The Peterson Air and Space Museum

BOMARC missile at the Peterson Air and Space Museum

The Peterson Air and Space Museum is one of twelve official United States Air Force Field Museums. The Field Museum is located upon Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the temporary home to the U.S. Space Command. The base shares the airfield with the adjacent Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. The Museum sits upon an 8.3-acre historic district and is on the U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Dating back more than 90 years, the Museum consists of the original Colorado Springs Airport Passenger Terminal, City Hanger, and Broadmoor Hanger. 

The Museum was established and named for its namesake of the base, Army Air Forces First Lieutenant Edward J Peterson. Lieutenant Peterson was assigned to the 12th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at the former Colorado Springs Army Air Base in June 1942. He later became the Operations Officer for the 14th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, where he also served as the squadron’s test pilot. It was while serving as the squadron test pilot that he made the ultimate sacrifice. On Saturday, August 8th, 1942, Lieutenant Peterson took off on a routine test flight of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning following an engine change when the left engine failed, and he crashed. 

Unfortunately, the Peterson Air and Space Museum is currently closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, recently I was able to tour the facility as a special guest of Museum Director Gail Whalen, Assistant Director and Curator Jeffery Nash, and Stephen Brady of Peterson – Schriever Garrison Public Affairs Office. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Museum’s annual attendance of 20,000 visitors from visiting, Director Nash explained it had not been made for an idle time. The time has been used wisely for caring for and maintaining the Museum’s static displays, which have been receiving fresh paint and repairs from what he described as an “apocalyptic hailstorm” that struck in July of 2016. 

Museum Director Jeffrey Nash explained that the U.S. Air Force Field Museums differ from the National Museum of the Air Force, which tells the U.S. Air Force’s entire history and heritage. Each Field Museum tells a unique and specific part of the Air Force story. Our story here is that of Peterson Air Force Base and the organizations that have been assigned here since its establishment in 1942. It also looks into the U.S. Space Force’s future heritage, Air Force Base Operations, Military Space Operations, and U.S. Air Force Space Command, the predecessor to what is today called the U.S Space Force. 

Terminal Building

The Peterson Air and Space Museum facility consists of three well-kept buildings, known as the City Hangar, Broadmoor Hangar, and Terminal Building. The City Hangar was constructed in 1928 and is the first permanent structure built at the Colorado Springs Airport. Today, this building serves as an exhibit facility along with the Terminal Building. The Broadmoor Hangar, built in 1934, is the third building of the facility and is an identical twin of the City Hangar. The Broadmoor Hotel and Resort originally built the Broadmoor Hangar for the exclusive use of their guests. Today, this hangar is used primarily for curatorial storage of the Museum’s artifacts and special collections not currently on public display. 

We begin our tour at the Terminal Building, which is styled in Art Deco with stylized eagles found on either side of the main entrance and deltas along the roofline. Director Nash pointed out that these designs were typical for aviation-related buildings built during the 1930s and 1940s. The Museum’s Airpark, located behind the Terminal Hangar, is where the bulk of the aircraft collection is displayed. The Peterson Air and Space Museum collection consists of eighteen aircraft and five missiles on static display both here in the airpark and at different satellite displays throughout the base. Director Nash explained that the airpark was designed to be a walk through time. As visitors walk clockwise and tour each display, they learn the Air Defense of North America’s story during the Cold War. The airpark display begins with the first generation of United States Air Force (USAF) interceptors from the 1950s. After World War II, the United States’ greatest threat was an attack by the nuclear-capable Soviet Union long-range bombers. The U.S. defense establishment quickly realized that our air defenses against a Soviet attack were inadequate and needed aircraft specifically designed to intercept these Soviet bombers. The first generation of interceptors were designs adapted from basic fighter aircraft models. Director Nash explained how interceptors differ from fighters. Their specific mission was to find, identify, scare off, or shoot down aggressor aircraft, specifically Soviet bombers during the Cold War. Both the F-86 Sabre and F-94 Starfire were modified with radars and air to air weapons and pressed into service as interim interceptors until the first purpose-built interceptor; the F-89 Scorpion, was developed. The Peterson Air and Space Museum has examples of all three aircraft on display in the airpark. 

