You wouldn’t think one of the best FREE museums in the world would be in nowhere Ohio, but you’d be wrong. If you’re even marginally interested in flight, technology, engines or just history, The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is amazing. I enjoy this place so much that this was my second time coming here, the first time was by myself in September of 2009, the second was July 23, 2018 with my travel buddy, Mik. Let me remind you that the Wright brothers, who are the ones usually given the credit (cough) for having invented the airplane, did so in Dayton, Ohio. And, that is probably the reason why this is located in the Wright-Patternson Air Force Base. (That and the fact that it IS the middle of nowhere means land prices are very low.) Be prepared to devote a few days to it (I suggest a minimum of three)… and like the Smithsonian, it’s FREE (your tax dollars at work).
Also, having been to both museums twice, far as I’m concerned the Smithsonian’s Air and Space in D.C., can’t really compete; it can’t, it hasn’t the space.Note the photo in the 1903 photo bottom right (above) is the same airplane in the photos below, that’s one of the great things about this museum, they don’t just have photos of historic models, they have the actual airplanes (and according to their website they’re all kept as much as possible in perfect ‘airworthy’ condition. The Air Force Museum in Dayton is HUGE; it has close to 900K square feet of hangar space within which its planes are displayed … according to Wikipedia it’s the largest military aviation museum in the world… it has to be, they currently have around 360 different aircraft and missiles on display, including most of the Air Force One‘s not in usage, and the number will only grow. What I tell my friends is if it historically relevent, belongs to the U.S. Air Force, and the Smithsonian doesn’t have, it’s probably in Dayton.In addition, it is a REALLY well curated museum, that tells a very easy to follow story of the history of flight (as it pertains to the military), and does so in a way that keeps you engaged and willing to come back for more …. and they have actual examples of EVERY plane they mention, full size sitting right in front of you.This is one of my very favorite museums anywhere… and I’ve been to a lot of museums. I liked it so much I’ve been to it twice. I feel that it has something for everyone, it’s about history, war, technology, etc… As an example, I had been trying to convince my travel buddy to come here with me, but he kept saying he had little to no interest in flight technology…. as it turns out however he’s a big fan of engines, and for almost every type of innovative airplane they would have a display showing the engine it used (so he was very happy).
In addition to all of the engines, which made my friend happy… the museum includes all sorts of memorabilia from flying squadrons, to keep the interest of folks who aren’t interested in technology at all, but might enjoy human interest details.
There’s a hallway of the museum devoted to Dayton locals who survived the Holocaust
A different hallway devoted to WWII airforce art, like the bomber jackets, and the designs on airplanes (giving them personalities, and keeping track of how many bomber raids they went on)
A hallway devoted to the Berlin Airlift after WWII, when the Russians tried to strangle hold part of the city.
The first time I came was in 2009, when for family reasons I found myself stuck in Cincinnati for a few days. My brother had been to this museum once before, and STRONGLY suggested that I rent a car, head North, and go to Dayton once I got bored with what Cincinnati had to offer. I ended up coming here three days in a row.
I then returned in 2018 with my travel buddy, because I was coming from Chicago, had a spare week to fill before heading off to Pennsylvania, and as a fellow geek I felt he’d really enjoy this place (and would never have come here on his own). That said, I the more I see of Dayton the more I think that I would happily came back to here for a third extended stay (one of my one month trips) in order to take the place in, in full, at my leisure.
For the two pictures above of the thermonuclear bomb, my 2009 visit is on the left, while my recent 2018 visit on the right…. The major change seemed to be the placement of the Mark 41 sign (not a huge change)
The picture above is 2018, while the parallel image from 2009 is below (top left image) … the rest are all from 2018… not much has changed in this exhibit (I image moving intercontinental ballistic missiles –ICBMs– isn’t all that easy to do)
Then and now, one of my favorite sections of the museum is the collection of Airforce One airplanes. The first time I went this was located at the very back of the museum, where there were normal quick construction airforce hangers (the sort the military can put up in a few days during war-time rather than actual buildings) that were, as such, FULL of natural light… (something that is NOT considered a good from an archival point of view, since harsh sunlight can cause things to fade over time) that were absolutely crammed full of the newest of the high-tech airplanes (that weren’t secrets anymore) that they had to display. I was told by a docent that they had plans to build a fourth building to house them in the near future (by my 2018 it had been done)
Behind these most recent high-tech airplanes they had just sort of lined up next to each other, the Airforce ones planes.
Where by 2019 they were in a darkened structure that had to lit artificially
The first plane I went into was the plane made especially for transporting Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), who as we all know was paralyzed.
Between 2009 and 2018, I found two major differences in the first Airforce One plane display (the one Roosevelt flew in). Firstly, in the President’s office part of the plane, in 2009 they had a Roosevelt manikin sitting in his office
while in 2018, when I visited the same plane I found it had been removed. Note the white decoration on the drapes for evidence that it’s in fact the same space (sorry for the lousy 2009 picture, my digital camera then, and it was a camera — not a camera in a phone, was nowhere near as good as the camera currently in my 2016 iPhone SE)
Additionally, at the back of the plane, where the elevator was located, in the 2009 version a wheelchair was located in the elevator, which included a sign explaining the use of the elevator…. (top two photos below)
But when I returned in 2018, the elevator well was empty… and I didn’t spot the wheelchair till AFTER I’d already left the plane, and spotted it sitting on the ground in FRONT of the elevator’s cage.
The next plane was flown by both Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) and in the very beginning of the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
in this one I found a MAJOR change… firstly, in 2009 the cockpit came with tags attached to the plexiglass explaining who was sitting where
Which had been removed by the time of my 2018 visit… but LOOK AGAIN, they had refurbished the chairs and changed the color of the leather???? From a historical standpoint, WTF????
ALSO, in 2009 there were mannequins seated in the plane while in 2018 they were gone. (Note that Truman was at a special presidential desk while Eisenhower wasn’t) During Eisenhower’s tenure, he also got a new plane…a Lockheed VC-121E
The final airplane, a Boeing VC-137C, was flown the longest of all the Airforce One planes, for almost 30 years before it was finally replaced, from the Time of John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) all the way through Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
In this plane I was unable to spot any differences between 2009 and 2018
By the time we were done with the presidential planes it was almost time to go (the place closes at 5pm) but we managed to fit in one last plane, one of the transport planes that took soldiers to Vietnam, and nicknamed by them as the “Hanoi Taxi”
Oh, and I’m adding one last photo, this was from 2009: I really wanted to do this again in 2018 but we didn’t happen to find it… that said we were only in the museum for about 5 hours… nowhere near enough to do it justice and see everything