Sunday, April 12, 2015

A bit of history recovered

This splendid bit of late-1930s industrial artwork is the "cap" on the pilot's wheel of the B-29 Enola Gay. Looking for all the world like the horn button on an automobile of that era, it went missing in the 1950s or thereabouts, when an Air Force veteran was wandering through the "boneyard" at Davis Monthan Air Force Base outside Tucson, Arizona. According to family legend, he spotted Enola Gay, climbed aboard, and liberated the cap as a souvenir, on the assumption that the historic bomber would soon be scrapped. (My father went to work at Davis Monthan about that time, his job to design and build the crates that would enable airplane parts to be freighted to wherever in the world they were needed.)

The gentleman's son eventually put the cap in a shadow box of World War II souvenirs, but not until his granddaughter attended a class at Boston College on the subject of Hiroshima was the connection finally made. The story is nicely told in today's New York Times by the instructor in that class, Ted Gulp.

Enola Gay -- otherwise complete! -- is on display at the Udvar-Hazy annex to the National Air & Space Museum, very much worth a visit at Dulles airport outside Washington DC. There's bus service from the main museum on the Mall. Quite apart from the emotional impact of seeing the world's first atomic bomber, it's marvelously modern aircraft for something that came off the drawing board in May 1940 -- "a millionaire's airplane," as a B-29 pilot once described it to me.


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