The North American F-86L Sabre Dog displayed in the Museum’s Airpark is an upgraded variant of the USAF’s F-86D interceptor. The F-86D (originally designated the F-95A) only has a 25% commonality with the other Sabre variants. The Sabre Dog incorporated a larger fuselage, afterburning engine, distinctive nose radome, and an all-rocket armament carried in a retractable tray in the bottom of the fuselage. The F-86L was a single-seat aircraft that was unique in that other all-weather aircraft of the time required a two-person crew. A total of 981 F-86D’s were converted to the F-86L variant. 

The Lockheed F-94 Starfire evolved from the P-80 design, the first American jet fighter to enter front line service. First flown in 1949, the F-94 was a two-seat interceptor used to defend the continental United States. The Starfire was the first all-weather jet interceptor to serve the USAF Air Defense Command. Like the F-86L, the Museum’s F-94C was equipped with only rockets. The F-94C had a relatively short service life. Entering service in 1956, the Starfires were withdrawn from service by 1959. 

The Northrop F-89 Scorpion was the first purpose-built jet aircraft designed to locate, intercept and destroy enemy aircraft by day or night in all weather types to be operated by the USAF. Like the F-94 Starfire, the F-89 has a crew of two consisting of a pilot and radar operator. The J model on display in the Museum’s airpark could be armed with four AIM 4C Falcon missiles and an MB-1 Genie nuclear rocket. On July 19, 1957, the F-89J test-fired and successfully detonated an MB-1 (later AIR-2) ‘Genie’ rocket with a nuclear warhead over a Nevada test range. This was the first launch of an air-to-air rocket with a nuclear warhead. The F-89J was the first fighter-interceptor aircraft to carry nuclear armament. Director Nash explained the many development problems the F-89 had to overcome when it entered service in 1950. He explained that the F-89 is an interceptor and was not intended to dogfight with fighter aircraft. This is why its design is much larger than the aircraft of its time. Its fuselage size was to accommodate the twin engines. Additionally, the aircraft’s nose was required to be lengthened to lodge the radar and fire control system. The Scorpion was crewed by a pilot and a radar observer seated in tandem. Northrop produced one-thousand fifty (1,050) F-89’s for the USAF. The last F-89J was withdrawn from service with the Maine Air National Guard in 1969. 

The Museum has just completed a major renovation, and exhibits reset in the City Hangar. As you enter the City Hangar, you are greeted with a magnificently restored Republic P-47N Thunderbolt. The P-47 was the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter aircraft of World War II. The P-47 was effective as an escort fighter and a fighter-bomber in both the European and Pacific theatres. It was noteworthy for its firepower and ability to resist battle damage and remain airworthy. Director Nash explained that the P-47N was the long-range version, equipped with a wider waistband and additional fuel tanks. The P-47N was primarily used in the Pacific theater during World War II because of its increased range. Besides B-29 escort duty, the P-47N could conduct ground attacks once it reached the Japanese home islands. Like most of our aircraft, this P-47 has a unique history, Director Nash explained.

This P-47N was the fifteenth thousand four hundred sixty second (15,462) P-47 delivered. As such, it was only one hundred seventy-fourth (174) from the end of the production line and was built too late ever to see service in World War II. Instead, this Thunderbolt went directly to the Air National Guard, where it served until the mid-1950s. This P-47N first served with the Maine Air National Guard, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard before finishing its operational service with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. When Director Nash began working with the Museum, this P-47N had already been a static display at three different installations before arriving here in 1970. Originally it was displayed outdoors on a stick where our Minuteman III Missile now stands. It was in rough shape, and in 2000 it was removed and brought over to the Museum for a five-year restoration project. The P-47N was restored to reflect its assignment with the 156th Fighter Squadron of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

Also housed within the City Hanger is a rare satellite known as Project Vela. The museum has a Vela Hotel model on display. These were placed into orbit attached to a second Vela Hotel, together comprising an Advanced Vela satellite. The Vela Satellite was developed to monitor compliance with the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited all test detonations of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater.

The Vela Hotel satellites were designed to separate after launch and then placed into a 70,000 nautical mile-high orbit, placing them above the Van Allen radiation belts. Each of the satellites was placed on opposite sides of Earth to provide complete coverage of outer space. Their unique shape, called an icosahedron, has twenty equilateral triangle faces with twelve vertices.

While the Vela Hotel series of satellites never detected any weapons test in outer space, they did discover Gamma-Ray bursts, which are markers of collapsing stars and black holes. These discoveries enabled the mapping of the universe and augmented existing measuring light methods to identify deep space objects. 

As we exited the City Hanger, we stopped at the CIM-10A BOMARC (BO for Boeing and MARC for Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) missile. The BOMARC was developed for the U.S. Air Force as a ground-launched interceptor missile designed to destroy enemy aircraft.

