8 Minutes: Bradley Air Museum and the 1979 Windsor Locks Tornado

Bradley Air Museum: The Outdoor Exhibit


The museum had been open for business all day, but the heavy rain that had started around noon had kept visitors away. Carol Smyack, a ticket-taker at the outdoor display yard, closed up shop just before 3pm and drove the short distance to the museum hangar. Just minutes after she left, the tornado arrived, smashing her admissions booth to pieces.

Here more than anywhere else, the destructive power of the storm was in full effect. Aircraft that weighed thousands of pounds were tossed around like toys and shredded by flying debris. The transport aircraft on display were hit especially hard; three of them “flew” one last time as the winds carried them up and across the street before slamming them back down to earth in pieces. Another was lifted over two other planes and landed on top of a rare Boeing B-17 299Z prototype, cutting it in half. The museum’s largest aircraft was the C-133 Cargomaster, with an empty weight of more than 60 tons and a wingspan of 180 feet. It was flipped onto its back and had its tail and nose sections ripped off.

In just a few minutes, it was all over. Of the 30 aircraft in the outdoor display, only 4 escaped serious damage. Of the remainder, 16 were destroyed, and 10 were deemed damaged but salvageable. Several of these pieces had only recently gone on display; one, the Vertol YHC-1A helicopter, had been outside for less than a month.


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