*Kelly Barnett (2PSNAPOD) is a contributor to HeartlandRV's blog. All opinions expressed are her own.*
Whether you're an airplane buff or not, you will find the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, a "must see".
This is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum, having first been established in the 1920s but not actually opened to the public until 1954.There are over 300 aircraft and missiles on display - most of which were renovated on premises.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., seven days a week, every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day Admission is FREE.
Plan to spend at least one full day browsing the exhibits if not a couple of days, especially if you participate in the 'Behind the Scenes Renovation Tour' which you can read more about below.
The collection is housed in four hangar-like buildings with each hangar holding two different eras of memorabilia.
Hangar 1 – Early Years & World War II
Your journey starts with the Wright Brothers and the era in which they first started working on their flying machine. Here you'll find artifacts from their planes and learn about what it took to get the first airplanes off the ground…not always successfully.
World War II – The Bockscar dropped the bomb on Nagasaki in the last days of the war and is on display. What a beautiful airplane! You can see the care and devotion that the restoration department has put into restoring these aircraft to such pristine condition so that we can truly envision what they looked like in their heyday.
Hangar 2 - Korean War & Southeast Asia War (Vietnam)
There was a lot of memorabilia in this area. Besides the expected airplanes and helicopters there were uniforms on display, several of Bob Hope's coveralls, awards for flying aces who completed 100 or more missions and exhibits depicting men completing missions from aircraft. Very interesting stuff.
The centerpiece of the entire display was a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The B-52 was the main long-range bomber of the US. Air Force during the Cold War and is still an important part of the USAF today. It's amazing how HUGE this thing is and it can actually stay up in the air.
Hangar 3 - Cold War & Current AF Operations
This area has a very dark and mysterious feel to it. You'll find several exhibits pertaining to bringing down the Berlin Wall and the events surrounding that period of time.
Michael was quite intrigued by the B2 Stealth Bomber on display. It happens to be the only one on permanent display. I was stunned by its size…it's HUGE.
There were several other 'stealthy' aircraft (the F117 Nighthawk being another) on display which leant to the whole 'dark and mysterious feel to this particular hangar.
Hangar 4 - Presidential Gallery, Space Gallery, and Research & Development Gallery
This was probably my favorite building. Here you can walk through two of president Truman's planes, president Kennedy's Air Force One (his remains were flown back to the Washington D.C. and president Johnson was sworn in as president aboard this airplane).
Plus you can view Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt aircrafts. Aisles are very narrow and enclosed so if you are uncomfortable in tight spaces beware.
The Hanoi Taxi is housed here and you can enter through the cargo hold.This Lockheed C-141 flew the first prisoners of war home from Vietnam. Bob Hope and Senator John McCain were a few of the notables that flew on the Hanoi Taxi.
Interested in what it would be like to be aboard a space shuttle? Look no further as there is a mockup of a Space Shuttle to climb aboard and see for yourself what it's like to be an astronaut.
The world's only XB-70 Valkyrie Bomber, which was capable of reaching mach 3+ while flying at 70,000 feet, and was used in supersonic testing in the mid to late 1960s makes its home here.
Museum Gift Shop – Nearly anything related to flying or the US Air Force can be found here as a souvenir.
National Aviation Hall of Fame – The Hall of Fame honors aerospace legends of the air and space industry. There are currently about 225 inductees including such notables as Amelia Earhart, Buzz Aldrin and Allan Lockheed.
Missile Gallery – Just a small display but impressive as these missiles are displayed in a 140 foot tall silo-like structure so that their size can truly be appreciated.
Movie theater - For an additional fee, you can watch aviation related 3D films on a massive 80 foot by 60 foot screen.
Virtual Adventures – Whether it's learning what it feels like to be a fighter pilot, flying to the moon, experiencing a tornado or riding a cosmic roller coaster, you can do it here for a nominal fee.
Outdoor displays - The Air Park features aircraft exhibits, a WW II Air Force Control Tower and Nissen Hut.
Valkyrie Café & Refueling Café – Both located on second floor, they're a great way to break up your day of visiting the museum.Cafeteria style foods such as burgers, sandwiches and pizza will help you 'carry on' through the remainder of the museum.
Behind the Scenes Restoration Tour
If you want to see all the hard work that goes into restoring these historical flying machines you might want to consider registering for the 'Behind the Scenes Restoration Tour'.
The tour is approximately 3 hours long and takes you to the restoration hangar where a volunteer leads you through the restoration process and provides information about the various aircraft either being worked on our waiting their turn to be brought back to their original glory.
Because the renovation hangar is on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base security is pretty high. You're required to pre-register for the tour and when you check in at the museum the ID you show must have the address you provided when you registered.
No outside food or drinks are allowed but you are given a bottle of water to drink during the tour. Everyone must stay with the group…no wandering off.
No pictures are allowed while riding the shuttle bus from the museum to the renovation hangar. No pictures are allowed outside while at the hangar and if the hangar doors are open you are not allowed to take pictures in the direction of the open doors.
Even with all of the security the tour is very enjoyable and informative, a 'don't miss', in our opinion.