The BOMARC was the world’s first long-range SAM (Surface to Air Missile) equipped with the first pulse doppler aviation radar. Designed to be launched vertically by a rocket booster to high altitudes, the missile then turned horizontal, powered by the twin ramjets under the wings to a speed of Mach 2.5 to near the target. The BOMARC was guided from the ground in a lofted trajectory to within ten (10) miles of the target. A command would be given to the missile to dive, which triggered its radar target seeker to guide the missile to the intended target. The BOMARC employed a radar proximity fuse to detonate the warhead. 

The U.S. Air Force initially sought to deploy the BOMARC at fifty-two (52) sites armed with one-hundred twenty (120) missiles each around major U.S. cities and industrial areas beginning in 1960. However, with the rapidly changing threat from manned bombers and rapidly developing technology, the BOMARC only saw eight (8) sites in the U.S. and two (2) in Canada become active. By 1972 the BOMARC’s were withdrawn from frontline service and converted to target drones. Few BOMARC missiles remain intact, with even fewer on public display. 

My tour with Director Nash continued along to the Museum’s Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star, a subsonic jet trainer stationed with the 4600th Air Wing (later the 46th Aerospace Defense Wing and then the 46th Test Wing) at Peterson Field. The T-33 was used to simulate enemy intruders, pilot proficiency, and jet aircraft orientation to the Cadets at the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy. The Museum’s T-33 is displayed in the Air Defense Weapons Center’s markings at Tyndall Air Force Base in the 1970s. 

Parked beside the T-33 is a U.S. Army M192 towed triple missile launcher equipped with three (3) Raytheon MIM-23 HAWK (Hunter All The Way Killer) missiles. The HAWK is a medium-range SAM designed to be mobile and a companion to the Western Electric MIM-14 NIKE Hercules missile. Entering service in 1959 with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps in 1960. The HAWK was the forerunner and superseded in U.S. Army service by the Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot missile in 1994. The HAWK system used several radars, including a pulse acquisition radar for detecting high and medium altitude threats, a continuous wave acquisition radar for low-level threats, and a high-power illuminator to locate targets with the missile’s internal seeker. An Army Air Defense Command Post located away from the missile launcher sites controlled the missile targeting and firing. The Museum’s M192 and HAWK missiles are displayed in the markings of the 6th Battalion, 65th Air Defense Artillery, U.S. Army Air Defense Command. This unit was tasked with defending southern Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. The HAWK continued active service with the U.S. Marine Corps until 2002. NASA developed the surplus HAWK missiles into the HAWK Sounding Rocket. The HAWK remains in service today with as many as seventeen (17) foreign nations. 

Beside the HAWK is a Martin EB-57E Canberra, a two (2) seat Electronic Aggressor aircraft converted from the RB-57E Photo-Reconnaissance aircraft. These aircraft played the role of aggressors to train friendly air defense units in the art of electronic warfare. The EB-57 was modified with electronic countermeasures and radar jamming equipment. The rear cockpit was also modified for use by an Electronic Warfare Officer. On a typical mission, the EB-57 would imitate a hostile aircraft against U.S. and Canadian air defenses. Once the EB-57 was detected by radars and tracked, interceptor aircraft would be alerted, and missile trained on it for a simulated attack. Active-duty Air Force units initially conducted the EB-57 mission before eventually being migrated to selected units of the Air National Guard. The EB-57 mission was eventually replaced by active-duty Air Force units flying the General Dynamics EF-111A Raven, better known as the Spark-Vark. The Museum’s aircraft is displayed in the markings of the 17th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron, based at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, during the 1970s. The EB-57s were eventually phased out of service in the 1980s. 

The Museum’s aircraft collection centerpiece is the last operational U.S. Air Force Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star, currently being reconditioned. The EC-121T is a heavily modified C-121 Super Constellation placed into service in 1953 as an Airborne Early Warning and Control radar surveillance aircraft. The EC-121T served with both the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The EC-121T served with the Air Defense Command, flying patrols three hundred (300) miles off the U.S. coasts as an extension of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line. The Air Force ordered eighty-two (82) EC-121’s while twenty-two (22), such as the museums being converted from either fifteen (15) EC-121D or seven (7) EC-121H models. The EC-121 was the forerunner to the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft and was phased out of Air Force service by 1978 and U.S. Navy service by 1982. The EC-121T features two (2) radomes. The dorsal (vertical) radome on top of the fuselage detected altitudes at a range of approximately one hundred (100) miles. The ventral (horizontal) radome located below the fuselage is the search radar with a three hundred sixty (360) degree view and a range of approximately two hundred fifty (250) miles. The Museum’s EC-121T Warning Star is a veteran of service in Vietnam. The aircraft is displayed in the markings of the 552nd AEWCS (Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron) Wing of McClellan Air Force Base, California. The aircraft displays six (6) Outstanding Unit Awards (Silver and Bronze Oak Leaf’s) and a Valor Award for Vietnam service. 

