The world’s largest military aviation museum and one of the best aviation museums in the nation is right in our own backyard.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — one of Ohio’s most visited attractions — has more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display and draws more than a million visitors each year.
It is the home for the restored Memphis Belle, made famous in two Hollywood films.
There is everything from the Wright 1909 Flyer to the “Lady Bird Special,” which took Lady Bird and President Lyndon B. Johnson between Bergstrom Air Force Base near Austin, Texas and the family ranch near that state’s Johnson City. There are many mechanical marvels, including every fighter and bomber aircraft in the Air Force inventory today: F-22, F-16, F-15 and the B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers.
Needless to say, it is really hard to see everything on the 17 acres filled with documents, aircraft, engines, uniforms and other artifacts. You’ll find history lessons full of triumph and tragedy with every step. Though it’s possible to take a virtual tour, we recommend taking an actual visit.
Here is a list of 7 can’t miss planes in the fascinating collection:
Admission to the museum is free, but some planes are in the limited-access Presidential and Research & Development Galleries, which visitors have to sign up to access.
B-17 MEMPHIS BELLE
Why it rates: Seventy-five years to the day the B-17 Memphis Belle finished its final mission over Europe, the iconic World War II bomber that starred in two Hollywood films made its public debut at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The Memphis Belle gained fame as the first U.S. heavy bomber to fly 25 perilous missions over Europe and return to the United States in World War II.
NORTH AMERICAN XB-70 VALKYRIE
Why it rates: The North American XB-70 Valkyrie is an odd speed demon. This 534,700-pound plane is considered one of the world’s most exotic, drawing interest from around the globe. It can fly three times the speed of sound. Only two of the XB-70 planes were ever made. The second crashed following a mid-air collision in 1965. The first one was used for research from Sept. 21, 1964, until it was flown to the museum Feb. 4, 1969, where it’s on display today.
NORTH AMERICAN X-15A-2
Why it rates: The North American X-15A-2 trained our spacemen. Planes in the X-15 flight played a big role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects. The rocket achieved Mach 6.7 and as Barry said, was the aircraft moonwalker Neil Armstrong cut his teeth on.
AVRO CANADA VZ-9AV AVROCAR
Why it rates: The Avro Canada VZ-9AV Avrocar is shaped like a flying saucer, which, come on — what’s cooler than that? The craft was developed as a “supersonic, vertical takeoff and landing fighter-bomber,” but there is no chance the Avrocar will blast anyone to another galaxy. It never got more than three feet from the Earth and its top speed was 35 mph. Blame Canada for this one.
BOEING VC-137C “SAM 26000 "
Why it rates: They don’t call it Air Force One for nothing. Built in 1962, the plane known as “SAM 26000” served eight presidents over three decades — Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. The plane flew Kennedy to Berlin in 1963. Months later, it flew the assassinated president’s body from Dallas to Washington. Johnson was sworn in as president during that tragic flight.
Why it rates: This baby got the job done and did it fast. The needle-shaped SR-71A spy plane is as fast as they come. Although it is now retired, the aircraft known as “Blackbird” remained the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. The SR-71 set two world records for its class in 1976 — the speed record of 2,193.167 mph and altitude record of 85,068.997 feet.
BOEING B-29 SUPERFORTRESS
Why it rates: It dropped the bomb. Called Bockscar, the museum’s B-29, famously dropped the “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan on Aug. 9, 1945. An estimated 50,000 people died, according to the BBC. About 40,000 people died instantly. As many as 135,000 people died as the result of the atomic attack against Hiroshima three days earlier.
HOW TO GO
What: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Where: 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright-Patterson AFB
Hours: Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
More info: Website