Inside the Enola Gay

Close-up photographs of the legendary World War II aircraft

SI 2013-0161

"Of all the World War II aircraft in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum, the most significant is the Enola Gay." So write curators Roger Connor and Christopher Moore in the new Smithsonian book In The Cockpit II: Inside History-Making Aircraft of World War II, published this month by Collins Design.

"On August 6, 1945, in the first combat use of the atomic bomb, this Army Air Forces Superfortress from the 509th Composite Group dropped the 13-kiloton Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, decimating it," the authors continue. "Even after the passage of six decades, its role in ending the war and the morality of the atomic bombings continue to be hotly debated. However, there is no endeavor that better illustrates the unprecedented commitment and national investment in combating America's totalitarian enemies than the pairing of the B-29 and the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb."

A total of 34 aircraft are featured in this third compilation of cockpit photos by NASM photographers Eric Long and Mark Avino. Here we focus on just one, the most famous B-29 Superfortress of all. About this image, Connor and Moore write: “To drop the Little Boy atomic bomb, Maj. Thomas Ferebee used a standard Norden M-9B bombsight coupled to the pilots’ C-1 autopilot to lock in the aim point in central Hiroshima.”

See the gallery below for more images of the Enola Gay, which are from the book unless otherwise noted.


(George E. Staley, SI 99-42698)

The U.S. Army Air Forces accepted the Enola Gay on June 14, 1945, as World War II was coming to an end. After the war it flew in the Operation Crossroads atomic test program in the Pacific, then was delivered to Davis-Monthan Army Airfield, in Arizona, for storage. The U.S. Air Force transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1949. On December 2, 1953, the aircraft made its final flight, landing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The bomber remained in outdoor storage until 1961, when Smithsonian staff, concerned about deterioration, disassembled it and moved it indoors to the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage facility. The staff at Garber began restoring the Enola Gay in 1984. It was the largest restoration project the Museum had ever undertaken, and it was estimated that the project would take seven years. The job actually took two decades—approximately 300,000 work hours—to complete. The Superfortress is currently on display at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. In this 1945 image taken on the island of Tinian, officers salute each other in front of the Enola Gay as photographers and men look on.

The National Air and Space Museum has a detailed history of the aircraft here.


(SI 2009-12464)

Col. Paul Tibbets occupied this seat as airplane commander on August 6,1945. B-29 manuals emphasized that a Superfortress commander was ‘no longer just a pilot’ and was overseeing ‘a combat force all your own.’

Crew Tunnel

(SI 2009-12478)

Looking back down the crew tunnel from the forward crew compartment. The dome was principally for the navigator to take astronomical sightings with a sextant, or the astrocompass seen mounted here. The boxlike structure was the atomic bomb access port built into the top of the forward bomb bay.

Aft Compartment

(SI 2009-12477)

On most B-29s, the forward portion of the aft compartment contained the gunners’ station where the top and side gunners used a centralized fire-control computer and sighting systems to engage enemy aircraft with two upper and two lower turrets. These were removed, as were the sighting bubbles on the top and sides of the compartment, to reduce weight and drag, giving adequate range for the atomic missions.

Navigation Radar

(SI 2009-12446)

Staff Sgt. Joseph Stiborik operated the AN/APQ-13 navigation radar from this position on the flight over Hiroshima. The black box behind the scope in it is an AN/APQ-5 radar bombing adapter that coupled the radar to the Norden bombsight.


(SI 2004-57315-15)

Enola Gay crewmembers (from left) Theodore J. Van Kirk (navigator), Morris R. Jeppson (bomb electronics test officer), and Paul W. Tibbets (pilot and mission commander) pose in the cockpit of the Enola Gay at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in 2005.

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