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The Boeing Center, National WWII Museum

by Allen Powell II

New Orleans bureau

The National World War II Museum has greatly expanded its scope with the opening of the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, a towering 95-foot structure in the heart of downtown New Orleans.

The huge pavilion features seven of the most important airplanes of World War II, all perfectly restored and magnificently displayed.

Elevated walkways offer dramatic views of the aircraft, and LED screens and interactive displays offer background information and historical film footage.

These World War II aircraft symbolize the collective might of the American people working together for victory.

Aircraft on Display

B-17 Flying Fortress: Dominating the upper expanse of the U.S. Freedom Pavilion is “My Gal Sal,” a B-17 Flying Fortress (top of page and at right).

These bombers were legendary for their ability to withstand heavy battle damage and for their defensive firepower. B-17s were most often used for daytime bombing raids over Germany.

In June 1942, horrendous weather forced this B-17 to make an emergency landing on a Greenland ice cap.

The crew survived, but the plane remained on the ice for more than fifty years before being recovered and restored.

SBD-3 Dauntless Dive Bomber: Dive bombing required precise maneuverability to fly at steep angles and hit moving targets. The SBD Dauntless enabled pilots to dive at a near-vertical 80 degrees.

By some accounts, the Dauntless sank more Japanese ships than any other airplane.

In November 1944, the Dauntless on display plunged into Lake Michigan where it remained until 1990 when it was recovered by the US Navy and restored.

P-51 Mustang: The P-51 Mustang was a high-performance, high-altitude, long-range fighter that could escort heavy bombers all the way to Berlin, Germany, and back.

The famed Tuskegee Airmen, who were the nation’s first black military aviators, flew P-51s.

Between 1941 and 1946, roughly 1,000 black pilots were trained at a segregated air base in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The most famous of the Tuskegee Airmen were the 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the “Red Tails” for the distinctive markings of their planes.

The P-51 on display is painted in the markings of one of the aircraft known to have been flown by the “Red Tails.”

Other Aircraft

Other aircraft on display: F4U-F Corsair fighter, B-25 Mitchell bomber, TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, and B-24D Liberator bomber (fuselage only).

The USS Tang

The Boeing Center offers visitors a simulation of an actual submarine combat mission.

The USS Tang Submarine Experience is limited to 27 persons per “patrol.”

Visitors go through the exercise of being a crew member aboard the most successful submarine of World War II as it embarks on its final combat patrol on Oct. 25, 1944.

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PT-305 is on her way back!

The WWII Museum is currently restoring PT-305, a historic fighting boat built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans.

Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats were small, torpedo-armed, fast attack craft used in World War II to attack larger surface ships. The crew varied from 12 to 17.

PT-305 saw action along the coasts of France and Italy, and participated in the invasion of Elba.

In June 1948, PT-305 was sold and extensively modified for work as an oyster boat in Chesapeake Bay.

In 2001, PT-305 was acquired by a Texas naval museum, which offered her to the WWII Museum in 2006.

PT-305 is currently housed in the museum’s John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, where visitors can watch as volunteers painstakingly restore her to fighting trim.

Note: The PT boat pictured at top is not PT-305 but is of the same type.

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