Doug and Anna's Top 5 Aviation Museums
1. National Air and Space Museum (NASM)
If you go to only one aviation museum, NASM should be it. Since opening in 1976, the National Mall Building of NASM has been the most visited museum of any kind in the world, and the larger Udvar-Hazy saw its millionth visitor within seven months of opening. NASM is the world's largest collection of aviation and spaceflight artifacts, and both facilities have IMAX theaters.
Among the highlights at the National Mall Building are the Wright Brothers' original "Flyer," Lindberg's "Spirit of St. Louis" and the Apollo 11 space capsule. Udvar-Hazy holds "Enola Gay," the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird; and the space shuttle "Enterprise."
2. National Museum of the United States Air Force
Located at Wright Patterson outside of Dayton, this aviation museum documents the Air Force. The museum's own materials state their goal "to create realistic illusions of time and places with a real sense of atmosphere." This museum is a good stop-off on a drive across I-70 and Ohio.
3. Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum
The Intrepid is one of New York's hotspots. Just renovated and returned to Manhattan, this aircraft-carrier museum reopens on November 8, 2008. The facility itself is the most impressive artifact; you can walk across the flight deck and into lower decks that house aircraft and artifacts. The collection is especially rich in jet-age aircraft and Cold War history and is home to a retired Concorde. The Intrepid recovered Aurora 7 and Gemini 3 astronauts and houses a replica of the Gemini 3 capsule.
4. Tillamook Air Museum
The Oregon coast boasts one of seven remaining WWII-era blimp hangars, the largest wooden structures in the United States. This naval station and its role in WWII is documented in displays, including one about the women who oversaw carrier pigeons. Tillamook's eclectic collection includes a 1938 Bellanca Air Cruiser (only five were built, only this one flies) and a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser "Mini-Guppy." The fries in the café are excellent, and don't miss the cheese factory in town.
5. Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum
After years in pieces wrapped in plastic, Howard Hughes's HK-1-the largest plane that ever flew (for one minute)-dominates this spacious museum. What a story it tells! The collection includes a Douglas C-47 "Gooney Bird" transport and a de Havilland DH-4, the only American-made WWI airplane. Docents are friendly; a WWII-veteran discussed the B-17 Flying Fortress with us. Promotional materials capture what all aviation museums try to convey: airplanes "are not merely dusty machines, but expressions of man's desire to take to the skies so real and tangible that it is as if the planes, themselves, dream of the sky."
--- Anna Leahy and Doug Dechow
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P.S. Madam Mayo also recommends San Diego Air and Space Museum, which includes an important archive on Mexican aviation history, and the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California.