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Monday, October 20, 2014

Taking Flak-Bait for a Walk

This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

With much of the work of the National Air and Space Museum taking place behind the scenes, the glass-enclosed Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar allows visitors to discover and connect to our work in real time.  Time and again we hear a very popular question: “How did that get there???”  In the case of the newest hangar occupant, the Martin B-26B Marauder Flak-Bait, the answer is: “With the help of the Archives.”

View of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar floor from the visitor overlook.  Taken during the 2014 Hazy Open House (hence, the visitors on the shop floor).  NASM 2014-00195
The Archives?  As told in last week’s Flashback Friday, in the past, we have provided drawings and information in order for restoration specialist to build new parts, such as clips.  But moving an entire airplane?

Flak-Bait was the first Allied bomber in the European Theater of WWII to complete 200 missions.  It was transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1949 but it did not come to DC until 1960.  When the Museum building opened in 1976, the forward fuselage section was a highlight in the World War II gallery.  The entire airplane has never been exhibited intact.  In fact, the forward fuselage section had never left the World War II Gallery and was already in place when the overhead walkway was built.  Questions abounded.  Could Flak-Bait go back under the walkway?  Would Flak-Bait even fit into the freight elevator all the way at the other end of the Museum?!

Flak-Bait leads other Martin-B-236 Marauders of the 332nd Bombardment Group over Belgium to Magdeburg, Germany, on 17 April 1945.  This was Flak-Bait's 200th mission.  NASM A-42346
The Archives again scoured our collections for manufacturer’s drawings of the B-26B.  Fortunately, unlike with the Helldiver, the set of reels contained an index!!   Based on these drawings, Archives and Restoration made a life-sized cutout of the nose section of the B-26.  First, the freight elevator was mocked up on the floor of the Restoration Hangar.  So far, so good.

A life-size cutout of the B-26B Marauder Flak-Bait on the floor of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.  Green tape marks represent the dimensions of the freight elevator on the Mall.  NASM 2014-02801
The next step was to take the cutout, affectionately dubbed “Flat-Bait,” to the Mall and walk it through the complicated route.

Starting out in the WWII Gallery.  Flak-Bait on the left.  Flat-Bait on the right.  NASM 2014-03656
With careful direction and measuring, Flat-Bait made it out of the gallery and into the museum corridor.

Taking Flat-Bait for a walk.  NASM 2014-03657
Then came the next test—the freight elevator.  Success!

Flat-Bait fits!  NASM 2014-03665
June 18 was the big day!  Flak-Bait moved down the hall to the freight elevator and…fit!

The real Flak-Bait enters the freight elevator.  NASM 2014-03304
Flak-Bait was then loaded into a truck and carried to the Udvar-Hazy Center, where it has since been reunited with the other two sections of the fuselage.

Hangar Sweet Hangar!!  NASM 2014-03788
Although currently you can only view Flak-Bait with your face pressed up against the glass of the hangar, the National Air and Space Museum has found ways for you to still connect with the work that we’re doing.  The Museum is constantly updating our Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts with Flak-Bait photos.  Another great source for information is our AirSpace blog.

We in the Archives can’t wait to see what else we will discover in our collections to help!!

Elizabeth C. Borja, Archivist
National Air and Space Museum Archives

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