5 Notes on the National Museum of the Air Force

National Museum of the Air Force

So many random small towns in the United States have an old World War II or Vietnam era plane that they try to turn into an “aviation museum.”

That is what I expected when I went to the National Museum of the Air Force on my trip to Dayton, Ohio. That expectation was totally and completely wrong. The National Museum of the Air Force was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to.

Washington DC / Smithsonian Level Quality

This museum is actually a National Museum – like the United States Congress commissioned it – just like all the museums on the National Mall in Washington DC. It’s owned by the US Air Force and operated by a non-profit (and well-funded) foundation.

There are two main components of a good museum – the actual objects in your possession and the curation & presentation of the objects.

Since this museum is the official museum of the United States Air Force – they have all the objects. Like, if it was a plane that they Air Force flew or captured – they have it. And they have the actual plane – not some replica. They have everything from the first Wright Flyer to German WW1 planes to all the WW2 planes to all the planes through to stealth bombers and drones that the US was operating in Afghanistan. They even have a complete collection of our nuclear missiles.

Oh – they also have all the Air Force Ones…including the one that flew Lyndon Johnson after the Kennedy assassination.

And on the curation part, I think they got the Smithsonian people who did the National Air & Space Museum to just come do this museum. It’s the same consistent presentation. It’s browse-able…but you can also go really deep on an exhibit if you want to. It’s very professional and well done.

The Place Is Huge

So airplanes are huge. And they have a lot of them. And most all of them are inside.

They are creatively parked…but it’s still a massive museum. Like, they have to put walk times on all the direction signage.

For Better & Worse…It’s Quite Pro-Air Force

The museum does not censor the history of the Air Force at all…but it absolutely presents the entirety of their collection in a very “despite all the challenges, the US Air Force is one of the greatest institutions in human history and you should be proud & encouraging if your children join” kind of way.

And it’s difficult and tough. On some exhibits, I noticed myself getting sucked into the same blind, unquestioning patriotism that was everywhere post-9/11. But, there were plenty of exhibits that really showed that, sometimes, the world needs someone to have truly cutting-edge Air Force with global reach. And if anyone is going to have that…it should be a rich, liberal democracy like the United States.

I don’t know – it’s a good place to take a middle schooler to generate interesting, nuanced conversations.

I love That The Museum Is In Dayton, Ohio

As much as I love visiting the National Mall in Washington, DC, there is something to spreading National Museum love around the country. We should have more – and spread them out a bit in the same way that the National Park Service has looked at developing more urban parks honoring parts of history.

Also, Dayton is the home of the Wright Brothers and the first US military flight school so it makes sense.

It’s Free*

And…it’s free!

*they do the “please donate for a map” thing…so it’s not truly free. But if you are bringing a family of four, it’s super cheap and is an excellent way to spend the day…especially if you are on a road trip or waiting for a Total Solar Eclipse to happen.

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