Continuing the theme of visiting aviation related places in Colorado Springs, I spent a few hours touring the Peterson Air & Space Museum which is located inside of Peterson Air Force Base. Peterson AFB is the home of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) which is charged with the air defense of North America. The famous Cheyenne Mountain, which I am camped at the base of, is a nuclear hardened bunker (as it is literally inside the mountain) where the original NORAD command center is housed – currently at Peterson AFB. The mountain is now the alternative command center.
Because the museum is on an active military installation, you can’t decide at the last minute to visit. You are required to give them at least 24 hours notice so that the Air Force can do a security check to see if you are deemed worthy of entrance. Before gaining entry to the base I stopped by the Vistors Center where I had to produce my ID, vehicle registration, vehicle insurance, social security number, a couple of finger prints and a signature. I was waiting for them to request a DNA sample and my first born (gonna be a long wait for that), but they stopped before this. I got a kick out of the Airman who looked all of 16 packing a sidearm. Does this mean I am getting old?
Once I received my clearance paperwork I proceeded through the west gate and to the museum which is housed in the original buildings of the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. Said buildings are now in the National Register of Historic Places and the whole museum complex is quite beautiful. Very well done.
After signing in at the museum I was given a one-on-one personal tour of the entire complex by Jim, one of the volunteers. I guess that is their thing at Peterson – giving personal tours and then letting you free to go back and visit whatever you want. I imagine their volume of visitors is low enough that they can do this, since you can’t just walk right up. When I was in the Visitors Center, prior to entry onto base, a lady walked in and waned to see the museum. She was denied entry because she hadn’t called ahead for the security pre-screening. Sometimes it pays to look online to see what is up, especially when you want to get on an active military installation. Just saying.
There are three main sections of the museum. The entry is housed in the original airport passenger terminal building, which is beautiful. Inside there is some history about Edward J. Peterson, the 1st Lieutenant the airfield was named after. There are also some other interesting exhibits in the terminal building, including an 8-minute film on the history of the base. But there isn’t a whole lot of room in the terminal building so most exhibits are stored elsewhere.
There are two original hangers at the museum – one of which houses exhibits and one of which is waiting restoration so it too can hold exhibits. The open hanger has a fully restored (and absolutely gorgeous) P-47 in it, as well as a lot of exhibits that focus on the air defense of North America. Fitting since that is the reason for the surrounding Air Force Base. The exhibits include an ICBM underground launch control simulator that was used to train the crews who sat deep underground in 24 hour shifts waiting to launch nukes to annihilate the world. Weird to be in that.
The outside exhibit area consists of an airpark with a variety of aircraft and aerial defense batteries that were used in the defense of North America. I love old airplanes and enjoyed seeing some types for the first time.
The centerpiece of the collection is a Lockheed EC-121T “Warning Star” which is based on the Lockheed Constellation, which happens to be an incredibly gorgeous aircraft. One can even say it is sexy. Yeah, I went there.
The EC-121T was used as a flying radar to supplement ground based radar to spot the “bad” guys. The museum’s example is fully restored and you can only gain entry via escort. I have never been inside this type of aircraft before, so I thoroughly enjoyed checking it out.