Visiting the US Air Force Museum
It's a visual extravaganza of the history of flight, and the US Air Force. It's worth days of your time. It's the National Air Force Museum, located in Dayton, Ohio. It's the world's largest and oldest aviation museum - and it is an extremely powerful experience.
The USAF Museum is enormous, comprised of 3 large hangars, two hangars on the Wright-Patterson Air Force base next door, and an airfield. A person could spend several days there - we were there for four hours, and didn't have time to visit the space sections, or take our time reading the vast amounts of information there for the taking.
The hangars in the main part of the museum are divided into eras - early flight, WWII, Korean War, SouthEast Asia, and Cold War. There are also two sections on aeronautics and space travel, which we haven't explored (yet!). The hangars are HUGE - and packed with planes. Each plane has information, both on the history of the time period and the plane itself. Some of the planes have tableaux with maor we must not forget that these powerful aircraft were run by Air Force members - with a sense of humor at times, but always a sense of purpose and duty.
Walking through, I felt a sense of pride in our Air Force. The commitment to an ideal, more than a job, and the greater good of world safety, is extremely powerful. It was also remarkable to see veterans of all ages talking with each other, laughing, and sometimes gazing at an aircraft with a faraway look in their eyes. For this is true - the power and might of the Air Force has not come without a price, a human price. And that is reflected in this museum - a sense of humanity, and genius, and technology, and the future. You can see kids reading about the planes, veterans with their heads bowed, remembering, families teaching about world history, and a general sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn. For this is OUR history, not to be forgotten.
You can sign up to tour the Presidential and R&D Hangars, which are located on base. You will need a photo id (or if you are a kid, a parent with a photo id), and the one-hour excursions fill up quickly. Be sure to head to station two (next to the WWII hangar) to sign up, as soon as you get there. You'll take a bus to the base, and tour the connecting hangars. The left side is filled with presidential airplanes, from Eisenhower to Clinton. It's amazing to walk through the various Air Force One planes, and see how the interiors - and technology - have changed over time. A large Air Force One plane, called "Sacred Cow" was where the USAF was born, being signed into official capacity with the National Security Act of 1947 by President Truman on board on July 26, 1947. Next door to the Presidential hangar is the R&D hangar. As with the main hangars, there are airplane engines scattered around, but there are also various experimental aircraft from the USAF and NASA. It was fascinating to see the development of new and unusual ideas for aircraft. And, in both hangars, the airplanes are packed in - you get a sense of scale, and genius, walking through.
There are also behind the scenes tours (free), offered every Friday. Sign up in advance, as soon as you know you are going to visit.
The Air Force Museum is free, and staffed by volunteers (mostly retired USAF). There are both push wheelchairs and electric wheelchair carts. The facility is handicap accessible, although to go to the Presidential and R&D hangars, you'll need to ride on a bus that takes a few steps to walk up into. Once at the Presidential and R&D hangars, there are electric wheelchair scooters. There are strollers available.
There are three extra opportunities that you can do, while you're there. There's an IMAX film, and two different flight simulators (group and individual). Ed and Lillie did the group simulator and enjoyed it and would do it again. And, there is a gift shop near the entrance, so you can take a piece of Air Force history home with you.
I was surprised by the depth of emotion I felt in this amazing museum - both the sadness of war and loss of lives, and genuine pride in our country and Air Force. I can't wait to go back - and learn more. This, this is a museum to both treasure and share.
For more information, please see: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/
You can also take a virtual tour and listen to podcasts on the US AF history and museum tours at http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/virtualtour/index.asp
All photos courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts