Virtual Vacation & Warm Weather Plans

By Scott Spangler on January 6th, 2010

On a sunny day when the wind speed is 10 times the single digit temperature, giving into web wanderlust beats the hypothermia that awaits outside. An interest in historic byways lead me to the National Park Service’s National Register Travel Itineraries.

NPS-AvSite Created in 1995, I learned, the register connected public and private destinations by interest area to highlight thousands of sites on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2003, as part of the Centennial of Flight celebration, they launched Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms, which has an international reach.

It lists more than a hundred aviation sites by category – from the Wright Brothers and Aviation Pioneers to Air Power, Modern Aviation, and Space – and by state. Naturally, it includes all the well-known sites, like Kitty Hawk, but it was the unexpected sites that caught my attention and led to a list of warm-weather plans, because now would not be the time to visit Attu Battlefield and U.S. Army and Navy Airfields in the Aleutians.

Better would be Truk Lagoon Underwater Fleet, because diving among nearly three dozen sunken warships and aircraft in the Pacific Ocean just north of Papua New Guinea, where it is now cloudy and 82 degrees. But I cannot afford that, so I switched to the list of sites sorted by states to see what might be worth a visit when the Midwestern weather warms.

Right next door to me here in Wisconsin is the Larson Brothers Airport,  Winnebago County’s first flying field, built in 1922 and home to the first agency in the state to sell government-approved airplanes. Just across the Mississippi River, in Minnesota, is the house where Charles Lindbergh grew up. That has the makings of a good tour on the Great River Road.

mccookaaf-norden The site that really intrigues me, however, is in Nebraska: the Second-Generation Norden Bombsight Vault at the former McCook Army Air Base, which trained B-17, B-24, and B-29 crews. Digging into its story, I learned that the airfield became the McCook State Airport, which closed in 1969.

A March 16, 2009 article in the McCook Daily Gazette told the airfield’s story and said that its five hangars, big enough  for a B-29, still survive: “Though these hangars have been subjected to a great deal of use, misuse, and neglect over the last 60 years, all five are still standing in 2009. An ongoing movement by the friends of the air base would restore and preserve at least some of these hangars.”  

McCook Aerial Being on a day-long virtual vacation, I took Google to the southwest corner of Nebraska, just before it steps over Colorado. Google Earth verified that you can still see them from the air. Along the way I came across another interesting side, Nebraska’s Fatal Air Crashes of WWII, which offered a better aerial view of the airfield, the hangars, and the Norden vault.

Then I went looking for the “friends of the air base,” and found McCook Army Air Base Historical Society. And there my vacation ended, because the group doesn’t have a website, and the most recent mention of it in the local paper was the group’s April 2009 letter to the editor promoting historic tourism. While I doubt that a trip to the historic B-29 hangars in Wendover, Utah, (see Enola Gay’s Wendover Hangar on Top 11 List) will happen this year, Nebraska is more doable…when it gets warmer. – Scott Spangler

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