Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center Features Two New Aircraft

NASM's unique Nakajima Kikka is now on display in the main hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
NASM's unique Nakajima Kikka is now on display in the main hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
NASM’s unique Nakajima Kikka is now on display in the main hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

In the damp, early morning darkness on March 15th, staff at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum wheeled two new exhibits out onto the main display hangar’s floor at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The museum’s unique, WWII-vintage Nakajima Kikka jet fighter and the recently acquired Sikorsky HH-52A Sea Guard helicopter of more contemporary pedigree had, until today, been far from view within the adjacent Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.

The museum's beautifully presented HH-52, faithfully restored at the Coast Guard's base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is temporarily located just behind the north hangar door. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The museum’s beautifully presented HH-52, faithfully restored at the Coast Guard’s base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is temporarily located just behind the north hangar door. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

Sikorsky HH-52A Sea Guard serial 1426 has had a storied career, including one major incident on November 1st, 1979, perhaps the most daring rescue in Coast Guard Aviation, in which her crew saved the lives of 22 sailors from a pair of ships which had collided in a blazing inferno off the coast of Galveston, Texas. Somewhat surprisingly, NASM’s new Sea Guard is the first aircraft within the museum’s collection to have served in the US Coast Guard. That the aircraft is at NASM at all is due entirely to the determined efforts of the Coast Guard Aviation Association who, with enormous cooperation from the US Coast Guard, endeavored to obtain and restore an HH-52 for a major national museum. Dubbed the Phoenix Project, the team set about resurrecting HH-52A serial 1426, which they acquired from a helicopter maintenance training facility in Arkansas in April, 2015, along with a pair of spares ships from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland. Understandably, given her lengthy service, and time as an instructional airframe, 1426 had a lot of problems which needed rectifying, including many missing parts and significant structural corrosion. The Coast Guard made space and equipment available for the work at their base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Restoring the H-52 was a mammoth effort involving thousands of hours in labor from a volunteer force comprised mostly of retired and active Coast Guard service personnel as well as contractor VectorCSP. The restoration crew broke the helicopter down into its basic components, and emptied the interior until the airframe was nothing but a shell. They then stripped the paint to get a clearer idea of where the corrosion lay, and repaired/replaced all of the damaged structure. Next they chemically treated the aluminum with alodine solution to preserve the base metal, followed by a complete re-coating in the paint booth at Elizabeth City. Then came the painstaking process of refurbishing all of the interior components, and re-installing them in 1426. The level of detail in this restoration is second-to-none, and it is a major accomplishment considering how quickly the project has proceeded, from first concept to final product in just ten years, with all of the restoration effort in just the last year! (For a blow-by-blow report on just how extensive the effort to refurbish this magnificent helicopter into its present condition, please visit the Coast Guard Aviation Association’s website HERE.)

Mooring lanyards strapped in place on the nose, ready for the mission. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Mooring lanyards strapped in place on the nose, ready for the mission. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Nothing has been ignored, with every element of an operational HH-52 in place, including this exterior antenna array. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Nothing has been ignored, with every element of an operational HH-52 in place, including this exterior antenna array. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The details in the helicopter's restoration are up to NASM's extremely high standards. Just note the fine fabric work on the pontoon. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The details in the helicopter’s restoration are up to NASM’s extremely high standards. Just note the fine fabric work of the stowed floatation bags on the pontoon. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The deployable nose light. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The deployable nose light, and another view of the mooring lanyard. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

There will be a formal unveiling ceremony on April 7th, which will see the helicopter dramatically suspended at the north end of the hangar, as if in flight, with the rescue basket lowered from the open door (which will allow visitors to see in from the upper gallery walkway). Many Coast Guard retirees, including some of the crew members from 1426’s famous rescue mission will be in attendance, at what will be one of the key celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Coast Guard Aviation this year.

The Kikka safely nestled behind the wings of the Enola Gay on the main floor at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The Kikka safely nestled behind the wings of the Enola Gay on the main floor at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

The Nakajima Kikka is now out on the main floor, but perhaps frustratingly to some, she is surrounded by other aircraft at the moment, so it isn’t easy to get quite as up-close-and-personal as might be desired. Museum staff felt that she should be on public display though, and there will be better access to the aircraft once a more formal position is available. With so many aircraft already crowding the massive hangar, it does take considerable thought and physical effort to juggle the exhibits around into a logical arrangement, so we must be patient. The aircraft is in frail condition, which is perhaps why she currently sits on a dolly, rather than her undercarriage. She is also incomplete, although the museum does have an original Ne-20 engine for the Kikka, and did remanufacture some wing bolts to allow the outer wing panels to be fitted. The NASM’s Kikka is the only survivor of any Japanese WWII jet designs, and is very loosely based on the German Messerschmitt Me-262 plan form. The museum’s Kikka is comprised of components from several different airframes, but recent evidence suggests that the fuselage, at least, is from the one example which did actually fly.

