Since I live near one of the best aerospace museums in the World (National Museum of the Air Force), I typically don’t visit aircraft museums elsewhere. However, since the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona was only a few miles from my hotel, I decided to take a quick tour at the end of the day. One of the first things that hits you is the cost. Whereas the Air Force Museum in Dayton is free, the Pima Museum has an entry fee of $11.75 (click on the thumbnails to view a larger image).
While I’ve seen most all of the planes on display at Pima, they do have a few that aren’t on display in Dayton. Specifically, they have a Boeing YC-14 (the prototype cargo plane that competed with the Douglas C-17 for an order from the Air Force) as well as a NASA Guppy and the Air Force One that President Kennedy took on his last flight.
As I toured the desert grounds (most of the planes are on display outside near the Davis-Monthan airplane boneyard), I soon realized that Pima is a “branch campus” of the Air Force Museum. That is, as you can see from the nameplate below, many of the planes are officially on loan from the Air Force Museum. It is also interesting to note that they use many of the same techniques that are used in the airplane boneyard; namely the thick painting over the canopies and the simple tie-wires into the ground.
The most interesting part of my visit was to the special hangar for the 390th bomber group. I ended up chatting for 15 minutes with 85 year-old Richard Bushong, who was B-17 pilot during World War II. I discovered that he entered the Air Force in 1941 at — you guessed it — Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio. He shared many of his first hand experiences flying the B-17 from England to bombing missions on Berlin.
Naturally, I am biased towards the quality of the Air Force Museum in Dayton (e.g., while the Pima Museum has nameplates that tell you the name of the airplane, the Air Force Museum also tells you the plane’s history as well as the specifications). Nevertheless, the Pima Museum is still a great place to see a wide variety of aircraft.