CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Chrome dome: The Cold War bombers of the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum

Half a century of history, from gigantic 10-engine bombers to nimble parasite fighters, at this museum outside Omaha, Nebraska.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
3 min read
Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

One of my favorite eras of aviation is the 20 or so years after World War II. It was the start of the Jet Age, when aeronautical engineers were throwing everything they could against the wall to see what stuck. Mach 2 bombers? Sure! Ten-engine flying behemoths? Why not? Delta and swing wings? Of course. Spy planes that skim the edge of space? Let's just see what happens. 

It was an incredible time for technological advancement, all impressively done without computers. In several cases, the designs were so good that some of the aircraft are still flying today. In others, they're now just fascinating relics of another time.

The Strategic Air Command, a division of the Air Force, was one of the prime customers for many of these bonkers designs, and the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum outside Omaha, Nebraska celebrates these incredible historic aircraft. Here's a look around.

Check out the bombers of the Cold War at the Strategic Air Command Museum

See all photos

Strategic Air Command

As the Cold War began, the US military realized it needed a specified command dedicated to the airborne threat posed by the Soviet Union and its allies. By the end of the 1940s, there were aircraft that could cross over the North Pole to deliver an attack on US cities. 

An arms race ensued, at first with bombers that could fly faster, farther, and carry larger and larger payloads. Continuing the mindset of wartime strategic bombing, those aircraft would need fast and long-range fighter escorts that intercept enemy bombers before they reached their targets.

The Strategic Air Command oversaw much of the US's offense and defense in this regard. Under General Curtis LeMay, a fascinating and controversial figure in his own right, SAC went from a handful of leftover WWII bombers to an impressive, modern, jet-powered force. This is the era of the Century Series fighters, bombers like the B-36, B-45, and B-52. The latter is still in service, and will be for several more decades. Not bad for a design from the early '50s. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

With the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which fell under SAC's control, its air mission shifted away from endlessly aloft intercontinental bombers of Operation Chrome Dome to other strategic missions. With that shift, escort fighters were repurposed. High-speed bombers were less relevant. Many of the more extreme designs, like the B-58, were dropped from use after only a few years. The better designs either continued, or they were improved upon. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the SAC was abolished in 1992, its soldiers and equipment sent to other commands. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

This 46-year history is on display at the SAC Museum. The majority of the collection is in two huge hangars, big enough to hold not only the 10-engine B-36, but also a B-47, a B-52 and a B-58, all next to each other. 

It's not all bombers, though. A U-2 spy plane hangs from the ceiling and an FB-111A, F-4, and a rare XF-85 Goblin are tucked among the larger aircraft. There are some WWII-era planes too, including a B-17 and B-29. 

B-1 to B-52 and b-yond

Since this museum was dedicated to one of my favorite eras of aviation, and one of my favorite types of aircraft, not surprisingly I enjoyed it. However, I do wish the lighting was better. Both hangars were quite dim. At some point they installed LED lights, but not enough of them. Hopefully they'll add more so you can better see these incredible aircraft.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't check it out now. If you find yourself near Omaha, perhaps on a cross-country road trip, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum is a great way to spend an afternoon. If you're not headed to Nebraska, check out the gallery above for a look around and at these historic aircraft.

As well as covering audio and display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips and more.

Also check out Budget Travel for Dummies, his travel book, and his bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines. You can follow him on Instagram and YouTube