Flanking the EC-121 on either side are the Museum’s Nike missiles. The Nike program was named for the Greek Goddess of Victory. The Western Electric MIM-3 Nike Ajax was the world’s first operational guided SAM. The Nike Ajax is a supersonic medium to high altitude SAM capable of Mach 2.25 developed and deployed in 1954. The Nike Ajax was under the control of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command. At its peak deployment, there were nearly three hundred (300) missile sites. A ground based computer controlled the guidance system. The design was simplistic; one (1) radar beam tracked the target, and another guiding the missile on a collision course. When the missile was near the target, a radio signal detonated the three separate high explosive fragmentation warheads. The Ajax was phased out of active service by 1970 and replaced by the Nike Hercules missile. 

The Western Electric MIM-14 Nike Hercules missile is a supersonic medium to high altitude SAM developed from the Nike Ajax missile and deployed in 1958. The Hercules had greater range and speed than the Ajax, capable of Mach 3.65. The Hercules also employed an improved guidance system. The Hercules was deployed by the U.S. Army Air Defense Command to one hundred forty-five (145) missile sites to defend major U.S. cities and military installations during the Cold War. The Hercules could be armed with either an M17 high explosive conventional warhead or a W31 nuclear warhead capable of intercepting incoming bombers or ICBMs. The Hercules was phased out of active service in the U.S. by 1974 and in Europe by 1988.

As a close military ally of the United States, Canada played an integral part in NORAD and North American airspace defense. To recognize that important partnership, the Peterson Air and Space Museum has three fighter aircraft from the Royal Canadian Air Force on display. The Avro CF-100 Mark 5C Canuck was an all-weather jet fighter. The Canuck was designed to patrol the vast expanses of the Canadian north. The Mark 5C was a modified electronic warfare variant of the Canuck designed to fly higher than the previous models. This came at the cost of the removal of the eight .50-caliber machine guns. The Mark 5C was equipped with radar jammers and chaff dispensers instead. The cockpit in tandem seated a pilot and electronic warfare officer. The CF-100 is the only Canadian designed and manufactured fighter to enter mass production. A total of six hundred ninety-two (692) were built in several variants, including three hundred thirty-two (332) Mark 5C’s. The CF-100 was originally designed for only 2,000 flight hours. However, the Canuck was so incredibly well built, they actually lasted 20,000 flight hours and served the RCAF from 1952 until 1981. Further development of the CF-100 led to Avro designing the CF-105 Arrow. The Museum’s aircraft is in the 414th Electronic Warfare Squadron markings, based at Canadian Forces Base Uplands in Ontario during the late 1960s. 

Alongside the Canuck is the McDonnell CF-101B Voodoo, a Canadian version of the F-101 that served with the U.S. Air Force Air Defense Command. The CF-101 is a long-range, all-weather interceptor. The Voodoo had an armament of 2 AIM 4D Falcon air to air missiles and 2 AIR-2A Genie unguided nuclear missiles that could be loaded externally or on a rotary launcher concealed in the aircraft’s belly. In 1961, the Canadian Government banned nuclear weapons, which created a problem in arming the CF-101 with the AIR-2A Genie. In 1963 a compromise was arranged where the AIR-2A Genies remained the United States’ property and only could be deployed through a joint agreement between the two nations and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). The aircraft on display began service with the USAF in 1959, then transferred to the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) in 1970 before being phased out of service in 1984. The aircraft is displayed in the markings of the 409th “Nighthawk” Squadron stationed at Comox, British Columbia. 

