As many will recall, the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum (NASM) has been undergoing a multi-year, multimillion dollar overhaul of its entire campus on the Mall in Washington, DC. One of the key galleries experiencing a significant update is the WWII Gallery, which closed in 2019. While the old gallery was popular, and featured five key WWII fighters (a Spitfire, P-51D Mustang, A6M Zero, Bf 109 and C.202 Folgore) and the forward fuselage of Martin B-26 Marauder Flak Bait, it was pretty limited in scope and detail, relying on both the artifacts and familiarity of most viewers to the history of WWII, to provide its impact. However, with our proximity to WWII and members of the Greatest Generation fast fading away, NASM felt they needed a new approach to telling the story. As such, the new Jay I. Kislak WWII in the Air Gallery, set to open in 2025, will become a far more dynamic environment for conveying the complex and nuanced history of the air war to generations of Americans who are now far-removed from the living memory of the conflict.
As NASM’s Roger Connor recently reported HERE, “Besides the Museum’s use of stellar artifacts, we are reaching out to visitors through two new approaches: One is to place people in the foreground of the story to create empathy and sense of connection. The second is to use new technologies, particularly large format media, to create a dynamic and engaging environment.
Taking advantage of a larger space on the east end of the building (previously home to the Apollo to the Moon gallery), the exhibit will feature six full-size aircraft—FM-1 Wildcat, P-51D Mustang, Bf 109G, IL-2 Shturmovik, Ohka 22, and V-1—along with a C-47 nose section and the SBD Dauntless displayed outside the entrance. Smaller and no less remarkable artifacts will range from a kite designed by Air and Space’s own Paul Garber and used for training anti-aircraft gunners, to a Gremlin doll given to famed aircraft designer Alexander de Seversky by Walt Disney, to a machine gun from Lady Be Good, the ghostly B-24 bomber found over a decade after the war ended hundreds of miles from the combat zone.”
“While familiar stories of aeronautical heroism, like that of Marine Corps ace and Medal of Honor recipient Joe Foss, will feature prominently, World War II in the Air will also spotlight the experiences of often overlooked individuals. These include Soviet pilot Anna Yegorova, who flew 41 ground attack missions in the IL-2 Shturmovik against German troops before being shot down and captured, and Clifford Allen, a smoke jumper with the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion who fought wildfires and helped break down racial barriers. War workers and ground crew will be celebrated alongside the aircrew, like P-47 pilot George Rarey, who after perishing to German flak over Normandy, left a poignant cartoon diary for his son that he never had a chance to meet in person. By engaging with these moving stories, new generations of visitors will make connections with the past that keep the legacy of wartime service and sacrifice as a source of inspiration and reflection on a singular moment when aviation changed the world in ways both remarkable and terrifying.”
“The gallery will employ a new exhibition toolkit, including multimedia projections and interactive technology, to showcase people and some of the most moving imagery from the conflict. Maps will feature prominently on the walls and floor of the gallery, giving context to new generations less familiar with the events of the time. For all the dynamic new features and artifacts, the most powerful visual of the original exhibit will return in this new location. Artist Keith Ferris’ famed Fortresses Under Fire B-17 mural will once again take center stage. This time, a large interactive table will detail stories of the life and death struggles of the aircrew showcased in the art in a way that visitors in 1976 could only dream of. Together, these techniques will create a powerful link to a moment when the fate of the world depended on the men and women fighting the war in the air.
We recently announced a gift from the Daniels Fund to sponsor the Carrier War section of the gallery in memory of Bill Daniels. Jay I. Kislak World War II in the Air gallery is named in honor of World War II aviator Jay I. Kislak, thanks to a generous gift from the Kislak Family Foundation.”