Into the Wild Blue Yonder
With the recent end of the space shuttle era, and Veteran’s Day approaching (Nov. 11), last week seemed like the perfect time to visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton.
Despite living in the same city, I’m embarrassed to admit it’s a place I haven’t visited since I was about six years old. And what a shame! From my first visit so many years ago, all I could remember was the missile and space gallery. Looking back, that’s probably because my favorite movie was E.T. and I was trying to spot the aircraft most like his!
This time, visiting as a family with our two-year-old daughter, was so different. I was reminded of the incredible, world-changing legacy of Dayton’s own Wright Brothers; I was humbled by the sacrifice of our U.S. armed forces, and I was thrilled to re-discover this local treasure, which my daughter will grow up visiting (in fact, I can’t wait to sign her up for story time and space camp).
I could write all day about the things we learned or enjoyed during our visit, but here’s a list of what I thought were the “Five Best Things”:
1.) It’s free.
2.) It’s incredibly family friendly. Of course kids of all ages enjoy looking at giant aircraft in huge hangars or eating astronaut ice cream, but, the stories and exhibits are mostly targeted at adults, so there’s something every member of the family – including grandparents – can appreciate.
3.) No matter who you are, something hits home. From wiping away tears in a unique and somber Holocaust exhibition to spotting the plane Snoopy often dreamed about (a World War I “Sopwith Camel” fighter, which he flew in battles with the Red Baron), visitors all seemed moved by different aspects of the museum. My husband the music teacher was thrilled to see original sheet music for the original Air Force Song known as “Wild Blue Yonder,” while a group of engineering students nearby were enthralled with early edition wind tunnels.
4.) It’s personal. As you walk the various galleries, it’s clear that former fighters are walking alongside you. During our visit, a few were gathered near Bockscar – the plane that dropped the “Fat Man” bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, ending WWII – swapping stories about their tours of duty and feeding their love for aircraft and our country. Many of the museum’s volunteers are also veterans and aviation aficionados, and you can bet they have a lot more to offer than just pointing this way and that.
5.) Enhanced by new technology. Walking into the museum with no game plan and a busy-body toddler, I quickly realized I couldn’t possibly absorb everything the museum had to offer during our short visit, and we didn’t even make it to the Presidential Gallery to see former Air Force One planes. I was thrilled to learn about the museum’s 360-degree virtual tour and downloadable podcasts, which I explored at my own pace later that night.
Have you been to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force? What was the best part of your trip?