The National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the Department of the Air Force’s national institution for preserving and presenting its story. Each year, more than 800,000 visitors come to the museum to learn about the mission, history and evolving capabilities of America's Air Force and new Space Force.
The museum is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum, featuring more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Thousands of personal artifacts, photographs and documents further highlight the people and events that comprise the Air Force storyline, from the beginnings of military flight to today's current operations.
The U.S. Air Force operates the museum complex through government appropriated funds. The commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base maintains operational oversight of the museum, with the History Office of the Secretary of the Air Force in Washington, D.C., providing policy guidance.
The museum's 96 federal civil service positions cover a variety of areas, including exhibits, collection, research, aircraft restoration, operations, education, special events, planning, public affairs and administration. More than 500 volunteers provide an important contribution in diverse areas from greeting and assisting visitors to leading tours and helping restore aircraft.
The museum's galleries present many rare and one-of-a-kind aircraft and aerospace vehicles and thousands of historical items that chronicle the evolution of military flight from the Wright brothers to today's stealth aircraft, rockets, missiles, and spacecraft. Sensory-rich exhibits, featuring mannequins, artifacts, sound effects and theatrical lighting, place aerospace vehicles in context and bring history to life by dramatizing and personalizing the events depicted. Visitors walking through the museum can view multiple galleries focusing on the various eras of military aviation and Air Force history, including the early years, World War I, World War II, Korea, Southeast Asia, the Cold War and the present.
A number of popular and historically significant aircraft headline the museum's growing collection. Particularly noteworthy aircraft from the early years include a rare SPAD XIII, Caproni CA 36 bomber and an MB-2 bomber. The World War II collection includes the iconic B-17F “Memphis Belle,” which was the first heavy bomber to return to the U.S. after flying 25 missions over Europe, B-29 Bockscar, which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, along with a P-51 and Japanese Zero. The F-86 and MiG-15 help represent the Korean War, with the F-4 among Vietnam standouts.
Modern favorites include the B-52, B-1, F-15, F-16, F-117 stealth fighter, the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft, the F-22A Raptor and the world's only permanent public exhibit of a B-2 stealth bomber.
NASA's first Crew Compartment Trainer, used to train astronauts on operating the Space Shuttle Orbiter, highlights the long history of the Air Force/NASA partnership. The museum also features a world-class collection of presidential aircraft, including SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000, a Boeing VC-137C that served as President John F. Kennedy's Air Force One. The legendary SR-71 and the exotic XB-70, both engineering marvels and two of the world’s most famous aircraft, are also on display at the museum.
Education and Events
Animating the Air Force story and the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, behind the story, the museum offers a wide variety of special events and educational programs to connect the service with the public. Through its education office, the museum connects with thousands of students, teachers, youth groups and family members through hands-on learning activities, workshops, tours and curriculum materials. The museum also provides no cost on-line educational resources that focus on K-12 student success. In doing so, the museum helps inspire the future workforce to pursue careers in STEAM and/or the Air Force, and advance Air and Space power in the years to come.
The museum manages hundreds of special events each year. Favorites include the biennial World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous, space and rocket events, the Giant Scale Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Fun-Fly, concerts featuring the Air Force Band of Flight, “Plane Talks,” and a variety of fun family events.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force traces its birth to 1923 at McCook Field near Dayton; it moved to Wright Field in 1927. The museum closed from 1940 to 1954 due to urgent need for administrative space to support the war effort and postwar USAF growth.
In 1960 local interest in aviation history led to the creation of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., to secure funds for the museum. A nationwide fund-raising campaign resulted in the construction of a new facility in the late 1960s, with President Richard Nixon dedicating the new building in September 1971. In 1976, the foundation donated an addition to that building, and in 1988 the foundation and federal government funded equally a second exhibit building. The Imax Theatre and atrium opened in 1991. In 2003 the museum opened the 200,000 square-foot Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery, the first phase of a major expansion. An impressively tall Missile and Space Gallery opened in 2004. The latest addition to the campus, opened in 2016, is yet another huge hangar featuring space, presidential, research and development, and airlift galleries.
The Air Force Museum Foundation was chartered in 1960 as an IRS Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the purpose of assisting the United States Air Force Museum (now the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in its efforts to inform and educate the public on the important role of the Air Force in the nation’s defense. The foundation is a state of Ohio philanthropic corporation assisting the development and expansion of the facilities of the NMUSAF. In addition, the foundation provides an average of almost $250,000 each year to the NMUSAF for special projects and underwrites program activities such as education, volunteer support, special events, and promotional efforts. Its website is www.airforcemuseum.com.
Location, Hours and Website
The museum is located six miles northeast of Dayton, accessed easily off Interstates 70 and 75 to Interstate 675, exit 15, which is the Colonel Glenn Highway exit.
The museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Parking and admission are free; however, there is a charge for the Air Force Museum Theatre and interactive simulators. For more information, visit the museum on the Web at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil. To experience a virtual tour of the museum, visit www.nmusafvirtualtour.com.
(Current as of June 2020)