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2015 The Doublestar Group

Warbird Alley
Photo Feature

The Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum
A Final Look, September 2015

The Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, in Rantoul, Illinois, USA, was located at the former Chanute AFB. The base was a key technical training center for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force since 1917. Chanute closed in 1993, and the museum opened in 1994, comprised largely of aircraft that were already on display around the base. Most of the collection is housed inside a large hangar, with a dozen or so larger aircraft parked outside. Unfortunately, the collection of over 40 aircraft and hundreds of artifacts closed its doors forever in December 2015 due to financial issues.

[More information on the circumstances leading to the closure >>

We visited Chanute one last time in September 2015, and captured some photos of the shortly-to-be closed facility.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

The main entrance of the museum in Grissom Hall, which was formerly a Minuteman missile maintenance training facility.


Once inside, and prior to reaching the main hangar displays, there is a series of galleries and hallway exhibits highlighting various time periods in military aviation history at Chanute AFB, as well as other specialized aviation exhibits. Among the displays are hundreds of scale models in dozens of display cases.


There are some interesting recreations of various base facilities, including this vintage barracks room.


Throughout the museum, there are exhibits of military clothing and flight gear from various eras.


Upon stepping into the hangar, you are greeted by this newly-restored North American AT-6B Texan, painted in the early colors of an AT-16 Harvard from the 35th Pursuit Squadron at Langley AFB. This aircraft will soon be headed to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. [The beautiful restoration of this aircraft was carefully chronicled here.]


This rare North American P-51H Mustang (s/n 44-64265) has been painstakingly restored by museum volunteers. It is named "Louisiana Heatwave" as a tribute to WWII ace Claude Crenshaw. [ More information >> ]
[Note: This aircraft is headed to Warner Robins AFB in Georgia.]


McDonnell-Douglas YRF-4C Phantom II (s/n 62-12201), a prototype of the RF-4 reconnaissance version of the Phantom.


North American F-100C Super Sabre (s/n 54-1785), in U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds markings.


A rare "A-model" North American F-86A Sabre (s/n 47-0615). This aircraft is the third-oldest A-model Sabre in existence. The National Museum of the Air Force (the owner of this aircraft as well as most of the others at Chanute) has expressed some concern about low-level radiation in this aircraft, and there are rumors that it may be scrapped.


Outside the hangar, about a dozen aircraft are nestled close together in a fenced compound. Here, an F-105B Thunderchief and an F-111A Aardvark share a front row location.


An early, "straight-wing" Republic F-84A Thunderjet. It was the first single-seat fighter to carry a nuclear weapon.
[Note: This aircraft will be heading to the Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee.]


A Douglas VC-47D Skytrain. This aircraft was modified for VIP/staff transport.


A Grumman SA-16 Albatross, formerly operated by the U.S. Air Force in a combat rescue role.


This Boeing XB-47 Stratojet is the only surviving example of its type in the world. It made its maiden flight in 1947. The B-47 became the backbone of the Strategic Air Command in the 1950s. The Chanute museum has announced that this aircraft will be moving to Edwards AFB in California.


This North American TB-25N / B-25J Mitchell has been undergoing a substantial cosmetic restoration for several years. Its future home will be the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama. [ Restoration information >> ]


This Northrop T-38A Talon is painted in Thunderbirds colors. An unusual aspect of this display is that nearby signage spuriously claims it to be an F-5 Freedom Fighter.



The museum's Douglas A-4A Skyhawk (BuNo 139947) is one of two aircraft at Chanute that is actually owned by the U.S. Navy. It was never flown by the Blue Angels, but the tenant Navy unit on base decided that, since so many of the base's aircraft were painted in Thunderbirds colors, they had to paint the A-4 as a Blue Angel.


A Reaction Motors XLR-11, the first rocket motor developed for use in aircraft. In 1947, an XLR-11 powered Chuck Yeager's X-1 aircraft through Mach 1 for the first time. This display engine was Serial #6. The white tag denotes that it will soon be returned to the NMUSAF (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force).


The venerable Cessna O-2A Skymaster, also known as the "Oscar Deuce" or the "Duck," was a very capable Forward Air Control aircraft. The museum's O-2 saw combat in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972.


