered from having the wingtips stall before the rest of the wings, causing severe imbalance to the flight profile. While the Thunderceptor was indeed fast, with a maximum speed of 984 mph, its range and loitering time were very short. Flight data from the Thunderceptors did help in the development of better aircraft types that did reach operational service, though, and 46-680 was transferred to the museum from Edwards in May of 1955.
The Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor: First flown in 1949, the XF-91 was developed as an interceptor with both a General Electric J47 turbojet engine and a Reaction Motors XLR11 liquid propellant rocket engine. Republic designer Alexander Kartveli took inspiration from the Heimatschützer (home protector) Messerschmitt Me 262C prototypes, which installed a series of rocket motors to increase the speed and climb rate of the aircraft. Two Thunderceptors (46-680 and 46-681) were constructed and were flight tested at Edwards AFB. A distinctive feature of the XF-91 was that the surface area of the wingtips was greater than that of the wing root areas. This was because at that time, swept-wing aircraft flying at low speeds and high angles of attack often suffered from having the wingtips stall before the rest of the wings, causing severe imbalance to the flight profile. While the Thunderceptor was indeed fast, with a maximum speed of 984 mph, its range and loitering time were very short. Flight data from the Thunderceptors did help in the development of better aircraft types that did reach operational service, though, and 46-680 was transferred to the museum from Edwards in May of 1955.

North American F-107: Developed from the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-107 (sometimes informally referred to as the Ultra Sabre) was designed as a new fighter-bomber for the US Air Force. The most distinguishing feature of the F-107 is the dorsal-mounted variable-area inlet duct (VAID), an early form of an intake ramp. Three prototypes (55-5118, 55-5119, and 55-5120) were tested by the Air Force, but in close competition, the Air Force chose to adopt the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. 55-5118 and 55-5120 were later used for high-speed flight testing by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA; precursor of NASA), but the NMUSAF's example, 55-5119, was used for conventional and atomic weapons testing before being donated to the museum on November 25, 1957.
North American F-107: Developed from the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-107 (sometimes informally referred to as the Ultra Sabre) was designed as a new fighter-bomber for the US Air Force. The most distinguishing feature of the F-107 is the dorsal-mounted variable-area inlet duct (VAID), an early form of an intake ramp. Three prototypes (55-5118, 55-5119, and 55-5120) were tested by the Air Force, but in close competition, the Air Force chose to adopt the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. 55-5118 and 55-5120 were later used for high-speed flight testing by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA; precursor of NASA), but the NMUSAF’s example, 55-5119, was used for conventional and atomic weapons testing before being donated to the museum on November 25th, 1957.

The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster 43-50224 and the Douglas XB-43/YB-43 Jetmaster.
The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster 43-50224 and the Douglas XB-43/YB-43 Jetmaster. The hangar housing these aircraft was one of those damaged by February 28th, 2024 storm.

Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster 43-50224. The Mixmaster was designed as a high-speed bomber for the US Army Air Force in WWII, and was powered by two Allison V-1710 inline engines mounted in the fuselage and driving contra-rotating propellers, and was first flown in 1944. It could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs and was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns (two forward-mounted, and two in each wing). 43-50224 was the first of two prototypes built, (the second of which, 43-50225, was used by Captain Glen Edwards (namesake of Edwards AFB) and Lt Col Henry Warden to set a transcontinental speed record on December 8th, 1945, from Long  Beach, California to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., in 5 hours, 17 minutes. 43-50225 was later destroyed in an accident due to mechanical failure eight days later, though) was later equipped with a pair of Westinghouse J30 turbojet engines, becoming the XB-42A. When the Mixmaster was retired by the Air Force, it was to the Smithsonian, who stored it at Orchard Place Airport (later O’Hare Int’l Airport) in Park Ridge, Illinois. In 1951, the Air Force evicted the Smithsonian, resulting in the creation of the Silver Hill/Garber facility in Maryland. Unfortunately, the wings, which were disassembled, were lost in transit and were never found. The Mixmaster was stored at Silver Hill until 2010 when the aircraft was permanently transferred to the NMUSAF, where it has remained ever since.

