My first aviation-related museum visit of 2016 was to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
I was generally very impressed by the museum, which appears to be well-funded, with fully thought-through immersive displays containing convincing artifacts, video presentations that are clear and informative, and many artifacts that are impressive for the rarity and quality. My family found it fascinating and stayed even after I had to leave for a meeting. Its aircraft collection is an interesting mixture. Some of the planes (B-17, SBD, C-47) are complete, authentic restorations with important histories and are accurately restored. Others are composites or partial mock-ups, not always of the best quality. Except for the B-24 nose, all aircraft in the collection are hanging from the ceiling, but most are in buildings with catwalks and balconies that allow for eye-level or even look-down viewing of the planes. They are also in glass-walled structures allowing ample light for photography, except for the P-40. Overall, especially since about 2011, the growing aircraft collection has become large enough to be a don’t-miss for the aviation buff touring the area.
Specific information about the aircraft exhibits at the museum is hard to find. The museum’s web site quotes serial numbers and histories for only the few exhibits that have interesting stories. Because it has been difficult to find all available details about its planes in one place, I am placing what I have been able to unearth into my summary below.
Boeing B-17E 41-9032 “My Gal Sal”
On June 27, 1942, this B-17 had to forced-land on the ice pack in Greenland because of mechanical problems while being ferried from the U.S. to the European combat theater. It sat there until 1995 when it was recovered for restoration and display at the National World War II Museum. It was assigned to the 342nd Squadron of the 97th Bomb Group and had already been given the name “My Gal Sal.”
Consolidated B-24 nose
This nose section is unidentified but appears to be a combination of PB4Y-2 and B-24J parts built up for the National World War II Museum to resemble an F-7, the reconnaissance version of the B-24D. It is painted as “Over Exposed, an F-7 flown by William Sewell.
Built from a wreck recovered in Alaska for the National World War II Museum, the identity of this Warhawk is unknown. It reportedly logged 12 flight hours in the Aleutians with the 343rd Fighter Group but was wrecked in a 1943 taxiing accident. Painted as Robert Scott’s personal aircraft with the 23rd Fighter Group in China, the plane is featured in the museum’s “Road to Tokyo” immersive exhibition.
Douglas C-47 42-93096
The National World War II Museum’s C-47 is one of its most impressive exhibits. This machine carried troops of the 82nd Airborne to Normandy on D-Day, the 101st Airborne into Holland for Operation Market Garden, and participated in other key European Theater paratroop operations. After the war it was part of the Berlin Airlift. Reportedly acquired by the museum on eBay, it is now displayed over the ticket counter on entry into the museum.
Douglas SBD-3 06508
The museum claims that this Dauntless was a combat veteran of the campaigns on Guadalcanal, operating from Henderson Field with U.S. Marine scout bombing squadrons VMSB-141 and -132. It then served with Navy bombing squadron 10 aboard the USS Enterprise. When serving as a trainer for landing on practice carriers on Lake Michigan off the coast of Illinois, the plane missed a landing and sank in November 1944. Recovered as part of a U.S. Navy program in 1990, it is restored to 1942 markings and displayed at the National World War II Museum.
Grumman TBM-3E 69374
Stationed in San Diego during World War II, this Avenger then fought fires in California as N9650C. Now restored as one of the heroic defenders of the Taffy 3 task force in the Battle of Samar, specifically Thomas Lupo’s plane from the USS Fanshaw Bay, the plane is now displayed at the National World War II Museum.
Messerschmitt Bf 109G-14 (composite)
Posed awkwardly over a staircase at the National World War II Museum, this Bf 109 is a composite restoration built up from parts. It is painted in the markings of Willi Trabert of JG.300.
North American B-25J 44-29812
This B-25 was surplused in 1958 and spent 42 years displayed in Paul Bunyan Land, a tourist attraction in Brainerd, Minnesota. It was restored and placed on display at the National World War II Museum in 2010. The plane is painted to represent a gunship b-25 of the 490th Bomb Squadron operating in Burma.
North American P-51D 44-72254 (?)
The serial 44-72254 is claimed by the restorers of the National World War II Museum’s Mustang, although it is not clear whether much of the original 44-72254 is in it. It is painted in the markings of “Bunnie” of the 99th Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, the famous Tuskegee Airmen or “Red Tails.” It mostly looks pretty accurate although the low profile canopy does not resemble wartime units.
Supermarine Spitfire Vb BL370
The fuselage and tail of the National World War II Museum’s Spitfire are fairly accurately restored from a wreck that crashed in a marsh on September 20, 1944. BL730 saw combat with several RAF squadrons and is restored in the markings it wore on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when with 64 Squadron. The wings, unfortunately, are poorly made mock-ups that show many obvious defects. Hopefully this Spitfire will be fully and properly restored one day.
The serial number of the National World War II Museum’s F4U-4, which may be a composite restoration, is not disclosed. It is to some extent disguised as an F4U-1, with an earlier engine cowling and a 1943-era paint scheme. The museum claims that the paint job represents one of the aircraft flown by Gregory Boyington’s VMF-214, the famous “Black Sheep,” bearing the number 833 on its side. There was a Corsair numbered 883 (serial 17883) in that unit sometimes flown by Boyington, but the best known “833” Corsair (F4U-1A 17833) actually was flown by ace Marion Carl with VMF-223.