There are so many interesting museums devoted to aviation and man’s desire to fly in the U.S. that you will have to travel across the whole country to see all of them. Or maybe you won’t have to travel so far and the nearest museum is just in your area? Below is the list of the most popular aviation museums you might want to visit. All of them deserve taking a trip!
1. SMITHSONIAN'S NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.
You will be surprised to know that admission to the top national aviation museum is free. If you happen to visit Washington D.C. make sure you spend at least a couple of hours to explore the exciting exhibits at The National Air and Space Museum. Nowhere else will you see flying machines built even before Wright brothers designed their first aircraft. One of the rarest items on display is a 19th century hang glider constructed by Otto Lilienthal, the most prominent pre-Wright brothers plane designer. Among the other notable exhibits are the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, the first military plane, and the Wright Flyer which flew in 1903. It is unbelievable but the latter had been stored disassembled in the Wrights' bicycle shop for more than twenty years, before it finally got restored in 1927. The museum also features authentic fighting aircraft from World War I and World War II. Those who are interested in the history of space exploration will be impressed by the spacecraft of the Space Race displayed in the museum. There you can also see SpaceShipOne, the first privately constructed craft that reached space.
2. UDVAR-HAZY CENTER // DULLES AIRPORT, CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA
Have you ever dreamt of seeing those giant iron birds that carried missiles and even reached space? This dream will come true when you visit the museum located on the territory of Dulles Airport in Chantilly, Virginia. To see large planes up close make sure you visit the Udvar-Hazy Center which is part of the Air and Space Museum. The center occupies two huge hangars at Dulles Airport. Among the most interesting aircraft demonstrated there are a Concorde (a passenger jet), the space shuttle Discovery which carried the Hubble telescope to space and the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. At Udvar-Hazy visitors can watch historic aircraft being restored.
3. THE MUSEUM OF FLIGHT // SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
Located in Seattle, Washington, the Museum of Flight opened in 1983 showcases a variety of Boeing planes. The museum mostly zeroes in the history of the inception and development of the Boeing company based in Seattle. Now the museum boasts more than 150 planes along with a number of artifacts, and an archive of rare documents that are related to aviation history.
4. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE // WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, DAYTON, OHIO
Curious to know what is the oldest aviation museum in the world? It is the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force opened in 1917. Now this museum is also considered the largest in the world. Stroll along the museum galleries to see planes the Air Force used in different periods of the world’s history, including both World Wars. Currently the museum collection is exhibited in three building but the museum has recently announced about its plans to open the fourth one soon.
5. AIR MOBILITY COMMAND MUSEUM // DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, DELAWARE
For a completely unique aviation museum experience consider exploring the Air Mobility Command Museum located in Delaware. What makes the experience unique you may ask? Well, it is the only museum in the world that focuses on the history of airlift and air refueling. Visit the museum to see over 30 planes on display and learn about the heroic deeds of military and humanitarian crews that participated in the 1948–1949 Berlin airlift and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
6. PIMA AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM // TUCSON, ARIZONA
To see the biggest number of aircraft gathered under the same roof and outside make sure you visit the Pima Air and Space Museum. The museum grounds are really huge, with five giant hangers that house over 300 planes. In fact, this museum is considered the largest private aviation museum on the globe. Not far from the museum is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that is also open to public. We recommend taking a tram tour to see the whopping 4000 decommissioned planes housed there.
7. PACIFIC AVIATION MUSEUM PEARL HARBOR // FORD ISLAND, HAWAII
If you are particularly interested in the historic events of World War II attending the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor is a must. The museum relics are housed in the very hangars that survived the Japanese airlift attack on December 7, 1941. The museum offers a guided tour that provides information about the history of the base and the attack. In the huge Hangar 79 visitors can see various aircraft along with a replica of the World War II restoration shop. The hangar windows still bear the signs of the Japanese attack. For those brave visitors who would like to feel what it is like to be a World War II pilot there are flight simulators on site. Tourists can reach the museum by shuttle bus.
8. AIR FORCE FLIGHT TEST MUSEUM // EDWARDS AFB, CALIFORNIA
It is not easy to see Air Force experimental planes displayed at the Air Force Flight Test Museum, California. For those lucky individuals enjoying base access the museum is open four days a week. The general public is eligible for booking the museum tours only two times a month. Reservations are required well in advance. The collection of the museum consists of 83 aircraft, but only 40 of them are usually on display.
9. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS NATIONAL MEMORIAL // KILL DEVIL HILLS, NORTH CAROLINA
Would you like to see the exact spot where the famous Wright Brothers flew their first plane? Perched atop the hill, the Wright Brothers National Memorial sits on the very place where Orville and Wilbur Wright succeeded in flying the first powered aircraft in 1903. But the stone monument is not the only attraction that draws thousands of visitors each year. You can stroll along the marked paths which the four historic flights made that day, as well as see a recreation of the Wright Brothers' living quarters and a workshop. Make sure you make a stop at a visitor’s center to see the interesting exhibits along with a recreation of the 1903 historic plane.
10. ALASKA AVIATION MUSEUM // ANCHORAGE, ALASKA
To learn about the scope and challenge of aviation in Alaska consider visiting the Alaska Aviation Museum where you can watch modern planes take off and land at Ted Stevens International Airport located nearby. Those interested in maritime aviation would be happy to watch seaplanes arrive at Lake Hood, a busy seaplane base. Aviation has always played a key role in the development of the state as Alaska relies on planes for transportation and supplies. So the museum provides a comprehensive picture of the history of aviation development in Alaska.
11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF COMMERCIAL AVIATION // ATLANTA, GEORGIA
While most aviation museums focus on aircraft, this one is devoted exclusively to airlines. Still, in the National Museum of Commercial Aviation you can also see a decent collection of airline vehicles, uniforms, and other memorabilia. Soon the museum will move to a new permanent location in Atlanta, just near the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
12. NATIONAL HELICOPTER MUSEUM // STRATFORD, CONNECTICUT
The museum is located in Stratford, Connecticut, the city where Igor Sikorsky established the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in 1925. At the National Helicopter Museum visitors can see mass produced helicopters designed by Sikorsky and other engineers along with rotorcraft, engines and archives.