I've now lived in Buffalo for about eight months and I'm only just beginning to realize the rich aviation-related history of this area. I've learned that Western New York was an important hub of aerospace technology for many years. In fact, some of America's most important and iconic aircraft and spacecraft have roots in Buffalo. My education on such matters recently got significant boost when I visited the Niagara Aerospace Museum (NAM).
The primary focus of NAM is to showcase the aviation and space-related legacy of the Buffalo area. There are numerous complete airplanes and helicopters on display, several partial ones, as well as tons of engines and other smaller artifacts. Most of the hardware was designed and built in Western New York.
NAM is located at the entrance to the Niagara Falls International Airport. It is about a 15 minute drive from the US side of the actual falls. I think it's totally feasible to fit both attractions into one day.
Preserved World War II Veteran
A centerpiece in the NAM collection is the fuselage from a WWII-era Bell P-39 Airacobra. Like many aircraft that were no longer in production when the war ended, P-39s are somewhat of a rare finds these days. A quick head count indicates three P-39s in flying condition and ten on static display in the US. Even among such exclusive company, NAM's P-39 has an exceptional and somewhat tragic history.
Like all P-39s, the example at NAM was built just a stone's throw away at the former Bell Aircraft plant. This was one of the thousands of Airacobras provided to the Soviet Air Force under the Lend-Lease program. It was flown from Buffalo to Alaska via a network of US and Canadian staging bases. Russian pilots then ferried the little fighter from Fairbanks to the western border of Russia near Finland, overflying vast stretches of the Siberian tundra.
The P-39 was not popular among US pilots who were assigned to fly the unique mid-engined fighter in combat. Russian pilots, however, generally liked their Airacobras…especially the reliable radios. A recovered log book indicates that NAM's P-39 served with the Soviet Air Force in action against the Finnish Air Force. In November of 1944, engine trouble forced Lieutenant Ivan Baranovsky to bring the Airacobra in for an emergency landing on the frozen surface of an arctic lake.