Note: This story if from the January-February, 2014 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
If you like airplanes and you find yourself in the Denver area, you really owe it to yourself to visit the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, housed in a historic 150,000 square foot 1930s-era hangar located at what was once Lowry Air Force Base. Their huge collection of aircraft and airplane memorabilia is amazing.
This huge B-52 Stratofortress Strategic Air Command bomber greets visitors at the museum entrance. Used by the United States Air Force since the 1950s, the formidable B-52 can carry up to twenty nuclear missiles and 70,000 pounds of bombs.
Inside, the museum has an impressive display of nearly 50 aircraft, ranging from experimental airplanes to military fighters, and even an Apollo Command Module test unit.
This is a Vietnam-era F-100 Super Sabre, the first U.S. production aircraft capable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight. Armed with four M-39 20mm cannon plus over 7,000 pounds of weapons, including nuclear or conventional bombs, rockets, four Sidewinder air-to-air missiles or two Bullpup air-to-ground missiles, the F-100 was capable of delivering massive firepower on enemy targets.
Among the museum’s war bird collection are a Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter, an F-84K Thunderflash, a World War II-era B-18 Bolo bomber, a Vietnam-era Vought A-7D Corsair II fighter, a B-57 Canberra, and a Star Wars X-Wing fighter, to name just a few. The museum is the only place in the world outside of the SAC Museum in Omaha, Nebraska where you can see a B-1A Lancer.
The twin engine Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor was a light transport airplane capable of carrying a crew of two plus six passengers. During World War II, over 5,400 were delivered to the Army and Navy. In civilian use, the versatile Twin Beech was used for carrying passengers, spraying of agricultural fields, seeding fish into remote lakes, dry cloud seeding, aerial firefighting, skydiving, skywriting, and towing banners, among its many jobs. It was also a popular aircraft for gun and drug smugglers.
Civilian airplanes on display include a Learjet that was once used to fly a live gorilla from the Denver Zoo to Cincinnati, Ohio, and this Skyote sport biplane, which weighed just 594 pounds and was capable of some amazing acrobatic maneuvers.
A bit more mundane and a lot slower is this 1939 J3 Piper Cub, one of the most beloved airplanes by generations of civilian pilots who earned their wings in them. Back when I was a young man I spent a couple of years playing with little puddle jumpers and I always wanted a Cub, but the closest I ever got was to ride in a couple of them.
The museum also has an interesting collection of spacecraft on display. This is a “boilerplate” mockup of an Apollo command module that was used to test things like water landings, radiation protection, and other necessary experiments in preparation for sending men to the moon.
One display honors John L. “Jack” Swigert, Colorado’s first Apollo astronaut. Swigert was one of three astronauts aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission launched in April, 1970. He was the astronaut who made the famous announcement, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Among its other exhibits, the museum has an interesting collection of radio equipment, aviation-related artwork, and displays about Colorado Air National Guard units and aerial search and rescue missions in the state’s rugged mountain terrain.
Wings Over the Rockies is more than just a collection of airplanes and memorabilia. The museum has a research library of over 10,000 books, along with technical manuals, magazines, a collection of maps and charts, and over 500 videos. The museum is also actively involved in education, hosting numerous school programs during the year, along with Scout programs, a summer KidSpace program, an Air & Space Camp, and a speaker’s bureau through which museum members with interesting aviation or aerospace backgrounds present programs to local community and civic organizations.
We have toured quite a few airplane museums in our time, including the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, and the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. Though not as big as any of those, Wings Over The Rockies is an excellent museum and well worth taking the time to visit.
The museum is located at 7711 East Academy Boulevard in Denver, Colorado, with easy access from Interstates 70 and 225. The museum is open Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Admission is $15 for visitors ages 17 – 64, $11.50 for seniors 65 and older and for active military and veterans, children ages 4 – 16 are $8.50, and kids 3 and under are admitted free. There are several parking lots at the museum and nearby that could accommodate an RV, but traffic can be heavy in the area and I was glad we left our motorhome parked at a Denver RV park and drove our Ford Explorer when we visited. For more information, call the museum at (303) 360-5360 or visit their website at www.wingsmuseum.org.
If you’re looking for a good book to read, my pal George Wier’s Slow Falling, the sixth book in his popular Bill Travis mystery series, is free this weekend on Amazon. George is a fine storyteller and has developed a strong fan base. read Slow Falling and find out why.
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Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Hands of Onyx, book 2 in the Sav’ine series by Stacy Bender. It’s a story about cybernetic soldiers escorting a long haul space freighter to the outer rim planets, dealing with saboteurs who are trying to stop them and a crew that includes a half-blind medic, an explosives expert who is a sociopath, and an interrogator suffering from dementia. What could possibly go wrong? To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – Nothing is as mean as giving a little child something useful for Christmas.