I grew up near
I've been very involved in bicycling and newspapering.
I even, like Wilbur, was smacked in the face by a hockey stick (but that's another story ... or two).
However, I never was inside what I grew up taking for granted as "the
I'm not sure how I missed it, seeing as how the place is such a mecca for school field trips.
It's located on this sprawling air base (it has its own ZIP code) on
In the nearly 30 years since I moved away,
But there's no bigger monument to the Wrights than what's officially called the
Earlier this spring, on a trip home to visit my Dad, I decided it would be fun to finally visit with my 6-year-old son and science-and-space-geek wife.
I wasn't expecting to much like it myself. A "military" museum sounds as exciting to me as a "colonial" one (yawn).
But this place totally wowwed me, as well as the rest of my family.
And we can't wait to go back.
That last part is amazing when you see how much you get at what bills itself as "the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum."
Most of the exhibits are inside three interconnected buildings that are as big as aircraft hangars because they, well, are aircraft hangars.
And more and more varied aircraft than most people can imagine are hanging and otherwise artfully arranged inside the cavernous spaces, dramatically spotlit and decorated with realistic mannequins and other props. As my first-grader put it, "The fake people are kinda freaky. They look right at you!"
The individual planes are mapped on the foldout "aircraft locator" that we received upon entering and that showed how they are grouped by eras. Rather than start with the Wrights in the "Early Years" exhibit, we were drawn into the "World War II" gallery, so thick with history that it really felt a little like traveling back in time. The airplaines and the context are illuminated by videos, soundtracks and related artifacts.
I found myself learning about lesser-known things, such as "The Hump" that Allied pilots had to fly over from
We finally made it out of that first exhibit and into the one next door, where we saw a reproduction
The exhibits that follow dramatically tell the story about all that happened next, as the
Some are just physically sexy, such as the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird.
I was fascinated to walk around and under a B-52 Stratofortress, one of the gigantic bombers I used to watch fly training flights out over
In an adjacent silo, I was reminded that there still are LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles "on alert." But my family and I enjoyed looking at the rockets (My wife: "Awesome!") and other "Missile & Space" exhibits, including a display case of freeze-dried space foods.
"The fruit cocktail looks like poop," said my son, who made me hold him up to see it all. "No, really: It looks like dried poop."
The food looked fine, but basic, in the museum's
The only other money we spent we spent well --
Before we left, we quickly explored the outdoor "
There is much more to see than we could in three hours. With more time, we could have signed up for the bus trip to see the "Presidential Aircraft" and "Research & Development" exhibits, both of which sound excellent. Thinking it was in the latter, we somehow missed the new space shuttle crew compartment trainer exhibit. The museum didn't get one of the actual shuttles that
And much more is in the works. Earlier this week, the museum broke ground on a
Whenever you go, and I strongly recommend that you do, I think you'll be struck by how much the
That's how it hit me, anyway. Like a hockey stick.
----If you go ...
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