Colorado’s Peterson Air and Space Museum: Where history meets the Satellite Age
On a sprawling plain of Colorado’s city not far from what has been described as “America’s Mountain” is an Air Force Base which hosts the state’s oldest aviation museum.
It is the site of Colorado Springs’ first municipal airfield, built between 1928 and 1941, with the original airfield remaining in the sun and snow of this 38th state which joined the US of A in 1876, precisely the centennial of the nation.
At the Museum, visitors are taken on a tour of American World War II era aviation where officials, under Docent Guided Tours, say visitors, properly screened by authorities, “can touch, see and learn about America’s heroes.”
The Air Force Base, where three museums anchor the Museum complex, which includes an airpark and Medal of Honor Memorial, is named after 1st Lt. Edward J. Peterson, a World War II Army Air Forces pilot and native son of Colorado.
The Museum attracts annually more than 20,000 military and civilian visitors from across the United States and foreign countries, including of late from the Philippines, like retired bank executive Joey Quinto from Dagupan City in Pangasinan and the parents-in-law from Metro Manila of just retired Air Force M/Sgt. Crisanto Quinto.
“We showcase our rich civil aviation history and significant highlights from Air Force Space Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command, and our military heritage,” said tour guide Jack Mogel, a 70-year-old retired World War II Air Force navigator with the rank of major.
“Everything you see here has something to do with World War II,” he said, while briefing his visitors through the Terminal, the City Hangar, the Medal of Honor Memorial, and the Museum, which has Static Displays.
At the Terminal, visitors go through a history of early civilian aviation, and the life story of Peterson, a water fountain theater and a museum shop.
The City Hangar displays an air defense history, a missile warning history, an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missiles) history, missile procedures trainer, Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center history, and a P-47 Thunderbolt.
At the Medal of Honor Memorial, visitors were told about the origins of the Medal and the exploits of the US Air Force fighters.
The visitors were also guided during a tour of the Warning Star, an airborne early warning and control aircraft from the 1950s through the 1970s.
They also experienced stepping inside an ICBM launch control center, America’s nuclear defense for more than 60 years, feasting their eyes on the different gadgets including an old model of a red telephone operators used for direct access to the President, their commander-in-chief.
They learned during the tour how the Thunderbolt changed from being a premier World War II dive bomber to America’s first generation Cold War interceptor.
The Static Displays include the F-86L Sabre, F-89J Scorpion, F-94C Starfire, T-33A Shooting Star, MIM-23 Hawk, EB-57E Canberra, MIM-14 Nike Hercules, EC-12IT Warning Star, MIM-3 Nike Ajax, CF-100 Canuck MK. 5, CF-101B Voodoo, CF-188 Hornet, F-15A Eagle, F-106A Delta Dart, and F-4C Phantom.
Mogel described to his guests the duties of, among others, a capsule officer, search radar crew, radio operators, the flight navigator inside the 16-seater EC-12IT Warning Star who, among a list of functions, updated each signal every five minutes with those at the back.
“The flight engineer could control everything, the engine from start to shutdown,” Mogel said.
The Home Front exhibits cover the activities of the civilians in an America immersed totally in World War II, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942.
Here, visitors learn of life’s difficulties on the home front during the war, with the sacrifices forming a significant part of the war effort.
Officials say typically women were mobilized to unprecedented levels, with the success in mobilizing economic output a key factor on the outcome of the war, which also swept across the Philippines when Japanese imperial troops occupied the country.
The Philippines was eventually liberated from the clutches of Japanese imperialism when Gen. of the Army Douglas MacArthur and his Allied troops waded at Palo Beach in October 1944 and at Dagupan Beach in January 1945.
Officials say there were technical leaps made between 1939 and 1945, as the engineers from the countries at war “entered in a fierce competition to create heavier, faster and more agile military aircraft.”
World War II aircraft evolved, Mogel said, throughout the war, and later aircraft were different from those flown early during the Pacific theater, but pointed out that even by today’s standards “the later aircraft used in World War II featured impressive performance.”
The tour happened a few days before the nation’s Memorial Day, when Americans remembered in appropriate ceremonies across the 50 states the fallen heroes who gave their all.
Alethea Smock of the 21st Space Wing asked fellow Americans: “On Memorial Day, please honor those who have given all. Thank those who continue to serve in harm’s way.
“Hug the families who have lost loved ones. And think of those who were never able to make it home.”
A timely reminder to the visitors who read at the Peterson Air and Space Museum Complex the stories published in now defunct newspapers—framed in bulletin boards—on the war exploits of those who fell in combat and those who survived.
As Maj. Dawn Baker of the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron said, “Memorial Day is to celebrate the freedoms these sons, daughters, mothers, aunts, uncles, friends and fathers died to defend…so that we and generations to come may continue to enjoy the freedoms and liberties that so many have fought for.”