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Great Aviation Museums—Southeastern US

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.

  • “Gilmore,” a striking yellow Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing,” poses outside the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • These sculptures at the Wright Brothers National Memorial recreate the moment when John Daniels took the historic photo of the first flight. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • A brightly polished V-tail Bonanza gleams inside a hangar at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Photo courtesy Beechcraft Heritage Museum.
  • The annual Beech Party fly-in takes place each October at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum. Aircraft park on the grass south of Runway 18/36. Shown here are a beautiful V-tail Bonanza and a Baron. More Bonanzas, Model 18 Twin Beeches, and brightly colored Staggerwings can be seen already on the ground below. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • A row of beautiful Beech Model 17 Staggerwings during the Beech Party fly-in at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum. Attendees can tour the wind tunnel facility and have access to professional exhibits and educational seminars from industry-leading companies, respected restorers, and knowledgeable technicians. There are also paper airplane contests, a book club, wine tasting, and meals prepared by award-winning chefs. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • An enormous B1-B Lancer stands outside the U.S. Air Force Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force base in Georgia. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • A Vultee BT-13 inside the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base. Photo by DS Dugan via Flickr.
  • This General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon is painted in the livery of the USAF Thunderbirds. The wing and tail of a Lockheed U-2 are visible to the right. Photo by Alan Wilson via Flickr.
  • At the Museum of Aviation you can get up close and personal with this magnificent Lockheed SR-71A, which holds the official speed and altitude records for aircraft of its class. Seen in the background are a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft and the Lockheed U-2. Photo by DS Dugan via Wikipedia.
  • Another view of the Lockheed SR71A at the Museum of Aviation in Georgia. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • An AH-1S Cobra helicopter in front of the U.S. Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama. The collection includes many significant examples of early research efforts and developments in rotary-wing technology and the evolution of the helicopter. There are over 160 aircraft on display, plus the Army Aviation Hall of Fame and a memorial to the pilots who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Photo by James Emery via Wikipedia.
  • An Apache helicopter at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum. Although largely built by McDonnell Douglas and now marketed under the Boeing label, the Apache was originally designed and built by Hughes Helicopters. This is the third prototype and therefore a Hughes-built machine. Over 1,100 have now been produced and the type is known worldwide as the leading edge in Attack Helicopters. Photo by Alan Wilson via Flickr.
  • Aerial view of part of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Visible are the Space Shuttle “Pathfinder” mockup and two rockets, a Saturn I and a giant Saturn V like those that powered the Apollo astronauts. Another Saturn V is displayed inside the adjacent Davidson Center for Space Exploration building. Photo courtesy USSRC.
  • The Space Shuttle “Atlantis,” inside the Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center, is displayed at an angle and with its payload bay doors open and remote-control arm visible, a sight previously only seen in space. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The Rocket Garden outside the Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo courtesy KSC.

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.

Many pilots (including this one) believe the Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing to be the world’s most beautiful airplane. See a bunch of these beauties, plus many other rare aircraft, at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee, open March through November and otherwise by appointment. Just taxi to the grass parking area in front of the museum at the south end of Runway 18/36. Perhaps the museum’s most treasured airplane is Serial No. 1 Staggerwing, the first aircraft built by Beech Aircraft Corp. Early Travel Airs on display include the airplane in which Louise Thaden won the 1929 Women’s Air Derby Race. Also displayed are her trophy and pilot certificate, signed by Orville Wright. An enormous Bonanza/Baron hangar includes a unique Bonanza V-35B cutaway, formerly at the Smithsonian, that lets you examine details of the airplane’s engine and construction, including the V-tail control system. A Beech Starship and several rare Twin Beech Model 18s, the first U.S. Army King Air, and many more will keep you enthralled all day.

First flown in 1932, the Beechcraft Model 17 “Staggerwing” was designed for the traveling business executive. The airplane had a retractable gear and boasted speeds of up to 212 mph. This timeless design is as beautiful today as ever. Photo by Thomas Hoff.

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.

The Air Force Armament Museum in Florida displays an incredibly diverse array of weaponry, including the AMRAAM, the newest air-to-air missile. Photo by Greg Goebel via Wikipedia.

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.

These enthusiastic National Park Service rangers appear to be clinging onto the wing of the Wright Flyer painted at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Photo courtesy NPS.

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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

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