No matter what kind of plane it is, I can’t help looking up — I am fascinated by flight. When you consider the history of flight and humankind’s desire to fly and then realize that it was only 66 years from the first flight by the Wright brothers to the first moon landing, it’s truly an amazing feat!
I became interested young thanks to an uncle who provided me with a squadron of flying models and a father who was equally enamoured with both toys and planes — my Royal Air Force-pilot uncle who flew as a test pilot and combat pilot was a real-life hero to me.
My fondness for history combined with a love of all things aeronautical and adventure of any kind, led me to enjoy stories about the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, the barnstormers, the early days of aerial combat in the First World War and the inspiring heroics of pilots in the Second World War (a personal obsession).
I love hearing new stories and seeing planes up close and in flight — Did someone say airshow? I’ve been fortunate to see Spitfires, Lancasters, the Vulcan on one of its last flights, Phantoms, and a huge list of others from Snowbirds to Red Arrows to Blue Angels.
Attached to the stories of the planes and often outshining them, are the stories of the flyers, designers, and the tales of those who crashed and survived and sometimes didn’t. The cast of characters is diverse and filled with adventurers and heroes of all kinds, human drama and triumph.
On the west coast of Canada and the United States, a surprisingly large number of aeronautical museums await the aviation buff. They are by no means all listed here, but this is a selection!
California has more aviation museums than any US state and while it’s impossible to list them all here are some worthy of mention…
The San Diego Air and Space Museum has an impressive collection of planes and space craft including the Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 9 Command Module, artifacts that touch on the history of flight such as the Norton Bombsight (a major innovation vital in the Second World War) and rocks from the moon landing. They have an extensive special collections area that houses personal papers of famous aviators, and historical items like war-time posters and menus from the early days of commercial flight. Check out the Special Exhibits page for current exhibits.
The Castle Air Museum has an impressive collection of war planes from every major era, including bombers, fighters, reconnaissance planes, tankers, helicopters and trainers. The indoor portion of the museum has a fascinating collection of war-time memorabilia, and on Saturday and Sunday, tours of Air Force One are available. Check out the events page here.
Planes of Fame Air Museum’s Chino location homes nearly 100 aircraft spanning the early days of aviation through the major conflicts up to Vietnam. Saturdays and Sundays, the legendary Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” is open to visitors who want to learn about the men and women who designed, built and flew these massive Second World War bombers. Museum guides are always on hand to tell stories related to the aircraft and their place in history.
Also in Chino, Yanks Air Museum has one of the world’s largest aircraft collections, many of them airworthy. Many of these planes have been carefully restored to preserve these titans of US aviation history. Here, you can learn the history of the planes, the people who flew them, and how they were saved from the aviation graveyard.
The Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edward’s Air Force Base showcases the history of military test flights at Edwards and includes propulsion systems, missiles, hardware, life-support equipment, test reports, personal memorabilia and wind tunnel models.
Focusing on the commercial industry rather than the warbirds, the Flight Path Museum at LAX has an extensive collection of artifacts from the history of commercial air travel, from the glamour days to the present. Visitors can tour a DC-3, a plane that had a huge influence on air travel in the 1930s and 1940s. Also on show is the history of space exploration, and the Flying Tigers.
The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum bills their museum’s displays as “not only full of history, they’re full of LIFE!” The planes, automobiles, motorcycles and other assorted machinery are all either working or under restoration to be flown. The planes and vehicles here actually work and that means that these amazing planes all fly.
Visitors can see a replica of the third glider design of the Wright brothers from 1903 through motorized versions, and an Avian Skyhawk Hot Air Balloon. As aviation developed, so to did the automobile, and this museum boasts a wide array of vintage vehicles.
Check out their special events calendar page for dates of the Hood River Annual Fly-In, of the Model-T Driving School.
The Erickson Aircraft Collection has a diverse collection of warbirds including the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the unique Grumman J2F Duck. For the true enthusiast, Soaring with the Warbirds gives you the chance to take a flight in a real Second World War-era aircraft.
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate and is a full-day experience. The legendary Spruce Goose is housed here, a fascinating piece of history that delves into the personality of the reclusive Howard Hughes. Other feature exhibits include Historic Military Aircraft, Helicopters, General Aviation, and Space Flight. You can even experience a flight simulator. Special events are ongoing.
This museum has much to offer, from exhibits to cafés to the Wings and Waves Water Park.
The Oregon Air and Space Museum is a small and intimate museum allowing an up-close and personal feel. This is an all-volunteer run museum which features planes from a variety of eras, including a commercial flight display, models and a space exhibit.
Heritage Flight Museum in Skagit County has a great collection of historic aircraft, vehicles, artifacts, photos and exhibits. Many of the museum’s aircraft are maintained and flown. Check out the schedule for the monthly Fly Days that run from April to September.
From the past to the future, the Boeing Future of Flight Museum highlights the legacy of innovation at Boeing and includes space and hypersonic travel, sustainable fuels and autonomous arial systems. The Sky Deck gives visitors a panoramic view of Paine Field, the Boeing Everett Factory — get front row access to the daily flight operations that includes the testing of Boeing’s newest planes.
The Museum of Flight offers the chance to travel through time and space! This museum houses an amazing collection of aircraft, spacecraft, artifacts, galleries, exhibits, facts and stories. From the early days of flight, to the heyday of commercial jet flight, visitors can see the history of flight up close. Space craft include mock-ups and actual space modules. Check out the virtual collection here.
Located at Victoria International Airport, the BC Aviation Museum houses aircraft that mostly flew in Canadian skies dating from 1910 to modern times. There are experimental aircraft, a commercial airliner, military aircraft, helicopters and seaplanes, and for the kids, hands-on activities!
The Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley is a volunteer-driven museum focusing on restoring, preserving, and showcasing Canada’s aviation history. This is a “hands-on” facility and displays are ever changing.
Comox Air Force Museum, open from April to October, features planes that have flown at 19 Wing Comox. Here you can see the planes that made the RCAF great!
The Air Force Museum of Alberta includes the history of the RCAF from the First World War to the present day, housing some of the iconic RCAF aircraft that served during the Cold War.
Billed as a museum with altitude, The Hangar Flight Museum houses a large number of planes that not only show Canada’s contribution in the Second World War as a manufacturing hub for planes, but also tells the story of the Canadian war effort in the skies over Europe. To pick the best day to go, check out the special events page.
For those with an interest in the bigger warbirds, The Bomber Command Museum of Canada is a great place to see just how impressive these planes still are. The museum houses an impressive collection of bombers and other types of aircraft, offering learning opportunities galore. Admission is by donation and the museum was founded to honour those associated with Bomber Command during the Second World War. Check out the events page for coming opportunities.
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