Next on display is a McDonnell Douglas CF-18 / CF-188 Hornet. The RCAF Hornet entered service in 1982 in air defense, air superiority, and tactical support roles. The CF-18 is similar to the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18A and B “Legacy” models. A total of 138 CF-18’s (98 single-seat and 40 dual-seat models) were built for Canada. Many U.S. Navy F/A-18 features such as the heavy-duty reinforced landing gear, arrestor hook, and folding wings were retained. McDonnell Douglas initially offered the Canadian Government a non-naval version of the Hornet known as the F/A-18L. The Canadian Government decided to stay with the naval version and make only two modifications. The CF-18 also received a night identification light to identify intercepted and identify aircraft positively at night. This spotlight is mounted in the gun loading door on the left side of the aircraft. Some CF-18’s have the light temporarily removed, but the window is always in place. The second change was the addition of a false canopy to the underside of the fuselage. The false canopy is painted on and is useful in a dogfight to confuse the enemy pilot about the Hornet’s orientation. The Museum’s aircraft is adorned with a special paint scheme created by Jim Belliveau, the graphic designer for 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta. Jim is well respected and admired for the specially themed RCAF CF-18 Demonstration Team aircraft he has created for years. Director Nash pointed out that each tail on the CF-18 is painted slightly different from the other side. The paintings depict the historical context of NORAD and the joint US and Canadian Air Defense Command. The right tail features a USAF E-3 Sentry, an RCAF CF-18 Hornet, and a Vermont ANG F-16 Fighting Falcon. The left tail features a Soviet Air Force Tu-95 Bear bomber, RCAF CF-101 Voodoo, and a USAF F-106 Delta Dart.

The last generation of interceptors on display is represented by perhaps the ultimate interceptor of all time, the Convair F-106 Delta Dart. Developed from the F-102 Delta Dagger and placed into service in 1959, the F-106 was the last dedicated interceptor aircraft used by the USAF, with 342 delivered to the USAF. The F-106 was capable of flying supersonic and reaching an altitude of 57,000 feet while remaining extremely maneuverable, capable of rolling 100 degrees per second. The F-106 set a world speed record of 1,525 MPH at an altitude of 40,500 feet. The F-106 was equipped with a Hughes MA-1 electronic guidance and weapons control system. After takeoff, the MA-1 was given the aircraft’s control to fly it to the proper altitude and attack attitude. The MA-1 could also fire the F-106’s missiles, break off the attack run and return the aircraft to the vicinity of its base, where the pilot would once again take over the controls and land the aircraft. The Museum’s aircraft is nearing completion of its refurbishment.

The USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle served with four Tactical Air Command (TAC) fighter-interceptor squadrons providing air defense to the US. Although designed as a pure air superiority aircraft, it could deliver air-to-ground ordinance. The F-15 set eight world records, including the time-to-climb speed record in 1975. The F-15A replaced the F-106 Delta Dart in the interceptor role. By the 1990s, when TAC was deactivated, their Eagles were reassigned to the Air National Guard. 

The USAF initially designated the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II as the F-110 Spectre. ‘Speed is Life’ was the Phantom pilot’s moniker. The Phantom is the holder of multiple world records, including an absolute world record average speed over a 20-mile long 2-way straight course of 1,606.342 mph. It also performed a zoom climb to a world record altitude of 98,557 feet. Capable of carrying missiles, rockets, bombs, and a 20 mm cannon pod, the Phantom was an excellent multirole platform. The Museum’s Phantom is displayed in the 57th Fighter Intercept Squadron’s markings, stationed at Keflavik Iceland. 

Displayed next to the F-4 Phantom II is a USAF MD-3 Ground Power Unit commonly called start carts. The MD-3 was originally designed to provide the Boeing B-47 Stratojet Bomber with 28-volt DC 1500-amp, 115/220-volt, AC three-phase electrical service for ground operations and start-up. The MD-3 was powered by a Continental six-cylinder, 180 HP reciprocating engine, which drove its electrical generators. The MD-3 could also be used for other aircraft that had compatible power requirements.

Director Nash escorted me to four more static display aircraft nearby related to and cared for by the Museum. The first was the McDonnell Douglas F-101B Voodoo, displayed in the markings of the 13th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of Glasgow Air Force Base in Montana in the mid-1960s. 

