On December 7, 1941, a US Navy squadron consisting of ten Sikorsky JRS-1 amphibious seaplanes was on station in the Hawaiian Islands. Shortly after the Japanese attack that Sunday morning, the planes were launched in an effort to locate enemy submarines and ships near Oahu. Initially not armed, the first missions included riflemen positioned on board near open windows and doors to shoot potential adversaries in case any were discovered. Later, these ten JRS-1 craft were armed with depth charges, one under each wing that could more effectively attack Japanese submarines.
On Tuesday, March 8 at 10:15am, the world’s only surviving JRS-1 (designated S-43 in the civilian world) arrived at the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport. After 50 years in preservation storage at the Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland, this World War II veteran amphibious sea plane finally emerged into the bright Virginia sunshine—and it looks fantastic.
Doug Erickson, of the Museum’s Collections Division, expertly piloted the “Big Blue” truck and flatbed that carried the fifty-one foot long fuselage from Suitland, around the Washington DC beltway, then via Route 66 to the Udvar-Hazy Center. Aside from a bit of a tight squeeze on the entry ramp to 66 and bunches of “gawkers,” the transport went precisely as planned. For Doug, the significance of the object really hits home AFTER the job of safely loading, moving, and unloading is complete. “It goes from being work, to being really cool!”
Museum Technician, Pat Robinson, has been assisting with the disassembly and move preparation for the JRS. Others on the team include, Anthony Wallace, Move Project Manager; Tony Carp, JRS Disassembly Lead; Douglas Erickson, JRS fuselage move driver/coordinator; and Scott Wood. Pat mentioned that while the task has been challenging, the sight of the aircraft in the open air for the first time in decades was a highlight of the day. During the process, the team has uncovered much of the original paint scheme and original colors that will one day guide the restoration of the aircraft. The vibrant green used on the vertical tail and the cherry red on the engine cowlings verify that this JRS-1 belonged to the unit commander.
As curator of the JRS-1, the opportunity to get such a significant artifact into the public view has been a major goal. It seems fitting that this historic American aviation artifact will be on public view at some point during this year of the Centennial of Naval aviation, as well as the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
This aircraft is one of the most historically significant in the national collection and represents a long, proud heritage of aviation in the U.S. Navy. Moving the JRS-1 to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar will allow the National Air and Space Museum to utilize the most modern facilities available to improve the long-term preservation of treasures like the JRS-1.
Dik Daso is curator of Modern Military Aircraft in National Air and Space Museum’s Aeronautics Division.