Sunday, April 9, 2017
Veteran military aircraft call Pueblo's Weisbrod museum home
Six miles east of Pueblo, a large group of legendary U.S. combat veterans live together under one roof.
They've engaged in training missions at home and combat missions abroad. Fought wars on four continents. Saved countless American lives and killed swarms of enemy soldiers that sought to injure or kill their compatriots.
Some of these soldiers even paid the ultimate price -- giving their lives in the name of American liberty.
Yet as tragic as it is to consider the price that some of these service vets had to pay, there's perhaps one bright side: They're still here, they're still whole and you can visit them any time you like for just $9.
The assembly of veterans that's amassed east of town is none other than the one-of-a-kind collection of aviation and military artifacts at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum, which attracts upward of 7,500 visitors from all over the globe every year.
And although these vets are quite different from the living, breathing soldiers who've fought for the U.S. around the globe, the role that they've played in defending American lives and freedoms cannot be understated.
"If it wasn't for the ground troops you wouldn't need the air troops," Shawn Kirscht, museum curator said, "But this (museum) just kind of shows the history of the progression of the military."
Since its inception in 1972, the Weisbrod has amassed its collection piece-by-piece, relying mostly on private and public donations to provide Puebloans with an active portal to visit the past of U.S. military aviation.
And despite its unassuming location on Magnuson Avenue next to the Pueblo Memorial Airport, the museum houses artifacts that can't be found anywhere else on earth.
One of the biggest attractions at the Weisbrod is an utterly colossal craft named "Peachy" -- a restored B-29 Superfortress that's made its home in Pueblo since being donated to the city by the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, Calif., in 1976.
The B-29 model still is considered to be the largest and most sophisticated bomber to fly in World War II and, according to Kirscht, "Peachy" is one of just six intact static displays of B-29s in the world.
The name "Peachy" comes from the restorative nose-art paint job that the team at Weisbrod chose for their B-29. It was selected because the original "Peachy" was piloted by Pueblo native Robert T. Haver, who named his plane and painted its signature insignia based on a pet name he had given his younger sister.
Although the Weisbrod's "Peachy" spent the duration of its life as a training plane and never left U.S. soil, the original "Peachy" flew 35 combat missions into enemy territory from Tinian Island in the Marianas Islands chain in the central Pacific, according to B-29Superfortress.com, a tribute website to the historic WWII bombers.
A bullet-hole-ridden helicopter located in between the museum's two large hangars represents the very last of its kind to ever see a firefight.
The UH-1M -- referred to as the HU-1 prior to 1962, sparking the nickname "Huey" -- was originally designed for the U.S. Army as a medical evacuation and utility helicopter and first saw combat operations during the Vietnam War.
While the UH-1 may have originally been designed as an evacuation craft, the barreled machine guns on each side of the Weisbrod's "Huey" show it to be a model with a very different purpose.
"This one was a gunship," Kirscht said.
"This is the last surviving M-model that's seen combat. They're getting hard to see, but can you see these cherries?" he asked, pointing to painted-over indents in the nose of the craft, "They're actual bullet holes. The copilot was killed in this helicopter."
Grumman F-11 Tiger
The Weisbrod also features a military aircraft that revolutionized aerospace technology and can't be seen anywhere else in the world: the Grumman F-11 Tiger Jet.
"There's only one in existence," Kirscht said.
"The F-11 is the first aircraft to ever use reverse thrust. You know how when you're on a plane, you hear the change in the engines when it lands? They're reversing the thrust to help slow down. So this plane was grandpa to all of that technology."
Prior to the F-11, Kirscht said most jets used a combination of parachutes and heavy braking systems to bring the aircraft to a halt.
Despite its revolutionary implementation of reverse thrust, Kirscht said that singular fact is not the only interesting facet about the Weisbrod's F-11.
"This particular plane has three claims to fame. It was a Blue Angel -- I believe it was No. 4 or No. 6 -- then, it became the first plane with reverse thrust and it's also the last F-11 to ever fly."
While a large part of the museum's collection is geared toward aviation, some of its most interesting artifacts are relics of the men who flew them.
On the eastern wall of the museum's main hangar, a formation of mannequins in glass cases display the uniforms and decorations of some of the United States' oldest fighter pilots: The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron comprised of mostly volunteer American pilots who joined up with the French Air Service over a two-year period to fight the Germans in World War I.
"Over that two-year period, either through attrition, death, rotation, medical injuries or fatigue, there was only 38 of them left," museum secretary Mac McCormack said.
"When (the U.S.) entered the war, (the Lafayette Escadrille) transitioned to the American Air Service. At the end of the war they were so sick of war they said, 'We want nothing to remind us. No music, food, sounds, no memories. Just throw everything away. We're going to go home,'" McCormack said.
McCormack said that, fortunately, someone exercised judgment to preserve and maintain the collection of uniforms, which eventually found its way to airplane and military history collector Andy Parks.
Parks not only maintained the uniforms, but commissioned signature mannequins that portray the accurate height, stature and facial features of each pilot to accompany the uniforms.
"Everything you see here we have 100 percent provenance," McCormack said, "This is actually what they wore 100 years ago."
Southern Colorado Space Museum and Learning Center
While most of the Weisbrod collection shares a connection to either aviation or the U.S. military, inside of the museum's second hangar lies a smaller, separate corridor, featuring artifacts from the U.S. space program.
"This is pretty much my museum inside of (Kirscht's) museum," said Steve Janssen, curator of Southern Colorado Space Museum and Learning Center. "They've been so generous to give me the space here to fill it up, and we just keep growing."
Some of the space museum's most notable artifacts include an engine nozzle that would have gone on a gem rocket of the Delta II launch system, a lunar oxygen test bed donated by Lockheed Martin, items that flew on NASA missions, spacesuit parts and, perhaps most impressively: the military helicopter used to rescue the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard.
"They don't even teach this stuff anymore!" Janssen said.
"Kids don't even know who Alan Shepard was. So they don't teach the history, I don't think. So they can come here and learn about that, and it's the same thing with the air museum -- people just don't know about that kind of stuff. And that's what museums do, they preserve the past."
Preserving the past
Speaking to the importance of entities like the air museum, Kirscht recalled a story that he said seemingly embodies the vital significance of history museums in the U.S.
"When you talk about history and teaching people, that right there is the biggest teacher," Kirscht said, motioning to a large red flag with a German Nazi insignia on the wall.
"As near as we can tell, there was a group from La Junta that was in WW II, and they captured that flag. It was donated to the museum. We get a lot of complaints that we're glorifying it, but I'm kind of passionate about that one because that is history that we need to remember so that we don't repeat it."
"There was a group of people once that was standing there complaining about it and there was this older gentleman that was standing off to the side, and he walked over and he said 'Can I show you something?'
"He rolled up his sleeve and he had the tattoo from the Holocaust, you know the prisoner number, and he looked at those people and he said, 'Thank God they have this (pointing to the flag) so that we don't repeat this (pointing to his tattoo).' "
Original article can be found here: http://www.chieftain.com
Posted by Kathryn on Sunday, April 09, 2017