If you’re an aviation fanatic, then the date September 18, 1947, is a pretty big deal. It’s when the United States Air Force became its own separate military entity. Prior to this date, the responsibility of military aviation was divided between the Army and the Navy (depending on the nature of the operation). It wasn’t until President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act and set up the National Military Establishment that allowed the USAF to be its own military structure that the youngest of the military services had found their wings.
Fast-forward nearly seven decades and the United States Air Force is commemorating its 69th birthday. Such a milestone and a great opportunity to experience the world’s best aviation museums as they showcase the achievements of the pilots and engineers who have taken us to new heights.
So, if you’re fascinated by the progress American aviation has made over the years, appreciate the underrated phenomenon that is flying, or simply get swept away by those magnificent men in their flying machines, then these Air Force museums will surely have you swooping and diving in admiration and awe.
National Museum of the USAF
Located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, 6 miles northeast of Dayton, Ohio is the National Museum of the USAF. This museum features a rare supersonic bomber, the world’s only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie! Also featured is the B-29 Bockscar (which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki), sections of the Berlin Wall, and even a Bob Hope exhibit! Dating back to 1923, it’s one of America’s oldest aviation museums. Boasting a collection of over 360 aircraft and missiles, it’s also one of the largest. And the best part is…admission is free.
The Air Force Armament Museum
A no-brainer for this list, The Air Force Armament Museum is the only museum dedicated entirely to aerial weapons systems! Found in the Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, this museum has several hundred pieces of airplane weaponry including bombs, bomblets, and missiles. They also showcase a model of the fastest plane ever built – the SR-71 Blackbird. Admission is free, so this uniquely specialized museum should be set firmly in your sights.
The Pima Air & Space Museum
150 planes inside, 150 planes outside, over 80 acres of land – The Pima Air & Space Museum, in Tucson, Arizona is the largest non-government funded aviation museum in America. If you’re a fan of World War history, the museum encompasses five indoor exhibits, two of which are entirely dedicated to WWII. Another exhibit that’s sure to bring a tear to aviation nuts worldwide is the “Aircraft Boneyard,” which the museum offers an exclusive (air-conditioned) bus and tram tours through. The bone yard stretches 2,600 acres and holds the remains of more than 4,000 aircraft! Be sure not to lose the tour guide on this one. Admission prices range from between $10 and $20, but children under 5 years old get in for free!
US Army Aviation Museum
At the US Army Aviation Museum visitors can witness the evolution of America’s airpower first-hand. To illustrate this, the museum has a replica of the original Wright brothers Model B military biplane that sits next to a mighty AH-64 Apache from Operation Desert Storm. Located on Fort Rucker near Ozark, Alabama, the museum has over 160 aircraft in its collection and holds 3,000 historical items. What’s most impressive is that the museum boasts the largest museum display of helicopters in the world! Admission is free so…“get to da choppa!”
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Docked in the Hudson River, New York, on Manhattan’s west side floats the USS Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier that is now home to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The Essex-class carrier, which is a National Historic Landmark, served in World War II–surviving kamikaze attacks and a torpedo strike! No need to worry, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is not sinking anytime soon and reflects some of the greatest achievements in military aviation; including WWII’s Avenger torpedo bomber and the Cold War’s stealthy A-12 Blackbird. Ticket prices range between $19 and $33, but with New York’s iconic cityscape as the background, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum offers an unforgettable museum experience.
The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
The SAC Aerospace Museum is a shrine to the nuclear-capable aircraft and missiles of the Cold War era and more. Located near Ashland, Nebraska along Interstate 80 southwest of Omaha, the museum is home to over 300,000 square feet of aviation history and progress. They even have a state-of-the-art, motion controlled flight simulator that will pit you against the realities of being a fighter pilot. On top of that, the museum also has aircraft restoration projects for visitors to actually take part in. That’s right; you can volunteer and help the museum restore an iconic EC-135 “Looking Glass” (the modified transport plane that operated as stand-by mobile command centers in case of nuclear war, flying for 24-hour stretches.) Aviation fanatics, for a $12 admission fee, the SAC Aerospace Museum has got you covered.
Did we miss your favorite aviation museum? Share your opinions and recommendations in the comments below.