WARNING: This post is going to be a bit photo intensive because this is a MASSIVE museum with lots of subjects begging to have their pics taken.
The grandaddy of all military aviation museums has to be the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located in Dayton, Ohio at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. OK, before I continue I want to make a brief statement about the name. WTH? I mean, could it have been any longer? Apparently it used to be called the United State Air Force Museum but somebody had a brilliant idea to rename it the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 2004. What in the hell were they thinking? Must have been some bureaucrat who got paid by the syllable. I like the old name and will refer to it as such going forward.
My next stop after Indianapolis (with a slight detour through Muncie) was Dayton, Ohio. Another one of these towns that I would have no reason to visit except for the USAF Museum, which I have been hearing about for years. It has been on my radar as somewhere to visit if I ever made it to that part of the world. Low and behold I was in the Midwest and Dayton was definitely a doable destination, so I headed east from Indianapolis, swung by Muncie, and hit Dayton – all in the same day. Arriving at the museum about 2.5 hours before it closed, I figured I would have plenty of time to see everything. Um, I was wrong!
The museum’s main building has 3 large hangars plus a tall cylinder that houses rockets and a display of static aircraft outside. There are two other hangars within the gates of the Air Force base that house Presidential aircraft and test aircraft. Yeah, I didn’t realize the place was that massive, so I immediately figured I wasn’t going to see everything the first day and would return first thing in the morning.
My first day was spent in the first hangar (actually two hangars but appear as one from the outside – kinda sorta) that housed WWI and WWII aircraft. I was taking my time, checking out many (but not all by any stretch of the imagination) information placards explaining what I was looking at. Before I knew it the museum was closing. Fortunately I was wrapping up the first hangar, but I thought to myself that this was going to take a while.
World War I Gallery
World War II Gallery
The next morning I arrived about 30 minutes before the museum opened as I wanted to get my name on the list to tour the Presidential and Research & Development Galleries. These required access to the actual Air Force base which meant you had to provide a driver’s license and full name to be added to a security list which was provided to base security upon entrance. Not a big deal, but there is limited space on these tours and I wanted to make sure I was able to see these hangars.
The tour departed 30 minutes after the museum opened and I made it on the first busload of the day. The Presidential and R&D Galleries were very impressive. There were various aircraft used to transport presidents around including FDR’s, Truman’s, and Eisenhower’s aircraft. Also present was the Boeing 707 that was used by JFK, which was the first aircraft to be called Air Force One, and the one that transported his body from Dallas back to Washington DC after he was assassinated.
The Research & Development Gallery contained a whole bunch of aircraft used for test purposes, including many I knew about, but there were also quite a few I had never heard of. Very cool for this airplane geek.
Once back at the main facility I moved onto hangar #2 which housed the Korean War and Southeast Asia War Galleries. These galleries didn’t take nearly as much time as the first one for some reason. I don’t know if it wasn’t as densely packed, or it just didn’t capture my interest like the first day’s galleries did. Which is a good thing because there are only so hours in a day and I was departing Ohio the next day.
Hangar #3 featured the Cold War gallery as well as modern day exhibits. Again, this gallery was relatively quick to go through. Could it be that I was getting museumed-out by the time I got here? Not that this museum is big or anything…
Once I finished up at the USAF Museum, I decided I had better go see another aviation landmark – Huffman Prairie. The Wright Brothers were from Dayton, Ohio and after their successful first airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they returned home to perfect the whole flying thingy. Turns out Huffman Prairie was a great place to do this, so they asked permission from the owner of the 84-acre field and promised not to harass the cows if they could play around with their flying machines.
Huffman Prairie is within Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but the access isn’t controlled so gaining entry is no big deal. It is literally an open field with informational signs at various places along its paths telling you the history. Not only is the site where the Wright Brothers developed the first practical aircraft, but also the location they established the Wright Flying School where they trained 119 pilots between 1910 and 1916.
There isn’t really much to see at Huffman Prairie except for a large open field and a replica of the hangar and catapult system the Wright Brothers used, but there is something about standing in a place where so much aviation history took place that was definitely worth the trip.
The whole USAF Museum experience took in the neighborhood of 6.5 – 7 hours with another hour or so at Huffman Prairie. Honestly, the museum is so HUGE that I got a bit numb to seeing so many awesome exhibits but I am so very glad I made the trek to Dayton to see it.