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June 01, 2007

Missing Models

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

One part of the Smithsonian I almost never fail to visit while in Washington, DC is the Air and Space Museum. Until a week or so ago I hadn't been to DC and the museum in six years, so I was curious about any changes that might have been made since 2001.

I turns out that work was underway in the passenger transport area and that some older military planes such as the Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" fighter were no longer on display at the west end of the main floor.

One exhibit that hasn't (yet?) been moved is on the balcony of the room where World War 2 fighters are displayed in the southwestern corner of the second floor. Let me switch to photo / caption mode to tell my tale.

This is where WW2 recognition models are displayed. These models were made of hard, black rubber and usually hung on strings or perhaps thin wires from ceilings of rooms on Army Air Force bases. The models were scaled so that relative sizes of the actual aircraft were preserved. Models were of both allied and enemy aircraft because pilots needed to be able to distinguish one from the other.

Here is a section of the display of models of German planes. Note that there is an empty space: no model and no key number (25). A nearby wall plaque has both the missing number and the name of the aircraft type -- a Junkers Ju 86 bomber.

The actual Ju 86 looked like this. Here and here are links related to the aircraft.

The same situation is found over in the British section. Here the missing model is that of a Westland Whirlwind fighter.

A nice, informative link dealing with the Whirlwind is here

Interesting. Interesting because I know that those models used to be there. And I know this because I had good reason to pay attention to them.

Here is a photo showing examples of the two missing models along with another recognition model, that of a Blackburn Skua (a British Fleet Air Arm plane). The Skua is on the left, the Ju 86 is in the center and the Whirlwind at the right.

This photo was taken in my living room this afternoon . These models have been in my family for 61 years. My father worked for the Army Engineers during the war and had some business to attend to in Spokane early in 1946 when the war effort was rapidly winding down. Many things, including recognition models, were being disposed of or discarded because they were unneeded. There undoubtedly were other recognition models at the Spokane facility at one time, but the good stuff -- Spitfires, Messerschmitts and so forth -- had already disappeared into the hands of souvenir hunters, so all that was left for my dad were models of obscure, yet interesting, planes (go to the links above if you're interested).

Why were the models removed from the museum display? I haven't bothered to find out.

But I have a suspicion. I notice that my Ju 86 model is starting to deteriorate slightly; the surface isn't as smooth as it used to be. Perhaps something to do with the rubber. My other models still seem okay.

If anyone knows that name of the curator who deals with recognition models or has an email address for that unit, let me know.



posted by Donald at June 1, 2007


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