Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

"Disney Pins On Wings" exhibit one of the high points of the National Museum of the United States Air Force

"Disney Pins On Wings" exhibit one of the high points of the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Rate This
  • Comments 3

Hey, gang!

My apologies for JHM being light on content these past few days. But over the weekend, I was out in Ohio at Dayton Disneyana. Which is this two day-long event presented by the Plane Crazy Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club.


Photo by Jim Hill

Disney historian Jim Korkis and I gave a couple of talks over the course of this con. And when we weren't wandering the halls at the Wyndham Garden Hotel meeting & chatting with the very nice members of the Plane Crazy Chapter and/or area Disneyana fans, we were being treated like kings by our event hosts, Anita & Gary Schaengold.


Look into my eyes. You will pet me now.

If I had to pick a particular high point of this trip (beyond -- of course -- befriending Jasper, the Schaengold's tubby tabby), it would probably be what we did last Friday morning. When (thanks to the very nice folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios as well as Ron Kaplan, enshrinement director at the National Aviation Hall of Fame) Jim, Gary and I got an absolutely spectacular tour of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.


Photo by Jim Hill

I don't know how many of you folks are already aware of this amazing facility. So let me give you the Reader's Digest version: The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum. It's located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH. (Which is entirely appropriate. Given that Dayton was home of the Wright Brothers.)


Photo by Jim Hill

As you wander through this facility's over one million square feet of exhibit space (And -- believe it or not -- the National Museum of the United States Air Force will soon be expanding. Early next year, they'll be breaking ground on a huge new structure which will be used to house the Museum's Presidential Aircraft & Space galleries), you can go all the way back to the early, early days of military flight. Back when we were sending members of the Army Air Corps aloft in vehicles that could charitably be called crates.


Photo by Jim Hill

Now jump ahead just a few short decades and you have the Strategic Air Command's long range bombers ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and a few short decades after that, when you have the unmanned drones that are currently high in the sky over Afghanistan, seeking out insurgents. So you're talking about nearly a full century's worth of displays & exhibits that celebrate militarized flight.

Mind you, in the three hours that Jim Korkis & I toured this facility on Friday, we only got a taste of all the exhibits that are currently on display here. And I now know that -- if I'm going to really do the National Museum of the United States Air Force right -- I'm going to have to come back to Dayton someday soon and then plan to spend two or three days wandering through this immense facility.


Photo by Jim Hill

At the very least, next time I plan on spending a whole lot more time checking out the "Disney Pins On Wings" exhibit in this museum's World War II gallery.


Photo by Jim Hill

This terrific little display touches on the 1,200+ pieces of insignia art that Walt Disney Productions created during WWII.


Photo by Jim Hill

Given that Walt was only just 16 years old when he signed up to be a Red Cross ambulance driver back in World War I, he knew first-hand the sort of impact that a clever cartoon drawing could have on the troops' morale. Which is why Disney made a point of  drawing a smiling doughboy on the side of his own ambulance.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is also why -- as part of their war effort -- Disney artists created (free-of-charge, mind you) character-based designs not only for American and Allied military units but also for Civil Defense & all of those industries which quickly switched over to a wartime footing. 

As far as Walt was concerned, this was the right and proper thing to do. "(Those) insignia meant a lot to the men who were fighting," Disney explained in a post-war interview. "I had to do it ... I owed it to them." 


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, there were those servicemen who just couldn't wait for that official piece of Disney-designed insignia to arrive. So they took it upon themselves to paint their favorite Disney characters on the sides of their planes.


Photo by Jim Hill

Check out the somewhat crudely painted Seven Dwarfs above or the equally  crude pink-elephant-on-parade-from-Disney's-"Dumbo " character nose art below.


Photo by Jim Hill

Now it was one thing for the servicemen who were stationed in the UK to paint Disney characters on the sides of their aircraft. If they were looking for the proper paints to use on a project like this, all these soldiers & airmen had to do was make a quick trip down to London to pick up the necessary supplies.

Now contrast that with what the guys in the Pacific Theater had to do. As Ron Kaplan recounted during last Friday's tour of The National Museum of the United States Air Force:

"Those guys often had to barter with the locals to get the hairs off of the backs of wild boars. Which they'd then use to fashion crude paint brushes. These flyers would also pay the natives to collect brightly colored berries for them. Which they'd then mix with enamel to create the paints these servicemen would use to paint on these insignias.

And once these guys were done, these Disney character insignias would look great. Until their plane flew through a thunderstorm, that is. Then all of that rain would wash that berry-and-enamel paint right off of the fuselage. And the insignia painter would then have to start all over again."


Photo by Jim Hill

Speaking of Ron and those pieces of Disney insignia art ... As part of our tour, Mr. Kaplan took us upstairs to the museum's closed-to-the-general-public administration area. Where -- right outside of one of the upstairs conference rooms -- Ron had discovered some genuine Disney treasures.


Photo by Jim Hill

Just in case you're wondering, folks: Nope. These aren't copies. These are the actual originals. The very same hand-painted drawings that Disney artist would send out in military units in response to their requests for character insignia art.


Photo by Jim Hill

Now as for me ... Well, I couldn't help but look at the above image of Dumbo & Jiminy Cricket and wonder if some Disney artist (who had been assigned to storyboard the title sequence for "The Mickey Mouse Club") didn't decide to circle back on an idea that he'd first seen as a piece of Disney-designed insignia art.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Whatever the case, this "Disney Pins On Wings" exhibit is just a teeny tiny portion of the thousands of items that the National Museum of the United States Air Force  currently has on display. So the very next time that you're in Dayton, OH, be sure and swing on by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to check this place out.

Oh, and did I mention the very best part? That admission to this museum & its million square feet of exhibit space is free?

Have a Happy Fourth, folks!

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • Great article Jim. I would like to suggest that you link the pictures in your articles to larger size images so that the details don't get overlooked. I would love to see larger pictures of the hand-painted drawings and be able to read the inscriptions on the plates. Thanks.

  • Hi Jim.

    I've recently published a second edition of my book Toons At War, which looks at the history of the Disney Studio during the war. The book has been rebranded as Service With Character and it's available on Amazon as an e-book. The revised eiditon includes 88,000 words of text covering 14 chapters, 385 photos, of which 340 are in color, 10 appendices, and end notes. There are no plans at this time to do a paper copy of the book.

    Cheers,

    David

  • It wasn't just the USAF that Disney worked for.  I grew up in Orange County a couple of miles form MCAS El Toro, a marine base.  The base logo was designed by Disney artists.  In addition several units at the base had their squadron logos designed by Disney artists too.

    The trip you took sounds fantastic and I only wish I could head back out to see it at the musuem.

Page 1 of 1 (3 items)