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

I saw bombers of the early jet age and beyond at this impressive museum outside Omaha.

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Geoffrey Morrison
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1 of 52 Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Just outside Omaha, Nebraska, is the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, which focuses on Cold War-era aviation and massive bombers. 

For more about the museum and its rare, incredible aircraft, check out my tour of the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum.

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The B-1 that greets visitors at the museum's entrance is one of the rare -A variants, which was capable of Mach 2.2. 

The only other surviving B-1A is at the Wings Over the Rockies museum, which I've also visited.

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Here's an Atlas ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile. While they were phased out of military use once Minuteman came online, they were used for decades to launch satellites. 

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Nearby is a Thor IRBM, or intermediate-range ballistic missile. 

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I've visited a lot of aviation museums, and this is one of the most impressive entrances I've seen.

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The museum's SR-71 is perched high above the escalators. 

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There's quite a collection of important, and large, aircraft.

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You'd think the U-2 spy plane, jet-powered and ultra-high flying, was from an era decades after the B-17. Yet the museum's B-17 flew under its own power to the museum in 1959, a year after only being dropped from the USAF inventory and four years after the U-2's first flight.

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The U-2, with its slim frame and big wingspan, is practically a powered glider. Slow, but capable of reaching at over 70,000 feet, it flew twice as high as a commercial airliner. They're still in use with the USAF.

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The museum's U-2 was built in 1956, and served with several different reconnaissance wings and the CIA.  Nearby is a display about Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot who was shot down in 1960 while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace.

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The F-101B was a long-range bomber escort from the early 50s. One of the bombers it was designed to escort was the B-36, which you can see behind and to the right.

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The B-36 is a massive aircraft, and has a still-impressive range of 10,000 miles.

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Each B-36 had six 3,800 horsepower, 28-cylinder engines with huge three-bladed pusher props. They also had four jet engines, usually just used for takeoff or if a burst of speed was needed in-flight.

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A look inside the rear compartment shows the console for the rear gunner, who had a double-barreled 20mm cannon in case any enemy aircraft tried a sneak attack. In the middle are bunks for the crew to rest during extended missions.

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The B-36 had four huge bomb bays. The tube on the right is how the crew got between the front and rear compartments during flight.

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Though designed for war, the B-36 was used for a variety of experiments, including nuclear-powered aircraft, and as a launch platform for "parasite fighters" such as the XF-85.

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One of only two remaining XF-85s, which were designed to be carried in a B-36 bomb bay and detached to face incoming enemy fighters. The project was unsuccessful.

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Here's a peek inside the lower main deck, where the navigator, bombardier and radio operator would sit.

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Only four B-36s survive, one at Castle, one at Pima and one at the Air Force Museum. This is one of my favorite aircraft, and you can read a lot more about it in this closer look at the enormous 10-engine B-36.

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One of the few other WWII-era aircraft at the museum, this B-25 spent most of its active life as a trainer aircraft.

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Given their age and rarity, you can't go inside most B-25s that survive. But with most of its side panels removed, you can at least see inside this one.

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B-25s typically had a crew of five.

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A view of the rear bomb bay looking aft.

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The B-45 was the Air Force's first jet bomber. SAC flew both them and this, the reconnaissance RB-45 variant. This specific example was the last RB-45 in service, retiring in 1971.

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The A-26 looks similar to the B-25 but fills a different role, as evidenced by the bristling guns in its nose.

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It's hard to have a museum that specializes in bombers without one of these, the B-52. It's the longest-serving bomber in the Air Force, and one of the longest-serving aircraft of any type ever. This is the first B-52 assigned to SAC.

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This trainer is what a B-52 cockpit of the era looked like.

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The B-52 can carry upwards of 70,000 pounds of ordinance. 

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The entirely jet-powered B-47 first flew only a year after the B-36, and like that bomber it was replaced by the larger B-52. Reconnaissance versions were in service until the late '60s.

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The B-58 screams early Cold War. It also just screams. Capable of Mach 2, it was the first bomber capable of anything close to that speed. It was in service only for 10 years, but set numerous speed records in that time.

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Note the three separate hatches for each crew member. On the left is a GE J79 engine, four of which powered the B-58. Versions also powered the F-4, F-104, and even the Convair 880 and 990 airliners.

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Though pre-SAC, the B-17 is definitely one of the most iconic bombers and it fits in here. It's interesting to see how tiny it looks compared to the more modern aircraft.

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The HU-16B Albatross is a search and rescue amphibious flying boat. They saved hundreds of lives in their decades of service with various services and countries.

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This is the unarmed RF-4C, the reconnaissance version of the F-4.

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This example flew during the Vietnam War.

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These are two consoles from a Minuteman Launch Control Center. I toured two of those centers, here's how they look now.

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This is the FB variant of the F-111. It was SAC's medium-range bomber, and had different engines and longer wings than the fighter variant. It replaced the B-58.

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The B-1B eventually replaced the FB-111.

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Pushed out back because of an event during my visit, the British delta wing Avro Vulcan looks even better under a clear blue sky. Its last flight was from the UK to the museum. I was lucky enough to get to explore inside a Vulcan at the North East Land Sea and Air Museum.

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In the museum's other main hangar, you're greeted by the twin booms of a C-119 Flying Boxcar. Hanging above is an H-19B helicopter.

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The Boxcar could carry 67 troops or 34 stretchers.

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The big Wasp Major radial engines produced 3,500 horsepower. It's the same type of engine that powered the B-36 and many other aircraft designed at the end of WWII and shortly after.

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Here's one of the few examples of the aircraft SAC was trying to defend against, a Soviet-built MiG-21.

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If you thought the KC-97 looks sort of like a chubby B-29, you're not far off. It's based on the bomber, and shares many components including the wings and engines. It was only in service for nine years before being replaced by the KC-135. Above it is a H-21.

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The C-54 Skymaster was based on the DC-4 airliner.

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The museum's EC-135 looks sad without its wings.

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When SAC was first formed, it exclusively flew B-29s.

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The museum's B-29 never saw combat, instead spending most of its service life in California helping calibrate radars.

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Here's a look inside the aft compartment of the B-29.

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Though the museum was hosting an event during my visit, this is the hangar where museum staff restore aircraft to how they originally looked.

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This F-117, undergoing restoration, first flew in 1987. It spent its service life as part of a test squadron in Palmdale, California. 

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SAC

The SAC Museum was great, though I might be biased as this is one of my favorite eras of aviation. 

For more about the museum and its aircraft collection, check out my tour of the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum.

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