A side view of the Kikka's starboard forward fuselage. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
A side view of the Kikka’s starboard forward fuselage. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Detail of the Kikka's tail, showing damage to the fighter's tail feathers, which were somewhat surprisingly fabric covered. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Detail of the Kikka’s tail, showing damage to the fighter’s tail feathers which, somewhat bizarrely for a jet, were fabric covered. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
A nice rear-3/4 view of the Kikka. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
A nice rear-3/4 view of the Kikka. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The Kikka's forward port side. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The Kikka’s forward port side. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Close up of the Kikka's cockpit. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Close up of the Kikka’s cockpit. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

Several other aircraft have also moved into the main hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center in the last few months, including a Bell AH-1F Cobra which flew over 2,100 hours in combat during the Viet Nam War, featuring one mission which saw her pilot awarded the Silver Star for bravery. The National Museum of the Marine Corps‘ CH-46 Sea Knight is also on display (on long-term loan) at the north end of the main hangar. Another recent addition is the forward fuselage of the revolutionary pusher-propeller fighter, the mighty Kyushu J7M1 Shinden, laid out beside several other unique Japanese WWII aircraft. And at the south end of the main display hangar is the gondola from Goodyear Blimp ‘Columbia’, which covered many Super Bowls in the 1980s, starred in the 1976 film ‘Black Sunday’, but amazingly began life as the prototype of the breed back in 1934 when she was named ‘Enterprise‘! The gondola is currently under restoration with parts laid out around her for the public to watch as she goes back together. Work also continues on projects within the restoration hangar, but this will remain as a feature for a future article. The Udvar-Hazy Center is a fascinating place to be, and is worth regular visits to see the latest changes!  We look forwards to bringing you more news in the coming weeks as the hard-working team at NASM progresses with various projects, most notably with the restoration of the Martin B-26 Marauder known as Flak Bait.

The National Museum of the US Marine Corps CH-46 on long term loan at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The National Museum of the US Marine Corps CH-46 on long term loan at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Veteran of over 2,100 combat flight hours during the Viet Nam War, this US Army AH-1F Cobra is slowly going back together, having recently arrived from decades-long storage at the NASM's Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Veteran of over 2,100 combat flight hours during the Viet Nam War, this US Army AH-1F Cobra is slowly going back together, having recently arrived from decades-long storage at the NASM’s Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The forward fuselage of the Shinden is now on display at Udvar-Hazy. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The forward fuselage of the Shinden is now on display at Udvar-Hazy. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
An interesting overhead view of the Shinden alongside other Japanese types at Udvar-Hazy. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
An interesting overhead view of the Shinden alongside other Japanese types at Udvar-Hazy. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The gondola from Goodyear Blimp Columbia is under restoration in front of the public at the south end of the hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
The gondola from Goodyear Blimp Columbia is under restoration in front of the public at the south end of the hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
A close up view of Goodyear Blimp Columbia's gondola. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
A close up view of Goodyear Blimp Columbia’s gondola. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
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10 Comments

  1. Some factual corrections on the HH-52 article:

    Sikorsky HH-52A Sea Guard serial 1426 has had a storied career, including one major incident on November 1st, 1979, perhaps the most daring rescue in Coast Guard Aviation, in which her crew saved the lives of 22 sailors from a pair of ships which had collided in a blazing inferno off the coast of Galveston, Texas. Somewhat surprisingly, NASM’s new Sea Guard is the first aircraft, of any variety, within the museum’s collection to have served in the U. S. Coast Guard. That the aircraft is at NASM at all is due entirely to the determined efforts of the Coast Guard Aviation Association who, with enormous cooperation from the U. S. Coast Guard, endeavored to obtain and restore an HH-52A for a major national museum. Dubbed the Phoenix Project, the team set about resurrecting HH-52A serial 1426, which they acquired from a helicopter maintenance training facility in Van Nuys, CA Arkansas in early April, 2015, along with three spare ships from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland, as well as one airframe they purchased off of eBay. Understandably, given her lengthy service, and time as an instructional airframe, 1426 had a lot of problems which needed rectifying, including many missing parts and significant structural corrosion. VectorCSP, LLC of Elizabeth City, NC provided the bulk of labor and experience in executing the majority of the 1426’s restoration. And, the Coast Guard Air Logistics Center (ALC) – also in Elizabeth City – provided critical stripping, priming, and final paint coat services for the aircraft. The Coast Guard made space and equipment available for the work at their base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Restoring the H-52 was a mammoth effort, involving thousands of hours in labor from a volunteer force comprised mostly of retired and active Coast Guard service personnel, as well as contractor VectorCSP. The restoration crew broke the helicopter down into its basic components, and emptied the interior until the airframe was nothing but a shell. They then stripped the paint to get a clearer idea of where the corrosion lay, and repaired/replaced all of the damaged structure. Next they chemically treated the aluminum with alodine solution to preserve the base metal, followed by a complete re-coating in the paint booth at ALC. Then came the painstaking process of refurbishing all of the interior components, and re-installing them in 1426. The level of detail in this restoration is second-to-none, and it is a major accomplishment considering how quickly the project has proceeded, from first concept to final product in just ten years, with all of the restoration effort in just the last year! (For a blow-by-blow report on just how extensive the effort to refurbish this magnificent helicopter into its present condition, please visit the Coast Guard Aviation Association’s website HERE.)

  2. Glad you got some new aircraft. Need to get a MH-60L Blackhawk from the 160th Nightstalkers, preferably a bird which served in Mogsin 1993. Hopefully, the army will lend some people to properly restore the AH-1F to wartime condition.

  3. Army Chief of Staff needs to address the donation of a MH-60L Blackhawk and restoring the AH-1F to combat condition. This is embarrassing to let the AH-1F remain in its present condition.

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