Douglas XB-43/YB-43 Jetmaster: An all-jet development of the Mixmaster, in 1946 the Jetmaster was the first American jet bomber to fly with its two General Electric J35 engines. However, stability issues prevented the Jetmaster from entering operational service, leaving that honor to the North American B-45 Tornado. Only two were built (44-61508 and 44-61509). 44-61509, designated as the YB-43, became known as Versatile II, and when its plexiglass nose began to crack due to temperature differences, a plywood nose was fashioned by the mechanics at Muroc Army Airfield. 44-61508 was later damaged in 1951, stripped to parts to keep Versatile II flying, and used for target practice in the desert. In 1954, Versatile II was donated to the Smithsonian, where it went to Silver Hill. Like the Mixmaster, the Jetmaster was transferred to Dayton in 2010.

Consolidated Vultee (Convair) XP-81: The XP-81 was developed as a single-seat, long-range escort fighter powered by both a General Electric J31 turboprop engine driving a four-bladed propeller in the front and a General Electric/Allison J33 turbojet in the rear, making it the first American aircraft with a turboprop and the first aircraft with both a turboprop and a turbojet engine. Two prototypes (44-91000 and 44-91001) were built for flight testing, which was initially done with a Merlin engine installed due to the unavailability of the J31. During development, problems with the procurement of the T31 and the end of the Second World War hampered the project. At the end of the testing program, both aircraft, which had been flight tested at Muroc/Edwards AFB were stripped and sent to the photo range at Edwards until they were both recovered by the museum and remain in storage at Dayton.
Consolidated Vultee (Convair) XP-81: The XP-81 was developed as a single-seat, long-range escort fighter powered by both a General Electric J31 turboprop engine driving a four-bladed propeller in the front and a General Electric/Allison J33 turbojet in the rear, making it the first American aircraft with a turboprop and the first aircraft with both a turboprop and a turbojet engine. Two prototypes (44-91000 and 44-91001) were built for flight testing, which was initially done with a Merlin engine installed due to the unavailability of the J31. During development, problems with the procurement of the T31 and the end of the Second World War hampered the project. At the end of the testing program, both aircraft, which had been flight tested at Muroc/Edwards AFB were stripped and sent to the photo range at Edwards until they were both recovered by the museum and remain in storage at Dayton.

Curtiss-Wright X-19: This was an experimental tiltrotor transport, powered by two Lycoming/Honeywell T55 turboprops with four rotors. Two prototypes (62-12197 and 62-12198) were constructed, but with the destruction of 62-12197 in a non-fatal accident, the program was canceled, and 62-12198 never flew. After surviving its time at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the X-19 came to the museum in 2007, where it has been in storage ever since.

Republic YRF-84F 49-2430: Used in the Fighter Conveyor (FICON) project, this Thunderstreak was modified to be a parasite fighter carried in the bomb bay of a B-36 Peacemaker. Besides Thunderstreaks, several RF-84K Thunderflashes were also modified for this project, which was later discontinued due to factors ranging from difficulties in the parasite fighters coupling and uncoupling with the mothership and advancements in Soviet interception systems, aerial refueling, and new long-range high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
Republic YRF-84F 49-2430: Used in the Fighter Conveyor (FICON) project, this Thunderstreak was modified to be a parasite fighter carried in the bomb bay of a B-36 Peacemaker. Besides Thunderstreaks, several RF-84K Thunderflashes were also modified for this project, which was later discontinued due to factors ranging from difficulties in the parasite fighters coupling and uncoupling with the mothership and advancements in Soviet interception systems, aerial refueling, and new long-range high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

The Lockheed NT-33A was modified by Calspan Corporation to become an in-flight simulator used to test flight controls, cockpit layouts, control sticks, and flying qualities of aircraft such as the X-15, A-10, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-117, and F-22. Used from 1957 to 1997, when it was delivered to the NMUSAF.
The Lockheed NT-33A was modified by Calspan Corporation to become an in-flight simulator used to test flight controls, cockpit layouts, control sticks, and flying qualities of aircraft such as the X-15, A-10, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-117, and F-22. Used from 1957 to 1997, when it was delivered to the NMUSAF.

