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It’s not often you get the chance to get up close with an airplane and really examine it. It’s even more rare to get that close to hundreds of planes, all in one day. But, that’s exactly the experience you will get at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.
This museum is a dream come true for anyone who loves aviation or is a military history buff. But, even if you aren’t interested in those things, you will be blown away by the exhibits here. While your entire family will enjoy it, the Pima Air and Space Museum really is Tucson’s best museum for boys of all ages. Here’s why!
What is the Pima Air and Space Museum?
The Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the largest non-government-funded museums dedicated to aviation and space in the world. Its 80 acres and 6 hangars showcase approximately 400 historical aircraft. In addition, you will find motors, equipment, uniforms, personal effects, and other related items on display.
The entire history of aviation, from the Wright brothers to modern commercial aviation to space exploration is covered. The museum includes personal, commercial, and military airplanes and helicopters. Yet, a heavy emphasis is on military aircraft, especially those from World War II.
The museum first opened to the public in 1976. It has been growing and improving the experience ever since.
The aircraft and exhibits at the museum are spread out over a large outdoor area and 6 indoor hangars. Three of the hangars are dedicated to World War II planes, uniforms, and memorabilia.
The outdoor exhibits are displayed in groups, so you can see several examples of the same type right next to each other. The various sections of outdoor exhibits include:
- Commercial and civil aircraft
- United States Air Force fighters and other planes
- United States Navy fighters
- Early United States and foreign fighters
- Fire fighters
- Training planes
- Presidential and VIP airplanes
- NASA aircraft
- Electronic aircraft
- Transport planes and utility aircraft
Additionally, in two different outdoor areas, you will see old airplanes which have been turned into contemporary air pieces. These pieces have been created with things such as spray paint and ink.
The main hangar is the first exhibit space you will encounter as you enter the museum. This hangar also houses the ticket desk, the museum store, and the museum restaurant. It is the largest hangar at the museum. Here, as in all of the hangars, you will find some aircraft sitting on the floor, while others are suspended from the ceiling.
This hangar features, among others, the following exhibits and planes:
- Wright Flyer
- Bumblebee, the world’s smallest airplane
- a Blue Angel airplane
- Seaplanes and Amphibians
- Women in Flight
- Aircraft Carriers, including a F-14 Tomcat
- SR-71 Blackbird-this was one of our favorites
- L-2M Grasshopper
This hangar, as you might imagine, is all about space travel and exploration. The exhibits here include:
- Moon rocks
- The capsule from the Apollo 13 movie
- The Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame
Hangar 3, like Hangars 4 and 5, are dedicated to aircraft and other items from World War II. In this one, you will see:
- B-24 Liberator
- a German Buzz Bomb
- an exhibit dedicated to black aviators
- B-26 Marauder and artifacts from the people who designed and flew them during WWII
- 376th Bomb Group
This hangar was definitely a highlight for our family. It houses the museum’s aircraft and exhibits from WWII’s Pacific Theater and the Korean War. There are also some WWII trainers. Here, you will encounter the following:
- Japanese Kamikaze planes and uniforms
- Boeing B-29A Superfortress
- FM-2 Wildcat
- MiG 15
Hangar 5 also emphasizes the WWII Pacific Theater and stateside training. Here, you will find, among other things,
- PBY Catalina
- PB4Y Privateer
- uniforms, artifacts, and photographs from Pearl Harbor, Royal Navy, Japanese Army, and more
The last hangar at the Pima Air and Space Museum is the independent 390th Memorial Museum. Admission to this museum is included however. This hangar highlights the people and work of the 390th Bomb Group. The centerpiece of this museum is the last B-17 Flying Fortress flown by any branch of the United States military.
Why You’ll Love It
I am not the least bit interested in military history or airplanes. In fact, the only reason we visited this museum during our trip to Tucson was because my son is very enamored by military aircraft. But, I have to say, I was super impressed by this experience. So, I feel confident that you and your entire family will love it.
This museum is unique because it allows you to get up close with all these historical airplanes. You can touch them, look in the windows, and even walk under them. This ability to touch and walk around the planes is why I think every boy, from toddlers to old men, will love this museum.
You can also see various missiles, bombs, and guns used throughout history up close too. I don’t know any male that wouldn’t love to touch a missile or machine gun.
There are so many different airplanes and helicopters here! You really need to experience it for yourself to truly grasp the enormous size of this place.
One of my favorite planes here was John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One. How many people can say they touched JFK’s official plane?!?! That’s just awesome.
Planning Your Visit
The Pima Air and Space Museum is located in Tucson, Arizona just a mile or two off of Interstate 10. It is about 5 1/2 miles from the Tucson International Airport.
The museum is open 7 days a week, 363 days a year. It is only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Between October and May, the doors open at 9 am and close at 5 pm. The last admission for the day is let in at 3 pm. From June to September, the museum is open from 9 am to 3 pm, with the last admission at 1:30 pm.
The price of a 1 day admission is $16.50 for adults and $10 for children ages 5-12. Kids 4 and under are free. You can get a 2 day ticket for $22 per adult and $13.50 from children. Pets are welcome, as long as they are kept on a leash.
Flight Grill, the museum’s restaurant is a quick service eatery. It offers breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks throughout the day.
Lastly, take home an aviation themed souvenir from the museum’s gift shop, located at the exit.
The Pima Air and Space Museum is an amazing and unique museum in Tucson, Arizona. Boys of all ages will be thrilled with a visit, but this will be a special experience for the aviation lovers and military history buffs in your family. I highly recommend visiting this museum during your trip to Tucson. You won’t regret it!
For tips on traveling with kids, see:
- the best road trip snacks for kids
- screen free activities for road trips
- tips for successful road trips with kids
- the best airplane snacks for kids
- common mistakes to avoid when flying with toddlers
- tips for flying with kids
- packing tips for travel with kids
- how to save time when traveling with kids
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