BEST OF DAYTON: National Museum of United States Air Force named Best Dayton Landmark, Museum

The world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum continues to be a beloved Dayton institution.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force took top honors as Best Dayton Landmark and Best Museum in the 2023 Best of Dayton contest.

The museum features more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles as well as thousands of artifacts spread out among more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space.

“I believe people are drawn to this museum because of the variety of interesting things they can see and learn and do here,” said Doug Lantry, chief historian. “Our collection is unique in all the world. There are things you can see here you can’t see anywhere else. It’s also a continuously fascinating, growing and changing place.”

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

In addition to providing educational outreach and special programs, the museum thrives on its engaging, accessible and historic exhibits. The Presidential Gallery is one of its most popular attractions due to the Boeing VC-137C also known as SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000, used by President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

“SAM 26000 is an American icon connected to a critical moment in American history,” Lantry explained. “It’s also an artifact you can get up close to. You can stand in the spot where President Lyndon Johnson was sworn-in as president. Inside the gallery you can also see other presidential airplanes and learn about the Air Force’s mission of transporting the president all over the world.”

Along with the museum showcasing the B-36 Peacemaker Bomber and SR-71 “Blackbird,” Lantry is particularly fond of the B-17F Memphis Belle, which flew in every combat zone during World War II.

“Personally, I feel the Memphis Belle is the single-most meaningful artifact the Department of the Air Force owns,” he said. “First, it’s not a (replication) – it’s the real thing. It also functions as a reminder, a symbol, of the over 30,000 airmen who died in the air war over Europe in World War II. The Memphis Belle embodies all of the values the Air Force wants to instill in airmen: courage, sacrifice, teamwork and integrity. That’s why the Memphis Belle is so meaningful to me as well as all the airmen – civilian and military – that come to this museum.”

Looking ahead, Lantry says the museum is excited to see the completion of the SM-65 Atlas missile in the coming months. The museum has also acquired an F-15 Eagle that will be housed in the Cold War Gallery as well as an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, which has been a part of the Air Force’s recent history in combat search and rescue.

“We’re also enhancing our ‘Women in the Air Force’ series of exhibits, and we just acquired a PT-17, an old training biplane, that is associated with the Tuskegee Airmen,” Lantry added. “The PT-17 will help us greatly enhance the Tuskegee story in our World War II Gallery.”

The museum attracted 658,000 guests last year, but Lantry is confident there will be an increase this year as more people have felt comfortable traveling again post-pandemic.

“We’re hoping our numbers rebound and we can do better than last year as our programs and events become more diverse and frequent,” he said.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located at 1100 Spaatz Rd., Dayton. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There is also free admission and parking. For more information, visit

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