Best Aviation-Inspired Museums to Visit - United Hub

Best aviation-inspired museums to visit

By Benét J. Wilson

With National Aviation Day right around the corner (August 19), a great way to celebrate is by visiting an aviation-themed museum. Many of the museums have hands-on, interactive exhibits —and some even have retired airplanes you can visit. Below are seven museums to visit this Aviation Day and beyond.

The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington

The Museum of Flight in Seattle bills itself as the largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum in the world. The museum's 20 acres is home to more than 160 significant aircraft and spacecraft, including the world's first fighter plane, the first jet Air Force One and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It's also one of a handful of museums in the world that has a Concorde supersonic jet on display —located in its British Airways livery. The campus also includes the original Boeing factory, the NASA Space Shuttle Trainer and the only exhibit to house the original rocket engines used to launch Apollo astronauts to the moon. Additional activities include flight simulators that make you feel as if you're flying an airplane, a 3D movie theater and an aircraft exhibit that includes the world's only presentation of the first Boeing 727, 737 and 747 jets.

Tucson, Arizona

The Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson boasts 2,600 acres and is one of the largest non-government funded aviation and space museums in the world. It features more than 350 historical aircraft, from a Wright Flyer to a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Visitors can take an hour-long tram tour narrated by experienced docents who share stories about the planes' significance and personal stories of service. There are bus tours of its aircraft boneyard, home to more than 4,000 military and federal government aircraft. If decide you want to participate in the tour while visiting the museum, it's recommended that you make a reservation 10 business days ahead of time.

A P-51 Mustang takes off from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, during EAA Airventure.

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Each year, Oshkosh attracts nearly 500,000 spectators to what is considered the largest airshow in the world — EAA AirVenture. But if you can't make this annual event in July, you can still visit the EAA AirVenture Museum year-round. While there, check out the museum's display of more than 200 historic aircraft — aircraft like the 1918 Curtiss JN-4D 'Jenny', a 1945 Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair and a 1930 Cessna CG-2 Glider. For attractions, visit the Eagle Hangar, a tribute to World War II aviation. And lastly, make sure to take a ride in a vintage 1929 Travel Air E-4000 open-cockpit biplane located at Pioneer Airport.

Palm Springs, California

Named by CNN as one of the best aviation museums, the Palm Springs Air Museum is one of the few that actually allow visitors to go inside aircraft to explore the exhibits. It features 59 aircraft from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Aircraft include a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, an F-14A Tomcat and even a Russian MiG-21+. Take a ride in aircraft like the P-51 Mustang, the iconic plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. The museum is also home to permanent and temporary exhibits, artifacts, artwork and a library.

The inside of the closed Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is seen in Washington

Washington, D.C.

The National Smithsonian Air & Space Museum has two outposts — the original building in downtown D.C. and the more than 100-acre Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center facility near Washington Dulles International Airport. The downtown location has aircraft like the Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager when he first broke the sound barrier, an Airbus A320 flight deck simulator and the forward fuselage of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, along with the popular “How Things Fly" exhibit.

The Udvar-Hazy center has thousands of aviation and space artifacts on display, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an Air France Concorde, the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Boeing 367-80 — the prototype for the Boeing 707 and America's first commercial jet airliner. There's also the Airbus IMAX® Theater and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, which gives you a 360-degree bird's-eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport and the surrounding area.

Denver, Colorado

The Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum is located on a portion of land that used to be Lowry Air Force Base, a technical training center until it closed in 1994. The museum is home to aircraft including a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, a Cessna O-2 Skymaster and even a Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter. The brand-new Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery at Centennial Airport is phase one of the museum's second location that will focus on the present and future of aerospace. It offers interactive exhibits, the latest in general aviation technology and the chance to fly realistic Red Bird simulators as well as tours of the airfield.

Planes At Intrepid Sea Air And Space Museum

New York, New York

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum complex in New York is located on a World War II aircraft carrier. Among its many exhibits are Enterprise, the prototype of NASA's Space Shuttle and a Harrier fighter jet. It also includes the British Airways Concorde that made the world's speed record for passenger airliners in 1996 when it flew from New York to London in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. Before leaving, make sure to check out the 4D aircraft simulator, something you won't want to miss.

Getting there

United flies to most of the destinations above, including Denver, New York, Palm Springs, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C. You can fly into neighboring Appleton, Wisconsin, to visit Oshkosh. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your aviation-themed museum trip.

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