Next was a Convair F-102A Delta Dagger, the world’s first supersonic, all-weather jet interceptor, and the USAF’s first delta-wing aircraft. When the Air Force conceptualized the design in what was known as Project MX-1554, it decided that the design was to be built around a Fire Control System (FCS), which was to be designed first. The aircraft and FCS would work together as one weapon system. Once the F-102 intercepted an enemy aircraft, the Delta Dagger’s radar would guide it into position for the attack. The electronic fire control system fired the F-102’s air-to-air rockets and missiles from an internal weapons bay at the proper moment. Although designed for supersonic speed, the F-102 initially could not exceed Mach 0.98 and was limited to a ceiling of 48.000 feet. The early jet engines were underpowered, but the design itself was an issue. The F-102 suffered from ‘transonic drag,’ a phenomenon that occurs between Mach 0.72 and 1.0. The USAF threatened to cancel the contract for the F-102 unless Convair could get the aircraft to achieve supersonic flight. Convair engineers quickly made major redesigns to the F-102 by incorporating the recently discovered ‘area rule.’ The redesign began with lengthening the fuselage by 11 feet and pinching the fuselage’s midsection, giving it the ‘coke bottle’ shape. The canopy was narrowed, and the intakes were redesigned. The wings were made thinner and wider, with the leading edge being given a conical droop and a second inboard fence for improved low-speed handling. Equipped with a more powerful J57 engine, the remodeled F-102A achieved Mach 1.22 and a ceiling of 53,000 feet on its first flight. The Air Force was impressed and approved the production of the F-102A. Convair proposed an upgrade known as the F-102B, which eventually became the F-106. The Museum’s F-102A is displayed in the markings of the Air Defense Commands 4780 Air Defense Wing stationed at Perrin AFB Texas in the 1960s. 

The aircraft on display is a Lockheed F-104C Starfighter. The Starfighter was a supersonic air superiority fighter utilized as both a tactical fighter-bomber and a day-night interceptor. The F-104 was pressed into production when both the F-102 and F-106 experienced production delays. The F-104 was not well suited for the interceptor mission lacking the range and payload of other available aircraft. Originally designed to be equipped with two wingtip AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, the F-104 quickly lost these in favor of external fuel tanks to improve its range. The Starfighter was limited to just an internal 20mm cannon and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles carried on a special rack under the fuselage. The F-104 also suffered other developmental problems that led to several accidents and a bad reputation among pilots. As a result, the Air Force reduced the order from 722 F-104’s to 170. The F-104’s service in the USAF was short-lived, but the aircraft’s improved versions had a long service career with NATO nation air forces. Director Nash explained that the Museum’s F-104C has a unique history. This particular F-104 was originally displayed with a different paint scheme and another tail number. Researching the original tail number (56-0936), he established the aircraft’s history and identified it as a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. The aircraft was assigned to the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base from 1967 – 1968. The Museum restored this aircraft to the correct tail number, coloring, and markings of the 435th TFS. Director Nash was able to identify a pilot that flew the aircraft during this time. USAF First Lieutenant Thomas Mahan was contacted and attended the unveiling of the refurbished aircraft. 

The last stop on my tour with Director Nash was displaying a Boeing LGM-30 (L = Silo Launched, G = Surface Attack, M = Guided Missile, 30 = Minuteman III) Minuteman III Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Minuteman III, normally on display, are all white. However, the one on display at Peterson is in ‘war colors’ and how an ICBM in a silo, ready for launch, would look. Approximately 1,000 Minuteman III ICBMs were deployed in the 1970s. Today, the Minuteman III remains the only land-based ICBM, with 400 deployed at Malmstrom AFB Montana, Minot AFB North Dakota, and F.E. Warren AFB Wyoming. 

As I concluded my visit, Director Nash and I discussed how once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, the general public is encouraged to visit the Museum. Those without a military ID must obtain a base visitor pass at the visitor center. The Museum has a process that requires those without military ID to call ahead a couple of days and give some information about themselves. The Museum then submits a request to the Security Forces to process a pass a visitor pass. Visitor information can be obtained and reviewed on the Museum’s website,

A special thank you to the Peterson Air and Space Museum’s Director Gail Whalen, Assistant Director and Curator Jeffery Nash, and Stephen Brady of Peterson – Schriever Garrison Public Affairs Office for allowing my visit for this feature. I also wish to thank Corey Beitler for his assistance in producing this article.

Mike Colaner

Mike Colaner is a native of Central New Jersey and still resides there today with his family. I always had a fascination with aviation with both NAS Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base nearby to my boyhood home. Upon graduating High School, I went to work for Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at NAEC Lakehurst. I worked in the engineering department on the PA-97 Helistat project as a draftsman. I soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served four years active duty with both the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After completing my enlistment, I went to college and became a New Jersey State Trooper. I recently retired after serving 25 years and I am looking for my next adventure. I am very glad that I have been able to join this team and to share my passion with all of you.

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