Note: This story first appeared in the March-April 2007 edition of the Gypsy Journal.
Visitors can experience a century of aviation and explore over 275 historic aircraft at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The museum is the largest air and space museum in the western United States, fully funded by gate receipts, gift shop sales, memberships, donations and grants.
The Pima Air and Space Museum’s aircraft are displayed in five large hangars, totaling 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, and outside on the museum’s 80-acre grounds. An original World War II barracks displays an extensive collection of model aircraft arranged chronologically, which shows virtually all American military aircraft from before World War I to the present day.
The museum has come a long way since it first opened on May 8, 1976, with 75 aircraft parked on the bare desert. The only building was a small tin shack where visitors could purchase tickets. During the first few months of operation, the museum sold very few tickets, but these days 165,000 visitors from around the world come every year to tour the museum.
The historic aircraft on display at the museum include an exact replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the aircraft with which the Wright Brothers made history; the only surviving Martin PBM-5A Mariner World War II-era amphibious version of the PBM series, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution; the oldest surviving Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest and highest-flying self-propelled, piloted aircraft in the world; a World War II North American AT-6B trainer; a Fairchild C-119C Flying Boxcar cargo plane; a World War II German Focke-Wulf; the DC-6 used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and designated Air Force One; and many other vintage airplanes.
The museum’s displays also include exhibits on Black and women aviators, Prisoners of War, and hundreds of pieces of military equipment, including antiaircraft guns, crash trucks, rockets, firearms, uniforms, and spacecraft.
The Space Gallery and Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame building features a full-scale mock-up of the X-15, the rocket powered aircraft that broke the barriers of space. To date, a total of 26 individuals have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Among them are former Senator Barry Goldwater and astronaut Frank Borman.
The 390th Memorial Museum, located on the grounds of the Pima Air and Space Museum, houses a B-17 bomber. Its exhibits detail the unit’s World War II operations in the European Theater while assigned to the 8th Air Force. It is a museum within a museum.
The Challenger Learning Center of the Southwest is one of 54 Space Shuttle simulators in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Created as a living memorial by the families of the astronauts from the Challenger Space Shuttle mission 51-L, the Centers create innovative learning experiences which allow students to practice math, science, and communication skills with their team. Challenger missions are designed to meet national science standards for the United States for students in grades 4 through 8.
Visitors can take a narrated tram tour to see the outdoor aircraft displays at the Pima Air and Space Museum. The tram tour passes over 160 fighters, bombers, transports and civil aircraft, including NASA’s huge Super Guppy oversize transport, the world’s only collection of three giant B-52 bombers, the SR-71 Blackbird and many more. Narration on the hour long tour is provided by the museum’s experienced docents, who share their personal stories of service with many of the aircraft on display.
Docents also lead walking tours that cover the exhibits in Hangars One, Three and Four. The tour starts in Hangar One and is included in your general admission fee to the museum. The walking tour takes about one and one half hours.
Comfortable shoes are a must when touring the museum. A self-guided walking tour takes about three hours, though one could easily spend all day.
The Pima Air and Space Museum has an excellent gift shop with aviation books and souvenirs. The museum has plenty of free parking, and room for any size RV. Overnight parking is not permitted on the museum grounds.
The Pima Air and Space Museum is located at 6000 E. Valencia Road in Tucson, and is open daily from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Last admittance is at 4:00 P.M. The museum is closed Christmas and Thanksgiving days. For more information, call (520) 574-0462 or visit their website at www.pimaair.org.
Thought For The Day – Politicians should wear uniforms like race car drivers, so we will know who their corporate sponsors are.