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Moffett Field Historical Society Museum March 8, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Moffett Field Historical Society Museum in Moffett Field. This museum is dedicated to telling the story of Moffett Field.

Here are six nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Moffett Field is the namesake of William Moffett, who played a pivotal role in the rise of naval aviation after World War I. When Moffett commanded the battleship USS Mississippi, he utilized scout planes to improve her gunnery. He would later serve three terms as the director of the Bureau of Aeronautics, repeatedly declining promotions in order to focus on his quest to gain support for the concept of naval aviation. In particular, he supported the deployment of rigid airships, and his efforts in that regard led to the construction of the USS Akron and the USS Macon. Unfortunately, he perished along with most of the crew and passengers of the Akron in a thunderstorm in 1933.

2. Rigid airships such as the Akron and the Macon were actually flying aircraft carriers that housed small scout fighter planes. These airships were filled with helium, and their design was inspired by the German zeppelins that were employed during World War I. They employed trapezes to both retrieve incoming planes and launch outgoing planes. Their frames were constructed of duralumin, and their skin was made of cotton cloth. Amusingly, their crew members would occasionally be used as ballast.

3. After the Akron and the Macon were downed due to thunderstorms, rigid airships briefly fell out of favor, and the Navy surrendered control of Moffett Field to the Army. The necessity of launching anti-submarine operations in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, though, enabled the Navy to regain control of Moffett Field and utilize rigid airships in this regard. The Navy would administer the Naval Air Station at Moffett Field until 1994; squadrons based at the Naval Air Station played key roles in terms of anti-submarine operations and logistics, especially during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

4. The Lockheed P-3C Orion played a key role in anti-submarine operations; many Orions were based at Moffett Field after World War II. The Orion utilized several approaches for detecting the presence of submarines. One approach entailed magnetic anomaly detection, where the Orion was equipped with sensors that could detect the minute variations in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by a metallic enemy submarine. Another approach relied on sonobuoys, which were equipped with transmitters and dropped from an orbiting Orion; these devices would utilize active and passive sonar and transmit detection results to the Orion.

5. When a fighter pilot attempts to land on an aircraft carrier, they must approach the carrier at the proper height; a system of amber and green warning lights assists the pilot in this regard. Arresting wires are used to bring the plane to a full stop over a short distance, while the pilot keeps their engine running at full power in the event that their attempt is unsuccessful – allowing them to take off for another attempt. When a fighter pilot attempts to take off from an aircraft carrier, they utilize a steam-powered catapult after the carrier turns into the wind. Each steam-powered catapult relies on a piston that is buffered by a water brake. The members of the crew wear different-colored suits that designate their specific on-board responsibilities.

6. The Bell AH-1 Cobra saw extensive action during the conflict in Vietnam. The Cobra was originally designed as an armed escort for troop transports; later, it functioned in roles such as 1) providing close air support for ground troops and 2) acting in tandem with a scout helicopter as a hunter-killer team. It was equipped with various armaments, including a 20 mm cannon, TOW missiles and 7.62 mm machine guns. It was later supplanted by the AH-64 Apache.

The museum was replete with interesting military paraphernalia, including World War II-era Japanese rifles and bayonets, models of Soviet attack and ballistic missile submarines, and military decorations including a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. I came across a newspaper article where a woman recounted her husband’s training flight with Jimmy Stewart when Stewart was stationed at Moffett Field in 1941. I was also glad to learn that one of the museum’s founders is named Rosie, and she actually worked at Moffett Field during World War II; she was serving as a volunteer on the day of my visit.

I don’t have any quibbles at this time, which is great. I should note that visitors need to show a photo ID to the guard at the main gate when they enter Moffett Field.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to history and aviation buffs who happen to be in the Bay Area.

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