Take Flight at the New Air Force Museum

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More than 70 aircraft and more will send kids’ imaginations to new heights at the new Air Force Museum.

Celebrate the Grand Opening of The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s fourth building on June 11 – 12. Located just an hour away, in Dayton, Ohio, the NMUSAF’s celebration includes costumed characters, food trucks, and music from the Band of Flight, along with hands-on activities, including programming instruction within a Minecraft-type environment. “It will be an exciting weekend at a World Class attraction,” says Jeff Duford, historian and curator in the museum’s research division.

Duford has had a key role in the fourth building, creating the layout for its four galleries: Presidential, Research & Development, Space, and Global Reach. “It’s like a 3-D puzzle,” he says, pointing from the mezzanine. He had to allow not only for space, but also for weight — in hanging some aircraft, and for wing clearance — in moving and placing the more than 70 aircraft, missiles and space vehicles.

In the Presidential Gallery, visitors will walk through four aircrafts, protected by new flooring and plexi-glass. From Roosevelt to Eisenhower, and Kennedy to Clinton, these exhibits showcase the “fast, safe, and reliable aircraft” the U.S. Air Force provides for presidents.

In Research and Development (R & D), visitors will see weapons, engines, and aircraft, like the exotic XB-70 Valkyrie. Able to fly three times the speed of sound, the XB-70 advanced the study of aerodynamics and propulsion. “R & D gives us a chance to really show the problem-solving so important to STEM education,” Duford says. “For instance, how do you make wheels that won’t melt on impact for something traveling at supersonic speed?”

Such questions challenge scientists, and three new educational spaces will involve students and visitors in similar thinking. Learning Nodes will accommodate student-centered, technology-enhanced learning through hands-on programs, demonstrations and lectures.

More problem-solving arises in Global Reach operations. This gallery highlights emergency teams who often treat injured victims in the air, without benefit of a hospital setting. It also displays the Hanoi Taxi, “which airlifted the first American prisoners of war to freedom from Hanoi, North Vietnam, in 1973.”

Finally, in the space gallery, visitors can board NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT-1), get up close to the legendary Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts, and learn about astronaut equipment, satellites and other space-based capabilities.

Of course the new fourth building is only a quarter of the NMUSAF. “People from all over the world come here,” says Duford. “They typically spend two days trying to see everything.” Cincinnatians are lucky, because they can make the trip in just an hour. “There’s something for everyone to be fascinated by. We’ll always attract the ‘strut huggers’ like me [people who love aircrafts], but there’s a human dimension that touches everyone. You can visit through our virtual tour, but it’s just not the same. Here you get the feel of real aircraft. You can walk through some of them. You know by the smell which gallery you’re in because of the materials used, the hydraulics, the oils.”

For those less sensitive to the olfactory variations among hydraulics, the NMUSAF evokes other sensory details and emotions through its theatrical lighting, dioramas, and stories. Kids will love the many new digital and interactive elements, and enjoy the display of the military insignias created by Walt Disney’s cartoonists during World War II. Meanwhile, adults will be moved by the museum’s display of bravery, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice. “You know the PJs’ [USAF Pararescue] motto?” Duford asks before a rescue scene: “These things we do, that others may live.”

The NMUSAF represents “generations of work.” The knowledge, artifacts, and stories collected at the museum’s inception continue to impact visitors today. “These [exhibits] tell the story of the many who raise their hands and say, ‘I’ll do it.’ The real people, their lives, the real families. We preserve their stories. People come and they say ‘that was my grandfather.’ The human memory disappears quickly; we preserve what happened.”

National Museum of the United States Air Force
1100 Spaatz St., Dayton
937-255-3286 • nationalmuseum.af.mil
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily (some exhibits have special hours, please visit web site in advance)
Admission: Free; charges apply for the Air Force Museum Theatre and flight simulators.

Barbara David, mother of five and an award-winning columnist for Cincinnati Family Magazine, enjoys travel, writing, and restoring her century-old, west-side home.

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