Most pilots learn to fly because they have a passion for aviation, which means that most pilots love good aviation museums. Here’s a list of some of the best in the Southeast.
See where it all started at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina—a place that should be on every pilot’s bucket list. Just fly in to First Flight Airport to see where the Wright brothers achieved their first successful powered airplane flights on Dec. 17, 1903. Visit the sculpture garden and learn more from the enthusiastic rangers who serve at the memorial.
Fly to Middle Georgia Regional Airport to visit the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base. It’s the second-largest U.S. Air Force museum behind the one at Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio (read about that museum here). About 85 aircraft, from warbirds to jets, helicopters, drones, and missiles are displayed at this facility, which sprawls over 51 acres and four large buildings. The SR-71A, tail number 61-7958, set two world records for its class on July 28, 1976: an absolute speed record of 2,193.167 miles per hour and an absolute altitude record of 85,060.997 feet. In addition to aircraft, the museum also houses hall of fame, prisoner of war, and Tuskegee Airman exhibits, and admission is free.
Established in 1956 and located on Fort Rucker, Alabama, the U.S. Army Aviation Museum boasts the largest museum display of helicopters in the world. Its galleries trace the Army’s involvement in military aviation from the Wright brothers and the early combat aircraft of World War I, up to highly technological machines such as the AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk flown by Army aviators today. Admission here is also free. Fly to Enterprise Municipal Airport, which offers low fuel prices and a courtesy car.
Fly to Alabama's Huntsville Executive Airport to visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center adjacent to Redstone Arsenal, where rockets and space vehicles were developed after World War II. Take a bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center, explore the rockets (including the giant Saturn V), or stay on the grounds for space camp or the aviation challenge and get a taste of astronaut or fighter pilot training. Both camps provide residential and day camp educational programs for children and adults.
Fly to Destin Executive to see the Air Force Armament Museum, just southwest of the sprawling Eglin Air Force Base complex in the Florida panhandle. The Air Force Armament Museum is a unique blend of aircraft and weaponry. You’ll see a B-17 and an F-4 Phantom. Also on display is the AMRAAM, the newest air-to-air missile, along with other missiles including the Paveway series, Falcons, the Tomahawk, Mace, Hound Dog, radar-controlled, laser-controlled, and several guided by a TV camera in the nose. The GBU-43 MOAB, Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, nicknamed the "Mother of All Bombs," the world's largest conventional explosive weapon, also is on display. A gun vault displays a variety of weapons ranging from a 1903 Springfield rifle to the GAU-8, which is capable of shooting 6,000 rounds per minute. The Sikes Antique Pistol Collection includes more than 180 handguns, including flintlocks, dueling pistols, Western six-shooters, Civil War pistols, and a wide variety of early military weaponry. Admission is free.
Fly to Florida's Space Coast Regional to see the Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center, now home to the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle is uniquely displayed at an angle and with the payload bay doors open so you can look inside. There’s also a life-size replica of the Hubble Telescope, a shuttle launch experience simulator, a Rocket Garden, and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Take a bus to the Apollo/Saturn V Center to see the giant Saturn V as well as the Apollo 14 command module, Lunar Module and Rover, and a moon rock you can touch.
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