ROAD TRIP TO OMAHA – JUNE 2017
by John Laycock
Shortly after the Anniversary Reunion in May, I set off to visit friends in Minnesota. The friends are a retired USAF Lt Col and his wife who I was fortunate to meet while serving with Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha in the mid-70s.
In June 1982, despite the fact that there was a war going on in the South Atlantic, the HQ 1 Group plan, to deliver two Vulcans to Museums in the United States and close down the Strike Command Detachment at Offutt Air Force Base, went ahead. On 7th June five Vulcans left Waddington for Goose Bay enroute to Offutt, including XM606, to be presented to the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and XM573 to be presented to the SAC Museum at Offutt. I had the pleasure of flying 573 to Offutt.
On the afternoon of 12th June, with due ceremony, 573 was handed over to C-in-C SAC and the Detachment was disbanded. A further significant ceremony occured that evening, with all the Waddington Squadrons’ Standards on display in the Officers’ Club, but it was not until the next day that we learned of the Argentinian surrender at Port Stanley and that we were no longer at war. XM 573 was towed into position in the SAC Museum on the east side of the airfield at Offutt and the remaining aircraft, aircrews, detachment personnel and their wives and children prepared to return to the United Kingdom.
Atlas and Thor missiles outside the new SAC museum.
In the late 1990s, Strategic Air Command was reformed into Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base was handed over to the US Navy and plans were prepared that a purpose-built museum to house the aircraft and missiles at Offutt should be opened on a site some 25 miles west of the air base. In 1998, the new Strategic Air Command Aerospace Museum was opened on the West Park Highway in Ashland, Nebraska, and the entire stock of aircraft in the museum at Offutt, including 573, were towed in a single convoy, by road, to the new site. Photographs of that extraordinary event are on display in the Museum’s impressive entrance hall.
The entrance hall of the new Strategic Air Command Aerospace Museum, dominated by a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
Shortly after I arrived in Minnesota my hosts suggested that we make a three day, 1000 mile roundtrip to Omaha to see the museum and, of course, XM573. I agreed immediately! We arrived at the Museum on 1 June and were received with great courtesy. XM573 was opened in our honour.
The Chairman with friends in front of Vulcan XM573
Despite standing outside for thirty five mid-west winters, the aircraft is in reasonably good shape. The camouflage is a shade or two lighter than I remember and some of the surface paint is peeling, but nothing a good cosmetic makeover wouldn’t put right. Inside the condition is surprisingly good, spoiled only because the screens over the rear cabin portholes were left open and the surface of the nav table has blistered in the fierce Nebraska sun. The restoration team at the Museum may just have been reassuring for my benefit but they plan, it seems, to do some restoration work and eventually, if and when the Museum is extended by one exhibition hall, bring the aircraft inside. Let us hope that they are as good as their word!