On October 3, 1979, the Bradley Air Museum was forever changed.
Just before 3:00pm on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, an F-4 tornado ripped across Connecticut. Although the tornado was on the ground for less than ten minutes, it left a path of destruction eleven miles long. Throughout northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts the tornado uprooted trees, toppled buildings, and killed three people.
The Bradley Air Museum was directly in its path. It hit the 4.5 acre outdoor exhibit on Route 75. Aircraft were thrown into the air, crumpling as they were tossed around like toys. A large transport plane was flipped entirely on its back, while helicopters were rolled into balls. In total, four of the outdoor aircraft survived the tornado, ten were deemed heavily damaged but salvageable, and sixteen were declared completely destroyed.
The tornado hit the indoor exhibit in Building 170 as well. Staff and volunteers were left unscathed, but the building suffered substantial damage, ripping the roof off the hangar and damaging the planes inside.
Cleanup began almost immediately, with staff and volunteers pitching in to help sort through the wreckage. While the tornado lasted less than ten minutes, it became the most dramatic story in the museum's history.