In this ongoing series about fun summer activities which will engage the geeky kids, I’m trying to talk about ways you can entertain and educate, hopefully sparking interest in the young ones that will grow into a flame for learning more. We’re doing some things which are specific to the area we’re in, like this visit to the museum, but in most cases you ought to be able to find a parallel somewhere closer to your own home.
- Pets? Unlike the visits to Fort Ancient and fossil hunting, this is not a pet friendly trip.
- Costs? Admission to the USAF Museum is free
- Terrain? Indoors (mostly) but lots and lots of walking, so wear comfy shoes.
- Prep? Depending on the age of the kids, you may want to remember that this is a way to give an overview of later American history and read up beforehand.
We were lucky enough to be able to meet up with a friend of mine who is not only serving in the Air Force, but a military history enthusiast. My knowledge of planes is rusty, so I was very grateful for his guiding of the geeky kids through the museum. We only had about two hours at the museum, which wasn’t nearly enough time – it is a vast space, with three massive hangars and more planes outside, without even venturing into the memorial gardens. I would recommend allowing a couple of days to fully explore this place.
The museum is laid out in a way that brings you in through the gift shop, after a brief security check. Make sure you aren’t carrying any blades over 2 1/2 inches, which isn’t a big pocket knife. The gift shop is full of fun stuff, including lego sets you may see nowhere else, but the price tag reflects that rarity. Just beyond the gift shop you have a choice of the WWII wing on the left, and early aviation history on the right. Both are packed full of planes, hanging from the roof and parked on the floor.
We started with the beginning, talking about the balloons and early aircraft. My kids were fascinated with the ungainly machines that first took man to the sky, and the Jr. Mad Scientist was highly amused by the purple and confetti-decorated airplane one of Richthofen’s men flew into battle. As it was pointed out, the earliest men in battle mounted on flying steeds were fresh from the cavalry and the attitude that branch cultivates.
After the first two sections, we were running low on time and the kids had specifically wanted to go sit in the cockpits, so we skipped the middle hangar and went straight to the back lefthand corner of the Cold War section, where we knew there was an F16 and an F4. Not the whole plane, but training modules built to allow a pilot to learn safely how to get in – and out – of a cockpit in bulky gear.
We did find a bit of a mystery in the modern aircraft. Several of the planes which served in the Gulf War and later Iraq combat had camels painted on them, which we understood and found grimly funny. The crab, on the other hand, was a mystery. Maybe one of our readers will know, and can assuage the geeky kids’ curiosity.