Explore Over 19 Acres of Exhibits at the Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio
Have you ever wondered what the inside of Air Force One looks like? Or, how the astronauts fit into that little capsule that plunked into the ocean upon its return? Are you curious as to how intelligent aircraft are programmed? Would you like to fly a drone? If you wouldn’t, I’m guessing your children or grandchildren would. There is more to do at the National Museum of the United States Air Force than is possible in one day, so plan to stay at least two days, or come back for a second trip. What is the best part about this amazing experience? No admission fee and no parking charge at the Air Force Museum!
The visual impact of measuring the distance of the Wright Brother’s first flight, in contrast to feeling like a mouse standing under the Stealth Bomber, tells a story of incredible innovation and progress over the last one hundred years. From December 17, 1903 when Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their first plane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to the more modern activities of NASA and the Space Station, humans have had a curiosity for flight and space.
Each year approximately one million visitors find their way to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio to learn the history of the United States Air Force. The Air Force museum recently opened its fourth building, which includes the Space Shuttle exhibit featuring NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer. The CCT-1 helped train astronauts to operate the Space Shuttle Orbiter. The B-29 Bocks car that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, along with the P-51 and Japanese Zero also reside here.
The world’s only permanent public exhibit of the B-2 stealth bomber is a physically impressive part of the collection. The Air Force museum tells a detailed story that begins with the early years of flight and ends with the current war on terrorism. Since history and innovation never stop, this will never be a “see it once, been there, done that,” experience.
The museum is the national institution for preserving and presenting the United States Air Force story. It is supported through a combination of federal funds and private donations from the Air Force Museum Foundation, a philanthropic non-profit organization that has contributed more than $87 million to the museum since the foundation’s inception in 1960. The investment is evident.
The world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum holds over 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display on more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Thousands of personal artifacts, photographs and documents further highlight the people and events that comprise the Air Force story. These national treasures are displayed in engaging presentations that will bring back memories for grandma and grandpa, while they educate and entertain children of all ages.
The video clips spanning 50 years of Bob Hope entertaining United States troops abroad brought back childhood memories of watching his specials on our black and white television. Understanding how important troop morale was, especially before the internet, when letters from home could take a month to arrive to the war zone, is all part of American history.
Television clips of space launches from the 1960’s and 1970’s, back when the entire world paused to watch a lift off from Cape Canaveral, are on display. Watching Walter Cronkite broadcast the launches was another trip down memory lane.
The museum is organized chronologically, with galleries for The Early Years, World War I, World War II, Korea, Southeast Asia, the Cold War, Presidential Transport, Research and Development, and Global Reach and Space. Ninety-six federal civil servants and more than 500 volunteers contribute to the museum experience, by assisting visitors and leading free tours.
Museums have tremendous capability to educate and inspire in ways traditional classrooms just don’t. With a strong STEM focus (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), three learning nodes accommodate student-centered, technology-enhanced active learning through hands-on programs, demonstrations and lectures. Guest scientists and engineers from various Air Force related organizations are invited to share their expertise.
During my visit, students had the opportunity to sit in a lab and work with SensorCraft, a minecraft type environment created with the Python programming language to inspire kids of all ages to learn to program. The intent is for children to get an idea of what it is like to be a scientist or engineer for the Air Force. Once kids are introduced to this program, they can access the exercises from home, continuing their exploration.
I found it equally interesting as a parent, to learn about the amazing opportunities available for STEM minded students, and to learn how parents can encourage their children. Special programs are offered, sometimes with limited enrollment. So checking the Air Museum website calendar before your trip might result in the opportunity to enroll in an interesting program or workshop.
There is a small charge to view movies in the Air Force Museum Theater’s state-of-the-art D3D cinema or to experience one of several simulators, including the Space Shuttle Crew Compartment Trainer, where all space shuttle astronauts trained for missions. If you plan a full day, a movie in the middle of the day is a nice way to take a rest. Walking through 19 acres can be exhausting.
Three cafeterias spread throughout the facility are available for nourishment breaks. There are also picnic tables outside the museum in the memorial park. A picnic can truly provide a breath of fresh air amidst a long day walking through the hangars. As a large, open, indoor facility, the museum is a great way to entertain the family any time of year. Whether you are looking for a break from the summer heat, or a way to keep the family entertained on a cold winter day, getting lost in the US Air Force Museum is worth much more than the price of admission.
The museum is open seven days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.