Story by Eric Durr
The 100-year-old history of the Air National Guard in New York is the subject of a new exhibit at the New York State Military Museum here.The exhibit —“ Ever Upward: The History of the New York Air National Guard” — uses photographs and artifacts — like an Iraq anti-aircraft gun from the Persian Gulf War — to tell the story of the 5,600 – member New York Air National Guard.With five wings and the air defense sector charged with monitoring the airspace over the entire United States east of the Mississippi, the New York Air National Guard is the largest in the nation.The museum, which is run by the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, tells the story of New York’s military history, but also acts as a repository for the historical items and records belonging to the New York National Guard. The staff decided to prepare an exhibit about the New York Air National Guard, because “New York has such a rich tradition for the Air Guard,” said Courtney Burns, the museum director.“The New York National Guard had the earliest aviation component in the National Guard,” he added.
The New York National Guard acquired its first aircraft in 1911, when New Yorker Glen Curtiss loaned one of the airplanes manufactured at his Hammondsport, New York, plant in the Finger Lakes to the New York National Guard. Pilot Beckwith Havens also came with the plane.He joined the New York National Guard Signal Corps 1st Company and flew his plane during exercises in Connecticut in 1912.Haven’s one-man show then became the Aviation Detachment of the 1st Battalion Signal Corps, New York National Guard, in 1915. Then in November 1915 that unit , based in Mineola, New York, became the 1st Aero Company, New York National Guard.The 1st Aero Company went on to make the first mass long distance flight in U.S. military history when 10 aircraft flew to Princeton, New Jersey from Mineola and then returned the next day on Nov. 18 and 19, 1916.The first licensed pilot in the U.S. military, Frederick Humphrys, flew with the New York National Guard, and the first woman to join the Air National Guard, Capt. Norma Parsons, served in the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Field Hospital.The oldest unit in the Air National Guard, the New York Air National Guard’s 102nd Rescue Squadron, part of the 106th Rescue Wing, was originally organized as the 102nd Aero Squadron in 1917 and the reconstituted as the 102nd Observation Squadron of the New York National Guard in 1920.
Discovering this history as he created the exhibit was exciting, said Christopher Morton, the museum’s curator.“These guys helped establish the Air National Guard and helped put it on a firm footing, “he said.Airmen flew as part of the Army until 1947 when Congress created the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard was created along with it. One of the first Air National Guard units was the 138th Fighter Squadron which was federally recognized at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in 1947. In 1953 the 138th Fighter Interceptor Squadron became the first Air National Guard unit to go on alert as part of the air defense of the United States.Today the 138th Attack Squadron is part of the 174th Attack Wing which operates the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft.
This history is told in a collection of photographs, documentation and artifacts which include flying jackets, helmets, and other items used by Air Guard members, Morton said. The exhibit also discusses the role of New York’s 109th Airlift Wing in conducting missions in the Arctic and Antarctic, the combat missions conducted by the 174th Fighter Wing in the Persian Gulf War, and missions being conducted by the New York Air Guard today.It takes several months to create a museum exhibit, which includes conducting research, identifying photographs and artifacts which tell the story, and then constructing the exhibit, Morton said.
The Air Guard exhibit will be on display in the museum’s temporary display space for about a year, Morton said.The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center is housed in the historic New York State Armory in Saratoga Springs and is a component of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. The mission of the museum and research center is to preserve, interpret and disseminate the story, history and records of New York State’s military forces and veterans. The collection is divided into the museum and the library/archives holdings.The museum has permanent exhibits telling the story of New York’s men and women in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Revolutionary War and as members of the state militia in the 19th Century. The museum holds more than 10,000 artifacts dating from the Revolutionary War to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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