The National Museum of the United States Air Force opened its fourth building the first week of June. This $40.8 million project was entirely privately funded, with about 1/3 being generated by ongoing business operations and the rest provided by the Air Force Museum Foundation. The museum does not charge admission and is the largest military museum in the world.
Dr. Jeff Underwood, Historian, explains a little about the process and how pleased they are with the building's opening. The Air Force pays for the utilities and some staffing, but the most common museum staff are the docent volunteers. They undergo constant training to keep up with the changes in the museum and also the temporary exhibits. The museum would not be able to operate without there many hours of service.
This view from the mezzanine shows the overall view of some of the Research and Development aircraft. Elevator access is available through the rocket gallery.
Here is one of three new classrooms, themed after the International Space Station. These children are participating in an interactive learning experience of how lasers work. During the Grand Weekend Celebration, over 25 different organizations provided displays and activities that educated and entertained
R2D2 brought many friends for the weekend, and light sabers were in abundance throughout the museum.
Outside the museum, visitors checked out the Vapor Special Ops Supercar, which was customized by a team of highly-specialized airmen to showcase stealth technology. It also included the interactive "Airman Challenge" display.
Fun and games were not the only things featured during the Grand Weekend Celebration. One of the higher priority missions is getting our wounded combatants stabilized and transported to medical facilities as quickly as possible. Large transport aircraft like this C-130E can be readily converted for this purpose.
Dr. Greg Malone, assisted by camera-shy son Gavin, explains a little about the challenges of mobile trauma care, and the special equipment and training required to perform this mission for all the service men and women worldwide. If you watch closely, R2D2 photobombs the interview.
The Independence, VC-118, required 3 months of restoration work before it was moved to the new building. One of the more interesting aspects was the removal of the nicotine because lots of passengers and crew smoked while it was in operation. According to Jennifer Myers, Museum Conservator, it even has ash trays in the cockpit, a definite sign of the times. New Plexiglas and strengthened floors allow for increased visitor traffic throughout the plane.
As far as the public is concerned, SAM 26000 is the biggest draw. It had the callsign Air Force One when the president is aboard and also had long lines throughout the day for people who wanted to walk through the aircraft. We will have more on presidential aircraft later.
This is just a light touch of the things available to see and do in the new 224,000 building, which itself is larger than most air museums. As "Keeper of their stories," the National Museum of the United States Air Force has a huge task, and this expansion protects more of the priceless artifacts for future generations.