On June 8, 2016, the National Museum of the United States Air Force opened their long awaited fourth building. I was fortunate enough to make it over on June 10. This building combines four different galleries under one massive roof: Presidential, Global Reach, Space and Research & Development. Let’s take a quick look inside…
Before I go further, if you haven’t read my post about the rest of the museum, check this link…
First of all, I have never seen the museum busier than it was today. The parking lot for the museum is an old runway. At most, I have seen it stretch to the end of the memorial park. Today, nearly every space was full for double that distance. They had a series of traffic cones already in place blocking out parking in their massive grass front yard, so as a tip: get there early if you plan to try and get there this weekend. They’ve also moved the security checkpoint outside to this tent, expect long lines. Luckily, I went at 2PM, and breezed in.
The fourth building is way at the back of the complex, there are plenty of signs pointing the way. Once you walk through the missile room, you are greeted by a stark white hallway. With nice gold wall graphics that display the gallery names, and small overhead maps of where those displays are located.
The first thing I was struck by was how well lit this gallery was. All of the other galleries in the museum have very dim general lighting, with appropriate focused lighting on important exhibits. This one, there’s light everywhere. It has a different feel, and different energy than any other building in the museum.
Even though you enter the room in the Space Exhibit, I’m going to talk about it from left to right. The far left of the building is the Presidential Aircraft collection.
This gallery shows off many different kinds of aircraft used to shuttle Presidents around the world. My personal favorite plane is one used by Lyndon Johnson dubbed Air Force One-Half.
One of the best parts of this gallery is that many of the aircraft are able to be climbed aboard and walked through. I will note that they are a tight squeeze, and definitely not wheelchair accessible.
Without a doubt, the star of this gallery is the Boeing VC-137C SAM 26000. Which was the plane used as Air Force One for every President from JFK to Clinton.
The next area is the Global Reach Gallery. In this section they discuss the ability of the Air Force to be anywhere in the globe quickly.
This section of the building is smaller than the others, there are only four planes on display. Fortunately, you can climb aboard two of them, including one of the most famous airplanes: the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter known as the Hanoi Taxi – this was the plane that brought back the first batch of POW’s from North Vietnam.
The next section of the building is the one nearest to my heart: the Research & Development Gallery. This is where they just started throwing stuff at the wall, and see what stuck. Many of the planes in this area are the only ones still left in existence (most of the time because the rest crashed). Here you can see a jet that was launched vertically…
A plane with 6 propellers…
The Avrocar, which probably induced more than its fair share of UFO reports…
The Valkyrie, which is probably the Museum’s pride and joy. This is the only one that exists, and they even named the cafe after it.
It looks like a Star Wars ship from the back…
You can also see…whatever this is supposed to be…
(spoiler, it’s a trainer that could simulate how a plane might fly before they even built a prototype).
I just love this part of the gallery, and am so happy to be able to see these planes again.
Finally, we get to the Space Gallery. This part is by far the most interactive section, and really shows a new direction for the museum. First of all, there are a couple of places where presentations can take place. One is a stage where they do STEM related programs:
Another is a more traditional classroom type area with large touchscreens on the wall (the game you can play is a build-a-plane game that’s quite fun).
The highlights here are the full-sized Space Shuttle crew trainer (which hasn’t changed much since it was originally placed in the museum a couple years ago).
The full-sized Titan rocket…
This thing is HUGE
and several other famous space vehicles including the capsule from Apollo 15.
Overall, just today I spent about 90 minutes in this building, and I didn’t really even read a whole lot of signs. I was just taking in as many things as I could. Again, most of these planes and vehicles have been on display before, but all the signage was brand new, so there was plenty of new info around.
I will also say that the volunteer crew in the building was top notch today. There was so much excitement around. The volunteers were sharing so much info and having such a good time. Like I said at the beginning of this post, the energy inside this building is amazing. I hope they can both keep that energy up, and find ways to inject it a bit into the rest of the museum.
I’ve already said this museum is my favorite place in the state. It got even better. If you have the chance, you need to spend a good long day, possibly two here. It’s a must-see attraction.
If you’d like to see a bunch more pictures I took, please go to my Flickr album for the Fourth Building