Living in the Dayton area, I’m used to seeing crowds at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum gets about one million visitors every year and is the most popular free, non-commercial attraction in Ohio.
But when the museum officially launched its fourth building earlier this week, I was totally surprised by the hundreds of people who arrived early in the morning and patiently waited in long lines to get inside. As soon as the ribbon-cutting was over, they flooded into the new, hangar-like building, snapping pictures at warp speed and oohing and ahhing at exhibits that range from seldom-seen experimental aircraft to a Space Shuttle crew compartment trainer.
The 224,000-square-foot building is like visiting four different museums under one massive roof. Its quartet of themed galleries – Presidential, Global Reach, Space, and Research and Development – do more than display airplanes, engines, and artifacts. They tell multi-faceted stories about aviation, the many ways the U.S. Air Force has served the nation, and about how national events – integration, women’s rights, the Cold War, and the space race – have shaped the military and its missions.
It’s awe-inspiring to stand in front of Endeavour, the actual Apollo 15 command module that went to the moon with an all-Air Force crew. You can see the signatures of POWs inside the Hanoi Taxi that brought them home from Vietnam and you can walk underneath a giant Titan IVB Rocket, a 204-foot long launch vehicle that the museum displays horizontally.
For me, the fourth building’s highlight is its unrivaled collection of 10 U.S. presidents’ planes. Projecting American power and prestige for some 70 years, they’re the ultimate executive aircraft. Best of all, you can walk through four of them – the Sacred Cow that carried Franklin Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference; The Independence used by Harry Truman; President Eisenhower’s Columbine III; and the history-making SAM 26000 that transported President Kennedy to Dallas and President Nixon to China.
For more information, telephone 937-255-3286 or visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil