Southern Places: Explore aviation history in Warner Robins, Georgia

Steve is an Air Force veteran so when we visited the Macon area last fall, we had to go to the Museum of Aviation. Steve tied together some of the stories in this blog post. —Kim

The Musuem of Aviation

Deep in the heart of Georgia, there is a historic military installation that houses aircraft memorabilia from bygone days. The Museum of Aviation is located adjacent to the Warner Robins Air Force base south of Macon. All theaters of war in the 20th and 21st centuries are represented in the museum. Admission is free and you will find a lot of exhibits for kids.

As an Air Force veteran, I took interest not only in the stories of war heroes and flying aces but in the story of the base itself and its role in some of history’s biggest stories. Robins AFB has been and is still today one of the most utilized and mission ready military bases in the world. It has a history that is replete with many accomplishments both overseas and on the domestic front. As well as participating in our nation’s defense in a major way for over three-quarters of a century, Robins AFB has been a major corporate citizen to the middle Georgia community.

Beginning with the era of the Great Depression, the U.S. Army was in need of a site to perform aircraft maintenance and store needed supplies at a strategic location. The War Department (later the Department of Defense) selected a site near Wellston, Ga. (later named Warner Robins). Local leaders in the Macon area were ecstatic at the soon to be the reality of a large industrial complex in the area to be serviced by local dairy farms and pecan orchards, as well as other supplies. The base was originally called the Georgia Air Depot, and construction of the facilities began in August 1941.

Less than four months later, Pearl Harbor Naval Base and Hickam Field in Hawaii were attacked by the Japanese in a pre-dawn surprise attack which killed over 4,000 American military personnel and civilians. President Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately called a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war, saying, “…this date, December 7, 1941, is a date which shall live in infamy!”

War was declared on Japan by Congress, and later Germany, who was an Axis Alliance partner of Japan along with Italy, declared war on the United States. Our country was at war, and the wheels of mobilization began to turn. We needed that base in Georgia!

The rest was history.

The depot was completed in 1942 and was named Warner Robins Army Air Depot at Robins Field. It was dedicated on April 26, 1943, and named after the late Brig. Gen. Augustine Warner Robins. The name of the town of Wellston had been already changed to Warner Robins the previous year in anticipation of the upcoming dedication of the newly constructed depot and airstrip. Macon mayor Charles L. Bowden officially presented the deeds to the depot property to the U.S. Army Air Corps on the day of dedication.

The musuem has a section dedicated to a movie about aviation in World War II. “God is My Co-Pilot” starred Dane Clark, Dennis Morgan and Raymond Massey and is an autobiography of Robert Lee Scott, Jr. , who flew with the Flying Tigers.

As we all know from our history classes, the war ended in 1945 in both Europe and the Pacific. Another World War had ended with a victory for the Allies, which meant a lot of rebuilding had to be done to repair all the damage the war had caused. This created the need to continue supplying our former enemies’ efforts to rebuild their cities and the lives of their surviving populations, while the Allied nations of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France occupied them for the next several years. This mission became known as the Marshall Plan, named after former General of the Army and Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

The Berlin Airlift, a.k.a. “Operation Vittles”, was also a place where Robins AFB (as it was then named after it was assigned to the newly created Department of the Air Force to go along with the new Department of Defense in 1947) stood out in its mission to supply the people of West Berlin during the 1948 Soviet blockade. The Berliners hardly missed a meal, and the Soviets suspended the blockade.

Robins AFB at Warner Robins, Ga. became a vital corporate citizen in Middle Georgia as it continued to increase its mission status during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.

In 1981, the U.S. Air Force created and built the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB to become its second largest aerospace museum. It is situated on 43 acres of land adjacent to the city limits of Warner Robins. It houses aircraft indoors in four separate hangars with exhibits on multiple floors. There are many permanently grounded aircraft outside on the museum grounds. There is an old Air Force One which flew the President of the United States. There are Korean War-era fighter jets, the first jet fighters ever used in warfare by the United States.

The indoor exhibits are in a climate-controlled environment in each of the four hangars for the year-round comfort and enjoyment of the museum’s thousands of visitors each year. The museum in total has 93 military aircraft, including helicopters and missiles. It displays equipment used by aircraft personnel and pilots. It even has a gift shop.

Another feature of the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB is the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, which was created by Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris in 1989. Many brave pilots from Georgia or people who are otherwise connected to Georgia in an honored status concerning aviation are remembered here. They include men like World War I ace and Medal of Honor recipient Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker.

The contributions to our nation’s security made by the men and women of Robins AFB are innumerable. During the early 1960s the Cuban Missile Crisis was also handled in part by the staging of aircraft and weapons at Robins in the event of a call from President John F. Kennedy to launch an attack on Soviet offensive nuclear missiles staged in Cuba. This was a tense time for our country as our president encouraged us that we would be safe. Robins AFB was one base among many in the region under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at the time, and President Kennedy was ready to give the attack order while at the same time working along with the State Department to negotiate with the Kremlin under Nikita Khrushchev to “stand down.”

The Russians blinked, and the crisis was over. The readiness of our forces was a key to the success of the operation, and the willingness of our president to “fight fire with fire” was crucial.

These are just a few of the stories you can experience at the Museum of Aviation. The kids will love some of the interactive exhibits. And again, admission is free.

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