The museum's Convair B-58A Hustler bomber is one of only eight in the world. It was modified from a YB-58 pre-production development into a TB-58 dual-control trainer. This aircraft is headed for Castle AFB, California. News link>>


The museum's majestic Boeing C-97G Stratofreighter (s/n 52-0898) is located about a quarter-mile from the museum, near the approach end of Runway 9 at Frank Elliott Field (as the former base's airport is now known). The current plan for this aircraft is that its tail and some smaller parts will go to the McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard base in Tennessee, while the remainder of the aircraft will be scrapped.


Mixed in with the airplanes in the Chanute museum's hangar are three segments of a Minuteman ICBM missile silo. These sections, built by Boeing, were used as training devices for missile maintenance technicians and support personnel. This is the lower segment of the silo. At one time, there were over a thousand Minuteman silos scattered all over the central United States, each capable of delivering a 1.2-megaton nuclear payload to their Cold War targets within 30 minutes.


Editor's Note: I want to present an "aside" to this article -- and I want to be very clear that this not a criticism of any museum, person, or organization.

Rather, I want to take a forthright, honest look at some issues that affect all aircraft museums.

The Octave Chanute Air Museum displays some special, one-of-a-kind aircraft, some of which are very large. Many of them cannot be housed indoors due to space limitations and expense. Because of this, they are subject to temperature extremes, rain, snow, wind, birds, insects, rodents, etc. The museum has done its best to mitigate these effects where it can, but with a volunteer staff and limited financial resources, only so much can be done. These are the same factors that affect many, if not most, museums of this type.

So what is the result of these factors? Crumbling, slowly-dying airplanes. I can't say it any more simply that that.

We've all seen display airplanes with 50 coats of paint from 25 years of enthusiastic volunteers attempting to protect them and keep them looking fresh. But this is just wishful thinking in the long run. Corrosion creeps in everywhere, and pretty soon these airplanes are essentially globs of rust covered with paint. Hydraulic struts collapse. Tires go flat. Birds makes nests, and their messes eat through aluminum and steel. The hot summer sun burns Plexiglas and paint.

Many of Chanute's aircraft were mounted on poles in various locations around the base for many years, and it shows. Several aircraft, while now displayed indoors and looking good from 20 feet away, are severely corroded and will not last much longer without serious mitigation work.

We all want to see historic airplanes displayed in pristine, climate-controlled indoor facilities, but without sufficient funding, leadership and volunteer involvement, this simply won't happen in many cases.

My plea is this: It is imperative that any rare and significant aircraft we wish to preserve are somehow -- at any cost -- moved indoors.
This is the only way we can expect to keep them on display for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

The Chanute Air Museum is but one symptom of a much larger issue. Our aeronautical history is fading -- dying a slow, rust-covered death. In addition to figuring out ways to build protective hangars for their collections, museums need passionate leaders who actually care about aviation, and they need more good volunteers -- the people who give some of their time to clean, polish, paint, and lavish some care on these airplanes. In short, they need YOU. Please support our nation's aircraft museums however you can!

* * * * *


A Douglas C-133A Cargomaster sinks into the asphalt.


Republic F-105F Thunderchief. This F-105 was the last one to fly (on 10 March 1984). It is nicknamed "Root Pak Rat" after Route Pack 6, one of the most dangerous areas of operation over North Vietnam.


The landing gear of the Grumman SA-16 Albatross.


A look at the former Chanute AFB:

The former Air Force base, like the air museum's aircraft, shows its age in many places. But, like the old airplanes, the old buildings give visitors a fascinating look back in time.

White Hall (formerly known as "Buckingham Palace" during the 1940s) was the largest military building in the world until the Pentagon was built. At nearly 500,000 square feet in size, it contained barracks, laboratories, classrooms, and dining facilities. Like many of the base's buildings, it was full of lead and asbestos, and suffered from antiquated heating and air conditioning systems. It is currently being demolished.


In addition to the hangar that houses the air museum, there are two much larger "art-deco" style hangars at Chanute, each built in 1938. These wonderful buildings have a special aura about them.


Chanute AFB Information:
More information about Chanute Air Force Base can be found here

Museum Information:
The Octave Chanute Air Museum was located at the site of the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, about 110 miles south-southwest of Chicago. The address of the museum's hangar is 1011 Pacesetter Drive, Rantoul, IL 61866.

As of December 2015, the museum is now closed, and its assets are being distributed to museums and other entities across the country.


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