This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.

by Daniel Phoenix


Humans have decorated with weapons for millennia, and retired and captured cannons have been a feature of American landscapes since at least the Civil War. But military aircraft could not practically be put on outdoor static display until after the introduction of all-metal aircraft in the mid-1930s.

Since the massive demobilization after World War II, aircraft static displays have proliferated in municipal spaces, at veterans’ facilities, and on military installations. Because aircraft are designed for constant and careful maintenance, they are poorly suited for permanent outdoor display. The installation and maintenance costs of outdoor static displays are high, but are not difficult to understand and project. Less well understood are the various benefits accruing from outdoor display of aircraft. But for policy-makers to allocate enough resources to maintain these artifacts, heritage professionals need to be able to clearly explain their benefits.

How can heritage professionals, and displaying organizations, understand and calculate the benefits of static display aircraft? Outdoor display is particularly harmful to preservation values. But static display aircraft also fulfill interpretive and landscape architectural roles, and serve both casual and deliberate audiences. They can also be understood as a kind of public art, or at least fulfilling roles similar to public art, and their effects can be measured in ways that are similar to public art installations.

Their positive effects can be counteracted by poor placement, poor maintenance, and in some cases, museum fatigue brought on by over-sized collections.


Dan Phoenix is a military historian and museum program administrator. He is currently Deputy Director of History and Heritage for Air Force Global Strike Command, at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. He has previously worked for the Air Force in Germany and Arkansas, as a Park Service seasonal interpreter in Oregon and Washington, and at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has an M.A. in Military History from Norwich University, and a B.A. in History from Arizona State University.

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