The Fairchild T-46 was designed as a replacement to the Cessna T-37 Tweet as part of the Next Generation Trainer program, the T-46 was first flown in 1985 but canceled in 1987 after only three prototypes (84-0492, 84-0493, 85-1596) were ever made (plus a scaled-down civilian demonstrator now at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York). The NMUSAF has the second prototype, 84-0493), which was taken from the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB.
The Fairchild T-46 was designed as a replacement to the Cessna T-37 Tweet as part of the Next Generation Trainer program, the T-46 was first flown in 1985 but canceled in 1987 after only three prototypes (84-0492, 84-0493, 85-1596) were ever made (plus a scaled-down civilian demonstrator now at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York). The NMUSAF has the second prototype, 84-0493), which was taken from the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB.

The McDonnell Douglas YF-4E Phantom II 62-12200: Testbed for the RF-4C program, leading edge slants for the F-4, Fly-by-Wire systems, and Precision Aircraft Control Technology for mission and performance improvements, the last of which resulted in the addition of a distinctive set of canards. Donated by McDonnell Douglas to the museum in 1979.
The McDonnell Douglas YF-4E Phantom II 62-12200: Testbed for the RF-4C program, leading edge slats for the F-4, Fly-by-Wire systems, and Precision Aircraft Control Technology for mission and performance improvements, the last of which resulted in the addition of a distinctive set of canards. Donated by McDonnell Douglas to the museum in 1979.

Sukhoi Su-22M4 "Fitter-K": Arriving from Germany in 2003, this was one of the Su-22s exported to East Germany to serve in the Air Forces of the National People's Army until German unification. Under the unified Luftwaffe, these aircraft were largely relegated to testing and evaluation until their retirement.
Sukhoi Su-22M4 “Fitter-K”: Arriving from Germany in 2003, this was one of the Su-22s exported to East Germany to serve in the Air Forces of the National People’s Army until German unification. Under the unified Luftwaffe, these aircraft were largely relegated to testing and evaluation until their retirement.

Schweizer TG-3A 42-52988: Formerly displayed in the WWII Gallery, this is one of three gliders currently being offered for exchange, alongside another Schweizer and a Pratt-Read TG-32.
Schweizer TG-3A 42-52988: Formerly displayed in the WWII Gallery, this is one of three gliders currently being offered for exchange, alongside another Schweizer and a Pratt-Read TG-32.

A small selection of the engines was kept in the climate-controlled storage area, some on display stands, others still in shipping crates, there was even a shipping crate marked “The Wright Company Dayton, Ohio”
A small selection of the engines was kept in the climate-controlled storage area, some on display stands, others still in shipping crates: there was even a shipping crate marked “The Wright Company Dayton, Ohio”.

5 Comments

  1. The NT-33A, NF-16A/AFTI, the #3 F-107, the XF-91, and the C-21 Learjet are all in the fourth hanger, today.

  2. Sincerely hoping the Mixmaster and Jetmaster aren’t too damaged for display… Two of my favorite aircraft at the museum!

  3. Would love to visit one day. I’ve been to the Air and Space Museum in DC and the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. This may not be in your plans but perhaps for the Sc-Fi fans out there maybe mockups of Rebel X Wings, Y Wings, Imperial Tie Fighters, Star Trek shuttles, Battlestar Galactica Vipers and Cyon fighters, Buck Roger’s Star Fighter, etc. I know not inexpensive but it would be nice. Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s science fact. Thank you.

  4. There were so MANY MORE in the video that did NOT make the article! Hoping to get down there this year! Only a few hours drive, just need a place to stay to do 2 days to take in all the aviation history 😃

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