Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free trial today! Click here

Great aviation museums—Northeastern US

Great aviation museums inspire us to create a better future, even as they showcase the remarkable achievements of yesterday’s pioneers. Here are some of the greatest aviation museums in the Northeastern United States.

  • In 2016 the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum unveiled its new entrance, the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Among the achievements celebrated here are Charles Lindbergh's solo trip across the Atlantic in his Spirit of St. Louis; the first American jet aircraft, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet; the Bell X-1 in which "Chuck" Yeager first broke the mythical "sound barrier"; the fastest aircraft ever flown, the North American X-15; the Mercury capsule Friendship 7 flown by John Glenn; Mariner, Pioneer, and Viking planetary explorers; and the first privately developed, piloted vehicle to reach space, SpaceShipOne. You can even touch a Moon rock. Photo by Pedro Szekely via Flickr.
  • The Bell X-1 in which General Yeager broke the sound barrier. This historic aircraft hangs in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, which was the second most-visited museum in the world in 2016 (after the National Museum of China and before the Louvre). Photo by Ad Meskens via Wikipedia.
  • The “America by Air” gallery at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum displays aircraft and equipment that facilitated commercial air travel and mail delivery during the 20th century. Photo by Pedro Szekely via Flickr.
  • The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's (NASM) annex at Washington Dulles International Airport. It houses many air and spacecraft too large to fit in NASM’s galleries. Pictured here is the Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The South Hall of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. A few aircraft in this photo include a Northrop Flying Wing, P-38 Lightning, the B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay,” and an Air France Concorde. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • World War II hero R.A. “Bob” Hoover’s Shrike Commander 500S is displayed beside the Concorde in the South Hall of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Hoover wowed airshow crowds around the world in this Shrike for 20 years, thus bringing a simple business aircraft to international attention. Photo by Ed Post via Wikipedia.
  • A view of Manhattan from the flight deck of the USS Intrepid at the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum. Photo by David Monniaux via Wikipedia.
  • “Final Tour” for the Space Shuttle Enterprise. On April 27, 2012, the Enterprise flew over JFK International Airport, the Statue of Liberty, and the Hudson River aboard the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the Enterprise's final home, can be seen below. NASA photo by Robert Markowitz.
  • Rolled out on September 17, 1976, the Space Shuttle “Enterprise” was the first orbiter of the Space Shuttle system. In this photo taken June 6, 2012, the Enterprise is lowered by crane onto the deck of the USS Intrepid, where it is now displayed inside a covered pavilion. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls.
  • The Military Aviation Museum was founded by Gerald "Jerry" Yagen in 2005, and the museum's hangars were opened to the public in 2008. Yagen began collecting and restoring warbirds in 1996, starting with this Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk. Built in 1941 passed along to the Russians in April 1942, it was lost in action while protecting Murmansk. It stayed on the tundra where it had landed for almost 50 years and finally flew again in 2003. Photo courtesy Military Aviation Museum.
  • A row of WWI Fokker Triplanes, complete with machine guns, at the Military Aviation Museum. The museum’s display hangars replicate American, British, and German hangars from wartime (the German hangar is an actual pre-WWII Luftwaffe hangar). The museum also has a dinosaur park, filled with life-sized dinosaur sculptures. Photo courtesy Military Aviation Museum.
  • The Military Aviation Museum's de Havilland Mosquito, a Canadian-built FB Mk 26, was surplussed in April 1948. The farmer who bought it took it to his farm in Alberta, where it sat outside in a field until August 1978. After passing unrestored through another warbird collection, restoration began in January 2005 in New Zealand, continuing until 2012. Its first post-restoration flight was on September 27 of that year. Photo courtesy Military Aviation Museum.
  • Anyone with an interest in the early history of aviation should make a point to visit the Glenn H. Curtiss museum. Curtiss broke speed and long-distance records with his airplanes, innovated constantly, and generously shared his innovations with others (unlike the Wrights). Curtiss invented seaplanes and is known as the “father of naval aviation.” The museum’s incredibly accurate reproductions have been produced in-house. This all-red reproduction of the twin-engine Curtiss America, with a 72-foot wingspan and 34-foot fuselage, is breathtaking. Museum pilots Jim Poel and Lee Sackett reported that the aircraft went from displacement to flight at 38 mph, without ever getting on the step, and that it was the softest-landing seaplane they had ever flown. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • A Jenny JN-4 inside the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. If you have the appropriate equipment and skills, you can land at Ray Kolo’s private 1,800-foot grass strip, just 1 1/2 miles west of the museum, at 42° 23.53’ N, 77° 15.07’ W. Ray mows it but reminds you that use is at your own risk; please call him prior to landing there, 607/569-3587. Call the museum after landing for free pickup. Photo by Ruhrfisch via Wikipedia.
  • Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome founder Cole Palen used to say, “It isn’t an airplane if it doesn’t fly.” You can reserve a biplane ride on weekends before or after the airshows, held mid-June–Oct. Photo courtesy Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: The perennial favorite, this museum occupies a prestigious position on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. As such, your two closest airports are Washington Executive and Potomac Airfield. Both airports are within the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone (DC FRZ) airspace, which is surrounded by the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area (DC SFRA). All pilots in command who fly within a 60-nautical-mile radius of the DCA VOR must complete an FAA online training course, required by 14 CFR 91.161, to become familiar with operations in and around the DC SFRA and DC FRZ. After you complete the free course, print your receipt and bring it with you.

