Pima Air & Space Museum
April 23, 2012
I failed miserably in my attempt to “dock” the Apollo space capsule at the Dorothy Finley Space Gallery, which is one of the many exhibits you can explore on a visit to the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz. I really think that capsule went right when I wanted it to go left, and I am very glad I was not really responsible for docking so that I could explore the area.
The Space Gallery also gives you a chance to learn about the Mars mission, understand some of the technologies used in space (or that are now used in our everyday lives but were first developed for space exploration), and to see a rock from the Moon.
But this exhibit area is just one of many at the Air and Space Museum. There are five hangars packed with aircraft, ranging from World War II-vintage planes such as a B-29 Superfortress, to a B-24 “Liberator” heavy bomber and a Mitchell B-25, like the planes Jimmy Doolittle and his pilots used in their attack on Japan.
You will also see an SR-71 Blackbird, an American F-107, and the only Martin PBM-5A “Mariner” remaining. Better yet you can climb into the cockpits of many of these planes, explore their bomb-holding under bellies, and “listen” to the rumble they made in use.
But best of all, there are many men (I did not meet any women), on hand who actually flew these birds and they are more than willing to talk with you, to explain the aircraft, and share their own experiences.
In Hangar 5 you can watch as the work continues on restoring aircraft, and in the Boneyard and outdoor exhibits, you can see dozens of planes, ranging from a retired Air Force One (which had been used by President John F. Kennedy and later by President Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy was killed in Dallas).
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An original WWII barracks, moved to the site from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, houses additional artifacts (no planes in this particularly building).
Also for the price of your admission you can visit the 390th Memorial Museum, which is dedicated to telling the stories of the 390th Bombardment Group, which as based in England during WWII and took part in many raids over Europe. A B17G Flying Fortress named “I’ll Be Around” is on display and again there are stories of the men who served our country and flew for this important division. A combination of oral histories and actual footage from their raids really makes this area vivid, and it was certainly my favorite part of this fascinating museum.
My advice, if you go, is to allow most of a day because it certainly takes that long to view and learn about these aircraft and their pilots.
The museum sponsors many special events, particularly those geared toward younger people who may learn to make model airplanes, rockets, and otherwise learn about flying and the aerospace industry. And, you can try your hand at docking the Apollo capsule. It won’t take much expertise to do a better job than I was able to accomplish.