The phenomenal Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum holds the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft. Like anything with the word Smithsonian in front of it, the contents of this museum are national treasures. Highlights include Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean, the Bell X-1 flown by Gen. Chuck Yeager to break the sound barrier, SpaceShipOne, a model of the Starship Enterprise, and the Apollo 11 command module. Additional attractions include the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium.

Launched in 1943, the USS Intrepid survived five kamikaze attacks during WWII, was decommissioned in 1974, and is now docked on the Hudson River as part of the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s annex is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, where you’ll see the B-29 Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (world’s fastest air-breathing manned aircraft), an original Northrop Flying Wing, Robert A. "Bob" Hoover’s Shrike Commander, and an Air France Concorde, among some 170 other aircraft. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located at Washington Dulles International Airport. You can land at Dulles or at Leesburg Executive; both are within the DC SFRA but outside the DC FRZ.

Location, location…the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum sits aboard the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York. Docked at Pier 86 in the Hudson River on Manhattan’s west side, the museum provides unforgettable views from the carrier’s flight deck. Numerous fighters and a British Airways Concorde are on display. The Space Shuttle Enterprise, used in flight tests early in the shuttle program and formerly housed at the Smithsonian, now rests within a pavilion on the flight deck. Visitors can tour the carrier and adjacent submarine, the USS Growler. Your closest airport is LaGuardia; consider flightseeing the Hudson River Corridor as well.

Located in beautiful Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Military Aviation Museum showcases one of the world's largest collections of warbirds—in flying condition. To that end, the museum holds an airshow each spring for the World War II airplanes, and another in autumn so the World War I airplanes can strut their stuff. You can even get a ride in a beautiful red Waco or a 1941 Stearman. You may land at the museum’s private Virginia Beach grass runway if you receive permission from the museum director; call on weekdays and ask for Jarod. Or, choose from two other airports: Chesapeake Regional or Currituck County. Both have courtesy cars and rentals (arrange ahead for rental cars), but Currituck has cheaper fuel.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, in the Hudson River Valley, was founded in 1958 by Cole Palen. He regularly flew many of the aircraft during weekend airshows as his alter-ego, 'The Black Baron of Rhinebeck,' loosely based on the Red Baron. The Saturday “History of Flight” program highlights the Pioneer era before WWI (with aircraft such as this Curtiss Pusher), a WWI show teaser, and the Golden Age of Aviation in the ’20s and ’30s. Photo courtesy Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum honors one of aviation’s most important pioneers. The museum is in Hammondsport, New York, about 20 miles from Penn Yan Airport, at the south end of Keuka Lake. Although the Wright brothers were in the air first, the achievements of Glenn Curtiss rank right up there with the Wrights. The museum is a must for anyone interested in the dawn of aviation. Each September, the museum hosts a big seaplane splash-in on the lake to honor Curtiss, who invented the seaplane.

New York's Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is a unique, living museum filled with flying aircraft of the Pioneer Era, World War I, and the “Golden Age of Aviation” between the world wars, as well as roadworthy antique automobiles and other vehicles. The museum is open May through October. Airshows are presented on weekends (mid-June to mid-October), and biplane rides are available before and after the shows. Spend a summer weekend here and go back in time 100 years. Fly in to Old Rhinebeck (with permission only), or fly to Sky Park and walk/taxi 3 miles, or fly to Kingston-Ulster and drive a courtesy or rental car.

The Apollo-Soyuz test project display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: U.S. Travel

Related Articles